I had heard that the eastern side of Bali is quite different than the rest of the island. We were on our way to find out not if East meets West here, but perhaps better stated as if East beats West.
Alila Manggis' outdoor
lobby welcomes guests.
Our guide, Yessy, said it would be an hour’s drive by car from the peaceful village of Sayan in Ubud to the gentle and slightly off-the-beaten path to the Balinese village of Manggis (pronounced Mangeese).
It was a relaxing drive through rural villages and fields of glowing green rice paddies. We rounded the bend of Mount Agung, the tallest mountain and sleeping volcano on the island, and passed rows of swaying palms, before arrival at the Alila Manggis Resort.
After stepping afoot onto the property, my eyes drifted through the openness of the resort and out to the water: first a refreshing pool, then the soft hues of the Bali Sea. I was enveloped in a gentle tropical feeling as the palms swayed with the gentle winds. The lobby, walkways, and restaurants were all either outdoors or implied with outdoor spaciousness.
The cliché, “This is a test, it is only a test” was going through my mind as I wondered if the kindness, generosity, and hospitality that I had been witnessing for the last week in both Southern and central Bali and Lombok, was going to surpass the eastern side of this incredible island. Yessy introduced us to several people in the lobby. They were all kind with their toothy, white smiles. It was at this point that the people of east Bali passed the test and I realized that the warm hospitality and the kind and gentle greetings are a way of life throughout all of Bali. It took just eight days of life enriching experiences spent here to discover this. We sipped the last of the refreshing and fruity welcome drink and we were on our way to find our room.
Tropical reflections dance
along the mirror-like pool.
The scenery was picturesque, more captivating than Hawaii; views of crisp enticing waters were everywhere. All the rooms had views of Alila’s pool, which had a simple design with square proportions and serving as the hub of the property.
Explore Bali on a traditional wooden boat.
Beyond the sheath of glass from the top of the pool was the look, smell, and sound of the ocean. It was a delight.
The Alila is a chain of luxury hotels sprinkled throughout Asia-Pacific, with resorts in Indonesia, Laos and Thailand, but they are in the process of expanding. The resorts are known for quality & service within a stylish and relaxing concept, with eco-friendly features to reduce their carbon footprint. Alila Manggis is certified as a Green Globe business in travel, but they also ensuring that the natural resources of Bali are preserved. If you want to be a responsible traveler, the Alila Maggis make you feel good about spending your money.
All rooms are ocean view.
Yessy took us on a tour of the property. Really chic! The Alila Manggis is a member of the Design Hotels Group, with personalized mini-bars - select your drink and mixers of choice and they will have it waiting in your room. There are several suites on the property which are located at the corners of a specific building. The corner allows it to have a wrap around deck providing different views of the property. All of the rooms are ocean view.
I enjoyed the boutique feel of this resort – there are only 54 rooms plus the two suites. I relaxed from the start. Although our room was not big, it was cozy, clean, with modern Balinese decor. It was perfect for my three days in Manggis.
Resort amenities are tops
I lounged out on the room’s terrace during the day, read on the day bed, talked to Ben, or gazed upon the beauty that was stretched out before me, not from guide books, not from photos, but from my own green eyes.
The resort amenities were top notch: spa quality shower gels and lotions; the linens and bed were so remarkably soft and comfortable, that I had no choice but to take a nap before a special dinner that evening at Seasalt, the resort’s outdoor restaurant.
We dined at a table with a clear and deliberate view of the pool and the ocean, the views were never ending. A lovely dinner, it was - “Special Eastern Balinese” style, according to Yessy. Alila offers a traditional cooking school teaching the culinary traditions of the surrounding villages. In Bali, some locals never leave their village their entire life so each region’s food is slightly different from perhaps 20 miles away.
The SeaSalt serves fresh seafood
and traditional Balinese cuisine.
A beautiful array of seafood skewers on lemongrass, seafood steamed in banana leaves, all surrounded by a tall cone shape of saffron rice was presented on one leaf-lined platter. It was symbolically set up perhaps - rice was the volcano in the middle and each of the dishes around it were the surrounding villages. We had great food and great conversation.
Yessy, Ben and I were very inquisitive about each others countries politics, food choices, and what life is like for young people. I learned commonalities between Indonesians and Americans, such as the desire for young adults to go to college, and women wanting more freedom in their careers and their own sense of identity.
The next day I awoke from a restful slumber to the swishing sounds of the swaying palms outside of our open balcony door, I was excited for the adventures of the day - Saraswati Day. But first, I needed the elaborate breakfast at the Seasalt restaurant which served the sweetness of palm syrup on my pancakes. Palm syrup, although similar in color and consistency as traditional maple syrup, has a more delicate sweetness.
SeaSalt's Simple fine dining
at the Alila Manggis.
The Blue Lagoon is a
perfect underwater world.
At 8 a.m. we met at the pool for a snorkeling trip to the “Blue Lagoon”; we motored out to sea on a simple wooden boat. Unlike the movie, this blue lagoon was not on a deserted island, just a vast translucent green bay. The visibility was churned up due to the current, but the snorkeling turned out to be fun. We made friends with a vast assortment of tropical fish and the coral was everywhere our snorkel masks turned to. Our guide and the current led us along the reef out of the protected bay almost to the open ocean. I know there must have been sharks lurking in the depths, but we didn’t see each other. When my fear was about to get the best of me, our guide turned us around and we were back in the protective cove - whew!
Back at the Alila we waved goodbye to our captain and guide and walked up the smooth black rocks to the grass surrounding the pool. “The key!” I shouted. We left the room key in the boat and the captain was on his way back out to sea. Now we really were a deserted island couple, waving our hands in the air, running back down to the shore and yelling for our captain to come back. After a few minutes of this erratic behavior, we got their attention and they circled back. They still use good old fashion keys even in the nicest of hotels in Bali. The plastic key cards that we are so accustomed to in the states are not prevalent in Bali.
Waiting for the Priestess at
the Saraswati day ceremony
It was soon time for the Saraswati Day ceremony. We ran down to the lobby where Yessy and our other new friends were waiting for us with sarongs and sashes to ensure we were appropriately attired.
The harmonious blend of church and state is very foreign to what we are taught as Americans. Perhaps it is because almost the entire population of Bali is Hindu. Many places of employment have a temple on site so that the Hindu Balinese have a place to pray on their breaks as well as on ceremony days.
"Sambal" is the Indonesian
version of "Hot Sauce".
The temple and ceremony site were up a hill of grass. I was instructed to sit on one side with the women and Ben was instructed to sit on the other side with the men - we waited for the ceremony to begin. At the ceremony I met Penny, the Alila Manggis Executive Chef, who had relocated to Bali from Australia. She knew many of the prayers! The temple was adorned with colorful symbolic offerings for all the gods. The female priest arrived chanting, praying, and tossing rice and sprinkling holy water.
One of best offerings was the suckling pig, known as Babi Guling; it was laid out on a wooden block and chopped up with a hatchet and placed into big trays on top of piles of rice. Ben stayed with the men to enjoy the Babi Guling and a homemade alcohol made from palm called Tuac, while I went down to the pool to write.
Alila Manggis's organic garden.
The author checks out Bali.
I enjoyed a mojito that was made with brown sugar instead of the white refined sugar. Ben came back to the pool a little tuac’d out. It was apparent he bonded with his new East side friends.
Our driver arrived and unfortunately, it was time to go. We went to our room, gathered our luggage, and prepared ourselves for the long drive to the west side of Bali; approaching the lobby,
Ben asked if I thought the goodbye here would be just like that of the last resort. It was - the staff met us in a waiting line and thanked us for visiting them.
I am so thankful for the sharing of their traditions, land, and culture.
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Ben’s “Balinese buddies” were still up at the ceremony site, hanging out with each other and sipping Tuac.
We shouted goodbyes and thank yous to each other and were on our way to the Le Meridien Nirwana on Bali’s west side where I would find out if East beats West.
— By Michelle Schoser, Jetsetters Magazine San Diego correspondent. photos by Michelle and courtesy of Alila Hotels.