SEEKING THE 'MUSES' OF BALI

Text by Nigel D'Sa (Le Flux Asia) - Photos by Sung Studio (www.vincentsung.com)

Produced by LE FLUX ASIA (www.lefluxasia.com)

Bali is often referred to as ‘the Island of the Gods’, and while the Gods are eternal and unchanging, Bali has seen much change and growth in recent years. Nowhere is this more so than in tree-lined Seminyak, the upscale, quality focused alternative to the congested party town of Kuta. With its blend of beachfront beauty, boutique shopping, luxury resorts, decadent dining and high-concept bars and clubs, it’s no surprise that Seminyak has become the first and last stop for a short stylish break in Bali.

HOT SPOTS IN SEMINYAK

Stay at W Bali Seminyak to be at the centre of Seminyak’s hottest spots. With the hotel slogan being ‘A place where magic comes alive’, the fairytale consists of 229 rooms, suites, and villas, all designed with W signature chic and innovative touches, offering spectacular ocean or garden views. This five-story hotel built around a lagoon pool on one of the best stretches of Seminyak shoreline, with an emphasis on natural woods and grey volcanic stone, offers lunch and dining options to choose from; between different world-class restaurants before socializing the night away at Woo bar, where the party starts pumping after 10 pm. We recommend Starfish Bloo, primarily a seafood restaurant with a range of fresh fishes and catch of the day, from Lombok oysters to lobster and blue crab. The gorgeous beach views, the sound of pounding surf and the signature design elements of W retreat Bali make this a worthwhile visit. The prime location is within walking distance of many of the island’s best new restaurants and bars. wretreatbali.com

EAT AT MAMA SAN

Recently renovated, Mama San restaurant is a foodie’s dream on the Seminyak scene. This two-floor loft-style venue with dinner seating below and a cocktail lounge above attracts a fancy international crowd who love to eat in style. Cross-cultural star chef Will Merick – the mastermind behind the legendary Sarong Restaurant, also in Seminyak – has created an eclectic modern Asian cuisine that combines street food inspired dishes from across South East Asia with gourmet artistry and classical touches. Try the crispy salmon with green mango, the red duck curry with lychee, or the many kinds of dim sum dumplings. Upstairs the cocktail lounge serves a creative list of elegant tapas and drinks including passionfruit martini and a selection of margaritas. Meanwhile, the newly reworked interior is a feast for the eyes. High ceilings, dark wood and brick walls, vintage accents with Balinese decorations, artwork and photography, make Mama San an unforgettable dining experience. Always leave room for Merrick’s celebrated desserts such as the pavlova crispy meringue or the deep fried ice cream. mamasanbali.com

DRINK COCKTAILS AND WATCH DANCE PERFORMANCES AT OPIUM

Opened in December 2016, Opium is the newest nightclub in Seminyak and is located on Jalan Camplung Tanduk near Courtyard. Opium serves a mixed, crowd with a capacity of about 400 pax. Lit with swank glowing panels and featuring live international DJs, Opium gets going after 10 pm with an underground vibe and impressive interior that includes colourful neon poles with dancers, acrobatic acts from the ceiling, a private lounge area, and the club’s centrepiece, a big mysterious screen where silhouettes perform dance moves.

PARTY AWAY AT JENJA

Our next clubbing destination was Jenja, a recent addition to the Bali nightlife scene that offers one-stop evening entertainment with its restaurant, bar and club on two levels. Located in the arcade of the TS Suites on Jalan Nakula, Seminyak, Jenja reaches critical mass by midnight with a pumping Jakarta style intensity. The restaurant opens at 6 pm and presents an inspired menu of exotic Asian and Middle Eastern dishes created by the winner of Top Chef Middle East 2012, the elegant Selma AbuAlia. The nightclub opens from 9 pm Wednesday to Saturday. The club is managed by Michael Vanneque, son of expat nightlife mogul Daniel Vanneque who opened the celebrated The Living Room restaurant in Seminyak in 2000. Jenja has a spacious foyer with six chill out lounge areas, a dance floor seething with energy, VIP sofas, and impressive décor aesthetics with walls comprising a mosaic of hexagonal jade tiles. But the real attraction are the club-goers themselves, a youthful mix of expat and Indonesian socialites who don’t want the night to end. jenjabali.com Cure for hangover; try the excellent breakfast at Seminyak Kitchen at Courtyard by Marriott. Nearby Double Six Beach is a very trendy area with mornings being the perfect time to visit if you like tranquillity and fewer people.

LUNCH AT TIGER PALM

Seminyak Village is home to a highly buzzed new restaurant called Tiger Palm. The buzz is understandable because it is the seventh restaurant in Asia opened by Will Merick the intrepid culinary genius behind Mama San. Tiger Palm furthers his reputation and serves up contemporary Indonesian, Malaysian, Thai and Indian dishes carefully crafted by the owner. Try the Indonesian rojak salad, the Siamese prawn curry, and the Malay signature Teo chow duck rice and your culinary adventure will have covered a lot of distance. Tiger Palm makes a great lunch stop, bringing together the convenience of surrounding street markets & mall, and the opportunity to try the strong and diverse flavours of South East Asia’s rural heartlands all in one place. tigerpalmbali.com

POOL FUN AND SUNSET DRINKS AT POTATO HEAD BEACH CLUB

Approaching Potato Head Beach Club, it makes a stunning first impression with a front façade like a coliseum made out of vintage coloured window shutters and salvaged metal ventilator grates. The rounding passageway to the bar is a boutique arcade with curated shops and curious artworks. Arriving at the beach club itself, one feels like one is in a luxury seaside resort with its infinity pool, daybeds, poolside bar, beachfront views and fine dining, but without the need to check in. The creative cocktail menu, all crafted and named in-house, each comes in its own designer glass. If you want something powerful, try the Barong Zombie, a big heady rum-based concoction with orange curaçao, cherry liqueur, a splash of absinthe and passion fruit – it will loosen you up in minutes. ptthead.com

CRAVE YOUR APPETITE AT KAUM

Launched in October 2016 just upstairs from Potato Head and part of the Potato Head Family, Kaum offers authentic Indonesia cuisine sourced by the chef from various regions of the country, gathering recipes from different tribes. This small and cosy restaurant has hands down the best Indonesian food in town. The emphasis at Kaum is on authenticity with fidelity to indigenous ingredients and cooking methods. An essential sampler is the Sambal selection presenting four of the finest sambals – a spicy Indonesian condiment accompanying most dishes. If you fear to go too far afield try the fried half crispy duck that has a taste as succulent and tender as duck confit. Authentic highlights like the fried crispy pigeon, the roasted quarter baby pig and the clear chicken, turmeric & Bangka island forest mushroom soup may tempt you to go native. kaum.com

PRE-PARTY DRINKS AT REPUBLIC 45

Republic 45 is a virtual arboretum of greenery with huge high ceilings, moody low lighting emanating from leafy chandeliers, and chill out music. The venue takes its name from the year of Indonesian independence and prides itself on using locally sourced ingredients served “The Indonesian Way”. With a varied selection of premium cocktails, chill out music, and special events, Republic 45 is on my list of places to return to, a welcome addition to the nightlife scene. republik45.com

SPECIAL THEMED PARTY AT METIS

While MÉTIS Lounge has been around for years as a restaurant and chill out venue, it has recently reinvented itself, turning this elegant location into one of the premiere ‘secret’ hotspots in Bali. With the introduction of theme parties and DJ nights, Metis is the place where the ultra chic of Bali go to unwind in style. The oriental designer interiors by the famous Artalenta Indonesia and the huge beautifully lit garden draw an elite crowd who know the Seminyak scene too well and want to enjoy their own secret hangout. A new top notch sound system and local and international DJ line-up make MÉTIS the go-to place for the crème de la crème of Bali. The dress code is chic but the vibe is casual with lots of mingling on the dance floor once the party starts. metisbali.com

FINE DINING AT LA BOHEME

Open since late last year, this French-Italian restaurant with haute cuisine located on Raya Kerobokan offers luxury dining at reasonable rates and an attention to detail foodies will immediately recognise. Daniele Salvia, an Italian chef with a passion for exemplary taste and presentation, personally crafted all the recipes. La Boheme’s open kitchen on the first floor is Salvia’s studio, professionally equipped and immaculately kept. The owner, Michele Amorotti, a notable fashion designer and artist, has turned the second-floor dining area into a visual treat. The décor combines classical charm with kitsch. Large portraits of 80’s pop icons brighten the walls, while custom upholstery and carefully arranged lighting make for an intimate setting. labohemebali.com

LOCO LOCO AT MOTEL MEXICOLA

A short break in Seminyak is never complete without a little bit of wild and crazy, and that is what Motel Mexicola, the most popular party spot in town delivers. Located on Jalan Kayujati, this colourful and kitsch, high capacity taqueria y tequileria restaurant-bar pulls out all the stops bringing you creative twists on traditional Mexican fare, along with premium tequilas, frozen margaritas and Cuba Libres that can be enjoyed al fresco. The food hit all the right notes, especially the tostaditas – tortillas topped with raw tuna or crab and mayo, delectable quesadillas, shrimp ceviche, slow roasted pork ribs and beef with chimichurri. The vibrant almost surreal décor will instantly transport you. Decked out with melted candles, shrines, cacti, pop art paintings and coloured tiled tabletops, it’s enough to unleash the Latino spirit in everyone. The festive Mexican-flavored dance music gets people moving and before you know it guests are dancing on the tables while a Mexican bartender goes round with a bottle pouring shots into random mouths. A variety of seating is available from dance hall style tables to big private booths, seats by the bar, and a cosy upstairs where you can enjoy the view below. motelmexicolabali.com

DJ AND DANCE PARTY AT DA MARIA

New on the scene in Seminyak is Da Maria, a modern Italian restaurant in the Osteria style, this venue stands out for its charming interior design and colour palette. Located on Jalan Petitenget, this upscale eatery is a great photo op. The walls, ceilings, tables are striped or simply patterned like a 50s candy store in baby blue and white, while the seating upholstery makes a cool contrast in marigold orange and yellow. Spacious with a bar at the entrance, big dining area with an open kitchen with state-of-the-art pizza ovens, and a back patio for smoking, Da Maria already has a reputation for some of the best pizza in town. Music plays a very important role at Da Maria with a playlist mixed by Sydney’s DJ Kali and the restaurant transforms into a late night party featuring a live DJ after 10.00pm. As owner Maurice Terzini expresses his concept, “Through the blurring of the lines between club-bar-restaurant Da Maria hopes to challenge all senses”. damariabali.com

AFTER PARTY AT HACIENDA

Like Da Maria, the newly opened Hacienda across the road blurs the traditional lines. It is a Mexican restaurant by day and crazy party venue by night with first class DJs and an eclectic crowd. The dance area has surreal touches, a very psychedelic painting hangs over the DJ station, and the funky mayhem spills out onto the open patio and garden bordering on a vast rice paddy field. Hacienda also has a rooftop area with bar overlooking the rice paddies, making this late night hangout a great secret party place for those in the know.facebook.com/haciendamexicanbali

SAIGON: The elegant lady of Indochina

Saigon – The Elegant Lady of Indochina

Stylish short city break

 

If cities had a gender (masculine/feminine), Saigon would be feminine (‘elle’ or ‘she’) and Hanoi would be rather masculine (‘il’ or ‘he’). Hanoi, Vietnam’s administrative capital could be pictured as a grumpy old man with the conservative seat of the government and tired teachers with foggy glasses in the city renowned for learning and keeping traditions. Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), formerly named Saigon until 1976, is a racier younger lady. A very elegant one, located some 1,100 kilometers away from her ‘husband’.

 

Vietnam has opened up significantly following the Doi Moi policy and economy reforms since 1986, followed by its entry into the World Trade Organization in January 2007. After years of trade, embargoes and marginalization, the country is reconnecting to the world, thanks largely to an increased access to the internet. Saigon is nurturing a creative, free-thinking young generation which has designs for its future, while Viet Keu (Vietnamese who lived overseas), are returning, bringing in money, ideas and skills much needed in the new economy.

The largest city in Vietnam, Saigon is a thriving ‘lady’, bursting with energy and has much to offer with something new popping up every month: bars and craft beer houses, industrial style or well-hidden galleries, hipster hostels and renovated luxury hotels.

After a smooth luxury Mercedes car transfer from the airport, head to District 1, the obvious choice for its central location and stylish boutiques lining Dong Khoi Street. Check in at Park Hyatt Saigon, a colonial-style hotel, an elegant French ‘lady’. A sanctuary of peace in the middle of frenzy dynamic Saigon, more like a ‘home away from home’. After the completion of extensive renovations during the summer of 2015, Park Hyatt reopened with a fresh new look to redefine its personalised, urban luxury experience. While the hotel maintained the signature French-colonial feel, a palette of white and ivory had brightened the public areas and elegant Park Lounge. Numerous crystal chandeliers have been added, reflecting the sunlight that streams in through the ceiling-height windows. The hotel’s 245 rooms and suites have been completely renovated, refreshed with lighter tones, handcrafted furniture, Vietnamese textiles and local artwork. Technological upgrades include in-room iPads; Nespresso machines; and a sensor lighting system. The Park Lounge is the rendezvous place to meet and connect discerning travelers with the local Vietnamese haute-society. www.saigon.park.hyatt.com

Start the day with a stroll down the wide boulevards of the city’s main commercial thoroughfare and admire the heady mix of old and new. Walk down Dong Khoi towards the Saigon Opera House, an example of flamboyant French architecture and home to a number of cultural performances. Further away stands the 130-year-old Notre Dame Cathedral, featuring classic neo-Romanesque architecture with its red brick façade and stained-glass windows. Opposite the ancient basilica is the Saigon Post Office; though it functions as a modern post office, the magnificent colonial French architecture inside and out will transport you back to French Indochina. Interspersed with these historic marvels are plenty of high-end shopping malls, boutique outlets, a street dedicated entirely to books and, of course, numerous cafés (khafe) brewing aromatic Vietnamese coffee and food stalls offering up the iconic Vietnamese baguettes (banh mie) and steaming bowls of pho.

Stylish ladies like to shop for gifts to bring back home, and Authentique home offers a wide selection of fine handcrafted furniture, ceramics and textiles spread across three floors on 113 Le Thanh Ton (D1). www.authentiquehome.com

For ladies who prefer teas and antiques, highly recommended Villa Royale offers a wide TWG tea selection during lunch or high tea, which can be enjoyed along with fresh pastries and selected delights on the menu. While enjoying chit-chat over tea, guests can browse through the luxurious vintage collection, antique furnishings and bric-a-brac displayed thoroughly all over the restaurant, in the hallway, in the semi-private salon and even in the bathrooms.

www.villaroyaletreasures.com

Art enthusiasts can continue on Dong Khoy street and head to Galerie Quynh, for a moment of respite. The spacious gallery is housed in a former industrial factory and regularly hosts rotating exhibits from some of Vietnam’s up-and-coming talent as well as international artists. Admission is free. Open Tuesday-Saturday 10am-7pm. www.galeriequynh.com

For an afternoon chocolate stop, head to Marou, a world-renowned Vietnamese chocolate company, where you can indulge in all your guilty pleasures. Take home some of their award-winning Vietnamese chocolates. Their eclair and chocolate mousse cake is another must try. www.marouchocolate.com

 

The best opportunity to take a short-break is during a long weekend holiday. Try to stay over until Sunday with a late check-out, and book the not-to-be-missed acclaimed Brunch Club ‘Above Saigon’ at Hotel des Arts Saigon - M gallery collection.

With an excellent selection of cooked a-la-minute seafood, three kinds of freshly shucked oysters, free-flow champagne and three cocktails suggestions, the vibes are festive and entertaining from 12pm to 3pm with a DJ spinning chill lounge tunes overlooking the cityscape.

www.hoteldesartssaigon.com/offers/sunday-brunch

 

While ladies will indulge with French champagne and fine food, leave some space for the cheese buffet and a range of delicious desserts. Why not stay over amongst friends or on a date in a Grand Deluxe room, with its spacious 30 sqm, all natural rosewood flooring, setting the stage for a regal king-size bed with pure Egyptian cotton sheets? Continue the pampering with an aroma therapeutic massage at Le Spa des Artistes, specialized in using only 100% natural ingredients. Recommended is Garden of Deep Calm 75min. body massage. Expert therapist combined the healing effects of Thai and Swedish techniques with Ytsara French products.

 

After a relaxing and rejuvenating afternoon, head for dinner to one of the best Cantonese restaurant at The Royal Pavilion, where signature à la carte dishes offer a lavish culinary journey through China’s most popular cuisines, emphasizing on Cantonese delicacies such as bird’s nest, fin sharks and abalones amongst others.

www.thereveriesaigon.com/restaurants-bars/the-royal-pavilion

One of the most luxurious hotel in Vietnam, The Reverie Saigon is a palatial sky-high retreat with opulent interiors and top class hospitality. All the rooms and the lobby are decorated with works by some of Italy’s most acclaimed brands, brought together to present an eclectic selection of rooms with designs that cater to a wide range of luxurious tastes. The entire hotel is a true celebration of the exceptional skill and beauty behind Italian artistry and craftsmanship.

www.thereveriesaigon.com

Ladies may change their mood and not feel like eating Chinese tonight? Another alternative for the evening, Café Cardinal offers a fine dining affair, with à la carte and prix-fixe menus featuring dishes that leans towards fine French cuisine. Wine dinners are regularly organized with winemakers coming from all over the world. On Sundays, the brunch is sumptuous with the opportunity to pair a wide range of seafood with Dom Perignon champagne, which may further tempt you to stay longer and relax on the lounge chairs by the outdoor pool. www.thereveriesaigon.com/restaurants-bars/cafe-cardinal

Under the moonlight, the most romantic views are available from one of the rooftop bar options in the city. SHRI delivers all with its unobstructed view and a vertiginous sky bridge linking Centec Tower and famed Social Club (23F Hotel des Art – M gallery). An institution in the city’s ever-growing culinary scene, Shri is famed for its contemporary Spanish menu created by executive chef Javier Gomez. Highly recommended is the sharing Paella Valenciana coming in an original Paella cooking pan. For more privacy or secret rendezvous, ask to be seated at the Whisky Library, tucked away behind a sliding door. Enjoy crafted cocktails from the inventive menu created by acclaimed British mixologist Richie Fawcett. Overlooking all the operations, Richie, a self-proclaimed ‘bartist’ has invented a new dimension of drinking artistry which tantalizes all the senses for the perfect Instagram moment. In his book ‘Cocktail Art of Saigon’ that replace old fashion menus, forty-one original recipes are all available to be tried out (in no particular order). Each recipe is accompanied by his own cocktail illustrations, with fine-art street scenes of the capital and fascinating stories of the city’s history. www.shri.vn

 

Next morning, escape the city for a day and get on a bicycle alone or with a couple of friends with Grasshopper adventures, to visit either the Mekong Delta (full day tour – approx. 25kms ride in total) or ‘Bike the Cu Chi Tunnels’ (full day tour – approx. 30kms ride in total) with scenic roads along rice fields or rubber plantations, local markets, rice paper factory or cocoa beans plantations, eat lunch at family farms or homemade food at a local home. Ferry back on a small wooden boat along the Mekong river with new friends from all over the world.

www.grasshopperadventures.com

 

Another institution to stay for one or two nights, located along the embassy tree-lined Le Duan Boulevard, Sofitel Plaza Saigon is ideally located minutes away from the Reunification Palace, numerous Embassies and deluxe shopping malls. Book a Superior Room with Club Sofitel access to enjoy complimentary teas in the afternoon and evening cocktails and wine selection while meeting fellow travelers in a cozy lounge overlooking the city lights. Designed by the architect Pierre Maciag, who brought a flair of French-ness combined with the best of Vietnamese elements, the hotel opened in 1998 and went under several renovations to stay up-to-date. With its 286 rooms and suites in the middle of an environmental friendly surrounding, the interiors blend graceful Asian textures with modern-classic style, showcasing marble floors in the bathrooms with Lanvin amenities, hardwood furnishings and floor-to-ceiling panoramic windows that look out to breath taking views of the city or the Saigon River. Overlooking the city, the rooftop swimming-pool is a quiet and relaxing place to enjoy a drink with the best night views over Saigon. www.sofitel.com/en/hotel-2077-sofitel-saigon-plaza

 

Another top five Sunday brunch address, Mezz is an interactive restaurant which provides guests with new culinary discoveries, offering international dishes, Vietnamese food stations and Asian specialties, along with imported products from France. The homemade pates are to die for and the oysters are fresh out of the sea.

Open daily - Breakfast: 6:00am – 10:30am / Lunch: 11:30am – 2:30pm / Dinner: 6:30pm – 10:30pm

The second preferred cuisine in Indochina, French cuisine can be tasted at L’Olivier. The restaurant was named from its Mediterranean origins and is well-known in the city for the quarterly Michelin star chef promotions. Seating up to eighty patrons, the restaurant emulates the ambience of Southern Europe.

Open daily - Lunch: 11:30 am – 2:30 pm / Dinner: 6:30 pm – 10:30 pm

 

Drinking options are countless but standing out and offering the best martinis in a stylish bar, 2 LAM SON at Park Hyatt, is a meeting playground for Saigon movers and shakers, offering an innovative assortments of signature cocktails. Dramatic wood, steel and glass interior with subdued lighting add to the vibrant setting of the bar enhanced by the resident DJ mixing old school, electro and deep house music during weekends. Watch Saigon’s nightlife unfolding at the ground level or enjoy the view perched above in one of the intimate booth. www.saigon.park.hyattrestaurants.com/lamSon/

 

Next day, get a complimentary shuttle bus pick up from anywhere in the city to check in at Windsor Plaza hotel. Also part of the WMC group (which owns The Reverie), this business hotel is the ideal location for day tours of Cholon historic Chinatown and intense fashion wholesale shopping. District 5 is considered as the heritage quarter of old Saigon.

Start your shopping spree at the adjacent An Dong shopping plaza or get dropped off at one of the fashion streets for retail therapy. Complimentary daily shuttle bus gets you to city landmarks and restaurants (owned by WMC group) or take the hop on/hop off shuttle bus to visit Cholon (nicknamed Chinatown) multiple herbal medicine shops, cheap art-filled street, coffee beans retailers and wholesale markets. The hotel dining options are diverse and range from Chinese at Ngan Dinh restaurant to an international buffet (specialized in live seafood) at Café Central An Dong, or dining with a stunning view at TOTT (Top of the Town bar & restaurant) with its spectacular 360-degree views of the cosmopolitan city. Overlooking the rooftop pool and two Jacuzzi, the open air terrace brings a welcoming breeze and makes it hard to leave this stylish lady of Saigon.

www.windsorplazahotel.com

Words and Photos by Vincent Sung (www.lefluxasia.com)