March 11, 2014
Bali is booming in the best and most bizarre ways. Jeninne Lee-St. John tumbles down the rabbit hole to an island where every day isn’t any other day. Photographed by Nikola Kostic
Published on Mar 10, 2014Page : 1 2
I was in a giant Sno-Cone machine. Shaved ice made of pure oxygenated water fell into a mini-Matterhorn in the middle of the room. Staring through each rhythmic plop of packed frozen crystals to the neon-illuminated walls beyond, my eyes glazed over from the mind-melding cycle of colors. Shocking pink. Sunburnt orange. Lemon. Chlorophyll green. Cobalt blue. Purple plum. Shocking pink. Sunburnt orange...
Things were getting trippy. Maybe that’s what drove me to voluntarily rub handfuls of snow on my bare skin, impervious to the cold. Maybe that’s why the spa attendant kept peeking around the corner to check on me, because what non-Russian would subject herself to the ice room for so long, especially sans vodka?
Chlorophyll green. Cobalt blue. Purple plum. After two go-rounds through the computer controlled steam room, sauna and this ice room, I blinked hard a few times, squeezed my eyes shut, hoisted my goose-bumped self off the bench and out of the color carousel into a steaming shower in the tricked-out Wellness Suite of the spanking new Mulia Spa, then down for an Around the World four-hand massage and crystal face-rub by two gentle masters, and off into a week of new ideas, technologies and services sharing in common that particular brand of over-the-top for which Bali is beloved.
In an endless march of Mad-tea parties, rose-petal baths and camel rides, I was Alice following the White Rabbit through what the ever-growing legion of visitors—an estimated 3.15 million this year, up about 10 percent from 2012—can expect from next-wave Bali. It would be easy to disdain the pace of development on Indonesia’s resort capital, if only because the notions of “tropical vacation” and “traffic” seem so irreconcilable. But thanks to APEC’s decision to hold its annual summit here last month, the government has even made headway on that front, this year having opened US$230 million worth of new road works to ensure swifter passage between all the new resorts in the southern peninsula and all the hotspots up in Seminyak. And thanks to some visionary developers, those new rooms, the resorts they’re wrapped up in, and their spas on the side are cooler, greener, better serviced and, yes, trippier than ever. On today’s Island of the Gods, it’s more fun and ever more bizarre to worship at the altars of healing and hedonism—sometimes in the same place.
If it’s possible to trudge and bounce at the same time, that’s what I’m doing. Across the sands. Under a blazing sun. Atop this crazy, crooked-toothed camel.
One guide runs ahead every so often to snap photos of me, and the other silently leads the camel down the beach. Correction: the camels down the beach, two camels, attached via roped nose rings. We’ve got four camel-top seats for one passenger. Why? “We don’t know,” says the photo-taking guide. “Camels don’t want to walk straight if not in a line. No camel behind, camel walks over here, over there, over here.” Oh wait. Is the question, Why am I on a camel at all? The cliff-side castle that is the Grand Nikko Bali punctuates the drama of its positioning with a waterslide, a glass wedding chapel and a complimentary-cocktails club lounge capitalizing on the eastward ocean view, and shoreline rides on four camels imported from Australia—to which their forebears were imported from Central Asia—making the curious creatures both doubly displaced and perfectly located in this wacky Wonderland. There’s actually a fifth camel, an extra curiosity since he gets to chew cud all day, tethered only to the tree that shades him. When he shoots us an enigmatic Cheshire Cat grin, the guide wags his finger, “That one is naughty camel. No good camel!”
I take that for the warning it is, and retire post-trek to my sea-view villa on high, from which I can keep an eye on that no good camel at a distance. Grand Nikko’s 19 pool villas, which opened in July, are painted a purposefully distressed earthy maroon that precisely matches the high wildflowers that landscape this section of the resort. That level of thoughtfulness is rendered unsurprising when I get to know my butlers, especially Eka, who talks smack about American football with me using sports knowledge gleaned from his hospitality-internship year at State College, Pennsylvania, and draws me, unrequested, a precision-arrayed flower-petal bath one night he realizes I’m under the weather.
As if there were a competition in pre-emptive flower baths (and Four Seasons tapped into this game too), there’s one ready and waiting for me in the bay windows of my bathroom suite when I arrive at the Ayana Resort and Spa—though it takes me 20 minutes to notice, so massive is this ranch house of a Cliff Villa and its private, pool- and sala-filled grounds befitting a Queen of Hearts croquet match. But that’s just a warm-up for the baths, the Aquatonic Seawater Therapy Pool that takes up a huge chunk of the resort’s Thermes Marins Spa. It’s impossible to comprehend this 700-million-liter pool of ocean water without actually diving in. It’s an absurdist grown-up water park of elephant fountains and physical challenges: in 12 separate stations you run against the tide, swim against the tide and subject every section of your body to the micro-tides of individual jets. It’s a two-hour, literal blast. I’ve never taken a more powerful muscle relaxant (though not for lack of trying). It lulled me into just the right state to fully buy into the 7 Chakra Dhara gemstone-, aroma- and sound-therapy massage in which my lovely Hindu therapist transmitted energy to my body and soul via colors and internal chanting.
In keeping with their practice of wrangling nature for of rest and rehabilitation, Ayana has added to its immense grounds the super-sustainable Rimba Jimbaran Bay on the summit of a hill in the forest, bringing a little Ubud-style to Bali’s southern shoreline. The month-old Rimba has planted 50,000 trees to offset its carbon footprint, and has used old ships to construct the dramatic lobby that is fittingly half-submerged, driftwood to make all the in-room wall art, and recycled glass to construct the rooftop bar. The sweeping view of greens and blues and, in the late afternoon, orange hues, make for satisfying sundowners—though if you’re looking for more outlandish drink me effects, decend to Ayana’s ocean-front bluffs. As a guest of the resort, bypass the line and hop directly into the bitty inclinator that disappears down to the much-in-demand-atdusk Rock Bar. Bulwarking a stretch of Ayana’s 1.3 kilometer-long coastline, this imaginative optical illusion of unsafety spans a series of cliffs lashed by waves as strong as the drinks.
For spirits more sedate but just as scenic, head down the road to the chilled-out new Sundara, Four Seasons’s bay-fronting beach club with daybeds lining the lap pool, complimentary cocktail-hour canapes, a fire pit and a mood-mollifying DJ. Ease in with a Ginger Mojito, and survey the perfectly parabolic coast, lined on your left with the resort’s regal villas peeking out among the trees, on the right with a smattering of ever-popular seafood shacks, and dead center with guys playing soccer in the sand, couples taking sunset strolls and little kids boogey-boarding their last waves of the day. The Wasabi Martini, for its part, makes a tongue-tingling accompaniment to either surf or turf, both grilled on fat flames in the open kitchen.
If Sundara represents a grande dame rediscovering her vim and vigor, over in Seminyak, a couple of the cool kids are growing up. Potato Head Beach Club—with its broad lawn rolling down into rows of daybeds perched on the infinity pool; its pull to bring in giant artists like Snoop Lion, née Snoop Dogg, for surely the best (and most psychotropic) pool party ever a couple of months ago; its original cocktail list longer than the unbelievable Saturday afternoon queues—is primed to build a 59-suite hotel to open in 2015. The name, Katamama, means “mama said,” as in—I’m interpreting—“mama said sample all those drinks and just stumble home safely across the parking lot.” Around the corner, the perennial houseparty that is already Hu’u Bar is this month adding nine, well, houses—fully fit-out near-condos, each with its own kitchen, pool and butler. (A penthouse is in the works.) And don’t worry: they’re super soundproofed so that the global line-up of DJs Hu’u rotates through won’t keep you up… not that you’re planning to turn in before last call.
Of course, if you do feel yourself lagging mid-evening and you happen to be up the street at the W, the responsible thing to do is to take a break from beachfront Woobar, wander back to the spa and go space-age. Strap on one of the masks at the oxygen bar and after a few minutes lying on a banquette channeling pure air, you’ll get your second wind, putting you in just the right state to sample the bubbly-bedecked spa bar or maybe a treatment on a neon massage table—both of which are on offer ’round the clock. The new all-suite Regent Bali in Sanur went for a different healing innovation in hiring Jari Menari, famed for its regiment of all-male massage therapists, to train the spa staff. There are female masseuses working at the Regent, opened in September, but they’ve got the strength (and technique!) of dozens of men.
But it’s back at The Mulia, home of that psychedelic-trance ice room, that may best characterize boomtown Bali’s blend of upscale and outré. Take the beds: My back and neck were unsurprised to learn that even the lowest room category comes with a US$8,000 mattress though my mental calculator went nuts once I did the math times 745 rooms. The Sunday brunch at Soleil features your standard excellent raw bar and roast meats, but also creative passed courses like cheesestuffed zucchini blossoms and polenta pudding with fig compote. At daily high tea, you’ll wonder whether it’s the free-flowing alcohol or the towers of eat me cakes that shift your perspective on the rows of two-story-tall stone women lining the pool, making offerings as they would at the temple. It’s serene and surreal, traditional and postmodern, Alice down the rabbit hole and up in the penthouse.
Ayana Resort and Spa Jln. Karang Mas Sejahtera, Jimbaran; +62 361 702 222; ayanaresort.com; doubles from US $289, body massages from Rp1,215,000.
Four Seasons Resort Bali at Jimbaran Bay Kuta Selatan; +62 361 701 010; fourseasons.com; doubles from US $649, body massages from Rp1,065,000.
Grand Nikko Bali Jln. Raya Nusa Dua Selatan, Nusa Dua; +62 361 731 377; grandnikkobali.com; doubles from Rp1,500,000, body massages from US $55.
Hu’u Villas Jln. Petitenget, Seminyak; +62 361 849 9130; huuvillasbali.com; doubles from Rp359,000.
The Mulia Jln. Raya Nusa Dua Selatan, Kawasan Sawangan, Nusa Dua; +62 361 302 7777; themulia.com; doubles from US $247, body massages from US $95.
Regent Bali Jln. Kusuma Sari No. 8, Sanur Beach; +62 361 301 1888; regenthotels.com; doubles from US $357, body massages from Rp500,000.
Rimba Jimbaran Bali Jln. Karang Mas Sejahtera, Jimbaran; +62 361 846 8468; rimbajimbaran.com; doubles from US $200.
W Retreat & Spa Bali Seminyak Jln. Petitenget, Kerobokan, Seminyak; +62 361 473 8106; starwoodhotels.com; doubles from US $270, body massages from Rp850,000.
Hu’u Jln. Petitenget, Seminyak; +62 361 473 6574; huubali.com; drinks for two from Rp200,000, set menus from Rp255,000.
Petitenget Hip resto-bar with films and guest chefs. Jln. Petitenget 40, Seminyak; +62 361 473 3054; petitenget.net; dinner for two Rp500,000.
Potato Head Beach Club Jln. Petitenget 51B, Seminyak; +62 361 473 7979; ptthead.com; drinks for two from Rp240,000, dinner for two from Rp800,000.
Rock Bar Ayana Resort and Spa, Jln. Karang Mas Sejahtera, Jimbaran; +62 361 702 222; ayanaresort.com; drinks for two from Rp280,000, tapas for two Rp400,000.
Sundara Four Seasons Resort Bali at Jimbaran Bay, Kuta Selatan; +62 361 708 333; sundarabali.com; drinks for two from Rp250,000, dinner for two from Rp800,000.
Watercress Rustic breakfasts and prohibition high tea. Jln. Batubelig 21a, Kerobokan; +62 361 780 7830; watercressbali.com; breakfast for two from Rp140,000.