Canggu, an up-and-coming area in Bali, is drawing visitors who want a new location to chill
(July 8): Learning to surf can be such a humbling experience. The waves look impressive from a distance, but are menacing when right beneath you. I must have face-palmed the water surface at least a dozen times in the last hour. And I am only surfing in 3ft of water, a benign spot earmarked by my instructor for nervous first-time surfers.
It will take some time before I can stand on the board longer than five seconds. My bruised ego is thankful that Echo Beach is rather quiet — it is far less crowded than surf capital Uluwatu — giving novice surfers ample time and space to practise.
The surf lessons are thrown in as part of the activities organised for my trip to Canggu, a small village on the southern part of Bali. It sees fewer tourists than neighbouring beach town Seminyak or Uluwatu, a Mecca for pro surfers around the world.
Canggu has its own charm; it is an odd mix of the old and the new. Clusters of houses and their elaborate family shrines with Hindu deities line the narrow lanes, which cut across terraced paddy fields. Scattered in the area are brand-new villas — some right in the middle of rice fields — green juice bars and swimwear retailers. Western yoga instructors and local farmers zoom around town on beat-up scooters, none too bothered by how their different worlds seem to co-exist and form one oddball coastal community.
Canggu sees fewer tourists than neighbouring beach town Seminyak, or Uluwatu, a Mecca for pro surfers around the world
I am staying at Escape Ritual, an Instagram-worthy Mediterranean-style residence with seven rooms and lots of outdoor space for yoga and meditation, as well as a pool overlooking paddy fields. I awaken in the morning to the sound of birds chirping and the sight of mild sunlight streaming into the spacious bedroom. For activities, guests can choose between surf lessons and a yoga class — but some prefer to sleep in. Gruelling fitness classes are also offered. The day continues with massage and meditation sessions, with lots of free time to relax by the pool.
Escape Ritual is barely a few months old. Malaysia-based entrepreneur Sherina Binwani — whose family runs Malaysian fashion retailer Binwani’s — took over the place from its previous owners, two European architects residing in Bali. They designed the villa to have lots of open spaces to enable guests to be closer to nature. There is also an outdoor bathtub. In the morning, it almost feels like the birds are in your room. And Sherina has enhanced the tropical vibes of the place with whimsical art pieces and rustic décor in each room.
Mealtimes can be quite an affair. Everyone eats together in a communal setting. The Binwanis’ family friends join in sometimes — most of them run businesses on the island. I met a marketer from Beijing who wanted to get away from the mad rush of the city. She now runs a bar in Bali.
The retreat has its own spin on Asian cuisine. Its Brazilian chef strives to make Balinese and other Asian food healthy yet tasty. For lunch, he whips up a light lentil soup, spicy Indonesian fried rice with purple cabbage and grilled chicken skewers. Each dish is cooked to perfection and a delight to the eye and palate.
But what makes the place stand out is Sherina’s commitment to making guests feel special. She and her staff give their utmost attention to each individual and try to cater to every whim and fancy, whether it is to go sightseeing or shopping or trying out a new activity such as jewellery-making, deejaying, painting lessons and intravenous vitamin shots. Guests can also visit Unesco heritage sites such as Pakerisan Valley, the Jatiluwih terraced paddy fields and the Taman Ayun Temple or the famous diving sites at Nusa Pedina.
Sherina stresses that the schedule is what you want it to be. The idea is to provide a luxury escape for busy individuals — they get to break away from the routine and recharge their batteries at Escape Ritual.
Canggu’s reputation as a quiet retreat has attracted a host of yoga, fitness and spiritual coaches. You can find all sorts of gurus here. Sound meditation, anyone? If you don’t already know what it is, sound meditation, derived from Tibetan healing practices, uses music, gongs and bowls to help participants achieve a quiet state of mind.
Sound meditation uses music, gongs and bowls to help participants achieve a quiet state of mind
At Escape Ritual, the coach produces sounds with copper bowls, which she says has therapeutic properties. While participants lie still and focus on their breathing, she gently strikes the bowls, which come in various sizes. Some people fall asleep, but I am too fascinated by the chimes and vibrations to doze off. In any case, most participants say they enjoyed the session.
As my trip draws to a close, I realise that the beautiful and tranquil coastal village of Canggu is not likely to remain unchanged for long. There is talk of a new international resort. The construction of new villas is in the pipeline, as seen from advertisements plastered on signposts. I can only hope that the locals will play a bigger role in shaping the tourism industry so as to help preserve local culture and scenic spots.