The urge to drink my bath water was seriously overpowering. With eyes and lips delicately shut, I sipped deep, scented breaths through an inquisitive nose. Enticing as this aroma was, no matter how strongly my aroused taste buds pleaded, I just couldn't bring myself to do it. Whispers of steam rose above the floating freshly cut lemongrass, Balinese citrus, pandan leaves, and ginger added just moments before I slipped in. A relaxing predicament, indeed!
"Mr. Daniel, would you like a tea made from the same ingredients as the bath you are soaking in?"
Her light voice broke the silence with the same smooth precision her hands expertly exhibited during the two hours of massage and scrub I received prior to this surprise bath.
Absolutely, Bella. I would love that.
"I know, Mr. Daniel."
There was no need to break gaze from the river running just below my bathtub terrace. I could hear the smile in her voice, arguably bigger than mine.
Bathing has been a lifelong passion of mine. In frequenting numerous banyas, onsen, jjimjilbang, hamams, and saunas over the years, I've honed my personal bathing ritual down to a simple science: hot water, a light scrub, soft candlelight, and plenty of deep breathing. On days of particular opulence, gentle bath soap might be woven into the mix. Nothing too flamboyant, though. There is a true elegance found in cultivating the art of weightless simplicity.
I like to believe that humans are creatures of light. Many people put great emphasis on doing deep shadow work to handle life's challenge. From an artistic standpoint, however, shadows make an object dynamic, giving it depth and beauty. Instead of washing out the uniqueness of my obstacles, I'm all about working on light's lesser dealt-with opponent: heavy.
Many epic baths have been taken over the years in my earnestly waged battle to combat soul heaviness. None even begin to compare to that inaugural soak at Fivelements Puri Ahimsa, a luxury Balinese eco-conscious healing retreat nestled in quiet service along the Ayung river in Mambal. From top to bottom, inside and out, the whole experience unfolded with the same perfect timing as that well-needed bath.
This first time visiting Bali was done on a whim as a gift given to myself after almost three weeks of nonstop travel and teaching across South Korea and Japan. I had slept in 9 different beds in 7 hotels and taught more than a dozen workshops, spending almost 24 hours a day with one of my closest friends. Surely, a little solitude and self-care was in order.
Most people who work at hotels and retreat centers have to put on a degree of showmanship in order to do their job. Sometimes, that smile is forced. Often politeness is part of the uniform. This is not to say that they don't enjoy their job, nor does it say they love it, either. There wasn't one time for the four days spent at Fivelements where my "nonsense" detector went off. Everyone who works there genuinely seems to enjoy themselves.
Weightless simplicity is impossible to fake. It takes preparation, effort, and time to create the feeling of natural ease and flow. A travel writer expects a red carpet. The only one I saw had already been rolled out for others who arrived earlier that day. I noted it's cleanliness as as I carried my own bags to my bungalow. The staff was kindly attending to other guests, and I couldn't wait to change clothing before my first treatment. My body hadn't quite adjusted to Indonesian humidity yet, and I clearly needed a bath.
What took me by surprise was the relative nonchalance of the attentive service. Nobody was looking for a good review. They simply did a good job across the board. One of the reasons I I enjoy bathing so much is that water doesn't lie. Happy, sad, or indifferent... if you're buoyant, you float. Everyone and everything seemed to float at Fivelements. Of course, baths are much more enjoyable when the tub is comfortable and the water clean.
Global travel can be extremely disheartening for the gluten- and dairy-intolerant, especially when eating out. After a diet consisting mostly of rice and daydreams for the past month, I practically teared up when my first plate of leafy greens came out. One becomes easily accustomed to accessible (and delicious) vegan and raw food menus when living in NYC and SF. Each meal at the Sakti Dining Room easily measured up. Marathon bathing requires a good nutritional base, and I had a lot of baths ahead of me.
Luxury is an intention relative to the desired experience. Fivelements has weightless balance between human and nature. My riverside bungalow had an astoundingly large bathtub on the front terrace, almost as large as the king-sized bed it easily housed. Even though the silken sheets were an inviting white that practically beg for long afternoon naps, that enormous hand-carved stone basin out front won every time.
Like any good soak, it's up to the bather to let themselves relax as the heaviness drops away. For those considering if Fivelements is worth the time or money, understand that the calming energy there is palpable. I felt better just by walking onto the land. The well-designed grounds highlight the inherent beauty of the Balinese culture without forcing guests to enjoy themselves. Expect top-notch services in an unobtrusively elegant environment. Fivelements Puri Ahimsa is the type of place where one will not just have the best bath of their life, but be able to drink it, too.