INTRODUCTION TO AMANKILA
Just over five years ago at the time of writing, we stayed at Amankila, which was at the time our favourite Aman, and favourite resort in the world. Our most recent stay just further strengthens that notion – it is STILL our favourite Aman and favourite resort in the world. Set on a gently sloping hill on the quieter shores of East Bali in Manggis, the serene environment is a glimpse into Aman’s ability to find incredible destinations that age well. This is a whole different kind of Bali from the one that most experience.
Thanks to our previous exceptional stay, we went in with lofty expectations again, only to have them absolutely blown away, yet again!
In this review, we will focus on what has changed since our last stay, and touch base again on what we loved (which hasn’t really changed since our last stay!) as well as points to note.
Date of stay: November 2019
Room: Infinity Pool Suite (Suite #25)
Reviewed by: Chinmoy Lad
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WHAT HAS CHANGED
- Infinity Pool Suites. This is by far the biggest change at the resort. Those following my Instagram when I was posting live during my stay or my YouTube channel will already have seen glimpses of the suites. About a year ago, Amankila revamped three of its regular suites into the ‘Infinity Pool Suites’, thus creating an entirely new room category by adding an extended outdoor terrace and an 9-metre infinity pool. The extensions and additions are incredible, and very much a welcome move: the existing Pool Suites, while superb, are walled-in don’t offer a view from the pool itself, and you had to make the jump up into the Kilasari Suite for a view. Now, everyone has the best of all possible worlds (and combinations)! We’ve detailed the three suites here, as they are each slightly different.
- #17 – enjoys a full ocean view (note that the roof of the suite in front is visible, though) with a private pool parallel to the coast.
- #19 – enjoys an ocean view and a partial jungle valley view, with a private pool perpendicular to the coast.
- #25 – This is the one we stayed in, and having seen all three, it is our personal favourite! Located at the furthest point of the resort from the main facilities with regards to rooms, in the deep northwest corner of the resort just past the Kilasari Suite, for us it is the most exclusive. It also requires the most walking. There are a few reasons it is our favourite:
- Peace and quiet: At the furthest corner of the resort in the deepest part of the jungle/valley, it is arguably the most quiet room.
- Complete privacy: Due to Amankila’s elevated walkways, housekeeping or other staff can sometimes be seen walking around (unless you stay in one of the resort’s signature suites). Since this room only connects via walkway to #24 and the entrance itself is not particularly visible, the only time you would really ever see staff walking are when they are coming to service your room. You are in almost complete privacy.
- Outdoor deck and dining bale (Balinese cabana/gazebo). Like with #19, the outdoor deck at this room is a much larger addition than merely an extension of the existing outdoor space. In the case of #25, it is an entire separate addition that protrudes well beyond the original space. #25 is unique because it has its own private dining bale (which even the signature Kilasari Suite lacks – only Infinity Pool Suite #25, Indrakila Suite and Amankila Suite have one), which can be revamped instead with spa beds or other configurations.
- Views. The pool’s orientation is parallel to the sea making the most of the views of the valley and beyond. We have said a few times in the past that Amankila is not just a seaside/beachfront resort – it’s as much a jungle resort as it is a beach resort; and this valley view is proof of that. Since the extensions, the landscaping in this area still needs some work which the resort is working on, but it is expected it will grow into a beautiful lush setting over time (we were there after a very long dry season and soon after the suites had just opened, so it was still beautiful, if a little arid compared to what it could have been). Note that the bedroom itself does not have as much of a view.
- Spruced up. The rooms have undergone minor but welcome enhancements, including an in-room tablet to browse the resort’s offerings from a more visual aspect, and revamped bathrooms that include a TOTO washlet and a shower with better water pressure.
- Excursions and special experiences.
- One key and fun new addition is the link up with a local supplier which offers ATV quad rides through East Bali. Since the region on the whole is not particularly frequented by tourists, you do feel as if you are on a private guided ATV tour surrounding Yeh Poh village (near Mount Agung), featuring panoramic views of the entire region from high up in the verdant hills over rice terraces with multiple stops such as at the beautiful Yeh Mempeh Waterfall and at a village home that produces its own arak, a Balinese liquor. On our trip, we were lucky enough to enjoy this excursion during an auspicious time and got to see a live ceremony, as well as a babi guling (a pig roast) being cooked roadside. It was also a real treat to see Mount Agung from close up before it disappeared back into the clouds for the rest of our stay.
- Tamansari breakfast. Back in 2015, we enjoyed a private satay dinner at a beautiful large bale at Amankila’s helipad, which enjoys views over both sides, but we were far more fascinated by the view towards Mount Agung. The former helipad has now formally been turned into ‘Tamansari’, with a key focus on the view over the valley behind Amankila and Mount Agung in the distance. Unfortunately, Mount Agung was shrouded in clouds during our picnic breakfast, but the overall experience is one we truly love as lovers of private experiences and destination dining. However, since it is a very early morning experience centred around sunrise and the lifting of the early morning fog, and as there is no live cooking station for breakfast (which has to be transported from the main restaurant), we would recommend choosing a lighter breakfast such as cereal, with a follow-up proper breakfast at the restaurant hours later after a morning swim or a trip down to the beach. It is also a fantastic destination for private dinners, as per our earlier experience, because a live cooking station such as a satay grill can be incorporated into the setup which adds to the food experience.
- Batu Jati Lounge. The resort has built a new elevated platform/deck at the northern corner of the beach, which offers a perfect sunset/twilight view. The deck can be used to host small gatherings for guests or for private occassions/dinners or ceremonies. Just note that time will while away easily here and it’s easy to lose track (also because the WiFi is weak) – we enjoyed satays and drinks with the team and a few guests here one evening, and before we knew it, HOURS had passed and it was midnight!
WHAT WE LOVED
- Location. This continues to be our favourite part of Bali (though we haven’t explored it all!). At the foothills of daunting Mount Agung on the quieter eastern Coast in Manggis, near the old regency of Karangasem, the resort looks out onto the magnificent Lombok Strait, just a short distance from several key points to enjoy in eastern Bali, including the water palaces of Tirta Gangga and Ujung Water Palace, the quaint towns of Candidasa and Amed, and the many villages dotted in between. At the more popular Blue Lagoon nearby, there is surprisingly decent snorkeling on offer aboard Amankila’s cruise. This is a world away from overrun Seminyak and Kuta, busy Jimbaran and Nusa Dua and everchanging Ubud – the area still retains semblances of real Bali, especially if you head over into the villages in the vicinity. We always say that if you haven’t done East Bali, then you’ve never really done Bali…
- Design. Ed Tuttle is our favourite Aman resort designer, and this is one of his very best. The resort beautifully blends a contemporary design (for the 90s) with modern comforts of a boutique luxury hotel, in particular drawing from Balinese and Indonesian influences (such as modelling the three-tiered pool after the rice terraces), with actual hints and touches of Bali itself: the thatched roofs, the coconut shell tables, the rattan chairs. Like a fine wine, Amankila’s timeless design continues to amaze us year after year.
- Maintenance. The resort is so impeccably maintained that we are actually astounded by this at each visit, and we keep expecting to see hints or signs of major wear and tear that simply don’t appear. It feels like it only opened but a good few years ago – it doesn’t feel sterile, but ‘lived’, like a great leather. It is obvious that the resort isn’t ‘spankingly brand new’ – the design itself gives that away, but it has aged gracefully and beautifully, and unless you knew, you’d be hard pressed to guess exactly how old it was (it will be 30 years old in 2022). Much of that is down to Aman heavily investing in maintenance (no easy feat in a tropical destination such as Bali weathering all the elements!) to ensure the resort stays in top condition.
- Rooms and signature suites. We stayed in the Kilasari Suite last time, to date still one of the best suites we have ever stayed in. The signature suites, in particular the Kilasari Suite with its infinity edge pool and the two-bedroom Amankila Suite with its unrivalled view, are absolutely worth the splurge. Those on a budget may prefer to opt for a Garden or Ocean Suite, which are more than adequate (the interiors/bedrooms of each suite are more or less the same, including in size).
- The three-tiered pool. As far as picturesque pools go, it’s hard to beat Amankila’s signature three-tiered pool. The bales with large day beds at each end of each pool offer the perfect easy lunch or afternoon tea spot, to be coupled with relaxing time by the pool.
- Beach and Beach Club. Simply put, it is the best beach club we have ever seen. The restaurant and its adjacent 41-metre pool sit in a quiet valley shaded by a coconut grove, and the beach club extends to the shore, featuring private bales and sunloungers, along with a watersports centre. The beach, although small (only about 500 metres from end to end), is for all intents and purposes completely private – a rarity in Bali for a resort, thus making Amankila one of the most exclusive resorts in the region. The beach features volcanic black sand, which is soft and fine to the touch and shimmers in the glistening sun (among the finest and softest we’ve ever experienced), but does get exceedingly hot! One small but beautiful change here has been to incorporate an outdoor gym/exercise facility near the pool, offering another exercise alternative to the gym.
- The beach club pool. Yes, the three-tiered pool is immediately more ‘wow’, but everyone knows by now that the serene 41-metre-long Beach Club pool is actually our favourite pool at Amankila, and thus our favourite pool in the whole world! It’s less commonly frequented (relatively, compared to the three-tiered pool – not that Aman pools ever feel ‘busy’ even at full occupancy) and thus offers serenity, further accentuated by the shaded valley in which it resides.
- Food. The food was pretty consistently good throughout, at times exceptional but at times a bit subpar (in particular the tuna salad). We enjoyed the banana pancakes (best we had ever had back in 2015, and that was reinforced on this trip). The tacos at the beach club and the pizzas every day were light and refreshing lunches. The Indonesian food throughout was superb, especially the duck we ordered on one night which was succulent and crisp, as well as the satays cooked at the live station during our evening at the Twilight Lounge. We also always enjoy tea time at various Amans, and Amankila’s by the main pool ranks just below Amanpuri and Amanoi for us, with ginger tea and pandan cake or cookies on offer; the choice (in comparison to the other two resorts) is limited, but very, very good.
- Experiences. We tried to morning snorkeling cruise for the first time, although it is not a new experience. We tried a shared morning cruise, but it’s possible to do it as a private cruise as a more romantic option instead along with a picnic on board (or a full lunch picnic setup if preferred).
As we have always said, there is as much to do at Amankila as you want to do – it’s easy to come here and just sit around and enjoy the resort (we are very tempted to, sometimes). But thanks to its unique location, if you wish for it, it is possible to do an activity every morning and afternoon and evening, combined with various private dining experiences. Because of its location, you can also mix this up between land and water-based activities, as well as between nature-based or physical activities, relaxing excursions, or cultural and historical site viewings.
- Service and little touches. The highlight of many an Aman. This Aman, above all others, continues to impress with regards to service. The majority of the resort’s staff hail from local villages and have been with the resort since opening, and quite a few even remembered me from my last stay, welcoming me back to my Aman home. There is a sense of warmth and genuineness about the people that I have yet to see matched at any other resort, which is further enhanced by the little touches: ensuring my glass is constantly refilled when sitting by the pool or at the beach, always welcoming back from long excursions with a cold drink and a refrehing towel. The turndown service continues to be a real treat, offering homemade Balinese snacks before bedtime or local artisan crafts instead of an impersonal chocolate.
The Aman housekeeping ninjas were on-point again – our room was always impeccably tidied or cleaned without asking every time we left for an extended break, be it for a meal or for an activity. Water and cookie jars were always replenished, and sun loungers done up as needed. The only time we saw housekeeping was when we went to retrieve and charge our camera. We were also never asked for our room number at the restaurant or at the beach club.
Last time we had stayed, our stay fell in between the changing of general managers. The resort has now been led for the past few years by the charismatic and fun but alert Ernst Ludick, whose love for Bali and Amankila shines through after even a minute of chatting. Together with the enthusiastic F&B Manager Florian Corea, they lend an air of personality to Amankila that dovetails beautifully with the existing warmth the resort and its staff already offer, and the resort is in great hands going forward.
- Peace and quiet. The resort’s secluded location in East Bali and perfect mixture of beach, ocean and jungle means it more than delivers on Aman’s promise of ‘peace’ – it is our favourite place to stay in the whole world precisely because it is so peaceful and calming.
POINTS TO NOTE
- The morning cruise. The only place where we felt Amankila could definitely improve on the maintenance was on the Amankila morning cruise which. We enjoyed the experience very much, but the cruise itself does feel a bit tired and the upkeep of the vessel does seem subpar compared to the rest of the resort.
- Walking, lots of it. Due to the way the resort was built on the hillside with its beautifully elegant elevated walkways, those with temporary or permanent walking difficulties will find the resort a challenge to navigate. A room closer to the main facilities can be requested and arranged, but there will inevitably be some level of steps invovled. On the bright side, you can eat as much as you want at Amankila because you can burn those calories off very, very quickly (just try walking to/from the beach club!)
- Spa and gym. For now, the spa and gym are (still) simply former suites that have been converted into a spa and a gym respectively. The construction for a new destination spa is scheduled to be underway but it will be a while before it opens – it is the only thing Amankila sorely lacks, but despite that, you never really miss it (especially if staying in a Pool Suite or above as it’s possible to enjoy a private spa treatment in your suite instead; booking a Pool Suite or above will offer the extra privacy needed for that). The gym being a converted suite means it must be privately booked for use. However, the outdoor gym at the beach is just (if not more) enjoyable. We are very much looking forward to the destination spa!
- Families. The resort doesn’t have an official ‘kids club’, and the only multi-bedroom accommodation is the two-bedroom Amankila Suite. However, it is a very family friendly resort. The rooms themselves are big enough to fit at least two younger kids. And because of the resort’s unique layout, parents of older children can opt for an adjoining suite to create an easy two-bedroom option, and these work well in various combinations of a mixture of Garden or Ocean or Pool Suites. Although the resort has no formal ‘kids club’, staff are always at hand to assist with taking care of children, and can craft unique experiences that involve local activities for various ages, and even offer three complimentary hours of babysitting a day for when the parents simply want to enjoy a spa treatment. There are plans for residence villas to be built, but it will still be a while and it remains to be seen how many bedroom villas will be built.
- Ships. The only hint of ‘civilisation’ in paradise when staying at Amankila (and not really leaving the resort), are the ships in the distance in the bay which ever so slightly taint the view. Lombok-Bali ferries dot the horizon, usually at least five, sometimes as many as ten or more. At least the oil tankers which were a real eyesore have now moved and are much less visible!
Amankila is located about a 90 minute to 2 hour drive from Ngurah Rai International Airport and the southern peninsula’s famous sites. However, with Bali’s infamous traffic in play, leave ample time for your flight.
HOTEL FACT SHEET
- LOCATION: Manggis, Bali, Indonesia
- OPENED: 1992
- HOTEL ROOMS: 31
- RESIDENCE VILLAS: N/A – a series of villas will be built in the near future
- RATES FROM: USD 700/night++
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