ASEAN KEY DESTINATIONS
The difficult art of equatorial life
It really is a difficult art, and one has to learn it from scratch. Previous experience doesn’t help you on Bali. As they depart for Indonesia, Russian vacationers usually plan to spend a week in the Laguna Hotel in Nusa Dua, a five star ocean-side resort walled off from the rest of the island, and another week in the Ritz Carlton nearby.
Yet all those deluxe places may leave you disillusioned - for all their posh decorations, the five-star hotels have nothing of Balinese exoticism, however hard their designers might try to retain the local color. The tourist industry has to be run by local communities, Prana insists. "The five-star hotels that are mushrooming in Nusa Dua are completely isolated from local people. Can one learn anything about the culture of Bali while staying there?"
Balinese architecture rests on the following principles: as many open spaces as possible to allow the air circulate all about, and flimsy tents to offer protection from the sun. Only bedrooms should have four walls each. That is the layout of the archetypal Balinese rajas’ palace. Luxury, calm and exotica, all-in-one. A private villa offers the best accommodation you can have on Bali.
You can rent a villa of any class. One of the best, owned by Agung Prana, are in Seminyak not far from Nusa Dua and the Ngurah Rai International Airport.
A villa has only one drawback - compared to a European-style hotel, you can’t have fifteen kinds of cheese on your breakfast table. Amply making up for that is delightful privacy, with no one admitted to the place but lodgers and servants.
A more modest and homely villa goes for $25 a day off-season. Here, there is no five-star service and you can’t have the house to yourself - several families usually rent one. However, the lodgers are far enough from the noisy crowd of other holidaymakers. If you want to visit several places, go from the seaside to Ubud, an art centre in the mountains. It also offers luxury villa accommodation, and the Orient Express’ Ubud Hanging Gardens is one of the best hotels of its kind.
It opened a few years ago near the quiet village of Melingih, away from the more frequented tourist routes. Each of the 38 villas (and you get to your place in a cable-car) has a private pool and there is another, huge multi-tier pool on the edge of a precipice, with a fine view of a nearby temple. Bali has a true masterpiece of design and architecture in the brand-new Royal Pita Maha Hotel, owned by the rajas of Ubud.
Ubud was among the first Balinese palaces to accommodate tourists. That was in the 1930s. The initiative came from its rajas who invited, among others, Walter Spies, a famous German painter born in Moscow. Spies, who had settled at the sultan’s palace in Jakarta since arriving in the Dutch East Indies several years previously, came to Bali in 1926. An artist of versatile gifts, he made Bali his home and launched its artistic modernisation drive. Spies asked many of his celebrated friends to stay with him in Ubud, including Charlie Chaplin. That was how the Pita Maha movement was born to bring together Eastern and Western artists. The royal family has named its hotel chain after it.