While the other guests at the gorgeous Samanvaya resort in eastern Bali were sipping cocktails by the pool or detoxing in the day-spa, I was in my room fiddling with a small, split bamboo peg.
This peg was carefully cut to form a sliding window stay. The window, which opened out to admit the warm Balinese breeze from the rice paddies below, was glazed with regular glass. But the frame too was made of bamboo and, somehow, mysteriously it worked to perfection.
I was, literally, bamboozled. How could they make this complex piece of joinery out of what is essentially grass?
This is what happens when you indulge in the aesthetic glory of the Balinese bamboo house: you become mesmerised. Each building is like some kind of bamboo cross between origami and Lego, with vaulted caverns of complex curves and joins, compressed bamboo floors and intricate, flowing walls . . . an almost too-perfect stage for the idyll of tropical life.
But tropical life they suit so well, and if you want to make your next trip to Bali an indulgence of bamboo-based luxury, here are a few destinations to consider for the must-stay list.
We started with a visit to “ground zero” for the bamboo villa, the Green Village in Ubud. Actually, this is where my obsession began, with an episode of the show Home on Apple TV showcasing the work of Elora Hardy, daughter of Green Village founder (and world-famous jeweller), John Hardy.
Inspired by Irish designer Linda Garland, who pioneered the contemporary use of bamboo for clients such as David Bowie and Richard Branson back in the 90s, Elora is the new rock star of bamboo house design and the Green Village is a portfolio of her creations.
We stayed in Aura House, a remarkable three-storey villa perched above the Ayung River. It is simply gorgeous, like a bamboo ship with the prow leaning into the views. The lounge is open to the tropical heat and the sound of the rushing river, while the main bedroom (of two) downstairs is glazed for comfort and quietude.
Every space is a complex symphony of interlocked bamboo, and you find yourself passing the time simply stretched out on the bed intrigued by how it all fits together. When you tire of bamboo virtuosity, Aura has a plunge pool to relieve the tropical heat.
We really got hands-on with the concept at the Green Village too, taking a tour to admire a selection of their grandest bamboo houses before settling in for a two-hour model-making workshop.
This is when you get the chance to build your own tiny version, using thin strands of the locally grown Asper bamboo, hot glue and string. (My effort conclusively proved I have negligible architectural skills.)
Our next stop took the bamboo villa in a Bond-ish direction. Eco Six Bali, north of Ubud, is where geometry and bamboo meet in a super-modern take on the style.
The reception area sets the tone, a dazzling, logarithmic interplay of bamboo, while the villa itself was pure 007: a large dome-shaped room focused around a king-sized, raised platform bed, camera-ready for the scene where Bond gets the girl or she gets him.
Off to one side, a huge bathroom with window-set bath and open round shower, all in enough generous space to open to your own spa.
After their night of passion, should they survive it, the fictional espionage lovers would repair to the rooftop pool, magically perched above the villa, for a signature Eco Six floating breakfast. (In truth, it was a little overcast to inspire outdoor breakfasting the morning we were there, but you know, let’s not ruin the romance.)
Further north of Ubud was our next indulgence, Escape in Bali, a solo, jungle-set villa where you feel immersed in the Balinese backwoods. We arrived after night fell to be met by the staff at the road and handed the keys to a scooter.
After weaving down a dark, narrow path, we walked the final steps to the villa, finally realising it was the only one, not one of many.
Another dreamy space: two storeys, bedroom upstairs opening out to a “floating net” the sort so beloved of Instagrammers where you can idle away the hours high above the jungle.
And that’s the thing, these bamboo wonders photograph so well it’s easy to be put off by the legions of digital nomads smearing idealised pictures all over social media, busy over-selling the whole concept.
No house is perfect and generally these villas, being essentially bamboo tents, need agility (they typically have lots of stairs) and a willingness to step outside the ordinary. You also need to deploy the mozzie nets and be happy with the occasional gecko chatting away on the walls. If that’s your cup of Balinese tea, then bamboo villas are for you.
Downstairs at our Escape to Bali villa was a big, open-air daybed, where we read books and watched squirrels darting through the trees. But the showstopper here is a massive stone outdoor bath (so big it takes three hours to fill), where you literally soak in the atmosphere.
It was time to head east, to the far-flung coast out past Mount Agung and Lake Batur, where we found a bamboo beach retreat called Desa Saya Eco Resort. A more traditional affair, with villas laid out around a large pool, we were surprised to discover we were the only guests (not a reflection of their offering, simply a fact of Bali’s Covid-19 recovery).
Our bamboo villa was cleverly put together to maximise relaxation, with a deck to doze on, high-ceilinged bedroom, another generously large bathroom and an outdoor bath brimmed with floating flowers.
Because we were the only residents, we had afternoon massages on the deck without inflicting the sight on anyone else, before wandering down to the beach for a sunset dinner at a nearby warung (small local restaurant/cafe).
After a few days we reluctantly headed west again and it turned out the best was yet to come. Samanvaya in Sidemen (rhymes with “cinnamon”), where I became so entranced by the window latches, is how you do luxe bamboo resorts, with 15 beautiful bamboo villas, two pools, a superb restaurant called Asri, and a health spa.
Turns out this hideaway is co-owned by a Kiwi, Tracey Rackliff, an ex-policewoman from Wairarapa, who has traded crime scenes for scenic vistas.
And Samanvaya comes with a conscience: Tracey kept all her staff on through the dark days of the pandemic and is active in supporting local causes, so as you daydream the days away in bamboo-based luxury, you know your presence is making a contribution to the community you’re visiting.
It also helps that Sidemen is a postcard-pretty valley idling in the foothills of Mount Agung, where you will easily find local guides to help you wander the rice terraces and fields full of bright red chillies or hike the jungle-clad hills.
So, are Bali’s bamboo villas insect-riddled, vertigo-inducing over-Instagrammed novelties or a wonderfully tropical way to get a rest?
My vote is the latter, an experience that, while a little over-exposed and over-posed on social media, still represents all the luxe holiday charm the Island of the Gods has to offer.
Samanvaya Luxury Resort & Spa Villas from $230 per night, including breakfast. See Samanvaya-bali.com for details and offers.
Green Village Book through Airbnb (search 'Green Village Bali, Abiansemal'). Villas start from $179 per night, including breakfast. Aura House is $554 a night. For information on tours and workshops see Greenvillagebali.com.
Eco Six Bali Book through Airbnb, Booking.com and others. Villas from $511 per night, breakfast included.
Escape in Bali Book through Airbnb. $195 per night, including breakfast.
Desa Saya Eco Luxury Resort Villas from $127 per night, including breakfast. See Desasaya.com for details and offers.