BALI

Bali of­fers a won­der­fully at­mo­spheric set­ting for re­lax­ation – just watch out for mon­key busi­ness, says Jenny Southan

Business Traveller - - CONTENTS -

In Ubud’s Sa­cred Mon­key For­est, there are signs warn­ing peo­ple not to touch, feed or make eye con­tact with the an­i­mals, but no one takes any no­tice. There are ba­nanas for sale and staff hand out fist­fuls of peanuts to tourists. It doesn’t take much to at­tract the monkeys – I see one tear open a shop­ping bag, and an­other peel fruit while sat on a child’s shoul­der. They es­pe­cially like glit­tery ear­rings – on the stone steps of an am­phithe­atre, one leaps on to a wo­man and snatches at her jew­elled lobe, mak­ing her scream, be­fore run­ning off with his prize.

Ten­ta­tively mak­ing our way through the jun­gle, keep­ing an eye on the squab­bling macaques in the trees, we pass an­cient, moss-cov­ered tem­ples, stat­ues of grin­ning apes, and or­nate winged drag­ons guard­ing a stone bridge high above a ravine. Of­fi­cially a na­ture re­serve (open daily 8.30am-6pm), its 700 or so monkeys are fed on sweet potato three times a day, but this doesn’t sup­press their ap­petite for mis­chief.

While I pose for a photo, a ju­ve­nile springs from nowhere and grabs my face, leav­ing two neat sets of scratches (al­beit faint) across my tem­ples. I spend the next hour googling: “Can you catch ra­bies from a mon­key scratch?” (the an­swer is yes so I am freak­ing out) and or­der­ing bot­tles of Bin­tang beer from the nearby Habi­tat Café, which has free wifi (habi­tatubud.com).

Next door is hip­ster co-work­ing space Hubud (hubud.org). The bam­boo house has an or­ganic café where flip-flopped writ­ers sit with lap­tops look­ing out on to paddy fields, and ea­ger en­trepreneurs spend hours cod­ing while drink­ing kom­bucha (fer­mented tea). This sum­mer, Hubud will host a Google-spon­sored Startup Week­end for tourism and hos­pi­tal­ity ven­tures.

Last year, al­most five mil­lion peo­ple vis­ited Bali, a 23 per cent in­crease on 2015. Join­ing high-end in­ter­na­tional brands such as Aman, Four Sea­sons, W, Anan­tara and Oberoi have been two ho­tels from Ritz-Carl­ton (the Man­dapa, a Re­serve prop­erty, and the Ritz-Carl­ton Bali, opened in 2015), the Hoshi­noya (Jan­uary 2017) and the Capella Ubud, which will fea­ture 22 luxury tents when it launches at the end of the year.

Asian chain Alila has four prop­er­ties on the 5,780 sq km island of Bali – the Seminyak, Mang­gis, Uluwatu and Ubud, where I am stay­ing. The re­sort is

about 20 min­utes’ drive from the town of Ubud it­self, pop­u­lar over the years with hip­pies and back­pack­ers. Along the sides of the streets, which are strewn with tiny trays of flow­ers and rice as of­fer­ings to the gods, are shops sell­ing phal­lic bot­tle open­ers, knock-off Ray-Bans and leer­ing masks. In the evening we stop at Hu­jan (hu­jan­lo­cale.com), a stylish cock­tail bar and restau­rant that also does cook­ing classes. Op­po­site is Fair Warung Bale, a sim­ple set-up serv­ing de­li­cious food in gen­er­ous quan­ti­ties. All of its profits go to­wards pro­vid­ing free health­care for lo­cals.

While Ubud is fun for a day, the main draw for me is es­cap­ing to the steamy climes of the Alila Ubud, set high above the tree canopy, with a jade in­fin­ity pool that of­fers a stag­ger­ing panorama of the misty, ver­dant val­ley. (If you’re af­ter sun, bear in mind that the dry sea­son is be­tween April and Septem­ber.)

Apart from the squawk of monkeys and birds, the re­sort is won­der­fully peace­ful, days be­gin­ning with a tra­di­tional breakfast on the ter­race – chilled wa­ter­melon and red chilli juice, and a bowl of nasi goreng ayam (fried rice with chicken, a fried egg and pick­les). While stan­dard rooms are com­fort­able (the out­door rain­show­ers are the high­light), the palapa-roofed vil­las with pri­vate pools are very spe­cial.

If you are stay­ing for more than a cou­ple of days, you may be tempted to book one of the ex­cur­sions that the Alila or­gan­ises, such as quad bik­ing, VW jun­gle sa­faris or morn­ing bird watch­ing. You can even hike to the sum­mit of ac­tive vol­cano Mount Batur. The on-site spa spe­cialises in tra­di­tional mas­sages to leave even the most stressed-out busi­ness trav­eller feeling re­born af­ter meet­ings in hec­tic Jakarta, just un­der two hours’ flight away.

We take the ho­tel shut­tle 55km to the Alila Uluwatu, perched on cliffs at the southerly tip of the island (only 35 min­utes from the in­ter­na­tional air­port). The fo­cal point of the min­i­mal­ist, all-villa re­sort is the enor­mous pool and grav­ity-de­fy­ing can­tilevered Sun­set Ca­bana bar, al­though guests also have the plea­sure of their own per­sonal plunge pools and hy­per-modern res­i­dences, ac­cessed by golf cart.

Apart from a per­ilous hike down hun­dreds of nar­row steps to the beach, there is noth­ing to dis­tract you from re­lax­ing. Dur­ing the day, staff set down pool­side ham­pers of iced water, menus and sun­screen (al­though I’d ad­vise you to use your own fac­tor 30 as the ozone layer is thin in these parts). In your per­sonal 291 sqm villa, you can lounge on a day bed and have a but­ler wait on you around the clock.

In con­trast to more rus­tic eat­ing in Ubud, the Uluwatu opts for fine din­ing. Alone in con­cept restau­rant Quila, we em­bark on a ten-course “sen­sory jour­ney” that starts with us be­ing blind­folded while eat­ing a cube of rock lob­ster cov­ered in green foam, then con­sum­ing a mush­room meringue en­clouded in dry ice. By now, I can safely say that my trau­matic ex­pe­ri­ence in the mon­key for­est feels far behind me.

A two-night week­end stay at the Alila Ubud starts from US$370 for a Su­pe­rior room in July. The Alila Uluwatu starts from US$884 for a one-bed­room villa. Visit alila­ho­tels.com, des­ti­na­tion-asia.com, garuda-in­done­sia.com

Pic­tured: Ubud Sa­cred Mon­key For­est; Alila Ubud

Pic­tured: Alila Uluwatu

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