Like surprises? Then take the plunge
Eyes wide open on the island where something special happens every day
ONE trip to Bali is rarely enough for most people.
Some say it’s because it is easy on the budget but I think it’s also because we like to be surprised.
And Bali is good at surprises. A plunge pool on the balcony of my third-floor room was unexpected.
Black sandy beaches as far as the eye could see also took me by surprise.
The food, the people, the scenery – everything was better than I imagined it could be. Every day something special happens or you see something that takes your breath away.
Bali appeals to all the senses if you let it and given that tourism is the island’s biggest employer it’s a win-win for everyone.
The backpacker style of holiday is how many Aussies first get to know Bali but there’s a world of luxury beyond that and it won’t cost a fortune to enjoy the best Bali has to offer.
One of Bali’s newest resorts, Wyndham Jivva Resort, is off the beaten track and a world away from the everyday.
At the end of a dirt road lined with rice paddies, the resort appears out of nowhere. Made of timber and stone, the reception building is surrounded by water and lush gardens.
Jivva loosely translates to “soul” in Sanskrit, the classical language of India and Hinduism.
With that in mind I headed straight to my spiritual home, the in-house spa. Tirta Spa has been thoughtfully designed so each therapist works in an individual thatched-roof hut, creating the ultimate private retreat for guests. And the treatments range from 30 minutes to three-hour package deals.
After each treatment guests are encouraged to sit on the veranda of their hut, enjoy tea and home-made cookies and admire the water buffalo grazing just metres away. Totally natural when you look around the grounds but quite unexpected in my post-massage haze.
Arriving at my room on the third floor I stepped out onto the balcony to get a closer look at the view of the black sandy beach and nearly fell into the pool.
Most of the 214 rooms have either a plunge pool or a jucuzzi on the balcony. For those looking for a touch more luxury there are eight private villas and each has its own pool.
Dinner time delivers an insight into Balinese cuisine. The chef at Jivva’s in-house restaurant serves up a menu based on traditional Balinese cuisine, with many of the dishes based on what local families cook in their own homes.
These dishes are cooked with lots of love, a sense of touch rather than precise measurements and years of practice. The result is delicious food you wish you could cook at home.
The good news is you can. The chef hosts cooking classes where amid laughter and lots of careful chopping guests discover the secret blend of flavours needed to recreate some of the chef’s favourite dishes.
The restaurant is an oversized thatched hut and tables are dotted around the garden area. The fantastic food, live music several nights a week and the gentle sounds of the ocean set the scene for a fun-filled party where guests feel right at home.
Heading out of the resort for a day of travelling we booked a driver – not just to negotiate the traffic but because they offer insight into life in Bali that just isn’t possible if you try to go it alone.
The markets in Ubud are well known and well worth a visit if you are shopping for trinkets. We found our bartering attempts were much more successful if we challenged ourselves to find a particular item, rather than aimless wandering which made us a slow-moving target for the savvy sellers.
If you go to Ubud make sure you step away from the market strip – the streets around the market were lined with shops selling everything from handmade stationery to designer clothes and jewellery. Cafes and market-like shops are right next door to familiar brands like Starbucks, Ray White Real Estate and the Commonwealth Bank.
The streets were busy with a mix of locals – some balancing baskets on their heads – and tourists from every corner of the world. The best way to appreciate the passing parade of people was to take a seat in a restaurant with a view.
We chose Spice, which has massive glass windows facing the street. The restaurant is one of three bearing the name Chris Salans, a celebrity chef in South-East Asia, and I could see why he is so popular – the crispy pork belly (with turmeric dressing and dukkah spice) is the best I’ve ever tasted.
Bali is not just a feast for the eyes. It is rich in history and culture and it would be remiss of any traveller not to visit some of the temples where many Balinese people still go to worship and pay their respects.
The Tirta Empul Temple is a Hindu water temple near Tampaksiring and it was humbling to be allowed to witness faith in action. Young and old took their turns to drench themselves in the waters that would bring them fertility, health and good fortune. It was hard not to be touched by the sheer numbers of people and the solemnity that filled the temple.
Playing tourist can take you in many directions, physically and emotionally, and the visit to the temple was a truly memorable experience.
But like any tourist we soon moved on to discover the next surprise Bali had to offer. Days later, after visiting rice paddies, a butterfly enclosure, a batik fabric display and a few other uniquely Balinese sights it felt as though I’d only touched the surface of what Bali has to offer.
The upside to that is that it’s no surprise where I’m going for my next holiday.
◗ Worshippers make an offering at the Tirta Empul Temple in Bali and, below, the The Wyndham Jivva Resort reception.