We allotted three days at Ubud. Too short a time to experience what they call the cultural and artistic hub of Bali. Too short indeed. As much as we wanted to make our own way exploring Ubud, to make the most of our stay, we opted to take our host’s offer of renting his brother’s tour van.
There aren’t that many taxis in Ubud, and most of the ones you’ll find are just dropping off passengers. There are, of course, other ways of getting around Ubud. Cheaper alternatives are hiring a bemo or joining a tour group. If you prefer to see the sights on your own, you can always rent a motorbike or a bicycle.
Taking a private car was our best option. After our operose climb to two active volcanoes (Bromo and Ijen) from just a few days back, we wanted the Bali leg of our journey to be more relaxed. We’re in Ubud after all. The ten-hour tour costs IDR 450,000.
It’s best to prepare a list of Bali temples and places you’d like to visit or better yet, have photos of them saved on your mobile and show it to your guide. The tour is confined to areas around and to the north of Ubud. Kuta and the places of interest to the south will warrant extra payment, I suggest doing this as a separate activity.
Understand that the Bali temples are considered holy places and are still being used for worship and offerings. Everyone is required to wear a sarong, which is often available at the entrance. Though most only ask for donations, others require extortionist amounts for their rental. I suggest bringing your own or buying one from the many stores outside of the temples.
Gunung Kawi is located at the bottom of a valley. The last few of the 300+ steps leading down to the temple complex is quite dramatic, with its high walls carved from the stone mountain, concealing what lies beyond.
Also carved from the stone mountain is the central pura complex. It really is fascinating, thinking how these structures in this Bali temple were made in the 10th century. Make sure to remove your shoes before entering the central pura of Gunung Kawi.
The rice paddies and the lush greenery at the bottom of the valley makes for a stunning view. Souvenir shops line the sides of the steps that lead down to Gunung Kawi, selling some of the most curious and creative things I’ve seen during our trip to Indonesia. Prices at the shops around this Bali temple are also lower compared to elsewhere on the island.
Admission is IDR 15,000 including sarong.
Built around natural springs, Tirta Empul is where the Balinese come to bathe and purify themselves. Considered as one of the holiest Bali temples, there are more locals here than tourists, compared to all other temples we visited.
Upon entering this Bali temple, you are greeted by a wide pool filled with huge koi fish, emphasis on HUGE! Some of them are as big as my entire leg.
There’s a solemn vibe to Tirta Empul, watching the people say their prayers accompanied by some graceful hand gestures before laying their offerings and bathing on the spring water. Everyone is allowed to bathe in the pools, just bring extra clothing.
Other curious things seen at Tirta Empul are the stone guardians surrounding the entire temple grounds. This Bali temple has designated entry and exit points where more souvenir shops can be found.
Admission is IDR 15,000 including sarong.
It was already midday when we left Tirta Empul. Before heading for lunch, we stopped by an Organic Farm where you can sample different types of coffee. There are quite a number of these places along the road and they do feel very touristy. Still, a good addition to any itinerary even for non-coffee drinkers, and there’s no admission fee.
You’ll first go through a maze of plants, then to a demonstration of the traditional way of making coffee. We tried 8 different flavors, if you will, of coffee. From the really expensive coffee Luwak (which we already had a taste of at Yogyakarta) to Cinnamon, Coconut, Ginseng, Vanilla, it seems that they make coffee out of every imaginable fruit, flower or seed. Products at their shop are more than double the price compared to the local market.
We had lunch at one of the many restaurants lining the Batur caldera. Buffet lunch costs IDR 50,000/person. There are four dishes and a couple of rice viands. Food is good, though nothing exceptional. A fair price given the awesome view of Mount and Lake Batur.
With our feet rested and our tummies full, we continue our tour of Bali temples near and around Ubud.