Thursday 23 January 2014

A Hidden Gem in Ubud

When I first visited Bali in 2011, my friend and I stayed in Pan Pacific Nirwana Resort where we woke up to picture perfect views every day. Built on top of a sheer cliff overlooking the Indian Ocean and Tanah Lot Temple, the resort is a hidden paradise for couples seeking peace and privacy. After experiencing the famous Balinese hospitality first hand, I realised why Bali is the top honeymoon location in South East Asia. It vowed to return with CH one day.
The day finally came in December 2013 when we attended the Soulshine Festival Bali at The Green School. This time, we chose to stay at Bambu Indah in Ubud, the artistic heart of Bali.  

We were greeted with rain when we touched down on Christmas eve. The taxi driver whom I had pre-arranged didn't show up that morning. Luckily the driver from our hotel was at the airport and our transportation woe was quickly resolved. The journey to Ubud took longer than expected. The way I see it, the traffic congestion is going to get worse unless the major roads are widened to accommodate the increasing number of vehicles. 

As you can imagine, by the time we arrived in Ubud city, our tummies were rumbling. Our driver was kind enough to bring us to Ibu Oka, an Ubud institution where everyone comes for babi guling, roast suckling pig.

As Babi Guling is a local delicacy in Bali, we were very eager to sink our teeth into this very much raved about specialty. When the food arrived, it looked like a messy version of our 'cai fun' (mixed vegetables and rice dish). When it came to the taste test, I found it underwhelming.  The skin was chewy instead of crispy, the meat was tough and the tangy gravy did little to improve its bland taste and texture.

I wasn't the only one who felt this way. Even CH, who is not a fussy eater, thought this dish is over-rated. Our driver seemed to enjoy it though.

We could blame it on the bad weather. It had been raining continuously for 2 weeks. Everywhere we looked, glum tourists togged in raingear were sloshing through murky water in search of something to do or eat. One lady at the restaurant slipped and fell right before our eyes, hitting her head against the concrete steps. Luckily she got up and walked away unscathed.

Things started to brighten up when we arrived at Bambu Indah. We were greeted with the brightest smiles the moment we stepped into the eco-luxe retreat. We have stayed in many resorts before but this has got to be the coolest one we've ever seen.The public areas are constructed using bamboo whereas the villas are traditional teak houses built by native Indonesians 150 years ago.

Each teak house served as bridal house to a Javanese nobleman whose duty was to provide a home for his new bride.  These antique homes were handpicked by John Hardy (resort owner) before being relocated to Bambu Indah where they were lovingly restored into guest rooms. Hence, each one is unique with interesting names like Kuning (yellow), Udang (prawn), Padi (rice) etc.

After a long day of commuting, it was nice to take an afternoon nap on the luxurious bed with soft, natural light filtering in from the skylight and cool air streaming in through the window slats.

Perched over the verdant Sayan River gorge, the resort offers panoramic views of mountains, rice paddies and hills which was even more vivid when we woke up to sunny skies the next morning.

The view becomes more enchanting when the skies turn into a palette of orange and red hues as the sun sets.We saw lovestruck couples canoodling under the swaying coconut trees as the sky slowly darkened.

The best thing about staying here is everything slows down to a relaxed pace. I did not even turn on my laptop all week. Instead, afternoons were spent reading on the porch or watching playful guests plunging into the pool. 

Of course, if you are craving for something to do, there are other activites like yoga, nature walks, biking or white water rafting. The resort also organises tours to the Green School or Bamboo factory.

The staff here go to great lengths to make your stay memorable. Afternoon tea and a local dessert is served every day. The best place to enjoy it is out on the deck which looks out to the padi fields in the distance.

On Christmas day, they planned an alfresco BBQ dinner party complete with a gorgeous Christmas tree created using oil lamps.
You really have to take your hats off to the owners for the meticulous planning to make this a truly eco habitat. Permaculture is practised throughout the resort. 
The gardeners grow and harvest Balinese rice, organic vegetables, herbs and flowers throughout the property. Only natural fertilizer including compost made from their organic waste is used.
 The produce is allowed to ripen on the vine and harvested for use in the restaurant.
At the centre of the property is a natural swimming pool which uses lava stones and a vegetation regeneration zone to clean and filter the water. Where else can you find a swimming pool that is so natural that you can spot frogs and fishes swimming alongside with you?

As we wandered around the resort, we stumbled upon architectural wonders like a bamboo treehouse and pagoda constructed using glass and bamboo.
 Tucked away in one corner is one of their villas which is now rented out to an expat family. The clever use of wood and natural materials is amazing.

There is no opportunity to feel bored in this little piece of paradise. Just walk out of  the gate and you're transported into an artistic village with a sprinkling of luxurious villas, humble homestays and spas. It has everything you need for a getaway, especially one that is a little out of the ordinary.  However, I must add that it is not the place for everyone. If you can't live with bugs, toads and sounds of animals around you, it's best to bring your date somewhere else.

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