Bali, the jewel of the Indonesian archipelago is an island with two faces. One is the discount package-deal vacation destination, the place where Australians and New Zealanders go for long weekends, bachelor parties and a quick, inexpensive getaway. This side of Bali can be quite down market with dozens of budget hotels, bar-hopping tours, vendors annoying you while you are trying to relax on the beach, large packs of beer guzzling men and tacky souvenir stores.
Then there is the serene, peaceful and idyllic Bali, where private villas are surrounded by acres of rice paddies and crystal-clear pools filled with floating lotus flowers. Where your all-day spa package includes watermelon juice served in between therapies, and fresh towels and sunscreen are provided each time you go for a swim. This is the Bali that I love. Bali has moved on from being a cultural beach destination to one that is more sophisticated and focused on lifestyle travelers. In Bali today, customer service is exceptional, the attention to detail is paramount and you can still get value for money. July and August are considered peak season in Bali, as is the two week period from Christmas to early January, and most hotels will impose a surcharge for stays duiring these times.
All the major luxury hotel groups are represented here, but it is the smaller boutique establishments and private villas that are really the highlight of Bali. Ubud, located inland about one hour's drive inland from the main beach area of Kuta, is the island's cultural heart and the center of the spa and wellness industry in Bali. It is also home to some of the most spectacular architecturally designed resorts and villas. Although highly luxurious, many of them are inexpensive by international standards.
So if you are considering a trip to Bali and are trying to decide whether to purchase a package vacation or just airfare, here are a few accommodation options that may help you make your decision. Please note that all properties in Bali charge a government imposed 21% tax, which is generally not included in the price.
Waka (tel. 62/361-973178; www.wakaexperience.com) is a family of six boutique resorts located throughout Bali. Waka di Ume located just outside Ubud, is a serene oasis with 16 traditionally designed villas built along a gentle hillside flanked by rice fields. A combination of Zen minimalism and luxury, Waka di Ume surrounds the guest with the textures and colors of nature in a tranquil landscape. Spa treatment prices are given in Indonesian Rupiah, a good sign that the resort isn't yet over-run by tourists. For example the Nyiur package which includes a 60-minute Sutra foot spa and a 30-minute shoulder and head massage for $29 or the Ume package, a 60-minute paraffin mask face treatment and 30-minute leg and shoulder massage for $30. Until June 30, 2005, if staying for a minimum of three nights you will receive a complimentary 30-minute Balinese massage for two people or a set menu dinner for two. Another current offer is if you stay for seven nights, you only pay for six nights. Room rates start at $130 per night and suites with a private pool start at $300 per night. Complimentary welcome drinks daily fruit baskets, flower arrangements in your room, daily afternoon tea and shuttle buses to Ubud or other Waka Resorts are included.
Komaneka Resort (tel. 62/361-976090; www.komaneka.com). The beauty of this location and its facilities is only marched by the variety of its indulgent spa services -- 90-minute aromatherapy herbal baths for $40, 90-minute aromatherapy massage for $40, 90-minute herbal body scrubs for $45 or a traditional cream bath -- an hour of ultimate luxury soaking in a combination of avocado, ginseng and aloe vera followed by a steam treatment and a relaxing head, neck and shoulder massage for $40. Deluxe room rates start at $165 per night and villas with a private pool are $250 per night. Surcharges of $35 per night exist during high season (the month of August and December 24 to January 6).
If it's your birthday, Komaneka has a great birthday gift for you. Book two nights at the resort based on the above rates and Komaneka will not only pay the 21% tax for you, but they will also include a deluxe floral arrangement, a relaxing spa session, a birthday cake, a special birthday delight dinner and a gift.
Alila Ubud (www.alilahotels.com/Ubud) is a secluded hillside retreat outside Ubud. Blending contemporary design and traditional Balinese architecture, the private courtyards, spacious terraces and intimate gardens make you feel like you are the only guests. The resort's rooms and suite villas are built on stilts like tree houses. If you book online, rates start at $160 per night for a Superior room, $185 for a Deluxe room and $320 for your own villa. These rates are valid until 31 October 31, 2005. A high season surcharge applies for stays during July and August.
They also offer a number of luxurious and indulgent packages to cater to your every whim. Their four-day / three-night Mandara Spa Indulgence Retreat is $380 per person and includes airport transfers, a Superior room, daily a la carte breakfast, an aroma-therapeutic floral bath, one session of Tai Chi, 150 spa dollars per person, daily afternoon tea, 10 % discount on other spa treatments, Payangan trekking include picnic lunch and a five-course spa cuisine dinner. The six-day/five-night Retreat is $650 per person and includes all of the above plus a yoga session, an additional $100 of spa treatments and a Sobek Ayung River rafting or half-day Ubud tour. Valid until September 30, 2005. Also located near Ubud, in the town of Kedewatan, the Payogan Villa Resort and Spa (www.99venus.net/hotels/payogan) is another magnificent designed boutique hotel that is more of a retreat than a hotel. The individual traditional huts are built into the hillside in clusters to maximize the panoramic views of the valley and woodlands. Two rivers run through the property and numerous fountains and lotus ponds add to the overall serenity and ambience. Room rates start at $291 per night including taxes. Most rooms feature private walled gardens with a private pool or Jacuzzi.
Ibah Bali Luxury Villas and Spa (www.ibahbali.com) has a number of special packages. Their Ibah Escape package includes two nights in a luxurious villa, daily continental breakfast and afternoon tea, complimentary use of resort's mountain bikes, complimentary Tai Chi classes, free shuttle service into the Ubud area and a 50-minute Balinese massage for $625. For $1,150, their Ibah Indulgence package includes all of the above with three-nights accommodation and over two hours of spa treatments (an aromatherapy footbath, lavender body wash, choice of four body scrubs, Jacuzzi or aromatherapy floral bath, Mandara massage, foot massage and a refresher facial) for two.
Uluwatu, once only famed for its surf beach and laid-back lifestyle, is now the location of several new resorts and villa complexes. Its beautiful beach plus its proximity to Denpasar airport and the shopping areas of Nusa Dua, Legian and Kuta, make it an attractive option.
The villas of Blue Point Bay Villas & Spa (www.villas-bali.com/bluepoint_overview.htm) are divided into four categories Honeymoon, Presidential (both featuring a private plunge pool and Jacuzzi) Twin two-storied and Split two-storied. Located on the Southern shore at Uluwatu, the accommodations are spaciously appointed, highlighted by traditional thatching, natural stonework and polished timber fittings. Prices start at $230 per night for a one-bedroom villa, $450 for a Honeymoon villa and $680 for an oceanfront two-bedroom Presidential villa. A surcharge of $40 per night applies to bookings during high season (July and August) and $50 between December 22 and January 5.
The Balé (www.slh.com/indonesia/bali/hotel_balbal.html), a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World, is another stunningly designed resort located on a hill with panoramic views over the Indian Ocean at Uluwatu. There are only 20 exclusive Balinese pavilions, each with private horizon pools and outdoor garden bathrooms. Here guests are served by their own discreet butlers so they can enjoy complete privacy. Not just for rock stars and Hollywood heavies, you too can experience this ultimate vacation experience. Their Enchanting Asia package includes accommodation, airport transfers, a 15-minute massage, daily breakfast, complimentary access to the gym and $100 worth of spa treatments. The package is priced from $480 per room, per night. A two-night minimum is required and this deal is valid until August 31, 2005. Their spa package includes accommodation in a luxury pavilion with private pool, airport transfers, a 15-minute foot or shoulder massage, daily breakfast either in villa or the restaurant, daily fruits, flowers and home-made cookies, daily choice of spa treatments, one romantic candlelight dinner for two p, complimentary access to the gym, 24-hour butler service and free shuttle rides to the Nusa Dua area. The $1,300 price tag is hefty, to say the least, so you may need to be a rock star after all. A surcharge of $35 per night applies during the months of July and August 2005 and from Dec 20, 2005 to January 5, 2006. Valid until March 31, 2006
Please note that US citizens are eligible for a visa on arrival. Three-day visas are $10, 30-day visas $25. Although you may be tempted to stay longer, these visas are not extendable. Travelers must be in possession of a passport that is valid for at least 6 months. The US Department of State (www.travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_2052.html) continues to impose a travel advisory on all non-essential travel to Indonesia.
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