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Sunday, 29 April 2012

Viceroy Bali


The Viceroy in Ubud, Bali was one of the highlights of our lengthy trip throughout Southeast Asia and Indonesia. With its gracious staff,  newly built bungalows, and magical location – it definitely scores a 10.

Upon arrival we were greeted with cool towels and welcome drinks by the friendly bell hops and explained the lay of the land by the helpful front desk staff. We were then taken down to our villa in a golf cart and shown around.

We had a Deluxe Terrace Villa and it was beautiful. Our own plunge pool awaited us complete with a balé (lovely little open-air pavilion) perched above it. The room itself had a sitting area, king size bed loaded with pillows, walk in closet, huge marble bathroom with a walk-in shower and soaking tub built for two. The design was a mix of Balinese and European and we had a thick thatched roof and marble floors. Every detail was thought of with fresh flowers everywhere, a free mini-bar (for non-alcoholic drinks), an espresso maker (with Italian coffee pods), a large flat screen TV with DVD player, and an iPod doc.


The Viceroy is owned by a family instead of a big corporation and strives to make guests happy. There are several categories of villas from Garden Villas to the regal Viceroy Villa (or presidential suite), they all are situated high on a steep hillside overlooking rice paddies cut into the opposite hill. There seems to be complete privacy even without drawing the shades, as all the villas face toward agricultural land.

We jumped in the pool as soon as we got a chance and it was cool and refreshing despite its small size and the Balinese heat. The balé was a perfect place to relax and read, write, or have a drink listening to our fountain and looking over the water and hillsides. It is also a great place to escape one of the rainy season’s afternoon showers.


The Lembah Spa is gorgeous. We were lucky enough to have an amazing couples massage in the double treatment room . After being expertly massaged with the scented oils of our choice, we were then given a crushed rice and cumin body scrub, and then doused with yogurt, before showering off. When we emerged from the shower we were led to a double bathtub completely covered with flower petals in a beautiful arrangement. The flower bath smelled divine with all the frangipani blossoms and was probably my favorite part. Afterwards we used the sauna, cold pool, and Jacuzzi and finished off with a fresh fruit juice.

The Viceroy also has a gym, a business center, a library, and a large pool next to the restaurant with lounge chairs. For those of you with an unlimited expense account there is even a helicopter pad so you can skip all the traffic and transfer directly from the airport.


The only inconvenience I experienced at the Viceroy is probably a plus to most people. When we arrived by car the guards did a thorough search of the car including using some type of long wand sensor to examine the car frame as well as checking the luggage in the trunk. I understand why they do it with the threat of terrorism in Bali, but even so I’d prefer not to be screened.



Daily breakfast was included with our stay and was delicious. We had our choice of entrée’s such as Eggs Benedict or Crepes with Valrhona chocolate served with juice, fresh fruit, toast, and coffee or tea.

The best part of the Viceroy was the complete relaxation we found there. Everything we could want was at our fingertips and there was no need to go anywhere. When we did go out to explore Ubud the free car service was very convenient.  At any point during the day, the drivers would take us downtown to one of the two main drop-off point’s  and in the evening they came to get us wherever we were in Ubud.



Visiting the royal palace and the market were fun, but we preferred walking through the rice paddies that surround Ubud. We went in search of Sari Organik, a restaurant that is hidden in the rice paddies and grows much of its own food – both the meals and the views were great. We also had a delicious meal at Bridges Bali, an upscale restaurant with excellent cuisine and great service.


On our last night we had another stellar culinary experience: the chef’s tasting dinner at the CasCades restaurant at the Viceroy. We got to try many of the chef’s divine creations. Our table was surrounded in a heart shape of flower petals in a romantic corner of the open air pavilion. The courteous servers always seemed to know if we needed anything. Our 5-course meal began with a silky goat cheese pannacotta with baby root vegetable salad, and followed through the sublime courses until we were more than satiated. Another standout was the main dish: chicken roulade with black truffles, forest mushrooms, baby vegetables and potato gratin. This would be the perfect setting for a honeymoon or anniversary, and actually the whole place can be booked out as an exclusive wedding spot.



The Viceroy is a luxurious retreat and one of the best places I’ve stayed in the whole world. I hope to return someday soon.

http://www.viceroybali.com/en/introduction.php



©Christina Kay Bolton

Published in indulge
Monday, 25 April 2011

Searching for Cows in Bali


When traveling alone, it’s often helpful to have a secret mission. It keeps up the morale and gives you a pathway into your surroundings. In a foreign land, a secret mission is especially useful, helping you to look like you belong there—you’ve come for a reason, and you know what you’re doing.


My goal was to find out how those cows got up onto that mountaintop.


Seeing cows might not be high on most travelers’ priority list when they come to Bali. With an island full of colorful ceremonies, ornate temples, and surfers’ havens, livestock doesn’t command much notice. But, when I arrived in the town of Candidasa (“Chan-dee-dasa”) to find it a bit too touristy for my tastes, I looked up to see a group of local bovines and felt they just might have the answer.


Kalimantan And November 233They stood high on a rounded precipice overlooking the village, which overlooked the sea. The hill where they stood loomed over the other hills it sat upon, the sides so steep and rounded I couldn’t see how cows could climb it. Did people farm up there too? I wondered, imagining what might lie in that hidden world. Did people live there? I’d visited a nearby village of Bali Aga, where I met indigenous Balinese people who were here before Hindu settlers came long ago from Java. In this dusty little village, people made (and sold to tour groups) traditional crafts like musical instruments and hand-woven sarongs. Maybe more lived high upon that hill, I thought.


I decided that finding those cows was my mission for my brief stay in Candidasa. Traveling by myself, I wanted to avoid the typical tourist activities and crowds, in part because after months of traveling I was tired of people asking why I was sendiri, alone. Women in particular must expect these questions when traveling by themselves. Having the same conversations over and over, and constantly feeling I had to explain myself, grew exhausting. Discovering my own purpose, something off the beaten path, gave me renewed energy and led to more engaging conversations that focused on something new, interesting, and special to the place.


I imagined what Candidasa must have been like before the strip of ocean-front restaurants and bungalows sprang up, and if whomever lived on top of that hill—if anyone—had been affected much by the tourism. Candidasa was still a small-ish village, and tiny compared to the surfing mecca of Kuta. Travelers can certainly connect with nature without going too far. For $10, I Kalimantan And November 175stayed in a lovely bungalow by the ocean where at night I heard nothing but surf. The day before, one of the fisherman-by-night, guides-by-day took me to a snorkeling spot out beside the sea stacks, the huge rocks jutting out of the sea. I enjoyed snorkeling above the coral, feeling like I was flying through the air as I gazed down at the colorful fish below. But I still craved a closer connection with the past, something unstructured. And as nice as the visit to the Bali Aga village had been, I wanted an experience that was fresh, and all my own.


I asked a couple of people if there was a village up on the hill, but no one seemed eager to go. Then I talked to a young guy named Han, the friend of a young woman I’d been chatting with in the sarong shop where she worked. Amiable and easygoing, he worked as a tour guide and said he’d be happy to show me what’s up there, though there was no village on the hill. That’s okay, I said; something was still drawing me there, and I couldn’t leave Candidasa until I went.


We found a concrete path leading up the hillside, and followed it, passing a group of women and chickens by a simple concrete dwelling weathered by long years standing by the sea. Soon, we came to a dirt path and followed it on its windy way up the mountain. A woman walked by, eyes purposefully ahead, but a slight smile glimmering on her lips. She looked young and agile at first glance, but as I looked more closely, couldn’t begin to pinpoint the age of her weathered, wizened face. Like Changing Woman, that Native American legend whose form moves through the cycles of age continually, she seemed timeless. And apparently, she was en route to find the cows.


She paused along the trail where it skirted the forest line beside the sweep of grassy meadow, and as we caught up to her, I greeted her in Indonesian. “Selamat pagi, apa kabar?” (“Good morning, how are you?”) She just smiled shyly and continued along. “She doesn’t speak Indonesian,” Han said quietly. We were united, at least, in one purpose—finding the cows. This was her daily work, he said, watching over them to make sure they stayed nearby.





Kalimantan And November 237The path wound up from one gorgeous viewpoint to another, looking out on the small, rocky islands, and the expanse of Nusa Penida across the water. Travelers sometimes took a boat to that sparsely populated island for the day (I’d heard it offered no rooms for tourists, though I suspected a fortunate traveler might be invited to stay with a local). We stopped to look at one of the Gili islands that appeared through the mist, and even the aloof and barely visible Lombok, far away and barely visible. Below, the steep sweep of the valley plummeted to the next abrupt slope where villagers had once formed terraces into the land that were now eroding away, being absorbed into the hills once more. The still presence of trees with their gently shimmering leaves seemed to hold the spirit of the mountain in their intertwined roots, grounding it in the damp reality of soil. 


We moved higher still, the soaring green mountains shrouding us in stillness. I heard the lazy clanking of a bell, and knew she was just through the bushes. We’d seen a few up on the hillside, staring down at us in wonder, like children in a remote village seeing a white person for the first time.



Kalimantan And November 223




“Shhh,” said Han, creeping slowly ahead and gesturing to our left. We crept out of the trees, and into the open expanse of the hilltop. All the world swept around us in a breathtaking panorama of sea, sky, and soaring green hills, but I gazed only at her, and the cows. She’d found them, a small group of those beautiful doe-eyed creatures with delicate, rich brown faces and bodies. Two more were walking toward the woman, as the others grazed serenely around her. Her face still held that gentle, serene glow that seemed to express the beauty she felt in her daily task of keeping the cows. Watching her, and the gentle creatures grazing around her, I said a silent thank you to them for letting me into this moment, sensing and feeling more than any conversation could have told me, or even body language could express. It was a moment beyond words, a poem written long ago in a language only the spirit can understand.


Getting There


Candidasa was easy to get to; I booked a shuttle ticket from Ubud. The bus made a brief stopover at a warung, a small restaurant, and then my fellow passengers and I boarded two separate shuttles taking us to our different locations. All together the trip took almost two hours, and before long I was sitting by the lush garden at my hotel watching the surf. In November, finding a place to stay was easy; few tourists were around. The friendly fisherman on the sandy beach below immediately began to pitch their snorkeling excursions, which visitors during the low tourist season should expect. Many people here, like elsewhere in Bali, speak a reasonable amount of English, though speaking even a little Indonesian is usually appreciated.



Activities


Finding a tour guide is usually easy in villages like Candidasa, especially during the low season when most of the men and teenage boys seem to be looking for work as taxi drivers or tour guides. This typically means taking you to the white sand beach a few kilometers away, or to the Bali Aga village. You could also rent your own motor scooter, if you prefer. If you’re looking to learn about the culture, of course you’ll want to talk to your guide first to find out how much he knows. This goes for guides from agencies as well as guides you’ve met on the street. If booking a tour through one of the many agencies you’ll find in cities and villages around Bali, ask if the guides know a lot about your area of interest, like nature or cultural history.


If you want to stay in a really laid-back village, though, head further up the east coast to Amed, a more remote fishing village. You’ll find bungalows and restaurants, but not a lot. There’s more of a beach here than at Candidasa, too, and for $10 (in the low season, anyway) you can find a decent room right on the beach, with a shaded porch looking out on the ocean.


You’ll be able to ask lots of locals about any questions you have. As you walk down the street, people will ask you where you’re going and what you want to do, and offer you a ride.



©Melanie Jae Martin

Her blog is The Story Grove:  http://storygrove.blogspot.com/

Published in individual

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