A journey to Borobudur feels like stepping back in time a few hundred years – a supremely peaceful, verdant, unspoiled valley nestled between mountains and active volcanoes, ancient ruins, barefoot villagers; the silence only broken by the calls to prayer and the sounds of nature. All this just a short direct flight from Singapore and an hour’s drive from Yogyakarta’s tiny airport. If your experience of Indonesia extends only to the madding crowds of Jakarta or the traffic-choked streets of Bali, Borobudur is nothing short of a revelation.
Apart from the wish to see “Indonesia’s Angkor”, the sole reason for our visit was to stay at Amanjiwo, one of Borobudur’s only two upscale hotels, and an experience never to forget. We left the kiddos behind (in good hands of course!) and were excited by what we read online – hikes through the jungle, Javanese massage and soursop martinis… None of these are really what our two under-threes want to be doing, so this was going to be all about mama and daddy!
Amanjiwo is nestled at the foothills of one of the mountains, with a unique semi-circular design that has its many private villas facing outwards to the spread of rice paddies beyond. A 40-metre pool surrounded by a terrace and shaded by banyan trees is available if you can bear to drag yourself from your villa, and the bar and restaurant are perched above everything to enjoy the best valley views, all the way down to Borobudur temple itself.
The villas are beautifully designed – ours had a private pool with a bale at the end so we could sit and read while watching people work the rice paddies (which did feel a little odd I must admit!). Inside, it’s all cool marble, pale wood, crisp white sheets and carefully chosen accessories, many of which I would have loved to stow away in my handbag, but which were thankfully also available in Amanjiwo’s boutique!
On our first morning we were woken at 4am to head down to watch the sunrise from the Borobudur temple. This 1200 year-old Buddhist site feels like something out of Indiana Jones and has even been lost several times throughout history as it has frequently been completely covered in volcanic ash from one of Java’s many eruptions. A 4am start sounded torturous to us (how many parents willingly would wake up at this time on a holiday without their kids?!) but the promise of a magical experience lured us, and we were so glad we dragged ourselves out of our warm beds. Watching the red sun peep its way between the mountains while mist and clouds swirled on the valley floor, all while sitting on a sacred spot in a rare moment of romantic silence made us feel like young backpackers again! What was not so romantic? The fact that they were shooting a commercial for Asean Airways at the temple that morning so the crew kept yelling at people to get out of their shot!
After a well-earned sleep and a spot of lunch by the pool, we were feeling strong enough to brave the spa for a traditional Javanese massage. It must be said, the spa is probably not Amanjiwo’s main strength compared with other luxury hotels in Asia – rather than being a purpose-built space, it’s located in one of the regular villas. That being said, who cares about koi ponds and multiple treatment rooms when you’ve got little old ladies like the ones who beat us black and blue? Massage never hurt so good (though I could hear my husband whimper a few times as his tiny elderly masseuse giggled!). We rolled out of there with bodies like jelly, so well-kneaded had we been!
One of our favourite things to do was head up to the hotel bar for a sundowner before dinner… Amanjiwo has a great cocktail menu though we mainly stuck to G&Ts. The dinner menu features an array of Western options and a daily-changing Indonesian menu. Without exception, everything we tried was delicious, clean tasting and perfectly-prepared. They provide well for veggie visitors with a separate vegetarian menu, and they are happy to customize, whip up special dishes and basically cater for every wish – not a lot of “cannot” goes on at Amanjiwo! And if you get peckish between meals, you can tuck into the endless supply of free home-baked cookies in your room (we suspect we came home a few pounds heavier!).
On our final day, we were excited to hike up the mountain behind Amanjiwo to see the tiny village we had been told was at the top. We were provided with a personal guide who even carried waters and cold towels up for us – now that’s luxury! It’s an easy hike, though we puffed and panted going uphill a little, and it was amazing to see all the little gardens terraced onto the side of the mountain and have our guide point out turmeric, cassava, aubergines and tobacco all growing along the way. As we reached the village, we were amazed at how untouched by modern-day life it was – women drying rice on the rooves of their houses, men chopping teak wood and chickens and goats everywhere. As we looked down on Borobudur we agreed it was a truly magical place that we would love to revisit, maybe even with the kids next time!
If you are keen to visit Amanjiwo with children, there are a few things you should know – firstly, they offer babysitting services so you can take advantage of some of the less kid-friendly activities like trekking. Your first 4 hours are free! They also have a children’s playroom and art room where kids can watch DVDs, paint and generally go wild.
A stay at Amanjiwo for two people starts from USD850 (SGD$1,065) per night including airport transfers from Yogyakarta. For further information check out Amanjiwo’s website.