Exploring Ubud and the monkey forest

We started our first full day in Ubud with a delicious and very generous breakfast delivered to the outdoor dining table by the pool.  We ordered the night before and had a choice of nasi goreng or mi goreng, served with fresh fruit, fresh juice and coffee. It was a great way to start each day, and kept us going until lunch time!  After breakfast and a dip in the pool, we arrange for the driver to take us in to Ubud so we could explore the town and visit the monkey forest.

Not really knowing where we wanted to go in Ubud itself, we drove to the monkey forest first. I’d been here a few years before with Mark, but was happy to go back with Ron.  It was interesting to see areas that hadn’t changed, but also discover some parts which had been redeveloped and expanded. As we walked through the entrance, just beyond the ‘do not feed the monkeys’ sign, we came across a lady selling bananas. Last time I was there our guide purchased some bananas to encourage the monkeys to come close, but being by ourselves we didn’t want to risk being attacked by the monkeys.

A lady selling bananas just inside the monkey forest

We spent an hour or so exploring the forest, wandering the paths, admiring the statues and watching monkeys as they wrestled, climbed, ate and slept.  A few highlights in particular were a couple of monkeys fighting in the middle of the path, and another group playing in a pond. They looked quite creepy when they were wet, because all their fur lay flat and clinged to their bony bodies.  Despite our best efforts to not carry food, Ron had a packet of mints on his bag. It was a small blue packet in his blue backpack, stored in a mesh pouch. Before he knew what was happening, the monkey had jumped up, run around his shoulder and started chewing at the bag trying to get at the mints! He managed to shake the monkey off before it actually got hold of the packet, but it did manage to bite a corner out of the plastic. We were surprised it had managed to find the mints, and after that paid close attention to where the monkeys were as we wandered through the forest.

A monkey climbing on Ron to get to the mints in his backpack

The forest was larger than I remembered, and we climbed down some stairs and over a bridge where there was a small creek and narrow path. Monkeys were climbing on the walls, jumping over the water and running along the path. There were quite a few people walking along there as well, everyone quite cautious of the monkeys particularly when they climbed along tree roots above the path.  Check out the video below for some highlights from our visit.

After about an hour and a half, we had explored the forest and were ready to move on.  Both the night before and during our drive to the forest, we had come down through the main strip of Ubud. So, when we left the forest we decided to turn left away from that road to explore the rest of the town.  The road was uphill and it was very sunny, and before long I was hot, sweaty and ready for a break.  We stopped off at a restaurant for a drink, then continued on our way.

We walked along the road a little way, but none of the shops really interested us.  Then, after walking past a grass oval we saw the entrance to a market. There was a series of stalls running along Jalan Karna, and we had a great time exploring and looking at souvenirs. There were all sorts of things ranging from soaps, moisturisers and key rings to paintings, carvings and batik.  I admired various paintings and carvings, and Ron compared soaps. Behind the main row of shops a lady was selling paintings, and while I was admiring them and deciding if I should buy one, Ron spotted another lady selling fresh coconuts.  He grabbed a coconut and I decided to leave the painting for now.

Ron enjoying a fresh coconut

We continue to wander the market, which seemed endless, and at one point we turned off down a side street. The stalls changed and so did their wares, and it became less touristy and more like an authentic market.  The stalls were more closely packed, and the walkway narrower.  We turned a corner which lead down some wide stairs and at the bottom it opened out into a small square filled with more souvenir stalls, but upstairs what looked like a regular market selling eggs, food and other day to day items.

A set of stairs leading down to a small market square
Souvenirs below, eggs and other items above

We were planning to visit some temples the next day, so took the opportunity to buy some sarongs (they’re significantly cheaper in a market rather than having to purchase them at a temple gate!).  People had already been calling out ‘Sarong, sarong!’ as we wandered through the market, and the moment we approached one of the ladies she became very excited and started throwing different fabrics at us telling us how good each one was and using things like size, thickness and gold thread to explain why each one we were interested in was more expensive than the previous. In the end we both settled fabrics we liked at a price we thought was reasonable (we were probably ripped off…).  Once we had purchased our sarongs, each time we passed more they would call out, “One more, one more!” How many sarongs did they think we needed?!

Selecting a sarong

Before we left the market, we bartered with another stall holder for some incense sticks and a holder. It was a lot of fun negotiating, but similar to the sarongs, once we had made a purchase everyone else wanted to sell us more. Emerging from the market back onto the main street, it was time for lunch. There is a pork dish named babi guling which is a Balinese specialty and there was a place nearby which we thought was a good place to try – Ibu Oka babi guling.  Not too sure what to expect, we both ordered the same dish which seemed to be a little bit of everything. There was a soup and pork served several different ways with steamed rice. It was nice, but not as flavoursome as I had expected.  We would learn later that this was actually a rather bland babi guling and the more authentic version is actually very tasty and a bit spicey.

Babi guling at Ibu Okas

Across the road from Ibu Oka’s is the Ubud Palace. Unfortunately you can’t go inside, but the gardens are open to the public to explore. There wasn’t a lot to see here, but we enjoyed what was there.  Being mid-afternoon it was becoming quite hot and we were ready to head back to the villa and relax by the pool. But first we stopped off at Starbucks for a matcha coffee (an unusual combo) and as we were leaving we were approach by a man selling tickets for another evening performance. Feeling indulgent we gave in and bought tickets for the show that night, then jumped in a taxi and went back to the Villa to relax before coming back out for the show.

The Ubud Palace gardens
A matcha coffee at Starbucks

Back at the villa, we checked out some brochures and decided on a cycle through rice paddies the next day, then relaxed by the pool.  Just before leaving for the show we walked next door from the villa hoping to get a snack from the night market, but we were too early.  There was a small warung across the road which sold sate chicken so we went there instead. It was a bit tricky communicating with the man, and in the end we worked out the cost without really knowing how much chicken we would get.  It turned out to be five very small skewers, but the sauce was delicious and it was a nice snack.

Back in Ubud we stopped by the tourist information centre to see if there were any other cycling options we should consider. Nothing seemed as good as the original brochure we found, so we booked while we were there. After that we went over the road to the performance. This one was completely different to the previous night, with bright outfits and more intricate dancing.  They performed several short stories, and at one point they were also bringing people up out of the audience to participate. It was a nice setting with a large stone structure behind the stage, and lily pond behind us.

The dancers carefully moved their fingers as their eyes darted back and forth

Earlier in the day we walked along a street that had a few bars and restaurants, so we went back there for dinner. We found a nice quiet warung which seemed to serve traditional food. For only a couple of dollars each, we had nasi campur with a serve of gado-gado to share, as well as two cans of soft drink!  By comparison, we paid more than that for each of our coffees at Starbucks. Not quite ready to call it a day, we went around the corner for a drink at a nearby bar. Sitting at the front of the bar enjoying our cocktails, we watched as a stray dog pooped on a doorstep, and minutes later a person walked out and almost stepped on it. Other than that moment of excitement, it was a pretty quiet street, and after our drink we found a taxi back on the main street and went back to the villa.

Nasi campur and gado-gado

Our host was still awake and at the reception desk when we got home. We told him about our plans the next day and he was disappointed we had booked elsewhere, because apparently he could get us a better price. I suspect he was really after a commission, because he tried really hard to work out a way we could cancel then book again through him. Unable to come up with a solution, we placed our order for breakfast then went home to our villa keen to get some sleep before our big day tomorrow.

Posted from Ubud, Bali, Indonesia.

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