A getaway to a secluded spa resort gives Rachael Oakes-Ash a welcome taste of old Bali.
Manis sees dead people. The Balinese shaman princess spoke to her first departed spirits when she was a child, or so she tells me as we float on mercury waters in search of dolphins in the north of Bali.
The fisherman guiding the carved-out wooden boat, wide enough for one person and long enough for three, has cut the engine so we float in silence. We are the only vessel on the horizon, the waters are still and the last moments of the day are dipping behind the silhouette of active volcanoes mountsBatur and Gunung Agung in the distance.
Then Manis sings. A low lullaby that bounces off the water and evaporates on the wind, carried away by the spirits that she speaks of.
Manis is also a yoga teacher, bending guests of Spa Village Resort Tembok in an effort to release urban stress within Western bodies that descend upon the remote resort in search of relief.
This is old Bali, the one that long-time Bali devotees reminisce about, accessed by a two-to-three-hour journey with a private driver from Denpasar airport through the island centre, past Ubud's terraced paddies and high into the hills of Mt Batur and the holy crater lake. It is here in the boat-only accessed Trunyan Cemetery that many of Bali's deceased lie, perhaps the spirits of which Manis speaks.
An hour's descent from Mt Batur towards the north-east coast ends at the village of Tejakula, which creeps from the foothills to the shores. Fifteen minutes along the coast to the east you'll find Spa Village Resort Tembok.
You won't find street hawkers, beach clubs or doof-doof muzak pumping from speakers here. The beach on which the resort rests is volcanic black sand and is shared with a fishing village to the west and undeveloped coconut fields to the east. Footprints are few and are washed away at high tide as the water reaches the resort edge.
Guests who make the trek to Tembok are greeted with a foot cleanse in the open-pavilion check-in.
The theory of Spa Village Resort Tembok is simple. Everything is included. Accommodation, three meals a day, and a 50-minute spa treatment per person a day.
The all-inclusive nature addresses the resort's remoteness in an economical way for guests. Choose to spend your days by the pool or immerse yourself in the resort's activity program of cultural, artistic and physical offerings.
There are no shops to peruse, no televisions to distract you and wireless is available only in the foyer. Think of this as a good thing. I eventually did.
But if you tire of sleep-ins, breakfast on the deck, walks on the beach and slumber in the pool gazebos, you can sign up for white-water rafting trips, bike rides to waterfalls, squid fishing, sunset sailing or a one-on-one with resident chef Martin Buchele to whip your cooking skills into shape.
I have enrolled in the resort's five-day School of Life wellness program in the hope I will discover what I have been doing wrong on this planet up to now and then try to get it right.
I am relieved to discover I won't be restricted to cold-pressed juices made from grass and forced daily colonics. The School of Life is all about realistic and achievable integration and is personalised for each "student".
But first, let's talk food. Executive chef Martin Buchele has an impressive heritage. His resume is peppered with stellar names including Relais & Chateaux, Fairmont and Ritz Carlton in exotic locations; names that belie his food-as-medicine beliefs and his time in Kathmandu in a Buddhist monastery and as a student of Diana Manilova to find balance of mind, body and soul.
Spa Village Tembok was a natural progression for the Austria-born chef who now hand-picks fish delivered on the beach from boats. The School of Life menu is low carb, and gluten and caffeine-free.
I am the only solo traveller, and surprisingly the only Australian, at the resort, which is full of honeymoon couples. Days take on a routine. Wake, breakfast, a creativity class to create your own herbal tonic or natural body scrub, mid-morning coconut water, spa treatment, lunch, more coconut water, yoga with Manis, meditation, sunset water cruising, dinner, float on a luxury double lilo on the pool under the stars with music in the ears then a mineral bath in my room. Sleep then repeat.
Spa treatments here take on an Indonesian tone. The Penganten Melukat is a traditional wedding preparation treatment with a Balinese massage, boreh body scrub, fresh milk on the skin and a Mersiram Seka floral bath.
Local resources are used to create the resort's spa products used exclusively on site from volcanic clay to moringa, tusli, neem, turmeric, citronella, lemon grass, ginger and tea tree elements.
If you are expecting serious six-star style, design and service then stay south on the Bukit Peninsula as the big-name Bali hotel brands are yet to venture further north than Ubud. Spa Village Tembok is a boutique resort from Malaysian-owned YTL Hotels, the hospitality arm of YTL Corporation construction conglomerate.
Local Balinese are trained for work within the resort and for many it is their first hospitality job. What matters here is soul and a smile. Intention is everything and guests' relaxation key.
I never left the resort, unless you count sunset dolphin cruising and beach walks to play in the water with the kids who live in the fishing village. I contemplated hiking Mt Batur at sunrise but the truth is the ocean-front pool got me every time where I set up my sun lounge on grass in the shade of a tree and inhaled the smell of real books, my laptop locked in the resort safe at check-in.
Yoga was a few steps away, the spa even closer, creative classes were in a gazebo nearby, the restaurant overlooked the pool and my cleansing morning and afternoon juices were delivered to me.
At Spa Village Resort Tembok expect 27 rooms with balconies or terraces and spacious bathrooms; two one-bedroom suites and two beachfront one-bedroom villas with private plunge pools. Rates start from $352 including tax per room, three meals a day as well as a spa treatment per person per night.
The School of Life program starts from $1557.52 for a single or $1828.42 for two people in a standard room for four nights including taxes, pre-program consultation, airport transfers, wellness program, daily juices, three meals a day, daily movement practice, cooking class, three spa treatments and three detoxifying mineral baths.
Jetstar flies from Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide, Darwin and Perth direct to Denpasar in economy and business class. See jetstar.com
The author was a guest of Jetstar and Spa Village Resort Tembok.