We spent 3 days in Ubud, and it’s safe to say that it definitely ranks high on my list of great places in Indonesia. Ubud (the town) is surrounded by multiple villages, which make up the Ubud District. Over time the town and surrounding villages have merged into one, so it is very difficult to know when one ends and the next begins, but it’s an amazing area with tons to do, see, and eat.
If you’re looking to get away from Kuta and Seminyak and the predominantly party vibe feeling of them, Ubud is the place to go. You can easily spend a few hours wandering around the markets and shops, or head to the Sacred Monkey Forest to check out all the cheeky monkey’s that live there. Likewise, Ubud is a great place to relax and get a pampering massage as well. We went to Kayma Spa, and got a traditional Javanese Lulur, which was 120 minutes and pure bliss.
We also rented scooters and spent a day motoring around the countryside surrounding Ubud. The original plan was to make an early morning stop at Tegallalang Rice Terraces before spending the rest of the day at various temples to the north of Ubud; however, we took a wrong turn on our way and ended up at the top of Mount Batur instead! We completely missed the rice terraces, but the views were great so we kept going to the lake at the bottom before looping around to come back towards the temples and Ubud.
We eventually got to where we were going – Pura Tirta Empul – but it was much later then planned (worth it for the views though!). Pura Tirta Empul is a water temple fed by a holy spring, and is a highly spiritual place to the Balinese people. I’d done quite a bit of reading on the various temples around Ubud, and this was one of the ones I was most looking forward to due to its cultural and historical significance, as well as it’s general beauty. Once we got there; however, I felt that it was a bit disappointing and not quite what I was expecting.
Don’t get me wrong, it was still cool, but it didn’t blow me away as I thought it would. Part of this was just due to the copious amounts of tourists (yes, myself included!) that were there, which really took away from any type of spiritual connection to the temple. It always amazes me how many people can go to a place and not respect local norms and etiquette, and it was no different here. Despite signs outlining appropriate behaviour, dress, and volume of language, there were numerous people who were there just to get the best ‘instagram’ shot and didn’t care who they offended whilst doing it. As a tourist myself, if I was offended by some people, I can only imagine how it must be for locals who were there to pray and pay their respects to their ancestors. That was definitely a down side to it.
Within the temple itself are various baths and springs, and these are used for purification rituals within the Hindu culture. Anyone is allowed to go through the process, and there were many Balinese who were there to take part; however, many more were tourists. If you’re happy to wait potentially hours for the experience, it is probably a really neat one to have. I would have liked to do it; however, it didn’t feel right to me once we got there, so we decided to skip that and just enjoy it from the sides. Although I would still recommend Pura Tirta Empul as a place to go see, I would try going as early as possible to avoid the mass amounts of crowds.
After getting lost in the morning and fighting the crowds at the first temple, we amended our plan and decided to check out the next closest temple – Pura Gungung Kawi – before heading to the rice fields on our way back to our AirB&B. Pura Gungung Kawi is also a water temple, and being so close to Pura Tirta, I had expected it to look much the same and be just as busy. Boy, was I wrong. Following the map, we arrived at our destination (the middle of a tiny village), with no temple in site. As we were on motorbikes, a few local men came up to us and told us we needed to pay them for parking to access the temple, which, I’ll admit, we were pretty skeptical about. We explained that we’d rather pay at the ticket office (there are so many scams and we were wary of this being one of them), to which they nodded and understood, and directed us down the road a few meters to where we could buy our entrance tickets. Once there, we bought our entrance tickets and were quickly directed back to the same men to pay for parking. Luckily, they laughed about it with us and seemed in no way offended that we had checked first, and were more than happy to help park our bikes.
Immediately after the ticket office are steps that lead you down towards the temple – around 300 of them in fact – that take you past local market stalls as well as rice fields. It’s quiet and secluded, and I was amazed by how little tourists there were. It felt like we were stepping back in time.
The temple itself was incredible. It’s made up of many ancient shrines carved into the rock face, as well as more contemporary Hindu shrines, all overlooking the sacred Pakerinsan River. Small stones that served as meditation sites for Buddhists monks compliment the entire temple, showing that both religions can live harmoniously together. It was peaceful, it was awe-inspiring, and it was one of the best places I’ve been to thus far.
We easily spent a couple hours wandering around and taking it all in, before starting the climb back up to the village. Back on our bikes, we were amazed at how well hidden the temple was – all we needed was a wardrobe to step through and you’d think you were in a book! Gunung Kawi is a must see if you’re in Ubud, and a welcome surprise after Pura Tirta.
Thoroughly impressed, we drove back to our AirB&B, which conveniently took us past Tegallalang Rice Terraces. We stopped for about 20 minutes (be warned, you must pay ridiculous amounts for parking right beside the fields, so be prepared to walk a bit if you don’t want to pay), took some pictures, and headed back. After the beauty and tranquility of the rice fields next to Gungung Kawi, Tegallanlang felt very commercial like a giant tourist trap (which it is), so we didn’t feel the need to stay long.
If you’re in Ubud, I would suggest renting scooters and doing a day of temple tours and riding around. Although Tegallanlang is cool to look at, if you want to avoid the cost and crowds but still want to see the rice terraces, you can find plenty just driving around. Or, as you’ll be going to Pura Gungung Kawi anyways, you can just check them out there! 😉