Serenity: The state of being calm, peaceful and untroubled.
In this hyper-connected world? Good luck. But could I find this elusive tranquility on an Indonesian island 10,125 miles from New York? I thought, Why not embark on a peace-of-mind scavenger hunt—and try to fully engage the five senses often dulled by daily life. Here’s what happened.
Not All Beaches Are Created Equal
Bali is very far away—from almost everything. That’s part of the appeal, right? Because once there, every experience is so out of the ordinary, so different, so…almost magical, that each day, meal and wave break holds a new discovery. But I’m getting ahead of myself. When The Ritz-Carlton, Bali invited me to their brand-new property in the southern resort area of Nusa Dua, I thought, If the island is good enough for eating, praying, loving Julia Roberts, it’s good enough for me. Right?
How Am I Getting There?
I’d wager at least 50 percent of people en route to Bali are aware of Elizabeth Gilbert’s book-turned-movie-turned-
That Time I Slept With a Dozen People
My favorite part of Qatar’s overnight flight is when everyone changes into their complimentary pajamas and curls up like infants under Frette linens in their lie-flat beds. During the descent the next morning, you and your next-door neighbor might exchange sheepish morning-after grins that indicate, “Why yes, I do wake up looking like this.” Then silently tuck into a breakfast designed by Nobu Matsuhisa himself.
Breaking Up Is Hard to Do
Unless you’re a masseuse named Roldan, who breaks up the knots in my shoulders gnarled from, he assumes correctly, too much typing. I’m on a layover in Doha’s vast and extremely efficient Hamad International Airport, which houses more luxury boutiques than Fifth Avenue. The Airport Hotel provides a wonderful respite between lounging in the Al Mourjan business class lounge, and the full-service Vitality spa is surprisingly relaxing. You won’t hear gate changes called out over a PA or watch passersby slurping Starbucks. This isn’t XpresSpa.
After Making It to Denpasar…
During the half-hour drive to the hotel, locals expertly maneuver their scooters between cars, trucks and animals. Along the way, a billion billboards advertise the wonders of the area’s many gold-starred and hot-listed hotels. If I want to relax, I’m in the right place. And here, in Sawangan, Nusa Dua, lies the The Ritz-Carlton, Bali. The lobby is a stunner. It’s perched on a cliff, presenting a birds-eye view of the resort’s pool pavilions, villas and, in the distance, the Indian Ocean. I try to remember the First Commandment of the Non-Obnoxious Traveler: “Thou shalt not humble brag ‘Not a bad view’ on one’s own photos of sunsets or beaches.
A giant looking-glass elevator launches visitors down into the sprawling resort where rooms feature garden or ocean views. Larger groups looking to lord over the land can opt for the three-bedroom cliff villa.
My serenity sense starts tingling.
What’s Beyond These Walls…
The Balinese are very proud of their stories passed through generations, and most visitors will experience one (or more) temple or fire dance. The Kecak dance at the famous Uluwatu temple tells the Hindu story of Ramayana through chanting, gyrating and elaborate makeup. It’s better than Broadway. And it’s accompanied with, y’know, generations of deeply held meaning. And fire. Lots and lots of fire.
Wait…I Can’t Forget to Eat
In my room is a fruit basket with mysterious local contents. I Google “how to open a mangosteen” and learn you must grip the purple fruit between the heels of your palm and squeeze. The flesh splits open and reveals its reward: a white, garlic-shaped bulb of juicy fruit unlike anything I’ve ever tasted. I’m hooked.
Or Learn How to Cook
Guests can book a cooking session with Chef Made Suriana at the Ritz-Carlton’s “Culinary Cave” at Bejana, one of the resort’s five restaurants, specializing in traditional Indonesian cuisine. Blessed with humor and extreme patience for novices, this chef must get his own Food Network show ASAP. I learn how to make tum bebek (steamed duck in banana leaves), sate lilit (minced seafood satay) and nasi goreng (Balinese spiced fried rice). Back home my kitchen dreams will collide with reality: I don’t own a mortar (nor pestle), Dean & DeLuca probably doesn’t sell aromatic ginger and my local greenmarket definitely doesn’t carry banana leaves. In conclusion, since I’m here I might as well eat seconds—and thirds.
Or Watch Great Minds at Work
No trip to Bali is complete without a drive inland to the island’s cultural capital of Ubud. Here is where artisans create batik scarves, woodcarvings and locals and Australian surfers chill over cocktails—and where, with a bit of foresight, you can dine at one of the town’s most revered restaurants, Mozaic. Chef Chris Salans is like the Willy Wonka of Bali, constructing six- and eight-course tasting menus featuring some of the island’s most inventive cuisine, and the tropical garden seating is perfect for a special occasion.
A Little Digital Detox Never Hurt Anyone…
By the third day, I’m eating teeny-tiny bananas on my terrace and thinking deep thoughts like, The 70 percent humidity is probably great for my pores. During downtime, I even forget to reach for my phone. Besides, scrolling Twitter in such a relaxed environment feels inappropriate and vaguely wrong, like sneezing during a sermon (or, spoiler alert, a morning prayer ceremony).
The Journey’s Most Important Question
“Excuse me, Miss Kara, may I massage your head now?”
There’s only one right answer.
I’m in the middle of the resort spa’s “Tropical Marine Pleasure” treatment, having already been through the sea-mint body blast phase and now swaddled in a tight detoxifying wrap. I presume I look like a human nori roll. The wrap hardens. I glance at my ghostly white limbs and think, Wow, I’m molting…and it feels amazing.
How Am I Really Feeling?
True to the brand, the Ritz-Carlton service is impeccable. The phrase “mind readers” comes to, well, mind. The ladies and gentleman on property are warm and quick with a smile and selamat pagi (“good morning” in Balinese). One night while hanging around at Breezes, the resort’s seaside tapas lounge, I’m simultaneously tallying Instagram likes and ferociously scratching my mosquito-bit ankles, when a woman working at the bar silently brings a bottle of insect repellent to my table. Bless her.
Livin’ on a Prayer
I’m feeling and seeing plenty. Little did I know, I’m about to actually hear the sound of my troubles fade away. Early one morning, I walk to the beach for a soul purification ceremony called melukat. You, too, can achieve a clear heart and mind with the aid of a pemangku, a Balinese priest. He blesses the holy water, and I rinse my hands, feet, face and mouth. We pray five times, with empty hands and with flowers. Finally, he wraps my wrist with abenang tridatu, a bracelet of three white, red and black strands symbolizing a quest for balance, harmony and understanding. You’re supposed to wear it until it falls off. I feel calm— and look like a hot mess. First lesson of Bali: You gotta get your body dirty to get your soul clean.
Is That…Wedding Bells?
Side note: If you’re in the market for a destination wedding, you can’t do better than the resort’s all-gleaming glass seaside chapel that can house all of your closest friends.
I Can’t Feel My Face
Sunrise yoga is another activity perfect for the larks staying at the resort. Lying on the mat after over an hour of contortions and then feeling the morning sun slowly creep across my feet, arms and beet-red face, I feel highly attuned to every bird chirp and wave break. I’ve reached peak rejuvenation.
Sleeping Like the Dead…
After my second night in Bali, my SleepCycle app, which monitors its users sleep quality, nearly self-destructs, having never before tracked such a deep, prolonged REM cycle. Did I die overnight?
Wait, What’s That Smell?
Finally, with the rest of my senses heightened to Fantastic Four-level powers, it was time to sniff something. (Not what you’re thinking.) At the resort’s L’Atelier Parfums & Creations, visitors can create their own signature perfume. After a short quiz, I learn I’m “mysterious”and am attracted to vanilla and…tobacco? After three trial vials, I finish my mild perfume. I feel like a mad scientist. Or J. Lo.
You Can’t Stay in Paradise Forever
But you can take a little something with you. Once I return home my senses are permanently tweaked. Now when I spritz my perfume or break off a hunk of Balinese Pod chocolate or look at the benang tridatu still tight on my wrist, I’m back in Bali.
And when I’m hungry for nasi goreng, well, I’ll leave the cooking to the pros, lest I break that impenetrable calm I traveled so far to achieve.