Ubud, Bali: Stay, Do, Eat

Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

We hopped on an Air Asia flight from Singapore this morning for a short trip south to Bali. Our plane touched down into chaotic Denpasar airport around 2.5 hours later and we made our way into the arrivals hall to kick off our trip.

Here’s where we stayed, what we did and ate during our five days in Ubud, the Bali location featured somewhat infamously in Eat, Pray, Love.

Stay.
There are dozens of hotels in Ubud, ranging from backpacker lodges to yoga retreats to luxury five star villas. As this trip was celebrating a special occasion, we considered two options: the Four Seasons or the Viceroy. The Four Seasons looked like a spectacular property but we ultimately decided on the Viceroy since it was a smaller, more intimate hotel.

Our villa, number 18, was one of the nicest rooms either of us has ever stayed in. To call it a room is an understatement. Massive, it featured a thatched roof and bale – a traditional outdoor Balinese gazebo floating over a private plunge pool. The marble bathroom, much of which was hand carved, had both a soaking tub and rain shower large enough to accommodate maybe six people (just an estimate – we didn’t attempt.)

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The view from the villa was nothing short of spectacular. The Viceroy has been magically built into the side of a river gorge; on the other side, lush tropical greenery and rice paddies go for as far as the eye could see.

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The service could give the view a run for its money though. Unobtrusive, highly professional and polished – the staff all knew us by name after our first day and it never took more than a quick phone call or request at the reception desk for us to be well taken care of.

Facilities were top notch. The restaurant, CasCades, overlooks the same river valley as the villa as does the infinity pool. Food, both Western and Indonesian, was solid – we ordered dinner to our villa the first night and were really happy with it. Ditto for lunch by the pool and breakfast in the morning, although admittedly after five days of the same menu, it did get a little boring by our last day there.

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Finally, we treated ourselves to some treatments at the Lembah Spa. I’ll defer to Charlotte on exactly what was done to me (and why) but will say I’ve never been rubbed, scrubbed or polished in that way before. And, of course, the spa has the same killer view that the Viceroy is famous for.

Do.
With four full days in Ubud, we wanted to take full advantage of all that this artistic and cultural hub of Bali had to offer.

We spent our first day exploring the city itself, visiting the royal palace (still home to the local royals!), temple and bustling market. Ubud is packed full of local shops, selling soap, lace, jewelry, crafts and antiques. It took us a better part of the afternoon to conquer them all and we ended with quite a few shopping bags. Our day concluded at the Monkey Forest, teeming with, you guessed it, fearless monkeys wandering among temples.

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On our second day, we took a private day trip with Banyan Tree Bike Tours. This local operation, unique in that it’s owned and operated by a Balinese family, took us on a downhill cycling trip through the region’s rice paddies.

Along the way, we stopped at a coffee plantation to taste the notorious luwak coffee – beans eaten, pooped out by a big marsupial and then roasted to perfection – and experienced signs of everyday life: farmers in the rice paddies, two brothers getting a kite off the ground and women placing intricately arranged offerings respectfully to the Gods.

Afterward, we were treated to a fantastic, traditional Indonesian lunch at the owner’s home.

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Our third day was spent relaxing at the main pool and getting the most confusing – and awesome – spa therapies at the Viceroy. While being rubbed in Balinese sea salts and then slathered in a cold lotion of exotic local fruits, Char had to stop me from eating the treatment! Besides that, it was a great success.

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On our last day, we returned to the spa and pool in the morning, and then made our way over to the Yoga Barn in town for a vinyasa class. We agreed that the setting – among rice paddies, with birds chirping off in the distance – couldn’t be any more namaste. That night, we made our way to the royal palace for a colorful Balinese dance performance.

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Eat.
We ate surprisingly well in Ubud – the important thing to remember was, we were in Bali. Keep it simple. Keep it fresh. And we didn’t go wrong.

For lunch, we really enjoyed Three Monkeys. The setting, in another rice paddy, was awesome. Add to that really solid wood fired pizzas – mine was blue cheese, walnuts, caramelized onions and arugula – and you’ve got happy patrons. You also can’t go wrong with lunch at CasCades, the Viceroy restaurant. Get lunch or have a local Bintang beer while sitting in the pool bale.

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For dinner, we tried Mozaic, a much-hyped (acclaimed?) restaurant that is said to be the best in Ubud and even Indonesia. We had high expectations, and unfortunately, they were not met. The food was okay but the wine pairing was terrible and the whole experience felt too fabricated and theatrical for Ubud. And for what we paid, we could have had dinner at L’espalier in Boston. Just not worth it.

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Much better options that we would recommend include Minami, a sushi joint with a really talented chef putting out super fresh dishes, and Bali Buddha, a local organic restaurant where we treated ourselves to juices, salads, fish burgers and awesome cheesecake (all for $30). We also tried the famous warung (local restaurant), Naughty Nuri’s, a super casual joint known for its ribs and martinis. The ribs left much to be desired for but the martinis – literally just big glasses of vodka – somehow made them taste a heck of a lot better than they probably were.

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