Monday, August 15, 2011

Angsana: the Fire of Life and Light (Bintan, Indonesia)

Published by AsianTraveler Magazine, 2008
She knelt in front of us, bearing the story of a legend in her hands.  The early evening breeze whipped the sheer canopy to and fro, and the tide ebbed silently behind her as she told the tale of a violet rainbow goddess.  

Chewing on mouthfuls of yellow fin tuna salad, we listened to the Angsana staff read the Indonesian folk tale written in a scroll covered with green batik fabric. It was a story of a legend told over a feast fit for the gods.

The 3 course dinner for two is served privately on the beach 
with a bottle of wine.

 Angsana Resort and Spa was all about the small details and the dramatic flair. They were all about drama, romance, and tradition.  From the little surprises that waited for us in our room when we turned in for the night, to the elaborately prepared themed dinners, Angsana made sure that we were given the welcome and treatment fit for legends and gods.

Flame and fragrance

It’s the little things that count, from the fresh flowers on the bed to a burning scented oil when you return from a day of swimming. These little touches exhibit the warmth of Indonesian hospitality and the flair of Asian mysticism, apparent the very moment we stepped in Angsana’s spacious high ceiling interiors.

After being pampered like a princess, it's almost a shame to leave my room, 
but the blue ocean beckons.

Angsana Resort and Spa is a luxurious retreat in Bintan, 55 minutes away from Singapore by ferry. Owing its name to a statuesque tree found in the tropical rainforest of Asia, Angsana offers a  grand haven to holiday seekers and to those who seek to enjoy the blessings of the majestic South China Sea and the lush tropical rainforest of Indonesia. All 120 rooms and suites share a spectacular view of the South China Sea and opens to the refreshing greens of the forest.

The Angsana tree, offering a generous shelter at the entrance of the resort, bursts into a crown of golden yellow blooms unexpectedly, giving off a fragrance that reminds us of the flame of life – vibrant but brief and therefore should be savoured without inhibitions. Everywhere, from the seaside pavilions to the lush garden terraces of Angsana, this same flame and fragrance is apparent, even amongst the resort staff, who welcomed us bowing with their hands clasped. Smiling they greeted us in their tiny voices heavy with the Bahasa accent. They received us with a tall drink of lemon grass that came with a cold scented towel to cool our faces and parched throats after a day out in the hot Bintan sun.

The moment I stepped in my one bedroom suite, I knew I would not find it difficult to make this place my temporary home.  The room smelled of tranquil waters and wild flowers on an evening full of promises. A writing desk of dark wood sat by the window, offering an inviting workspace with a veranda overlooking blue waters to rest tired eyes on.

Feast for a goddess

That night, as we were ushered  out to the beach, leading us through the gardens and out into the sandy beaches under a multitude of stars, I was intrigued. After a short walk, the quiet darkness was soon broken by an inviting bonfire by the beach. It gave light to a breezy canopy set up under a glimmering sky.

Beach, bonfire, and beloved: a blessed combination for an evening of bliss.

Our server, garbed in traditional Javanese costume, led us into the diaphanous tent where our elaborate Indonesia Rijstafel feast awaited us. Inside, a generous bed was laden with pillows of deep reds, yellows and oranges, colours that celebrated the Angsana sun. Before the bed was a low rice table set with candles and fine tableware.

With great flair and pride, the server presented the dishes in small clay pots presented in trays of burning coals. The meal was started with an assortment of salads of long beans, pineapples, grated coconut, and cucumbers to refresh our palates. Hot salads of marinated minced chicken, vegetables, potatoes, and quail eggs in peanut dressing were served in small bowls sitting on banana leaves over a tray of uncooked rice. The heavy meal was washed down with sparkling water and glasses of wine of deep dark tones.

Rijstafel feast: a variety of tastes and textures

Our bellies bursting, we listened to the story teller  read the tale of the violet rainbow goddess. The spirit of the red wine lay heavy on my eyelids as I listened to the song of her voice and settled into the pillows. I drifted into a half sleep, rocked by the soft ocean breeze playing with the gossamer curtains. The light of the fire danced on our golden skin as I dreamed about  the goddess’ stolen violet scarf.

My bed was too big for me alone; 
I opted for the sofa in front of the TV instead.

When I returned to my room that evening, I was delighted to find a small glass of honey to usher in sweet dreams for the night.  A tiny figurine sat on my bed to tuck me in. A white figurine of a mother elephant, embracing her baby with her trunk, the ornament was the perfect representation of Angsana’s hospitality, a big warm embrace, generous and calming.

Glorious and healing

The next day, we further experienced the soothing embrace of Angsana as we lay looking up at the  azure skies through the open-air rooftop pavilion of the resort’s signature spa, enveloped by the intoxicating scents of Jasmine and Frangipani. 

Only healing hands can bring a glow like this.

A little Indonesian woman by the name of Neni knelt before me to clean my feet with a scented wet towel while I sipped on a cold drink of sweet cucumber. Treating me like a Javanese princess, she gently took off my slippers, slid off my robe, and lay me down on the massage bed. In a soft girlish voice, she explained the treatment that I was about to get. Her velvety voice was as comforting as the warm sesame seed oil she poured all over my body. I drifted into a dream like state, escaping into the primeval Indian world. The ninety minute Ayurvedic massage eased the aches and tensions in my muscles. The Sesame oil’s warming and purifying properties made my blood rush and cleansed away the grime  I’ve acquired from the hectic city.

After the Ayuverdic massage, I sat looking out to the white beach and the blue waters. Watching the stretches of swaying palm trees, I reflected on how Angsana was subtly bewitching. With the soft kneading palms of her hands, the Lavender perfume of her hair, and the delectable  treats that she fed us with her fingertips, she was cunningly trying to make us forget and forsake our world for hers. She wanted us to stay, to forever lie in her quiet sands, bathe in her crystal waters, and soak in her glorious healing light.

What joy it is to always be shaking the sand off your toes.

On the day of our departure, Angsana  mourned our leaving. Her beautiful blue skies  threatened tears that would wash the litter of last night’s revelry.  The wind blew crying, shaking the palm trees in protest while the white washed frog statues stood indifferent by the poolside, proudly bearing the weight of tradition. They would wait standing, aloft like soldiers in a sentinel, waiting for the next guest seeking a brief refuge from the madness of the city. They would stand waiting alongside the waiters and hotel staff, their hands clasped, their heads bowed, ready for the coming of another goddess.


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