The island of Bali is well-known for its beach landscapes, but head to the hills and you’ll find the town of Ubud is brimming with lush jungles, terraced rice paddies and Hindu temples and shrines.
The area surrounding the main town is made up of small farms, rice paddies and dense forests. In the foothills of the Gianyar regency, it’s long been a popular place for retiring expats, with a robust mix of ancient times and todays modern world.
Ubud is also known for its history which dates back to the eighth century when a Javanese priest settled in the town. Since being discovered, Ubud became highly regarded for its natural healing and medicine and that’s how its name originated. Ubad in ancient Balinese translates to medicine. Over the next 400 years, temples and monasteries were established, many are still standing today.
It’s also home to the Royal Family, you can actually visit the historical Ubud Palace situated in the centre of town. The locals embrace nature here. Generations of Hindu worshippers have made special pilgrimages to the fork in the Wos River to meditate, bathe and collect holy water for temple ceremonies and cleansing rituals.
Where retail dominates the coastal areas, in Ubud restaurants and palaces are built around trees, museums are filled with art and artefacts; it does have its share of shopping as well, but the lifestyle here is more about wellness and therapy rather than retail therapy. The main street is Jalan Raya Ubud, which runs east-west through the town.
You’ll often hear Ubud referred to as the “heart of Bali”. Located in central Bali, it’s elevated 200 metres above sea level and cooler weather can be enjoyed the majority of the year. Known as the spiritual and cultural centre of the island, with a total population of around 35,000, it has a strong expat community.
A lot of expats will tell you Ubud isn’t what it once was, the last few years it’s become a popular tourist destination and is much busier than say, 10 years ago. Many blame the book, Eat, Pray, Love and subsequent Hollywood blockbuster, for its revival. The very centre of Ubud can be a congested town cluttered with shops, restaurants and hotels, but further afield you’ll find the country town vibe you’re looking for.
Despite all this, most people choose Ubud for its differences. Located 35km away from Kuta and just over an hour’s drive away from the International Airport, the Balinese culture is visible every day.
Morning markets are a hive of activity very early, with locals purchasing flowers and small palm baskets. These are used to create the canang sari, small, colourful baskets of offerings left on the streets, in their shrines at home and at the local temple. A gift to the gods to promote health and prosperity for their family.
Located across from the Royal Palace, the markets sell fresh produce along with handicraft and clothing made in the neighbouring villages of Tegallalang and Peliantan. You’ll find wicker baskets, traditional Batik sarongs and Ikat clothing, along with items aimed at tourists. Be prepared to haggle, the sellers love to make you work for your bargain.
As mentioned, the traditional Balinese culture thrives in Ubud, the Hindu 210-day calendar is filled with auspicious days. Special blessings for the new moon and the full moon, a baby’s birth and the ensuing celebrations, and wedding days all feature lots of colour. Recently, a royal cremation blocked the streets of the town as thousands paid their respects and followed the procession through the streets.
Ubud isn’t the kind of town where you need a long to-do list, but it’s a great spot to appreciate the culture and the history of Bali. There are many temples and shrines to explore, they offer a glimpse into historical Bali and its architecture.
Built circa 960AD, the much revered Tirta Empul is located in the village of Manukaya in Tampaksiring. It’s a beautiful complex with a holy mountain spring that fills the many pools. The locals and visitors alike, seek spiritual purification by praying and standing beneath each fountain in succession. As with any temple in Bali, it’s important to dress respectfully when visiting.
On the main road, is the easily accessible Taman Saraswati Temple, it’s a classic example of Balinese temple architecture. The entrance is enchanting, with a large pond bursting with flowering pink lotuses. It also houses the Café Lotus, and here you have a perfect view of the stage where traditional dances are held on most evenings. There are a number of art museums, such as the Blanco Renaissance Museum and the Agung Rai Museum of Art.
Most nights if you wander through the streets you’ll find traditional Balinese dance performances. Look for the Kecak dance, where around 60 men and boys perform haunting chants, while fire-dancers recreate the story of Ramayana.
You can hire a motorbike ($7 a day) or a car ($25 a day) and explore the surrounding areas. To the north, the Tegallalang rice terraces are spectacular, with some amazing coffee plantations to visit.
When you drive the hill back towards Ubud, stop at the many stores where you’ll be able to purchase furniture and homewares at a fraction of the cost you’d find in the southern areas.
The Campuhan Ridge walk is a great place to escape the traffic. There are a few hills but it’s an easy walk with stunning views of rice fields and the valley below. Best to do early morning, to miss the heat.
Immerse yourself into the Balinese culture even more by taking a cooking class. There are many available in Ubud and most include a market visit. You can learn how to make offerings and there’s plenty of hands-on cooking, at the end of it all you get to eat the delicious food you’ve created.
Cost of Living in Ubud
As a potential retirement haven, Ubud offers a simple lifestyle, and still only an hour away from the bigger town amenities. Villas with a swimming pool and rice paddy views are readily available.
A one-bedroom apartment with views of rice fields and only a ten-minute walk to the local markets, can be had for $750 a month. Or a three-bedroom villa close to restaurants and cafes, with a magnificent swimming pool for $1200 per month. You will find cheaper options, it just comes down to what amenities you prefer.
There are ample opportunities to socialise and meet other expats, enjoy a cold drink and a nice meal, with many bars around. Local warung style eateries dot the community and with many first-class chefs calling Ubud home, the dining scene is thriving.
For a small town Ubud has a surprising amount of gourmet restaurants with fantastic food. They may be high in price for Bali, but definitely cheaper than what you would pay at home. Try Locavore, or Spice by Chris Salens, or for the sweet tooth head to Room4Dessert which was featured in the Netflix series, Chef’s Table.
AVERAGE COSTS PER COUPLE
|Furnished one-bedroom villa||$800|
|Monthly supermarket||$50 -$100 per week|
|A Local dinner (x6)||$15|
|A restaurant dinner with alcohol (x3)||$50|
Retire in Ubud
There are many expats who have visited Ubud for a month and find they still haven’t left years later. Living the simple life is easy in Ubud, you have modern conveniences close by and yet the Balinese traditions are still prominent. The streets can be hilly, but a morning walk through town just as the markets are coming to life is enjoyable.
Choose to cook at home, with local markets abundant with fresh produce, fruit and vegetables. About $15 will buy a week’s worth of vegetables and tropical fruit such as mangoes, pineapples. dragon-fruit and watermelon. At the local supermarket a whole chicken will set you back around $6.
Supermarket shopping can be done easily, with a large Coco Supermarket just as you enter the town of Ubud. A little further is Pepito Supermarket, with freshly baked bread and fresh produce. There is also a Bintang supermarket to the west of Ubud. When you don’t want to cook head out and discover the many places on offer.
Traditional Balinese food is readily available, Warung Pojok where local dishes are served with traditional spices and herbs. Or Murni’s Warung which is a bit of an institution in Ubud. One of the first eateries in Ubud since 1974, Murni’s boutique and restaurant offers an extensive menu of local cuisine. A must-try is the bebek betutu, slow roasted duck with turmeric rice, served with the traditional urap which is a fresh salad mix ($12.50).
Living in Bali long-term will require the correct visa, so be sure to do your homework. You can easily enter Bali on a Tourist Visa for 30-days but this cannot be extended. For stays of up to 60 days, a 30- day Visa on Arrival purchased at the airport for $50 can be extended. It’s easy and more cost effective to apply for a 60-day visa before you leave Australia.
A great way to test-drive life in Bali is the six-month (180 days) Social Visa. This does require a trip out of the country to organise and will cost around $180. You do need a local sponsor and it’s best to organise with a visa agent in Bali.
Alternatively, if you’re aged 55 or over, you’re eligible for a Retirement Visa. At a cost of around $900 per year and renewable for up to five years.
Wellness is thriving in Ubud, and it’s a major yoga destination, there are dozens of places to choose from every day. The Yoga Barn is the most popular studio but does normally have large classes.
If you like something smaller try Ubud Yoga House. With classes limited to 12-people it’s more personal and reasonable at around $9 per class. There is also the Ubud Fitness Centre for those who prefer a gym.
Healthcare isn’t a concern with a BIMC Ubud Medical Centre which can handle most ailments with state-of-the-art facilities. A round of antibiotics and a consultation with a medical practitioner will only set you back around $16.
Most over-the-counter medications can be purchased at the local pharmacy, known as the apotek. For something as simple as paracetamol, a box of 100-tablets will cost around $5.
There is a big expat community in Ubud, from all over the world. You’ll find many opportunities to meet others and socialise. There are quite a few Ubud community pages which you’ll find by doing a search on Facebook. Everyone is friendly, the locals are welcoming, you can be social or enjoy your solitude. It’s a town that doesn’t cost a lot to live in but is filled with as many adventures as you wish to find.