Ubud – is it still worth visiting?

I’ve visited Ubud on 3 occasions in the early and mid 1990s and found it a peaceful and refreshing escape from the commercialized hustle and bustle of the Kuta area. I knew that it would have changed, but was not quite prepared for just how much it has changed.

Perhaps it is a mistake to revisit places that you have seen in their tourist infancy, back when the reason that people wanted to visit in the first place was still obvious and before tourism became the dominant (and exclusive) source of economic survival.

It is hard to reconcile what Ubud was on my earlier visits, albeit 22 to 25 years ago. I know that things change and that, with increased tourism comes jobs and improved infrastructure for the local residents.

Still, despite my efforts, It is hard to not recall what was and compare it with what is;

  • The market was an early start (0600 hrs and finished by 0900 hrs) fresh produce market but is now a tourist art and souvenir market.
  • I can recall staying in a room that looked over a river with rice fields on the other side and seeing fireflies at night, not more than 50 meters from where I stayed this time
  • The dirt tracks have been replaced by bitumen roads and countryside feel  that the area between the football field and Monkey Forest used to have is completely gone.
  • Tourists seem to outnumber local residents and some of the once overt displays of normal local life are no longer evident
  • Monkey forest was a quiet modest affair (except for vicious monkeys) but is now the ‘Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary’ with very large parking areas for buses.
  • The rice paddies that were once an integral part of the nearby outskirts are now only evident in small, isolated patches between hotels and bungalows. It is a long walk to see what used to be around every corner.
  • The casual warungs have been replaced by western orientated cafes with a bent toward vegetarian and Italian food – all with a 10% tax charge
  • Prices are at least as expensive as along Kuta night strip (with or without the 10% tax)
  • Exchange rates are all around 150 Rp less per A$, compared to Kuta (and the A$ is rising)

The charm of a mountain town with a history of art and culture, for me, no longer exists and I’m really not sure what people come here for.

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