Ubud can seem a little intimidating when you're expecting a small village nestled into the hills, but instead find a traffic-snarled sprawl packed with endless homestays, hotels, restaurants, spas and shops selling the same mass-produced rubbish. You'll have to look elsewhere to find a good place to stay in Ubud, but if you'd like to do a spot of shopping, eating and relaxing on foot, one of the easiest (and main) routes to follow is the Monkey Forest Road - Raya Ubud - Jalan Hanoman - Jalan Dewisita loop.
Be warned: A lot of the stuff you'll find on this central loop is the same old tourist-oriented junk. You need to pound a lot of pavement to find the spots worthy of a look-see, and even then, in our opinion, it doesn't compare to the same funky, cutting-edge stuff you'll get down in Seminyak and Kerobokan.
With that warning in mind, begin at the soccer field and head north on Monkey Forest Road. On your right you'll find Kou Cuisine, a simple, small store offering Bali sea salt and jams cooked up using the best of Bali's fruits, all in stylish packaging (I'm certain there must be a Japanese hand in Kou.) Continue on until Zarong/Shape, one of the few truly interesting jewellery shops in Ubud, which is clogged with very average ones. (It's two shopfronts — Zarong used to be a clothes boutique, Shape is the jewellery — same owner. Or something. The staff seemed confused when I asked their proper name.)
If you're after a locally-made drum (or other noise-making devices — go on, your fellow hotel guests will love it!), check out the Drum Factory outlet on the left side, before you get to the Ubud market on the corner. There's another outlet at the bottom of Monkey Forest Road, so don't feel compelled to stop here.
You could make a market stop, but our advice would be to put aside an entire morning to spend browsing here. It is something of a microcosm of Ubud, with a lot of rubbish but a few gems.
Take a right onto Jalan Raya Ubud (kitty corner you'll find Ibu Oka's, famous for its babi guling) and it's a few hundred metres before you'll need to take a right onto Jalan Hanoman. Plenty of the usual shops are along here before you take the turn; a decent coffee spot is French-run Rendezvousdoux (on left) or Cafe Moka (on right) — the latter does Bali's best croissants, and also has a tiny Ticket to the Moon hammock outlet out the front.
A few metres along Hanoman to your right is Lada Warung, a handsome Indonesian food pitstop and further still is Clear, an excellent organic restaurant serving seriously healthy food — the fries are fried in coconut oil, the "mylk" is from cashew nuts, the water can be infused with your choice of lavender, cucumber, mint or rose. Further down on your left you'll get to baby blue Studio Perak, number two on your list-of-three must-stop jewellery stores. You can take silversmithing courses with these guys too (they have a just-opened store on Monkey Forest now too). Just before Jalan Dewi Sita you'll find on the right Puspita (another outlet is back opposite the soccer field), whose strengths are pretty summer dresses and great bead necklaces.
Now, if you continue down Hanoman, these are worthy of note: On the left, Sama Suka does a small range of black and white cotton men's and women's clothes as well as a few homewares; Ken Ken looks nondescript but their cotton printed bags are quite unusual and well-priced. A little further along still (past the Dewi Sita turn-off) is Kafe, an excellent healthy coffee or lunch break spot (which scored a mention in the New York Times Bali travel piece recently). On the other side of the road (further back before the turn-off) is Bodyworks, a therapeutic massage centre set in a Balinese family style compound where you can get your chakras balanced or just a plain old mani/pedi. Ma:an is a cute little boutique with a small range of pretty clothes and shoes for kids and grownups. A little further along you'll see a sign for Nanan — it's just off the road and has quite finely wrought jewellery (though this isn't shop number three... they trail at number four) and leather bags and wallets. The stylish leatherware is something quite unique for Ubud.
One of the most difficult things to find in Bali are good greeting cards: Kado (by Saraswati papers), on the left side of Dewi Sita as you come from Hanoman, has a lovely range of cards on recycled paper for under 30,000 rupiah, as well as pretty notebooks, photo albums and wrapping paper. Further down still on the left you'll find several good refreshment stops: Soma organic cafe and opposite Cafe Batan Waru (part of the Bali Good Food empire). Wander a little further along up the hill and you'll find Juice Ja, another great spot for a fresh juice, better-at-evening Cafe Havana (which also got a NYT mention) and Tutmak, which serves the best coffee in town (try the cafe au lait, served as it should be).
Now back at the field again, take a left to continue down Monkey Forest Road. You'll pass Bong's, where the dresses are of the very flowing Roman kind, then a few Bali chain stores: Lilla Lane (great sandals plus bags and dresses), Makassi (eclectic boutique with items such as button-encrusted belts), A-Krea (silky homewares and bags), Uluwatu (contemporary takes on traditional Balinese lace) and Andy Risza (well-priced stretchy clothes).
Further south on the other side of the road is the Mitra Bali Fair Trade Shop — we loved their pretty sea-blue-and-green beads, and they have a nice range of coconut wood kitchenware too. Then heading down the hill you'll find Indigo (next to Coffee and Silver) — this spot has lovingly natural-dyed fabrics and is jewellery store number three: their unusual earthy pieces make a fabulous Balinese souvenir without, well, looking like a Balinese souvenir.
You'll hit the Monkey Forest at the bottom of the hill as the road veers left. To the right you'll see Padi Prada, a restaurant under a vast alang alang roof. They have dinner buffets for 30,000 rupiah — but the best bit is if you leave any food on your plate, they charge you an additional 10,000. Nearby Warung Semesta, attached to Tegal Sari hotel, has a slightly Scandinavian feel with its stylish wooden furniture and rice-bag placemats, and offers good vegetarian dishes such as a yellow veggie curry and veggie tempura.
Guilt-gripped after all your spending? Stop off at Bali Animal Welfare Association as you head back towards Hanoman and make a donation to a worthy organisation. Among other things, BAWA has been spearheading a drive (sometimes controversially) to raise awareness of the rabies epidemic currently ravaging the dog population in Bali.
By Samantha Brown.
Last updated on 29th January, 2017.
The Travelfish newsletter is sent out every Monday and is jammed full of free advice for travel in Southeast Asia. You can see past issues here.