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Singapore (RC) & Java (Amanjiwo) Trip Report

Singapore (RC) & Java (Amanjiwo) Trip Report

Old Jul 16, 06, 9:09 am
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Singapore (RC) & Java (Amanjiwo) Trip Report

Before I get caught up in the details of this report, I should tell you that I was ill for most of this trip. I wasn’t so sick that I couldn’t have a good time, but I need to mention it because it involves the drug Ciprofloxacin. At the start of our trip, I was diagnosed with a UTI and was prescribed Cipro. The irony is that even though Cipro is the drug most prescribed to treat traveler’s stomach upset, I got Bali Belly on my 2nd day on the drug. I didn’t identify it as Bali Belly right away (after all, I was on Cipro!) It wasn’t until the last day of my trip, after reading a newspaper article that said Cipro was only 60% effective in Indonesia, that I got a doctor to prescribe a more effective antibiotic. In hindsight, I can see that my immune system was probably shot from the UTI and the jetlag, but there is a good lesson here for people traveling to Indonesia who want an antibiotic in their back pocket “just in case” – pack something other than Cipro.

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FLIGHTS AND AIRPORTS
We flew Singapore Airlines 25/26 from JFK to SIN in Raffles class. The flights were as pleasant as always with the best features being the lay-flat (angled flat) seating and the on-demand entertainment system. The layover in Frankfurt was efficiently managed and when our first segment was delayed getting out of JFK, they made up for it by cleaning and turning around the 747 in Frankfurt in just 45 minutes.

Silk Air (a Singapore Airlines’ regional carrier) flew us into Solo City, Java. The plane was a full size Airbus and the service was very friendly. I would equate it to one of the better American carriers in amenities and service and would definitely recommend it as an alternative to Garuda.

We didn’t know what to expect for the Solo airport. It turned out to be reasonably advanced except for the baggage claim system, which consisted of one small door between the tarmac and the 10’ x 10’ designated “baggage area”. Bags were carried through the door one at a time while over 100 passengers waited several yards behind, unable to see anything through the throngs of people. We later learned that the only way to get your bag in less than an hour is to “tip” (read: bribe) one of the bag boys who will then id your bag as one to be brought through the door sooner rather than later. This tipping process ended up looking more like an auction, with the locals waving money in the air and literally shouting instructions to the bag boys in the hopes their bag would be next. Unsure of this process, we decided to wait and our bags were indeed the last ones through the door.

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SINGAPORE (RITZ CARLTON) – 1 ½ DAYS
This was our second stay at the Ritz Carlton and our first on the club level. We booked a Millennia Suite and the view of the marina was beautiful. However, my husband’s parents (who joined us on this trip) were staying in a corner Premier Suite which we found more appealing for the especially panoramic views and unique layout. We found that the Millennia Suite had wasted space for our needs (particularly the separate dining room). Both rooms had daily tropical fruit arrangements with a great little guidebook to tell you what unusual fruit you were eating, and there was a club level food presentation at all hours of day with lots of variety. We were a tad disappointed that there weren’t any champagnes chilling alongside the decent wine selection. But then again, we never asked for any so it’s possible there was a bottle hidden away.

While in Singapore, we had a very tasty lunch at Doc Cheng’s (Raffles Hotel) and went to the Jurong Bird Park. The park, while currently undergoing some renovation, was very nice and there were many opportunities to interact with the birds inside massive aviaries. We especially enjoyed the suspension bridges and loud and colorful birds in the Lory Loft. The Waterfall Aviary, with the world’s largest manmade waterfall, was also quite beautiful. If you go, dress light. This place, like all of Singapore, is hot!
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Old Jul 16, 06, 9:09 am
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JAVA (AMANJIWO) – 8 DAYS

* Pickup and Greeting *
The four of us were picked up at the Solo airport by two new Toyota minivans, one for our bags and one for us. Our driver Darta, was assigned to us for the rest of the week as both a driver and a very knowledgeable guide. The drive was lovely, with stunning views of Mt. Merapi (at one point, we were 4km from the peak of this very active volcano!). But the drive was also over 2 hours long and the windy roads made us all queasy. This was unfortunately the case for all of our car trips in Java. Driving here is also erratic with full size cars, pony carts and mini-bikes vying for a position on often full, one lane roads.

When we arrived, we realized that Amanjiwo is undoubtedly the most architecturally stunning of all the Amans as the design mimics neighboring Borobudur temple. We were greeted at the main building with a shower of rose petals. Sean Flakelar, the general manager, was there with his Bali-dog Tigger. They showed us around the public areas and then escorted us to the Dalem Jiwo suite.

* Dalem Jiwo Suite *
We originally reserved this suite using the cultural package and availing only one bedroom, but felt so guilty having such a lovely place to ourselves that we decided to invite Mr. Ericka’s parents along at the last minute. The room did not disappoint and the GM had a chilled bottle of Dom Perignon waiting for us on arrival. Sean then introduced us to the two butlers, Djoko and Dodo who would help us throughout the week with packing and unpacking, planning and rescheduling activities, meals and room service, tidying the suite when we weren’t looking, making my doctor’s appointments., in short - everything. We rarely had to deal with other staff members while we were there, which was nice because these two spoke wonderful English and were such a pleasure to be around. The most amazing thing is that somehow, they knew when we were up and around and in need of refreshment, even when it was late at night or the wee hours of the morning.

The Dalem Jiwo suite is a limestone-walled compound made up of a private entrance courtyard, 2 free standing “bedrooms” (each like the standard rooms with terrazzo flooring, a columned raised bed, sitting area, bathroom, outdoor bathtub and garden, and private patio), butler’s quarters, a 15 meter infinity swimming pool made of green Javanese stone, 2 large poolside bales, and a dramatic, raised rotunda where we spent most of our time reading on the oversized daybed and enjoying “room service” at the large dining table. The views of Borobudur from the suite were certainly some of the best on the property.

* Food *
The food at Amanjiwo was excellent and the menu was more diverse than any of the other Amans we have been to, including both western and Indonesian dishes. This is undoubtedly because the GM, Sean Flakelar used to be the executive chef at Amanusa and he makes food a top priority. In addition, a multi-course Indonesian Makan Malan dinner was offered each night.

* Massage Treatments *
Amanjiwo uses a converted guest room as a spa. While there, we had three massage treatments, two of which were included in our cultural package. The Jetlag treatment and the traditional Pijat massage were each an hour long while the Mandi Lulur with Kreme Bath was a blissful 3 hours of massage, scrubbing, head rubbing and bathing in a tub full of rose petals. All of the treatments were very good, especially the ones done by the stronger older ladies who used to work in the fields.

* Flowers, Gifts and Housekeeping *
The resort placed a lot of emphasis on flowers, both in the public areas and the rooms. There were purple orchids growing along the limestone walled walkways and there was a unique brown hued orchid that continued to show up in flower arrangements, soap dishes, folded napkins, and as a bow on the gift we were presented on our last day. And every night, when we returned to our bedroom from dinner either in the restaurant or our rotunda, there was an extravagant display of flowers by our bed as well as a gift. The flowers varied each night, sometimes 3 dozen rose petals around the base of our bed, hundreds of jasmine buds around the base of our bed, jasmine “ropes” hanging from our bedroom door, and hand-sewn decorative “nets” made of jasmine buds. The gifts from housekeeping consisted of hand-made wood carvings, leather figures with display stands, fancy wooden shadow puppets as well as a printout of the associated stories and Javanese lore for each one. For housekeeping’s part, we never saw any of them. They would simply sneak into the room while we were in another part of the suite.

* Ambarawa Train Station and Steam Train *
Our first excursion took us to the Ambarawa train station where we had booked the scenic steam train tour. Darta drove us there and acted as our guide, interacting with the locals and translating for us along the way. We booked both cars of the 100 year old steam train on private charter and were therefore able to invite some of the local children and their parents to join us. The ride was a scenic two hours to and from Bedono, with spectacular views over rice fields and distant mountains. But the best part was the villagers and their children that congregated by the tracks to cheer the train on, sometimes even “racing” it on bare feet. Our pictures of these children, as well as our pictures of and with our grateful traveling companions, are probably the favorites of our trip.

* Jathilan Village Dance *
Amanjiwo invited us to attend a Jathilan dance at Candirejo village. This was not the dancing we were used to from Bali. The Jathilan, also know as the trance dance, involves men allowing “spirits” to overtake their body in near epileptic seizures. We knew the spirits were with the men when they were able to break a coconut with their forehead, and eat smoldering embers and broken glass. Let’s just say it was a bit much for my husband’s parents on their first night in Indonesia!

* Losari Coffee Plantation *
While we were staying at Amanjiwo, a representative from the Losari Coffee Plantation picked us up for a coffee tour and lunch. We intended to stay a few nights at this resort, but Indonesian president SBY required the entire resort at the last minute for a cabinet meeting. The resort owner Gabriella Teggia and Sean Flakelar from Amanjiwo made sure we were taken care of for the displaced nights with Amanjiwo. Gabriella also offered us her driver (1 hr. 15 each way), a coffee plantation tour, a resort tour, an outstanding lunch with both Indonesian and Mediterranean fare, a copy of her book “A Cup of Java”, and a tour of the wonderful Hammam spa (and treatments if we’d have had the time!). We were able to meet with Gabriella for a few minutes over coffee and she apologized again for our displacement. In return, we made a donation to Gabriella’s earthquake fund which is helping batik makers in the southern provinces rebuild their small businesses.

The Losari Coffee Plantation setting was very beautiful and the drive incredibly scenic. We were able to see the Bella Vista suite (the room we booked) and the rooms are definitely more rustic than Amanjiwo. The Bella Vista suite used to be a Javanese prince’s home and every effort has been made to keep it in its original condition, including traditional tile flooring and minimal furnishings. But had we stayed here, I’m sure the modest 2nd bedroom with two twin beds would have been a disappointment for Mr. Ericka’s parents. The food and the Hammam, on the other hand are so exceptional that they would make a stay here worthwhile.
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Old Jul 16, 06, 9:11 am
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* Borobudur at Dawn with Elephant Return *
One of Amanjiwo’s signature experiences is to visit Borobudur at dawn, before it officially opens. Darta drove us to the monument and also provided us with the “intellectual tour”. Unfortunately, it was too cloudy for us to experience a true sunrise and we could not see Mt. Merapi, but on the bright side, Darta was incredibly knowledgeable about Borobudur and had been schooled on it from several formal sources. He taught us a lot about the history of the monument and the individual carvings as well as what parts were original and what had been “improved” by the Dutch.

When we were finished at Borobudur, Darta took us to the Manohara Hotel for a reasonably clean, western toilet. Then, it was only a few minutes drive to the stable where we met the Sumatran elephants for our ride back to Amanjiwo. The “mahouts” saddled the elephants with wicker loveseats and we climbed a very large stone staircase to get on board. I was lucky enough to ride Sela, the famous painting elephant, whom I will talk about later. The ride itself was incredibly peaceful, through quiet villages, lovely rice paddies and even along a riverbank and through the river itself. Along the way, there were wonderful views of Borobudur and the Menoreh Hills, and children rushed out of their homes to greet us (OK, maybe they were greeting the elephants.) A handful of little girls posed for a picture and chanted, “Hello. Good morning. We love you.” And to think that most of the world, thanks to a few bad apples and some travel warnings, associates Indonesia with terrorism. We finished at Amanjiwo where we dismounted via a rolling stairway purchased solely for this purpose. Darta met us with a very large basket of Amanjiwo’s fruit and the elephants came right up to the resort’s entrance stairway to be fed and thoroughly spoiled.

* When Elephants Paint *
Since Amanjiwo is the official guardian of the Borobudur Elephant Art Foundation, we were able to commission a painting by Sela. We were driven to the top of Dagi Hill, where Sela, a handful of mahouts and security personnel waited for us in Sela’s “art studio”. The setting was amazing with views of Borobudur down below. We picked the colors and Sela painted in broad, swirling strokes, throwing the paint brush over the back of the easel when she was finished with each color. When she was done, we got to feed her carrots. The paintings were delivered to our room a few days later in a sturdy bamboo tube along with a certificate of authenticity and a couple of art foundation shirts.

* Andong Tour *
An Andong is a fancy canopied cart pulled by a Java pony. Darta accompanied us on this excursion through the local villages and explained where we were going and what we were seeing. We stumbled upon a Javanese wedding and when we asked permission to take pictures, the group invited us to join the procession. Unfortunately, we did not have the time. There were several occasions where we were able to get out of the cart and tour a glass noodle “factory”, a tofu “factory” and a thatch-roofed Javanese home where a local woman ran her palm sugar business. At each stop, neighboring children rushed to greet us and pose for pictures. It was especially nice to visit a Javanese home as we were invited to tea and offered a taste of this woman’s palm sugar (awesome!). At one point, I even helped the woman chase the chickens out of her house in order to help her keep the boiling sugar from getting dirty.

We later learned that our Java pony had a successful career as a racing horse under saddle. The gentleman driving the pony also served as his jockey.

* Menoreh Hills Hike *
We had heard a lot about the hike behind Amanjiwo, but I was not well that day so Mr. Ericka and his parents went on without me. They were accompanied by a guide. At the same time Dodo, one of our butlers who intended to serve soursop martinis and hors d'oeuvres at the ending bale, made his way up the hill by Jeep. Unfortunately, my 60-something mother-in-law, who is generally very fit and walks 2-3 miles every day, began having trouble about 20 minutes into the hike. My family kept asking, “How much farther?” and the guide kept saying 15 minutes but it became apparent there was a lot further to go. Finally, they reached the first bale only to learn that this bale was under renovation and they needed to reach the one much higher up the hill. It was determined that my mother-in-law could not continue on (her heart rate was erratic) so the staff had to send a Jeep to rescue the group. We later learned that the Jeep had never been on this particular trail before so the rescue was even more daring than my family knew at the time. Meanwhile, I ran into Dodo back at the Dalem Jiwo suite only to find him soaking wet. It seems he had run back down the hill on foot in order to beat the Jeep and set up the hors d'oeuvres in the room. He also had a special bath full of rose petals prepared for my mother-in-law when she returned.

While Amanjiwo handled the situation extremely well, the moral of the story is that the Menoreh Hills hike is strenuous and steeper than you might think. My mother-in-law’s problem could have been related to the heat or some medication or both, but the hike is definitely more challenging than the literature describes.

* Selamatan Dinner *
On our last night, we had the staff prepare a private Selamatan Dinner in our suite. They had us leave the room for two hours so that they could spend time with set-up and decorations. When we came back, the entryway was flanked by palm fronds and there were lovely lanterns scattered throughout the open areas of the compound and down to the pool. There were even rose petals scattered over the full-circle of steps leading up to the rotunda. A 9-piece gamelan orchestra was also set-up and playing in the rotunda. After having a drink with Sean the GM in front of the pool, we sat down cross-legged on a large comfortable mat for dinner. The dinner was exceptional with dishes prepared in traditional Javanese style. Some of the dishes were prepared on a grill by the entryway. As we ate, members of a classical Javanese dance troupe entertained us with some of the prettier dances of the region while Dodo and Djoko were great at explaining the meaning behind each dance. We had our picture taken with the dance troupe later in the evening.

As a side note, anyone may enjoy the Selamatan Dinner in the Dalem Jiwo suite, whether you are staying in the room or not. But only if the room is vacant.

* Amanjiwo Summary *
I’ve heard people say that 2 or 3 days is probably enough time at Amanjiwo since there is not much to do. Boy, do I have to disagree! After 8 days, we wished we could have stayed longer. As Amans go, this is definitely right up there with Amankila for scenery and service. Sean mentioned that they are able to maintain a 5:1 staff to guest ratio which would explain the exceptional service. The other thing that is special about this resort is how connected you feel to the local village. Many of the activities get you out into the village’s warm and welcoming environment but even in the comforts of the Dalem Jiwo suite, we were bathed in the sounds of the nearby goats, roosters, and Muslim prayers. Local children have dance class in the main lobby at 3:30 every day. Amanjiwo also has an agreement with the villagers whereby they maintain the rice and tobacco fields in front of the resort so that the guests really feel a part of day-to-day farming life.

The one hiccup we had on this trip was there was some confusion on the final bill as to what was included in the cultural package and what was not. The terms of the package were 7 nights x 4 persons equals 28 free activities, so I can understand how this would be difficult to keep track of, especially when we were doing some of the activites as a foursome and some as couples. I spent less than one minute explaining where I thought the errors were to our butler, Djoko, and he very graciously had it corrected.

In short, Amanjiwo is definitely one of the best Amans and one that should not be missed!
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Old Jul 16, 06, 9:31 am
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I told you Sean would take care of ya...
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Old Jul 16, 06, 1:46 pm
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Amanjiwo

Ericka,
I agree and I have been 3 times for 4 days and I could still go back and see more or just hang out. Did you use the common area's of the resort or just stay in your compound? How many other guest where staying at Amanjiwo during your visit?
What is your feelings about Losari? I need to know if I should continue to tell others to stay there. It is very different then Amanjiwo, but would you combine both if you went back or just go for the day?
Traffic makes getting around Java difficult. Did you visit Jogya or Solo? I also agree what you said about how a few bad apples spoil it for Indonesia. The people of Java could not be more welcoming. Sorry to hear you where sick during your trip but for anyone traveling and staying at Amanresorts it nice to know they will have a good doctor available if needed. I was just at Amanbagh and the doctor who paid a visit was first rate. Oh and thank you for such a great trip report!
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Old Jul 16, 06, 2:44 pm
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Zigzag, to answer your questions...

- We used the restaurant, the library and the spa, but not the pool. Our pool was pretty large and we had the butler service, and I believe the view was better from our pool than the main one.

- Over the weekend, they were at 50% occupancy. They were at less than that through the week.

- Your Losari question is tough. We felt that the Bella Vista was pretty sparsely furnished, but perhaps the other smaller room categories have a warmer feel. The Losari would be very relaxing but it's not in the same category as Amanjiwo. In short, we think a few days visit is warranted, as long as people set their expectations accordingly. The spa is definitely better than Amanjiwo.

And Pickles, you were right!
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Old Jul 16, 06, 3:41 pm
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Thanks Ericka. Your reviews are always great. I will probably be adding either Amanjiwo or Amansara to my upcoming Madlives trip and your report is pushing me in the direction of Amanjiwo.

Sorry you were sick during the trip; that is always a bummer.
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Old Jul 17, 06, 4:03 pm
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Originally Posted by Ericka
Silk Air (a Singapore Airlines’ regional carrier) flew us into Solo City, Java.
Fantastic report, and it has left me with a strong interest in going. Did you have a nonstop flight from Singapore to Solo? Do you know if the flight is daily, or only certain days of the week?
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Old Jul 17, 06, 4:23 pm
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Originally Posted by SanDiego1K
Fantastic report, and it has left me with a strong interest in going. Did you have a nonstop flight from Singapore to Solo? Do you know if the flight is daily, or only certain days of the week?
The Silk Air flight from Singapore to Solo is indeed nonstop. It is only about 1.5 hours. The flight is twice a week (don't remember what days). You can also fly into Yogyakarta which probably has more flight options but Silk Air does not fly there. Flying into Yogyakarta gets you closer to the resort (which could be a blessing if you get car sick) but flying into Solo gets you a good airline and pretty views of Mt. Merapi on the drive in.
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Old Jul 18, 06, 9:32 pm
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> We were a tad disappointed that there weren’t any champagnes chilling alongside the decent wine selection. But then again, we never asked for any so it’s possible there was a bottle hidden away.

Wondeful report - what a great trip it must have been. In reply to the above - they ALWAYS have champagne and decent stuff too (Moet or Ritz, it varies). I always have as much as I want any time of the day.
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Old Jul 19, 06, 12:07 pm
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Originally Posted by plagioia
Thanks Ericka. Your reviews are always great. I will probably be adding either Amanjiwo or Amansara to my upcoming Madlives trip and your report is pushing me in the direction of Amanjiwo.

Sorry you were sick during the trip; that is always a bummer.
Closer to hand you have two fantastic Amans in Sri Lanka (Amanwella and Amangalla). OK not up to Amajiwo, but definitely unique and outstanding in their own way. Sri Lanka itself is a great destination and we were very touched by the great welcome we received there last summer. To be considered.
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Old Jul 19, 06, 4:17 pm
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We'll be hitting Amangalla on our way to the Maldives next year.
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Old Jul 20, 06, 2:19 pm
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Originally Posted by Ericka
We'll be hitting Amangalla on our way to the Maldives next year.
Seriously consider taking the Air Taxi down, or making a stop on the way, it is a long drive. The main problem is that you have to cross Colombo and that is hell. Avoid at all costs Friday afternoons!!!

However Amangalla is quite a magical place, you can't quite put your finger on it but you have this feeling of going back in time.
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Old Jul 20, 06, 3:47 pm
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Originally Posted by Bungus
Closer to hand you have two fantastic Amans in Sri Lanka (Amanwella and Amangalla). OK not up to Amajiwo, but definitely unique and outstanding in their own way. Sri Lanka itself is a great destination and we were very touched by the great welcome we received there last summer. To be considered.
Well, since our travel plans have changed and we will be arriving in the Maldives via Dubai instead of Singapore, Amanjiwo is kinda out, but I am considering one or both of the Amans in Sri Lanka. With all the beach time we'll have in the Maldives, adding Amanwella might be too much beach though. Out of curiosity, how reliable/frequent are the air transfers from Colombo to Amanwella and/or Amangalla? Is this something that can be arranged through the resort?
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Old Jul 20, 06, 4:09 pm
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Originally Posted by plagioia
Well, since our travel plans have changed and we will be arriving in the Maldives via Dubai instead of Singapore, Amanjiwo is kinda out, but I am considering one or both of the Amans in Sri Lanka. With all the beach time we'll have in the Maldives, adding Amanwella might be too much beach though. Out of curiosity, how reliable/frequent are the air transfers from Colombo to Amanwella and/or Amangalla? Is this something that can be arranged through the resort?
Aman can definitely help ou sort all this out. I don't realy have any info on the service as I did it "the hard way"! The drive, once out of Colombo is nice and interesting but it can take 2hrs to cross Colombo.

Amanwella is a very different beach experience to what you will find in the Maldives, and may be worth considering for a few nights. It is a stunning location.
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