Dec 06, 2012|
It’s true that in Bali you’ll have access to all-night parties, lavish spas and noisy beaches—that’s part and parcel of the whole experience, and is what draws tourists to the island year after year. But if you’ve been there, done that, and want to go off the beaten path the next time ’round, then let us introduce you to the calmer side of the island. Take a tour of a local chocolate farm, see firsthand how a 21st-century eco-friendly school operates and get in touch with your spiritual self at an all-inclusive yoga retreat. Don’t skip out on good food and luxurious accommodations, of course—just remember that there’s more to this tropical paradise than meets the eye.
Imagine a school in the middle of a jungle, with buildings made entirely from bamboo stalks, where there is no such thing as indoors. A place where children learn how to plant rice and raise animals, and the cafeteria stocks fresh, organic produce. Well, turns out there is just such a school, and it’s in Bali. The Green School was founded by John and Cynthia Hardy, a Canadian-American couple who met on the island and ended up becoming business partners. The pair wanted to create a new type of school—one where kids could roam free and experience things that institutions in big cities just can’t offer. Established in 2008, the school is now not only a respected one-of-a-kind institution, but also a destination for travelers who want to witness firsthand how a place like this actually functions. Green School seems like a 21st-century hipster experiment—but it’s no doubt a very successful one.
The Green School offers a curriculum for primary to high school students that goes beyond basics like math and science. For one, the premises contain a zoo of sorts, filled with native birds and animals that the students take turns caring for. There’s also a rice paddy and a mini farm for students to grow their own produce and to test out the latest irrigation methods.
Make no mistake: this isn’t Tarzan’s jungle, and there are computers and modern-day equipment in the classroom. The difference, rather, is that students at the Green School get both sides of the equation; besides traditional classroom learning (although “traditional” is rather loosely interpreted), there’s also a crucial outdoor component that is simply lacking in other instituations.
Go to www.greenschool.org/book-a-tour to sign up.
The indigenous population is also known for their artistic abilities and dedicated craftsmanship. While there’s an accessible abundance of local handicrafts (especially in Ubud, the artsy region), lesser-known are Balinese foods and edible goods that are made with just as much heart and soul.
On a calm, secluded patch of Balinese soil, workers gather under a simple open-top bamboo structure, churning out slabs of chocolate bars from raw cacao beans and busily packaging other artisanal food products from locally grown ingredients. The bamboo structure is both an office and a factory, and is the headquarters for Big Tree Farms, a local food brand that prides itself on sustainable farming and eco-friendly goods. Headed by Ben Ripple and Frederick Schilling (who founded Dagoba Organic Chocolate in the US), BTF liaises with local suppliers and hires Balinese workers to run its daily operations, and is careful to maintain a low carbon footprint in all parts of its production process. In-house, cacao beans are ground, mixed and cold-processed with simple but effective machines that transform them into cacao powder and bars for retail consumption. Meanwhile, uniquely shaped sea salts resulting from a proprietary process learned from the locals are packaged into handy little boxes. BTF also stocks coconut palm nectar, cashews and even honey products, all made with materials native to the area.
Visiting tourists can physically visit Big Tree Farms for a full-on tour of the premises. Knowledgeable staff are on hand to show you how raw cacao beans are extracted, pressed and molded into the much more attractive chocolate bars that they eventually become, all by guiding you through the humble yet energy-efficient chocolate factory (sadly, no Oompa Loompas here). After tasting some samples, visitors can purchase the chocolates as well as other BTF products on site. More outdoorsy travelers can also opt for an entire farm tour to get a firsthand experience of the produce grown by BTF.
Big Tree Farms, Banjar Piakan Desa Sibang Kaja Abiansemal, Badung, Bali, (+62) 361-846-3327, www.bigtreefarms.com.
Stressed out from work? An all-out yoga retreat might be just the solution. Try signing on to a week-long package at travel service provider OneWorld Retreats, where numerous nerve-calming yoga and meditation sessions are offered on a year-round basis in a self-contained resort in Ubud. A sample all-inclusive retreat, like the “Escape the World,” a six-day five-night option, consists of daily morning meditation and yoga sessions, followed by a spa treatment or bike excursion or guided walking tour, more yoga, then even more yoga (sometimes on top of a volcano, too). Accommodation in the 10-bedroom Kumara Resort in the peaceful Ubud area is provided, and meals are taken care of, with prices starting at about US$1,600 (HK$12,400) per package.
Check out www.oneworldretreats.com for more details on the various retreats and packages available.
All that meditation and touring around is hard work. Reward yourself with some well-earned grub at one of these venues.
This local alfresco restaurant is like a mini garden paradise, complete with ponds, bridges, footpaths and pagodas as backdrop. “Warung” in Indonesian generally refers to a family-owned shop, and this is what Warung Mina feels like—sure, it’s gorgeous, but there’s no five-star hotel or big-chain vibe here. The sylvan furniture blends nicely with the surroundings and as well as the cushions on the tatami-style eating areas and the hanging lantern-like lamps. The menu is predominantly Balinese, with a choice of grilled seafood like local fish and squid as well as different types of soups and nasi and mie goreng (fried rice and noodles), a lot of it served on banana leaves. The grilled goods are a killer combination of fresh catch marked with the smoky, woody flavors from time spent on the barbie. Top all that off with Warung Mina’s selection of feisty sambal (an Indonesian-style hot sauce), and it’s a meal that simply can’t be beat. My personal favorite is the kerang bakar, a roasted clam dish that comes with each of the bivalves covered in red, saucy sambal. For a taste of authentically Balinese fare, Warung Mina’s definitely got your bases covered.
Warung Mina, Jl. Raya Padang Luwih, Dalung, Bali, (+62) 361-411726.
Don’t be fooled by the cool crowds, the happenin’ music and the numerous bars situated in different corners of the premises—besides being a massive, party-centric hangout for locals and tourists alike, the decade-old Ku De Ta actually serves a dizzying selection of palate-friendly dishes, too. But rather than just being a foreign entity on Balinese soil, the institution tries to assimilate into society by hiring and training mostly local staff, and working with and sourcing from local producers.
“We try to work the local palate and ingredients into our repertoire,” says pastry chef Will Goldfarb, who’s one of the handful of foreign talents KDT has hired to put a western spin onto local desserts. “Whereas an open young coconut with ice would be dessert here, on our a la carte dessert menu if we gave someone a coconut, they wouldn’t feel like they were getting the extraordinary experience that we pride ourselves on.” So KDT goes one step further. Adds Goldfarb, “We’ll make a sorbet out of coconut water, or dried wafer, or coconut sponge cake. We make fresh coconut milk here. We use the water, the pulp. We try to use all of the local flavors and ingredients and then take that to a level where we can communicate our skill and our care for customers.”
Ku De Ta also manages I’m An Angel, a foundation that helps provide clean water and education to underprivileged children in Bali. But all you really need to know to have a great meal at KDT is that you can indulge in pizza, pasta, grilled steaks and pan-fried barramundi that make good use of local herbs and spices like nutmeg, vanilla beans and peppers.
Jalan Kayu Aya No. 9, Seminyak, Bali 80361, (+62) 361-736969.
There’s no lack of posh accommodations in Bali, but for a particularly calm and secluded experience, try Semara Uluwatu on the southwestern tip of the island, right by the cliffs. The private villas here have five bedrooms each—you either book out the whole thing, which we highly recommend, or you can try your luck and book individual bedrooms inside a villa at three months before your holiday. The villas come with their own private pools, communal area, and a full-service butler—and each villa (there are seven in all) is differently themed. There’s a cable car that takes you down the cliffs to the on-site restaurant and bar Finn’s Beach Club.
For something a little more budget-friendly and closer to all the action, Semara also has a resort hotel in Seminyak that comes with poolside, executive and presidential suites. A spa and gym are available, too, and there’s also a gazebo pool bar, not to mention regular pools and a resident restaurant.
Jalan Pantai Selatan Gau, Banjar Wijaya Kusuma, Bali 80362.