If you're looking for an exciting, unique and thought-provoking place to travel to, Bali is the answer. Bali is not only a tropical paradise with lush jungle terrain and beautiful beaches, but it's also an interesting island with boho-chic vibes, crazy good food and a whole lot to do. Bali really has a little bit of something for everyone.
Where to stay
Mandapa, a Ritz Carlton Reserve - Ubud
Ranked the second best resort in the world by TripAdvisor, the Mandapa really is heaven on earth. I am not exaggerating when I say that this is the most incredible resort I have ever seen. From the moment you check in, you will instantly experience the extreme attention to detail and exemplary customer service. Even the check-in process is one of a kind: they greet you upon arrival, already calling you by name and immediately offering you a welcome drink and a towel. They bellmen take your bags and disappear with them, appearing in your room before you even get down there. I am not sure if this happens for every guest, but we were immediately greeted by their general manager, who brought us into the main foyer and explained a little bit about the resort. Then we were greeted by our butler, Marcela, who would remain our butler for the remainder of our stay, meeting our needs 24 hours per day. We quickly exchanged WhatsApp numbers so that we could be in contact with her whenever we wanted and then jetted off down the hill in our buggy, getting a tour of the entire resort before finally ending up back at our room. The check-in process took place in our room, so there is no exchanging of money or passports in public. Marcela walked us through our room, pointing out all the amenities and how to use them, and then took our credit card and scanned our passports right then and there.
The most astonishing thing about the resort was their extreme hospitality and customer service knowledge. We initially laughed at the thought of having our own dedicated "butler", but immediately came to appreciate how seriously they take that amenity. We soon came to realize that Marcela always seemed to know where we were and what we were doing, as buggies seemed to magically appear when we left for dinner or turndown service was always completed, no matter what time we left or came home. I flippantly mentioned to Marcela that we liked the bug repellant that they used at dinner (after noticing that I wasn't being bitten at all) and every night after that, we returned to our room to find the mosquito repellant incense already lit on our patio. The extreme attention to detail was insane, and likely the number one reason why no one leaves this place unhappy.
Another great part about the stay was that they treated us like we were special at every opportunity. Prior to even arriving, the concierge reached out to us to find out of we needed transportation to and from the airport or wanted to book any excursions, and made a point to ask if we were celebrating anything special. Since we were too busy with work during our anniversary in September, we chose to use our trip to Bali as a bit of a belated anniversary celebration. So I told them that in an email prior to arriving, not really thinking much of it until we arrived. They really went above and beyond. Our room was decorated with flowers in the shape of a heart on the bed, a bath filled with plumeria, and the words "ANN" spelled out on the floor in our entryway to immediately wish us a happy anniversary upon entering the room. Then they had a chocolate mousse with "Happy Anniversary" spelled out in chocolate on the plate. We sort of thought that would be it, but the gestures just kept coming. After coming back from a private bicycle tour through the rice fields, we arrived back at our room to find a photo that our guide had taken just a few hours ago, framed with a note from Marcela again wishing us a happy anniversary and saying she hoped we had a good time, and next to it was a boquet of flowers, just like one that a bride would carry on her wedding day (and I have to admit, I think it might have even been nicer than the one I had for my wedding!). Even on our last day there, we parted with another "Happy Anniversary" desert after our breakfast.
Not having anything planned for our first day there (except for dinner), we chose to just relax by the pool and take it easy for the afternoon. After getting situated in our room, we headed down and snagged a cabana by the pool. It was so wonderful because for the longest time we were the only people there. We were again greeted with a complimentary coconut drink, a basket of fruit, and a bowl of this really incredible lavosh-like peanut and lemongrass treat called "Rempeyek". It took me several days to remember what it was called but I was totally obsessed with it and ate it at every opportunity. Then we opted to have lunch in our cabana and the food was incredible. Seriously, this pool food was akin to what you would get in a Michelin-starred restaurant. I had a strawberry tomato gazpacho and tuna tartare, while my husband had the burger. We then spent the afternoon sipping cocktails, alternating from the shade of our comfy cabana to the sun loungers next to the pool. It was a delightful afternoon.
Then we had our dinner reservation at Kubu. Because I made a reservation early, we were lucky enough to get one of the private cocoons along the river. This is an absolute must--if you plan to have dinner here, be sure to book early and request one of these. It made for such a memorable dining experience. We did the 5 course prix fixe menu with a bottle of wine and everything was stellar from start to finish. Though Bali doesn't have a Michelin guide, I would think this place would get at least two stars. It even rivaled that of many 3 star Michelin restaurants I have been to. And again, the service of course was impeccable.
The unique experiences they offer to arrange also make this place one of a kind. We opted to take advantage of the opportunity to do a picnic in the rice fields, enjoy a spa day, and do the cycling tour through the rice paddies in Tegallalang. We would have done more if we had more time, but didn't wan to overextend ourselves with a full itinerary. The things we chose to do created the perfect balance.
The second day, we started off with massages in the morning, followed by the picnic in the rice field for lunch. I actually chose to wake up and do yoga while my husband had breakfast (he's not much of the yogi type). The yoga room sits atop the spa entrance along the river, with accordion windows that open up so you can listen to the sounds of the river during your practice. It was just me and one other woman, so it was basically a private class. Our instructor was bubbly, enlightening and just seemed to love life. After a great yoga class, I met Byron at the spa for our treatments.
The treatment rooms at the spa are incredible. You have your own little hut alongside the river, so you have the option to listen to music or just listen to the sounds of the river during your treatment. I chose both. We each got 90 minute massages, and afterwards agreed that it was one of the best massages we've ever had. Even the pool area at the spa, which we relaxed in after our treatments, is so peaceful and serene. You can order food or tea while you relax--it would be the perfect place to bring a book and just camp out for the day. I had planned to go back and do that, but ran out of time.
Then it was time for our private picnic in the rice field for lunch. We arrived to find everything set up for us already, and our waiter showed up to take our drink and our food order, and then left us alone for the remainder so that we could fully enjoy the experience on our own. Even though the rice field hut is right in the middle of the resort, you really felt like it was your own private picnic, away from everything and away from all the other guests. Then we spent the afternoon in town shopping and eating at just about every place we could.
The following morning we did our private bicycle tour. After having breakfast, our buggy took us up to the top of the resort where our car was waiting. After about a 20 minute car ride (and a stop at an iconic photo spot), we hopped on our bikes and road through the fields. This is hard to describe in words but the tour was absolutely magical. We were able to see things that you just wouldn't get to see otherwise. And because it was a private tour, we could stop as often as we wanted, snapping photos here and there and visiting temples and museums that we passed by. The day we did the cycling tour was actually one of their national holidays, Kuningan, so everywhere we looked, Balinese people were dressed up in their festive garb, beautifully adorned with jewels and elaborate stitching. Incense was burning all over and music seemed to be emanating from every home, which created such a dreamy, surreal surrounding.
I could go on and on about the Mandapa and how incredible it was. It is hands-down the nicest resort we have ever been to, and our stay was easily one of the greatest experiences of our lives. We truly were sad to have to leave. I will absolutely be going back at my first opportunity.
For more photos of the resort, click here.
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Komaneka at Tangayyuda - Ubud
I feel a bit bad talking so much about the Mandapa because had we not stayed there, this resort would have been my favorite. Even though the price point doesn't compare at all to the higher end hotels, it can definitely compete with the best of them. Despite their $300/night rate, I would rank this hotel among my top 10 hotels for sure. You get that Rosewood or Four Seasons feel--extremely attentive staff and all the amenities you could ask for.
Check-in here is similar to most upscale hotels, where they ask you to sit in the lobby, offering you tea and snacks while they process your credit card and travel documents somewhere else. No standing around and waiting with your bags at a counter. Then one of the hotel staff leads you down to your room (after the bags have already been taken) and goes through each of the amenities.
The rooms here are just to die for. They are incredibly spacious, yet still warm and inviting. We booked their Premier Villa with a private pool and the "valley view." This was a great choice. The giant room consists of an entire wall of windows on both sides of you--one side facing the valley (with no real ability for people to look in since there's nothing out there but jungle) and a lush courtyard on the other side, behind the bed and also behind the shower, which opens up to an outdoor shower as well. The first part of the room contains a large king sized bed with mosquito netting (though we didn't really need it) and a large sitting area with a couch, coffee table, and breakfast nook where they have complimentary coffee, tea, and fruit, as well as a mini-bar. There are two very large open areas in the bathroom so that there is a "his and hers" closet, vanity and sink area, and then in the last room is a large soaking tub and separate shower and enclosed toilet. The best thing about the villa was the large deck with private infinity edge plunge pool.
The staff at the Komaneka were incredibly attentive and so very sweet and polite. They do a great job with the timing of cleaning and turning down the room; I'm pretty sure that once we arrived for breakfast in the mornings they immediately sent someone down to clean the room because it was neat and tidy every time we came back after breakfast. Then they did a lovely turndown service in the evenings, where they closed all the curtains (there are a lot of windows) and laid out slippers and a nightgown for each person (and the sleepwear they provided was actually really comfortable!).
Another great part about this resort is that the breakfast is included. They offer almost what amounts to a 3 course breakfast. You are offered a menu that changes daily, where you pick one thing from each of the three categories. The first option typically consisted of either a fruit plate or fruit and yogurt. The second was an option for a basket of bread and pastries or a selection of cereal. Then your "main" course category had four options, consisting of things like avocado toast, traditional Balinese porridge, eggs and sausage, and Eggs Benedict. They also had freshly squeezed juices that changed daily and offered coffee or tea.
One thing that most people don't know about the Komaneka chain of resorts is that they're actually owned by a local Balinese family. Pretty neat, right? What's best is that you really get that family feel from the resorts. Each of them are rather quaint, with only 20-30 rooms at each resort, so you not only feel like you have the resort to yourself but the staff is so attentive, again making you feel as though you are their most important guest. The Komaneka Resorts promote an upscale luxury lifestyle with their spacious rooms and villas Awarded CondÃ© Nast Travelâ€™s hot list in 2009 and TripAdvisor's Travelers' Choice Best 25 Hotels in Indonesia and Asia 201, Komaneka at Tanggayuda allows you to experience Ubud and its rich traditional village heritage while still enjoying the many comforts of home.
For more photos of the resort, click here.
Satori's Treehouse Villa
You can't get much better in terms of hospitality and accommodations when it comes to the Treehouse Villa! The Treehouse Villa can be rented through Airbnb for about $195 a night during the high season. Immediately upon arrival, we were greeted by the villa's incredible staff and their amazing hospitality did not stop until long after we left. Anything we needed, Wayan and the other staff were there to help--whether it was to organize a driver, request breakfast, or simply have afternoon tea. They gave us a cell phone with their number and the driver's number so we could text them at any time we needed something.
The villa itself is beautifully appointed, unique, and within walking distance to Ubud center, so we were able to walk just about everywhere. There is a real, living tree through the middle of the villa; the trunk extends from the living room into the second floor master bedroom and then up above the roof. This place is so unique! The first floor living room converts to a second bedroom, so it can sleep two couples comfortably. The living room has accordion glass doors that completely open up to the infinity pool that looks over the rice fields. It's exactly the open, indoor/outdoor living concept that travelers to Bali are looking for. This place is an absolute gem.
Ritz Carlton Bali - Nusa Dua
The Ritz Carlton Nusa Dua is probably your best best if you want to experience a little bit of the hustle and bustle of Kuta and Seminyak (because it is only a short taxi away from both) yet still enjoy a quiet, relaxing, and very luxurious resort on the beach. With restaurants that could probably have Michelin Stars, the Ritz at Nusa Dua is both a foodie's heaven and a spa lover's delight.
Insider tip: Be sure to book a suite with pool access. We had the Sawangan Suite with Pool Access, which was a dream. Though it's not a private pool like many of Bali's resorts offer, the Sawangan suites only share a pool with eight rooms, and for the most part they remain pretty private (other than the occasional person who might decide to swim by). We only saw a few other people in our pool while we were there, so it felt like it was a private pool most of the time.
Where to eat: Though each of the restaurants at the resort were pretty fantastic, the sushi place called Raku at the top of the cliff was our favorite. The Beach Grill is also a great spot to enjoy a more upscale dining experience (though I think we spent just as much money at the Japanese place after ordering several plates of sashimi and about a dozen cocktails...).