Ubud Is A Cultural Paradise... Or Is It?
Traveling Indonesia has been the most active part of our trip yet. We've hiked in the jungle of Sumatra to find Orangutans. We've climbed volcanoes on Java that roar like jet engines, hiked up mountains to see views straight from another planet and on top of all that, we’ve experienced a major earthquake while relaxing on the tiny island of Gili Air. Yep, backpacking in Indonesia has been quite the adventure…
But none of that is what most people think about when they plan to travel to Indonesia. The majority of tourists flock together in Bali for its beautiful beaches and exotic architecture and culture. And when you're looking for culture and architecture on Bali, Ubud is the place to be. It's considered to be the cultural centre of Bali and when you read up on it, it seems nothing but perfect: Plenty of affordable accommodations to choose from, located within gorgeous mountains just an hour away from the airport and home to a plethora of artists.
Oh and yeah, Ubud is indeed beautiful and amazing. The architecture and sculptures come straight out of a fairy tale and history oozes out of every crack of the old buildings and temples. And when you get tired of being in the city, just go out and visit the most amazing rice terraces or take a walk in the Monkey Forest. Ubud has something for every type of traveler.
Ubud is great... and goddamn horrible at the same time
As usual, there's a downside to fame. Depending on what you're looking for, Ubud can be a very, very annoying experience. Especially when you're staying in the city centre, it feels like you're walking around in a theme park. We were there at the end of July and it was terribly overcrowded. Besides that, a lot of people walk around dressed like they're going to a sleazy nightclub or an audition for a bad costume movie. I almost felt like apologizing to every local on behalf of those who come to visit Ubud.
Another thing we noticed was the lack of authenticity of some buildings.
Joanna: “I could be wrong but it looks like in order to please and attract more tourists, they've built more and more structures in the Balinese style but poorly executed and it just doesn't feel authentic anymore.”
Then there’s eating and it's not like food was an issue but delicious and cheap Indonesian food was very difficult to find. Instead of Balinese food you'll see the majority of people eating pizza and burgers. The popularity of Ubud has turned the city centre into a theme park and I can't get rid of the feeling that most people just go there to take as many selfies as possible for Instagram. “Look, I have the same picture as everybody else.” Wow!
Ubud, the Instagram capital of Indonesia
People posing in the weirdest ways in front of buildings, sculptures or views for Instagram is something you'll see everywhere these but in an overcrowded Ubud it's just annoying and you can't avoid it. There are lines where people queue take the same selfie over and over again. We saw those lines also in the Grand Canyon and other “instagrammable” locations and it really remains a mystery to me why people would want to have the same picture as everyone else and even go stand in line for it...
What to do in Ubud?
The Monkey Forest in Ubud
We didn't enjoy walking around in Ubud for long. After a few hours we were tired of the crazy, busy streets so we made an escape to the Monkey Forest; one of the top things to do in Ubud. This sanctuary is home to a group of grey long-tailed macaques who use the ancient temples as their playground.
It does look really cool; like the set from a Tombraider movie but again, it was annoying as hell to see so many tourists ignoring the rules and guidelines on interacting with monkeys and behaving like retards. You'll say: “Just ignore them.” Of course, that's what we try to do but in Ubud it was almost impossible because it was so overcrowded...
The Campuhan Ridge Walk
Another place where you can try to escape the crowds in Ubud is the Campuhan Ridge, also one of the top things to do in Ubud. Even though it was super hot and humid and there were still lots of people, we really enjoyed this walk and the scenery.
We went in the afternoon but I think it should be especially beautiful at sunrise or sunset. Make sure to stop along the way for a cup of Indonesian coffee or a fresh coconut. In the end, Ubud was definitely not all bad and there’s plenty of cool things to do.
Should you go to Ubud?
Depends on what you're looking for. Yes, it is a beautiful city and we loved most of what we saw but it just feels too fake and the crowds were too much to handle. The theme park feeling is always there and tourism shows its shallowest side here. If we would ever go back, we would try to find accommodation outside of the city centre where you can still experience some local life and find real Balinese food and people. Avoiding high season will definitely make the experience more enjoyable too. Please, let us know what you think. How did you like Ubud?
How to go from Java to Bali and Ubud
It's a long but pretty straightforward journey from Java to Ubud. The day after visiting Mount Ijen, we took the train to from Banyuwangi to Ketapand Harbour where the ferries to Bali leave. The train station in Katapang is a short walk away from the ferry harbour and once there, it's easy. Just buy a ticket at the counter and wait until you can board the ferry.
The bus from Gilimanuk to Mengwi (SCAM ALERT!)
After you set foot on Bali, again, it's a short walk to the bus station. Just ignore EVERYBODY who's asking where you're going and walk directly to the bus station. Once there, there will still be people coming up to you asking which bus you need. Tell them you want to go to Mengwi and they'll point you to the right bus.
Now here's the scam. The same guys who came up to you to ask which bus you need will ask you to pay them the money for the bus ticket. They will act like they're with the bus company but they're not. These guys are part of a known organization that make money illegally; we read about it on the internet. They'll ask for a higher price from us tourists and then jump off to do the same on the next buses.
After we boarded the bus, we were approached by two different guys at a time. The first tried to be friendly and the next one was more aggressive. Stay calm, try to smile and repeatedly tell them you will pay when you arrive in Mengwi. The scammers will eventually leave the bus. The real staff will not come and help you because they're either being threatened by those assholes or they're in on it. DON'T PAY ANYONE UNTIL THE BUS IS MOVING FOR AT LEAST TEN MINUTES! Hold on to your bags too because the assholes will try to kick you off the bus when it leaves in order to scare you and force you to pay the money.
Keep an eye on the guy on the bus asking money from the locals, normally that's the one you can trust and pay.
Now, we saw people pay the higher amount to the asshole and they also arrived in Mengwi without a problem but we just hate getting scammed, even for a few dollars. Besides, it feels pretty good to win at least a few rounds against scammers.
A Grab taxi from Mengwi to Ubud
Once in Mengwi it's the same drill again. Ignore everybody who comes up to you and walk further to the main road. Grab taxis won't come to the bus station because of the taxi mafia. Once you're on the main road it's easy to order a Grab to Ubud. Beware, traffic in Ubud can be a bitch depending on where you're staying. It took us 1.5 hours longer to get to our accommodation because of traffic...