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open mind, empty stomach

travel, food, and fun

Eat, Pray, Love features this little Balinese town located about 45 minutes north of Denpasar. I haven’t seen the film, but I’m thinking at least a few of the hundreds of foreigners occupying the town have. The Jetstar in-flight preview for Bali highlighted Ubud as a small, quiet, peaceful place of beauty that features terraced rice paddies.

Over the course of my travels I’ve witnessed something I like to call the Lonely Planet Effect, where a place or an establishment is featured in the publication, then changes drastically. The ‘hidden gem’ where ‘only the locals go’ and is ‘off the tourist radar’ goes directly to the center of the map once it makes LP. Ubud definitely has that kind of vibe.

I’m not sure how long Ubud has been the way it is, but what I witnessed there didn’t remotely resemble what I’m looking for in a destination. The influx of tourist traffic has Ubud priced significantly higher than other places in Bali. The cheapest rooms in town are 150,000-200,000/night (about $15-20). This compares with 50-80k elsewhere. Laundry service is done on a per piece basis rather than by weight as it is in the rest of Indonesia. Food is also overpriced and – even worse – geared towards Western palates.

What does paying the price to stay in Ubud get you? Not too much. The monkey forest is the number one attraction in town. It is far more zoo than forest. Tourists outnumbered the monkeys by about 10-1 and were more entertaining to watch than the animals. There are also dozens and dozens of galleries and artists’ workshops. Art isn’t really my thing, but the stuff in Ubud is supposed to be really good.

The food highlight of Ubud is Iba Oka. When Anthony Bourdain declared their babi guling to be the best pork he’s ever had, it spoke volumes. Of course I had to try and it was really, really good. The meat itself was the best I’ve had in Indonesia, extremely flavorful and tender. By Western standards, it’s cheap at 30,000 a pop, but you can get great babi guling nearby for half the price.

I only spent a couple days and a couple nights in Ubud. My short stay may have kept me from seeing what makes so many people come to the place, but what I did see certainly did not ‘wow’ me. If you have money to spend and love art, white people, and Western food, then Ubud is the place for you in Bali.

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