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East of Eden

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Que Serai, Serai

The Serai (62-363-41011), in Candidasa, is the second of the Amanclones I visit, this one cheaper even than the Chedi (and, frankly, that much less luxurious). This property, too, was designed by Kerry Hill. Here, at the firm's most minimal resort -- it's nominally a four-star -- we get to see what they can do in Miesian mode.

The Serai is, for the most part, a success. The pool is just fine, the public spaces predictably gorgeous, and the rooms spare but tasteful. What sets the Serai apart is its culinary mission. The resident manager, Steve Baker, is also the head chef -- which ought to give a clue to the priorities here. Baker has set up a garden to grow herbs and raise free-range chickens, and he teaches a serious course in Balinese cooking at the hotel. The restaurant reflects his obsession: He has put together an ambitious fusion menu and is intent upon making the Serai into Bali's principal culinary destination. A standard room is a joke at $130; the five-day cooking school is $625.

A third property run by GHM, the people who own the Chedi and the Serai, is quite a departure from the intimate Amanfeel. The Legian (011-62-361-730-622), a tall hotel of stacked suites, is on the most spectacular beach in Bali (the civilized portion west of Kuta). If you were planning on living in a hotel for some time, this would be your choice. The rooms are monstrous, and finished to a more luxurious degree than those of the Chedi; you could raise a family in one of these suites. The landscaping is theatrical, if strange: Staircases lead up to tall stone doorways framing the sun; it's all a bit Druidic. Still, for a five-star experience on the island, the Legian is probably the best deal going: Rooms start at $250.

If you really intend to live in Bali for a bit, however, you might consider renting a villa. Lynley Marston, a well-connected expat, rents private villas to the likes of Oliver Stone, Elle Macpherson, and Eurosociety. These villas have become something of a bargain since the currency crisis: A three-bedroom villa in Seminyak that was $450 would be $350 now. (Call 011-62-361-731-074.) The villas come with a staff (as do all private homes in Bali), so you'll have your own chef, maid, and gardener. Most are located in the luxury areas of Legian and Sanur.

Three Aman Resorts, Two Turtle Doves . . .

Each of the three Amans on Bali is quite different from the others, and if you visit all three, you are in a unique position to actually get a discount from the Amanpeople! Don't underestimate the rarity of this occurrence. Because Bali is hurting, Aman offers the Bali Experience, a seven-night package that includes all three Balinese resorts, airport transfer, and champagne. All this for $3,000 if you don't require a private pool (the rooms alone would be $3,500 if booked separately); the package with a pool suite is $4,400.

Amandari (011-62-361-975-333), like the Chedi and the Four Seasons Sayan, is near the so-called cultural capital of Ubud; Amankila (011-62-363-41-333) is on the east coast, in Candidasa; and Amanusa (011-62-361-772-333) is in the highly developed and gardened tourist district of Nusa Dua.

A note on Ubud: I say "so-called" cultural capital because this town has unfortunately gone the way of all artists' colonies. Apparently once an intriguing nexus between East and West, it is now rife with execrable painting -- obscene flowers and verdant nudes -- and populated by aggressive locals pushing the most mercenary form of cultural encounter.


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