Ubud: The Spiritual Heart of Bali

All in all, I had a love/hate relationship with Bali. The good things were brilliant, yet the bad things were awful and nearly ruined my whole experience. I have already chronicled the good, the bad, and the ugly from my time in Bali, but now I want to focus more on the spiritual heart of the island: Ubud.

Hindu Temple
Hindu Temple

I am not religious myself, but I find myself fascinated nonetheless with Balinese culture and its omnipresent Hinduism – not to mention their reverence towards Hanuman: God of the Monkeys! It’s amazing that there are statues of monkeys everywhere in Ubud, and all around Bali in general!

A typical street in Ubud
A typical street in Ubud
Marketplace
Marketplace in Ubud

You should always visit the local marketplace when you go travelling to immerse yourself in the atmosphere. In Ubud, the sights and smells are quite unlike much of the rest of Bali, and I suspect unlike most of Indonesia as a whole. There are two major Balinese delicacies that I enjoyed: Babi Guling, which is spit-roasted piglet, and Bebek Betutu, which is roast duck cooked with an added spicy twist. In any market in Ubud you can better your bottom Rupiah that someone will be offering these two dishes for you, and with Bebek Betutu in particular you can eat it on the move as you carry on browsing the souvenir stalls! Keep a look out!

Balinese countryside
The Ayung River splits the Balinese countryside

The Ayung River runs straight through most of Ubud and is the longest river in Bali. I had heard about white water rafting here, but on this occasion I was happy to stay dry and enjoy my stroll along the river’s edge.

Ubud
Ubud

I had noticed on TripAdvisor that the Campuhan Ridge Walk is one of the top-rated things to do in Ubud, so I took no time at all in arranging a tour with my hostel soon after I arrived in the area. It was a great walk to see the rural Ubud countryside. One of the iconic sights of Bali is the rice paddies, and nowhere on the island can you see them in more resplendence than in Ubud. They looked amazing!

Pura Besakih: Do not go here!
Pura Besakih: Do not go here!

There are many things to do in Ubud, apart from admire the scenery, such as visiting some of the innumerable Hindu temples. Some are more rewarding than others. Do not visit Pura Besakih, as the temple has practically been taken over by the mafia who pressure tourists into “donating” money (which obviously goes straight into their pockets). I was hounded quite aggressively at Pura Besakih, although I pretended I was Chinese and began speaking Mandarin, which eventually thwarted their persistence and thus they went to pester someone else. Other temples in the area such as Goa Gajah, Pura Saraswati, and the serene Taman Ayun are amazing and you should make an effort to see them – remember to ask if you can keep the sarong you used as a memory!

Bali Cow
Bali Cow

You cannot come to Ubud and not take a few photos of the local farmers using their cows to plough through the land. It is one of the iconic sights of the whole area!

The Sacred Monkey Forest
The Sacred Monkey Forest
Monkey Business
Monkey Business

As noted before, monkeys are revered in Hindu culture, and one of its gods is Hanuman, who is depicted as a central character in the Hindu epic Ramayana. So in central Ubud, there is a piece of primary rainforest where a sacred monkey kingdom exists. Tourists can walk freely in and out of the forest as they please, but be warned that the monkeys are also roaming around freely, and have been known to sit on people’s heads and steal their food! I was always wary of the monkeys, but some of them were eyeing up my camera, so I didn’t stay long in case I was ‘attacked’! I also wonder about the morals of tourism in Ubud’s Monkey Forest.

Traditional Kecak Dance
Traditional Kecak Dance

I thought the traditional Kecak dance of Ubud was amazing. It is mainly performed by men although apparently some women have been recently incorporated into this traditional Balinese pastime. The spiritual ramifications of this Kecak dance I do not know about, but it was wonderful to witness.

For more information and photos on Ubud in Bali, please check out the following amazing blogs from Our Big Fat Travel AdventureHave the World on a String, and Alex in Wanderland.

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19 thoughts on “Ubud: The Spiritual Heart of Bali

  1. Hi Lee, Great post again.. Just wondering about strolling on the banks of Ayung river. Did you just walk thru freely or you have to pay some entrance fee? Or did you have to stay at one cottage next to the river?

    I have plan to visit Bali next week, and have booked accommodation in Ubud. Really interested to pay a visit to Ayung river

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    1. Hi, Cony! Everybody can walk along the Ayung River in most parts. Some hotels have land alongside the River which is private property, but the river runs pretty much all the way through Ubud so there are many opportunities for you to enjoy it! I hope you have a great time in Ubud! Remember to stay away from Pura Besakih!

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  2. I’ve been to Bali five times, but only on my last trip did I have the chance to visit Besakih. Our driver, who turned out to be our guide, made our visit to the temple less horrible. He’s so proud of Besakih for its size. However my friend and I were really pestered by the pushy local vendors. It’s so sad because Besakih is the most important temple for Balinese Hindus, yet it is literally overwhelmed by mafia, as you said. My driver told me that each temple in Bali is managed by local residents, and the residents of nearby villages in Besakih happen to be one of the worst ones in terms of preserving the sanctity of their own temple.

    Besakih aside, the temples in Bali are just so beautiful and atmospheric. I never get bored of them!

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  3. Great post. We had a great time in Bali except for the pushiness of the vendors around the temples. I have to agree that Pura Besakih was really bad. We were so shocked when the guy demanded a larger tip at the end (after we had made a donation) that we gave him more without thought. Other temples are just as nice and way less hassle.

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