For the purposes of this story, you should know that I didn’t travel to Bali on an Eat Pray Love quest. I traveled alone, a very content human on the verge of turning 30, nearing the end of a decade of becoming myself.
I arrived in Bali in the middle of the night. In a travel fog, I rode in luxurious comfort from Denpasar airport, in a bed-like seat, sipping water from a flower-adorned bottle, a gardenia-infused compress on my face, headed for paradise.
After my long journey, Mandapa, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve, was my prize. Set on a hillside along the Ayung River at the edge of the Ubud jungle, the expansive property is a replica of a Balinese village, complete with working rice paddies. Although the boutique hotel isn’t old, having opened in 2015, its façades have an aged patina and its dramatic archways appear to have been in existence since ancient times.
In the light of day, Mandapa’s beauty stunned. It was otherworldly, featuring an open-air lobby with sweeping views in vibrant shades of green. If Game of Thrones were set in ancient Bali, this would be where Khaleesi sits on her throne surveying serene infinity fountains, a temple draped in yellow and adorned with offerings, delicate butterflies swooping all around.
No detail has been overlooked here, one of only three Ritz-Carlton Reserves across the world. There are 35 suites on the property, but the crown jewels are the 25 villas. Mine was an astounding 4,630 square feet with a personal lap pool overlooking the river and the jungle beyond.
Waking up in my villa was a moving meditation. It was mere steps to the pool, where I took a quick dip in the epitome of privacy, the only sound the chirping of birds. Breakfast consisted of fresh tropical fruit, whipped coconut yogurt, green juice and piping-hot coffee. The air was rich in scents: burning incense from a nearby ceremony and the lush flowers of my personal garden. I had a magical moment spotting a chameleon on a bush and tried desperately to capture it on my iPhone in portrait mode, but the camera couldn’t locate the subject — touché, chameleon — my first lesson in just being here.
Frangipani flowers fell into my pool each day. I had to ask the Mandapa staff if it was spring. Maybe it was the jet lag slowing my cognitive function, but I didn’t believe the answer: “No, this is just Bali.” It seemed to me like perpetual spring, eternal regeneration.
Hand-painted floor-to-ceiling murals of palms and lily pads brought the colors and textures of Bali inside my villa. The bathroom was massive, with an incredible soaking tub, a walk-in closet and a shower that seamlessly opened up to an outdoor shower set against greenery.
Each villa at Mandapa is assigned a personal butler. Mine was Ibu Niti. She had recently attended to Will Smith, who was so impressed that he asked for a photo with her before his departure. Thoughtful in every way, she anticipated my every need before I could even utter a request.
My first day, I had a leisurely lunch in Ubud proper at Hujan Locale with Canadian expat Kristin Trimbee, designer of custom luxury handbags. She explained that Bali either accepts or rejects you. “If it has rejected you, everything will go wrong,” she told me — lost luggage, missed connections, illness. We clinked our Pegu Club cocktails as I declared, a huge grin on my face, that Bali had indeed accepted me. According to Trimbee, the growing expat community is rife with stories about leaving behind lives so stressful that they posed health issues. She said many travelers to Ubud stay. And you can see why — joy here is palpable.
Ubud is known as the epicenter of wellness and spiritual cleansing, and Mandapa takes this seriously with a spa menu boasting treatments like chakra cleansing, antiaging facials based on cellular restoration, and acupuncture and reflexology to reset koshas. I’d crossed many time zones for an experience at one of the most impressive spas in the world, so I opted for the most unique offering: a consultation with the blind healer, Ibu Ketut Mursi.
The treatment began with a brief introduction to the healer and her assistant, Ibu Kis, followed by a foot cleansing ceremony. Next came a body scan, an examination of my chakras by an expert who could see me without seeing. It was a combination of bodywork, energy work, reflexology and massage. I could tell when she felt something she didn’t like such as a blockage or inflammation, and I could feel when it was released.
Afterward, the spa director translated the healer’s feedback and questions. I was mostly aligned, but she’d found a blockage in my throat chakra. She wondered, “Why do you doubt yourself?” I told her I almost couldn’t get myself to go to Bali, that I felt too busy to travel, too stressed to let go. She already knew that, and she gave me some advice I’ll never forget.
Untethered from everyday stressors, I was able to slow down and revel in the beauty of Mandapa, whether standing under a waterfall or spotting a family of monkeys swinging overhead. I could feel the cortisol evaporate and found clarity in the advice of a healer from another culture, with whom I didn’t share a language. But, as it turns out, I did.