Sidemen as an alternative to Ubud

We last visited Ubud in 2001, and even back then it was showing signs of strain. More and more hotels, fewer rice paddies, louder scooters and generally less authenticity. This year we were about to give it another go, then we were warned off by well-travelled friends.

“Ubud isn’t like it used to be”, they said. “It’s full of pseudo-hippies who want to balance their chakras, sip Starbucks coffee and buy new stuff for their boho designer wardrobe”.

Duly warned, I made it my business to find an alternative to Ubud and came up with a mountain valley region called Sidemen.

Sidemen was cleverly described by one reviewer as “what you get if you turn Ubud upside down and shake out all the bad stuff”. No traffic jams, no hawkers, plenty of rice paddies and- watching over everything – huge views of Mt Agung, the big guy in Bali’s volcano world.

So we added Sidemen to our three-week Bali itinerary, which also included Candidasa, Amed and Lovina. What do you know? It was brilliant. Like Ubud before it became Ubad.

Places to stay in Sidemen

There’s a decent choice of hotels and guesthouses in Sidemen, including a few luxury resorts, and none of them are overpriced.  We paid about US$30 night for a breezy apartment above the Amrita Café.  Except for the exclusion of a fridge, it was perfect – views of Mt Agung from the bedroom window, a balcony out the front overlooking the paddy fields and plenty of free drinking water. No need for aircon, because the breeze blows through.

Sidement Agung view
View of Mt Agung from the bedroom window at Amrita Villa. We took the room above the cafe – recommended if you want to sleep comfortably without aircon.

If you barely want to leave your accomm, I’d recommend Darmada Eco Resort, which we visited on a walk. And if you can afford up to US$130 a night, Samanvaya is exquisite.

To explore the Sidemen food scene, book your accommodation in Jalan Raya Tebola, because it’s where most of the restaurants are.

Restaurants in Sidemen

Our accommodation took care of breakfast, which involved mixed juice made in the blender (no water, no ice, so really delicious), a banana pancake and Bali coffee. I’m a pancake addict, so never made it past this choice. There were others on the menu.

For lunch, all we had to do was stroll down the road to one of the local eating places. Favourites included Joglo D’Uma, Warunga Ida and Lihat Sawah Warung.

Sidemen pandan pancakes
At Joglo D’Uma they serve astounding pandan pancakes. These little green delights leave cake for dead.

By far the best place to eat, in our opinion, is the Rice Barn Restaurant at Samanvaya. Oh wow. While it’s twice the price of other Sidemen eating places, it’s still cheap – US$9 for a tasting platter that easily feeds two.

sidemen food
Here’s the tasting plate from The Rice Barn Restaurant, accompanied by the Buddha Bowl. Exceptional food in a spectacular setting.

Things to do in Sidemen

From Sidemen you can easily arrange excursions to almost anywhere in Bali, including Mt Batur and Mt Agung, but we didn’t want to spend the day in a car so our trips out were on foot. What’s so rare and wonderful about Sidemen is that you can actually go walking – it’s cool enough to avoid overheating, the traffic’s light and nobody hassles you to buy stuff all the time.

A Sidemen specialty is rice paddy trekking with a local, which Amrita Villa can organise.  We didn’t do this, but saw a few groups winding their way through the fields. They looked happy.

Our best walk was to the area on the Mt Agung side of the valley. We stopped at Darmada Eco Resort for cake and juice; a blissful interlude beside the river. On another day we walked up to the main highway to find an ATM. A fruitless task, because the machine didn’t deliver, however we saw some cool stuff – like the bright green and yellow mosque that looks like it’s made of Lego.

Sidemen mosque
Sidemen has its surprises, like this colourful mosque – looks like its made of Lego.

Best time to visit Sidemen

We went at the wettest, hottest time of the year and it was great. Anytime is good for Sidemen. Temperatures are a few degrees cooler than on the coast, so if you’re leaking from every pore and need a break from Bali’s heat, head for the hills.

Sidemen river view
This could be in New Zealand! But it’s in Sidemen – the alternative to Ubud in Bali.