Searching for the real Ubud

On a short walk between our guesthouse and restaurant on the popular Monkey Forest Road, we were offered no fewer than 20 taxis and a dozen massages. A fellow tourist told us that restaurant staff had thrust menus at her while she was out for a run. Certainly the hawkers in the tourist centre are pretty intense and if they're not part of your preconception of Ubud they can easily cloud your initial impressions. This was the case for us, and it took a little time and a bit of poking around before we finally understood why the city is a must-see on any itinerary to Bali.

Ubud’s main routes are clogged up with traffic throughout the day, with daytrippers from Kuta and Seminyak adding to the mass of local traffic on the hopelessly inadequate roads. Tour operators, restaurants and money changers line the streets. Pavements are often absent, with large holes randomly formed to punish those who don’t look up from their phones or cameras to see where they're going.

View Ubud only from the main drags and you’d probably leave unimpressed, having seen little more than the standard fare seen in tourist traps the world over; although in Ubud’s defence its restaurants offer more variety and better quality than you’ll find in many similarly popular towns. But the good news is that it doesn’t take a great deal of effort to dig beyond this soulless exterior and uncover the most appealing side to the town.

My early indifference to Ubud changed when we took a morning walk up to the village of Campuan. The 3km track from the edge of town took us on a steady climb above a river bank and quickly gave us views over the surrounding rice fields. We’d set off at 7am to avoid the worst of the heat and were grateful for the light rain which accompanied our early start, but by 8am the humidity was already stifling. Egrets rested in the fields and after the rain had faded, insects came out to feed on the moisture and we stopped to admire dragonflies and a particularly long millipede which narrowly avoided my size 11s.

In Campuan ladies were bringing their offerings to the temple and the many surrounding small shrines. Builders were already hard at work (they start very early in Bali, as we’d discovered at our previous hotel).  Chickens crossed the road for no obvious reason, and the stray dogs, so prevalent across Bali, raised their heads to see who was passing. Few were stirred into even a half-hearted bark.

Our walk took us around the edge of the rice fields and eventually back into Ubud, just in time for a well-earned shower and breakfast. After 3 days in town we’d finally seen a glimpse of the landscape which has inspired artists from around the world to settle in the town.



In fact even those who don't fancy a walk out of town can get beyond Ubud's commercial facade. Oddly enough, to lose the hustlers who fill the main roads, the best tactic is to head into the centre, between the main roads which ring the town. Here, rice fields sit between homestays and villas, and the faces at the stalls of the local shops are gentle and smiling; it's quite a contrast to the determination, almost desperation, at the central market, where visitors are chased for their precious rupiah.   

You can get Bali included as a stopover on your round the world here