INTRODUCTION TO AMANJIWO
Amanjiwo, meaning peaceful soul, is a journey unto itself, with breathtaking views over the 9th century Buddhist monument of Borobudur, which teases in the morning mist and reveals itself once the mist clears. The Ed Tuttle-designed monolithic masterpiece, an homage to Borobudur itself, is set at the foothills of the verdant Menoreh mountain range among rural Megelang village in Central Java, a destination that no traveler should skip from their Asia itinerary.
Date of stay: November 2017
Room: Borobudur Pool Suite #24
Reviewed by: Chinmoy Lad
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PHOTOS AND VIDEOS by CHINMOYLAD
WHAT I LOVED
- Location. Even for an Aman, renowned for finding unique and remote locations with a world-class setting, this is something else. The resort looks out directly onto the Borobudur monument from its entry point (and from many of the rooms and suites), against a backdrop of a ring of dormant and active volcanoes, set at the verdant foothills of the Menorah Range.
- Design. We can’t rave about this design enough. Ed Tuttle is the designer and architect – do we need to say more? For the uninitiated, renowned for incredible Aman resorts such as Amanpuri, Amankila, Amanzoe, Amanbagh and Amanzoe, this might very well be his masterpiece, his magnum opus. Upon entering the main atrium, a high ceiling rotunda, the sight of Borobudur is revealed cleverly through the open gateways. The entire hotel is set out in a hemisphere shape, with the key feature being the magnificient views over Borobudur and the valley from its central standpoint. In fact, a testament to Ed Tuttle’s genius in creating Amanjiwo: the structure aligns perfectly with Borobudur’s, and its overall design mimicks the monument. Rotundas and domes dominate the structure, much of it fashioned out of the coral-beige paras yogya (a locally hewn limestone).
- Rooms. Timeless and traditional. In short, Ed Tuttle. The rooms are all equally spacious (243 sqm/2,615 sqft) but enjoy slightly different views from their terraces and bales (Garden and Borobudur), while some have a 8m-long private pool (while others don’t). The centre piece is the four-pillared bed on a fixed raised plinth, with twin vanities split on either ends behind the room (with adequate closet space), a toilet, shower and and outdoor sunken bath. There is also a desk and a chaise lounge in the room. The room is furnished with local materials, including sungkai wooden screens, coconut wood and rattan furniture.
- The Dalem Jiwo Suite. Rather than lump this in with the other rooms, this really deserves its own section. The 1,200 sqm/12,916 sqft two-bedroom Dalem Jiwo Suite (the equivalent of the resort’s Presidential Suite) has its own private entrance and is set amidst the rice paddies at the foot of Amanjiwo. The central rotunda with a daybed acts as the entrance and living space, with two bedrooms to the side. Just below, the magnificent terraced outdoor pool area with a 15-metre green Javanese stone infinity pool overlooking the paddies and volcanoes beyond, with ample loungers and bales to enjoy. Naturally, the suite comes with its own private butler. Even if you don’t book this suite, if it is available it’s possible to do romantic or special dinners here.
- Excursions and experiences. Similar to Amansara and Aman-i-Khas, Amanjiwo is not a resort one comes to simply to sit and lounge around (although with its verdant surrounds you can find plenty of time for that). Some key highlight excursions:
- Borobudur. That’s why you’d likely be at Amanjiwo in the first place, to visit the world’s largest Buddhist monument. The monument acts as a shrine to Lord Buddha, and its nine stacked platforms represent the attainment of nirvana. Statues of Buddha are set within a bell-shaped stupa. The site is generally very well maintained and the cafe at the bottom even serves light refreshments which are included in your passes. However, sadly the sunrise tour can get a bit messy with hordes of people. We hear the sunset is more spectacular, and more serene.
- Progo picnic. The night before our Borobudur excursion, we were asked to choose items from two menus – one a light snack before our early morning jaunt, and the second a more complete breakfast. After finishing up at Borobudur, we are led through the local villages and rice paddies on a horse cart, before arriving at a vantage point where the Progo and Elo rivers meet in the surreal Prambanan valley. Waiting for us was a full spread of our orders from the night before, laid out in a comfortable picnic overlooking the clashing of the rivers.
- Prambanan. The 9th centry Hindu temple is the largest Hindu temple in Indonesia and one of Southeast Asia’s biggest. It’s also unique because it features the trimurti (Bhrama, Vishnu and Shiva – three rarely, if ever, found together in India) and was a key structure that epitomised the rise of Hinduism in Central Java along with Java’s own blend of Hinduism (Javanese Hinduism). The temple’s intricate carvings are adorned with panels depicting the Hindu epic Ramayana.
- Selogriyo. This easy hike starts past a local village up the slopes of Mt Sumbing and snakes through agricultural fields and terraced rice paddies – a picturesque snapshot of quintessential Central Java – culminating at the Selogriyo temple. This 6th century Hindu temple predates both Borobudur and Prambanan, and what it lacks in daunting size and structure it makes up for by being much less crowded and equally as fascinating. But this activity isn’t about the end destination, this excursion is just as much about the journey: walking through the mist-shrouded valleys that open up to the sun, and the people you meet during the walk: local villagers who gave us fresh pickings of berries, peanuts and fruits, a school group out on an excursion to see the region’s sights and sounds (on a weekend, no less) guided by their teachers.
- Dinner at Pak Bilal’s home. One of Amanjiwo’s most unique activities, dinner at Pak Bilal’s home offers you the chance to enjoy a meal at a local Javanese home, a bamboo-thatched sugar shack where the family still maintains a sugar processing facility. The food is prepared using traditional cooking methods. With gamelan music playing live in the background, it is a unique dinner experience. Although Pak Bilal himself rarely makes an appearance now due to age, his son has taken over.
- Although we did not get a chance to try it due to limited time, there is much more to do in central Java, among which include visiting art museums as central Java is the traditional and contemporary arts and crafts hub, coffee plantations (you’ve probably drank Javanese coffee before, as well as the more exotic kopi luwak), and the region is also famous for its batik patterns.
- Food. Aman’s style of ‘refined home food’ is a real highlight Amanjiwo. Some highlights:
- Dinner at Pak Bilal’s home, particularly the sop loang (prawn and woodear mushroom soup) and ayam bumbu panggang (grilled chicken marinated in coriander, lemongrass and chili)
- The smoked duck, which after a while I excused myself from using my fork and knife, and went at it with my hands, because this duck needed justice. I could not leave this duck with even a bit of flesh on its bone. It was the best duck I have ever had.
- The steamed fish curry
- The light and not too sweet klepon (a sweet coconut dish enhanced with pandan leaves)
- Even some of the non-Indonesian items were spectacular, in particular the spring rolls, a crab burger I had, and a refreshing salad my mum had.
- Service and the team. If you haven’t stayed at an Indonesian Aman, have you ever really stayed at an Aman? And if you have stayed at an Indonesian Aman, you will share my pain in having to stay anywhere else in the world, where the service feels neither warm and authentic enough, nor attentive enough. Some highlights:
- Our dietary needs and requirements were taken care of throughout appropriately, and never missed. We didn’t even have to ask, not even once.
- Goes without saying, but we were never once asked for our room number or made to sign anything while enjoying food or activities while on-site.
- Also goes without saying, but we never saw housekeeping unless we wanted to (I came back to my room once to take more photos).
- My mum left her book open one day when we went out for dinner. We came back to find that Aman had left it closed, with a (beautiful, locally-made) book mark on the page she had left it open on.
- Much of the staff has been with Amanjiwo since the opening, and many also come from the immediate area and nearby villages. Amanjiwo is also unique in that your driver is often your guide. Our guide and driver Rohmat was both friendly and attentive to our needs such as packing the required items on excursions, including rain coats and umbrellas for our outdoor activities with the impending rain.
- Their departure service was legendary. First, we were provided a thoughtful treat (accounting for our dietary requirements) for our long ride back. Upon arriving at the airport, our flights were already taken care of with boarding passes already issued. We were also thoughtfully placed on an earlier flight as we had a connecting flight to Hong Kong via Jakarta, and flights at Yogyakarta Adisucipto International Airport can often be delayed. All we had to do was check-in for our Hong Kong flight in advance, and then head off to the lounge which Aman gave us access to.
POINTS TO NOTE
- Food. While some of the best food (and food experiences) we’ve ever had were at Amanjiwo, the food was also somewhat inconsistent at times. In particular, the Western food was unreliable in terms of quality. Aman Indonesia Executive Chef Shane Lewis will be hands on looking to fix this consistency issue.
- Bathroom. Much like at many of the older Amans, while the upkeep has generally been excellent, there are little bits and pieces that could do with an upgrade. At Amanjiwo, perhaps the bathroom could do with a revamp – particularly in the shower, where a rain shower (currently only a fixed shower head) would be much appreciated and in keeping with international luxury standards. And while the outdoor sunken bath looked most lovely, as it lacks a view, we could not find an exceptional reason to use it. This was made all the more exasperating because when we did want to use it a couple of times (particularly at night where I enjoy a long, hot bath before bed) the tropics came into play (rain and bugs/insects) which meant we went through the entire stay without using the bath tub.
- Yogyakarta is relatively well connected internationally, with direct flight options from Singapore, Bali and Jakarta.
- For international travelers looking for a longer trip, Singapore (well connected internationally) or Jakarta, followed by Yogyakarta, followed by the Amans in Bali (and perhaps also Amanwana) would be the perfect Indonesian getaway.
- The hotel is about a 2-hour drive from Adisutijpto International Airport in Yogyakarta
HOTEL FACT SHEET
- LOCATION: Borobudur (Yogyajakarta/Jogjakarta), Indonesia
- OPENED: 1997
- HOTEL ROOMS: 35
- RESIDENCE VILLAS: N/A
- RATES FROM: USD 700/night++
Rates are only an approximation and subject to change and availability
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