Indagare member Barbara Warren discusses fulfilling her travel dreams with a trip to Singapore and Nihi Sumba. Read more from Barbara at The Perennial Project, and contact Indagare to start planning to trip to Indonesia.
All too often, life prevents us from seizing opportunities when they come along. It’s easier just to say no rather than figure out how to say yes. We tell ourselves there will be another time to go somewhere exotic, as somebody may need us at home, or it’s just too decadent to go away with a friend and not your spouse.
Now that my friends and I are in our fifties, it’s time to carpe diem. No excuses for missing out on amazing trips; life is too short. My friend Michelle informed me a few months back that she had to be in Singapore on business and asked if I’d like to join her. I thought about it (for about 20 seconds) and said yes. We plotted and planned for weeks, ultimately deciding to head to Indonesia after Singapore.
Michelle and I are both successful, professional women who have transitioned in our careers and are no longer working in an office from 9:00-7:00. Between us, we have done our fair share of traveling for business and pleasure over the years. I’ve always had wanderlust and have seen some spectacular places on my own, with my family and for work. However, it’s an entirely different experience taking a trip with girlfriends, and if you haven’t done it by now, I wholeheartedly suggest it. The dynamic of being among women is entirely different from being with your family, as much as you love them. It’s liberating not having to worry about satisfying everyone’s interests and appetites, not to mention getting everyone ready at the appointed time and without their phones! Girlfriends move harmoniously from one activity to the next and happily accommodate each other.
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First stop, Singapore. Around six months ago I saw a documentary about Moshe Safdie, the architect who designed the Marina Bay Sands Hotel. (Yes, it’s the one from Crazy Rich Asians, with three towers and boat-shaped pool on top!). It’s a staggering sight to behold as you reach the downtown waterfront. I was utterly overjoyed at seeing it in person; it’s the crowned jewel of the city, much like the Eiffel Tower, Buckingham Palace or the Empire State Building.
I had imagined Singapore to be a militant police state based on its history of canings and aggressive police action. There are some rather strict laws, such as a $100,000 fine for smuggling gum into the country; there’s even a $1,000 penalty for spitting in public. In actuality, it doesn’t feel much different than other large cities in Asia—vast, modern and forward-thinking. One needs to look hard between buildings to find the past.
Since I only had two days to explore the city, I was only able to take in a few sites, so I started by visiting the three major ethnic areas: Little India; Kampong Glam, the Muslim neighborhood; and Chinatown. Each serves to remind us of the melting pot of cultures making up Singapore.
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The clear winner of the three is Chinatown, thanks to its fantastic food stalls and trucks, all of which are overflowing with sumptuous crustaceans in exotic sauces. Our favorite stop in Chinatown was a traditional herbal medicine shop. We befriended an elderly lady, who told us about all the remedies that may be of use to us “Perennials”(women over the age of 50)—herbs for menopause, gels for stiff joints, pills for inflammation and our favorite, crocodile oil for wrinkles. We each bought a bottle, and I now call it snake oil, since I’ve seen it in too many places to actually believe it’s made purely from crocodiles!
On our first night, we ate at Candlenut, the first Peranakan (an ethnic group of Chinese who intermarried Malays hundreds of years ago) restaurant to receive a Michelin star. The three-course menu consisted of unique combinations of spices, with a slight Indian infusion. Every dish was complex and delicious.
I spent the better part of the next day on Orchard Road, the shopping district of the city. Here, malls serve as shrines to luxury brands. It’s like shopping on steroids, as consumerism is a national pastime. The heat was well over 90 degrees and being indoors is a far better option than braving the temperature outside.
I found my way to the National Gallery of Singapore, which is the former Supreme Court and City Hall. The structure itself was stunning, as the two classical buildings were combined through the use of glass and beams. This made for the perfect setting to showcase a gorgeous Asian minimalist exhibition. For our second dinner, we went a bit touristy and ate chili crabs at No Signboard, which was near our hotel and gave us a perfect view of Marina Bay Sands and its adjoining structures. The food was overpriced but truly delicious, and we were treated to a light show à la Belaggio in Vegas. Not exactly our style, but when in Rome…
Next stop: Nihi Sumba. There may not be enough superlatives in the English language to describe my love for this place! Getting to this remote island requires two planes, first from Singapore to Bali and then from Bali to Sumba followed by a 90-minute ride to the resort. The total travel time from Singapore is 11 hours. However, don’t despair, because you arrive in heaven. To say Nihi is the most beautiful, special place you could imagine is not an overstatement. We were greeted by an expectant staff who knew our names, including our butler who made sure our needs were met before we knew we had any!
The property is lush and hilly with manicured lawns overlooking two miles of gorgeous beach. There are 27 villas of different locations and configurations overlooking the ocean. Ours was called Marangga, a private one-bedroom with a dipping pool and lounge area outside our door with another sitting area below it for extra privacy. The décor is what I’d call Balinese chic: rich wood furniture, gorgeous textiles in shades of white with touches of blue, and a curated selection of local decorative objects. The result is luxurious without feeling pretentious, and we felt like guests in someone’s home.
Aside from the physical beauty of Nihi, it’s as if the owners and management have sat around imagining ways to surprise and delight visitors. Among the many experiences offered, there is one that will remain forever etched in my memory: riding horses in the ocean. After seeing it, I was completely mesmerized and signed up for the activity the following day.
A band of horses arrived at the hotel after running along the beach from their stables. Staff members helped us onto the horses’ bare backs and led us into the water where they naturally began to swim. I was scared to death yet thrilled at the same time as her feet left the ground. It was as if we became part of their free-spirited lives for a brief moment.
The following day we went on our eagerly anticipated spa safari. The staff had highly recommended it as Nihi’s premier experience. Once again, they did not oversell! We departed from Nihi in the early morning with our guide and hiked 4.5 miles through hills, rice paddies (we both slipped and fell in), across creeks and then into the jungle before reaching a secluded sanctuary. The scenery was magnificent, but there’s something quite spectacular about the order of rice plants peering from the water. We also came across friendly grazing water buffaloes and villagers going about their day.
After arriving at the spa site, which is situated on a cliff overlooking the ocean, we were given breakfast and then free time to swim on the secluded beach (that we had to ourselves). For treatments, we were led to an elevated platform where three hours of decadence began. We were massaged and scrubbed from head-to-toe. I could not imagine a better day!
Nihi Sumba attracts a crowd of well-traveled, interesting guests with an adventurous spirit. The environment allows for easy mingling, and we met some wonderful people who became instant friends over a few days. We also found that most people tend to be active. It’s definitely a place
for those in good physical shape, as the property is quite hilly—a bonus for leg workouts!