The various places of interest on the south side of Bali are generally 30-90 minutes away from Ubud and each other by car.  The public transport system is slow but comprehensive, consisting mainly of very experienced "Bemos" which carry 6-12 passengers -- or up to 20 passengers plus a few chickens, a piglet, a bicyle or two, and much of the local harvest going to market, depending on demand and the driver's creativity.  Few visitors to Bali travel this way, with the exception of the occasional intrepid backpacker.  If you are looking for a taste of the REAL Bali, you might give it a try one day -- not to actually get anywhere, but just to enjoy the experience.  They can be found waiting for passengers at all markets, and you can flag them down on the main roads.  You'll find the drivers and passengers friendly and always interested in a chat, and you might just get an invitation to visit the family compound along the way!

 

In 2011, the provincial government initiated the Trans Sarbagita public bus system employing new, comfortable vehichles.  As of July 2012, the buses are operating two lines extending from Batubulan (in Gianyar, south of Ubud) to Nusa Dua from 05:00 - 21:00 daily.  This means they won't help you get around the Ubud area, but might be useful for planning a day trip to Jimbaran or Nusa Dua.

Options

The most common method of transport for visitors is a daily car hire including driver.  The more experienced drivers will also serve as a guide, and this additional service might merit a tip on top of the base car & driver cost.  The cars are typically a Toyota SUV-type vehicle which carry four passengers comfortably.  Some of these cars, especially the older ones, have smaller engines that could find it challenging to carry four passengers AND run the air conditioning.  It is also worth checking to see if there is a separate aircon blower for the back seats, or if the aircon vents are all located on the dash (common in the older models).

Motorbikes are another popular option in and around Ubud. A basic motorbike with an automatic clutch (no shifting) can be a delightful way to explore nearby villages and has the added advantage of easy maneuvering and parking in increasingly congested Ubud.  That said, motorcycle accidents are the single largest cause of deaths and injuries in Bali.  Helmets should be worn (and buckled!) at all times, and travel on the busier roads should be avoided.  As of May-June 2011, the police between Gianyar and Candi Dasa to the east were reporting frequent knapsack robberies – thieves on fast bikes approaching unsuspecting motorcyclists from behind and giving knapsacks a strong pull, usually resulting in a nasty spill for the victim(s) and a quick getaway for the thieves.

Some visitors prefer to hire cars to drive themselves.  While this clearly offers maximum independence and the opportunity to explore less trafficked parts of the island, there are drawbacks:  roads in Bali can be narrow, very busy and poorly marked, maps are often inaccurate, and parking in all the major towns and tourist areas is a royal headache.  Drive carefully and don't rush.  Make sure you bring your international drivers license with you -- for Americans, this means purchasing a special international license at any AAA office in the US. Catching visitors driving without a proper license can be a lucrative occupation for police.

Metered taxis are generally not available for hire in Ubud.  Driving tourists is an important source of employment and income around Ubud, and the local Ubud government supports this aspect of the local economy by prohibiting commercial taxis from picking up customers in the area.  You can take a metered taxi TO Ubud from other parts of the island, but they will add an extra 25% of the metered fare onto your bill because the local rules force them to return empty.

Prices

One of the most common questions is, "What is a normal price for transport to X?"  Most visitors want to feel they are paying a fair price the driver (and his family) can live with, roughly the "market" price, and they are not being overcharged and viewed as a walking ATM.  So, what is a fair price for transport around Ubud?  As a non-car-owning resident, I surveyed several of my regular drivers, and got pretty consistent numbers.  Here is how it breaks down:

  • For a freelance Balinese driver to "borrow" a car for one eight-hour day will cost him Rp. 200,000, plus extra for overtime, not including gasoline.  I assume this covers capital cost and maintenance.
  • Gas from Ubud to the airport costs right around Rp. 50,000.
  • A simple meal for the driver will cost Rp. 20,000.
  • The driver pays for any extras he might offer, e.g. admission tickets, parking fees, umbrellas, sarongs, cold towels or bottled water.

In view of this, a driver will make money on an airport delivery (standard Ubud price Rp. 250,000) only if he can do more than one in a day.  The typical price for a car and driver for an eight-hour day is around Rp. 500,000 including gas, although travel in the mountains or for long distances might be more to cover the extra gas costs.  A full day tour for Rp. 500,000 means the driver will probably take home around Rp. 150,000 (about US$18) after expenses (most drivers will average 2-3 days of work each week).  Some drivers charge less -- how do they do it?  Most commonly, drivers will make up the difference by taking guests to stores that offer commissions to drivers – this is why drivers can insist you need to go shopping.  Alternatively, they scrimp on car maintenance, i.e. bald tires and poor aircon, or finally, their family doesn't eat very well.

Cars and drivers booked through hotels will usually include a hotel margin, reflected in a higher price.  The larger the number of stars at your hotel, the larger the margin.

You might save $10 a day with a self-driving hire car, but not much more.

A recent-model motorbike with an automatic clutch should cost around Rp. 50,000 per day, and you might negotiate a discount for longer rental periods.  Make sure your rental includes a HELMET with a functioning chin strap, and USE IT.  If your holiday won't be complete without a Harley Davidson, you'll have to rent it down in the Sanur-Kuta area.

Don’t expect any rental vehicle to have insurance unless they are booked from a tour agency.

There is a long list of drivers under the “Ubud Area Drivers/Guides” (http://www.tripadvisor.com/Travel-g29...) with email and cell phone numbers. 

Some helpful hints for successful touring:

  • Discuss with your driver the kind of traveling you like to do:  sightseeing, museums, shopping, etc.  If you do NOT want to do souvenir shopping, make that very clear.
  • If you successfully negotiate a brilliantly low price for the day, expect to do a lot of shopping.
  • Will you expect the driver to also act as your guide?  Some drivers are good at this and enjoy it, but many are just drivers, period.  If your driver is also a responsive guide, consider adding a bit extra at the end of the day.  Remember that only guides engaged through tour companies will be licensed, professional guides, and they are generally not drivers.  
  • Clarify what additional costs you will be responsible for – admissions, parking fees, driver’s meal, etc.
  • If you engage a driver on the street, don’t assume the person you talk with or the car he is standing next to will be your driver or car.
  • Make sure you negotiate directly with your actual driver so you understand his language skills (or lack of).
  • Take a good look at the car you will be using, and ask about the air conditioning.