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Bali According to Hotel Insiders

By Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Indonesia / Asia News NetworkMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Dec. 09, 2010--Jimbaran, Bali (The Jakarta Post/ANN) -- It is common knowledge that Bali is the number one tourist destination in Indonesia.

So famous is the island of Gods that it is sometimes mistaken (by the ignorant traveler of course) for an entirely different country.

As of November, more than 2 million foreign tourists have visited Bali, according to Bali's Tourism Agency. The province has set a target to host 2.3 million foreign tourists this year. With the Christmas and New Year's holidays, officials are optimistic that they will reach the target.

The island, famous for its beaches, terraced rice paddies and the artistic Balinese Hindu culture, has always been popular with people seeking to escape the daily grind of stressful work life.

The tourism and hospitality industry here is expanding its market, eyeing to grab visitors from the Meetings, Incentives, Conference and Exhibition (MICE) sector -- a logical step as MICE guests usually come in big groups, stay in five-star hotels or resorts and could spend up to four times as much as other travelers.

One of the resorts looking to capitalize on growing MICE demand in Bali is the InterContinental Bali Resort. The 17-year-old establishment recently invited The Jakarta Post for a taste of the luxury it offers MICE guests.

The resort, which boasts 418 rooms and eight meeting rooms, launched a program last week for the MICE market.

Dubbed the Insider Collection, InterContinental Bali Resort sales director Saraswati Subadia said that it was part of a global initiative by the international hotel chain to cater to MICE guests.

She said that each InterContinental Hotel would offer its own selection of activities to let guests experience the destination. For Bali, this includes visiting ceramic producers and painting your own ceramic mug, releasing baby turtles into the ocean, meditation sessions, learning traditional Kecak dance with Balinese dance experts, cycling to the fish market and then learning how to cook a Balinese seafood dish with the hotel's chef.

"It's a chance to experience authentic Balinese culture during the guests stay here," she said.

As I landed at Ngurah Rai International Airport in Denpasar, I imagined myself as a serious business traveler, tired after a long overhaul flight (even though it was only an hour-and-a-half flight from Jakarta).

The regular businessman might have their schedule full with meetings and conferences, having to prepare for a stressful mind-draining exercise the next day. Playing my part, I took a welcome one-hour relaxing massage at the hotel's Spa Uluwatu.

Everyone, except for those who do not like strangers touching their bodies, loves spa treatment. For stressed business people, it is the perfect cure for headaches and tense shoulders. The Balinese massage treatment was relaxing from the get-go. Starting with a footbath, in which the spa therapist would soak your feet in warm water with flower petals and scrub it with pumice and sea salt, the simple treatment immediately made my breathing deeper and heart rate slower.

The massage started with the therapist placing the palms of her hands on the top and the small of my back. I felt like the therapist and I were synchronizing our breathing before the massage session.

The next morning, I joined the hotel staff for a beach clean-up. Hotel spokesperson Dewi Anggraini said that it was a weekly activity for the hotel staff to show their environmental awareness and could be a good group bonding activity for companies.

I personally found it a bit boring, as the beach in front of the resort was already clean. But the view of Jimbaran Bay and a photo session with the hotel's pretty cows, Dayang 1 and Dayang 2, was worth the early rise.

While these early activities might not suit late risers, for those who love the fresh breeze of morning air, the resort has different morning activities each day. Another activity was the morning exercise Bayu Suci, led by the resort's recreation manager Ketut Bagiarta. Bayu Suci is similar to Tai Chi, combining elements of Balinese dance with traditional self-defense art Pencak Silat.

The InterContinental Bali Insider Collections boast a wide array of activities as well as cuisine selections from the hotel's four restaurants. What's most impressive from the program is the team's eye for detail, with little tidbits like the afternoon snack prepared at the room, with little cards explaining how the dish was made and why.

For an example: "Es Teler is a traditional Indonesian fruit cocktail made from jackfruit, avocado, young coconut and sweet condensed milk. It is a sweet concoction to boost depleted energy levels during a hot day in the tropics."

It is pretty basic, I admit. But finding a cup of Es Teler with a flower next to it on the coffee table in one's room, and a little card explaining about it would at least make one cannot help but smile.

Saraswati said the afternoon snacks such as the Es Teler, the Nata De Coco and the Soursop Juice Shooter are little treats offered at the Insider Breaks for corporate meetings and conferences at the resort.

Another nice touch is the resort's Sweet Dreams: Good Night Bali stories. Every day, I found a card on the bed with a different traditional bedtime story. The first night, the story was about the tale of the witch Calon Arang, the second night was the story of the Majapahit leader Gajah Mada, and the third was the story of Ande-ande Lumut.

The saying which goes "the way to one's heart is through one's stomach" is true as proven by my swooning over executive chef Marcel Driessen's creativity. As a vegetarian, I was inclined to the possibility of not having mind-blowing meals. It is anyway much easier to satisfy the omnivores than the herbivores.

The satiated state of fellow guests after eating Baramundi fish, grilled squid and red snapper served in Balinese spices is a telltale of the deliciousness of the food at the resort.

But Driessen's healthy organic breakfast put a big smile on my face. Starting with warm coconut and mineral water with lime, followed by Japanese green tea, we were then served detoxifying fresh apple, mango, carrot, beetroot and ginger juice. A low-fat yogurt, with coconut milk, banana and vanilla-smoothie accompanied the delicious rice milk, papaya, ginger, walnuts and muesli verrine.

The main breakfast course was, Driessen said, inspired by bacon and eggs. I looked at the mouth-watering dish in front of me -- a vague smoky brown rectangle substance under poached egg topped with tomato salsa.

"This one's not for me," I thought. "But it's modified!" Driessen added while looking at me. "It's tofu," he said. The smoked tofu created a meaty taste, which I love.

But that delicious meal was not what stunned me. The Nicoise salad reconstruction, in which Driessen use green bean, roast tomato, red bell pepper confit, zucchini, olive, potato salad with yogurt and basil dressing was a surprising rich combination that was fresh and nicely filling at the same time.

In Bali, what better way to learn about the culture but to listen to the enchanting tales from Balinese culture expert Marlowe Bandem.

On my last day there, in front of the hotel's Candi Bentar, under Balinese decoration from coconut leaves, with his sister Dewi, Marlowe talks about the Balinese dance and music, inviting guests to play the instruments and teaching them how to dance and chant for the Kecak dance.

I've watched the Kecak dance, several times, admiring the bare-chested men waving their hands and energetically chanting. This time, as I raised my hand up, waving my hands and fingers and chanted "chak chak chak", I felt a surge of energy coming out. Being part of the dance is better than sitting in the audience seat, indeed.


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Copyright (c) 2010, The Jakarta Post, Indonesia / Asia News Network

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