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By Electra Gillies
With breathtaking views over the ancient Ayung River that stretch out across emerald padi fields, Bambu Indah is a magical intimate boutique hotel perched on the side of a ridge in Sayan, outside Ubud in Bali. Originally built by eco-jeweller John Hardy and his wife Cynthia to house visiting family and friends, the couple decided to open Bambu Indah in 2005 to anyone who wanted to come and stay and experience this rustic, chic retreat.
The property consists of eleven Javanese bridal homes or joglos that were handpicked and decorated by the Hardys themselves. A majestic black bamboo Minang House in the traditional Sumatran style is the focal point overlooking the largest natural freshwater pool in Bali, which lies in the middle of the various handcrafted houses, surrounded by permaculture gardens and populated by families of croaking amphibians. The atmosphere is relaxed and homely and it has managed to retain the laid back atmosphere of simply going to stay with friends.
Upon entering the lodging, you can feel the homely vibe that sets Bambu Indah apart: drawings by the Hardy’s daughter Elora mix with the old Javanese and Sumatran architecture, for example. While you check in, one of the warmly welcoming staff will offer you a cooling coconut water at the restaurant, a traditional rural Balinese structure.
Enchanting artisanal joglos are all individually painted so each room in Bambu Indah has its own identity. The Africa House is decorated with a personal artefacts collected by the Hardys on their travels throughout the continent, and has commanding views across the rice fields, evocative of the plains of Africa. Another unique room is the Udang House, which has a glass floor so you can see the beautiful stream (and its resident frogs) running beneath the room, creating glittering illusions inside. Each house seems to have its own playful yet sophisticated personality, with styles that suit all kinds of travellers, from honeymooners to solo adventurers.
Another joglo houses the delightfully diminutive spa where you can enjoy a number of traditional treatments. All the products used are organically made using ingredients concocted from the gardens and surrounding areas. The shampoos, conditioners and soaps in the rooms are all a secret blend devised by Cynthia Hardy. These are not only an olfactory pleasure sensation, but also leave your skin and hair heavenly smooth. So fresh are the products that have to be replaced every five days and are not available for sale, so sadly you have to indulge extravagantly in the eclectic bathrooms during your stay.
This is really an ideal place to relax and unwind, leaving memories of hectic life behind, but if you get restless, Ubud is a very short drive away, and here you can visit the market and the palace and indulge in a bit of town life. If you are more eager to explore the nature surrounding the hotel, no problem: Ms. Dewi leads 7am treks down the fairytale spiral staircase to the Ayung River across the padi fields and through the village where you can get a real taste of rural Bali.
Something that is truly noticeable from arrival and is intrinsic to the ethos of the property is the garden area that fills the space between the bungalows–apart from flowers, it is a flourishing vegetable and herb garden. The garden provides 80-90 percent of the vegetables that are used in the restaurant, Dapoer, which prides itself on its traditional Indonesian home cooking, which is all organic. Local women who have cooked for the family for years make all the delectable aroma filled meals. Often, hotels bring in foreign chefs or try to modernise traditional Indonesian food, but this is purely traditional and the owners of the hotel encourage the women to cook as they would at home. The Sumatran curry in either tofu or chicken is probably one of the best taste sensations on the island.
It is this lack of pretension and dedication to sustainability that makes Bambu Indah so appealing. The laidback luxury of the hotel is its main appeal, and this theme runs throughout. A dip in the pool is in itself a completely natural and different experience as small streams run into a large freshwater rock pool. Cool down or hang off the rope swing before dropping in, reminding you again that this is not just a hotel, but also a place that evolved from a home for adults and children to one welcoming all those with youth in their hearts.
Bedtime can be as open or closed as you want and the rooms are all air conditioned, but the doors and windows can also be left open to sleep with the clean, gentle breeze blowing through a mosquito net. The private verandas are the perfect spot to enjoy a quiet dinner or breakfast if you are in search of privacy or solitude. A reclaimed deck also has tables or bales (pagodas) to enjoy a drink or meal with commanding views over the sublimely stately lush padi fields and mountains.
Bambu Indah is a welcoming unaffected hideaway that is near busy Ubud, but feels a million miles away. It is a natural and comforting experience with no pollution or noise, apart from some very vocal frogs.