Ubud is the cultural centre of Indonesian island Bali. It lies in the hills north of Balinese capital Denpasar. It used to be a comfortable, quiet town but when I was there in the summer of 2002, it had turned into a tourist area with hundreds of home stays, restaurants, and souvenir shops.
Despite the many tourists, Ubud still has some serene charm. Unlike other traveller magnets on Bali like Kuta and Sanur, Ubud is quiet at nights and the beautiful countryside is near. The surrounding rice fields make a good day trip by bicycle, which can be easily rented anywhere in Ubud.
Ubud has several museums (Museum Puri Lukisan, Museum Neka and the Museum of Modern Art being the primary ones), but only visit these if you like tropical gardens and colourful water lilies because the art collections are disappointing. Many painters have started their own galleries with batik art, which gives you a good impression of the prominent Balinese artists, but try avoiding the numerous tourist traps.
The city of Ubud is dominated by the Monkey Forest. Even the largest street in town is named after it. This Monkey Forest Street is the main street for hotels and restaurants as well, especially near the football ground, which also is the gathering place for the locals at sunset. The same locals illustrate the Indonesian’s complete lack of football talent by the way. I did not visit Monkey Forest because I was told the forest is nothing special and the monkeys are unstoppable, aggressive thieves.
Part of the charm of Ubud is the surrounding area. The roads north of Ubud lead to marvellous outlooks over the valley of the river Petanu. Taking a rental bike eastwards leads to the best part of the neighbourhood. A few kilometres east of Ubud lie the Goa Gajah (Elephant’s Cave), Yeh Pulu (a relief carved in rocks) and several interesting temples.
Travelling from either south (Kuta, Denpasar) or north (Lovina) you best take a shuttle bus to get to Ubud. If you have some money to spend (200,000 Rupiah a night), try the hotel called Artini Cottages II at Jalan Raya Ubud. It was one of the best hotel experiences we had in six weeks Indonesia.