Written by root. Posted in FEATURES


Published on March 09, 2018 with No Comments

In search of authenticity in Bali, it makes a difference whether you’re a traveller or a tourist.



In my years of staying in luxurious resorts, never had I had to wait for my requests to be met. But here at Spa Village Resort in Tembok, I was told that I couldn’t visit the local weaver because she was not ready for me. I chuckled bemusedly and realised just how refreshing and genuine Spa Village Resort Tembok is.

“Yes, sometimes we are indeed at the mercy of the community,” laughs Fauzi Abriansyah, the resort’s manager. But that’s the way they like it, he says. “Our guests know that coming to Tembok, they will get to experience the “real” Bali, long before tourism spread its wing to the island. We are not here to alter reality nor increase the attractiveness of a village for commercialisation. If we were to do that, we lose witnessing what’s authentic.” Rather, says Fauzi, the resort would like to keep local experiences as genuine as possible, which in my case meant working around the local’s schedule rather than forcing them to adhere to some ridiculous tourist itinerary.

But that’s not to say guests will lack of things to see and do. Keeping things as they are “genuine” meant the resort has taken various steps into preserving the local’s traditional way of living. In-resort activities highlight many of the villager’s favourite pastimes. Sessions are offered complimentary and rotated daily at Taman Gili, a breezy and intimate pondok (hut) by the pool. The resort staff themselves often double up as “instructors” in these mini show-and-tells.

There is the boreh (scrub) making activity, where guests pound local spices and roots on their way to discover one of Balinese’s beauty rituals. They can also learn how to make one of the many variations of the jamu, a local tonic that has many body benefits.

The idea resonated well with guests as they not only get to see the staff beyond the job titles, but also discover how talented and passionate the Balinese are in their traditions. “We wanted to connect guests with both the person and the experience. Almost every staff in the resort is good at something, and this was what we wanted guests to discover. They are all artisans at heart, yet not everything ends up being commercialised or boxed up as a business,” says Fauzi.

But where the resort especially excels is in pairing its low-key luxury with local age-old traditions borne out of the need to keep the mind, body and soul at ease. When opening the spa resort, it was not just enough for them to upload any local treatments. Instead, they searched – and found – a local traditional healer whose wisdom and plethora of knowledge was akin to a local encyclopedia. “It was a serendipitous find,” recalled Chik Lai Ping, Spa Village Vice President, of the meeting. “We were all excited with the prospect of not just getting our therapists to learn from him and continue his work, but also to have our guests experience Balinese healing and beauty culture as unadulterated as possible.” The timing could not have been better, for unfortunately, the healer passed on soon after the resort opened but not after having trained the spa’s therapists.

One of the most important treatments the Spa Village is proud to have is the revival of the age-old and time intensive pre-wedding beauty ritual for the bride. “The Balinese has this beautiful concept among their women of honouring their bodies and to slow down and focus on their psychological, spiritual and beauty wellbeing. Taking time off to have a massage was important to them, even with no celebrations abound. But the pre-wedding ritual was something else. It was such a beautiful concept that went beyond a routine scrub-and-spa experience. And this philosophy was what we wanted to share with our guests at Spa Village.”

The wedding treatment, called Penganten Melukat, is a sublime journey just shy of two hours that celebrates the pre-wedding rituals mothers would often prepare for their daughters in the homes. It begins with mewangsul (traditional Balinese massage) to help relax and soothe the body before the ritual continues with meodak (body scrub) that amazingly turns skin soft and supple. This follows an empahan (fresh milk) application that does wondrous things to the body, both moisturising and nourishing it, before a warm soak in the tub, mersiram sekar (floral bath), encourages the body to really relax and unwind. The effects after are both physically and psychologically uplifting.

For all the resort’s focus on authenticity, it also provides guests with many other unique and memorable experiences. The incredible staff has always been the highlight of my stay, with their warm and hospitable attitude and service that goes above and beyond. Because of the boutique nature of the resort (just 31 rooms), every guest is made to feel special, as though you are the only guest that matters. It’s a quiet resort that invites you to make full use of the bale (wooden pavilion) whether for a snooze, a read, or a head, foot and shoulder massage with their experienced therapists. Most days, the black sand beach makes a stunning entry into my morning routine; the waters begging to be explored. Some evenings, with the elements aligned and weather permitting, I opt to float on their pool lounger, looking up at the clear blue skies in their signature Starlight Gazing experience. Though somehow reading this makes it sounds too New Age-y, it really is one of the most peaceful and grounded experiences I have ever had.

On my final day at the resort, the staff got word that the ingke (rattan plates) weaver finally had some free time on her hands and asked if I would like to join her as she weaves? An ingke is woven from the spine of the coconut leaflet. I was fascinated by its use in local warungs (stalls). Food is served on a brown paper or banana leaf slid on top of the ingke to cut down the washing and it made good sense to replicate its use back home. So I grabbed my camera quickly and soon was whisked to a brick-and-mortar house with chickens running around. There seated in the patio awaits my weaver, welcoming me into her home like a long lost child. She was 80. Her kids are all grown up, and so are her grandchildren. With nothing much to do in between chores, she weaves ingke.

As her hands deftly manoeuver their way through the maze of coconut spine, Fauzi explained, “Ubud is where weavers make a living. Villagers here usually do this to while the time away. She would not weave in bulk, but she’d make enough to sell to a trader who will eventually bring these to the tourists in Ubud.” Watching her, I realised that the reality of any locale is constantly shifting. I could have easily ended up a tourist, but thankfully for resorts like Spa Village Tembok that keeps reality in check, I became a
traveller instead.

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