Ubud is said to be the cultural heart of Bali after famous artists and spiritualists visited this place and got inspired by the creative environment. Since then, hordes of travelers set out for the town located in the midst of lush green rice fields. Ubud is praised to be the paradise for yoga fans and people with an alternative lifestyle.
In the beginning of the 21st century Ubud became known as a popular backpacking destination.
We wanted to prove if this still applies to the current situation. It turned out that Ubud is no longer the backpacker destination it once was.
The past picture of the destination vanished in favor of profit makers and to the disadvantage of budget travelers.
The streets are full of fancy hotels and expensive restaurants. Spas and wellness centers for body retreats are springing up like mushrooms promising health and happiness.
A few years ago prices for accommodation and meals were still low according to information we found on different travel blogs.
In these days however, even the most alternative city is catching up with the rest of Bali, raising the prices steadily. For well-to-do travelers like Australians, the biggest group of tourists, Bali might still remain cheap.
But how about us, Europeans? Are there still places for a frugal backpacker to go?
The answer is yes and no. If you take your time to look around and do research, you’ll come across quite some alternatives.
We want to share our experiences how it is still possible to explore Ubud on a budget.
Where to stay?
The best option is, of course, to stay with locals and connect with them through Couchsurfing or Trustroots. If you’re not lucky, like us, you have to find a cheap place to stay. To assume a hostel is the cheapest option would be wrong. Hostels here offer nothing more than a bed, usually in a 10-bed dorm. The price was 100,000 (€ 6,61) rupiah per person everywhere we asked. We looked around and found a nice, quiet place just a few minutes from the center.
We paid 100,000 rupiah (€ 6,61) for both (actually we haggled and got two days for free because we stayed a bit longer). It had a private room with bathroom, free coffee, tea and drinking water and there was a basic kitchen. It may be a bit hard to find as you have to enter a little alley, ignoring a no entry sign.
What to eat?
To eat daily in a restaurant is the standard according to various information on travel blogs and Tripadvisor. We wanted to test whether this is possible. After we booked our room in Ubud, we got hungry and looked around for a place to eat. We tried to get advice from the internet, but had little luck finding anything between the overpriced tourist places.
The spicy Indonesian food will destroy your intestines at one point so sometimes we feel like having some normal food again. To get local food for a decent price is hard enough but finding cheap western food is nearly impossible.
We decided to visit some pizza places in Ubud.
Spaccanapoli di Ubud
The first place we went to was called Spaccanapoli. We shared a vegetarian pizza (one of the cheapest) for about 70,000 rupiah (€ 4,63) but a standard margherita pizza will set you back 115,000 rupiah (€ 7,60). This is the place to go if you want to enjoy a really good pizza – it’s better than anywhere else. This is probably why it is more expensive.
Right next to Spaccanapoli di Ubud is a place called Pizza Bagus. Despite being right next door, the prices are a lot lower already. We bought a regular pizza margherita for 45,000 rupiah (€ 2,97) here but we did have to wait for 40 minutes before the pizza was done. If you don’t feel like going all the way to get the pizza, they deliver for free.
Located in a quiet, little side street close to the center is Ubud’s cheapest pizza place.
We spent 30,000 rupiah (€ 1,98) for a margherita and 40,000 rupiah (€ 2,64) for a napoletana.
Traditional Indonesian food is a lot cheaper than Western food, that’s for sure. However the prices depend on the kind of restaurant that serves it.
Warungs along the street, mostly private space that is used to prepare food and sell it to other local people, are not always trustworthy. Especially when water from the tap is used to wash the vegetables which are then put in your Nasi Goreng.
Also local spices, like sambal, can have a bad effect on your digestion as foreigners are not used to the local custom of spicing up any dish. Bali Belly is the consequence.
If you want to save money and eat local food, like Mie Ayam or Cap cay, inform yourself about warungs that prepare food according to the Western standards.
When researching the internet, there are many websites with lists of cheap places to eat in Ubud but a lot of the information is outdated or any price slightly under European standard is considered “cheap”. These are some places we decided to look up after finding them online.
Dewa Warung was the first one we found online.
Maybe this is why there are plenty of people eating here, even though it’s a bit hard to find. We try to eat under 20,000 when possible which left us with little choice at Dewa. The prices were not much different than restaurants and warungs in the same street.
Afterwards, we found an old price list via Snaps and Blabs – it shows a picture of the menu where prices are half of what they were when we ate there (and note that 10% tax is added to the price). E.g. fries are now 17,000 (€ 1,12), kolo bak was around 20,000 (€ 1,32).
Gianyar Street Market
Not exactly in Ubud, but in nearby Gianyar (only a small drive east), there is the Gianyar Street Market. We decided to have a look around. First, we had to find a place to park. Around the market, you have to pay so we parked at a convenience store nearby.
Although we didn’t see any other westerners here, the market was exactly like any other tourist street on Bali. Stands selling the same Bintang muscle shirts, the same sunglasses and the same penis-shaped keychains. There were a few little street food vendors.
We had a look at a guy selling warm corn cobs and he handed us one.
“Try it”, he said. It’s not often you get something for free here. Then, he said this single piece of half-burnt fruit would cost us 25,000 rupiah (€ 1,65) – two people can eat a whole meal for that price. Some guy got angry with us saying it is just “little money” while complaining about bule. We still gave him 10,000 for it, although this was already too much in our opinion. We didn’t stay on the market any longer.
Although close to the center, Warung Ijo has very decent prices. Their portions are really big. We got a mie goreng for 17,000 rupiah and a nasi goreng for 17,000 rupiah (€ 1,12).
There are also power stations and free wifi. Juices have the same price as elsewhere: 10,000 rupiah but are made without sugar so they’re not that sweet, but some people like it that way.
Warung Maran Sari Rasa
In Jalan Sukma Kesuma, there are several places to eat a bit cheaper. We ate some mie goreng for just 10,000 rupiah at Warung Maran Sari Rasa, making it the cheapest place we found in Ubud. The portion was somewhat smaller than in Warung Ijo but the food was good.
9 Angels Warung
A place easy to miss when you drive past. It’s hidden in a corner but it’s worth to have a look around. They offer vegan and vegetarian food but their concept is different than a normal warung.
Prices are indicated on a board and on the tables and you are free to help yourself. Just pay by leaving some money in one of the jars standing around.
Whenever a place has a menu outside without prices mentioned, usually we already know we can’t afford to go there. Exceptions to this are little places called bakso. There are a lot of bakso places around.
They are little stands on the street, sometimes selling food right from their scooter or bicycle. They are cheap and mostly frequented by locals. The food usually doesn’t look very fresh or tasty which is why we haven’t tried any.
When looking around for a supermarket, there are many little shops called “supermarket” that look like a shop from a gas station. All they have is some noodles, chips, cookies and drinks. We only found one real supermarket in Ubud. Just a few minutes drive from the center, there is Bintang supermarket. There aren’t many supermarkets but surprisingly, Balinese supermarkets have a better and wider selection of western food than our previous destination, Portugal. They close at 10 PM.
Another “supermarket” is Coco Supermarket. They don’t have a big selection as Bintang supermarket but they have most of the basic stuff for cooking such as pasta. Also, they’re open 24 hours a day.
Rice can be bought cheap (pasta is more pricey), but having to buy all ingredients separately, really drives up the price. We were lucky enough to have a kitchen, which most places don’t have, but it wasn’t equipped with the tools needed to prepare a good meal.
Older travel guides told people to go to Ubud to see the “true” and “unexplored” part of Bali. It’s clear this is no longer the case. Ubud is overrun by tourists and prices keep going up. However, honest prices are still to be found if you look further than the fancy restaurants along the main streets. In this article we have shown the cost of living in Ubud, which may be different than in other areas of Bali. We kept track of all our expenses in Bali as well, showing it’s possible to travel Bali for € 7 a day – and with current exchange rates it may even be cheaper, as long as prices stay the same.