Published 27 November 2017
Murni in the garden of Murni’s Houses.
Interview with Ubud’s Leading Lady: Murni is a unique and fast moving Balinese lady who knows how to get things done. She has a contagious smile and a genuine passion for life. FRV had a chat recently while staying at Murni’s Houses in her home town of Ubud.
FRV: They call you the ‘Ibu of Ubud’ … What does ‘Ibu of Ubud’ mean?
Murni: It actually means ‘Mother of Ubud’. There are in fact many Ibus of Ubud and I’m just one of them.
If you had all the money and time in the world, what would you be doing right now?
I’d probably be doing the same things that I’m doing now.
What is that?
I try to create beautiful spaces filled with beautiful objects. After moving from Sanur in 1974 where I had four shops on the beach, I set up Ubud’s first real restaurant just beside the bridge in Campuhan. That was 43 years ago and I’m still running it! I’ve filled it with Asian tribal art pieces I’ve collected over the years, especially in the Lounge Bar, where people often have a drink before dinner or liqueurs afterwards.
Have you always been a collector?
It’s very difficult to be just a collector as the pieces are increasingly rare and expensive, so inevitably you end up being a dealer as well. You try and get better and better examples and sell the others. It’s been very helpful having a tribal art and textiles shop as part of the restaurant.
Why did you build your boutique hotel ‘Murni’s Houses’?
That was in the early 1980s because there was so little guest accommodation available. There was hardly any giving a good degree of comfort and convenience. I was very lucky to get the land, which is only five minutes walk from the centre of Ubud, but set back above the road, so it’s a bit like being in the countryside but still in the middle of Ubud. I like it so much I live there myself. The guests are from all over the world and invariably really interesting and we often have breakfast together. It’s a great way to start the day. Murni’s Warung and the Shop are only a few minutes walk so it suits me fine.
And the spa?
Tamarind Spa happened by chance on the suggestion from a friend. I had a spare building and turned it into spa rooms and employed the very best therapists I could find. I tested them all myself. My plan was to have a massage every day, and now I can’t get in because it’s so busy!
Is that the Tamarind Spa that won the UK Luxury Travel Guide Awards 2017 Contemporary Spa of the Year INDONESIA?
That was an incredible surprise, and of course, we’re all delighted, especially the therapists. They’ve done very well.
I hear you’ve written or co-written books on Balinese culture. Any tips on … Writing books?
Yes, something incomprehensible is what I recommend. The thing about comprehensible books is they are too difficult! Leave that to other people.
You have a website, a Facebook site, a Twitter account, a blog and you’re on Instagram … tell me about your experience with social networking and what advice you would give.
Concentrate on the widgets.
You seem to have a lot on your plate already and we haven’t even talked about Balinese culture. Do you have any current projects?
Well, yes. I seem to have got into long-stay accommodation. There are more and more people staying longer and longer in the Ubud area. I think many of them are digital nomads as they always ask about the internet. I’ve finished two Villas for long-term rentals in Katik Lantang, South Penestanan, where I was born, just 10 minutes away, and right now I’m finishing a large building at Murni’s Houses which will have rooms with and without kitchens, a gallery and a pool – and maybe, if I can squeeze it in, a shop!
As we haven’t talked about Balinese culture, and I know that you are steeped in it, would you like to write a regular column for the magazine on Balinese life and culture?
I’d be delighted and for you I’ll make it comprehensible.
Thank you. Well, Murni. You’ve had an incredible life so far. I’d like to ask you one final question. How would you like to be remembered?
I’m too short at five foot four. I’d like to be remembered as five foot eleven!
Murni is a well-known and much loved personality on the Bali scene and a pioneer of Balinese tourism. During her extraordinary life Murni has lived in Sanur and Ubud and has travelled widely. Everything you could want to know is on her web site.