According to the Balinese concept of ruwa-bineda, the world is composed of opposites: life and death, left and right, hot and cold, day and night. In many ways, from a traveler’s perspective, the island of Bali is comprised of two contradictory poles.
On the one hand, there is the densely developed south, where party-hardy Australians and laid back surfers flock to the beaches of Kuta, and honeymooners and jet-setters are cocooned in the cloisters of Seminyak, Nusa Dua and Jimbaran. Conversely, there is the more pristine north side of the island, where active, independent travelers gravitate in search of a more intimate connection to the land, sea and Balinese culture.
At the far northwest corner of Bali, a scenic four hour drive from the hustle-bustle hedonism of the south, lies the West Bali National Park. Here, in this 300 square mile preserve, wildlife takes the form of monkeys, deer and monitor lizards, not thumping discos. A dip in the water means world class diving instead of a lap in the infinity pool. Rather than haggle with hawkers, visitors can learn the medicinal uses of plants from a Balinese guide.
Gratefully, the wildness of the West Bali National Park can be experienced without roughing it. The Menjangan Resort has the enviable position of occupying an unspoiled patch of land inside the park itself. With bi-level, open air jitneys to whisk guests around the savannah-like grounds, The Menjangan Resort channels Out of Africa and Jurrasic Park, then sprinkles in a little dash of Fantasy Island. Active options abound, including diving or snorkeling the walls and reefs at nearby Menjangan Island, mountain biking, bird watching, kayaking and horseback riding on the resort’s very own Australian mounts. When it is time to relax, indulge in a massage, chill by the beach or savor a meal at either the surf side Pantai Restaurant or the hilltop Bali Tower. The Menjangan Resort’s Monsoon Lodge digs are perfectly posh, but a splurge on a Beachfront Villa is in order here for a front row seat when the monkeys and deer forage along the shore and the local fishermen ply the sea.
The Balinese embrace the notion of a state of moksa, which means ‘freedom from desire’. At the end of a peaceful ride through the forest on the Menjangan horses, my guide and I stopped to look out at the sea at sunset. As a small airplane passed overhead, my guide remarked that he had never been in a plane. I asked him, “Where would you like to go, if you were in a plane?” He thought for a moment, then responded simply, “I feel that I am already in a very good place.”