Bali

Bali (the quintessential association to the exotic) turned out to feel much more comfortable than I had imagined. But don’t get me wrong, after living in a Bornean jungle, my main mission on the tourist island of Bali was to find out for myself why some websites were calling Bali “Asia’s new spa capital”. The other qualifying remark is that though there are numerous spas in the variety of towns that spot this Indonesian island, my spa pallet at this point had become quite refined. That is to say, I was looking for a BATHING SPA experience. The other qualifier is that I didn’t want to get caught up in the luxury prices that are a reality on Bali. Instead I was determined to have the experience that I wanted at the right price.

From Jakarta I flew into the Denpasar Airport on a rainy night. To my surprise my colleague met me at the airport and offered me a ride to my hotel in Sanur. My nights in Sanur were to be my only real glimpse of Balinese luxury. And so I stayed for two nights at the Sanur Paradise Plaza Hotel specifically because of its ‘freeform’ pool, hot tub, dry sauna.

The hotel rooms and suites surround this beautiful explore pool of different depths and waterfalls that make for a beautiful aqua journey that cools a sun-heated body. But the bathing spa enthusiast in me wanted more. The dry sauna and hot tub were quite acceptable. The sauna, with some coaxing, got up to around 80 degrees and the hot tub was warm enough to only be able to spend a few minutes in it. As it was my first couple of days in Bali and the treatments are so reasonably priced, I decided to go ahead and get a Lulur scrub. I’m not a huge fan of messages, but when accompanied by an exfoliating treatment, the rubdown is well worth it. I loved the new scent, which haunted me for the rest of the evening in this beachside town. To be honest I don’t think I made it out of the hotel lounge that night, but rather got sucked into singing with the lounge duo (a twist of my tipsy rubber arm).

One of the attractions of Bali has been both its traditional and modern architecture. Open courtyards, coy ponds and running water are everyday features in Balinese dwellings.

Though I didn’t receive any treatments there, I got a tour of the Bali Beach Spa at the Inna Grand Bali Beach Hotel (http://www.innagrandbalibeach.com/spafacilities.asp), which had a nice spa setting and offered a sauna with a cool and hot jacuzzis. It was the first, but not the last time that I had seen these round soaker pools in Bali.

I was particularly excited about my next destination because of its promise of a more laid-back, casual and less expensive atmosphere. So I was surprised to find myself in the bustling little town of Ubud. Ubud caters to yoga-loving, traditional resort-denying foodies. Culture seekers will find a plethora of amazing dance shows and be able to see the many rituals that Hinduism requires of its devoted Balinese island dwellers. Ubud is known for its inland appeal; rice patty terraces, steep green valleys and accessible walking trails.

Of course my main concern was to find those bathing spas. Though I had initially thought about staying at the Ubud Sari Health Resort, I ended up at a different hotel only to find myself seeking out Ubud Sari’s bathing facilities anyway. For the low to mid-range traveller I would recommend the stay there. I was attracted to it for its steam room, dry sauna, and beautiful jungle setting, but remarkably, in town location.

The next plan was to seek out some of the nicer, luxury spas where I could spend the day. But many of the hotel spas seemed to have a ‘guests only’ policy (or bias). I should have guessed this when I came across hotels with their own helicopter pads. Also, some of the spas were undergoing construction, in particular with their saunas and steam rooms, so they didn’t seem worth my time. Next time I’m in Bali I’ll be sure to check out Maya Ubud Resort and Spa.

I decided instead to bike one day to explore the traditional bathing sites of the area. This was a great decision. Not only was the bike rental only about $5, but also the landscape was incredible and the cultural sites were amazing.

My first destination was only about 15km away from Ubud, but it took me a little longer to get there as there was a bit of an incline and the sun was quite relentless. After lunch at Bali Eco Adventure Resort, I finally reached Tirta Empul. This is an amazing public bath where Hindus go to cleanse themselves. They proceed from fountain to fountain in order, completing their rituals. An amazing site.

Incense and offerings begin the ritual bathing. Amazingly there were huge coy fish swimming around in this pool, busy with activity.

Turning around to head back to Ubub, all that uphill battle paid off as I coasted down for a good 20 minutes, stopped at Bali Villa Ubud, to see what their spa services included, and continued. (In case you are wondering their bathing spa services only include a hot tub). I continued on to turning right to find the Goa Gajah Cave and public baths. Though these fountains are available for use, no one was really using them so I put my feet in and cooled off. The cave is also incredible. All in all it was an excellent day of biking with a Kecak show in the evening to boot!

Public bathing at the Goa Gajah Cave site.

The next day I had an early start to the day with hot springs to explore ahead! We left Ubud headed for Lovina. Though we didn’t stop, there is a waterfall along the way called Gitgit. Just before lunch we got to Air Panans Banjar (Banjar Hot springs). Thought the taxi ride was pricey the entrance was very inexpensive. Made up of three pools and ample amounts of fountains to give a great warm back massage, this hot spring was a nice treat for a rainy day. There is also a private area with a private pool and whirlpool where you can get a massage. Make sure you go to the pool with the 6-foot waterfalls for a great back massage – hold on to your bikini! For some this might be a bit too rustic, but it was truly a perfect spa for a rainy day and the day after the bike ride.

The next day I got to the luxury spa that I was waiting for. The Royal Kirana, was an amazing spa experience. I had the entire spa to myself and it was beautiful. Such a classic Balinese setting: infinity pools, little nooks and crannies to explore, in a stunning jungle valley, and very distinct and amazing architecture. The Royal Kirana is one of the only bigger resorts that was willing to allow me access just to their pools, sauna and steam room and just for the day. Considering the location and level of luxury, I think that they only charged me around $25, which I thought was more than reasonable. You can also rent private suits that seem amazing, private saunas, tubs, pool… if you’ve got the cash to spare you should definitely check it out. I had the place to myself though and the steam room and sauna had a great ambience. I just love the infinity pools that give you such a feeling of awe.

My sincerest apologies for not providing photos, I seemed to have misplaced them (insofar as we can still use that term in a digital age). Please see the website Gallery for these amazing images. http://www.royalkirana.com/gallery.php

From there I spent one night in Kuta, which was sort of a mistake. Nice beach but very, very busy with many tourists getting drunk.

There are so many different spa spots to visit. With enough time, a bit more money and maybe rented scooter, you could explore all of these places. In particular the Spa on the Rocks at the Ayana Resort and Spa at Jimbaran has received wide acclaim. Their thalassotherapy treatments look incredible where they have pumped 700 million litres of ocean water into their aquatonic pool where you can get jet massages and walk through an aqua exercise course. With underwater messages, sea breeze massages, and aroma steam rooms, there is a lot to discover there that is if you have the $500+ to spend. It is worth inquiring though if you could simply get the use of their thalassotherapy pools and a steam room. I would suggests to book in advance. http://www.ayanaresort.com/en/spa/thalassotherapy/

During this short trip I really just hit the tip of the iceberg when it comes to exploring the spas in the area. But I was able to find some of the spa that offer more of a bathing spa experience and at a thriftier price. In continuing to explore use this guide (http://www.balispaguide.com/spa-search/). It will tell you what kind of services is available at which spas on the wonderful island of Bali. Enjoy!

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