Amankila, Bali, Indonesia | HOTEL REVIEW
INTRODUCTION TO AMANKILA
An Aman beach retreat deep in eastern Bali, away from the masses down south, that sits in verdant surrounds; flanked by hill, jungle, beach, sand, sea and volcano, Amankila might just be the perfect resort. The best way to describe Amankila is that having heard much about this resort, and from our previous Aman experiences, our expectations heading in were sky high – so much so infact, that we thought it was nearly impossible to match what we were expecting. Amankila blew away our expectations, and then surpassed them!
Date of stay: April 2016
Room: Kilasari Suite (Suite #31)
Reviewed by: Chinmoy Lad
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PHOTOS AND VIDEOS
WHAT I LOVED
- Location. Situated away from the chaotic Balinese southern peninsula, Amankila has a very unique location in eastern Bali in Manggis, next to the old Balinese regency of Karangasem. Amankila, a portmanteau of the Sanskrit ‘Aman’ meaning ‘peace’ and the local term for hill, ‘Kila’, straddles both land and the sea. Set on a hill, the resort’s structure gently cascades down to the beachfront area, overlooking the Lombok Strait, with the daunting Mount Agung looming in the backdrop behind the resort. There are no parties here, no trendy, overcrowded beach clubs serving substandard pizzas and burgers and beers, no night clubs, and no shopping – just nature and a local way of life, and the beautiful Amankila that blends within.
- Design. The resort is the brainchild, or more aptly, the work of art, of Aman founder Adrian Zecha and Ed Tuttle, architect of many an Aman (and many of my personal favourites!). The resort draws inspiration from the nearby palaces, as well as the tiered rice paddies that dot central, north and eastern Bali, the latter of which is clearly seen in the three-tiered infinity pool that marks out the cliff edge, one of the world’s most iconic swimming pools. The resort is connected via elevated walkways (drawing from Ed Tuttle’s design at Amanpuri). Equally impressive is how the resort blends into its surroundings, for which you have to get an aerial perspective to best appreciate. The connected walkways and individual thatched huts have ample foliage in between, seamlessly fitting into its landscape rather than competing with it, leading down to the open three-tiered pool, and the verdant and unassuming beach club to its side by sea level.
- Rooms. On the outside, a terrace with lounging space. On the inside, a canopied king-size bed with a windowside divan, a spacious bathroom with twin vanities, separate shower and soaking tub – it’s all there. The materials are primarily locally made, such as the coconut-shell tables and rattan chairs. The design is elegantly timeless and doesn’t show a sign of ageing or looking horrendously dated – its a contemporary take on traditional Balinese, with warm and soothing colours of cream and wood. Of important notice is the most excellent maintenance – the resort is coming up to 30 years, but looks like it’s barely aged since its inception. There are three main room types: Garden (featuring garden views), Ocean (featuring panoramic ocean views), and Pool (featuring a mix of views depending on location, with a walled-in private pool)
- Signature suites. Amankila’s three signature suites are among the finest suites we’ve seen and deserve their own special mention:
- Kilasari Suite (which we stayed in) is located at the resort’s most elevated point and offers a mixture of ocean and garden views from a lofty viewpoint and an expansive outdoor terrace, with a long private infinity-edge pool;
- Indrakila Suite, located at the northern side of the resort, featuring a two-tiered structure with the room and an oversized terrace with large private pool, and a lounging bale (a Balinese cabana) with open ocean views;
- And the signature Amankila Suite, a two-bedroom unit on the southern side featuring a similar two-tiered structure with a central large pool, flanked by two private bales and plenty of lounging and sitting space in between, and open views of the ocean. The Amankila Suite also comes with a private butler.
- Three-tiered pool. The Amans are known for their grand pools, and Ed Tuttle, in particular, has designed a few of the most memorable (Amanpuri, Amanbagh). But as far as pools go, it’s nearly impossible to beat what’s on offer at Amankila. At Amankila, the three-tiered pool is one of the first sights as you come into the arrival lounge, and gape (forever) at the spectacular design. Each pool is of considerable size, and features bales on both sides for relaxing as well as plenty of sunloungers.
- Beach Club. A steep five-minute walk (or a quick buggy) down from the edge of Amankila is the resort’s excellent beach club, arguably the best beach club we’ve ever seen. Sitting in a deep valley next to Amankila in a coconut grove and flanked by frangipani trees, The Beach Club is open for lunch and the afternoon and serves light fare. Next to it is a spectacular 41-metre-long pool, shaded by vegetation. While Amankila’s three-tier pool is more picturesque, it is actually the beach club pool that really took our hearts (it has an even more serene atmosphere and is perfect for afternoon naps in the sun), and where we evidently spend most of our time.
- Beach and the sea. Just beyond the beach club is Amankila’s black sand beach, made of volcanic material. The beach is actually an unexpected surprise. The black sand shimmers and glitters in the sun like diamonds, and is very soft to touch. There are fully stocked bales lined up along the beach, well spaced to allow maximum privacy, and the Aman team is always at hand to refill drinks and provide refreshing fruits and snacks. The sea is calm and perfect for kayaking or swimming, and the sheltered bales are perfect to return to following a swim.
- Service and the staff. Forget everything else, this is where Aman really shines, and nowhere more so than with the Amans in Indonesia. Some key highlights:
- Poolside and beachside service. It’s the anticipation – just before you’ve even made your move, staff are reading preparing a sun lounger or a cabana, with towels neatly placed and tucked in, Aman style, never having to ask. Water/drinks were never empty, always replenished. Upon arrival and at regular intervals, we were always provided with fresh fruits.
- The little things. At Aman it’s always the little things that make a difference:
- Our sunglasses were cleaned and polished when we left them bale-side, everytime we went into the water. Our clothes and towels were neatly folded and placed appropriately to ensure we didn’t come back to a mess or end up accidentally making our clothes wet following the swim.
- My travel partner particularly loved the manggis fruit, of which we had a few among our fruit basket selection. We mentioned this briefly to one of the staff, who ensured we had more than our share of manggis everytime the fruit basket was refilled.
- At Amankila since opening. Much of the staff are from nearby villages, and have been with Amankila since it opened, more than 25 years ago. It is clear that staff do not see this merely as a means to an end, but take pride in Amankila. Amankila isn’t mine or yours, it’s theirs – and they welcome you to their home as they would a returning friend.
- Arrival and departure service. The Indonesian Amans provide a fast track arrival and departure service (for specific rate types) which can whisk you through immigration and customs without the pain of waiting. In addition to that, the car which transports you is always well stocked with cold, wet, fresh towels, drinks of your choice (or a selection of standard drinks if you haven’t specified) as well as WiFi.
- Excursions. The great thing about Amankila is that it is whatever you want it to be…it can be a sit back, relax and let the world while away kind of resort, or it can be one where you delve into either raw nature or historical and local culture, or a mixture of both. Some key excursions include:
- Snorkeling and diving. Bali isn’t the first destination in mind when it comes to diving, but while it will never compete with Maldives or Philippines or indeed, Indonesia’s own Raja Ampat, there are certainly some interesting dives in this easy-to-access location. Further east-northeast from Amankila, the resort’s cruises can take you on snorkeling excursions, replete with picnics laid out to Aman perfection. There is no on-site diving centre, but using the local dive centre (20 minute taxi + 20 minute boat ride) opens you up to a world of giant tuna, ocean sunfish and manta rays and Spanish Sunfish along with a plethora of colourful corals can be seen.
- Historical Bali. Bali’s old regency of Karangasem is only a short drive away, featuring the ‘water palaces’ of Tirta Gangga and Ujung.
- Berry and duck farm. On our day off, with our original plans having fallen through, Shane took us out to visit the resort’s berry and duck farms. Engaging the local villages nearby, Amankila has provided both employment and opportunity to nearby villages, the villages are tasked with running the resort’s organic berry and duck farm (two separate places). Enjoying this excursion, we could better understand where some of Amankila’s local produce is procured, but also get to meet and greet locals outside of the resort as we traversed through multiple local quaint villages. I understand since our last stay, there is also a chocolate farm nearby.
- Nature. If it isn’t immediately obvious, this is a less populated area of Bali, and nature is everywhere. The East Bali trek or cycle takes you through the various parts of eastern Bali. Some of the more adventurous have also been known to climb up nearby volcanoes, although we do not suggest this at the moment as Mount Agung has been rather active.
- Dining. Dining itself can be an excursion at Amankila, with a range of incredible options for private dining including in your suite, by the pool, at the beach club, or our favourites: the bale in rural Manggis in lush greenery or by the Amankila’s helipad, a patch of green lawn featuring ocean on one side and Mount Agung on the other (see below for more).
- Food. There are two restaurants at Amankila, and Aman Indonesia Executive Chef Shane Lewis does an incredible job elevating the resort’s food offerings. As with many other Amans, the focus is on the local ingredients and the local techniques, and not overtly on the presentation (which is elegant but not unnecessarily fancy).
- Breakfast – from pastries to scrambled eggs on toast with sausage, the breakfast was very good. But the true highlight is the fluffy banana pancake with honeycomb butter.
- Afternoon Tea – a ceremonial affair in Bali, but do not expect scones and a cuppa Darjeeling here at Amankila. In keeping with the resort’s local tradition, village girls create ornate flower offerings for guests who indulge in the afternoon tea session, provided complimentary, served by the locals. We taste coconut, palm sugar, rice and walnut cakes along with a local tea that is best with honey and ginger – a real delectable treat that is also filling upon second or multiple servings.
- Dinner – we were treated to a Balinese dinner in a private set up bale at the resort’s natural lawn-helipad, with spectacular views of the sea on one side, and the valley and Mount Agung on the other. A smorgasbord of dishes, cooked on the spot on a roaring flame by the side of our bale, are presented: soto ayam, a light yet spiced chicken and noodle soup, five types of satay skewers including the most succulent prawn, a spicy salad with more than a hint of sambal (a local relish) and a main course of fish grilled in banana leaf are presented to us over the course of the long evening, as the sun sets in the background. The evening ends with dadar gulung, a Balinese crepe with palm sugar and coconut, and a few glasses of wine. The dinner is a real treat, with every dish a hit, and a few standouts.
POINTS TO NOTE
- Oil rig nearby. This is a very picturesque location, ruined occasionally only by a handful of oil tankers in the distance (there’s a newly built oil refinery just a bit further along the coast). This is neither Aman’s fault, nor is it something they can do much about (and most of the time, the beach is just fine!), but it is an issue especially when there are multiple oil tankers in the vicinity.
- Spa. For one reason or another, the Indonesian Amans still do not have a proper spa centre. Spa treatments can be done in various locations or in the existing spa pavilion (a suite converted into a spa), but a picturesque and otherwise near-perfect resort such as this deserves a full-fledged spa with all the trimmings.
- Elevated walkways – privacy and disabled access. The resort’s structure with elevated walkways can lend to some issues regarding privacy and ease of access for the disabled. However, it is still possible to accommodate and the local team are happy to help with special requests.
- Budget. USD 550/night++ (rates for the 3-night special at Amankila) gets you a Garden Suite at Amankila, but perhaps a suite/villa with a private pool and a panoramic ocean view elsewhere in Bali. If budget is of consideration, don’t worry about it – although we were staying in one of Amankila’s signature suites, we barely had time to explore everything much less spend as much as time as we really wanted to in our suite, despite having one of the most spectacular suites we’ve seen! There are so many facets to the resort (and so many large and picturesque pools) that you won’t miss having a private one. Amankila is about more than just sitting away in your suite/villa, so go with the Garden or Ocean Suites and then let Amankila dazzle you.
- 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: 34
- RESIDENCE VILLAS: N/A – a series of villas will be built in the near future
- RATES FROM: USD 700/night++
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Special thanks to Aman for hosting us