A seasoned traveler takes us off-the-beaten path in search of tranquility in Bali, the land of endless beauty currently co-starring in the film Eat, Pray, Love.
Think of Bali and most travelers picture hordes of sun-seeking Australian and British travelers all converging in a mad frenzy on Kuta to purchase cheap DVD’s and get their hair braided. But, there is more to Bali than just sand and cheap shopping. For the traveler interested in a quality spa, cultural, or yoga experience, there is another side to this sun-drenched island that entices.
Desa Seni is a luxurious “Gilligan’s Island”-type village resort that needs to be seen to be believed. Stepping into this world you visibly leave the hustle and bustle of Bali behind you and quickly relax into the embrace of Tom and Howard’s magical hideaway. Set amongst rice paddies and spotlessly manicured lawns in the Canggu Province, it’s an easy 35 minutes north of Kuta by cab. Desa Seni recreates village life infused with art and social conscience sacrificing none of the mod cons you would expect from such a beautiful and well thought out mini eco resort. Ten village houses transported from around Java and Indonesia are decorated with picturesque artifacts and lovingly set amidst organic gardens. Add a saltwater lap pool; spa house with a blistering array of treatments, including one with a local shaman; restaurant serving mouth watering organic food and juices (most of it grown on site); an outdoor pavilion dedicated to yoga classes and workshops and you have a recipe for a local centre for wellbeing par excellence. And if the shops still beckon, Seminyak is only a ten-minute cab ride away.
For organic food, great coffee and a cocktail bar with ambience, head to Chandi restaurant in Seminyak. Modern Pan Asian cuisine with a deft touch the menu caters surprisingly well to vegetarians if you’re that way inclined and also to carnivores if you’re not. The warm chocolate and almond torte is divine–I challenge you to not go back for seconds! (Jalan Laksmana 72, Seminyak 8036, Indonesia. +62 361 731060)
If being seen is your thing, head to Ku De Ta, beachside in Seminyak. A restaurant bar with beachfront lounges and breezy outdoor aspect it’s usually packed nightly with the beautiful people in force. A bountiful bar and cocktail menu keeps the punters well stocked and refreshed while the DJ mixes ambient tunes redolent of an Indonesian Café del Mar. Sunday mornings host a family friendly day, if you’re awake after the previous night’s shenanigans that is. Come high season this August be prepared for a plethora of parties in celebration of their ten years as the face place in Seminyak; prepare your tan beachside for the Bikini Day party and infamous White Party. Doll up and take it seriously, if you must. (Jalan Hotel The Oberoi, Kuta, Indonesia. +62 361 736969)
To watch the sunset in style, head to the stunning Rock Bar, part of the Ayana Spa and Resort in Jimbaran Bay. Perched on the cliff’s edge of the extensive and exclusive resort, the open top bar serves luscious cocktails and snacks to fortify you for the amazing view–nothing between you and the crimson horizon except the odd passing tanker with lights ablaze. Peak time is around 5pm so get there early to avoid the queue for the mini cable car. Or you can just take the stairs down to the bar–efficient, yet not as romantic. (Jalan Karang Mas Sejahtera, Jimbaran 80364, Indonesia. +62 361 702222)
Had enough of beaches and cocktails? Looking for a more cultured side of Bali? For traditional arts, crafts and a cornucopia of spa resorts head into the mountains to Ubud, the famous spa centre in Bali. This small town is bustling with visitors all looking for a slice of heaven that’s rumored to be found within its streets. Ubud centre can be busy and crowded with touts vying for attention. For a quieter stay, head to the other side of the famous Monkey Forrest to Nyukunig Village and Alam Jiwa. One of three related guesthouses, it’s a slice of old school Bali. Rooms have a traditional feel and are set amongst lush gardens, trickling water features and overlook local rice fields where, from your outdoor day bed, you can watch locals go about their work. A ten-minute walk through the Monkey Forest (watch out for thieving monkeys!) sees you arrive at the centre of Ubud where you can explore the plethora of shops or the colorful Ubud Market. If you seek traditional Indonesian fare, along with a few European favorites served with a smile, head to the lovely Ibu Rai named after an indomitable local who started the restaurant, which is now run by her grandson.
A visit to Ubud isn’t complete without witnessing a Kecak performance held on the Ubud Main Road. Although it’s heavily promoted to tourists, it’s still worth taking in a show. Originally a trance ritual accompanied by male chorus, it was adapted in the 1930’s to the current form of theatre where 100 or more performers, wreathed in checked cloth around their waists, chant “cak” and incorporate movement as a background to the lavishly dressed dancers retelling a story from the Hindu Ramayana. The recital is followed by an entranced, costumed, bare footed man, running repeatedly through a pile of hot coals to the shock and awe of the watching crowd – that spectacle alone is worth the price of admission.
For many who come to Ubud, the lure is relaxing into self-discovery via treatments and bodywork. To that end fabulous yoga classes can be found at The Yoga Barn in Pengosekan. An exhaustive timetable sees a daily roster of eight classes in a myriad of styles taught in two beautiful studios. Drop in to any class and try some innovative styles of yoga, meditation or dance. There are class cards available for longer stays and passes for expats living in Bali–or visit the on-site spa for comprehensive Ayurvedic treatments and massages, and have the stress of trying to fit in all the sights kneaded out of you. Monday Night Movies are another option, featuring films of spiritual, social, or environmental consciousness … documentaries and subjects designed to open up minds and hearts.
If you are looking for that elusive Eat Pray Love experience, try the Orient Express’ Ubud Hanging Gardens, which is offering a special package to enlighten travelers about the region, including a special blessing ceremony. But wherever you travel in Bali, the real blessing is in just being present and finding your own path.
Sylvia Kovacevic flies the friendly skies with a flamboyant international airline, which sees her jetting to exotic locales for both work and play. She is also a Reiki and meditation teacher in Australia–so finding places of energy and good vibes is her specialty. Sylvia is currently writing a novel about travel and transformation and in her spare time loves to stretch out in a hot yoga studio or steal some time to sleep. Find out more about Sylvia at Spiral In.