Saturday, 27 September 2014

Living the High Life in Ubud

I have never had any deep seated desire to live the life of the rich and famous. All the money seems like a great idea on the surface but the trappings are like a minefield, take Lindsay Lohan, what she hasn't spent of designer shoes and attire for the inane and vapid she has spent snorting up her nose. Now I shouldn't just pick on Lindsay...I wouldn't want to be Tom Cruise either let’s be honest. Deep down whilst gorging themselves on luxury escapes to Cabo, high end fashion, mega yachts in Cannes and a plethora of drugs of every imagining I think they wish they were just normal people with a quiet house in the country with not a single soul interested in chasing them to the ends of the earth for a photo. Don't they?

I know, I know you don’t believe me, who wouldn't want to be rich at least, if not famous. Okay yes money would make life easier but where is the challenge in that? A spiritual guru might tell you that you are only as rich as the life you lead or the friends you have or some bullshit like that but when given the chance to lead the life of the wealthy for just one week I snapped it up, no hesitation.

Now I know Bali is better known for it’s bogan Aussie antics than it is for a high end luxury holidays but there are little gems hidden away in the verdant mountains on the island of Bali that would excite and satisfy even the most discerning of travellers. The destination is Ubud, a once sleepy artist's community set up in the lush green hills of Bali around two hours from the dirty tourist beaches and hedonistic nightclubs of Kuta. Ubud recently hit fame with the book and movie Eat, Pray, Love and now hosts thousands of lost women every year in the throes of mid-life crisis searching for a meaningful life and of course yoga. I didn’t go in search of meaning or yoga. I went on a family reunion of sorts and what better place to do it than in the lap of luxury?

Being the travel agent in the family I may have had a hand in steering the group towards the luxury end of the market but with my access to agent rates the numbers spoke for themselves. For no more than the cost to house all 12 family members in individual rooms in a  budget hotel we were able to kick back at our own private villa that no word of a lie was heaven.

Heaven was called the Villa Pantulan, a five bedroom fully private pavilion style compound. Nestled in a little village away from the bustle of all those lost ladies, broken sidewalks, tattoo parlours and rabid monkeys in Ubud proper. It is a haven for those wanting a luxury getaway with an extremely reasonable price tag. The villa itself is tucked away privately behind high walls on the road side of the compound and open to the lush rice paddies at the back. Once inside the walls it is a private oasis. In typical Balinese style the living areas are all open air soaking up the warm breezes and stunning views. From the open air living area you are surrounded by marble walkways leading off to the various pavilions housing the bedrooms. Filling the spaces between are reflection pools and manicured tropical gardens. Between the living spaces and the rice paddies is your own private swimming pool, deck chairs, masseuse villa and day beds.

Private Oasis at Villa Pantulan

Villa Pantulan, outdoor living

Luxury doesn't stop there, you wouldn't be kickin’ it Kim Kardashian style without your own entourage. The villa comes complete with a staff of twelve. You have a manager who is there all day and into the night to arrange day trips, meals and service your every need. You have security staff, chefs, gardeners, cleaners, a driver, a barman, you name it you have it. The kitchen can prepare your meals day and night and specialise in traditional Balinese cuisine as well as tourist favourites, the bar is continually stocked and all extras are charged at the end of the stay. A twelve seater dining table takes centre stage for dinners and parties.

The sleeping pavilions feature outdoor bathrooms with the showers snuggled away in gardens amongst the towering palm trees open to the air yet still very private. The bedrooms have walls that fully retract to allow to breeze through and make you feel as if you are outside when in fact you are inside. At night the staff close the pavilions and draw the canopies around the beds creating an atmosphere of the private luxury one would expect in an exotic paradise.
Outdoor Bathrooms
No request was too much trouble for the staff. They arranged babysitting for the kids, day trips to surrounding areas and the pièce de résistance of the whole trip was the event they arranged for my mother in law's birthday. In secret, away from the prying eyes of birthday girl the family paid the villa manager to arrange a party and the staff went to great lengths to make it spectacular.

The day of the party the family arranged for the villa to be empty so it could be prepared for the big surprise, I was suffering Bali belly so I got to stay behind and see the preparations unfold. Large amounts of tropical flowers were bought in to adorn the table, a happy birthday sign was made from flower petals at the entrance to the villa and the reflection pools were filled with floating candles. It was magnificent and to top it off they took us down to a house at the end of the street to see the whole suckling pig being roasted on a spit over a fire. The locals hand cranked the spit all day, hand cranked! Seeing this pig being roasted in the dusty yard amongst chickens and puppies might have put some people off eating it but that golden, crisp, dripping pork crackling and juicy tender meat was enough to make you drool and what was not devoured by us was divided up amongst the local families in the village.

Villa staff preparing for the party




The floating candles were stunning once the sun went down

The party was a spectacular feast featuring predominantly local cuisine, it was fascinating to eat. We had blood sausages which were rich and gamey, rice dishes filled with strong local flavours, strange salads that you knew were authentic as it did not cater to the western palate at all and a real adventure to eat. I wish I had taken note or spoken with the chef on the dishes we had, but who know I would be writing a food and travel blog a few years down the track, not me.

Whole suckling pig roasted locally, absolutely mouth watering


The family
Paradise
Where the villa itself did not miss a beat, the town of Ubud may not be to everyone’s taste. Personally I loved it and I think most people would. It is typically Asian with it’s streets in dis-repair, broken sidewalks with steep plunges into the below sewer system and chaotic traffic. On the other hand it is also typically Asian in a good way. A huge range of food from local to international cuisines all served in stunning outdoor and pavilion settings amongst gardens and fountains and all at very cheap prices. Friendly locals always with a smile. Exciting day trips taking in volcanoes, river rafting, bird watching, caves, elephants, monkeys (I advise to steer clear of the monkeys they are crazy) as well as your usual lazing by the pool and massages. There is something to cater for all age ranges and interests. The local markets are extensive and were adorned with wonders like handmade kites of all colours, batik sarongs and hand-crafted jewellery. It was surprising to find such quality goods outside of the range of the usual tourist garbage and it highlights that at it's heart this is an artist community.

After the family had departed we stayed on in another villa closer to town. The Ubud Village was quite different in style to Pantulan. Set out more in a traditional resort style but instead of hotel rooms there were individual villas with private pools and day beds all contained in walled courtyards. Whilst it did not feature the attention to detail and immaculate presentation of Pantulan, for $250 a night it was great value for a couples retreat.  We were concerned on arrival firstly by the earthquake which was a hair raising event and secondly by the fact that the extra money we paid for a view over the rice paddies meant we were actually looking over an un-planted muddy swamp that smelled of sewerage. Luckily the field was planted by hand within a day by the locals and we got to see how the local rice production took place first hand. The two large Balinese day beds overlooking the rice paddies by the private pool were extremely hard to leave and with room service being set up poolside for a private meal for two I will admit we did not get a lot of sightseeing done in those last few days. Whilst not offering ultra luxury and I don't think a Hollywood starlet would be at home here, overall the experience was of a high standard and I would go back. Again it comes down to where else in the world would $250 a night by you a whole villa with private pool, outdoor bathrooms and a taste of luxury.

Our villa at the Ubud Village, amazing value at $250 per night

Room service set up pool side within our villa

Ubud is quite an east meets west holiday. Bali itself is full of culture and heritage and the resorts reflect the style of Bali but they do offer a western standard of service and the best thing is that they offer this with an Eastern price tag. The villas are unlike anything I have seen offered anywhere else around the world for the price they are charging and if you have a large family or group of friends who want to be Beyonce and Jay Z for a week you can’t go past Villa Pantulan.





Originally posted on Saturday, 27 September 2014 by

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