Part of the Luxury Collection for Starwood Resorts.
It was 3 p.m. on October 31, 2007. Somehow, we missed Halloween. After two flights totaling 20 hours, a five hour lay over in Hong Kong, and a 45 minute wait at Indonesian customs in Denpasar, Bali, we arrived from the other side of the globe.
Tired and yet excited, Ben pulled out a white 8 x 11 piece of paper looking as if he was about to use a new present for the first time. He wanted to learn how to say "hello", "how are you", and "thank you" in the national language — Bahasa Indonesian.
Lucky for us, our seat mate on the flight from Hong Kong to Denpasar lived in Bali and was willing to practice some words with us that were on that computer printout, review with us what was in Ben’s surfer magazine, and teach us some words in both Indonesian and Balinese that he thought might be useful.
Ben approached the customs guy and confidently stated, “Apa Kabar?”
One day later I realized that this would be the Indonesian phrase that we would be asking everyone. “Bagus”, “Bike” or “Bike, Bike” were the general responses. I was glad to hear that everyone on the tropical island of Bali was good, fine, or fine fine.
We walked out iof the terminal into the moisture and heat of the humid tropics and also into a crazy mess of hundreds of drivers with signs that listed the names of the travelers or tourists (there is a distinct difference here) that they were waiting to pick up. I wasn’t worried, but I did think, “How are we ever going to find our driver?” Sure enough a nice looking man with almond skin and dressed in a blue island-style button-up shirt and with a warm, friendly Balinese smile was waiting at the front of the rail with a large placard with our names clearly listed on it. He escorted us to our car, where a representative from the Laguna Resort and Spa Nusa Dua was there to greet us with "hello", welcomeing us to the Island of The Gods. We were seated in a 4-door Toyota half mini-van, half new-age SUV (we don’t have the type of car he was driving in America) and were off to find out what the Nusa Dua area of Bali was all about.
Nusa Batang Island at the
Sheraton Laguna Resort and Spa
We had read in books and heard from friends that Nusa Dua is the exclusive part of the island, gated off, private beaches dotted with world class resorts.
The lush grounds of Sheraton
Laguna Resort Nusa Spa.
While driving away from the airport and into the city there was a certain excitement that can only be felt when viewing sceney for the first time — the panacea for my jet lag.
There was much debate about which side of the road they drive on in Indonesia, and in fact, they drive on the left or as some people like to call it, "the wrong side of the road". We liked Bali right from the start. We passed many commercial areas along the four lane road leading to Nusa Dua.
Surf stores were everywhere — Rip Curl, Billabong, and Volcom to name a few. We learned quickly that Bali is not only the Island of the Gods, but as I would also call it, the island of the “motor bike”. Back in the states we have all sorts of names for a motor scooter. Here it is just one noun, the motor bike. For a mere $5 a day they can be rented and are the number one choice for transportation by the tourists, travelers, and the locals. Driving in Bali initially made me think of the Wild West gone island style. Street lights don’t mean much, signs are just a mere landmark, and the lines on the road — well let’s just consider those more of a general guideline.
The Laguna Resort Nusa Spa is a
tropical paradise at Nusa Dua.
We struck up a conversation with our driver right away. Budi is his name. He lives in Nusa Dua. He is from Bali, and yes he is Hindu. After about a 20 minute drive, we arrived at the Nusa Dua sign and were almost at the hotel. I needed a shower, a cold beer to relax. We approached a security gate, some Indonesian words were exchanged, a mirror was run along the perimeter of the under carriage of the Toyota to check for explosives, the hatchback was lifted to look at our luggage, and then a warm smile from the security guard let us know that the latch to the gate would be lifted and we would be another step closer to our hotel.
The swimming lagoon at Laguna Resort.
The Sheraton Laguna Resort Lobby;
plush, posh and in paradise!
Entering Nusa Dua you could see right away that it is a master planned resort area. There are many properties in this area including The Laguna Resort and Spa-Nusa Dua.
Alas, Budi took a left and we approached the entrance to the Laguna. It was very quiet, not the typical hustle and bustle of a hotel, although it was a Wednesday and with no clouds in sight it was a day away from the beginning of the rainy season.
We were promptly greeted, helped with our luggage, received a business card from Budi so we could call him for future services, and entered the outdoor hotel lobby.
I didn’t have any Indonesian Rupiah so I tipped Budi in America money, he said it was okay. I would later learn that the Balinese are very flexible and pretty much say okay to anything. I followed Ben’s lead and handed the security guards my baggage and went through the metal detector so they could ensure not only my safety, but that I was entering the resort for the right reasons. Since the bombings occurred in 2002 and again in 2005 security measures have continued to increase. During the two weeks we were there we did see police but not as many as I suspected. However, if you are in the security industry, Bali would probably be a good place for employment as security guards are abundant.
We were promptly checked in and were brought a “welcome drink”— some refreshing sweetened iced tea. The bellman took us to our room where there was a basket of fruit waiting for us that had unidentifiable objects in it. Ben and I were curious as we tasted an orange that was green like a lime on the outside and also ate a very foreign fruit that we would later learn is called snake fruit. The taste is a cross between an apple and a pear, the inside looks somewhat like a large garlic, and the outside is a hard skin that resembles chocolate brown pine cone snake skin.
Dine at the beach.
After our fruit frenzy we were so excited to see the Indian Ocean from our resort room that we changed into our bathing suits and went down to make comparisons to our ever familiar Pacific Ocean. I had just bought a new black and white polka dot mid-century-style one piece that I was very excited to showcase!
The sand was a whitish yellow. Each beach and water on the coastline of Bali is different from the next beach. The water at Nusa Dua was clear, warm, and surprisingly not as salty as I would have thought. Ben swam past the nets and the buoys to check out the coral and sea life beyond the protective barrier. I stayed in my comfort zone, a little apprehensive of the sea grass underfoot in the shallows.
The exclusive Imperial Suite Pool deck.
A Laguna Villa bedroom.
We were to meet up with our new Indonesian friend, Sugeng, at the hotel, later but this gave us time to unwind, rewind our thoughts, and slurp a drink on a lounge chair. I stared past my sandy feet at the Indian Ocean but opted for a swim in one of the many pools at the resort while saying, “Apa Kabar” to a few passing staff members.
The Laguna Resort and Spa, Nusa Dua is a sprawling resort, yet it has a boutique East meets West feel to it. There are 271 guestrooms with 48 of them with direct lagoon (pool) access; they were recently remodeled in 2006 and at that point the property became a member of Starwood Resorts "The Luxury Collection".
A Sultan Suite bedroom.
Laguna Villa Pool and Gazebo.
There are also additional “Dream Suites” and Villas which can go for well over $1000 US per night.
Water is everywhere around the grounds. Whether it is the lagoon pools, large swimming pools, small rivers flowing through the property, or the Indian Ocean — it is a complete paradise.
There are also Indonesian Bales around the resort that resemble palapas, cabanas, or gazebos, except with different architectural designs — four posts, a pointed roof, with the deck usually a few feet off the ground — they are the perfect place to lounge, read a book, order room service, or just pretend that you never had to go back to your reality. I wanted to live at the Laguna forever. The 24 hour Butler service is extended to all of the rooms, there is plenty of meeting space, internet access for those that can not get away from work, a lovely spa and fitness center, and they even serve afternoon tea.
Our room at the Laguna Resort was lovely. There are eight different room types at the Laguna so there is no shortage of options. Deluxe rooms at the time of our stay were anywhere from around $300 to $520 US a night. It was a luxurious room and indeed 5 Star. Everything about the hotel was 5-Star.
A studio room goes beyond "standard".
The Raja Suite goes beyond "superb".
The room was modern in décor with a homey feel to it. The art on the walls and the luxurious bed brought much comfort to our stay. We had to go down a couple of stairs to reach the living and bedroom areas. There was a separate living room area with a big sofa, chair, coffee table/ottoman and flat screen plasma TV. Everything was in neutral modern tones, including the beautiful polished teak wood floors.
The bathroom was appointed with a jag lag beneficial Jacuzzi tub, separate shower, new fixtures and plenty of closet space. We were very comfortable for the three nights we stayed at the resort. The service was absolutely 5-Star and much of that had to do with our personal butler, Nyoman Sudirman.
The Imperial Suite bath.
He was fantastic, offering to bring us drinks during the day, tea at night; he ironed our wrinkled clothes with such a warm and welcoming presence to him.
There was something a little different and special about this place. The easiest way for me to put my finger on it goes back to us meeting Budi at the airport. His gentle eyes, his wide warm smile, and his friendly nature. This was evident in everything that we experienced at the Laguna. Since this was the beginning of our trip, we weren’t sure if it was just the service at the Laguna or the gentle nature of the Balinese people in general. By the time we left Indonesia we realized it was a bit of both. The staff was genuinely pleasant and also inquisitive. They wanted to know all about where we were from, how long we were staying, and if this was the first time we were in Bali. It was very important to them that we were happy in Bali. As a general question we were asked: “Are you happy in Bali?” Of course, we learned many new Indonesian words, such as “Terimah kasih”, which is thank you, and “Sama Sama which is you're welcome.
The balcony on the Sultan Suite.
We met up with Sugeng, who is with the hotel. He arranged for us to experience a true Hindu ceremony. The blend of church and state in Bali is unlike anything I have ever seen. I had heard there was no lack of Hindu temples, offerings to the Gods, and ceremonies in Bali and we were fortunate to experience this on our first night in Bali. Sugeng walked us down to the onsite temple. There were about 150 people praying and participating in the ceremony. The ornate decorations and offerings to the gods were magnificent and beautiful. Most participants were dressed in white Balinese ceremonial gowns. Each temple has an anniversary every 6 months to pay homage to the gods. This particular ceremony was open to the family and staff of the Laguna.
We ate at the Mayang Sari restaurant that evening. Its name is derived from the young coconut flower. It was our first chance to sample modern Indonesian and Balinese cuisine — in Bali Any guidebook will tell you that good wine is not that easy to find in Bali. As an avid wine drinker, I was worried. The right glass of wine can really compliment a meal and I was pleasantly surprised that the resort secured many decent but limited choices. Because of Bali’s proximity to Australia popular brands such as Penfolds were available. Sauvignon Blanc is my summer wine of choice and its virtually impossible to find on Bali, so if I wanted white wine, I had to revert back to good ol’ Chardonnay.
Mayang Sari Restaurant for fine dining.
Back home, my wine connoisseur friends and I are currently into New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs and Old Vine Zinfandels from Central California. They are not that easy to find either. I was so happy to just be in Bali, that the Chardonnay tasted great! Have I turned on to Balinese food and culture — yes! I had become more flexible than all past yoga classes.
Bali's Rock Reef Lobsters
are huge and fresh.
Resort Chef Made Putra uses all locally grown fruits and vegetables in is dishes. The highlight of our dinner was the beautifully presented reef lobster served in its own shell with chili and pineapple. I also tasted the oxtail soup. We had great conversation with Sugeng about his life in Bali since he moved from Jakarta; we noted how the travel industry changed since the bombings, and of course we added new words to our Indonesian vocabulary that evening.
After our meal we stopped by for a drink at the beach/pool bar and that led to us more new friends so we could practice our Balinese lexicon. But with jet lag still creeping into us, we went back to our room and fell fast asleep in that comfortable studio room bed.
Every morning during our stay at the Laguna we awoke early, went to the fitness center at the resort or for a walk on the paths down by the beach, then it was the multi-national buffet breakfast at the Café Lagoon. Because of the fruit and juice choices it became our favorite place for breakfast at the resort.
Breakfast buffet at Café Lagoon.
A multi-national spread.
Indonesian staples of Nasi Goreng, Western staples of bacon and eggs, Japanese cuts of sushi and pickled vegetables, and European slices of meats, cheeses, and boiled eggs were all displayed affectionately.
In the two weeks that we were in Bali many of the places that we stayed served buffet breakfasts and this one gets the #1 cornucopia award. We looked forward to it in the morning because of the service and new friends we met, such as Restaurant Manager Ida Bagus Putra, who brought us fresh sliced mango. Everything was better in Bali. The mango tasted different, more floral like, the papaya didn’t have that weird soapy aftertaste, and the snake fruit — yum!