Bali Travel Guide: Ubud and Seminyak

Whenever I’ve mentioned that I’ve been to Bali–people light up and either tell me they’ve been there or that they really want to go. I loved Bali so much, I went twice. Yes, it takes about 24 hours of travel to get there, but it was so worth it.

Bali is a tiny island in the middle of the Indonesian archipelago that is increasingly becoming a popular destination for honeymooners and yogi’s alike. Bali is home to several volcanoes.

Unlike the rest of Indonesia, Bali is a deeply religious, Hindu-observing country. Everyday, the Balinese people set out “offerings” to the Gods in small square trays made of banana leaves, filled with incense, rice, flowers, and other goodies. These regular offerings and always-in-bloom flowers create an aroma that is indescribable without experiencing it yourself. The people of Bali are some of the kindest I’ve ever met.

In the spirit of answering the questions people always ask me, I am sharing the things I loved in Bali.

Bali Food Dictionary

First… Bali foods to try, because I am a foodie. I think you can best experience a culture through their food, and Bali is no different. Their cuisine is centered around rice with Malaysian and Indonesian influence.

Babek Betutu—Fried Duck
Nasi Goreng—Fried Rice
Sate—Mashed chicken on a stick, blended with an array of spices then barbecued
Babi Guling—Bali’s most famed dish – the suckling pig
Beef Rendang—Savory curry dish is a beef stew made with coconut milk, turmeric, ginger, and a popular Balinese spice called galangal.
Kopi Luwak—Coffee… that’s been digested by a little animal called a Luwak. Sounds gross. Mostly a tourist attraction now and not that great of a cup of coffee.
Mangosteen, durian, passion fruit—Just eat as much fresh fruit as you possibly can.

Breakfast-Fruit-In-Ubud-Bali.jpg


Things To Do In Bali

Go on a electric bike tour
Bali is full breathtaking panoramas of endless ocean, rice fields and palm trees. One of the best ways to explore these landscapes is on bike or scooter. We tried riding a scooter but had a bit of an accident, so we opted for electric bikes instead. We found the Ebikes Ubud Tour Company for an electric bike tour around the Ubud area. Because of my Fibromyalgia, I don’t have as much energy to ride a bike, so an electric bike was a perfect way for us to get around.

The Ebike Tour Company arranged to pick us up at our resort using a small buggy and took us to their outpost, which was a short drive through Ubud. Once we arrived, they fit us with bikes and made sure we understood how to use the throttle and breaks. We toured with another couple from Australia and two guides to ensure we had enough attention and assistance when if we needed it. I was impressed with the service of this company, which was run by younger Balinese people. At one point, one of the guides carried my bike up a hill for me. I was impressed with the amount of knowledge the guides provided about Bali without being intrusive or scripted.

The Ebikes Tour had three stops:  a local rice field to understand how rice is grown, harvested and separated; the Tegalallang Rice Terrace; and an AgroTourism coffee plantation.  When we stopped at the local rice field, the workers let us harvest the rice along with them to appreciate how hard they work. Many of these workers only get paid in rice for their labor. No money.  Just let that sink in.

Also be aware that you will ride your bikes along the same roads at the motor bikes and cars, which could mean that it feels a little sketchy at times. The buggy shuttle follows along the tour the entire distance if you feel uncomfortable riding at any time.

Visit The Tegallang Rice Terrace
Plan to visit the Tegalallang Rice Terrace anyway. Rice fields are a quintessential part of the Bali experience. They are breathtakingly beautiful and a reminder that each grain of rice we eat comes from somewhere. You can likely find a restaurant overlooking the terraces. It’s recommended to visit closer to sunrise or sunset for optimal photos.

Bali-Tegalallang-Rice-Terraces.jpg

Visit A Monkey Forest
Macaque Monkey’s are the original inhabitants of Bali, and they have made the forests of Bali their home. Monkey’s roam freely throughout the forest and into the villages of Bali (one morning we woke to them playing on the fence of our hotel in Ubud).  There are two main options for visiting Bali monkey’s: the Ubud Monkey Forest and the Sangeh Monkey Forest. Both are considered to be sacred temples.

Ubud Monkey Forest
These monkeys are more conditioned to being fed by humans, both by tourists and the grounds-keepers. The Ubud Monkey Forest feels a bit like a petting zoo that’s been taken over by monkeys (without the petting). They are comfortable around tourists and have been known to try to open bags or jump on you if you they smell food in your backpack.  If you purchase a banana in the Ubud Monkey Forest, a monkey WILL jump on you, which creates a hilarious photo opportunity.

The groundskeepers also recommend not to make eye contact with any monkeys, but especially larger male monkeys, because they will charge at you. Keep your distance from baby monkeys, as the mama monkey will also get very angry if she senses her little one is in danger.  If a monkey bites you and breaks skin, they recommend several vaccines to ensure you don’t get rabies.

Aside from the monkeys, the grounds of the Monkey Forest are beautiful. A river runs through the forest and there are multiple paths to walk through. We went each morning we were in Ubud (I really love monkeys okay?!) because it was such a peaceful, beautiful walk.

Sangeh Monkey Forest

Sangeh Monkey Forest in Bali
Photo by Terralogical

The monkeys in this forest are a bit more wild and not as dependent on humans. You can purchase peanuts to feed them, but they seemed more scared of us than we were of them. This forest is full of old growth trees, Banyan trees, and leaf-covered trails. To me, this experience felt more like walking through a forest that happened to have monkeys living in it, rather than visiting a zoo.

Overall, the Ubud Monkey Forest, which is located in the heart of the central Ubud area, is a more pleasurable experience for enjoying monkeys and the surrounding temple, but is full of more tourists. If natural tranquility is what you’re after, try the Sangeh.  Keep in mind, they let the monkeys do whatever they please, which could mean getting a little closer than you’d prefer. If you’re afraid of the idea of having monkey on your back, stay home.

Walk Through The Ubud Market
Enjoy local art and souvenirs in the Ubud Market. Most of the items you’ll find in the Ubud markets are handmade locally. You can find anything from batik clothing to sarongs to housewares to hand-carved wood sculptures. We brought back a one-of-a-kind hand-carved cow skull that we paid a mere 1 Million IDR (~$80) for, which could have fetched several hundred dollars in the US. Like any tourist destination, there are also some silly souvenirs like giant dick-shaped bottle openers, hand-carved from teak wood.

Occasionally, a vendor might try to charge you more money than their items are worth, so be sure to haggle. We found that stores with actual doors (and air conditioning) were less likely to negotiate prices than stalls without.

Pro-tip: avoid the central building marketing area and opt for the smaller stalls and streets. There are no incense strong enough to cover the sewage smell, especially on a hot day.

Vist a Waterfall
There are many waterfalls throughout the island of Bali, but the one we visited was  the Tegenungan waterfall because it was close to Ubud (it’s just about 10 kilometers away).  You can swim at the base of the waterfall too.

If you’re more adventurous and don’t mind a drive, ask a driver to take you to a waterfall in Northern Bali.

Go To A Coffee Plantation
Agrotourism is one of the most popular attractions for tourists in Bali. Because of lack of importation and the fertility of the soil, the land naturally creates a bounty of resources. Though rice is the most common crop, coffee is also grown in abundance. These coffee plantations are all over the inland forests of the island and promise tea/coffee tastings for free.

One of the main attractions is Kopi Luwak which is commonly known as the expensive coffee that comes from an animals…. digested feces. There isn’t really a nice way to say that, is there? The Luwak – or Civet – is much like a very large ferret, and chooses to dine on coffee berries. It digests the berries and turns the coffee into something magnificent. Historically, the droppings were collected and roasted. However, there are very few Luwak in the wild now; they have all been captured and are kept in cages to be fed coffee berries and contribute to agrotourism. It’s kind of sad to see them in cages, but that’s part of tourism.

Kopi Luwak coffee and tea sampler from Bali

The positive aspect of these plantations is that they show visitors multiple kinds of plants and do teach them about the flora of Bali. Commonly, the plants are grown all together to keep the soil fertile. Once harvested, every part of the plant is used to create consumer goods. For example, teas were created out of mangosteens grown on property; essential oils from the plants and flowers; baskets woven from their fibers. I can appreciate this “root to flower” way of harvesting. You should definitely do a coffee and tea sampler (pictured above).

Get A Balinese Massage
Balinese massage is a full-body, deep-tissue massage using a combination of gentle stretches, acupressure, reflexology, and aromatherapy to stimulate the flow of blood, oxygen and “qi” (energy) around your body. The holistic massage brings a sense of wellbeing, calm and deep relaxation.

The further away you get from Ubud Square, the more affordable the massages are.  I received a fantastic hour-long reflexology foot massage for a mere 75,000 IDR (which is about $6) a few blocks away from Ubud Square.

Temples To Visit In Bali
The amount of temples in Bali is almost astounding. In Bali, they are referred to as “Pura,” and can be found around every town. While every town has beautiful temples, only few are open to the public. Around the island, however, there are several must-see large temples such as: Uluwatu Temple, Pura Tanah Lot, Pura BesakihTirta Empul (this temple has a holy spring for ritual bathing)Pura Taman Ayun, Goa Gajah (Elephant Temple) and Pura Lempuyang (Gateway to Heaven temple). Tanah Lot and Uluwatu are the two most popular temples and will likely be very crowded. Each temple may require a entrance small fee and you will need a sarong to enter or your shoulders/legs covered because it’s a religious site.

Bali Temple

I’ve also heard amazing things about going for a few days to a nearby island called Gili T and loving it–definitely look into that if you have enough time.


Visiting Seminyak, Bali

Seminyak is a hip beach town located on the west side of the island. It’s kind of like a mini Venice Beach but with better waves. There are tons of foodie-approved restaurants and “made for the Gram” açaí bowls, along with boutiques and surf shops. Seminyak is fairly walkable, though sometimes you may have to walk in the street, dodging taxis and scooters.

Where to Stay in Seminyak, Bali

While in Seminyak, we stayed at the W Seminyak and at the Equilibria–both centrally located near plenty of shops and restaurants with private villas. I LOVED the W hotel, it’s one of my favorite hotels I’ve ever stayed in. We had a private villa with a private pool and a nice outdoor oasis, which was perfect for our honeymoon. The property is on the beach so it’s easy to get to the ocean. The grounds of the W hotel are well-manicured and beautiful, and HUGE. So much so that they offer golf-cart pick up from your room to the lobby or the main road.

Places To Eat In Seminyak, Bali

Avocado Toast and Latte at Sisterfields in Seminyak, Bali
Avocado Toast at Sisterfields in Seminyak

Lunch:
Sea Circus
Sisterfields Cafe
Cafe Organic
Watercress Cafe

Dinner:
Mama San — Asian fusion
Ku De Ta —  Beachfront dining, perfect for a drink and a nice dinner. You’ll need a reservation in advanced (times around sunset fill up first!).  We went to Ku De Ta both visits to Bali
Potatohead Beach Club  — This waterfront oasis is perfect for a late lunch or dinner. We really liked the food here and they make amazing cocktails. Make a reservation but go a little early to take pictures in front of their building, which is made of shutters.
Motel Mexicola — The restaurant itself is very cute and very insta-worthy. It’s “Mexican” food, but nothing to write home about.
Kilo — Modern Indonesian food that’s very, very good. Foodies will love this spot. Open for lunch too!

I also heard great things about Mozaic and Metis but we didn’t have a chance to go to either.

For coffee:
Revolver
ExPat Coffee Roasters


Visiting Ubud, Bali

You may have heard of it from the film Eat, Pray, Love, as Julia Roberts’ second destination.

There are several popular destinations in Bali, but Ubud has a heart of its own. This artistic community is known for its rice fields, yoga, and relaxed attitude that can be appealing to many travelers. There are tons of restaurants that cater to organic and vegetarian diets, but we have a tendency to go to the same restaurants once we find one we like (plus, there’s this thing called “BALI BELLY” that we were trying to avoid).

From Ubud, it’s easy to visit several popular attractions I mentioned above: the Ubud Sacred Monkey Forest, Tegalallang Rice Terraces, and several Temples.

Where to Stay in Ubud

The heart of Ubud is set around Monkey Forest, if you want to be near the hustle and bustle, stay closer for the forest. While in Ubud, we stayed at the Komaneka Bisma and Royal Kamuela Monkey Forest, both luxury accommodations with private pools. That said, you can easily find less expensive hotels or rooms or AirBnbs if you aren’t into luxury travel.

It’s common for hotels in Bali to offer breakfast every morning for your stay—don’t skip it, it’s delicious. Ubud is very tourist friendly and inexpensive.

Places To Eat In Ubud, Bali

Locavore — This is one of the reasons we went back to Bali twice. It’s one of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants.  If you’re interested in fine dining, visiting Locavore for lunch or dinner is a MUST. Make your reservation at least one month in advanced. I’ve now dined at Locavore twice in my travels to Bali, and they are both in my top 10 favorite meals ever. Locavore’s claim to fame is their fresh, local ingredients, sourced throughout Indonesia and the island of Bali, into gastronomic delights with a western flair.  Locavore cures all of their own meats and develops all of their own flavors, like a life-changing dish of tomato sorbet in tomato consommé.  The evening dinner experience provides two options for dining: 5 course or 7 course. We chose the 7 course experience, which ended up being 20 courses with small appetizers, amuse bouche, and various “pre-dessert” courses.

Locavore-Ubud-Bali.jpg

Locavore also have three other restaurants:

Locavore To Go, a small fast-casual restaurant for breakfast and lunch (open from 8:30am to 3pm), featuring Western food with all Indonesian ingredients (we went almost every day for lunch);

Night Rooster, a bar with spectacular handmade cocktails and small bites.  Make sure you try their cured meats and appreciate their beautiful dining ware, made by local company Kevala ceramics.

And finally, Nusantara, which opened after I went to Ubud, which is probably also super delicious.

Dirty Duck Diner (Babek Bengil) — This popular destination has a sprawling location set amongst rice fields which means you can sit back and relax while soaking in the sounds of Bali. They are famous for their crispy duck dish. get it. Please.
Hujan Locale — We ate here three nights while in Ubud because it’s that good. Just go. We loved their Beef Rendang and their Squid Ink Rice. Make sure you order one of their specialty cocktails (I liked their Coconut Mojito).
Seniman coffee—This is our favorite coffee spot in Ubud. They roast and sell their own Bali grown coffee beans, so this is a nice place to pick up a souvenir if you like third-wave coffee. Also, get an Affogato.


You really can’t go wrong with anything to do on Bali. We would hire a driver on the side of the road for the day to take us to different tourists spots. You can negotiate a day rate with them (we would usually pay about $30 for the day). They usually know the good shit and most speak really good English since most of the island’s visitors are from Australia.

Lastly, have a good time. Do some yoga if you’re into that. Eat some fried rice.

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Author: Becca Risa Luna

Seattle-based fashion writer and personal essayist. Likes designer handbags, glaring openness, and subtle vulgarity.

2 thoughts

  1. Your storytelling and tips have my mouth watering and have calmed my anxiety of the pending days long travel to the island, it feels uconcerning in anticipation for the adventures that await. Aloha

    Like

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