We’ve just committed the cardinal sin of travelling – handing over our passports and money to a complete stranger. My friend and I have ventured to more than 50 countries between us – we know better – and yet there we are like tyro tourists in Bali’s Denpasar airport with no ID. Before our stupidity can register, the helpful man reappears with our passports and visas, then fast-tracks us past the massive queues before whisking us off to a waiting car. It’s the perfect introduction to superior service, Amandari-style.
On arrival at the hotel, the smiling Balinese receptionist quietly informs us that we’ve been upgraded to the Amandari Suite, and shows us to our room. We restrain ourselves until she leaves, then run amok exploring everything. We’ve only just finished our traveller ritual – you know: unpack everything, jump on the bed and do a cannonball into the infinity pool – when another staff member glides in with a complimentary bottle of wine. Our initiation to Amandari in Ubud, the spiritual heart of Bali, couldn’t have been better.
Now, faced with bedrooms in which Posh and Becks, Christina Aguilera and Mick Jagger have slept (not all at once), we are struck dumb. We walk down to our first villa (yes, first), which has a high, thatched roof and impeccable decor. Yes, that’s our living room. Jaws dragging on the floor behind us, we reach our second villa. It’s the same size and set-up, but simply houses a king-size bed. This villa opens onto our private infinity pool next to another thatched outdoor entertaining area and gorgeous garden. All we need now is a celebrity-scale entourage and we’re ready to party…
Suitably blissed out, we decide to eat at the Restaurant, which looks over a large infinity pool, and enjoy some of the best Indonesian food we’ve ever tasted. Traditional drumming is coming from a lit-up stand. ‘Are they statues with music piped out of them?’ asks my companion. ‘Yes,’ replies the waiter. ‘Just put money in the slot and they’ll play all night.’ Then he laughs as our statues walk off to take their break.
Lofty schemes are hatched to explore Ubud the next morning and put our stamp on the town, but those plans don’t quite work out for us. Instead, we roll out of bed and spend the entire day lying by the pool doing some Olympic-standard lounging. I consider it an achievement if I manage to read five pages of my book without nodding off.
Feeling guilty for doing nothing we hit the gym. Amandari’s gym is a picture of serenity. The pavilion actually floats on a lily pond. It just doesn’t feel right grunting and groaning in such a tranquil place – now I know how Katie Holmes felt giving birth.
On a well-being roll, the following morning we join the free yoga class. Our teacher is very gentle, pausing every couple of minutes and reminding us to ‘take it easy’. Then, to get the heart rate back up again, we hike down the moss-covered stone steps to the river below. It’s treacherous and the moss is pretty slippery, though probably not helped by the fact we are wearing flip-flops. The ‘a rolling stone gathers no moss’ saying probably originated while Mick Jagger stayed here.
After the Eat, Pray, Love phenomenon we thought we should visit a healer, but the results are less convincing than those experienced by Elizabeth Gilbert in her memoir. We are sent to Pak Cok Rai, a member of the Ubud royal family, who is famous for his magical healing and therapeutic powers. He could be 70 or 120; his face looks like a prune with eyes so it’s hard to tell. We arrive in his outdoor treatment area as a tourist is being treated for ‘Bali belly’ (a bad case of the runs). Pak Cok Rai cuts up some herbs and then, to our surprise and the patient’s, crams them in his mouth, chews them up, then spits them out on the guy’s stomach, which is then covered in clingwrap.
I’m relieved to escape that particular treatment. Instead, using acupressure and reflexology techniques, he shoves a stick into points between my toes. It hurts. Reciting some mantras, he traces the stick on my stomach. Then he pokes the stick between my toes again and this time it doesn’t hurt as much. To be honest, I think he wasn’t pressing as hard. Dutifully, I pay up – I’d arrived with a sore hip and leave with a lightness in my hip pocket.
It’s finally time to depart Amandari and to make the separation less painful we are given chocolate brownies to eat in the car. No disrespect to Pak Cok Rai – but those brownies have true healing powers.