Confession: I’ve been living in Australia for over ten years and I’ve never been to Bali. I know, right? It’s like a rite of passage every true blue Aussie needs to go through. But to be honest, Bali just never appealed to me. For one, it’s always had the reputation of being a pretty feral party place – the kind of place where guys in nightclubs put their hands on their heads to indicate when they’re taking a piss on the dance floor (yes, this is a true story I heard from someone who’s been to Bali!). Now I like to party too, but I draw the line at piss on the dance floor. Also, I’m probably in the minority on this but I don’t get too excited about beach holidays. I kind of feel like, done one beach holiday, done ’em all, you know what I mean? I’d rather be visiting a historic city in Europe or exploring South America – and that was where I ended up holidaying over the last few years.
So when my friend texted a group of us last year saying she found cheap flights to Bali for her birthday weekend in 2016, I was a little hesitant. But, hey, cheap flights and a relaxing holiday with lots of massages? I took a deep breath and wrote back. ‘Count me in.’
And so there I was landing in Denpasar Airport late one night, blinking and looking around me at my first glimpse of the Island of the Gods, and feeling much too warm in my jumper and leggings (we had just come from cold wintry Perth.)
We had decided to eschew party central Kuta and beach-friendly Seminyak and instead had booked ourselves into the Senetan Villas and Spa Resort set 40 minutes out of Ubud amid Bali’s lush rainforest. Since it would be almost a two hour drive between the resort and the airport, we had opted to book a taxi ride through the hotel. Our driver was waiting for us and had bottles of cool water ready which we accepted with gratitude. We piled into the car and watched as we sped past the more popular tourist areas, through enormous elaborate archways and roundabouts where huge statues of deities dominated. Then, in a flash, we had passed out of the towns and were driving uphill, past dark villages and stone carving warehouses, the car headlights picking out dozens of smaller statues, beautifully carved and waiting to be sold – Hindu gods, Buddhas, dragons and lions, all staring back at us with blank, indifferent eyes. (Our taxi driver on the ride back to the airport later told us that most of these statues are now composed of cement, rather than stone).
I had been up since early morning for work and was pretty tired – and admittedly a little nervous when I saw the sign indicating Senatan Villas and we turned off the main road onto a jungly dirt road. There wasn’t much that could be made out here except for some simple grey walls and low buildings. Er…. they said Senetan was a five-star villa, didn’t they?
Then our taxi driver went down a rather steep slope and turned onto a road lined with tall proud rainforest trees picked out with slender bars of light along the ground. My spirits began to rose – and rose even further as we turned onto a driveway facing a gorgeous timber outdoor pavilion that served as the reception area for Senetan Villa.
It was past midnight and the receptionist on duty was sleepy, having just been roused from napping at the back of the office, but he greeted us with unfailing politeness (I’ve heard a lot about the warm and friendly hospitality and politeness of the Balinese and this proved to be the case throughout our entire trip) and even had bougainvillea necklaces, a delicious lime-and-mint drink and cool towels to greet us with as we signed in at the desk.
“Your welcome includes a complimentary foot bath and massage,” he told us, “but as it is quite late, we will schedule the massage for the next day.” Sleepy and just wanting to go to end ourselves, we agreed that a foot bath on the morrow sounded perfect – and indeed, that foot bath in warm water filled with flowers and a neck massage the following morning after breakfast turned out to be the perfect antidote to a cramped airplane ride.
After signing in, we were escorted to our villas. Over the past few months, our initial group of five passengers had dwindled down to three and we manage to snag adjoining private villas, complete with our own private pool each. Though it was too dark to see much that night, just the sight of the pool was amazing. We said our goodnights and went to bed quickly enough. But the next morning, I woke up to this view.
Your own villa with a private pool and a view overlooking the rainforest? Yes, please!
It was the perfect place to lounge and chill for the weekend. Or week. Or maybe even month…
We could even glimpse a volcano or two in the distance and wondered if one of these was the volcano we would be climbing in a couple of days’ time. But more on that later…
Unfortunately, my camera memory card conked out on me toward the end of our trip and I lost all the lovely pictures I took, including the ones of the terrific bathroom with outdoor tub and shower! So I’ve just had to make do with the photos I took on my iPhone. Boo…..
Senetan means the kitchen, which is an important part of the home for the Balinese and therefore it’s no surprise each villa comes equipped with its own outdoor kitchen area as well. Cooking classes are also offered at Senetan and guests can ring reception to have fresh ingredients delivered for their own private cooking. We didn’t end up taking advantage of this, preferring instead to dine at the restaurant. But we were super intrigued by the complimentary platter of fruit, particularly the snakeskin fruit. The skin on the outside is exactly like a snake’s scales while the fruit on the inside is like a white crunchy version of jackfruit, but less sweet and less sticky. Again, no picture unfortunately as it was all on my camera! Boo…
After a massive sleep-in the next morning, we were super hungry and headed over to the restaurant.
Senetan’s restaurant is open practically all day – well, from early morning till late night, and their offerings of Indonesian-style cuisine is delicious. Each meal came with a yummy amuse bouche complete with an espresso cup-sized fresh juice – at one meal, it’d be a minty lime drink, the next it would be a mandarin or cinnamon drink.
Though we hardly ate anywhere else on our trip, we had the best meals ever here at Senetan. And no case of the dreaded Bali belly either!
And the afternoon tea! Each afternoon, we’d get a phone call from the kitchen asking if we’d like some tea sent up to our villas. Um….yes, please!
My favourite were these little pandan crepes stuffed with gula melaka – sticky sweet molasses made of palm sugar.
We may also have ended up drinking the hotel’s entire wine supply for the weekend, though I have to say in our defence, they ran out of wine after the first two or three bottles. From then on, they only served wine by the glass for the rest of our stay, though I have to say we ended up ordering enough wine by the glass to have drained a few bottles there as well. S hissed across the table at me, “Do you think they’re cutting us off?”
I whispered back, “Surely we’re not being Kuta ferals?” But, no, I swear we weren’t!
Much of our first day was spent lounging around the pool and availing ourselves of the hotel’s massage and facial spa services. How gorgeous does the spa itself look? Almost like an exotic old castle.
Wine and dinner finished us off and we went to bed at a very sedate, early hour. See, we’re not Kuta ferals!!
The following day, was S’s birthday and we decided to celebrate by taking the shuttle into Ubud. Unfortunately, it began to rain so most of our time in Ubud was spent ducking in and out of Ubud’s shops to avoid getting wet. We eventually took refuge in the Blanco Museum where we wandered around looking at paintings by Antonio Blanco, a Spanish-American artist who was pretty much the Paul Gauguin of Bali. “His paintings are not meant to be erotic at all,” the tour guide assured us as she cheerfully rearranged the leg of a naked female statue hanging over a painting and stuck a wooden thingummybob in between the legs to signify the change of status of the woman from virgin to non-virgin. Um, sure, yeah….
It was still raining when we emerged so we moved on to the Bridges restaurant next door which had been recommended to us by a friend. Apropros to the name, the restaurant is located almost under a bridge overlooking the Wos River where temple-goers bathed on the other side.
We had arrived just in time for a Dayak dance performance, featuring dancers and musicians from the Dayak tribe in Borneo, which we watched as we sampled the Rijsttafel, which is a sort of Indonesian cuisine tasting platter. It’s like a little flavor party of classic Indonesian dishes for your mouth! (Again, annoyingly, no photos because most of them were on my dead camera memory card!) I’m pretty peeved at this one as the Dayak costumes were beautiful and the dancers lovely and charming.
Then it was back to Senetan for a hot shower and another trip to the spa before dinner and an early night in because the next day we had a 2.30am start to climb Mt Batur, one of Bali’s still active volcanoes!