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Bali: Island of the Gods

Bali is a hot destination. Has been for years, and that reputation was once more reinforced by Elizabeth George’s book and movie,” Eat, Pray, Love.” It is home to several five-star hotels and resorts – three Amans, two Four Seasons, a W hotel soon to open; the names go on. Bali is the destination of choice for sybaritic travelers as well as backpackers, and tops the must-visit islands list.

The Balinese are practicing Hindus that believe in karma and accept their lives and situation as is. Hence, there is no animosity towards outsiders who may have more than they do. This leads to a harmony and co-existence between the resort and the village that is a wonderful reflection of Bali and its people – in fact, a situation that cannot be found in many other parts of the world.
from Amandari’s Welcome Folder

Bali is a hot destination. Has been for years, and that reputation was once more reinforced by Elizabeth George’s book and movie,” Eat, Pray, Love.” It is home to several five-star hotels and resorts – three Amans, two Four Seasons, a W hotel soon to open; the names go on. Bali is the destination of choice for sybaritic travelers as well as backpackers, and tops the must-visit islands list.

We came to Bali not for its beaches. Coming from Cebu where we have sugar-fine white sand, the black coastlines of Kuta and Seminyak are not much of a comparison. We were there instead to discover what makes it different. Despite decades of being in the limelight, its claim of “not being ruined” still runs true and this was clear the moment we rounded the city center. Even with foreign influences, the spirit of Bali is strong, its culture and Hindu religion too imbued for it to lose its identity.

To fully appreciate its customs and traditions, we chose the town of Ubud, located in the center of Bali. Perhaps because of its royal history, which in contemporary times is more religious in role than political, there are several palaces around. The royal houses were the catalyst to local arts and crafts, producing carvers, musicians and dancers; even the massage parlors proliferate on the island. And temples. Each family worth their salt has a shrine in the front courtyard, in addition to the abundance of the bigger village temples. This rich visual display of intricate stone and wood edifices, carved Garuda statues, ornamental effigies wrapped in checkered black and white cloth (for balance) laid with small banana leaf baskets filled with frangipani petals as prayer offerings, is perhaps the single defining image of Bali, earning it the name, “Island of the Gods.”

Ubud is a bohemian community – filled with artists, free spirits and those looking for enlightenment. In this community are hilltop villas and luxury hotels all discreetly tucked away. Amandari is one of them. Its entrance is inconspicuous, blending easily with its surroundings so that it was easy to imagine David and Victoria Beckham just popping out and crossing the narrow village street for a stroll, which is exactly what they did in one of their recent visits.

Amandari opened its doors in 1989 and immediately set the luxe bar higher in this remote area. Its horizontal layout was quite a novelty at an era of tall vertical structures. Noted Australian architect Peter Muller designed it as a Balinese village, with highly defined spaces for public and private use. He elaborates, “Each family retains its own privacy with a wall to defend the house. This is not so much a fortress idea as a simple method of retaining individuality in a community which demands many communal rituals.”

An Aman-stay is designed to be seamless – you are whisked off to the VIP line in the airport immigration and there are cold towels and Indonesian beers during the drive to the resort. A welcome delegation of ever-smiling guest relations staff is always on hand, greeting arrivals with a respectful Ibu for madam, and Bapak for the gentlemen.  But most welcome of all was the availability of a car service to drop off and pick up guests to the town center and its vicinity; it was like having a personal chauffeur at your beck and call.

Amandari offers a whole page of cultural activities. There are cooking lessons, river rafting, even a visit to the local medicine man for those who want to channel Julia Roberts. We signed up for a guided trek along the Ayung Valley. The two-hour walk starts early in the day, past rice paddies and the roar of the Ayung River. What a lot of people tend to forget is that Indonesia was once part of the Dutch East India Company’s vast Asian network during the last century. In Ubud, there remains a semblance of their influence and this can be seen in the dikes that meander thru the narrow gorges on their way to vegetating the plantations. Just outside Amandari’s complex, we passed John Hardy’s original house. The Canadian-born Mr. Hardy is one of the island’s most famous residents, setting his jewelry design shop here long before anybody else. He has since moved on to another location and to other projects.

Our guide, Dharma, has been taking guests through these walks. He pointed out to us the locales’ deep respect for nature. In the same breath, he mentioned the American President who walked the same path. “He told me to call him Mr. Peanut,” said Dharma, referring to Jimmy Carter, the peanut farmer from Georgia who visited Bali during the Indonesian elections of 2008. In true Aman way, the trek ended in a specially constructed Bale at the other side of the valley overlooking a spectacular view of the river and the mountains around it. There, a butler waited with starched napkins and carafes of fresh coffee and orange juice. After that, a car waited to drive us back to the resort, but not before stopping by Bongkasa village where we saw the oldest banyan tree on the island, spanning several man-widths.

Food is a major feature as well in this part of the world, harking back to its monarchical society and festival feasts. The more traditional dishes are nasi goreng, gado-gado and satay. They also have their own version of lechon or roasted pig called babi guling. We went to a local favorite, Bu Oka, upon the recommendation of the concierge, and found ourselves sitting on the floor with a serving of crispy skin and a slab of roasted meat and rice that was deliciously full of spices.

Ubud’s main artery is lined with swanky restaurants sitting side by side with tiny cafes and art galleries full of local charms. Peeking in between this is normal village life – sari-sari stores, rice paddies, vegetable patches and the ubiquitous family shrines. Ubud has obviously grown in the last years, but not once has it lost its beat of authenticity.


For Our Next Travel Destination, We Dream About Koh Samui in Thailand

Impressive views of the Gulf of Thailand welcome you at the Arrival Sala

Silent Sanctuaries

Mayenne Carmona discovers the Four Seasons Resort in Koh Samui is a quiet oasis to recharge and rejuvenate…

What does one expect from a Four Seasons Resort? Everything! Firstly, it will definitely be ranked no less than a five-star hotel or resort. Most importantly, it would not fall short of all your expectations: excellent cuisine, topnotch comfort at your fingertips in a well-appointed villa, courteous staff who offer impeccable service, and every other detail you could possibly need—down to the last cotton bud. After all, a Four Seasons Resort is always designed by a top-rated architectural team and interior designers.

The moment I stepped into the Four Seasons Resort at Koh Samui, I felt all my cares washed away by the soft waves of the bluest sea. The fresh air cleared my sinuses in no time, and the gentle breeze was a much needed caress to a tired mind and body. It was truly paradise regained for me and my friends. We were a motley group of career-oriented people who needed a much-awaited break from work, and this was the perfect choice for us.

Each Villa has a butler to cater to the guests’ every whim. The afternoon we arrived, we requested a sunset dinner by the beach, and much like a genie, our butler whipped up a romantically set candlelit dinner for six. A five-course delicious Thai dinner was prepared by their well-trained chef.

Our days were spent languishing by the beach, having daily massages, attending yoga classes, doing water sports and enjoying every bite of Thai cuisine. Golf carts transported us wherever we wanted to go within the resort. This vacation brought all my senses to another realm, and restored a weary soul to perfection. 

Four Seasons Koh Samui, I look forward to seeing you again!

Koh Samui is the third largest island of Thailand in the scenic Gulf of Siam. It is a 45 minute flight from Bangkok. Sandy beaches, coral reefs, coconut trees and abundant tourist resources make it a popular holiday destination.

For more information on Four Seasons Resort, visit their website at https://www.fourseasons.com/kohsamui/

(This article has already been published in Zee Lifestyle’s March 2016 Travel Issue, “Silent Sanctuaries” written by our columnist Mayenne Carmona for La Vie En Rose on pages 32-33.)

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Get Lost in this Not-so-distant Island Safari Paradise


Tao Philippines Crusoe-style deserted island camp paradise is perfect for those who understand the luxury of simplicity and disconnection.

by Melo E. Esguerra photography by Scott Sporleder

Just when you think Palawan is fast becoming a second Boracay, where congestion of concrete buildings and human bodies have begun to define the island experience more than the pristine beaches of white powdery sand, the Lostboys of Tao Philippines came up with a new island project that guarantees an escape to paradise. They call the island Camp Ngey Ngey.

The Lostboys have taken over the abandoned resort of Manguengey in Busuanga, a remote island in Palawan. They have kept the ruins from the typhoon and built their signature bamboo Tuka huts around the main beach of the island, which serves as the camp area. Just a short walk away you’ll find jungle trails that lead to three other wild beaches, preserved reefs and windswept cliffs encompassed by crystal blue waters. And on certain days, when the winds are strong, one side of the island becomes a good site for surfing.


Eddie Brock, one of the founders of Tao Philippines, explains how this concept of an island safari came about. “When we took over Manguengey Resort, we were stuck with the idea of how to run it. We do not know how to cater to resort guests, the individual choices and needs, and menus,” he admits. “Tao’s expertise is to show travelers something new, something more raw and adventurous. We decided that we will not worry about things we don’t understand, and stick to what we do best. One of the best aspects of a Tao trip is creating an atmosphere of connecting with other travelers, disconnected from digital clot—without the worry of planning, wallets and keeping a status. Five days out in the remoteness with the islanders in control leads to a positive attitude: guards down, inhibition is off and open to meet new friends.”

The camp is accessible through the three day/two night boat safari from Coron, with beach and reef stops en route the camp and back. Guests will be joining other travelers, staying in individual Tuka huts dotted along the beach. There are lounges, a dining and kitchen area, and open hang-out places. Currently, the big mansion from the old resort is being restored into a villa that can accommodate a family or group of friends.

The island can be reserved for big events like weddings, parties and other meaningful gatherings.

In the island, there is no room service, no menus, no WiFi. You will arrive as strangers, you will eat together, swim together, laugh together, drink together, and get to know each other offline. Become part of the magic of Tao, and see what happens!

For more information on how the trip to Camp Ngey Ngey works, log on to www.taophilippines.com


(This article has already been published in Zee Lifestyle’s June 2017 Men’s Issue, “Lost in Paradise” on pages 110-113.)

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THROWBACK THURSDAY. Our Stylish Voyage on a Boat with Loida and Richard


With hosts Loida Montesclaros and Richard Forteau, we take entertaining to the high seas.

by Shari Quimbo photography Steffen Billhardt

The sky was decidedly gloomy on the Sunday afternoon Loida Montesclaros and Richard Forteau invited a small group of us for a sail, the clouds getting darker as I make my way to Porter’s Marina, where the Blue Planet was docked.

“Richard built the boat himself in Cebu,” Loida explains, going on to share that he was the former honorary French consul in Cebu. “It was built here, and I designed the interiors.”

All that work certainly paid off—Loida and Richard would often sail the boat out to different Philippine destinations such as El Nido, Siargao, Boracay and the Gigantes Islands in Iloilo. These could mean days-long journeys that sometimes meant dealing with some rough seas. Quick day trips, much like the one we were about to embark on, were also a regular past time.

Loida gives me a quick tour of the boat then shows off her tropical spread. With its bright blue and white floral seating, the cabin’s dining area is already a pretty festive site. “I wanted to keep it simple,” she tells me, arranging her fresh fruits around on the banana leaf-covered wooden slabs she was using as serving trays. “And I wanted it to look more local, more tropical. We are on the water, after all.”

The bamboo slats of the dining table were the perfect backdrop to Loida’s spread, which featured tropical fruits alongside an entire roll of lechon belly, fresh lumpia, empanada and steamed shrimp.

The highlight of the table, though, was the chicken liver pate, a dish that Richard makes himself. “Luckily, the French love to cook,” Loida jokes conspiratorially.

Finally, it was time to take the vessel out onto the high seas, and the group makes its way above deck to enjoy the view. The cool sea breeze was a bit stronger than usual, something that had to do with the dark rain clouds looming above us—something that would have deterred any other group, but not this adventurous bunch. Armed with a glass of champagne in one hand and a biscuit smeared with pate on the other, many stand against the railing, admiring the sight of the sky turning orange above the Mactan Channel.

And then it starts to pour. No matter, though—as the rain pounds against the deck, the party finds its way down below. A bottle of wine is opened, and then another, while a second pot of pate is transferred on a plate. Our captain waits until the waves calm before he brings us back ashore.

(This story has already been published in the printed edition of Zee Lifestyle Magazine’s November 2016 issue as one of the Entertaining Features on pages 82-85.)

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