Grand Balisani Suites (Kerobokan)

After riding in a taxi for almost four hours during a cross-island trek through Bali, we were super excited to disembark at our final destination, the Grand Balisani Suites.  The maddening traffic and gobs of tourists had already put a bad taste in our mouths and we were eager to turn that first impression of Bali around.  Unfortunately, the neighborhood we arrived at seemed a bit dodgy.  While the Grand Balisani Suites had claimed on their website that they were located in the tony area of Seminyak, we realized upon further inspection that we were actually about two km. away in the more quiet neighborhood of Kerobokan!


Nevertheless, upon our arrival - and the climbing of a veritable mountain of stairs - we immediately appreciated the look and feel of the hotel.  While the decreased energy level of the front desk staff underlined the fact that we had arrived in territory more heavily traveled, the cool open-air Indonesian architecture and handsome exterior grounds more than made up for any initial service issues.

The Grand Balisani Suites is actually a very large property, consisting of 96 rooms broken out into categories such as “Deluxe Garden View,” “Deluxe Sea View,” “Executive,” “Garden” and “Pool Villa” suites.  We stayed in a room overlooking the hotel’s Hindu temple.  Presumably one of the “Deluxe Garden” rooms, the view was not necessarily pretty, but certainly interesting thanks to a conglomeration of cows that grazed nearby. 

Inside, the accommodations were attractive, yet basic.  The bathroom served up a nice deep tub, yet once again, poor water drainage guaranteed a musty smell each time we returned to the room after our day’s adventures.  We solved the problem on our second day by leaving the air-conditioning on all day for better ventilation.  Sorry!

Our experiences with Balisani’s food and beverage outlets were mostly pleasant though we felt the price of our outdoor BBQ dinner on our first night was a bit too high.  Up until that point, we had been blessed with exceptional cuisine for much less money.  It was just another reminder that we were now in a much more touristy area, as if the gaggle of weekenders from Australia had not already proved as such!  Our free daily breakfasts in the main restaurant helped to buffer any financial loss.  The Grand Balisani buffet features a great selection of western and Indonesian fair that we were pretty happy with overall.

The big downfall of our stay, however, occurred after breakfast when we tried to find a space to layout near the pool.  We quickly surmised that management had not provided enough seating or loungers to accommodate the entirety of their guests.  A separate monopoly held control of beach umbrellas and loungers so that anyone looking to sit near the water would have to pay extra.  Since our day was presumably ruined, we made a complaint to the front desk, yet being former staff of a hotel ourselves, we were not surprised when nothing came of it.
At this juncture, we made a conscious effort not to spend any more money at the Grand Balisani Suites.  It’s too bad, as we really liked the grounds.  We ended up hanging out all day next door at the Barca Bar where drink and food prices were considerably lower and the vibe was a lot more relaxing.

Set of Drifters tip:  The high-end sundries/ gift shop at Grand Balisani Suites leaves a lot to be desired.  If you need some basics - toothpaste or bottles of water - head outside to a market instead.



Grand Balisani Suites - Jalan Batu Belig, Kerobokan  80361, Bali, 011 (62) 361-730550

http://www.balisani.com/



Hotel Tjampuhan and Spa (Ubud)

You know a place is special when we name it one of our all-time favorite places to stay... even after we were robbed a complete night’s rest thanks to a couple of rodents who made love, and an awful lotta noise, inside the rattan headboard just above our bed!

Yes, from the moment we set eyes on it, we fell in love with the Hotel Tjampuhan.  Just picture this equation:  Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room + Mr. Rourke’s Fantasy Island compound / Hindu iconography X lush jungle hill that leads down to flowing river!  Sound too good to be true?  It’s not.

Originally constructed as the guest residences for friends of Ubud’s Royal family, the elaborate property debuted in 1928.  It would soon attract a host of Dutch colonists, primarily artists and writers, who hoped to invoke the same magic already exemplified by Ubud’s talented village communities.

By 1934, Hotel Tjampuhan was already home to Rudolf Bonnet and Walter Spies, both prominent artists who would devote their entire oeuvre to Balinese-inspired subjects.  (Two of the 67 individual dwellings at Tjampuhan are named in their honor.) 

In the years since, the property has been modernized several times.  Still, visitors need not worry that Internet access or a series of cocktail bars have spoiled the original atmosphere.  Even today, multiple landscaped walkways careen down the side of a ravine and empty off into a picturesque river bank that joins two sacred tributaries.  Once combined with the property’s two separate pools and a handful of different, yet still traditional, building styles, the natural setting produces breathtaking views from virtually anywhere you stand.  (Set of Drifters tip:  If you have any trouble with mobility, make it known before you get to your room!  The property is laid out on so many levels that it can take up to five minutes to get from one end to the next - and many of the stairs ain’t always wide, or even level!)

Upon arrival, we were issued the ample-sized “bamboo suite.”  (The vaulted thatch roof made it appear like we were staying in an oversized tiki hut, though we presume the unit was connected to three others in the same building.)  We really appreciated the fresh flowers and traditional Indonesian furnishings that included a lovely tapestry placed over a comfy King Size bed.  Our only criticism of the room might be its outdated bathroom, a concern that seemed to be following us throughout our time in Indonesia.

Aside from its interesting layout and impossible natural beauty, Hotel Tjampuhan has another ace up its sleeve in the form of a newly renovated indoor/ outdoor spa that we have since dubbed one of the “Grooviest Place Ever!”  Talk about kitsch.  Imagine yourself surrounded by hundreds of strange creatures immortalized in the stone walls of a riverside grotto that soothes as much as it shocks!  Monkeys, gods and devas in provocative poses will easily make you blush as you submerge yourself into the bubbling hot spa or the icy waters of the plunge pool.  Spa packages are available in half- or whole-day increments and include use of the sauna or steam rooms.  A number of individualized scrubs and massage options are also available, some including detox meals or acupressure services.

As you can tell by our gushing, we really loved Hotel Tjampuhan and regretted not staying at least one more night to get the full Ubud experience.  The clientele was friendlier and more diverse than any place we had stayed previously, a nod to the property’s ability to please a wide variety of travelers.  Another bonus?  The location of Hotel Tjampuhan is also particularly good as you are just slightly off the beaten path from the intense tourist area, yet still close enough - and within walking distance, to many good restaurants and shopping.  Aside from the aforementioned rats who clearly enjoyed our romantic suite as much as anyone else, this place should be top on your list when visiting Ubud.  Set of Drifters tip:  Those cool thatched decorative hats you see hanging up on the sides of many of the property’s buildings are actually functional!  Trust your Set of Drifters when we say they become mighty handy if you find yourself trapped in a mid-afternoon downpour.  In fact, you just may have to fight the hotel staff for them if the weather gets really torrential!  

Set of Drifters video:  Check out our YouTube channel for video from this event!



Hotel Tjampuhan and Spa - Jalan Raya Tjampuhan (PO Box 198), Ubud  80571, Bali, 011 (62) 361-975368

http://www.tjampuhan-bali.com



Puri Lumbung Cottages & Arathi Spa (Munduk)

While we may have been a bit overwhelmed by the swarms of tourists checking out South Bali on our first two nights on the island, we had a little trick up our sleeves that we knew would solve any issues with overcrowding.  The second leg of our Balinese adventure was to take place in the small village of Munduk.  It was a location that may have been only 85 km. away from the capital, but thanks to its remote mountainside setting, felt hundreds of kilometers further.

Our journey to Munduk began after picking up a red jeep from a nearby rental agency in Kerobokan (see “essentials” below).  Thanks to a couple of stop-offs and some rather treacherous roads clogged with hairy traffic, the drive to Munduk took longer than the original two hours we allotted.  You can be assured that we were more than thrilled to finally get out and stretch our legs upon finally spotting the sign for Puri Lumbung.  (Set of Drifters tip:  There is another property in Munduk with a very similar name, the Lumbung Bali Cottages.  Make sure you confirm which resort you have made reservations for prior to arriving in town!  These roads are so narrow, any U-turn could be your very last!)

In our humble opinion, the Puri Lumbung Cottages is one of the most special places we have ever stayed at, and it’s no wonder the grounds are a haven for honeymooners from around the world.  Perched to the edge of the mountain, the 22 or so separate cottages and villas each share impressive views that stretch out across rice paddies and fall off into a wide valley below.  A “lumbung” is actually a traditional rice storage granary and it is from abandoned lumbungs that many of the accommodations have been built around.  After settling in with a few drinks at the Sunset bar, we cozied up to our own two-story cottage that overlooked the “Froog’s Pool” (their misspelling, not ours).  When we later toured the nearby forest with a guide who doubled by night as our waiter, he told us that cottage #6 was a favorite of many thanks to this same setting that also affords a small temple and central Vishnu statue guarded by an umbrella. 

While the second-floor bedroom was barely large enough for the bed itself, the close proximity to our terrace was sublime.  We really enjoyed relaxing from this vantage point, reading books or simply hanging out with a beer.

But there’s a lot more to Puri Lumbung than just relaxation.  The management behind the property has worked very hard to retain a connection to the special community it belongs to through their affiliation with “SUBAK,” a local farmers’ association that aims to conserve both Munduk’s traditional way of living as well as the art forms it has imbued.  While we only partook in their suggested trek to nearby plantations and waterfalls (see “sights”), the folks at Puri Lumbung also offer an extensive list of classes that could easily keep you busy for days.

We met up with a quartet of ladies at Puri Lumbung’s charming “Warung Kopi Bali” restaurant who shared with us the results of their traditional Balinese cooking class.  We loved sampling their “ares ayam” (chicken soup with young banana stems) and “dadar gulung” so much that we ordered both dishes from the menu the following evening!  No interest in sitting over a traditional wood-burning stove while on vacation?  No worries.  Other courses offered by Puri Lumbung/ SUBAK include Indonesian language basics, palm leaf weaving, bamboo musical construction and practice, herbal medicine classes, and spiritual guidance/ yoga mediation (with some classes taking place at sunrise!)   If we had known there was so much to occupy our time in Munduk, we definitely would have stayed a night or two longer.  The place is just that beautiful - and special.

Of course, that beauty does come with some drawbacks.  Thanks to its intimate adjacency to the rice fields and jungle, wild life is ever present.  While the “froogs” in the pond outside supplied ample sound effects to enhance our night’s rest, it was another, furrier creature that provided the real surprise!  Though Set of Drifter Doug denied my concerns that mice had entered our space while we slept, the truth was finally revealed upon returning home to California when we unpacked our suitcases to find small teeth marks on a number of bars of chocolate!  I guess we should have paid more attention to those funny signs posted inside our open-air cottage that suggested all food be kept in air-tight containers.  (Set of Drifters tip:  We also noted quite a few ants roaming around the first floor entrance as well.  When we mentioned this to the front desk, they told us that recent renovations of the outdated bathrooms had stirred up activity.  We were able to get the situation under control once someone came by to spray with pesticide.  If the little buggers get on your nerves, just be sure to mention it to the friendly staff.)

Pests notwithstanding, a stay in the mountainside village of Munduk is a must, particularly if Bali is your only island stop in Indonesia.  (Sure, Seminyak and Sanur are great, but there is no way to really capture the pulse of this wonderful island unless you seek out its more traditional communities.)  And with two charming bars, an engaging restaurant that often supplies local entertainment - and the well-appointed Arathi Spa - Puri Lumbung Cottages is easily the definitive choice for accommodations when coming to Munduk.  During your stay, make sure you tell the front desk, and our tour guide buddy/ waiter Arya, we said hello!  Set of Drifters video:  Check out our YouTube channel for video from this event!



Puri Lumbung Cottages & Arathi Spa - Munduk Village, Kecamantan Banjar  81152, Singaraja, North Bali, 011 (62) 362-7012887, http://www.purilumbung.com


Hotel La Taverna & Isola Restaurant (Sanur)

By the time we got to Sanur, we were certainly ready for a little stability.  We had been bouncing from one hotel to the next since our stay in Sulawesi and were looking forward to hanging our hats in the same place for more than just one or two nights.  It was finally time to really kick back by the beach and read a book or two.

Our reservation for Sanur Beach, the more reserved, yet still popular, alternative to Seminyak and Kuta, was made for Hotel La Taverna, a picturesque property set back quite a distance from the town’s main tourist drag of Jalan Danau Tamblingan.  Our choice for this final leg of our trip was made almost entirely on the appearance of La Taverna’s rather attractive website.  Whoever remodeled this property (and website) has done a great job in tricking visitors into viewing this 40-year old hotel as a more modern, almost boutique outfit.  We were immediately seduced by the unusual layout of the grounds that more closely resembled a small village of separate buildings than a 4-star resort hotel situated at the beach.  Many of the different villas here are built in various sizes and elevations and then painted in contrasting colors that ultimately complement one another.  Our large “studio suite” came outfitted with an outdoor patio so inviting that we immediately replicated some of its best attributes on our terrace back home.  And even though the proximity of the individual exterior spaces might suggest too much interaction with other tourists, it was not long before we realized La Taverna would easily deliver the stability and solitude so lacking in properties like the Grand Balisani Suites. 

Quite simply, this is the place to escape to if you do not want to be bothered by others.  While La Taverna’s occupancy seemed to be quite high - as evidenced by the healthy amount of participants at the delectable daily breakfast - we never really came into contact with others, even while lounging side-by-side on the property’s serene beach.  In fact, some might say our stay in Sanur was too quiet and peaceful, thanks in part to the still, warm waters that eschewed all waves from the shore.  (See “sights” for more information on Bali’s famed beaches.)  Set of Drifter Brady was so zenned out during these last few days in Indonesia that he spent hours in the shallow depths of high tide creating his own little coral reef that was inspired by diving and snorkeling trips earlier in the vacation.  “New Sadua North” was a special place for Brady, a take on the tourist-clogged beaches of Nusa Dua further south that we avoided altogether.

While lounge chairs at the Grand Balisani Suites were entirely too hard to come by (see above), we never seemed to have a problem at La Taverna, save for the one coveted spot adjacent the turquoise pool that offered respite from the intense glare of the sun.  (Set of Drifters tip:  If you spending the day poolside, try to grab the cabana near where the towels are handed out.  Another nice option for a cool-down are the flower-petal shaped stools that rest just under the surface of the water.)  One negative about La Taverna’s seemingly serene beach comes in the form of a gaggle of middle-aged women who wait on the side of the property for tourists to happen down the boardwalk which stretches the entirely of Sanur’s beach.  The pesky ladies cackle and taunt just about everyone into trying one of their massages.  Don’t bother.  Relaxation in their immediate midst would be next to impossible.

Elsewhere, accommodations at La Taverna were some of our favorite of the trip, decorated in a tasteful style that, unlike most hotels in Bali, was not dependant on any specific geographic connection.  In fact, if you had arrived here blind-folded all the way from your original departure point, you might just as well think you were in Havana or Fez.  The cozy king size bed was well appointed with mosquito netting that seemed hardly necessary and the armoire was easily big enough to house a week-long wardrobe.

Still, the best part of our quarters had to be the bathroom.  While it was not necessarily the easiest thing to get in and out of (particularly in the dead of night) with its truncated wooden door placed about six inches from the floor, the interior was sublime.  Almost like an underground cave dwelling with no sharp edges, the all-in-one room acted more like a tiny spa that we wished we could have indulged in for days!

Of course, no write-up of La Taverna can be made without a mention of Isola, the hotel’s restaurant that arguably doubles as the heart of the property.  We both found the restaurant/ bar’s use of contrasting cobalt blue and white to be a refreshing change of pace from the red, gold and black you see throughout the rest of Bali.  And while the setting of the restaurant is immediately inviting, expect to pay a premium for the experience.  Isola’s appetizers, entrees and drinks are not cheap, though after weeks of indulging in every form of Indonesian food, their menu of Mediterranean and Italian offerings was just what the doctor had ordered!

In addition to the aforementioned free breakfast, of which the menu changes slightly every day, we enjoyed a lunch and after dinner drinks at Isola.  (See “sips” for our somewhat embarrassing beverage order.)  Sadly, the service was not necessarily the warmest we encountered in Indonesia, but again, we were at the point in our vacation where we wanted to disappear into the background anyway.

Nightly rates for La Taverna were the highest of our entire trip.  Still at only $115 USD, the bang-for-your-buck value was extraordinary.  Another jewel of a property further down the boardwalk, the Tandjung Sari, boasted rates easily three times as much for a basic room.  While we indulged in their restaurant for our final night of the holiday, our stay at La Taverna gave us equal comforts without breaking the bank.  While we hear Isola hosts nights of live jazz, don’t expect a party at La Taverna.  Again, this is the place you want to go to unwind from it all.



Hotel La Taverna & Isola Restaurant - Jalan Danau Tamblingan 29, Sanur  80228, Bali, 011 (62) 361-288497,

http://www.latavernahotel.com