Can You Still Find Magic in Ubud? - This American Girl

Ubud culture


Thousands of years ago a Javanese Hindu priest

came to the union of two rivers

to sit in meditation.


Ubud culture


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




some things

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.




I reconciled

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).


Sania’s Guest House

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.


The Yoga Barn

$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.


Naya Ubud

$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.


Seniman Coffee

$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.


Clear Café

$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.


Confiture Michele

$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.


The Garden Kafe at The Yoga Barn

$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.


Bali Buddha

$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.


Bar Luna

$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.


Betelnut Cafe

$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


Yoga Barn

Radiantly Alive

Intuitive Flow 



For hilarious, inspiring, informative insights on Ubud read Balilicious, written by my dear friend Becky Wicks who has spent extensive time exploring Bali. The book is a true gem.


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