By: Rachael Wheeler
Like 99.9 percent of expats in Singapore, I’ve been on a fair few holidays since landing on the Red Dot. (For your interest, the remaining 0.1 percent of my made-up calculation pertains to those who have only been here for three days.) I generally set out to book the cheapest rooms possible at the poshest hotels I can find. You know, so I can use all of the amazing facilities, while bitterly staring at those who have splashed out on the nicest rooms.
But not this time. No, this time I was going to enjoy some serious accommodation, with relaxation at the core of my holiday. I had just finished a huge project at work, and I was desperate for a very long sit down in a very beautiful setting. Preferably somewhere that involved minimal exposure to humans and maximum exposure to room service.
It didn’t take a huge amount of research to discover that The Oberoi in Indonesia would be the perfect setting for my royal laze. But which hotel to choose? Each of the resorts in Lombok and Bali ticked my boxes. Hell, I would solve the dilemma by booking a couple of days at both. (At least that way I’d be forced to move in some capacity.)
A direct flight to Lombok takes just under three hours, and a picturesque drive across the island (you can choose the jungle village journey that I took, or a slightly longer coastal route) saw me pulling up at The Oberoi in an hour.
The benefit of the longer coastal drive across Lombok to The Oberoi is the resort’s unique position [e1]– set on a shore that’s close to rich coral reefs, with the Gili Islands just a 15-minute boat trip away. The view from the lobby is stunning, stretching across the infinity pool, over the reef-speckled ocean and to the island of Gili Air.
It’s no shocker that the resort is arranged around the long, white beach, with a wonderfully maintained stretch of tropical gardens sloping from the private bay and up towards the suites. The Oberoi is a stylish hotel – there’s a sexy mix of local and contemporary design, but it maintains a comfortable and inviting touch. And while I’ve never been big on masonry, I found myself quite taken with the fawn-coloured tiled stonework and how it blended with the traditional thatched roofs.
While the resort’s facilities were gorgeous, I can count the number of times I left my accommodation on one hand. For I was staying in an ocean-facing villa with a private pool, which offered far more luxuries than even I – seeker of A-list treatment – could have hoped for. Within my pretty, three-metre-high walls (don’t worry: the rooms are elevated so you can always see the sea), my garden featured a pool, rockery, pond and raised dining pavilion. Meanwhile, my room boasted a huge ceiling, four-poster bed, lounge area, separate terrace and brilliant indoor-outdoor marble bathroom that I loved pottering about in. I was able to pop in and out of the sun by day, plus I enjoyed incredible sunsets by evening – and if a cloud dared to appear, I had unlimited Wi-fi and movies on the big-screen TV.
You’re probably thinking that I didn’t even leave my beloved abode to eat – and you’d be right! The cherry on the cake when it came to my Oberoi trip was that my all-inclusive dining package included unlimited room service. I had breakfast, lunch and dinner winging its way to my villa each day (with a sea of chocolate milkshakes in-between), which I would take on my private pavilion or on the sofa in front of some sort of chick flick. The array of dishes on offer was delightful – think fine dining meets local favourites, with a dash of Western comforts on the side.
One evening, I did follow the traditional sound of Indonesian music (with multiple xylophones and cowbells, it wasn’t not hard to miss) to the amphitheatre and was treated to the sight of a Sasak dance performance by candlelight. It was so enchanting that I decided to stay and tuck into tender beef satay and a gorgeous duck biryani (The Oberoi hotel group hails from India), chosen for its antioxidant-rich base of rice bran oil, which I hoped would fight off at least seven of the milkshakes.
There were two activities on offer that I simply couldn’t pass up in favour of lolling around in luxury. The first was an afternoon in the Gili Islands, involving a 15-minute zip across the reef in an outrigger, a posh packed lunch and a spot of snorkelling. While I’d seen all sorts of marine life off The Oberoi’s reef (turtles, giant clams and even reef sharks), we had a tour guide take us around the Gili Air lagoon; he knew all the thriving spots and pointed out the best areas for coral and fish – during our 30-minute swim, we spotted four turtles. (Either that or it was the same turtle just having a good laugh with our group.)
Gili Air itself is a special place – rather than roads and cars, the island’s transport system consists of sandy tracks and ponies pulling carts, decked out in colourful bells and tassels. The beaches are strewn with bright beanbags, arty parasols and thatched pavilions, with a lot of relaxed travelling-types staying in budget boutique hotels on the island.
The second activity I adored was The Oberoi’s turtle release – from eggs that the hotel staff worked hard to save from local traders and brought up as their own (sort of) in the resort. When the time comes, guests are able to release the hatchlings into the ocean and watch them scurry off to the reef; no wonder I saw so many moseying around in Gili. It’s a touching experience and one I’d also recommend to do with little ones.
There are heaps of other activities you can get stuck into, with an abundance of local culture, natural scenery and water sports across Lombok. One couple next door was off to climb Mount Rinjani – an active volcano and Lombok’s highest mountain at 3,700m. Admittedly, it looked stunning from the plane window, but scaling rocks very much clashed with the general theme of my trip. And so, after a sensational bout of relaxing in Lombok, I was off to do it again in Bali.
On the way to the airport, I asked my driver to stop off at one of the many pearl stores on the outskirts of Mataram, to see if I could find any good jewellery deals. Lombok has lots of pearl farms along its coast (you can tour them if aquatic accessories are your thing), and you can find wonderful, genuine pieces for excellent prices. I ended up buying two necklaces and four pairs of earrings for $100, and I almost missed my flight.
Whereas The Oberoi Lombok is set along a quiet stretch of coast, The Oberoi Bali is a 10-minute walk from the centre of Seminyak and close to heaps of bars, restaurants and shops. It was a complete change of atmosphere for me, as I cruised down Seminyak’s dusty, bustling streets thinking, “I’ll shop there”, “I’ll eat there”, “I’ll shop there” and so on.
But as I turned into the hotel’s private lane, calmness descended over The Oberoi’s stylish pocket of popular Seminyak. The stunning beachside resort has been a part of Seminyak’s coastline for decades, with trendy clubs like Ku De Ta and Potato Head popping up next door in the meantime. Unlike its ever-changing surrounds, though, The Oberoi has an established position on the shore, with 15 acres of immaculate gardens, striking architecture and opulent Balinese furnishings creating a grand effect.
As you can imagine, I was delighted to discover that the resort also featured tiled stonework and thatched roofs, the focal point being the large pool and its chic yellow-patterned parasols overlooking to the public beach. The sea was a different story in Seminyak, with dramatic waves crashing in – attracting surfers rather than snorkellers.
Having spent an improbable amount of time being horizontal in a private villa, I was hoping to be marginally more active in Bali, given The Oberoi’s central spot, and so I booked a Lanai room. The single-storey suite was decked out in lavish dark wood and Balinese artwork, with an outdoor terrace and bathroom set in a private walled garden.
I can’t pretend I wasn’t tempted to make use of my room service in Bali (I had the same inclusive set-up), but the hotel’s signature restaurant, Kura Kura, had incredible reviews, plus it overlooked the amphitheatre, which starred talented Balinese ladies telling local tales through dance. There’s also the fact that I had previously spotted a roaming waiter with a huge bread basket. Three loaves (white, brown and walnut) and a sushi amuse bouche later and I was munching on a lamb rogan josh, which featured a whole lamb shank in curry sauce I’d sell my boyfriend for.
Aside from the vast beach and funky atmosphere, one of the main reasons that people flock to Seminyak is the shopping. The streets are lined with cute, single-storey boutiques flogging anything from art to flip-flops. Many Seminyak stores are independent, so it’s easy to find unique items when it comes to clothes and shopping for your home. And while I spent a lot of time snapping up lanterns and other cheap knick-knacks for my apartment, I only went for one posh maxi-dress from the fashion boutiques, as the prices were still pretty punchy. Instead, I hit the huge market and binged on bargain frocks, sarongs and sandals.
As all women everywhere will agree, carrying more than three shopping bags at once is simply terrible, so it was about time I tested out The Oberoi Spa. Tucked into the corner of the resort, its open-air massage pavilions have a huge, carp-filled pond wrapped around them. (It doesn’t get more relaxing than drifting off to the sight of fat, happy fish rolling past.) Having floated out of the spa after a traditional, deep-pressure Balinese massage, I may or may not have snuck back for a Thai, no-oil, stand-on-my-back-and-pull-my-arms-behind-my-head massage.
If you’re up for venturing out of Seminyak to experience more of traditional Bali, sign up for a tour of popular Uluwatu Temple on the southern tip of the island (around 30km from The Oberoi). It was built as a place of worship in the 11th century and sits along the cliff, 250 feet above sea level. You can walk along the temple walls, which stretch along the coastline and provide an extraordinary spot for watching the sun setting over the open sea. The fun bit? Monkeys are everywhere – they’re said to protect the temple from bad spirits, but I think they mostly enjoy the bananas and sunglasses.
Once the sun disappears into the ocean (amazing how it doesn’t get extinguished, really) and the sky is stained red, a fire dance begins in the temple amphitheatre. You need a ticket for this, so grab one as soon as you arrive – it’s a couple of bucks and seats fill up fast. Now, I wouldn’t be able to recount the exact narrative, but the dramatic Kecak dance is performed by 100 men in a series of circles, singing and chattering like monkeys. Their monkey leader is charged with rescuing the evil King Rama’s wife Sita, and there’s a fair amount of fire and burning coconut husks involved. I’m pretty sure there’s a happy ending, although it’s touch and go for a while.
Having had a wonderfully relaxed holiday, getting up for a dance around the fire with 100 pretend monkeys (and a few real ones in Raybans) was an epic, if somewhat unexpected way to complete my trip.
Make it happen
– Luxury suites at The Oberoi Lombok start from $500 per night, pool villas from $937.
– Luxury suites at The Oberoi Bali start from $531 per night, pool villas from $1,000.
– There are five direct SilkAir flights to Lombok per week, with Garuda providing connections from Lombok to Bali. Lots of airlines zip between Bali and Singapore, including Tiger and Jetstar.
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