Tips on visiting the outskirts of Ubud :
- If you plan on driving in the outskirts of Ubud, you should be warned that it’s a crazy world on those roads! It seems like no rules apply: people honk to signal and to warn, scooters are allowed down one-way streets (in the opposite direction) and I’ve seen them just drive on the side of the road and in the fields in rush hour. I also saw multiple tourists with bad scabs and scars from accidents!
- If you have a chance to sit down and share a meal with the local Balinese people you should know that they like to eat spicy. You should also be prepared to see them devour the whole prawn (tail, head & all) and that they eat with the right hand at home but in restaurants, more and more people use a fork and spoon but no knife. The spoon is used to cut! If you get the chance, try their avocado milkshake made with coconut milk, sugar, ice, and avocado. It was delicious and refreshing!
- Temples around Bali: they are usually divided into three spaces: an outer courtyard in addition to two holier inner yards. Each temple also has spaces of worship for Hinduisms’ three prominent deities: Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva (from sailingstone travel). Make sure you dress appropriately: wear a sarong or a long dress that covers your shoulders and drapes to the ground.
- Tanah Lot is a water temple and definitely worth the stop. The name means land on the sea and comes from the word Tanah meaning land and lot mean seawalk. Walk around the grounds, and over to the bottom of the temple, and for a small donation, you can get purified by a priest. He will put rice between your eyes and a flower on your ear. It is sadly not possible to enter either of the temples on site.
- Drive through the Tabanahan region, in the outskirts of Ubud, to see everyday life just going by in a frenzy, barely touched by tourists. One of the towns was filled with so many shops and markets.
- Ketut, my driver, told me that the town of Mengwi is known for their abundant flower markets and for the Desa Mengwi Temple or Taman Ayun Temple. I paid an entrance fee and rented a sarong to explore these beautiful and tourist-less grounds. This temple complex was built around 1634 by the then ruler of the Mengwi Kingdom, Tjokerda Sakti Blambangan. It is a stunning place: temples, water, flowers, statues, birds, peace and quiet surround you. Ketut told me that the King has many celebrations here. I also learned that different towers may be dedicated to different gods, or sometimes even individuals or local mountains and they have either 3, 5, 7, 9 or 11 levels – a sequence of numbers considered sacred not just in Bali but in cultures throughout the world (from sailingstone travel). It’s said that a Balinese temple’s importance can more or less be determined by the height of its highest meru, word representing the multitiered pagodas of varying numbers of thatched roofs. It is also here that I learned about Barong, the village protector that looks like a lion, as well as Rangda the queen of black magic, Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver, and Shiva the destroyer.
- Mas: this town is known for its woodcarving craftsmanship. I wish I’d had more time to stop and shop (and space to bring some stuff back with me)!
- Luwak coffee plantation: it felt like a tourist trap but I still enjoyed learning how the Luwak coffee is made. Did you know the Balinese people pick up the Luwak poop, which has digested and fermented coffee beans in it, clean it, roast it, then boil it and…that’s how it’s made. It’s also said to be one of the most expensive coffee in the world! My guide brought me a wide selection of teas to taste as well as Brem (Balinese rice wine) and Arak (local liquor which is distilled from tuak, a sweet wine made from the coconut palm flower) all for free and for a fee I could get a cup of the Luwak coffee. It tasted very earthy and I enjoyed it black. Don’t forget to bring mosquito repellant! I only learned about the mistreating of the Luwak animals for production after I visited the property and it made me very sad.
- Tegenungan waterfall: park and walk through down a road with tourist shops and warungs, local small restaurants, until you get to a lot of stairs which will bring you down to the bottom of the waterfall. Depending on the water level, you may be allowed to swim under it (I wasn’t because the water flow was too strong). If you plan on being adventurous, change into your bathing suit before you come to this site as there isn’t really any place to change.
- Tagalang Rice Terrace: I think I was very lucky because the place wasn’t too crowded with tourists! It was a grey and rainy day so maybe it scared everyone off. If you want to do the typical Bali swing picture without paying, go to the One restaurant, go down a few levels and get on their private swing. You can give them a small donation if you feel bad or even grab a bite with a great view of the terrace! You will find a bigger swing a little lower down into the rice field and can jump on it for a relatively expensive price. Bring cash as you will need to pay an ‘entrance fee’ to the locals to walk through their rice fields. Take your time here and enjoy the walk through this unique, lush, heavenly green environment.
- The Elephant cave temple or Goa Gajah, is located on the edge of the Bedulu village. Make sure you wear a long dress, bring or rent a sarong. Come here early to escape the crowds. According to Ketut, this site and temple were built in the 11th century. Walk around the grounds and enjoy the stunningly old sculptures, meditation cave, rock-wall carvings covered in moss, bathing pools and fountains. The pool, excavated in 1954, features five out of supposedly seven statues depicting Hindu angels holding vases that act as waterspouts. Walk into the dim-lit cave, expect to be inhaling a lot of incense, and appreciate the 3 Ganesh statues that have stood here for centuries. Fun fact: there are no elephants or statues representing this animal anywhere. Some rumors say the name comes from the stone statues inside the meditation cave depicting that are shaped like elephants (ganesh).
- Tirta Empul or water temple: This was one of the highlights of my trip and I strongly recommend participating in this special event/ritual. This holy temple was built in 962 A.D. and people come here to purify themselves through the holy water that comes out of the multiple fountains into the pools. It was extremely crowded the day we went because a nearby village was having a ceremony. Our driver couldn’t come in with us since it required him to have his ceremony outfit/sarong, which he didn’t have with him. He explained to us that it would be extremely disrespectful of him to enter dressed as he was since he is Balinese, so we had to navigate our way through the crowds and figure it out for ourselves. I recommend getting a guide to fully embrace the history and rituals that take place in this sacred space! You should be warned about something I read on Wikipedia, right before getting into the water: there are risks of contracting Ebola due to local farmers throwing trash into the water source. Bring a dry sarong and you may also bring or rent a sarong to get into the water. You can rent a locker for a small fee. According to my google researches and observing the Balinese people, I understood that I needed to get in line in the pool, gather water in my hands in front of every fountain, bring it up to my forehead in prayer 3 times. Say a mantra 3 times. Bring the water to my mouth 3 times and repeat the mantra, then duck my head under the fountain before proceeding to the next one. I should mention that I didn’t open my mouth and kept my eyes shut in fear of this Ebola warning. I noticed the locals also brought offerings and put them above certain fountains and that we skipped a few of them, which I later learned, represented certain sins and death.
- Bubuh Bali: If you’re looking for a local restaurant, this is the place to go. We were the only tourists here. The menu only had three options: a peanut rice (made of compacted rice steamed in a coconut leaf and cut into squares) -called Tipat Santok-, also served with an egg -called Tipat Santok+ Telor-and another dish called Bubuh Bali. Ketut told me that local bring their own crackers from home and break them up on top of the meals. The restaurant also had multiple drink options and I tried the Es Daluman, a traditional cold drink made with green jelly from the cincau plant, palm sugar and coconut milk. Everything was delicious! Warning- the toilet was very rustic and make sure to bring toilet paper.
- Additional items on my list that I didn’t get to see: visit the Village above the clouds, hike or bike Mt Batur and Mt Agung, check out GitGit and Sekumpul Waterfalls and explore the Bamboo forest and traditional Balinese village.
Impressions of the outskirts of Ubud (Bali):
The time I spent exploring the outskirts of Ubud was the most beautiful and enjoyable part of my trip on this island. Ketut, a driver that had been recommended by friends, took me around the countryside to explore the sites mentioned above. This is definitely the way to go if you want to relax and not stress about driving a scooter, although it’s pricier. The combination of palm trees, flowers, rice fields, colorful houses, temples, Balinese woodcarvings, architecture and interior design makes this a very unique and exotic scenery worth soaking in. The local people were all so nice, always smiling, even with the poverty that seemed to surround them. The only downside to being driven around in the car was the crazy traffic we got stuck in and couldn’t swerve out of.
My time at Tirta Empul was the most immersive experience I’ve ever had. I will forever be grateful for the locals who welcomed me with their smiles and tried to explain to me the rituals because YES, I decided to jump in even after reading about the Ebola warning and do like the locals do, because what’s the point in living if you don’t take a few risks?
I would come back to Bali, but I would stay in the outskirts of Ubud to search for peace, quiet and nature.
Taman Ayun Temple:
Tagalang Rice Terrace:
The Elephant Cave temple:
Bubuh Bali & driving the outskirts of Ubud:
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