A stay in Bali, either for pleasure or labor (aka business), sounded like one of the ultimate travel clichés to me. Resorts, beaches, diving, surfing, snorkeling – yes, they made up a dream holiday, but weren’t they what every island getaway in Asia had to offer?
When I finally got the chance to visit the island two years ago, I realized I wasn’t wrong. A stay in Bali was indeed a cliché. But only because I stayed at one of the several resort hotels in Nusa Dua, almost the entire time I was there. At the end of a week of running around working at the Westin Resort area and spending some hours visiting an art gallery and a rip-off souvenir haven, I neither enjoyed it nor had any desire to be back.
Fast forward to 2012, I found myself in Nusa Dua again. Though, once more, I was most of the time stuck in the area, having spent my three-day business trip between my hotel and Bali International Convention Center, this time I had a bit of time – and some zest to notice what little I could see of the place. The sessions of the conference I was attending would end by lunch time; hence after doing some networking, clearing my emails and getting outstanding work done, I had some time to walk around Nusa Dua.
Of course, two days, some hours to be accurate, of walkabout wasn’t enough to give me an informed judgment of the place. But this time I can say I didn’t completely dismiss Bali as cliche
While the sun, sea and sand didn’t really interest me, having spent the first 15 years in my life on an island which kept me tanned throughout the year, Bali’s architecture and sculpture stuck out. I’m no arts expert or aficionado, but Bali’s architectural designs, based on what I’ve seen at resorts in Nusa Dua, seemed fairly distinct.
Take Nusa Dua Beach Hotel for example. The exterior design of the hotel building itself, the entrance to the lobby and small structures (haven’t found out how they are called) behind the hotel leading to the beach are so exquisite that in some aspects the place resembles a Hindu temple. The resort claims to offer “authentic Balinese heritage and culture”, so I thought what I saw in the place design- and architecture-wise were a representation of the Balinese culture and arts.
But then I came across a page on Bali Paradise Online, which says: “The opulence and ornamentation of many new hotels are often breath taking. Nowhere else in the world would such wood carvings and stone work be possible. Still the line between kitsch and a good taste is narrow and too often people have failed to appreciate the essence of Balinese architecture that in many cases has become an amazing parody of itself.” Aw, so I shouldn’t have taken what I thought were Balinese arts as authentic representations.
I had actually wondered, if the architecture and design at Nusa Dua Beach Hotel was authentic Balinese (unless they meant authentic Balinese royalty), at how similar yet vastly different Bali was to a typical island in the Philippines. Being in one region, they share the same geography and climate. But the traditional or pre-colonial Philippine architecture was very simple and reliant on materials readily available in a tropical country – coconut or palm leaves for roofing, coconut log for columns, etc.
But as pointed out by the article on Bali Paradise Online, the Balinese had also traditionally used natural materials such as coconut wood and bamboo. It went on to cite the example of Amandari and Four Seasons Resort in Jimbaran as having “a modified traditional Balinese architecture without tainting its integrity”. I haven’t seen these places, but their photos show a noticeable use of tropical materials like palm leaves.
Then again, more modern “representations” of the Balinese arts and culture must have taken inspiration from the local heritage. I guess resorts must be careful in making claims of offering “authentic Balinese” just to attract tourists and holiday-makers looking for something different and local.
Going back to my three-day stay, I did experience something different – the food, the escape from the city’s hustle and bustle, and the relaxed ambience. Authentic or not, cliche or not, it was good to be in a place with some semblance to my home island, where hospitality is not a commodity and smiles are warm and not practiced to offer visitors warmth.
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