IN my four-poster bed, replete with white chiffon curtains, I imagine I am an Indonesian High Priestess. Even my private spa, in which I will later take a skinny dip under the night sky, seems to gurgle its approval of the latest predicament in which I find myself. I have arrived at the Banyan Tree Bintan Island in my usual disheveled state, the effects of some aeroplane turbulence as we crossed the Equator, a reasonable swell on the ferry as we sailed across the South China Sea, several prescription drugs and red wine to fuel my travels, all beginning to wear off. But I remain chipper, for tonight I will sleep under this thatched Indonesian roof, or “alang alang”, in my seaside villa.
Yes, I can be quite the wanker, and never more so than when someone has handed me chunky keys to thick, timber doors of my very own villa, and informs me this is my home for the next few nights. Bintan Island is only a 45-minute ferry ride from Singapore where regular readers know I lived, rather unhappily, some three years ago. If only I’d known of this destination’s fabulous existence, I would have jumped on that boat and never returned to Singaling. Yes, I would have been last spotted swanning around this Indonesian island, potentially joining the local fishermen in their bright blue boats below, in a bid to carve out an existence. The fact I am staying in the luxury Banyan Tree only serves to make this story all the more exotic. Even the traditional monsoon seems to be behaving, blowing cooling south-easterly kisses in my direction.
I’m on a one-week expedition discovering both the Banyan Tree Bintan Island, and Banyan Tree Lang Co in Vietnam. Christopher Columbus I am not. By “expedition” and “discovering” I actually mean partaking in several long, lusty feasts on both properties, punctuated by the odd cooking class and spa treatment. It’s in the Banyan Tree spa on Bintan Island that I meet my therapist, Oza (pronounced Oh-Zah) who instructs me to get buck naked (“not even my undies?”, I mime, rather inelegantly to my Indonesian hostess) before we undertake the “Serenity” massage. Oza smothers me in peppermint oil and for the next hour I feel like I am Charlie Brown’s Peppermint Patty. My friend Amanda is in the next spa villa, and I wonder what treatment, and more important what Charlie Brown character, she smells like. So enthusiastic is Oza about her job, she crams the modesty sheet between my bare butt cheeks, before massaging them with gusto. It’s only after the massage that Amanda informs me she was instructed to keep her underwear on, and there were no sheet wedgies in her villa.
Later that night I return to my villa and discover my towels have been fashioned into two swans in the shape of a love heart and flower petals have been scattered on my sheets. For a brief moment I think Oza may have mis-read the intent of my lack of underpants during the massage, until Amanda posts a photo of her neighbouring villa, with identical set up. We both lament the fact we will be staring at those swans, alone, while conceding the Indonesians must be among the most optimistic on the planet to leave such a letter of love for the two of us, who are not, exactly, what you’d call lucky in love.
Onwards and upwards we travel to Vietnam, where we have a date with the Banyan Tree in Lang Co, a beachside destination some two hours from Danang. Those sexy swans seem to follow me wherever I go in Asia, and I arrive back to my latest villa one night to find not only those birds have been folded and tucked into a corner of my bathroom, but someone has drawn me a bath, complete with rose petals. Could it be Windy, my Vietnamese masseur, who earlier that day allowed me to wear some XL disposal underpants which I may or may not have torn trying to get over my thighs? Windy insisted on massaging my breasts despite the fact that Amanda was in the next room, having the very same massage, yet no one touched hers. I am beginning to think my sex appeal among Asian women knows no bounds, when I discover the bath is actually part of the hotel’s turndown service known as “Intimate Moments”.
It’s only when I’m partaking in a cooking class in the Banyan Tree Lang Co’s Organic Garden that I’m reminded of home. For here are a bunch of herbs, whose descriptions run along the lines of: “Piper Sarmentosum is an erect herb with long, creeping stems” and “Chillies are usually skinny and wrinkled. These chillies usually measure 6 inches long and 1 inch wide.” If ever there was something designed to make me think fondly of the boys of Brisbane, it has to be this herb garden.
But I have no time for such folly, as we are spending the afternoon shopping in the World Heritage city of Hoi An. Amid the chaos of cycles, coconuts, tinkers and tailors, I tend to fall apart. While the girls shop in a feverish manner, I take reprieve under a fan in a corner café and sip a cold bottle of the local Biere Larue. It’s the kind of place I figure the man of my dreams may frequent. He’ll be a fellow traveller, perhaps even a literary type, and I like to think I look exotic and mysterious sitting alone in this Vietnamese café. He’ll glance at me and forget my hair is fuzzing from the humidity or that I wear a moustache of sweat, and think I’m simply lovely, I imagine.
Incredibly, this doesn’t happen, and instead I wander further down the street where I stumble upon our Vietnamese friend Kiet, who has accompanied us on our shopping trip. Kiet is sitting on the sidewalk of his favourite café, Cargo, partaking in one of life’s great pleasures, drinking beer and people watching, and as I join him we linger for a long while, discussing life and love and ponder world issues. Eventually, the tourists disappear, the lights fade and the air starts to cool. And I realise there is absolutely nowhere I’d rather be on the entire planet than at this destination, at this exact moment in time.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Banyan Tree – http://www.banyantree.com and Scoot Airlines – http://www.flyscoot.com
THE seductive scent of clove cigarettes hangs in the air like an unfinished sentence on this heady evening, which is already punctuated with sweat and music. It’s all Japanese and jazz at Bali’s Ryoshi bar on this mellifluous Monday and Rio Sidik is one cool cat with his trumpet and a voice which is part Dean Martin, part Louis Armstrong. Randomly, Rio’s sister Marina joins The Rio Sidik Quartet up on stage and unleashes Indonesia’s own Tina Turner with a pinch of Pink tossed in for good measure. I’m in Bali on an Eat Pray Live tour and this part is definitely what I’d call living.
Sydney’s Nicole Long, who runs Eat Pray Live, advises her guests to “be careful what you wish for” because in Bali, it might just come true. That is certainly the case for this 41-year-old former Brit who moved to Australia after a neglectful upbringing and has had quite the ride since. In the past six years she divorced her husband, started her Bali business, and in an incredible twist, celebrated the resurrection of her marriage with which she credits Eat Pray Live.
As part of this bespoke Balinese experience, Eat Pray Live guests partake in a cleansing ceremony and visit with a respected healer, which proved to be the pivotal moment for Nicole, who escaped to Bali for a holiday in 2011 when she thought she had run out of options back in Australia.
“I had this moment in the water and I thought ‘I can do this business’. If only I had somewhere to go after I got divorced. Where do you go when you just want to be blah?” she says.
“I went for a session with a reputed medicine man and at the end of my session he took my hand and said ‘you are going to use your experience to help many women.’
“There is no way he could have known what I was planning to do with Eat Pray Live. I went back to Australia and said to myself ‘Ok, it’s now or never’. I didn’t have any money to do this but I just had this fire.”
While it would be tempting to describe Eat Pray Live as a Balinese retreat and focus on the spirituality the Indonesian Island of the Gods exudes, this experience is so much more than that. Nicole has designed a bespoke holiday which focuses on all aspects of eating, praying and living in her villa she describes as a “home away from home” for guests. The concept eschews the typical tourist traps and takes guests to local and new restaurants such as Warung Talun for a delicious Indonesian feast overlooking the rice paddies, or to the hip and happening Potato Head to lounge and drink cocktails at this cool beach club. There’s plenty of pampering and even in-villa spa treatments, shopping in local markets and high-end stores and lots of secrets and surprises all designed to connected like-minded women who are drawn to this escape.
Despite numerous obstacles since her day of revelation, Nicole persevered and welcomed her first client in October 2012, initially operating Eat Pray Live from a hotel in Seminyak. Mid last year she stumbled across Villa Griya Asih in charming Canggu while taking her first horse ride since her Australian horse and soul mate Surge died. Eat Pray Live now operates from this beautiful Balinese villa which comes complete with six bedrooms and copious living spaces around which to lounge including a gorgeous day bed around the private pool. There’s a lovely third floor meditation deck overlooking typical Balinese fields and even a resident dog Blackie – a stray who wandered into Nicole’s life not long after Surge died. Curiously, Blackie even has a print of a white horse on his coat, which might seem pure coincidence in Australia, but in Bali, Nicole believes anything can happen.
Incredibly, Nicole reunited with her husband David after they reconnected for the first time in six years, following the suicide of his best friend.
“He came over for dinner and as I opened the door I thought ‘this is my man’ and everything, all the past evaporated and he was standing in front of me and I didn’t know what to think or feel,” Nicole says.
“He said, ‘I love you Nic’ and I realised I was home.
“Throughout this whole journey I’ve found my truth and Eat Pray Live has led me back to my love.”
For more information on Eat Pray Live or to book an escape, go to http://www.eatpraylive.com.au