Dreamy resorts in North Bali that soothe the soul
BALI – When I moved to Bali from Jakarta in September 2021, where I was working as a regional correspondent for The Straits Times, I was in what could be best described as an emotionally and even professionally defensive crouch.
My marriage was a smouldering ruin. Each additional month of Covid-19 lockdown had been joining a feeding frenzy of sorts on the substrata of sweetness and empathy that undergirds any relationship, leaving only rancour and exasperation between me and my ex.
My relationship – to paraphrase what Ernest Hemingway said of bankruptcy – fell apart gradually at first, and then suddenly.
The upshot was that my comfy swivel chair and oversized desk stuffed with all manner of business cards, note books, slide decks and books I had promised to review but had not yet were marooned in my home office in my painstakingly remodelled apartment.
Now I was covering South-east Asia’s economic deepfreeze – from Vietnam’s treatment of factory workers to Thailand’s evaporating tourism trade – from my Mac propped up in a hotel bed or AirBnB kitchen table.
But as planet Earth completed its rotation around the sun to where it roughly was when my own world imploded, it was time to escape the gravitational pull of Bali’s Canggu-Seminyak nexus where I had shuttled between my home office du jour, gym and beach walks with my newly adopted dog, Typo.
Adding to the urgency: easing Covid-19 restrictions meant I was no longer mostly alone in my tropical bubble.
Monthly overseas visitor growth was averaging more than 40 per cent and will have approached the two-million mark for the full year by the time the data is available in February.
But the vast majority of the new arrivals were opting for the main touristy places like Canggu and Ubud. The congestion will only intensify as Chinese holidaymakers return this year.
Tourism officials say that only about 5 per cent of arrivals were venturing to places like Buleleng Regency, a 1,400 sq km swathe of Northern Bali with only 650,000 people.
That is where I wanted to go.
Perks of the job
Before I do that, a word about one of the little-known perquisites of being a reporter for a big newspaper: I get invited to stuff. Nice stuff. All-expenses-paid stuff. But as a writer normally focusing on supply-chain issues and foreign direct investment, I turn these down.
But with my new-found ambition to turn the page on the tragicomedy that was the past three years of my life, I accepted a marketing guru friend’s invitation to review his client’s designer mountain getaway.
Alam Mountain was, I was assured, pitched at discerning travellers, offering a breath of fresh air. I am discerning. I needed a breath of fresh air. I accepted.
Alam Mountain, in effect, turns the conventional villa design inside out.
I arrived expecting bedrooms and the living room if not under one roof then within a compound. Instead, two bungalows and the entertainment space comprise three distinct components atop an open platform.
The detached Gladak-style bungalows with their pitched roofs are fitted with antique panels repurposed from traditional longhouses from Java. Each is fitted with walk-in closets, en-suites and private reading areas.
Styled a “bridge to nature” and perched some 800m above sea level, Alam offered your faithful scribe commanding views.
To the west was Mount Agung. To the east: the Unesco heritage-listed rice terraces of Jatiluwih. In between: a verdant expanse stretching south to Ubud and beyond to the increasingly congested centres from whence he escaped.
The result is luxurious exposure to the vicissitudes of the tropics at elevation. A crystal clear sunrise set to the soundtrack of the benign din of thousands of distant roosters could quickly give way to wafts of mist pouring through the living room.
“It’s an exquisite sensation,” Mr Mattias Klueber, who manages marketing and media relations for Alam Mountain’s Swiss owners, told The Straits Times, referring to the experience of lounging among the clouds.
Work on the villa dates back to 2010 when the Zurich-based investors bought the land.
They envisioned a retreat into the lush greenery of northern Bali – ideal for a writer (that is me) or a couple (not so much at that point) seeking seclusion, while providing meaningful and stable work for some residents of the nearby village of Lumbang.
“You are alone, but not lonely,” said Mr Klueber.
A friendly staff served exquisite meals and friendly banter before fading away back into the mist.
I was ensorcelled. I wanted more. And so bitten by the travel-writing bug, I struck out two months later on my second invitation to hilltop luxury – away from the thundering hordes. This time to Elevate Bali by Hanging Gardens which, as it happens, was about 30km from Alam Mountain.
Elevate Bali, which fully opens in January, is a five-star property ringed with 26 private villas, each with a heated pool. It is aiming for well-heeled travellers with limited holiday time. If you come here, it is because you want to make the most of your week or so off.
Sensible people would opt for its airport transfer for the two-hour-plus drive up to Munduk in Buleleng. Not me. My version of living my best life meant hopping on my trusty 125cc Honda scooter, to wind up the spine of mountains in Bali’s north, skirting Lake Lake Buyan, eventually pulling on my rarely used long-sleeved pullover, as I gazed out to Lake Tamblingan.
“You can experience something unique here,” Mr Agus Suananda, Elevate’s owner, and former head of Buleleng Regency, told me on arrival as we looked out over the Lovina and Bali’s northern coast line 1,100m below.
“I wanted guests to feel like they are part of nature.”
All the public spaces and villas enjoy magnificent views. Once it is completed, the spa and with four detached treatment bungalows will offer guests the experience of untethering from reality by way of massage from a vantage point more than a kilometre above the valley below.
Up here, you are in an ongoing dialogue with the elements. Sun yields to mist, which turns to rain, which turns to mist and eventually to a distant war of lightning harmlessly playing out over the Bali Sea.
The light show was there for me to lazily ponder with my new-found flame: my own lightning in a bottle.
That is right. I was on the market again.
And as we sat there, I thought back on the past three years of Covid-19, the lockdowns, the isolation and the heartache, and tried to make sense of this unfamiliar feeling that was as exquisite as the mist meandering around my feet back at Alam Mountain.
It was hope. Hemingway would say I had been broken by the world these past three years. Maybe we all have been. But now I was stronger in the broken places.
Garuda and Singapore Airlines codeshare five flights daily between Singapore and Bali for roughly $420 for a round trip. Scoot operates three daily flights with fares as low as $220. Other services include KLM and Indonesia Air Asia.
Alam Mountain and Elevate Bali by Hanging Gardens both offer airport transfers that can take 90 minutes and two hours respectively.
Where to stay
Elevate Bali is offering one-night stays in January starting from four million rupiah (S$350) for two people including breakfast
Go to www.elevatebali.com/accommodations
Rates for Alam Mountain start at US$350 (S$460) a night for four guests including breakfast. Go to alammountain.com