Typical Tourist: Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
Everywhere you turn on travel Instagram, it seems like someone else either lives in Bali, just got back from Bali or is dreaming of returning. Although not large in relative size, the island is packed with different cities and towns to visit depending on your vacation preference. Before we left, many well meaning people suggested that we stay overnight in a few different locations to ensure we saw a good portion of the island. However, we decided that with only five days and four nights, it made sense to pick a hub. We decided on Ubud not only for its artistic reputation, but its central location on the island and proximity to a wide variety of activities.
While we did adventure outside of the city, below are the four seemingly most popular tourist spots in the greater Ubud area and a quick overview to help you decide whether or not you want to add them to your personal itinerary.
Ubud Monkey Forest
Without me saying anything else, you can probably guess why this is one of the most popular tourist spots in Ubud. Exactly as it is advertised, this forest, used for both environmental and religious ends, is lush, beautiful and, obviously, full of live monkeys. Walking through the tunnel and out into the preserve feels like walking into another world. Monkeys roam and climb over all surfaces, seeming to remind you that this is their turf, their road, and their home. You are a just a visitor.
And sometimes you become a visitor the turns into a monkey perch or, worse, a target for petty theft. We saw a girl sit down and monkey hop on her head. Another guy almost lost his water bottle. As you would expect, even though they are clearly wild animals, most of the visitors seem to be walking around oscillating between wanting a monkey encounter and feeling like they should know better. I stuck firmly on the side of no monkey meeting, at least up close. Was it cool to see them running around in something akin to a wild habitat? Sure. Does that mean I want one sifting through my hair or trying to pilfer things out of my backpack? No thanks. ( But, did my attitude stop Alex from taking selfies with them? Absolutely not.)
Even with my hesitation (which was probably more like fear when it came to the bigger ones), the monkey forest is not to missed. Our cab driver described it as having more tourists than monkeys during the high season, so make sure you come early. (He was also genuinely surprised that the only time we had ever seen monkeys was in a zoo.) The employees also feed the monkeys first thing in the morning, so be sure to go before their full bellies lull them into mid-morning food nap
Tegalalang Rice Terrace
The real question isn’t whether or not you’ll visit a rice paddy in Ubud, but, rather, which one. Located about thirty minutes outside the city, Tegalalang is one of the most famous and has grown into a tourist attraction, even as the visitors walk through paths being worked by local farmers. In terms of size, Tegalalang is impressive. In terms of being a rice paddy, it looks like all the others. As our AirBnB was located inside a paddy (albeit one much smaller than Tegalalang) trekking through the narrow paths was less of a novelty and more of an everyday reality during our stay. Definitely make sure that you get a chance to experience the beauty and quiet of the rice paddies that Ubud has to offer, but don’t feel pressured to see more than one. (If you do go to Tegalalang, make sure to bring small bills. There are stands asking for the donations along the way and it wasn’t clear whether or not they were optional. In pursuit of being polite and fair to the people whose land we were on, we donated.) Tegalalang is also the location of some of the famous Bali signs and swings – if you’re interested in either of those.
Peliatan Royal Palace
Located in downtown Ubud, the Palace was one of the first things we did after checking into the hotel and it was a really great first stop. Walking around will acclimate you to the beautiful carvings and gates that you will no doubt see throughout the city, and throughout the country at large. Admission is free and self-guided, although I would’ve been happy to pay for a guide in order to get some better perspective on the history of the place. Ceremonial dance exhibitions are also held on the palace grounds on certain nights. Jet lag and long days kept us from heading back for the night-time dance recitals, but multiple people we met heartily endorsed the show.
Tirta Empul Water Temple
The Hindu Community is large in Bali and you can see signs of it all over Ubud. As someone who knew very little about the Hindu religion before coming to Bali, respectfully witnessing and learning more about its beliefs and practices was a must for me. Thankfully our taxi driver not only suggested we visit Tirta Empul, but also acted as a tour guide, which made the experience that much better.
Tirta Empul is a temple about thirty minutes outside of Ubud built around a holy spring that the Hindu Balinese people use for a ritual purification ceremony. The temple is also full of tourists completing the same ritual purification. Our driver said that he has no problem with visitors bathing in the holy water, however, we purposefully opted out. While I love learning about the world’s religions and visiting relevant sites, actually participating is something I try to avoid. Just as I would never pray at alter or other specific Christian holy site, it similarly didn’t feel right to take part this Hindu ritual.
Reviews of this temple online are mixed. If you are looking for a quieter or less busy experience, maybe visit one of the other beautiful temples in Bali. If you are looking for a famous and important temple and are willing to deal with the tourists and some commercialization, you’ll probably like Tirta Empul. Having our driver, who visits the temple with his family regularly, give us a tour definitely elevated our experience and made me feel like we were there to learn instead of gawk.