The city of Banyuwangi, according to a traditional folk tale, got its name from an example of noble and sacred love; from the murder of Sri Tanjung Sidopekso.
She was a beautiful woman whom King Sulahkromo desired. Her husband, Patih R.Sidopekso, was instructed by the king to go on a mission and to leave his wife unattended. The king used this chance to seduce her, but failed terribly. Instead, he flipped the story and slandered Sri Tanjung for betraying her husband. To Sidopekso’s disbelief, even after confronting his wife he declared his intention to kill her at the riverbank. She expressed once again that she was innocent and as proof, her dead body wouldn’t reek once it was thrown into the river. Indeed, the water had a pleasing fragrance once her corpse was floating in it, ultimately deriving the name Banyuwangi, or fragrant water.
For the next three days, Dialoog Banyuwangi introduces its “simple living” whilst I rest from exploring Banyuwangi. The General Manager of Dialoog Hotel, I Putu Agus Susenayasa, shares that experiences are introduced to cater to different travelling needs and desires. Some guests like to be adventurous, meanwhile some prefer staying in. Well, perfect! I’m a guest who prefers both.
I start my expedition by roaming the weekly Sunday traditional market at Desa Kemiren Osing. Pak Jami sells authentic Osing dishes, and one particularly catches my eye: sego cawuk. It consists of sweet and spicy fish, beef, eggs, gecok (grated young coconut mixed with small anchovies), pindang gravy (heated sugar mixed with laos and wadung spices), and sambal. “I make the gecok differently. I use grated raw coconut instead of roasting it first because I believe it tastes richer this way,” explains Pak Jami.
I meet a lovely elderly Osing woman who I call mbah, for grandmother. We sit on her front porch where she shows me a wooden container that’s filled with herbs. Mbah expertly grinds betel leaf, areca nut, lime, gambier, and tobacco, and then starts chewing the mixture. “Munching on this herbal mixture once to three times a day is good to avoid brittle teeth and to pucker up your lips. But I started too late so now, at 74, I can barely chew these herbs anymore,” she says.
She offers me a non-ground pack without tobacco, fearing it might’ve been too strong for my taste-buds. I start chewing and chewing. I taste spiciness but the overall flavour is like a typical jamu. I got tired from chewing and my mouth was already red anyways, so I spit out the residue, leaving mbah laughing.
Along Jalan Yos Sudarso in Banyuwangi is a narrow driveway that’s surrounded by palm trees. It’s indeed a gloomy Sunday morning but a little ray of sunshine welcomes me as I arrive at Dialoog’s front yard. As you walk towards the open-air lobby, you’re greeted with an impeccable view of bright green grass, palm trees, an infinity pool, and outlines of west Bali. I’m in awe and a little too distracted to check in.
Dialoog is a beach resort of 116 rooms that offers guests the chance to wake up with a clear view of the ocean or the garden. Guests can choose from three different types of rooms: deluxe garden, deluxe ocean, and suite. “Dialoog is young with the vision to create affordable luxury travel and experiences that elevate our guests out of their everyday routines, and have a taste of lifestyle that is normally out of reach at an affordable price, such as enjoying nature, the sunrise in the morning, and breathing fresh air. These are hard to come by, eventually becoming a luxurious way of life. We hope this sustainable living allows more people to come and relish it,” points out the Balinese hotelier who prefers to be called Sena.
Three white rectangular-shaped buildings, each reaching up to the fifth floor, comprise the rooms, spa, and fitness centre. Since the pathway between buildings is open-air, umbrellas are provided in case it rains. Surrounding these buildings are luscious green areas – getting you to be one with nature. And if you slowly pass by the lobby, you’ll see that there’s a brown building that has intricate wooden carvings to facilitate MICE events.
Entering my suite, I see a separate bathroom plus bathtub, rain shower, and two wash basins. At 56 sqm, the suite is minimalistically designed with hints of local essence from again, wooden carvings as well as batik fabric, offering the luxury of a larger space and privacy.
The TV that’s hanging on a wooden wall, separating the bathroom and the lounge area, faces straight towards the sofa. The bed itself faces directly to the balcony, not the TV. Fear not, the TV is stretchable and can bend towards the bed direction. Excitingly, I have the options of watching movies or immersing myself in the day and night views from the balcony.
“Subtle precision and simplicity are the core values for Dialoog in achieving simple sophistication, yet detailed for our young travellers. Generally, Dialoog’s design is contemporary, sleek and uncomplicated. Our rooms are designed in an open concept allowing the air to flow through the space beginning from the entrance until the spacious balcony,” Sena added.
Be aware whenever you open the sliding door though, the air conditioning automatically turns off. Once opened, you’re in paradise: sea breezes blow over a balcony with a sofa, wooden chair, and coffee table. I’m suggested to watch the sunrise from my bed or balcony, but I failed to do so – I peacefully sleep in and feel unbothered to wake up at 5am.
My stomach starts growling so I head downwards and walk along a path that leads me to the Casabanyu Restaurant and Bar; serving authentic Indonesian and contemporary international cuisine, accompanied by alcoholic and non-alcoholic refreshers. I choose a seat that eventually becomes my self-proclaimed spot throughout my stay, simply because the chair I sit on has the best angle to see the pool, the beach, and west Bali – definitely the perfect place to dine and unwind.
I order pecel pitik, a Banyuwangi delicacy that’s only available in this city. Eager to have dessert, but confused about making a choice from the many options on the menu, the waiter mentions that the Banyuwangi Regent loves to order the pisang goreng whenever he dines here. Taking a whole bite of a rounded banana fritter with caramelised, cinnamon candied nuts assures me why the regent loves this so much – it has the basic goodness of the typical pisang goreng but with a twist of extra sweetness and crunchiness. “I’ll save the rest to munch on my balcony,” I told myself. But the cool breeze and the stunning view is too soothing.
The glassed-wall fitness centre, nearby the MICE rooms, is full of the necessary equipment you need to get a full body workout such as the row machine, a treadmill, a static bicycle, a cable machine with leg press and lat pull down functions, free-weights, yoga mats, and medicine balls. Water and towels are available too.
I decide to test out some of those equipment; fairly new and easy to use, even if you’ve never tried them before. Guests can also adjust the temperature inside! Someone who left minutes after I entered made the room as hot as a sauna so I adjusted the temperature to my liking. Be careful to work out after sunset, especially if you’re not used to it, since the lighting here is rather dim – noticeably a theme throughout the hotel. “Banyuwangi also known as the sunrise of Java, which tells the first glimpse of the sunrise, starts early too. Hence we start and retire early in this part of the world,” Sena gushes.
“Please, let there be sunshine tomorrow,” I pray as I shut my eyes to sleep. The bright sun woke me up from a half-blinded window. I head over to Bangsring Underwater that focuses on Banyuwangi’s wonderful underwater tourism and also acts as a conservation centre for injured species.
Sukirno, the Chairman of the Association Podaris Tourism Banyuwangi, guides me around today. He tells me that the local government’s courage to promote Banyuwangi and the locals will to build their own tourism has set Banyuwangi’s sweet name widely heard today. “Actually, the locals acted first then the local government gave support. Bangsring, for example, was established by sailors and farmers. How much do they make in a day? They might as well open underwater tourism which they can economically benefit from by becoming a guide and selling food,” Sukirno says.
Sena mentions that Dialoog works with locals to conduct these experiences because, “as an hotelier, we play a part in promoting the destination, community-based businesses should be facilitated in order to give our guests an authentic experience and improve the economic gains for the locals.”
Tabuhan Island is a small island, about 20 minutes boat ride, with white sands – different to Banyuwangi’s black-coloured sand beaches – and many seashells. Two shops normally serve pisang goreng, indomie, and coffee on the weekends. But on the weekdays, like today, it’s dead quiet – rather tranquil though. I snorkel for a good hour; totally amazed at the crystal clear waters, giving me visions of various gorgeous and colourful underwater life. “You think this is amazing? Wait until you get to Rumah Apung,” says my enthusiastic guide. Injured sharks and sea turtles are nurtured back to health for at least six months and then released back to the open sea after they are brought to Rumah Apung by fishermen who accidentally capture them in their nets.
“A fresh juice by the pool sounds splendid,” I thought to myself as I arrive back at Dialoog. I sip on a fresh dragon fruit juice while stretching out my legs on a day bed and soon dip into the infinity pool, while glimpsing the sight of strong currents hitting the black-sand beach, by the edge of the pool.
I open the tap to fill up the suite’s bathtub, since the bathroom’s view overlooks Dialoog’s garden and ocean, which is too pretty to miss in the daylight. For about 30 minutes, my body relaxes after all of today’s water activities.
“We want our guests to feel at home whilst staying in Dialoog, at the same time being true to themselves in every interaction and every moment spent with us during their holiday. We aim to create genuine and positive footprints to our guests’ staying experience,” says Sena.
I decide to head to the beach to do some work on my last day. Seriously, who would ever work on a transcription whilst lying on the beach?
At 11am, I go to the spa for a 90-minute treatment that is supposedly to really tackle tensions, not the usual lightly pressured massages. I happen to meet my masseuse in front of the spa, where she’s demonstrating a new scrub product that the spa has included from Sensatia Botanicals. Batik fabric covers my body, lights are off, and a hint of sunshine from the edges of a big wooden door in front of me peaks through; I lose myself in deep slumber within 30 minutes of the treatment. Don’t ever judge a book by its cover because my tiny, warmhearted masseuse was as strong as a stallion! She definitely took out all the tensions from yesterday’s underwater adventure and life’s inconveniences in Jakarta.
Sadly, it’s almost time for my flight. I still manage to eat Casabanyu’s parrot fish curry and even order the churros to take-away to munch on during my flight. It’s time to say good-bye to my dining spot. I say my farewells to the lovely staff. And I finally say see you again to the simple life.