Can You Still Find Magic in Ubud?
Thousands of years ago a Javanese Hindu priest
came to the union of two rivers
to sit in meditation.
The people of Bali believed this place had magical powers
royal families came from all across the island
hoping to be healed.
They named it “medicine”
in Balinese “Ubud”.
Today Westerners flock from across the globe
to Bali’s wellness mecca
to find health in body, mind, in spirit
often, looking to find themselves.
Yet past the magical promise
of jungle shrouded temples
on the outskirts of town
traffic sits at a standstill polluting the air
commercial chains line the streets
monkeys in a sanctuary descend on visitors like thieves
travelers puff cigarettes in open-air cafes.
And as I witnessed
how Thailand tourism exploited the exoticism
of its culture, people, and animals
Ubud appeared to fetishize wellness
rather than a state of being
as a commodity to be sold.
Yoga, mediation, reiki, qi gong, tarot, spiritual awakening
raw, organic, vegan, ayurvedic, macrobiotic
you will find it here.
Healing exists and abounds
all throughout Ubud
provided you can afford the cost.
But even with all of the green juice and medicinal teas in the world
with a shop offering activated charcoal, raw coconut oil, chia seeds, cacao
kombucha, kefir, spirulina, and geez so much more
a fever left me bedridden
and feeling deathly ill.
Though yoga classes taught hatha, yin, vinyasa
kundalini, acro, and ecstatic dance
I felt disconnected
even in class I felt so far from myself.
In many countries I’ve been to in the world
I would have killed for the luxuries I found in Ubud
But I realized that a raw vegan superfood diet
doesn’t guarantee health
and all of the asana and pranayama in the world
can’t ensure happiness.
Most of all I remembered
that despite the promises of the modern world
just can’t be bought.
So I drank carrot ginger juice
and ate heaping plates of steamed veg
at a modest family owned warung.
I found culture in the markets in the morning
stuck in Hindu procession caused traffic jams
among temples on the roads outside of town.
that maybe Ubud was no longer
full of the magic like I hoped
but it had cool cafes, bars, and restaurants
beautiful architecture and textiles
generous locals with genuine smiles
expats and travelers with kind open hearts.
My body gradually restored
to a better state of health
but still I wondered when
I would feel like me again
if yoga and power smoothies couldn’t do it
what possibly could?
So I did what nomads do
I left Ubud behind
and ventured on to three tiny islands
to see what else I might find.
Where to Sleep in Ubud
Ubud has plenty of lovely guesthouses within the center and in the rice terraces. Prices range from modest to exorbitant. The best budget option I found is this communal living space which offers dorms for $5 and the use of a kitchen, however I met travelers who negotiated private rooms for 100,000 rupiah (less than $10).
300,000 rupiah ($25) for up to 3, includes breakfast
I stayed here for a week with two friends and loved the place. The location is very central, just off the main strip on a quiet alley next to the market. When I entered the grounds I almost couldn’t believe I was staying here; it looks like a Hindu palace. Staying in a guest house was a nice way to experience Balinese culture, as a big family ran the place, often performing Hindu rituals or playing with their adorable babies. They were extremely accommodating while I was sick, even bringing hot water and lemon up to my room at night when I was sick.
$70-$85 for a private room including breakfast, $25 for dorm without breakfast
For wanderlust yogis, The Yoga Barn may be a major motivation in heading to Ubud. Had it fit the budget I would have undoubtedly stayed at The Yoga Barn. While technically within the city, it feels worlds away surrounded by nature. I imagine that staying here feels like a retreat, regardless of whether you participate in one or not as it just feels so peaceful here. The onsite restaurant has many fresh healthy juices and cuisine to suit most health diets. The Yoga Barn also hosts many retreats from YTT to cleanses to meditation which all receive rave reviews.
$125-$200 per night
Splurge on a room in this haven among the rice fields. Owned by a Kundalini inspired yoga teacher, this home stay seeks to bring peace and stillness to its guests. It is a ten minute drive from the center of Ubud and you can simply walk out and be in the middle of the rice fields. The onsite restaurant has healthy, organic cuisine. This place is ideal for anyone looking to get away from it all and enjoy some peace and tranquility rather than be in the busyness of the town center.
Where to Eat in Ubud
There’s no shortage of restaurants or cafes in Ubud. From authentic local warungs to healthy organic cafes to international delicacies you could spent a month just eating your way around town. Here are some of my favorites that I managed to enjoy during my week in Ubud.
My Favorite Warung
Less than $1 for fresh juice, $1 for amazing meals
I wish I wish I wish that I remembered the name of this place. I ate there once a day nearly every day I was in Ubud. The people were so adorable and nice, the food was so flavorful with tons of veggies, and it was right across the street from my guest house. SO head to the market in Ubud, look for Sania’s House (or ask around everyone knows it) and the alley just across from Sania’s House has a teeny warung where you sit at a counter in a row looking out onto the alley. Go there and order the Urap Urap or the Gado Gado and the fresh carrot ginger juice. Heaven!
$3-10 for smoothies, desserts, salads
One of my favorite things to do whenever I’m in the states is to create the world’s largest, heaviest, most expensive salad at Whole Foods’ salad bar. I never imagined I’d be able to replicate the experience in Southeast Asia. Alchemy is the best place in town to satisfy a salad craving, or just grab a juice, a raw dessert, or pick up some raw snacks. They also have holistic treatments and retreats and appointments with natural health doctors.
$2-8 for coffee, tea, breakfast, lunch
As a freelance writer I always make sure to stake out a cafe in every town to call my own. Perhaps it’s also my upbringing in Seattle, but nothing makes me feel more at home than a good coffee house. Naturally, I immediately named Seniman my “spot”. The smell is intoxicating, the vibe is energizing, and the coffee, teas, and food are beautifully presented and delightful.
$3-10 for juice, breakfast, lunch, and dinner
This fusion cafe uses locally sourced ingredients and offers meals for every diet and taste bud. I had excellent juice here, a creamy desert-y sugar free cacao coconut smoothie, and the dragon bowl with crunchy veggies and seared tuna. The attached shop has delicious raw snacks that you can sample before you buy.
$5-10 for crepes and homemade jam
Pop into this jam shop and feel like you’ve been transported to the french countryside. The owner Michele’s enthusiasm and passion is contagious and she will make you feel right at home. Sample dozens of flavors of exotic jams like jackfruit and papaya and bring your favorite flavors home. You can also order a hot fresh french style crepe slathered in her jam or with cheese, egg, and tomato for a mouth watering meal.
$5-15 for lunch and dinner
We splurged on a fancy Christmas lunch here. Order the tuna steak which is still one of the best meals I’ve had on this trip with a thick cut of seared tuna with potato puree, veggies, and spicy sambal sauce for $6.
$5-10 for breakfast, lunch, and dinner
This darling cafe in the center of Ubud just around the corner from the Monkey Forest serves a wide variety of comfort and health food. They facilitate a waste management campaign in Ubud and are dedicated to operating sustainably. The shop connected to the cafe sells eco friendly products and gives a percentage of profits to charitable organizations throughout Indonesia.
$3-5 for juices and smoothies, $5-10 for breakfast and lunch
The Yoga Barn’s restaurant features a truly healthy menu created by Kafe. It is easily the most inspired health menu I’ve seen anywhere with dishes for all kinds of diets: Ayurvedic, vegan, raw, gluten free, and vegetarian. I nearly died with a took a sip of the green juice, the first STRONG green juice I had since leaving the states. So, so, so good. I could have easily eaten all of my meals here had I been staying at The Yoga Barn as the menu is huge and everything sounds delish from raw fudge cake to Indian dahl and vegetarian sushi. They hold communal buffet dinners on Monday evenings with a movie screening.
$1 for bakery items, $2-6 for juices, smoothies, breakfast, lunch and dinner
Gluten free pizza, New York style bagels, raw sugar free truffles, Italian ravioli, crunchy salads, green juice, and Indonesian specialties all in one place. Not to mention their shop with a big bakery selection from decadent buttery wheat flour cakes to raw vegan treats and basically every health staple under the sun. I highly recommend their homemade kombucha and coconut water kefir for your daily dose of probiotics.
Where to Drink in Ubud
$5-10 for drinks, $5-10 for Latin fusion meals
Salsa dancing in Bali…? Yes, just yes. The entire staff dances salsa, taking turns between taking orders and dancing with the guests. The live salsa band creates a fun ambience and the food and drinks are a yummy break from Asian slash health cuisine. If you want to impress on the dance floor, they offer salsa lessons as well.
$1-10 for coffee, juices, cocktails, breakfast, lunch, and dinner
I came to Bar Luna my first night in Ubud and immediately found myself immersed in a lively expat/traveler scene. Between Bar Luna and Cafe Luna they host plenty of events; I happen to arrive on World Music night. They also organize writer’s talks which is a valuable networking experience for bloggers and authors. I highly recommend ordering their cocktail which uses local rice wine mixed with orange juice and honey.
$3-10 for appetizers and mains, $3-15 for cocktails and wine
Betelnut hosts parties, events, open mic nights, and serves a wide variety of high end cocktails and elevated Asian fusion cuisine.
Where to Practice Yoga in Ubud