Lush green paddy fields, rows and rows of healthy meal outlets, gorgeous rice terraces, blistering waterfalls, intricate temples, home of “wellness” – sounds fabulous, doesn’t it? On paper (and Instagram), Ubud may be the most romantic & special of all places in Bali, but we were thoroughly surprised by how over-hyped it truly is. We spent a week in Ubud in May 2017 and much to our chagrin, we weren’t amused at all by what we saw and experienced.
Needless to say, this is our personal opinion driven by our experiences but as bloggers, we feel it is imperative that we write about places we don’t recommend, about the ‘real’ experiences during our travels. There’s plenty of romanticism out there but life (and the world) isn’t all that rosy. Here are 5 reasons why WE WOULDN’T go back to Ubud.
1. IT IS RUN OVER BY TOURISM
Reading numerous blogs about Ubud online left an impression of a place of zen-like beauty. We expected a village with vast paddy fields and temple-going locals at every corner. Instead, we were treated to markets overflowing with tourists, congested roads without space for even a needle to pass, shops that are nothing beyond tourist traps, restaurants that have been ‘westernised’, and crowds that got to our nerves in spite of being from an overpopulated country ourselves.
Honestly, we aren’t usually frazzled by places being taken over by tourism. We found Petra to be magical in spite of the haggling vendors and scammy shops strewn around the site. We found Santorini to be utterly romantic even though we had to struggle for hours to find a spot to catch sunset. But, Ubud left us feeling differently. The zen-like, yoga-driven, temple-going culture is now hard to spot amidst the tourist frenzy, unless you live far off from the centre.
2. A TAD BIT TOO MANY CREEPY CRAWLIES
When one ventures into SE Asia, it is natural to encounter crawlies all around. House lizards, mosquitoes, all sorts of flies are in abundance everywhere. We were extremely aware of this fact even before we booked our tickets but yet, the creepy crawlies in Ubud had us covering for our lives at many points.
We were enjoying a wonderful Balinese spa at Cantika, one of the most reputed outlets in Ubud. Towards the end, as we dipped our warm bodies into the floral tub holding a glass of cocktail, out came a giant monitor lizard (double the size of a chameleon!) that had Divya squirming for her life. It was a closed space and we felt there could be a lot more lurking around. We didn’t bother washing off the oil or taking a shower, we put our clothes back on and escaped as fast as we could turning our intimate spa experience into a horror story. That wasn’t all – a horde of lizards were on the ceiling at many places we dined making us wonder how hygienic the food really is. The story wasn’t much different even in our luxury apartment.
3. BUDGET-FRIENDLY? UHM, NOT REALLY
When we did our research for Ubud, it seemed like we’ll swing by with very limited budgets. Accommodation was dirt cheap as we’d gotten a huge private villa for as less 38$ (2500 INR) per night. Bike rental and petrol was extremely cheap as well. But, services in Ubud are much costlier than we estimated, especially food. The street food wasn’t delectable or clean and that forced us to eat at mid-range restaurants most of the time. Meals were easily in excess of 10$ every time. While this is extremely cheap by Western standards, countries like Laos/ Thailand are much cheaper to eat in.
The airport taxis were expensive, the ‘decent’ air-conditioned spas were expensive, the fruit bowls were ridiculously overpriced, and good food came at a heavy price. For eg, a meal of the famous Duck @ The Dirty Duck Diner is priced at 1000 INR (15 USD) a plate. While you won’t spend more than 20K-25K INR per person (300-320 USD) for a week excluding flights, it isn’t exactly backpacker prices for Indians at least.
4. WHERE WERE THE SMOOTHIE BARS, AGAIN?
Instagram and blogs paints a very ‘fruity’ picture of Ubud. We’d read blogs about how fruit bowls, fruit smoothies are at every corner in Ubud. But hey, we couldn’t find them all that easily and they don’t exactly line up along the streets. Outside of the “Coco super market”, it was hard to even locate fruit vendors anywhere. We lived in the Tegallalang area and locals told us that they get fruits from far away or from the “local supermarket”. For all the expectations of stocking up on fresh fruits we went with, we were bummed out.
This does not mean there are NO smoothie bars or fruit bowl cafes, there are a good few of them. But, it takes a ton of online research or Google Map help to locate the good ones. Even some of the popular organic cafes barely had any fruit/ smoothie options. One of the most celebrated cafes, Cafe Pomegranate, had just one smoothie option for example. This may also well be a result of the over tourism that is plaguing the town.
5. WE DID NOT LIKE THE FOOD IN UBUD. PERIOD.
We are both suckers for Asian food. Last year, we went on a food trip to Thailand and ate till our stomachs couldn’t take any further. Our favourite restaurant back home is a Vietnamese pho-place. Yet, the food in Ubud failed to excite us. We ate at almost every single place mentioned in guide books/ blogs and came out feeling under-whelmed. Whether it is the organic food it is famed for or the local food like duck delicacies, it was drab to the point we were driven to try ‘western’ food in an Asian village.
There are only a handful of local delicacies that are available, the likes of Nasi Campur, Nasi Goreng, Mie Goreng, Babi Guling (Suckling Pig), Bebek Bengil (Fried Duck). That’s a very small list for any destination. No matter which restaurant you go to, you’re sure to be served some variety of these dishes. Barring a few restaurants whose Nasi Campur was outstanding, the overall food experience was average at best.
Additionally, it did not help that there was an overbearing sense of ‘Hinduism’ with each local we met asking us whether we were “Hindu”. We did not find the cafes very conducive to working, unlike the “digital nomad haven” image it carries.
While these are all valid reasons not to like a place much, we do think Ubud may work for certain type of travellers: yoga lovers, vegan travellers, large group retreats, Hindu pilgrims are some that come immediately to mind. It is also an excellent place to find an affordable ‘luxe’ accommodation to rest and rejuvenate, provided you’re ok with creepy crawlies. Find a quiet corner for yourself and stick to it.
All in all, we were personally unimpressed with Ubud. We doubt whether we’d ever head back there unlike a lot of fellow travellers we know who have gone there over and over again. Somehow, we failed to catch on to the charm of the place. If you’re planning a trip to Bali and one of the five reasons we mentioned above strike a chord with you, do yourself a favour and skip Ubud. There’s not much you’ll miss, in our opinion.