Blissful Bali and the Grand Mirage Hotel
I left you all hanging at the end of my last blog post about Asia, in which I wrote about our relaxing stay at the Club Bali Mirage resort in Nusa Dua, Bali. Just next door along the beach is its sister resort, the 5* Grand Mirage. We spent three nights in this all-inclusive resort, which is a marked step-up in luxury and atmosphere from our previous hotel, the Club Bali Mirage.
For a start, the Grand Mirage is three times as big. It had enough guests to feel lively, but not too many as to feel over-packed. I’d say this resort is aimed at honeymooners and families alike, and it was here at Grand Mirage that we actually got up from our sunloungers to try out some of the activities on offer. As there was so much to choose from, we packed a lot into our three days, so this is likely to be a pretty long blog post! But let’s starts with the hotel itself and our room.
Not a bad view! Our 2nd-floor twin room had everything we needed (except perhaps a sofa) and had very easy access to the gardens and beach. The building and the interior decoration are all much newer than our previous hotel, and it was interesting to see how much that actually made a difference. We were treated to a tour of the hotel and a peek into the stunningly elegant Ocean View Suite, which I’d imagine is predominantly for honeymooners. We barely spent any time in our room, as there’s so much else to explore.
After tucking into the buffet lunch at the poolside Grand Café restaurant we went on a bike ride tour of the local area with Edi, a lovely Balinese guy working at the hotel, who showed us the local market and some of the many temples, while explaining the religious rituals and traditions, before leading us through the narrow streets where the locals live to the fishing harbour and past a local primary school. One problem with all-inclusives is that many guests might never step outside the comfort of their hotel, and therefore miss experiencing how the locals live and learning about their culture. I’m sure Bali is not quite a true representation of the whole of the rest of Indonesia, as tourism and foreign influences are so established on the island, but on this bike ride we at least caught a glimpse of something closer to the truth. And I liked what I saw. There’s obviously a huge contrast between the oceanfront resorts and the modest family compounds just across the other side of the street, but if we weren’t interested in learning a bit about Indonesian culture, then it would have made no sense for us to travel half-way around the world just for some sun.
Our second taste of local Indonesian culture came that evening at the Devdan Show, which I’d highly recommend! The Devdan Show is an explosion of dance, acrobatics, costumes, performing arts, fire, water and bright colours, which is comparable to a Cirque du Soleil show. Through this performance, a cast of at least 30 very talented performers give the audience a tour of the diverse regions and treasures of Indonesia: Bali, Sumatra, Java, Borneo and Papua. Ticket prices range from $40-$85, which seemed a little high considering the country, but I was really impressed by their contortions and particularly the various acrobatic stunts hanging from ribbons and nets.
We stick out like sore thumbs in the photo above among these exotic-looking performers, so instead of giving up the day job to join the troupe of dancers, we headed back to the Grand Mirage resort to tuck into a delicious a la carte dinner by the beach in the Jukung Grill Restaurant, which is by far the nicest in the resort in my opinion. Being an all-inclusive, we ordered lots and lots of plates to share, while being serenaded by a four-piece band.
After a pretty busy day of sunbathing, checking out of one hotel and into another, cycling around the town, watching an acrobatic dance show and having dinner, we collapsed into our extremely comfy beds to recharge our batteries for Day 2 in the Grand Mirage.
I woke up the next day determined to do some yoga. They offer a daily class at 9am on the lawn, in the shade of some trees just in front of the beach, and to my amazement I was the only guest to turn up! It really does seem to be true that most guests do nothing but eat, swim and sunbathe… All the better for me, as I had my first ever one-on-one yoga class, where the teacher could point out exactly which muscles I needed to loosen up, and push me in exactly the right poses. It was in such idyllic surroundings, with a light breeze and the sound of the waves washing onto the beach.
Feeling very pleased with myself for managing to do anything at all before breakfast (I am very much a night owl, rather than an early bird, and my breakfasts are important to me!). The breakfast buffet served at the Grand Café met the high standard of our lunch the previous day and had a range of all the different breakfast cuisines you can conceive of, including Asian dishes, even though most of the guests are Western.
Later in the day we excitedly turned up at the Thalasso Spa within the resort for a very important appointment: our massages! I am a huge fan of massages, having been weaned onto them by my mother from an early age, so I’d been looking forward to this for a long time: an Aromatherapy Balinese Massage for me, and a Sea Mineral Detoxifying Massage for Imy, before a petal and candlelit bath, which was a bit surprising, a bit strange, and probably more apt for a honeymoon couple than for two friends… But anyway, our massages left us feeling very relaxed, a bit zombie-like, and we unfortunately lost about half our tan in the process, but I thought it was worth it. I am addicted to massages. The one thing I would mention is that in a Balinese massage they give you a horrible dry face and head massage afterwards which I found extremely painful! Watch out for that one…
We emerged in a trance and were capable of little else other than a nap. That evening we eventually recovered from our drowsiness and headed to the Rama Stage for dinner. The hotel organise a number of events after the sun goes down and on this particular night there was an open-air Kecuk show during dinner. The difference between this show and the one we saw in Club Bali Mirage was that instead of using gamelans (similar to a xylophone) to provide the soundtrack, there were 30 or so men wrapped in b/w cloth using their voices in sync. The food, all Balinese specialities, was also absolutely delicious and rounded off nicely by an enormous fried ice-cream profiterole. Seriously yummy. In this hotel you will be more than well-fed, and at least with a buffet you can try a little of all the different local dishes to see which you like best. Grab a night cap from the Panorama Lounge bar overlooking the gardens on the 1st-floor, serenaded by some gentle live music, and then head to bed.
I was excited about yoga the next morning, and I can see how some people overdose on it. I’ll never be a yoga fanatic and ditch everything to become a yoga teacher myself, but when it’s within easy reach I love it. Yoga makes me feel springy and stretchy, something I am not normally by nature (I have the shortest hamstrings ever and cannot touch my toes). Today our class grew to three students and took place nearby the glass chapel, where they were setting up for a wedding on the beach.
After some morning exercise I feel like I’ve earned the right to relax, so relax on the beach is exactly what we did and I got stuck into a brilliant book: Overbooked by Elizabeth Becker, which delves into the highs and lows of the global travel and tourism industry. I’d like to review it properly in another blog post, but the main takeaway is that the future is in China, in a big way!
In the afternoon we headed out to sea in ocean kayaks with the same Edi who took us on our bike ride. Paddling out we reached the waves and learnt how to “surf” in a kayak! I literally couldn’t get enough of it! Sure, I capsized a fair few times but the water is shallow and gorgeously warm. I kept paddling out again and again to capture “just one more wave” and absolutely loved it. If I lived near the coast I think I could get really into kayaking – I also loved kayaking in Sardinia with my mother a couple of years ago. I had my GoPro with me so managed to get some photos and videos that I need to edit together.
Nusa Dua, where we were staying, is on the other side of the island from the all-night pool parties and the beach bars, so don’t expect to dancing in the moonlight until dawn every night if your hotel’s on the east coast. So that evening we headed over in a taxi to Seminyak, on the west coast, just in time to see the last few surfers tackle pretty big waves and to find a prime spot on a beach bar’s beanbags to watch the sunset.
The beach at Seminyak is nothing extraordinary, it’s long and wide with quite dark sand, similar to some of beaches in England. But Seminyak (and further south in Kuta too, although we were warned to avoid Kuta like the plague) are where the backpackers, gap year travellers and under-30s go, ie. for cheaper accommodation and more nightlife.
Imy managed to devour the largest frozen strawberry daiquiri we had even seen in our lives and we stayed in our front-row spot for dinner overlooking a sky bathed in pinks, reds and oranges, while being entertained by a live band and Bob Marley songs. Seminyak reminded me a lot more of the South-East Asia I saw when travelling around in 2008. More relaxed, more informal, more friendly, a bit less comfortable and a lot less luxurious. I’ve been pondering the concept of a traveller’s life cycle, of the different travel styles that accompany different periods of your life. There’s definitely overlap and I personally would still be up for backpacking on a long trip (I’ve been eyeing up South America), but at the same time I now really appreciate the indulgence of a 5* hotel, and the much-needed break it gives you from day-to-day working life. Philosophising on a beach in Bali is thirsty work so we headed for gin and tonics at Cocoon, a really good bar recommended by a friend. The trip home in an unlicensed taxi was an adventure. Having previously travelled around Asia with a guy, I think I’m a bit naive as to safety and in hindsight, two blonde Western girls probably shouldn’t have jumped into a stranger’s car quite so willingly… But we lived to tell the tale! (Cue a call from my father when he reads this, to remind me how silly that is!)
The next day was our last in the Grand Mirage, but before checking out there was one last thing we wanted to fit in. One gripe I have about this stretch of beach is the background humming noise coming from speed boats and jet skis on the water. There’s a whole variety of motorised watersports available but the noise, although not that loud, is just a tad annoying. Having put up with it for 5 days we decided we might as well take advantage of the noise and have a go ourselves. Still not quite sure how we talked ourselves into it, we decided to try out the ‘flying fish’, which I’d never seen before! It’s a large square inflatable big enough for two people (and an extra man there to make sure we didn’t faint & let go) that somehow flies 40ft above sea level once the powerboat gets up enough speed. We literally flew!! Three times as well! Looking down and knowing that your fingers and toes are the only thing stopping you from plummeting down into the sea far, far below certainly gets the adrenaline pumping! To add to the situation, we were asked out mid-flight by a Balinese lothario, which I didn’t think was really the best moment… Worried that he might deliberately chuck us off if we weren’t interested, we tactfully declined when we were back down at sea level.
And with that came the end of our stay at the Grand Mirage. A transfer awaited us for our next destination, the even more luxurious 5* Samabe Villa and Suite Resort, which has to be seen to be believed…