Now that the floodgates for quarantine free international travel have flung wide open, I was eager to escape the tiny and restrictive confines of compact Singapore. For our first post pandemic overseas trip, my partner and I decided to head over to nearby Indonesia starting with a brief stop over in the capital city. Infamous for its severe traffic gridlocks, behemoth Jakarta is the world’s second largest urban metropolis, and is also the diplomatic capital of the ASEAN nation states. Our home away from home that we selected for our maiden voyage to Jakarta was the ultra luxurious Four Seasons Hotel.
Situated right smack in the heart of the city’s prime shopping and commercial districts, Four Seasons Jakarta is known for impeccable service and unparalleled hospitality as evident by the welcome fruit platter, cold pressed juices, a printed photograph of me, and a hand written greeting signed by the general manager himself, which were all awaiting us upon our arrival as we entered our elegant club premiere suite.
The various dining options at the hotel are a feast for the senses and are culinary adventures unto themselves. A grand Lasvit designer crystal chandelier hangs as an eye catching centrepiece in the Palm Court dining hall which features 43 foot tall cupola ceilings and high backed plush emerald green velvet chairs. I admired the ravishing beauty and artistry of the massive masterpiece that is the contemporary palm shaped crystal chandelier lights that shone like stars. Palm Court’s semi à la carte breakfast buffet menu features unique signature bites such as crispy red velvet croissants stuffed with fresh Chantilly cream, fluffy molten Valrhona chocolate lava cakes, flaky caramelized Portuguese egg tarts topped with mango compote, amongst other flavourful viennoiserie delights. Their Indonesian gado gado salad, ayam mee soto and lobster laksa were hands down some of the best ones that I have ever had the good fortune to sample. I typically do not even like gado gado and mee soto that much, but the ones at Palm Court were cooked to perfection and totally irresistible.
Right next door to Palm Court is the lavishly opulent La Patisserie, which showcases aquamarine hued contemporary French interiors, dainty pastel macarons, and the most elegantly crafted cakes imaginable that are reminiscent of Sophia Copolla’s film portrayal of the decadent French queen Marie Antoinette. The delicate and delectably looking pastries look saccharinely sweet, but I was pleasantly flabbergasted that they tasted just right. The balanced mix of flavours teased the taste buds of my tongue and hit all the right spots.
Situated on the entire 20th floor is the penthouse styled Italian restaurant “Alto” which is helmed by the hotel’s executive chef Marco Violano. Based off the knowledgeable recommendations of the staff, we ordered the crunchy and refreshing Insalata Di Spinachi salad to start off, as well as the Aragosta lobster served alongside an Aglio Olio of house made durum wheat angel hair pasta. For the main course, we shared a sizzling juicy Fiorentina T-Bone steak that was generously seasoned with herbs such as thyme, rosemary and oregano, and served with a side of roasted vegetables, mushrooms and creamy peppercorn sauce.
After dinner, we headed down to the swanky and intimate Nautilus bar located next to the library for bespoke cocktails and bar snacks such as Pacific salmon cakes, sweet sour shrimps, and succulent escargots dipped in Surabaya sauce. A live band crooned soulful jazz musical numbers softly in the background as we marvelled at the old style nautical themed artworks, as well as the fine attention to details in the interior décor. The talented bartenders skilfully concocted tasty alcoholic beverages and non-alcoholic mocktails using premium ingredients and utilizing modern mixology techniques. We tried the marine inspired “Red Sea” and “Blue Breeze” as recommended by the bartender, and were delighted by those choices.
Since it was the rainy season, the heavy thunderstorm was relentless and the wet weather traffic was not conducive for us to leave the confines of the hotel, we decided to simply stay in and try out the warming “Royal Body Boreh” spa treatment. Our fatigued bodies were slathered with a detoxifying mud masque mixture of aromatic herbs and spices such as nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves before being wrapped up in heated banana leaves. The trained professional therapists then gave us a relaxing head massage as our bodies were luxuriously marinating in the herbal boreh concoction. At the end of the treatment, we were served with a healthy assortment of nuts and dried fruit, alongside lemongrass ginger jamu tea as we got comfortable lying down on swanky and futuristic looking “Four Senses” recliner lounge chairs that holistically combines aromatherapy, colour therapy, sound therapy and gentle haptic feedback touch therapy. Piped in ambient style music gave us acoustic and aural titillation, as a mist of heavenly essential oils scented the space while the morphing LED lighting of the chairs gradually changed colours. What a decadently relaxing and trippy experience!
After two days in stormy Jakarta, it was time for us to jet over to the tropical island paradise of Bali that will play host to the G20 summit in the middle of November. We opted for the Four Seasons Bali’s “Twice the Magic” promotional stay package that covers accommodations at both their Jimbaran Bay and Sayan Ubud resorts. The welcome staff greeted us at the airport and transported us over to the Jimbaran Bay resort which is so massive and vastly spread out that we required a golf cart buggy to take us from our ocean front villa to the other parts of the 35 acres lush tropical resort.
Our first order of the day after check-in was to head over to the incredibly stunning “Healing Village Spa” which costs one billion dollars to construct and features state-of-the-art spa technology and equipment. The cutting edge “Illume room” has a one-of-a-kind heated quartz therapy bed, a large chromotherapy bathtub and seven chakras crystal alchemy singing bowls that are utilised for sound healing therapy. We chose the “Gem of a Gent” massage treatment, which consists of a pampering facial using several high quality beauty products, an uplifting rosemary and sage body scrub, as well as the coordinated use of heated tumbled lapis lazuli crystals to knead away stress and tension from our sore aching muscles.
Ms Luisa Anderson who is the Regional Director of Spa for the Four Seasons says, “This place is much more than the usual quiet sanctuary that you would expect from a spa. Guests want to linger on as the entire place is simply so gorgeous. It inspires joyous interaction, gratitude and zest for life. The treatments are fantastic, but it’s the extra touches that make the spa village so special and unforgettable. I see the effects on the guests; their smiles, sighs, and that unmistakable glow borne out of true inner connection and contentment.”
The Jala cooking academy is Bali’s first culinary school situated in a 5 star hotel. Our instructor, the humourously funny Chef Surya hails from a family of renowned chefs. He taught us to cook authentic healthy Balinese cuisine in a hands-on class using the freshest of ingredients hand plucked from the charming three hectares outdoor courtyard herb garden, as well as produce sourced from the nearby famous Jimbaran fish market.
Chef Surya shared and demonstrated time-honoured tips and secret recipes handed down from his grandmother. We learned how to prepare exotic Balinese dishes such as Tum Be Siap spicy chicken steamed in banana leaf, Pepes Ilak Kakap grilled red snapper, Lawar Kacang Panjang tossed salad, Sambal Matah spicy coconut relish and Kue Labu Balinese steamed pumpkin cake.
We were also shown how to correctly don a Balinese attire of batik sarong and udeng headdress. The service staff even taught all of us present in the class a couple of local Balinese words and phrases which were distinctively different sounding from the official Bahasa Indonesia language used by the rest of the country. At the end of the class, we were handed gift certificates and an embroidered apron to take home. After which, the participants got to savour what we made ourselves with a greater sense of appreciation and solemn gratitude for the entire process of food production. We were thankful for such a culturally immersive and fun filled experience from start to finish.
For our last night at Jimbaran, we headed down to sophisticated Sundara Beach Club and feasted on their impressive high-end BBQ seafood dinner spread of Sakoshi bay oysters, freshly caught whole snapper, grilled lobster, spicy chilli crab, succulent tiger prawns, signature calamari, charred asparagus, ceviche and much more. A live band serenaded the diners with top of the charts pop songs as we watch the sunset blaze a dazzling array of mesmerizing evening hues across the twilight sky. The entire evening over at Sundara was an absolutely magical, romantic and memorable experience that we will not soon forget. We were reluctant to leave the electric atmosphere and ambience of Sundara behind, but had to retire back to the quiet sanctuary of our villa so as to get up early the next morning to transfer over to the second resort located at Sayan valley which is in Ubud; the artistic and cultural heart of Bali.
After a hearty breakfast, we were being chauffeured from Jimbaran over to the white water river rafting set off location to experience the world’s first and only hotel check-in via river rafting. Highlights of this thrilling two hours wet and wild escapade are the historical Subak irrigation dam that has been gazetted as a UNESCO world heritage site. Our experienced rafting guides safely facilitated as we paddled our way through Class III river rapids along the picturesque sacred Ayung river. We past by several waterfalls, vegetation filled gorges, abandoned resorts, and also caught sight of intriguing wildlife such as the Javan kingfisher and pig-nosed turtle.
The rafting trip ended right in front of the riverside pool of the Four Season Sayan, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary silver jubilee in just a few months’ time. The welcome team were waiting on hand for our triumphant arrival in order to promptly greet us and offer lemongrass scented towels and refreshing thirst quenchers. My first impressions of the manicured grounds of the well-maintained Sayan resort was that it reminded me very much of Singapore’s Botanical Gardens. The entire resort is surrounded by several rice paddy fields and neighbouring rice terraces. On top of every riverfront villa sits a private lotus and water lily pond that was in full bloom.
Our active adventures continued on the next day with the “Sayan Valley Biathlon” which is a guided two and a half hours long outdoor journey where participants get to cycle and trek through epic landscapes, scenic rural farm lands and charming waterways as far as the eye can see. On our way, we got to witness an extensive array of farmed vegetables, crops and fruit trees such as cacao, papaya, banana, dragon fruit, coconut, chilli, tomatoes, and much more thriving in the volcanic rich soils of Bali. In the far distance, the active volcanoes Mount Agung and Mount Batur gleamed majestically in the midday sun. Curious dogs and smiling locals came out to greet us as we whizzed past their homes on our bicycles. We also saw numerous rice fields that are all ready for harvesting as we ventured past Bongkasa village on mountain bicycles and on foot trekking through thick dense forest canopy and natural jungle wilderness back to the resort via crossing a steady suspension bridge across the Ayung river.
A unique experience that we both cherished during our time in Sayan was the “Sacred Nap” private class for two over at the Dharma Shanti river terrace. Wellness mentor Ibu Fera who has a maternal appearance and presence, and who also used to be a devoted Buddhist nun for several years was inspired to create the concept for “Sacred Nap” while rocking her own baby to sleep.
Participants are nestled and cradled inside suspended aerial silk hammocks akin to those used in anti-gravity yoga classes and then gently rocked to sleep in the womb-like cocoons. Motherly Ibu Fera then tenderly lulled us using her soft soothing voice into a deep state of relaxation and peaceful slumber with a sweet lullaby medley of sacred mantra chants and stories of Lord Gautama Buddha’s life which were being back up by the natural echoings of the surrounding environs, and simultaneously accompanied by the calming sounds of Tibetan singing bowls. We instantly dozed off and woke up feeling rejuvenated and revitalised once the entire meditative ritual was completed. My partner remarked, “I slept like a baby. This has got to be spiritual tranquillity and serenity at it’s finest.”
For dinner on our final night in Bali, we decked ourselves up in resplendent Balinese garb to attend a 7-course authentic Balinese style “Chef’s Table” dinner over at the Sokasi riverside kitchen and cooking school which is situated right next to the Ayung river. The exclusive dinner menu features exquisite Balinese delicacies such as the Sambal Udang giant king prawn smothered in a spicy trio of white, yellow, and red curry, a 12-hour claypot spices stuffed Bebek Betutu smoky duck wrapped up in fragrant palm leaves, and a spit roasted Celeng Guling whole suckling pig. While each dish is prepared live before us, the chef carefully explains the entire cooking processes and details the well-curated choice of ingredients that are being used to cook each of the Balinese savouries. For sweet endings, we were beguiled by the artistically presented icy Es Buah Bali lime sorbet that is drizzled with raw wild Sayan Valley honey and served alongside a medley of fresh local fruits. The refreshing palette cleansing sorbet was made instantly right in front of our eyes with the help of liquid nitrogen that impressed and mesmerised the diners with a theatrical presentation of dramatic smoky fog.
Once our bellies were happily filled up, we headed to the Jati open-air lounge bar to catch the evening’s cultural showcase performances. Local Ubudian musicians and dancers captivated, entertained and enthralled the audience with classical Legong Keraton and Gambuh dance performances that were fully back up by a live Balinese gamelan orchestra. The skilful and talented professional artistes dressed up to the nines in brightly flamboyant traditional costumes and twirled their ornate fans gracefully while rapidly darting their eyes, and rhythmically rotating their wrists and fingers back and forth to the enchanting sounds of the spellbinding musical tracks.
When the cultural recital ended, we retired back to our villa to soak up the night forest sounds of croaking frogs, chirping crickets, and the gushing river underneath us as we gazed up at the brightly lit full moon casting its luminous glow on the surface of the villa’s pool, as well as the slopes of the rice terraces across from our villa. On our last morning in Bali right before heading to the airport to catch our flight home, we were lucky enough to spot a vibrant rainbow arch peeking out from underneath some rain clouds. What a pretty and fitting finale to conclude our amazing stay on an island that is truly blessed by the Gods.
Images: Luke Elijah