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It took three years to realize this passion project: a spa retreat built mainly of bamboo. Book a riverfront suite, or the hotel can arrange a stay in a rural family’s home. From $475. 62/(0) 36-146-9206. Image by Djuna Ivereigh/Fivelements. This appeared in the January/February 2013 issue.
At Bali’s newest Alila hotel, villas are sandwiched between emerald rice terraces and a black-sand beach. The spa, a temple of lava rock and marble, offers traditional Balinese massage. From $510. 62/(0) 36-1894-6388. This appeared in the January/February 2013 issue.
Located just off the eastern shore of Bali, Indonesia, is a small island called Nusa Lembongan. It is a great place for a day trip if you're vacation on Bali, and it's only a 30-40min boat ride from Sanur. There is a boat that will take you between the two islands a few times a day. Once arriving on the shores of Lembongan, it is best to rent a scooter for the day (US$6). There are only a few roads on the island so it is impossible to get lost and the beaches are well marked by signs. Unlike Bali, there is no traffic on the island! We set out around the island in a counterclockwise loop. We stopped and watched the villagers drying colorful seaweed along the shore (this is used to make ice-cream). We stopped at the mangroves for a fresh seafood lunch, some beach time, and some snorkeling. And then explored the many picturesque beaches around the island. Our favorite was "Dream Beach," and it lived up to its name. Be sure you don't lose track of time on this paradise of an island. It is easy to do and we almost missed our return boat back to Bali that afternoon!
One of the most important celebrations in Bali is Galungan. Beginning in or around late March, the festival symbolizes the victory of virtue (dharma) over evil (adharma). Hear the mysterious clangs of gamelan music; see women and girls in elaborate dress; and don’t miss the Barong Dance, in which young boys parade around as a dragonlike creature to fill the village with holiness. Photo by Mast Irham/EPA/Corbis. This appeared in the January/February 2013 issue.
Sanur is a beautiful and quaint part of Bali with lushes hotels along the boardwalk that lines the beach. The boardwalk really makes Sanur special as walking in Bali can be treacherous in most of the towns with narrow streets and tiny sidewalks, but this pathed path in Sanur is great for biking and long walks along the beach. Walk to the south end of the boardwalk for a great view of the sunset and find a nice little cafe to have a Bintang (beer) or a Bali kopi (coffee).
This is what I think of when travel comes to mind. I think untrammeled territory, wide open country, bits and pieces of the world I've never seen before, people doing things I didn't know they still do or ever did, and a big, booming landscape. Lake Maninjau ticked off every box on my list time and again. We went on quite the harrowing bike ride around the lake (it was supposed to take half a day, but lasted roughly ten hours), but we had plenty of time to pick rice with locals, sample fresh cinnamon bark, and try our hand at fishing from a canoe. I found out that I am a terrible canoe fisherman, but my new friend didn't really mind. He thought it was funny that I could hardly balance myself on the felled timber, never mind his tiny skiff. If you visit Maninjau, I highly recommend that you rent a bike or a scooter and get lost on the western shore. It was a fantastic experience, and one I'll cherish forever. Maninjau is one of the largest crater lakes in the world, and exists as a place that time forgot. Bikes can be rented from most hotels in town for less than $5 a day. Ditto for scooters. Hotels range from $6 a night (no joke), to more than $75.
While traveling in Bali, I had the opportunity to go surfing at Uluwatu. It is an amazing spot, but there is no beach. To reach the break, you have to hike down a steep flight of steps behind a cliff, then paddle out through a sea cave full of turbulent water. As we approached the water, my heart beat faster and faster, both with excited anticipation, and thrilling nervousness. The water was incredible, a light sapphire, warm, and clear. As I watched this fellow surfer make his way out of the water, I knew that I could do it too, and it gave me courage. I will forever remember the anticipation of this moment.
After weeks of exhilarating, yet exhausting travel through Indonesia, I recommend pampering yourself at the end of the journey at a place like Maya Ubud. The resort is set seamlessly among the lush jungles and rice terraced slopes of Bali, near the town of Ubud. Maya Ubud's tranquil grounds accompany the massages and poolside lounging perfectly, so all your aches and pains melt away. Although it is tough to pry away from the beautiful gardens and multiple infinity pools, Ubud offers many attractions just minutes away. Ubud is the scene of gorgeous hindu temples, Balinese dance performances, walks through the mind blowing rice terraces and dynamite cuisine. If that's not enough, the nearby rivers and volcano allow you to indulge in more intense activities, such as white water rafting and predawn treks to the volcanic summit.
Every morning, before the day has truly begun, Balinese women come to the market shrine in the center of Ubud, Bali. They light incense and leave their offerings, origami folded banana frawns bearing crackers and cookies and flower petals for the gods. By midmorning the offerings have accumulating into towering stacks of “Canang Sari." I love spending time in the Ubud central market, but because of tourism you have to get up with the sun to experience the market that the locals frequent. Get to the market as early as 5:30-6am, eat a breakfast of small pastries and spicy Babi Guling (roast pig). By 8:30 am the locals' market is already dispersed and the tourist market—filled with gilded sarongs and carved masks—has taken its place.
Although it’s located right near a popular stretch of Seminyak beach, this inexpensive, 16-room Puri Madawi hotel, set 300-meters back into the jungle, feels hidden and secluded. The resort is filled with authentic Balinese touches such as woven furniture, white cotton bedding, and marble floors. The rooms look out on lush gardens and a pool surrounded by black lava stone.
Set on cliffs above the Indian Ocean, this posh resort is made up of 59 spacious villas that blend local stone and wood with Bulgari-made fabrics. It’s a luxurious combination of contemporary Italian design and Balinese traditional architecture. From $880. 62/(0) 361-847-1000. Photo courtesy of Bulgari Hotels.
The temples in Bali, Indonesia are famous for their multi-tiered thatch roofs. This was taken at Pura Taman Ayun in the village of Mengwi. Visitors are not allowed to enter the temples - we could only view from outside the walls. Thankfully the walls aren't very tall :)
Clear Café may specialize in raw and vegan food, but you won’t find dream catchers or hemp tablecloths here. Instead, you’ll see marble-and-stone tabletops, driftwood sculptures, and a small courtyard pool. Notable menu items include black pepper tuna and raw zucchini linguine. Jalan Hanoman No. 8, Ubud, 62/(0) 36-1889-4437. Photo courtesy of Clear Cafe. This appeared in the January/February 2013 issue.
Bali sometimes gets an unfair review as being an overhyped and overly-touristed exotic destination. On the contrary, my husband and I enjoyed our three weeks there immensely. We divided our time between unassuming, coastal Jimbaran and Ubud (of Eat, Pray, Love fame). Jimbaran is a convenient launching spot for exploring Bali as it's close to the airport, but far enough away from the more popular, yet tasteless, Kuta. Our simple but extremely pleasant $18 a night guesthouse (Villa Puri Royan), was located in a residential neighborhood, allowing us to mingle with the locals and even participate in their special family ceremonies. We were also within walking distance from a traditional market, countless temples and the beach. We left Jimbaran having had rich experiences and a feeling that we were truly immersed in the Balinese culture.
A stay in Ubud wouldn't be complete without dropping by Naughty Nuri's for a rack of ribs, smoking hot off the grill. Casual, open air dining with more pork than you can shake a rib at, burgers and steak as well. Nuri's is a "local's joint" often crowded with travelers from around the globe who enjoy succulent, finger-lickin' slabs of pork ribs, sauced to perfection, washed down with an icy martini or pitcher of cold Bin Tang beer. Easy on the wallet, Nuri's is a great spot to chat up a local Balinese artist, an ex-pat or three, or practice your Balinese under the attentive eye of Nuri and hubby Brian (the "naughty" in Nuri's...). Nothing fancy here. Tasty food, friendly folks and a lively atmosphere keep 'em coming back for more.
This riverside orangutan rehabilitation camp is usually reachable only by boat. For times when the Sekonyer Kanan River runs dry, volunteers are building a 2.5-mile boardwalk to the camp. Workers are often approached by two curious orangutans, a welcome interruption following a busy day in the humid rain forest. —Kellie Schmitt The Orangutan Foundation: About $1,400 for six weeks, including building materials, lodging, and food. 44/(0) 207-724-2912, orangutan.org.uk. Other Trips to Help AnimalsWhales in Costa RicaSnow leopards in Central Asia Meerkats in South AfricaElephants in Thailand Horses in California Photo by Daniel Kleeman. This story appeared in the November/December 2011 issue.
Arguably the most luxurious yoga resort in Bali, Como Shambhala has 30 rooms, suites, and villas set on 23 acres of jungle-covered riverbank near Ubud, each with its own butler and infinity pool. Yoga programs led by visiting masters such as Rodney Yee are held throughout the year and typically include five hours of daily practice over five days. The spa offers Balinese and Ayurvedic treatments, and off-site activities range from jungle treks to visits to Ubud’s famous temples. From $350 per night, including breakfast. 62/(0) 361-978-888, cse.como.bz. Image courtesy of Como Shambhala Estate. This story appeared in the January/February 2012 issue. Find other yoga retreats:Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga InstituteKripalu Center for Yoga and Health, MassachusettsAqua Wellness Resort, NicaraguaJicaro Island Ecolodge, NicaraguaGaia Retreat and Spa, AustraliaAnanda, IndiaDomaine de la Grausse, France
Visit this quiet village in eastern Bali for hand-loomed geringsing ikat weavings. Protected from outside development, the village still operates according to ancient traditions, and the residents are descended from one of the oldest Balinese tribes. This appeared in the August/September 2013 issue. Image: Kamarul Shahrin
Balanced on the edge of Bali, high overhead the crashing waves of the Indian Ocean at what almost seems to be the edge of the world...is Uluwatu Temple. There, every day at 18:00 a Kecak Fire Dance is performed which is the Balinese telling of the Hindu legend of Prince Rama. However, this version relies more heavily on the character of the monkey: Hanoman. A chorus of men chant in a circle in which the drama is performed and visitors sit just outside the chorus surrounding the entire production. The fire is real, the heat can be blinding and the drama... most definitely entertains. Uluwatu is still a functioning Hindu temple so visitors do need to follow traditional custom by wearing a sash or sarong (if your legs are not already covered). Entrance to the show is the equivalent of 5 USD. The Kecak dance lasts for about an hour and it's recommended to arrive well in advance to get a seat and see sunset over the ocean before you do.
Pura Luhur Uluwatu caps the steep rocky cliffs of Bali's southern shore. The spectacularly perched temple is one of Bali's holiest locations as it is one of the nine directional temples believed to protect the historically Hindu island from evil spirits. The placement of the temple high above the pounding surf below makes this temple the most beautiful of the main Balinese sacred sites. The hollow waves breaking at the base of the promontory are regarded as world class and highly sought after by skilled surfers. Sunset creates a magical atmosphere at the temple as the cliffs take on gold and orange hues and the ocean with its rolling waves shimmers and glistens in the receding sun's final rays. From Kuta Beach, Uluwatu is about 18 km south towards the Bukit Penninsula. Beware of the feisty macaques guarding the entrance!
After experiencing the more aggressive monkeys of Ulu-watu, I enjoyed the experience of walking around the quiet Sangeh Sacred Monkey Forest, just outside Ubud, and seeing the monkeys that call this small forest and its temples home. Mothers were holding babies close, feeding and grooming them, while juveniles ran around and large males watched from above. The guide, who meets you as you enter and takes you through the park, was very friendly to us and respectful toward the monkeys. Apparently, the monkeys have lived there for a long time, and the place and its monkeys are considered sacred (hence the temples). A great day is to combine going to the Bali Bird Park and Sangeh Monkey Forest. A driver can be hired to take you to both places if you are not staying close enough to bike there.
Rice is something that we eat all the time. So few of us though, have ever seen it grow. I was amazed as I walked through the rice paddies of Jatiluwih to see that rice is just another, tall, robust form of grass. These tiny seeds are what about half of the worlds population survives on. It was mind-blowing.
Strap on a helmet, grab some friends and let the awesome guides at Banyan Tree Bike Tours show you a side of Bali you'd never see on your own. Take a ride through rice paddies, where the ducks do all the work (ok, not ALL the work, but they do serve as a natural pesticide and they do some "weeding" as they eat), authentic Balinese villages, and colorful fields of Patchouli flowers (and here I thought Patchouli came from hippies). All the while, you'll learn great facts about local culture from your guide and earn that roasted pig you can reward yourself with for dinner.
The best babi guling (suckling pig) in Ubud can be found at the no frills, open air Ibu Oka, Jalan Sueta / Tegal Sari No 2. Sit on the floor in front of a low table (you may have to share) and rip into a plate of tender pork served with rice and a bit of crackling on the side. Rustic dining, 5 star meal.
Atop a cliff one hour from the center of the island, and reachable from the beach by elevator, the Bulgari Resort is an Italian-Balinese collection of villas, each with its own pool. There are also several restaurants, where the food was unexpectedly great—and the wine cellar was incredible. Dinners with high-end producers are frequently hosted here. —Alessia Antinori Jalan Goa Lempeh, Banjar Dinas Kangin, Uluwatu, 62/(0) 361-847-1000. Read more about wine entrepreneur Alessia Antinori.
When he sold his jewelry company in 2007, Canadian expat John Hardy and his wife reinvested much of the money into the Green School, an innovative K-12 school in Sibang Kaja, Bali. The curriculum is very experiential—the international and Balinese students learn everything from aquaculture to Balinese puppetry. The school, named greenest school of 2012 by the U.S. Green Building Council, is worth a visit, if only to see the far-out architecture. Many of the complex buildings are constructed entirely of bamboo. Jalan Raya Sibang Kaja, Banjar Saren, Abiansemal, Badung, Bali 80352, Indonesia
While in Ubud, I saw many wonderful dance performances--there is a different one each night of the week. The best however, was Semara Ratih--it was amazing and mesmerizing. It clearly stood out above the others in its refinement. So if you are in Ubud, Semara Ratih performs each Tuesday at 7:30, it is a must see. I know this sounds like a commercial, but it really was incredible.
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