Escape to Indonesia for our honeymoon special….
Stepping off the plane at Yogyakarta felt a world away from Jakarta, Indonesia’s biggest and most congested city – traffic and pollution were not what we had in mind for our first honeymoon destination! However, an easy flight just over an hour from Jakarta took us into another world. If Jakarta is Java’s financial and industrial powerhouse, Yogyakarta is its soul. Central to the island’s artistic and intellectual heritage, this city was the seat of power that produced the magnificent temples of Borobudur and Prambanan in the 8th and 9th century and powerful Mataram kingdom of the 16th and 17th century.
We were greeted at the airport by our Amanjiwo representative who gathered our luggage and swept us to our car for a short ride to the hotel. Arriving at the entrance to Amanjiwo, we felt as though we were being guided up the stairs into a temple. Granite stone and welcoming staff gave us a first glimpse through the pillar entrance of the hotel and beyond to Java’s great temple of Borobudur, the eighth wonder of the Orient and one of the world’s largest and most revered Buddhist temples.
Surrounded by the mist of tropical rainforest and rice terraces, at Amanjiwo you really feel as though you are stepping back in time. Set in two graceful crescents around the central Rotunda, Amanjiwo’s main building is framed by 36 suites. The exotic suites all have 4-pillar beds and feature terrazzo flooring, high ceilings, domed roofs and a thatched pavilion with relaxing day beds on which to sit and soak in the reverence of the surrounding temples and history. I particularly liked the open-air bathroom with its walled gardens and pavilion. If you are lucky enough to have one of the small private pools in your suite as we had, you will wake up to the haunting sounds of early morning prayers across the valley and see the reflections of the hills and volcanoes in the green limestone of your pool. I didn’t feel disturbed by the calls to prayer, echoed by the numerous mosques in the area during the day. I thought the calls were quite beautiful, especially in the evening when they gradually blended with the crickets chirping. In fact, there is a romance and stillness about Amanjiwo that is hard to find. In its lushly forested setting, Amanjiwo is the epitome of peace, with an elegant limestone 40m infinity pool flanked by rows of cream parasols and wooden loungers, where you can lie back and admire sweeping views of the surrounding rice fields and volcanic peaks.
It’s the little extras that count, and the Aman hotels are always very spoiling in this regard. Each night we were given different gifts in our room, such as a Batik handkerchief, a bookmark made from Bodhi Ead, raffia hats and fresh fruit. There were roses and candles in the bath and around the bed, all of which served to make us feel very special.
Breakfast was a peaceful affair with the cool of the fans, the sunlight shining through the pillars and the sound of the call of prayers from beyond the warmth of the paddy fields. Various breakfast options were available but my favourite early morning pick-me-up was made using white turmeric to cleanse and soothe, followed by smashed avocados and poached eggs.
If you like spicy food, Indonesian cuisine is delicious (the Indonesian archipelago was once known as the “Spice Islands,” and it was from here that Portuguese and Dutch traders brought pepper, cloves and nutmeg to the West). We loved the dining room with its silver inlayed ceiling and majestic crescent lined with neoclassical columns, and views over the valley and volcanoes. Amanjiwo offers a choice of Indonesian and Western cuisines with a blend of Indonesian spices. We chose the Lumpia spring rolls with prawns and bamboo shoots, Terencam with fresh coconut, cucumber and cabbage, and turmeric and chili salad followed by Indonesian-style grilled fish and spicy chicken satay with mixed veg and red rice. No Michelin stars as yet but very delicious all the same.
The highlight of our stay at Amanjiwo, however, was a sunset tour to Borobudur, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As a guest of Amajiwo, you can enjoy the temple either at sunrise or sunset. In this visit, you will be given more time to explore the temple during the early evening when most of the visitors have departed. You can really only take in the magnificence and complexity of the building when you are up close. Built in the 8th century, it ranks with Pagan in Myanmar and Angkor Wat in Cambodia as one of the great archeological sites of Asia, if not the world. The monument guides pilgrims through an extensive system of stairways and corridors with 1,460 narrative relief panels on the walls and the balustrades. Borobudur has one of the largest and most complete ensembles of Buddhist reliefs in the world. These intricately carved temples scattered across the verdant Prambanan Plain are a truly breath-taking sight to behold. Once a year, Buddhists in Indonesia celebrate Vesak at the monument, and Borobudur is Indonesia’s single most visited tourist attraction. Borobudur remains popular for pilgrimages, so do avoid coming in mid-May because of this.
Other things to do include guided treks, archaeological tours, art gallery visits, shopping and massage treatments. We went to Spa Heaven, where the therapist, Tari, gave us a very strong deep tissue massage. I left feeling utterly relaxed and my calf muscles in particular felt very well stretched.
Amanjiwo is pure unadulterated luxury. Although children are allowed, there were none on our visit, which was ideal as there was no noise. Maybe leave the kids at home if you are planning on coming here, as the resort is ideal for couples either on honeymoon or celebrating something special. Whatever your excuse, you will be truly pampered. The slow pace of life is blissful and so it is certainly a honeymoon haven.
After our stay at Amanjiwo, we flew to Bali, Indonesia’s best-known and most-visited island, located just off Java’s southeastern coast. Bali is small – about 100 miles wide and 70 miles north to south – and, unlike the rest of Indonesia, its 3.9 million residents are mostly Hindu, not Muslim.
We stopped for lunch in Ubud at Amandari, one of three Aman hotels in Bali, which looks out over cascading rice paddies and ornate Hindu shrines. It feels as though Amandari has been there for thousands of years, as the culture and architecture both celebrate the natural surroundings. The villas are incredibly beautiful and are designed similarly to traditional Balinese homes, with beautifully lush flora and fauna decorating each room. The restaurant here is open to both guests and non-residents, offering delicious and distinctive Indonesian cuisine made with locally grown ingredients. Gamelan players perform here every evening, their songs joined by the dusk chorus of the birds who fly over the valley.
The Aman experience, offered at all the group’s hotels, is a way of life and makes their resorts luxury destinations of choice. It is “no expense spared” pricing but it is your honeymoon after all! There is a genuine authenticity (both culturally and in terms of the sincerity of the hospitality) to the experience. Among the hotels in which I have stayed, Aman remains in my top list of favourites! There really is only one thing left for me to say – Terima Kasih (“thank-you” in Indonesian).