Blissful Bali, Land of the Spa
She looked at me, shook her head, and pulled the sarong up from my waist to my chest. “No,” she explained, “you wear it here.” I guess the patterned tube top was meant to be underwear, not a blouse. Standing there in a rich red Indian-inspired dressing room, I was introduced to the intricacies of Balinese spas.
Some people travel the world looking for the most pristine beaches, or the most challenging mountain treks. My husband John and I have a humbler goal: the most heavenly massage.
Every hotel and street corner had a spa. Choices ranged from cheap massages on the beach, to little wooden signs tacked on telephone poles, to the Ritz-Carlton proudly proclaiming itself “the #1 spa in Asia” (according to CNN).
Our tour guide offered to take us to get a traditional massage at a nice spa for $40. Judging from the overpriced touristy lunch he foisted on us the previous day, we were skeptical about his ability to provide us with good value for money.
We totaled up our cash, checked the limits on our credit cards, steeled our nerves and called the Ritz for reservations. It was going to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. “Do you have a two or three hour package?” No, the minimum was four hours. Whoa. And they were fully booked for the day, no surprise.
We may have missed our chance to plunge into the Ritz’s plush aquatonic pool, but we saved ourselves enough money to get a massage every weekend for the rest of the year. I picked up the phone and called the Prana Spa instead, where we could get a luxurious massage, a lulur scrub and a floral bath for less than half the price. Prana was happy to have us and sent a van over to pick us up. (I later learned that the van driver was the same dressing room attendant who assisted John when he entered the spa. Amazing.).
One thing was clear: our spa indulgences in Manila still left us woefully clueless about how to behave at Prana. While I was struggling with my sarong, John shocked an innocent spa attendant as he disrobed for the hot and cold plunge pools. She rushed him into a dressing room and handed him a pair of shorts before anyone else could walk in. We discovered why when I arrived – the plunge pools were unisex.
The pools were surrounded by the four high walls of the red Rajasthani spa rooms, and opened up into the cloudless blue sky. Top marks for ambience.
Eventually we made our way into the massage room, had our feet scrubbed and bathed in rose petals, then stretched ourselves out for our massage. After walking all over Jalan Legian that morning, we certainly needed one!
The next stage in the treatment was a lulur scrub, warm and fragrant. The spa menu promised a “mixture of five spices, including turmeric” – now I know how marinated chicken feels while waiting for the grill. Yum. The mixture was left to dry, and then rubbed off to exfoliate. We were instructed to stand up and were then slathered with cool, white yogurt. Add a lettuce leaf, wrap me in a pita and I’m ready to be served!
We rinsed off in a cubicle with five shower heads, one on top and two on each side. Then we lowered ourselves into a floral bath and relaxed with a cup of jasmine tea. Or at least I tried to relax, while ducking the frangipani flowers and red rose petals John catapulted in my direction.
Two and a half hours after arriving, we were comfortably ensconced at the spa reception, waiting for our driver to finish folding towels in the men’s dressing room and drive us to dinner. On this island with its dozens of beaches, scores of hawkers, and thousands of Australian surfers, we found our little pocket of paradise.
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