Inspired by the movie and the book “Eat Pray Love“ to go to Bali? Here’s my Bali travel guide with special focus on the village of Ubud, where Elizabeth Gilbert, author of “Eat Pray Love” stayed while she was in Bali.
Ubud is a village that lies an hour by car from the beaches of Seminyak and the airport. It feels spiritual and tranquil, and I can see why Elizabeth Gilbert stayed here. Ubud has a lot of yoga studios, quirky little cafes and restaurants, bookstores and spas. Here are my recommendations on where to stay, where to eat, and what to do in Bali. I did not venture out to the northern part of the island. I stayed mostly in Ubud with a couple of days in Seminyak, and several side trips to East Bali.
Accommodations in Bali
The one place I highly recommend is the Bambu Indah Villas. Owned by jewelry designer John Hardy, these small private villas built out of local materials are perched on a cliff overlooking the Ayung River. You have views of the lush rice fields and the mountains, including the volcano, in the distance. Read my detailed review of Bambu Indah.
There are many other wonderful hotels in Ubud:
(1) The Alila Ubud, overlooking the magical Ayung River, quite close to Bambu Indah with a wonderful spa and spectacular views.
(2) The Kupu Kupu Barong Villas and Tree Spa: also overlooking the Ayung River, a romantic luxurious boutique hotel and spa.
(3) Alila Villas Uluwatu: spacious, luxurious villas overlooking the Indian Ocean on the Bikit Peninsula close to the Uluwatu temple. For people who want privacy and exclusivity with sea views.
(4) Kayumanis Villas: luxurious villas, very private and secluded, in Ubud (also in Jimbaran and Nusa Dua, which are on the beach). Great views across the Ayung River.
If you must stay in the Seminyak-Legian-Kuta area on the beach, try the Padma Bali Resort in Legian. The good: spacious rooms, huge swimming pool, excellent buffet. The bad: all-the-beer-you-can-drink-in-an-hour specials, which result in rowdy, drunken behavior among some guests.
Restaurants in Ubud, Bali
Bumbu Bali: delicious Balinese food served indoors and outdoors in little huts scattered across a small garden; opposite the Puri Saren Palace and next to Ibu Oka. (Jln. Suweta No. 1, Ubud). Gives excellent cooking classes (see What To Do in Bali below).
Ibu Oka: famous for Balinese roast suckling pig, this place is always packed. You eat sitting down on the floor on low tables. The food is very inexpensive: I spent about $2.50 for a big plate of roast suckling pig with rice and vegetables.
Ary’s Warung: a chic, modern restaurant with a fabulous bar in the heart of Bali. Excellent Balinese and Western specialties, cocktails, wine, beer. Cool vibe.
Jazz Cafe Bali: live music, food, drinks and excellent ambiance not far from Monkey Forest Road (Jl. Sukma, Ubud, Bali).
Three Monkeys: restaurant and cafe on Monkey Forest Road serving good salads, Balinese and Western dishes, and lovely desserts. Try the Singapore prawn laksa and the chocolate pâté.
Warung Enak: two-storey restaurant serving excellent Balinese food, cocktails, beer; eclectic decor.
Mozaic: temple of high gastronomy on the island, Mozaic has stunningly beautiful interiors and a romantic garden filled with coconut trees where you can dine. French cuisine flavoured with Balinese influences by French-trained chef, Chris Salans. You must reserve in advance especially if you want to eat outdoors.
Luxurious spas in Bali
Como Shambhala: the spa at this luxury hotel is impressive and the service is amazing. You’ll feel like melting away after their massages and body treatments. The hotel and surrounding gardens are very beautiful.
Kirana Spa: located on a ledge above the Ayung River, the Kirana Spa is an oasis of peace and utter indulgence. Run by Shiseido with its luxurious products and treatments.
What to do in Bali
(1) Cooking class at Bumbu Bali: If you can’t get enough of the food in Balinese restaurants, make sure you take a cooking class before you go home. The wonderful restaurant of Bumbu Bali (recommended above) holds cooking classes in the morning from 9:00 am to 12 noon. The chef takes you on a short tour of the local market across the restaurant, tells you about local herbs and vegetables that are used in Balinese cooking, and then teaches you how to make five Balinese dishes. The cooking class is very hands-on and at the end, you have to eat everything you make. Not a bad thing except that you make a lot of food. So don’t even consider eating breakfast on the day of the cooking course. The chef also gives you a cute apron and a cookbook to take home.
(2) Beach life: if you decide to spend a couple or more days on the beach not too far from Ubud or Denpasar, the towns of Seminyak and Legian (both of which are next to the horrible, seedy Kuta) are good options. There are several resort complexes in Seminyak and Legian and they are predictably very touristy. You will probably find yourself walking around in Kuta, a truly terrible place. The beaches in this part of Bali have a lot of waves which is good for surfers, not so good for people who just want to swim.
(3) Watch the sunset and sip amazing cocktails at Ku De Ta, a restaurant and night club right on the beach in Seminyak. Make sure you park yourself upstairs on the second floor patio where the guests tend to dress and look better, and where you get a good view of the sunset. Attire: casual chic. They have a dress code for men: they will not allow you in if you are in a t-shirt with a beer logo or are wearing a sleeveless top.
(4) Yoga: there are a lot of yoga places in Bali but I like Yoga Barn because of its location (great views across the rice fields) and the large number of classes.
(5) Other places to visit:
- Monkey Forest in Ubud
- Gunung Batur crater
- Tenganan: a tiny, traditional Balinese village where they still make ikat cloth the old fashioned way
- Pura Kehen temple in Bangli (photo below): one of the most stunning temples in East Bali. Surprisingly, we were the only visitors. This is not one of the touristy temples on the island but it is atmospheric. You climb the steps to a lavishly carved door, enter a courtyard and find yourself next to a large banyan tree. The inner courtyard has an 11-roof meru, a multi-roofed shrine which looks Japanese.
- Sidemen Road: lovely scenery of rice paddies and rivers.
- Pura Goa Lawah: temple near the beaches of Candidasa, very crowded with locals engaged in a variety of ceremonies.
- Candidasa: small beach town, not as touristy as Kuta and Seminyak, low-key.
- Kertha Gosa palace of the Diwa Agung dynasty: beautify ceiling panels in bright colors depicting scenes from Balinese folk tales in a floating pavilion surrounded by a lotus pond.
(6) Catch a performance of the traditional Balinese dance, the Kecak, which reenacts the Ramayana.
(7) Visit the Green School Bali, possibly the most “green” and eclectic school on earth. Classes are held in bamboo buildings which are mostly open air and set in a lush tropical gardens. The school incorporates a green curriculum in addition to the traditional Western course of study. They also have summer camp for children (they don’t need to be enrolled in the Green School during the term).
(8) Budget massages, manicures and pedicures, spa treatments: if you don’t feel like splurging on the spas I mentioned above, try the small massage places and spa salons in Ubud. You can get a 45-minute massage with a Bali lulur soak for only $25.
Get connected to the Internet
There’s free Wi-Fi in almost all the cafes in Bali. Better yet: you can use Skype on your iPhone, iPad or laptop to call people overseas. Most of the hotels also have free Wi-Fi.
A warning to contact lens wearers
The pharmacies on Bali (called apothek which comes from Dutch) are often out of contact lens solution. Always bring an extra bottle if you plan to stay for more than two weeks. I remember being driven to several apotheks before finding one that carried contact lens solution.
Side trip to Borobodur outside Jogjakarta (Java)
If you are going to be in Bali for more than a week, plan on visiting Borobodur, a 9th century Buddhist monument outside Jogjakarta on the island of Java (which is next to Bali). It is best to get a local guide (note: your hotel can recommend a tour operator). You fly out of Denpasar airport in Bali to Jogjakarta (45-min flight), sleep one night, wake up before sunrise, go up to Borobodur to catch the sunrise. It’s a mystical experience.
How to get to Bali
I flew to Bali via EVA Air, the Taiwanese airline, which has a stopover in Taipei. There is a transit hotel in the airport (inside security) so you can take a nap and freshen up. The food in Taipei’s airport is great and there is free Wi-Fi. The shopping galleria in the airport is impressive with the luxury brands outdoing one another (note: Bottega Veneta even has a store where they sell their $2000+ handbags). EVA Air’s premium economy is very good and the service is excellent. I advise you to avoid flying US carriers to Asia as there are many Asian alternatives, all of which provide far better service and newer airplanes.
Eat Pray Love Guide to Rome
I have also posted the Eat Pray Love Rome Travel Guide.
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