Port of Phuket, Thailand: tenders to the beach, an aggressive Thai massage and local food

Patong Beach with cruise ships anchored in the distance.

After a day at sea from Singapore, the first stop of our one-month cruise to Europe was Phuket, Thailand. During prime season, ships anchor just off the town of Patong and tenders drop passengers off at floating docks right on a beautiful beach. This is one of those rare cruise ports where tenders are not bad; ten minutes on the tender lands you at a spot you can actually spend the day. (The short distance and smooth water meant that there wasn’t much of a wait for the tenders either as they were able to shuttle back-and-forth pretty quickly.) That said, Patong is a touristy, party town full of restaurants, bars and shops, and isn’t exactly pristine Thailand.

Cruise ship tenders drop off at this floating pier, right on Patong Beach. Nice!

This post is not going to offer anything for cruisers interested in excursions or tours around Phuket. (However, there is some practical info for cruisers at the bottom of this article.) Since we’d spent a few weeks in Thailand less than a year and half earlier and had dove the Phi Phi Islands on the other side of the Phuket peninsula then, we had no desire to make a long, expensive day trip only to compete with hordes of cruise passengers snorkeling and taking boat trips around the Phi Phis or touring the plantations and elephant “sanctuary.” (The Queen Mary 2 was in port the same day we were, so her passengers were adding to the influx.)

Our ambitions for the day were modest: one of those dirt-cheap, vigorous Thai massage sessions, some good Thai food and a little beach time, maybe just strolling in the surf. I did some research pre-trip and settled on Sweet Lemongrass Phuket 2 for the massage. I read good reviews about them in a local publication and was able to make a booking by messaging them on their Facebook page where they post photos of their price list. I booked us two 1.5-hour Traditional Thai Massages for 350 baht each ($10.90 per person). I don’t know that a reservation was essential, but with limited time in port, it seemed like the best idea.

I really wanted David to experience a Thai massage, too. We’d done a side-by-side massage in Chiang Mai, but he’d opted for a more traditional, Swedish-type massage then. I’d gotten the full Thai bordering-on-assault treatment and words just really don’t do it justice. (Even though side-by-side, it’s pretty impossible to see the other person since you’re either face-down or with eyes closed or covered.) David needed to experience it for himself, and I wanted something to compare my first experience to.

An easy 10-minute walk from the floating tender pier found us opening the door to the air-conditioned refuge of Sweet Lemongrass Massage 2. We were greeted with icy water and cold washcloths in the nice front room before being led upstairs to our curtained massage room.

Reception area of Sweet Lemongrass Phuket 2

The last curtain on the right led to our massage “room.”

Our masseuses left us alone to change into the loose-fitting short set favored for these massages. The shorts are huge, but a tie wraps around the waist as much as needed to cinch it in.

Big shorts!

When the ladies returned, the “fun” began. Thai massage is like none other I’ve tried. I’ve been pretty aggressively massaged — and exfoliated to the edge of blood-letting — by hammam ladies in Paris, but Thai massage is a whole different game. There’s the usual kneading and pressing of knots, but it focuses much attention on stretching, and that can push right up against alarming. There’s also a certain amount of light hitting. (Sounds great so far, right?) My diminutive Thai masseuse soon climbed up on the table with me, bending me in half from the waist, as she knelt behind me, one knee tucked under my arm against my side while she put my neck and shoulders in a lock to twist with all her might. Lying on my stomach, she placed a foot behind one knee, then pushed on the raised foot in a move my brother and I deemed “unfair” when wrestling as children. It still hurts!

Back up on the massage table, my masseuse begins a hair-styling finale to my massage.

For an hour and a half, I passed from blissful massage to occasionally painful body locks, stretches, aggressive pressure point moves and jabs. Once or twice I yelped an “ouch!” that caused the masseuse to apologize and ease off. Beside me, I could hear the occasional grunt or “oof!” from David and wondered what he was thinking about this whole business. To top off my massage, my masseuse pulled the clip out of my hair and began a scalp massage that devolved to little snatching motions with her fingers followed by jerking on handfuls of hair. Hard! Ow! I struggled not to laugh at the thought I was paying her (albeit a pittance) to beat me up. Oh well, I was going to see it through to the end and gauge the therapeutic effects of the full package. David hadn’t called “uncle” yet either, so I assumed he was in the same mode. (He later informed me his experience had been similar to mine, but he’d been spared the hair-yanking I was treated to. He was glad he’d tried it, but isn’t going to be seeking out Thai massage back home.)

To wrap things up, my masseuse climbed back up on the table with me and began braiding portions of my hair. At first, I thought she was just pulling it out of my face since the scalp massage and hair-pulling had made a rat’s nest, but she kept going until I had a full French braid as, I don’t know … a peace offering , maybe?

I like my new hair-do!

For all that Thai massage can be excessively “vigorous,” the whole process left us feeling relaxed and “worked out.” I was a little sore later that evening, but by the next day aching neck and shoulder muscles that had been nagging at me for some time were improving.

We went straight from the massage to little Thai restaurant I’d read about as being popular with locals as well as the ubiquitous tourists of Patong. (A short walk of maybe 5 minutes) It was nothing fancy, but it was pleasant, and we had a solid Thai lunch for reasonable prices at S&G Family restaurant, a place that’s been in business since 1985. Like most little restaurants and shops in the area, it’s open to the outside with only ceiling fans for cooling. Service was friendly and prompt.

Our main goals were to get our curry fix. My only minor complaint was that my green curry chicken was lacking those tiny, round and bitter eggplants that are so unique to Thailand and that I’ve been unable to find in the States.

Curries at S&G Family Restaurant

After lunch, it was time for the beach. Feeling lazy and full, we opted to just walk along the lapping surf, people watching and enjoying the scenery. There were plenty of places offering lounge chairs, umbrellas and refreshments if we’d been so inclined. There were also small boats and jet skis pulling multi-person floats on offer. Patong Beach is bustling and lively, but even with two ships in port, it wasn’t unpleasantly crowded.

Patong Beach with two ships in port. Not bad!

_____________

Practical info: 

The floating pier for our tenders dropped us off just in front of the Avantika Boutique Hotel which you can find on Google Maps. (There was another floating pier a block or so NE up the beach where tenders to and from the Queen Mary 2 used.) Tenders ran back and forth to the ships regularly throughout the day, so going back to the ship and returning again would have been an option.

Sweet Lemongrass Massage 2 is at 7.884975, 98.293699 on GPS; ถนน ราษฏร์อุทิศ, 200 Pee Rd, Pa Tong, Kathu District, Phuket 83150, Thailand. Phone: +66 76 349 847

S&G Family Restaurant is at  104/2 Soi Post Office Thaweewong Rd, Tambon Patong, Amphoe Kathu, Chang Wat Phuket 83150, Thailand. Phone: +66 76 340 151

 

The start of a one-month cruise from Singapore to Italy

The 8 “Sweet Sixteen” port-side cabins on Celebrity Millennium class ships are just above the “S” through the blue space after the “N” in “CONSTELLATION” the photo above.

As part of our 3-month around-the-world journey, we spent one month on the Celebrity ship Constellation. This was actually two 2-week, back-to-back (“B2B”) cruises. The first two weeks were more a traditional cruise with many stops: Phuket, Thailand; Colombo, Sri Lanka; Cochin, Goa and Mubai, India; Muscat, Oman; Dubai and Abu Dhabi, U.A.E. The second two weeks were more along the lines of a repositioning cruise, i.e., fewer stops and a bargain price as the ship moved from one region to another for a season. This cruise took us from Abu Dhabi back to Muscat, Oman, through the Suez Canal, to Piraeus (Athens) and Katakolon (ancient Olympia), Greece, and dropped us off at Civitavecchia, Italy (the port nearest Rome, although we did not go back to Rome on this trip, but rather picked up a rent car to spend a couple weeks in Umbria and Tuscany before flying from Florence to Belgium).

Upcoming posts covering the cruise period will have more information on ports, directed to cruisers, in addition to regular travelogues. [I’m not that into cruise ship activities and such, but tend to view ships as moving hotels and chose cruises based on itinerary, i.e., ports-of-call and transportation from one point to another. Click here for an earlier post on my philosophy on cruising as well as tips for finding the best deals.] I had some misgivings that a month might be too long on a ship, but we had an amazing time and my only regret is that I can’t do it all for the first time again!

With regards to Constellation, one of Celebrity’s Millennium class ships: I once again booked one of the “Sweet Sixteen” cabins about which I blogged when we sailed trans-Pacific on Constellation‘s sister ship Millennium. [Click here for that post.] These cabins offer a suite-type, double-sized balcony for the price of a regular balcony cabin. For some reason, the extra-large balconies do not appear on the ships’ diagrams and the cabins are categorized as regular balcony staterooms. I prefer the rear-most of these cabins because they offer extra privacy from the cabin just sternward and a more open view. (Both times I booked one of these staterooms, the booking agent had no idea that these cabins existed.)

A day exploring Central Java small businesses: tofu, batik, palm sugar & coffee

Making tofu

After visiting Borobudur Temple and Mendut, we wanted to see a little more of Central Java. I was particularly interested in seeing tofu production and the making of batik. Our hotel, Amata Borobudur Resort, suggested a horse-drawn carriage (an-dong) tour, but that sounded way too touristy to me…and I wanted to be able to return to the refuge of air conditioning periodically! My desire for creature comforts turned out to be the ticket to a really interesting day since a car allowed us to roam far afield and our driver wasn’t limited to the tourist “craft village” favored by the an-dongs.

Our first clue that the day was going to be something unique came as our driver roamed a neighborhood filled with small tofu makers, apparently looking at random for one that would let us observe. It was easy to spot the homes where tofu was being made by the piles of wood outside. The wood was fuel for the underground furnaces used to heat the vats of soy product. At his first stop, our guide was sent to another place further down a residential road. We waited as he went inside, then came back out to tell us we could go in. As we entered, a cat with kittens watched from a ramshackle space piled high with sacks of soybeans.

We walked past men working with huge, furnace-heated vats (see lead photo and video below) to watch women frying, straining and packaging tofu to be sold at a local market.

Frying tofu

With 8 or 9 people working, this turned out to be the largest business we’d see for the day. We weren’t expected, our driver didn’t seem to know anyone, and no one asked for any sort of payment. Nevertheless, we were made to feel welcome and tolerated with friendliness as we wandered and watched the activity and tried to stay out of their way. A man poured steaming liquid into a mesh then weighted it with a large stone, then a second man pressed this into a mold. Another man carried the rectangles of hot, molded tofu to a woman in another room who placed the rectangles on shelves to cool before yet other women cut, fried and sorted the tofu for packaging. It was hot, busy work.

Driving through more rural residential neighborhoods, we passed houses with large mats on which rice dried in the sun. Our driver questioned people on the side of the road before finding our next destination. We were surprised and pleased at the apparent randomness of our stops. Our driver obviously knew which neighborhoods specialized in certain activities, but had no “special friend” he was taking us to for a kick-back, the all-too-common experience with tour guides. The way he was going about finding places to show us gave things an authentic feel we appreciated.

Drying rice

Our next stop, a husband and wife-owned batik-making enterprise (apparently the result of one of those random inquiries by our driver to passers-by), Lumbini Batik House, was more geared toward visitors. The wife showed us their work in progress, then offered us a selection of patterns on small cloth squares to try our hand at batik making. She showed us how to use a special tool to go over the lines of the patterns with melted wax.

Making batik: Drawing outlines with melted wax

We made some mistakes and David dripped a spot on our project, so we improvised by elaborating the design and adding our initials. A young woman then dipped our cloth in a deep blue dye. The finished product wasn’t bad! Our hostess showed us around her lush garden, pointing out the fruit, bark and leaves that were used for dyes and offering us fruit to eat.

Offering fruit from the batik house garden

After viewing an adjacent shop, but not really wanting or needing to buy anything, we paid our hostess a small amount for her time and our project.

Our finished product.

Since we’d read and heard about Pawon Temple as finishing out a triumvirate with Borobudur and Mendut, we asked our driver to take us there. Pawon turned out to be a tiny “temple” with little to see. It was open to the public without fee.

Pawon Temple

Much more interesting than the little temple was a stop at the nearby home/workshop of a tiny lady who makes palm sugar.

The woven house of the palm sugar lady
Making palm sugar disks

With our driver translating, she showed us how she cooked the sugar in the half-light that filtered through the woven walls of her kitchen. Afterwards, she offered us tea and thick, crispy homemade soybean chips along with disks of her rich, still-warm palm sugar. The sugar reminded me of those semi-soft maple sugar candies found in Vermont and Canada. Delicious!

I felt like the Jolly Green Giant next to our diminutive hostess!

Our final stop was at a small shop a short walk from the sugar lady’s home. We’d tried luwak coffee before in Bali and really enjoyed it, so wanted to give a Javanese version a try. While luwak coffee — made from coffee beans “processed” through the digestive system of a luwak or palm civet — is billed as “the most expensive coffee in the world” and can reportedly cost $30/cup(!) in California, it’s not expensive in Bali and Java.

A tame “luwak” or palm civet. He’s nocturnal, so a little groggy.

We enjoyed our cup of joe, but found it to be not nearly as unusual or tasty as what we had in Bali. This was a pleasant stop, but by far the least interesting of the day. Oh well, we’d had much fun and were ready to head home to our hotel for a little late afternoon pool time and dinner.

Our driver cost us about $30 for the day, a value we were more than happy with.

Amata Borobudur Resort: Javanese bungalows with artistic flair

“Sunibya” bungalow at Amata Borobudur Resort

Eschewing the Manohara Hotel next to Borobudur Temple for something more exotic, smaller and with better dining reviews, I chose Amata Borobudur Resort for our 4-night stay in Central Java. At about $80/night, it was more expensive than a lot of options in the area, but about $60 cheaper/night than the Monohara and with what looked like a lot more local charm and an interesting setting. Amata also provides free transportation to Borobudur Temple (including for sunrise) which is only 10-15 minutes away.

Our 1.5 hour flight from Denpasar, Bali,  was delayed just long enough that we arrived in Yogyakarta, Java, at rush hour. Fortunately, the driver Amata sent for us knew the back roads and was able to dodge some of the traffic once we were out of the city, but what we hoped would be an 1h 20 min drive still stretched to two hours and we arrived after dark. So, the layout of the little resort remained shrouded in mystery and we could only explore our bungalow…which we loved!

Flower petals on the big, comfy bed (along with a tiny salamander) were a nice touch.

Done in classic Javanese style with wooden walls and high ceiling, someone with an artistic touch had really raised it to the next level. The little attention to details charmed us.

What a dramatic and unusual light fixture!
Great organic design. The bag was a sample from the shop in the main building which also sold jewelry and other handmade items.

The shower room, while un-air-conditioned as usual, was surprisingly fully-enclosed. Save for Nusa Dua, all the bathrooms we’d had had openings to the outdoors. This makes large wood ants wandering the bathrooms a common occurrence. We learned to just ignore them. At Amata, no bugs! We did however have a large salamander that lived high in the rafters and “barked” occasionally. Oh well, when in Asia…

The first fully enclosed bathroom we came across in Bali, with a glassed-in skylight.

The next morning dawned bright and sunny and we could survey our new domain. We discovered we had the bungalow furthest from the main building, which we thought was a plus. The distance wasn’t far, but we had lots of privacy and looked out over adjoining rice paddies in the opposite direction.

View from our porch to a neighboring bungalow and the pool. The open-air dining pavilion is beyond the bungalow and the main building/lobby just beyond that.
Beautifully-kept pool. Only minor downside for some is no shade anywhere on the pool itself.

Breakfast in the nearby open-air pavilion turned out to be a multi-course affair served at table.

Javanese rice porridge with hot cane sugar syrup. Yum!
View from our breakfast table
Banana spring rolls for breakfast. Food, like much else at Amata, was artistically presented.

Later, we found dinner to be tasty and even simple dishes we’d grown accustomed to were presented with an extra flair. A limited selection of beer and wine is available, something not always on the menu in Muslim Java.

Amata’s version of one of my favorite Indonesian vegetarian staples, gado gado. It’s not usually served as as a wrap.
Nasi goreng (fried rice) and satay

From Amata Borobudur Resort, it’s a short walk to Mendut Temple which is definitely worth a visit, and very cheap (less than a $1, if I remember correctly).

Inside Mendut Temple

All in all, we really enjoyed Amata Borobudur Resort. I’d stay there again, and feel like we got decent value for the money. I paid 4,500,000 idr ($320 US) for 4 nights, or about $80/night for a “deluxe bungalow.” (Our bungalow was named “Sunibya” and I recommend it for style and location within the resort.) This price included breakfast, 10% tax and 10% service charge. The price is relatively high for the area, but provides a measure of luxury with local flair and is substantially less than the $140 or so rate at the Manohara Hotel next to Borobudur Temple, even factoring in the reduction offered there for entry to the temple. (There’s a spa on-site at Amata as well, but we did not use it.) Plenty of budget options exist in the area, for those looking for more basic accommodations. I booked via Booking.com as they had the best rate at the time and I used Topcashback to get even more off. (Currently, Topcashback is offering a 7% rebate on Booking.com bookings. If you’re not a Topcashback member, you can use my link  here.)

Amata arranged a driver for us to and from Yogyakarta Airport for 300,000 idr each way ($21.34). There was no additional charge for our pre-dawn departure. They also arranged a driver for us to explore the region for a day which turned out to be a great experience and far less touristy than we feared, a bonus of choosing a car which could wander much further than the horse-drawn tourist cart tour they initially suggested. (A car also offers air conditioning, a huge and irreplaceable bonus is steamy Central Java.) The cost was around $30. We paid via credit card for the 3 drivers when we settled our room bill.

The only minor “complaint” I have about the location of Amata Borobudur Resort is that the several mosques in the area begin an almost comical competition of calls to prayer many times a day, some starting in the wee hours and all over loudspeakers. I’m not sure it would be much better elsewhere in the area, though.

 

Central Java: Sunrise at Borobudur Temple

Dawn at Borobudur

When Bali topped the list to kick off David’s “3-month birthday party,” I knew I had to add Borobudur Temple in Central Java to our itinerary. I first heard of Borobudur 15+ years ago from a Frenchwoman at a conversation group in Paris. Her description of this once-lost magnificent Buddhist temple in the jungle sounded magical. An Internet search confirmed everything she said. Now, after all these years, Borobudur was going to be a short flight away from where we planned to be. The opportunity was irresistible!

Planning months in advance, I had my choice of hotels. The most logical first choice seemed to be the Manohara Hotel, located next door to the temple and the sole source of Sunrise Borobudur tickets. At around $140, it was expensive by local standards, but more of a turn-off were the mediocre reviews of rooms and the restaurant. The grounds looked lovely and the location couldn’t be beat, but the rest looked uninspiring. Hmm. Searching further, I hit on the Amata Borobudur Resort, a place that looked romantic and that seemed more like my ideal of a Javanese retreat.

Amata offered free transportation to Manohara (a ten-minute drive) for Borobudur Sunrise, which was the ticket I wanted. Post-sunrise tickets are cheaper, but also more crowded…and minus sunrise! (The sunrise ticket also includes the loan of a flashlight, a post-temple snack at the hotel and a souvenir batik scarf.) Our mini-van driver walked our little group into the hotel and stood in line to buy the tickets for us which we reimbursed him for in cash or credit card. Tickets are unlimited, so are sold on the morning of entry. Another advantage of the sunrise timeslot is that, while popular, the price and hour mean the crowds are less. (Cruise ships even run tours here from the port at Semarang, which I gather is about a 3-hour drive each way. That means hordes from a ship could descend later in the morning. I’d check online port schedules if doing Borobudur later in the day.)

Sunrise behind Mt. Merapi

Sunrise admission to the temple starts at 4:30am. It was a short walk from the Manohara Hotel to the stairs that lead to the top of the 8-9th century temple, which is an atypical structure for Buddhist temples, consisting of a large square pyramid with 72 Buddhas in open, lattice-style stupas on the topmost levels. (“Stupa” is Sanskrit for “heap” and refers to those bell-shaped holy structures common to Buddhist temples.) Borobudur Temple (or “Candi Borobudur” in Indonesian) consists of three tiers comprised of a base of five concentric square terraces, a cone-shaped center with three circular platforms and a large stupa at the very top. When we arrived at the next-to-the-top level, just below the giant stupa, a fair number of people were already waiting in the dark for sunrise. It was not so crowded as to be a problem, disturb the peace of the place, or hinder photography to any great extent.

Early morning visitors assembled for sunrise atop Borobudur Temple
Buddha inside a lattice-work stupa

We were blessed with a perfect morning; blue skies and sweet, fresh air. Birds sang and roosters crowed in distant farms as the sun rose. A light mist filled the valley below. Volcanoes rose in the distance, becoming clearer as time passed. I found the changing light and its effects on the scene mesmerizing and could not help taking way too many photos.

Buddha surveying the morning

With the sun fully up, we descended, following the pilgrimage trail created by the temple, only in reverse. The lower levels are lined with elaborate relief carvings. In fact, Borobudur boasts the largest and most complete collection of Buddhist reliefs in the world.

Relief carvings beneath a stupa

We took our time, admiring the carvings and the view. More people began to arrive at the temple as time passed. A few hours was plenty to arrive before dark, enjoy sunrise, and make a leisurely descent. The temple is large, but a single edifice and nothing on the scale of, say, the temple complex at Angkor.

Looking back up towards the central stupa atop the temple

The base of the temple pyramid is surrounded by a stone terrace. The temple is so large, that we had to walk a distance out to be able to take it all in. To our pleasant surprise, the temperature remained delightfully comfortable throughout our visit, another benefit of the sunrise visit. I was totally braced for another sweltering day and expecting to be a sweaty mess a la Angkor in Cambodia (and most places we’d been in Indonesia), so couldn’t have been happier.

 

Tip for exiting Borobudur: One of the complaints I read repeatedly in reviews of Borobudur was that there seemed to be no way to exit the complex without being routed through a maze of tourist stalls and pushy hawkers. Some claimed it took them 45-minutes to get through this gauntlet. To avoid this, take a path which is to the left of the top of the stairs in the photo below, ignoring the “Exit” signs which direct you to the opposite side of the temple, and follow the signs to Manohara. Even if you did not buy the sunrise ticket, there’s no reason you can’t exit this way toward the hotel and avoid the vendors.

The people in this photo are descending the exit path to Manohara.

The exit to Manohara routed us to an open-air restaurant on the hotel grounds where we were offered coffee, pastries and a souvenir batik scarf. It was a nice gesture, but we only nibbled. Given our early start, we were back at our hotel in time for an 8-8:30 breakfast.

Station at the restaurant offering pastries
Coffee, pastries and a souvenir scarf

Practical info: Tickets for Sunrise Borobudur are available through the Manohara Hotel or “Center for Borobudur Study” as it bills itself. The cost is 450,000 idr (about $32pp) for foreign visitors, 325,000 for domestic visitors, and 275,000 (about $19.60pp) for visitors staying in the hotel. Manohara also offers sunset tickets for the same prices. Tour operators may also supply these tickets, but they’re buying them at Manohara.

Regular (not sunrise or sunset) tickets to Borobudur Temple cost 325,000 idr (about $23.15) per adult in 2018. Combo tickets for Borobudur, Mendut and Pawon temples are also available, although we found tiny Pawon temple (which we visited the following day) was open and free with not much to see. Mendut, which we could walk to from our hotel, cost a negligible price at the site. I think less than a dollar, but am not sure.

This post is long enough (all those photos I couldn’t resist!), so I’ll do a separate post on our hotel, Amata Borobudur Resort, just after this one.

 

Nusa Dua, Bali, and some really deadly creatures

Tidal pools appear every afternoon at Nusa Dua

We spent four days at gorgeous INAYA Putri Bali entranced by the tidal pools that emerge each afternoon and are filled with all kinds of beautiful and unusual sealife. There were thousands of starfish, large sea hares, any number of little fish, sea slugs, eels and more.

Eel in Nusa Dua tidal pool

On the second day, I was able to trail along behind a banded sea snake as he tried to make his way to deeper water. I knew it was a fatally venomous snake (50x more poisonous than a cobra per Bali Animal Welfare Association), but non-aggressive and I didn’t crowd him.

Deadly venom: Banded sea snake in the ankle-deep water of a Nusa Dua tidal pool

The next day, I was watching a small eel when a little octopus showed up. I trailed him with my camera. When I looked him up later, I found he’s a blue-ringed octopus and “recognized as one of the world’s most venomous marine animals,” having “enough poison to kill 26 adults within minutes.”

Lethally poisonous: Blue ringed octopus
Way too close!

There’s no antivenin for either of these critters.

Quite a few people enjoyed the tidal pools and we saw lots of parents scooping up marine critters to put in pails for their children to see. We saw no warnings posted about the dangers posed by some of the local sealife, so be advised. Sea creatures are fascinating and often beautiful, but never try to touch or pick up what you aren’t familiar with.

INAYA Putri Bali: A sprawling Nusa Dua resort offers a lot of bang for your buck

Beautiful beach at INAYA Putri Bali in Nusa Dua, Bali

[I’m way behind on blogging our 3-month, around-the-world adventure, so this is the beginning of a catch-up now that we’ve settled into our home-away-from-home in Antwerp for the last few weeks of our journey. Most of the upcoming blogs of this trip were written at or reasonably near the time of travel, but spotty or slow Internet made uploading photos difficult…and I wanted to focus on the trip a whole lot more than I wanted to post about it! – Tamara, May 25, 2018]

Nusa Dua, Bali, is lined with high-end resorts, some charging astronomical prices, especially for usually-cheap Bali. Then again, Nusa Dua is hardly usual Bali. It’s an exclusive beachfront enclave sheltered from those less-than-picture-perfect, third world aspects of the rest of the island…along with much of the authentic culture and charm. Still, I wanted to try a range of Bali lodgings and a big resort was in order.

Putu, our Munduk homestay host arranged a driver for us from Munduk to Nusa Dua. Although Google Maps put the trip at 2h30, it’s closer to 3h30 with the traffic snarl near Kuta and the ongoing construction of an underpass to the Depensar Airport. Hopefully, the underpass will alleviate some of the traffic when it’s finished next year. There’s a new toll causeway out to Nua Dusa and we happily sprang for the small price to shave some time off the trip. We sped along our way, but were surprised to see a long traffic back-up in the other direction as toll booths were apparently not working. We crossed our fingers that we wouldn’t see the same when it came time to leave Nusa Dua.

Passing the guarded gate into Nusa Dua was like entering another world. A wide, smoothly paved avenue led into a large circle with manicured flowerbeds and a central statue.

Nusa Dua, the Other Bali

It was almost embarassing when our driver from rural Munduk pulled into the lavish entry to our hotel, the INAYA Putri Bali. Uniformed bellmen sprang into action to take charge of our luggage and direct us to the soaring open-air lobby for check-in.

I deliberately chose an Indonesian-owned hotel both in hopes of some local flavor and to try out something completely new to me. The value was excellent as well in comparison to other, more familiar brands I had explored online prior to booking. Check-in was quick and professional and soon we were being driven by golf cart to our room. En route, we passed an enormous series of tiered pools by a building housing the main restaurant used for the included breakfast. The sweeping, well-tended grounds of the hotel lead to a wide, beautiful beach.

There were always plenty of lounge chairs in full sun on the beach or a bit back under the shade of beachfront trees
Looking back at the main lobby building of the INAYA Putri Bali with bistro, shops and patisserie below from the grounds near the beach
A whimsical fountain on the INAYA Putri Bali grounds

I’d booked a standard room after deciding the swim-up rooms might be lacking in privacy and having no interest in springing for a suite since we planned to spend most of our time on the beach. Stepping inside our room for the first time, I couldn’t be happier with my choice. The room was spacious with a large balcony and a view of the ocean between buildings. Tasteful Balinese decor including carved wood closet doors and frames preserved a feel of local culture.

The bathroom was gorgeous and downright enormous with a big-enough-for-two stone tub and a over-sized rain shower. I had several long, wonderful soaks in the tub, using the stone bowl of bath salts provided. As in much of Bali, the bathroom wasn’t air conditioned, so we opened the door when not in use to cool and dry the bathroom.

Breakfast was served every day in the cavernous main dining room. We were led to a table most mornings, gave our order for coffee (cappuccino) and the morning’s juice or smoothie (a bright green frozen apple juice, fresh mint and ginger concoction becoming a favorite), then headed off to the many buffet tables available.

Breakfast at INAYA Putri Bali

The scope of the breakfast offering was like nothing I’ve seen in a hotel: Western and Asian dishes, fresh fruit, yogurt and yogurt parfaits, made-to-order eggs and omelets, Balinese cooked dishes of fried chicken, fried bananas and more, French pastries and a wide selection of delicious and fresh-made breads, granola, savory dishes of all sorts and on and on.

Sushi for breakfast
Delicious pains au chocolat, croissants and more

Dining was a mixed bag at INAYA Putri Bali. Breakfasts, as mentioned, were awesome. We liked casual dinners down by the beach, too, at INAYA’s Ja’Jan By the Sea. There weren’t a lot of options there, but the casual vibe suited our beach-y selves, the food was good, the service friendly, and the prices were decent. We tried one dinner at the upscale Indonesian restaurant on-site, Homaya, but were disappointed. Although expensive (especially so by Bali standards), the food was just mediocre and the atmosphere only so-so. A disappointment that discouraged us from trying any of the other higher-end restaurants on the property. There are lots of other options in walking distance in Nusa Dua, though. All it takes is a stroll along the beachfront walkway that connects the many resorts. Our next door neighbor hotel (to the  right as you look at the beach) offered particularly appealing picnic style dining and the Park Hyatt Resort (next to the INAYA Putri Bali to the left as you look at the beach) offered several high-end restaurants. We were in lazy mode, though, and just went back to INAYA’s Ja’Jan By the Sea.

The beach at INAYA Putri Bali is lovely, with tidal pools brimming with marine life appearing each afternoon as the tide goes out. I’ll post more on that next as I’ve got some words of caution about some of the deadly sealife we came across there. No reason to avoid the water, but something to be aware of and a reminder not to pick up or touch unfamiliar creatures.

A short walk down the beach (at the end of the resorts to the left as you’re facing the beach), there’s a market selling local goods and a bit further on is a park with a huge Balinese statue atop a small building. Beyond that are observation decks over black lava rock where pounding surf shoots spray high into the air.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of our only complaints with our room was the sound of broadcast speech in the distance that we could never place. At first, we thought it was a loudspeaker at some event outside, but the sound disappeared when we stepped on the balcony. We stepped in the hall, pressed ears to walls but the intermittent noise was hard to pin down. It was weird, and annoying when my acute sense of hearing woke me to it at 4:50am. After a few days, we finally found the source in a maintenance closet off an employee-only space behind the elevator to our floor which backed to our room. For some reason, maintenance had left a wall-mounted radio turned on high volume even though no one was in this small room. It intermittently blasted static and intra-maintenance chatter. We hated to touch the controls in case there was more to it than we realized, so I videoed the room and sound to show to a lady at the front desk who apologized profusely and got the sound turned off. Shortly after, we found a nice note of apology and generous gift of spa items. Did I mention that I liked INAYA Putri Bali a lot?

A lovely apology

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Practical info: I booked our room at INAYA Putri Bali via Agoda which I’ve found to usually have the best prices in Asia. To get an extra savings, I log into my Topcashback account then search “Agoda” and click through to Agoda before booking my hotel. The current offer on Topcashback for Agoda is 6% cash back. You’ll get an additional savings, and so will I, if you use my referral link to create and use a Topcashback account.

Note re leaving for the airport: Even though the hotel is close to the airport, we were warned to leave 3 hours(!) before our flight to Yogjakarta, Java (short, domestic flight), due to road construction and bad traffic. Worried about the back-up we’d seen on the toll road, we took this advice…but found ourselves in the airport and through security a mere 30 minutes after we walked out of our hotel room. Once the road construction is finished, the ride to the airport should be reliably short. Also, although the hotel offers a paid shuttle to the airport, we opted to have a bellman call a taxi (on the advice of a lady at the front desk) and found it to be prompt, clean and much cheaper than the hotel ride.