I posted this originally in the flyertalk forums, but since I have received a lot of great information from this forum, I thought I might as well post it here. Any comments or questions are greatly appreciated.
15-day trip to Singapore, Bali and Java
Chedi Club, Ubud
I promised a report in the Aman thread, something I truly regret now. This is my first trip report ever and it is more difficult than I thought. Not sure that I have anything meaningful to add to other reports here but here goes anyway.
To put this in some context, over the past 12 months or so we stayed at the Datai, Langkawi, Banyan Tree Bintan, Amanjena, Belle Mare Plage and Prince Maurice, Mauritius and a few weekends in Italy.
Amanjena was our first Aman and since then we are hooked. We absolutely loved the Banyan Tree Bintan, a great hideaway, the Datai was a great experience with the villas in the jungle however it is a bit to big for me and the service was nowhere near the Banyan Tree. Playing golf in Mauritius in the low season is terrific. Le Prince Maurice is very beautiful but the service was sometimes shockingly bad.
We used to choose hotels with a golf course because we are passionate golfers, this time though we left the clubs at home because we wanted to enjoy the hotels and had planned numerous other activities.
Stayed for 2 nights at the Ritz-Carlton. Our second time. Nothing special to report. I wanted to check out another hotel but the Mrs. wanted to go back because of spacious rooms, the bathroom, the view and of course the breakfast buffet. Can't fault the hotel and rates are attractive. We explored the city and did some shopping.
The Chedi Club at Tanah Gajah is a small resort with just 20 suites and villas just outside Ubud overlooking rice fields. I wanted to stay a few days in Ubud and after extensive research the Chedi was the most appealing and we got a good deal. A good choice. We had a pool villa which was just as nice as I thought, especially the outside area is one of the nicest I have seen. The villa was on the edge of the resort and had total privacy, however some of the other suites have no privacy at all, because they are right next to the walking paths and have no protection, I would not want to stay there.
I really liked the atmosphere of this place. It feels like you are a guest at a private estate and not a hotel. Although we were told that 15 of 20 Villas were occupied we saw only very few people and you got the feeling that you had the whole place to yourself.
My wife reports the spa was excellent so was yoga class. Mini bar, laundry included in the rate which was nice. Great value for money.
Food was very good, the service as well. Enjoyed dinner, nice atmosphere. Very friendly staff. We mostly dealt only with our butler who was our contact for everything and who was outstanding. I used to have reservations about a butler service. We first experienced it at the Evason Hideaway Samui and I think it has some advantages if you are dealing with one contact all the time.
The one disadvantage the Chedi has compared with some of the others is location. I loved the view over the rice fields but it is flat and you do not have the dramatic views over the ayung river nor this amazing atmosphere around the river.
We toured the Four Seasons Sayan, Como Shambhala (Begawan Giri) and had dinner at Amandari.
In general I liked all three a lot and would not hesitate to recommend each one. Surely, they are all worth a visit, so don't get me wrong when I focus more on some of the things I didn't like so much.
The Four Seasons looked very nice, though after all I have heard about it I was expecting something more spectacular. It felt a lot smaller than I thought. They showed us a Riverfront villa and it was very impressive. The terrace right at the river was really something. Not sure about the rafters but I cannot imagine this to be a real problem. We were rafting ourselves, which was fun, but we were higher up the river and did not come by the FS. I can't comment on the other villas or the suites. The public places as far as we saw it were nice but I expected something more. We were told that the resort was about one third occupied.
The Como Shambhala is surely one of the most beautiful hotels in the world. I have two reservations about it. The whole new concept does not appeal to me and I am not sure about the sharing in the residences. They showed us Sound of Fire and Clearwater and it was nice to see these two. The shared space is very beautiful, however the standard suites were a bit small and very dark. They have built several new 2-bedroom garden villas which are a lot more modern in design and they all look alike.
The whole atmosphere was so relaxing and it is without a doubt a very special place. They had only a few guests so one could have a residence for oneself.
It was already dark when we came to Amandari so we could not really see a lot. They showed us one suite and I felt it really showed its age. I am a big fan of more modern design, so this may be my bias but I was not so impressed. Also the public places that we saw were not so great, it was nothing like Amanjena or the two Amans where we stayed a few days later. The staff we encountered was nice but again not the Aman feeling. At the time only two suites were occupied.
We left the Chedi Club after three days thinking that we wished we had a few more days but it was time to fly to Yogjakarta.
First of all the flight from Bali was no hassle at all. The airport in Yogja felt just like the airports in Bali or Phuket, no crowds,easy check-in. Everything went smooth and our baggage came out very fast, no need to bribe anybody like Ericka reported from Solo. It is so easy to go back and forth between Bali and Yogja that this should not keep anybody from going to Amanjiwo. The drive through the city was also no problem, it was busy but no chaos at all and surprisingly no traffic jams, the drive Aman-style with drinks, cold towels and music of your choice was comfortable, though I prefer the Tuareg that Amanjena uses. We saw no destruction and were told that it is all on the other side of the city.
If you love Amans and haven't been to Amanjiwo you just have to go. If you haven't been to an Aman, go anyway. It can easily be combined with Bali and the Cultural Trails package is attractive. A lot of people probably don't go because of the earthquake and Merapi but there really is no reason not to go.
I have probably seen every picture of the hotel that you can find on the web so I had a pretty good idea how it looks and in reality it looks just like that but still, being there is just breathtaking. Amanjiwo is an architectural masterpiece. It is so stunning and beautiful that I could have spent the whole time just walking around. After a visit to Borobudur you realize more and more all the subtle references to the temple in the design of the hotel.
At arrival we were showered with flower petals tossed by two young girls and sat down for a welcome drink. We were then brought to our suite, so impressive, very spacious with a huge terrace and pavilion (kubuk)with a daybed overlooking the valley and a direct view of Borobudur. The suite is very beautiful, my absolute favorite so far, stunningly decorated and furnished and with an outdoor bath. The design is just perfect and so timeless, hard to believe that it is already 9 years old. We got a look at the Dalem Jiwo suite, love the rotunda but a bit out of my price range.
Many people have described the atmosphere as mystical and there is something to it, especially early morning or at sundown when you are on your terrace and the Muslim prayers from 4 or 5 different mosques throughout the valley start one after the other. Yet I would describe the atmosphere mainly as incredibly peaceful and relaxing.
While we were there, 3 to 8 suites were occupied and whether it was breakfast or dinner, we were almost always alone in the restaurant. We liked it that way but still you just wish more people would go there.
If there is one thing that surprised me about Amanjiwo, then it was the food. Outstanding, fantastic, in our opinion the best we experienced anywhere. You expect it to be very good at an Aman but this was out of this world and it is such a great experience to dine in this marvelous open-air dining room.
On our first night there was a huge thunderstorm and it seemed to never stop raining. The water was actually standing pretty high in the walkways so we ran barefoot with shoes in hand up to the restaurant where the staff welcomed us laughing and quickly brought some towels. After that and throughout our journey we had wonderful weather with bright sunshine every day. We were lucky I guess, because it is usually the beginning of the rainy season. Although we had sunshine directly above us, there were clouds in the distance so that we could not see Merapi and just barely the other volcanoes. As a member of the staff remarked to me that is so we have to come back. Good point.
A word about the spa. They actually don't have spa facilities, it is taking place in a converted suite, isn't it strange that most Amans don't have a spa. Now, the Mrs. is a bit of a spa freak, in stark contrast to me as I don't go anywhere near a spa. She considers the Banyan Tree Phuket as the unrivaled leader in overall spa experience, but here too Amanjiwo was apparently a special experience. As I am told she first had a pilat massage performed by a 70-years old woman from a village, who was incredibly kind but did not speak english followed by a reflexology treatment performed by a healer also from one of the nearby villages. This must be a very painful treatment, but it seems to have a transformative effect, at least she came back full of praise and feeling like a new person.
Went to Borobudur early in the morning, had the intellectual tour and rode the elephants back to the hotel, wonderful experience. The temple is really amazing. I would not consider myself someone who is too much into cultural activities but experiencing Borobudur at dawn is special when you are almost alone there. The sunrise though was not so great as it was too cloudy. We learned a lot on the tour, it greatly enhances the experience if you learn about the architecture. Riding the elephants is also something one has to do and great fun to feed the elephants, they are really hungry.
We also did the trek up to Menoreh Hills with our guide Muji who was also our driver and whose company we enjoyed tremendously. We talked endlessly, learned a lot about him, his family, the villages and the Javanese people, and took the long way back to the hotel through one small village after the other which made the trip almost four hours long.
Muji like most of the staff works there since the opening of the hotel and they have an enormous pride in what they do. The whole staff is wonderful and make you feel at home. The place runs so smoothly and you have all the things you love about Amans, no signing of bills, no need to tip all the time, the perfect timing of housekeeping, the relaxed atmosphere, no need to dress up, this total absence of pretentiousness, the little gifts, the flowers, the outdoor bath filled with rose petals when you come back from your trek. The staff is so nice and professional, always there when you need them but never disturbing. If you are open to it, they are very chatty and always inquire about your activities.
I just love it when I grab a book from the library and just sit down somewhere and a waiter comes and asks you if want a drink and you say no, you're fine and he then comes back and brings you a glass of water and some snacks. Not too be missed, the afternoon tea.
The GM was not there during our stay. I read so many great things about him that I would have loved to meet him but the place runs perfectly even when he is not there.
Overall, this was without a doubt the best hotel we ever stayed at. It was truly a once in a lifetime experience. Only downside is that I don't think we will be able to top this, but repeat we can and we will.
The flight back to Bali went smooth again. At the Jogjakarta (I have finally managed to get the spelling right, though in my defense, for whatever reason it is spelled Yogja in German) Airport the Aman rep took care of everything including check-in, we just stood around, this was hard for my wife as she is used to taking charge at airports. There is a decent lounge as well.
Back in Bali we were welcomed by two incredibly cheerful members of the Amankila staff who wanted to know everything about our stay at Amanjiwo. The drive was about 1 hour 20 and uneventful but with a huge music selection on an ipod. We were welcomed by two little girls and a reception staff member who was incredibly nice and immediately connected with my wife as if two old friends met again. The GM, here too, was not there during our stay.
We were brought to our suite and at first this was a bit of a letdown compared with Amanjiwo, as the suite looks a bit old. This may be just me, as I am such a fan of more modern design and it should be noted that my wife did not agree with me. At the end of the day it did not bother me at all because we didn't spend too much time in the suite. We had an ocean suite with a terrific view over the sea. Overall, it is amazing that this place exists since 1992, it certainly doesn't look that way and why in the world did it take me 14 years to come here.
While we felt that 3 days at Amanjiwo was not enough, it was great to have a full week here. While we there, the occupancy rate was somewhere between 8 and 13 suites. The staff described it as very quiet, so I guess in high season you have usually more guests. Most people seem to stay for 3 days. As there are so many great places in the hotel, it always feels as if there is nobody else, except for the complimentary afternoon tea in front of the library, which seemed to draw almost everybody, no wonder, because every staff member reminded you that you cannot miss it. Another occasion, where most people met were the twice-weekly traditional Balinese dance performances by the pool.
On our first night at dinner a real shock. People! Several of them. A real crowd, 5 tables occupied, this was a record for us as the max we had experienced was 3 tables in the huge restaurant hall at Amanjena, by the way the most spectacular restaurant I have ever been to with unbelievable staff. Most people seemed to have just one course and left quickly. We were a bit of an outlier, as we sat there until ten or later with our bottle of wine, but it's not that they would throw us out. The food was very good and a lot of options. Prices are moderate for the food and you had several wines in the low 40$ range.
Sometimes, when I read comments about Amans mostly from people who have not been there, it seems to me that people think that because it is expensive and chic, that this is a celebrity and high society place where you have to wear your best clothes all the time and you have to eat several courses and choose an expensive wine or champagne. It is not like that at all. If you want to eat just a soup, that's fine and we witnessed that you can save your bottle of wine for the next day. So far at least I have not met a single staff member with an attitude. Most guests we encountered are very down to earth and it is not about people watching.
I just love the main pool area, the famous three-tier pool stepping down like terraced fields overlooking the ocean with huge comfortable Bales on both sides. It's so comfortable and just a pleasure to sit there and enjoy the design.
From the main pool it is I think 160 rather steep steps or so down to the beach club area with another pool, another restaurant for lunch and the beach. I am not a beach person but this one I loved. The Bales at the beach are fabulous. In case you don't know, these are cushioned beds that are about the size of king beds with pillows and an overhanging thatched roof. Ok, my description sucks. They are secluded so you can't see any other Bale, it feels as though you have the entire beach to yourself, though on a few days we were actually alone there. The long way seems to be a deterrent, of course they drive you down if you wish.
I will never ever again go to a beach resort without Bales though that might prove to be difficult. Why are there no Bales in other places, beats me. The beach staff was incredibly nice. They took great care of the Mrs. when she was alone at the beach. Let them show you the bat cave. The ocean was nicer than I thought, great waves for the first two days, though the staff was pretty close to a heart attack when two older guests tried to battle the waves unsuccessfully. I liked the black sand but it gets awfully hot. The ships, sure, they diminish the view, but we didn't care that much. The beach is not very long, so not much of a walk. I liked the beach, but that is just me, I understand, if people see it differently, you certainly don't go to Amankila because of the beach. The pool down near the beach was almost always empty and when we had lunch at the restaurant there, we were usually alone, it is a really nice setting though.
The staff is just outstanding as everybody else has written. Their reputation is well deserved, simply the best. I have no idea how they do it but they really seem to know everything. Every staff member knows who you are, we were not once asked for our room number. When we went to breakfast early in the morning, the waiter not only knew that we were going to trek but he also which trek we had chosen. It is simply a pleasure to interact with them. I refer to my comments about Amanjiwo with regards to the Aman experience only that at Amankila it is even a touch better. Maybe they go a little overboard in suggesting which activities you should do.
The list of activities is endless. They emailed it to us well in advance and it is beautifully written and you can do some planning before you go. Here is a quick sample of what we did.
We did the morning cruise on the Aman XII, lounging on the sundeck is really nice. My wife reports, that the massages by Gusti, the local village healer were excellent.
We did 3 different treks. Such a beautiful area, those endless rice terraces, fantastic views of the mountain and the ocean and all those small villages, just perfect for trekking. Great way to experience nature. When we returned from our trek there was a box in front of our suite with a note that they hoped we enjoyed our trek and that surely our shoes needed some shining and we should just put them in the box. Nice.
I had my birthday during our stay and my wife surprised me with a breakfast in the Bale Tirta Sari, a must-do activity. They drive you up there in a 20-year old open air Land Cruiser, the Bale, situated opposite a mountain with steep rice terracing with great views of the ocean and a little creek running nearby, very romantic and so relaxing. Our driver told us the last guests he drove up there fell asleep for 4 hours and he didn't wake them up. And we had a private dinner by the main pool, just perfect.
And of course we had the dinner at the beach. You have the entire beach and pool all to yourself served to you with a private chef and waiter. They light candles and make a bonfire for you, the table in the sand, which is still warm in the evening and a Bale. Also liked it that you could choose what you wanted to eat, you meet with the chef and tell him what you want to eat. Same with our birthday dinner at the pool. Th dinner at the beach was on our last evening and it was the perfect ending of an incredible week.
We had the room til 5 p.m. on our departure day and great service by the incredibly kind Aman rep at the airport.
The library is good, not as nice as Amanjiwo, where they have a terrific choice of books, but they had all of Harper's Hideaway reports. I used to be a subscriber but found it to be not worth it. In one of the latest issues he praises the Prince Maurice and its manager and describes it as Aman-like. All due respect, but I know Aman, and it is certainly beautiful and a great setting but Aman-like it is not. We saw the manager, at least he seemed to be in charge there, when we walked through the hotel, but not only did he not talk to us, he didn't even bother to greet you and this attitude shows with some of the staff. Sorry I am straying from the issue here, but I had to get this off my chest.
Decent internet connection in the suite and wi-fi in the public areas, complimentary in all three hotels.
I was really struggling with the currency, the rupiah, way too many zeroes, they should split this thing. My first venture to an ATM in Ubud resulted in approx. 10 USD because I screwed up the numbers.
In closing, I guess if you held through this you have figured that we kind of liked it.
We had great vacations in the past and found several places where we would love to return to. Still, this was the best. It was intended to be just that and our expectations were high, but they were greatly surpassed. I don't know if we can top this and I would love to return. On the one hand you want to return to these places, on the other hand so many other places to explore.
Topping the list right now is Amansara, followed by Amanbagh, though I guess India is a whole different ballgame, the Banyan Tree Lijiang and Ringha, the Evason in Vietnam and Amanwella.
If we would go to Bali again I would definitely choose Amankila again over all the others, maybe throw in Amanusa for a round of golf. The Chedi is not as spectacular, but considering that the rates are a lot lower, it is a great option.
Ok, that's it. Thanks for reading.
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I posted this originally in the flyertalk forums, but since I have received a lot of great information from this forum, I thought I might as well post it here. Any comments or questions are greatly appreciated.