Nirvana - A state in which the mind, enlightened as to the illusory nature of the self, transcends all suffering and attains peace.
If you are searching for a slice of bliss then the Pan Pacific Nirwana Bali Resort might just be the place to find it. I am grateful to say I was blessed with the experience of spending 8 nights in this paradise and cannot recommend it highly enough.
I confess I wasn't actually all that keen on visiting Bali, largely because of its reputation for being a playground for that paragon of culture - the ubiquitous Aussie bogan. And in the eternal quest for originality, Bali just didn't seem like a very original holiday destination. But I needed the kind of holiday where you just laze by the pool and while I was lured by the promise of a luxury resort escape, I ended up falling madly in love with Bali for so much more. Turns out there is a very good reason it's not an original destination, in spite of some confronting scenes of poverty, the island is just beguiling and the Balinese are a beautiful, warm and happy people and by staying away from Kuta I was able to largely evade the Aussie bogans and enjoy Bali for all it has to offer.
The Pan Pacific Nirwana Bali resort is situated up the coast to the west, away from Kuta and Seminyak and the usual tourist spots. The hotel can provide a transfer service to and from Denpasar Airport, and although it's not that far, the state of the Balinese roads means that the drive can take an hour or more, especially if the traffic is bad. But settle in and enjoy the ride - firstly through manic moped traffic, then through narrow streets where you'll see street food vendors selling satay to their neighbours, rogue chickens wandering and stray dogs sleeping, Hindu shrines and offerings at every turn, and families and their friends perched out the front of homes and shop fronts. Then suddenly you'll find lush green rice fields on either side of you and soon enough you'll arrive at a paradise overlooking the sea.
Upon arrival we were greeted by a girl in Balinese dress who placed a frangipani behind our ears and offered us a warm wash cloth moistened with frangipani oil and a hot cup of lemongrass tea to refresh while we checked in. We had chosen to upgrade to a Pan Pacific Club Suite which turned out to be worth every penny! We were treated like royalty for the duration of our stay and were able to enjoy the Club Lounge, which hosts a complimentary cocktail and canapé hour each evening. Every night for 8 magical nights I watched the sun melt into the Indian Ocean over a Banana Beauty cocktail while the sky turned all shades of pink, purple and orange, accompanied by the gentle chiming of a gamelan in the distance.
There are many highlights from our stay at the Pan Pacific Nirwana Bali Resort but undoubtedly the one that stands out the most is the fact that there is a Temple on the hotel grounds. And what a temple it is. The much visited Tanah Lot is but a stone's throw from the hotel with the most sublime views from the reception and restaurants. You can take your breakfast al fresco and soak up the stunning vista. Tourists flock to the temple (which is set on a small rocky outcrop just offshore) twice a day at low tide but hotel guests can enjoy it all day and avoid the crowds (something I value highly). Speaking of breakfast, the buffet style breakfast on offer is quite simply amazing. In additional to all of the western favourites there was an entire table dedicated to Japanese style breakfast, another to Indonesian style breakfast and another table dedicated entirely to Balinese sweets providing a wonderful opportunity to sample some of the local treats. There was also an incredible array of tropical fruits (many I'd never even heard of!) and a range of delicious freshly squeezed tropical juices.
I confess I very quickly developed a bad habit of overeating at breakfast as my eyes were invariably bigger than my stomach, and so my daily ritual began with waking up, gorging and then rolling out to secure a spot either by the three-tiered swimming pool or on one of the day beds along the coast where I could snooze and read the most fascinating book on Balinese history. (For a great beach read and some cultural insight into Bali grab a copy of Bali: a paradise created by Adrian Vickers).
On the days when I wanted to do more than just laze by the pool it was as easy as catching the hotel's daily shuttle into Kuta or Seminyak or having the concierge order you a taxi. In Bali a taxi driver will happily drive you all over the island if you so desire - you can negotiate a very reasonable price (AU$50-AU$60) for the entire day and they'll take you wherever you want to go - cheerfully waiting for you at each way point till you're ready to move on to the next destination. But leaving the resort was by no means a necessity* - there was also plenty to do at the resort and the surrounding area was fascinating to explore on foot. We took a stroll around the grounds and the surrounding area to take in the views of rice paddies on several occasions - passing several terrifyingly large spiders on our travels.
The hotel offers a great Balinese cooking class held outside in the sunshine overlooking the sea, during which we learned how to make Nasi Goreng and Dadar Gulang (wonderful coconut filled pancakes turned a beautiful green colour using the juice of the pandan leaf). The hotel, in conjunction with a local turtle conservation organisation, also runs a turtle release program where once a week they release a handful of baby turtles into the ocean just outside the hotel. This release program gives the tiny turtles a greater chance of survival than if they entered the ocean on the more heavily populated eastern side of the island, and although the activity is aimed more at children, it was still a very special thing to be able to participate in.
Certainly the best night of the stay was on a Wednesday night when the hotel put on a barbecue at the Pool Grill (one of the three excellent on-site restaurants), which featured a traditional Balinese Kecak performance. Normally using the words "seafood" and "buffet" in the same sentence is asking for trouble - but this was no ordinary buffet. In fact they served what was hands down the most absolutely delicious grilled fresh fish I ever had in my entire life. There were at least 5 varieties of fish plus various other types of seafood, all fresh and barbecued to perfection with a side of lemon beurre blanc. There was loads of other incredible food but the fish was so good I would go all the way back there just for the barbecue! Unfortunately I was so focused on devouring it that I didn't remember to take any photos. Courtesy of our Club Lounge status, we had the best seats in the house for the Kecak show, as the sun tucked itself into the sea in the background. The dance told a story from the Hindu book of Ramayana, and the costumes were stunning. I was pleasantly surprised by the all male 'Chak chak" chanting choir as it wasn't at all what I expected. Given the Pan Pacific's somewhat out of the way location, it was especially great to have access to such a richly cultural experience within walking distance of our room.
No trip to Bali would be complete without a massage of some kind. I was planning to do a bit of pampering in Seminyak as I had heard so much about the cheap massages of South East Asia. However I didn't really see anywhere I liked the look of, there were plenty of massage places but they were all a bit crowded and hectic for my liking. People getting foot massages all in a row didn't look like the relaxing experience I was after and at the end of the day you get what you pay for. So I ended up just getting a cheap pedicure in Seminyak, preferring instead to splash out for a spa treatment back at the hotel, and if my experience is anything to go by then this is definitely the way to go for a truly luxurious massage. I really splashed out and booked myself in for the Nirwana Escape package. Roughly AU$130 bought me 3 hours of utter bliss including a foot spa, an hour long full body massage, a full body scrub, a facial and a bathing ceremony. IT WAS AMAZING! I had a choice of masks and scrubs which all smelled amazing and my bath was full of frangipanis and rose petals. It really was worth every penny.
So if you are keen to visit Bali but have no interest in binge drinking in your best Bintang singlet and thongs ( not that there is anything wrong with that if that's your cup of tea), I highly recommend ducking away to the Pan Pacific Nirwana Bali Resort. It's far enough away to be completely peaceful but close enough to get to any activity on your itinerary and what's more, the concierge can most likely help you tick a few things off your list at the hotel (cooking classes, golf, Kecak performance, bike riding, local cuisine). They were also a great help in organising to book activities around the island too. The service was outstanding and they went the extra mile with nice touches like a parcel of home-made Balinese sweets wrapped in a banana leaf, sealed with a frangipani and left on your pillow each afternoon in the turn down service and insect repellent on the outdoor tables at the club lounge for when it's cocktail hour for the mozzies too.
You can check out the Pan Pacific Nirvana Bali Resort from their website but we got a great deal through Luxury Escapes.
* In terms of entertainment. I would NEVER suggest anyone go to another country and not leave their resort and I definitely had an amazing time exploring Bali.