Indonesia

bandung-indonesia

Never-Ending Bandung, Indonesia

My friend said Bandung was like Jakarta. Just another big city. But the West Java capital still maintain a small-town ambiance with classical touches. Is it possible to be bored in Bandung, with its abundance of charm, a wide selection of destinations and rich culinary offerings? So, let’s enjoy Bandung.

Old-Style Bandung

I have a vintage soul. Anything to do with history gets my attention. Bandung is rich in historical sites and stunning architecture. And since Ridwan Kamil became mayor of Bandung, the city’s heritage sites have been receiving renewed attention.

Museum Asia Afrika & Gedung Merdeka

Long before the Asia Africa Conference was held 60 years ago, Gedung Merdeka, located on Jalan Asia Afrika, had already had an interesting history. In 1895, it hosted meetings of Societeit Concordia, a group composed of Europeans, especially the Dutch, who lived in Bandung and its surroundings. In 1921,the building served as a conference hall and was famously known as the city’s most luxurious “super club.” The Dutch architect C. P. Wolff Schoemaker helped revitalize the building, giving it an Art Deco flourish.

During the Japanese occupation, the main building was renamed Dai Toa Kaikan and was used as a cultural centre. After Indonesia’s independence, the building was used as the headquarters for Indonesian youth who were fighting the Japanese army and later became a government office.

For me, Gedung Merdeka is more than a heritage building. This is a place where our nation declared its independence. Entering the main hall gives me chills as this is where history was made. The main hall looks much as it did 60 years ago. You can sit in red leather chair while imaging the leaders of a newly independent Indonesia gathered in the hall. For more details about the Asia Africa Conference, just next to Gedung Merdeka is Museum Konfrensi Asia Afrika (Asian African Conference Museum). The museum contains displays about the conference, with pictures and notes that describe the history and figures behind the conference.

Braga Streetbraga-street

There is an interesting story behind this artistic street. A few decades ago, Braga was just a small street home to a scattering of deserted settlements. It was called the kidnaping street because it was so empty. Braga became famous after Dutch entrepreneurs set up shop there. The street starting to become famous between the 1920s and 1930s with the advent of boutiques modelled on Paris. Development Societeit Concordia (now Gedung Merdeka), Hotel Savoy Homann and a cinema behind Societeit Concordia helped boost the fame of Jalan Braga.

Jalan Braga soon became an icon of Bandung. Some of the old buildings still standing along the street attest to the splendour of the past. For travellers interested in history, Braga is the area to find historic buildings. There are also street artists and a range of restaurants and shops. Jalan Braga never sleeps and is hopping 24 hours a day.

bali-indonesia

Bali – The Good, the Bad & the Ugly

For every cheap beer, sunburnt babe and perfect wave, there’s a dodgy dealer, bad braid job and cheeky bastard money

For a tropical paradise rich with its own distinct culture and steeped in mystique and tradition, depending where you go, Bali can be as Australian as thongs, bongs and bad Cold Chisel covers – all of which you can enjoy bleary-eyed alongside your sunburnt friends from home, if that’s what you’re after. But you don’t need to go too far to rub sweaty shoulders with well-heeled Euro and US tourists on the thin, dusty sidewalks either – two-buck Bacardi Breezer in hand while dodging the incessant mosquito drone of haphazardly veering, non-licensed mopeds and haggling to get an extra 20 cents off a Bintang singlet.

A typical Balinese souvenir shop, jam-packed with handicrafts, at Indonesia's famous Ubud Market

A typical Balinese souvenir shop, jam-packed with handicrafts, at Indonesia’s famous Ubud Market

The most packed parts of Bali – yes, we’re looking at you, Kuta – have been claimed by Australians ever since tourism opened up the destination in the early ’70s, thanks to pioneering long-haired surfers named Bruce and salty-skinned sheilas called Shazza, all looking for that eternal dream – a place to chill on the cheap on a beautiful beach. Of course, in this ever-evolving world, things are same/same but different now and Bali – much like your evil ex – has developed a split personality. One side will see you wondering just how loose, bronzed and embarrassing some people are willing to let themselves get in public, all the while attracting bribe-hungry cops like Schapelle Corby to a boogie board.

The other is all amazing food, eye­-spinning sunset beverages at high-end joints on the beach and affordable private villas that make you want to email the boss and tell him you’re never coming back. And if you want a taste of both, Seminyak – a couple of beaches but a million miles away from Kuta – is the place to be. So what’s really going down in Bali these days?

Bali Highs

While green-room loving surf fiends head out of town to classic breaks like Uluwatu, and those looking for a more relaxed, yoga-friendly, monkey-swamped getaway favour Ubud up in the mountains (and let’s not talk about the ritzy end of town at Nusa Dua) Seminyak lets you spend the morning drinking cheap beer on the beach, lunch time scoffing fresh seafood and cool beer, then repeat the cycle in the afternoon and evening – all day, every day. Throw in the dodgy DVD outlets, an assortment of eye candy, markets to grab a crap souvenir for your mum, upscale bars and boozy hellholes just a short stroll from each other, and joy in a sandy box, I even got accosted by a pack of sozzled Aussies in bootleg Sydney Swans gear asking if I knew where the midget boxing was at. Sadly, I didn’t. Even sadder, they went on their way before I could grab a beer at the closest convenience store and join them on their quest for miniature pugilistic entertainment.

Spectacular rice fields in the jungle and mountain area near Ubud in Bali

Spectacular rice fields in the jungle and mountain area near Ubud in Bali

There are also ample ways to get out of throng and into the mountains for some nature admiring and the thrill of being bitten by a mammal hairier than you. The Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary (Monkey Forest in Ubud) – as the name suggests – is teaming with the primate pricks all looking for a way to steal your bananas and scamper up a tree with them, leaving their mates crying little monkey tears of hunger. Word of warning – keep your belt tight, as more than one hapless tourist in loose camos has been left semi-nude after a furry dude uses their waistband as a ladder. Also, lock your backpack – it might look cute when they climb in and steal your drink, but when they’ve scaled to the top branch of the nearest tree and pierced a hole in your orange juice you’ll wish you had of mixed it with vodka. Deceivingly cute bastards!

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Alila Seminyak Bali, Indonesia

An elegant coastal boutique resort that exudes luxury, sophistication and vibrancy like no other

Profile

“Our goal is to send our guests home with spiritual and emotional memories, not just souvenirs,” shared Mark Edleson, President of Alila Hotels & Resorts group. The name Alila derived from Sanskrit, which translates into surprise and is perfect for each property has its own refreshing character and hospitality charm. Alila is also constantly setting new standards for getaways, with featured privacy, eco-friendly buildings and bespoke travel experiences.

It might not be the newest kid on the block, but it is definitely a hot spot in town. Alila Seminyak is a contemporary beachfront resort with vertical gardens and an ancient temple at its heart, making it a truly distinctive feature and a sophisticated addition to Seminyak’s beachfront. Sensitive site planning helped preserve the local landowner’s family home and the ancient ancestral temple, which has stood for generations. The temple was integrated into the resort’s design, framed as a central focal point for the entire property, while providing hotel guests a unique glimpse into an authentic Balinese tradition.

Designed by Singapore-based architecture firm URBNarc, the team maximises the resorts’ privileged location with the best ocean views at every opportunity while maintaining an atmosphere of privacy and individuality. Beyond its aesthetic appeal, Alila Seminyak is grounded in sustainability. It is the first resort in Indonesia to surpass the rigorous EarthCheck Building. Planning and Design standards by achieving an astounding 44 point best practice score against the industry norm at 5 points.

Property

Alila Seminyak comprises 240 contemporary styled rooms and suites with a spectacular penthouse, all of which embraces modern style chic with composites of nature within the design elements. Usable spaces are also thoughtfully planned out for artisanal living and each room is furnished with sliding balconies and sun shading screens to fully embrace guests in the light and airiness of the outdoors.

alila-seminyak-bali-1The lobby space was definitely one to remember. The open counters were a concept designed to maximise the use of natural cooling, shading and daylight to reduce energy usage. Once we set foot into the massive space, we were ushered to the plush sofa seats right in the middle of the lobby for a refreshing and fuss free check-in process, which includes some spa products (facial mist, body lotion) accompanied with a cold cup of tea and some local desserts. Though it might be a simple act, I find it very heartwarming to know that guests are treated right the moment they set foot into the establishment. Art decor is a huge deal for the resort and artefacts on display are handpicked works from local artiste and placed around the resort premise, subject to change seasonally. Akin to visiting a museum, you will be in for a treat each time you return. We were then escorted to our Ocean Suite, located within the main hub of the hotel and with easy access to the beach, and given a room tour before settling in.

A bottle of fresh orange juice and a small platter of local delicacies might be the first thing to notice, after which, the incredibly bright yet inviting natural sunlight that lit the entire room (or suite in this case). What I really love was the fusion of nature and modern contemporary as seen in the furnishings within the room. The walls were made of dark wood sourced from local timbers and the design elements (bamboo-like wall designs) were inspired by the local forest. There are also two vanity spaces, perfect for couples to get ready in the morning. Did we mention the additional bath amenities such as sunscreen, after-sun lotion and facial mist on top of the usual shampoo and soap? It was the perfect place to be if you enjoy cradling by the lull of the waves and the caress of the ocean breeze.

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Bali’s Most Favourite Family Resort

Bali Dynasty Resort is a premier beachside resort in South Kuta Bali, renowned for its warm Balinese hospitality

The resort is fully integrated and offers six restaurants, five bars, three swimming pools including a kids pool with its own Kids Water Fun Zone and a dedicated adults only pool, spa, exercise room, beach club, kids’ club, teens club, Trapeze school, meeting and wedding facilities and a complimentary Hospitality Lounge for those early arrivals and late departures.

The unique layout allows for a subtle but effective division between the couple and family market. Couples can enjoy the famous Gracie Kelly’s Irish Pub and relax at the adults-only Lazy Pool, while kids enjoy a 56-metre waterslide flowing into their own pool and complimentary entrance to the Enchanted Garden Kids’ Club. A wide variety of rooms catering to the family market are available, sleeping up to five people.

Kupu-kupu Kids’ Club for kids from the age of 4 to 10 and The Den Teens’ Club for children from 10 to 16 years of age are located adjacent to the kids’ pool. A professional trained team is always on hand to ensure the utmost safety and security of all children, with a full, action-packed list of games and activities, ensuring fun for the kids and a relaxing break for the parents. The kids’ playground area provides kids’ slides, climbing frame, see saw, swings, table tennis and much more.

Strategically located on the famous South Kuta Beach strip; Bali Dynasty Resort is only ten minutes drive from the airport and located within walking distance of many small restaurants and bars, Kuta Art Market, nightspots, entertainment venues as well as the Waterbom Park and two large shopping malls.

banda-neira

East Bound – Banda Neira, Indonesia

From the deep blue sea to the top of a mountain in Banda Neira …

It was two years ago when I first wished to travel to Banda Neira, so after a long wait, I was beyond excited to finally visit this heaven on earth together with a couple of friends. Banda Neira is an island in the Moluccas Islands chain, which lies in the eastern part of Indonesia. Although small in size, Banda Neira plays an important role in the history of Indonesia, as it was one of the key areas in the trading World. During the golden era of the archipelago, Banda Neira was one of the busiest islands where people went for business. And that’s why Banda Neira, which is famous for its beautiful marine life, also has many interesting historical sites.

Getting to Banda Neira takes quite a long time, but trust me the journey is well worth it. My group spent a total of 14 hours to reach Banda Neira – the journey took a flight from Jakarta to Ambon (the capital city of the Moluccas), and then continued by fast boat to Banda Harbor. At the harbor, some staff from The Nutmeg Tree & Hotel Dive were awaiting our arrival and using a cart, they took all of our luggage to the hotel. The Nutmeg Tree Hotel & Dive was our place to stay for the following six days, as we planned to explore the high and low points of the island. It is strategically located by the beach with a view of the ocean in the foreground and the mountains in the background, and such magnificent scenery makes this hotel one of a kind.

banda-neira-Lo And Behold

Banda Neira has much to offer visitors, but the main highlight is the underwater life. My group didn’t want to waste any time, so the next day we went straight to the ocean.

There are a lot of dive sites to explore, but I think Tanjung Kenari is the most unique one. The entry point of this dive site is so surreal; it was like we were entering an underwater cave with visibility up to 40 meters. At this dive site my group was greeted by numerous Giant Seafan – there were so many of them that they formed a kind of a wall where little fish were swimming around. We also saw a Honeycomb Moray Eel, Bump Head and turtles. Rumor has it that a school of Hammer Head Sharks can be found swimming in this area during a certain season.

Our next stop was Batu Kapal. “Batu” means stone and “kapal” means ship, and the name of this dive site is inspired by the contour of the area, where the coral reef is so big that it looks almost like a ship. The most interesting finding here is the schools of little fish that are swimming around despite the strong current. However, due to the strong current, this dive site is not recommended for beginners.

After diving, my group decided to go island hopping just to relax and chill out. We visited a number of islands, Hatta Island and Rhun Island to name two, all of which were breathtaking with white sandy beaches. But my personal favorite was Nailaka Island, an atoll with white sand that only surfaces during low tide.

flores-indonesia

Flores – Indonesia

With newly improved airports and better roads, Flores offers great overland adventure but doesn’t require any survival skills to do so.

Essential information:

Population: 1.9 million

Main town: Labuanbajo

Language: Indonesian

Major industries: tourism, agriculture, fishing

Unit of currency: rupiah (Rp)

Cost index: double room in guesthouse 400,000Rp (US$40), Bintang beer 20,000Rp (US$2), daytrip from Labuanbajo to Komodo National Park 250,000Rp (US$25), car and driver per day 6,000,000Rp (US$60)

Why go in ASAP?

Start with the dragons and end with picture-perfect beaches, in between enjoy great diving, lush tropical forests, smoking volcanoes, stunning hikes, exotic cultures and some of Asia’s best pizza (really!).

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A Komodo Dragon enjoying the sun of Flores Island – Indonesia

Indonesia’s Flores packs a lot into an island only 380km long west to east. Now with newly improved airports (there are numerous flights a day from Bali) and better roads (though they do still curve like mad), Flores offers great overland adventure but doesn’t require any survival skills to do so. In the west, Labuanbajo is a laid-back port town made for travellers: cafes, guesthouses, bars, dive shops and some great restaurants (get that incredible pizza at Made in Italy), all with just enough funkiness to preclude feeling packaged. To the west Komodo National Park is home to the huge namesake man-eating lizards (aka dragons). Rinca, a park island close to Labuanbajo, has just had a major revamp that includes new visitor facilities.

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Komodo National Park is an UNESCO World Heritage Site – Indonesia

Heading east across Flores, there are new tourist offices, cafes and guesthouses in the towns and small cities such as Bajawa and Moni that you pass through on the trans-Flores highway. Road improvements mean you can easily divert to see a newly erupting volcano, an isolated beach or one of the hidden villages of the island’s diverse and ancient cultures.

Festivals & Events:

Like a vision from the past, the village of Bena reflects the ancient culture of the Ngada. Rows of dramatically thatched houses face megalithic tombs. Always welcoming and always worth a visit, you’ll be especially rewarded if you make the six-day Reba ceremony in late December or January featuring dancing, feasting, sacrifices and ebony black costumes.

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REBA FESTIVAL OF NGADHA TRIBE IN FLORES – Indonesia

What’s Hot…

Labuanbajo is right on the cusp: an inviting town that’s an ideal base for Flores adventures but which hasn’t yet sold its soul — and mellow vibe — to tourism.

labuanbajo-town

Labuanbajo town – Indonesia

…What’s Not

Maumere is a bookend to a Flores trip: fly into Labuanbajo, fly out of Maumere. But it’s a dud to visit, so you’ll just want a quick night there before your early morning flight back to Bali.

Life-changing experiences:

In only a week you can revel in an overload of experiences. Start in Labuanbajo, gazing worriedly at the other-worldly dragons, then stop off at one of the perfect beaches on any of many nearby tiny islands. Toss in some of Indonesia’s best diving and snorkelling. Get a public mini-bus or private car and head west up and over, in and around the island’s ever-varied landscape. Stop off in places like the cute mountain town of Bajawa, where you can visit the Ngada people’s village of Bena.

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Bena Village – Flores

Onwards east, the steamy port city of Ende is bracketed by perfectly conical and often smouldering volcanoes. Pause at the traveller-friendly hamlet of Moni for a day to see the sunrise over triple lakes at Kelimutu – each a different vivid colour, from turquoise to orange. The next day, stop at Paga’s pristine beach before finishing in Maumere. This trip is literally a kaleidoscope of experiences you’ll still be digesting months later.

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Paga Beach – Flores, Indonesia

Random facts:

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  • The Komodo dragon (ora) is a monitor lizard, albeit one on steroids. Growing up to 3m in length, random encounters are a bad idea. Some dragon details:

  • They are omnivorous, and enjoy eating their young.

  • Bacteria in the dragon’s mouth is its secret weapon. One bite from a dragon leads to septic infections that inevitably kill the victim. The huge lizard lopes along after its victim waiting for it to die, which can take up to two weeks.

  • There is no accepted reason that the dragons are only found around Flores although it’s thought that their ancestors came from Australia 4 million years ago.

Most bizarre sight:

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Rice fields in Flores – Indonesia

Flores offers a lot of tough competition for this label, but you’ll likely stare in mute wonder at the vast rice fields laid out in the shape of spiderwebs near Cancan

Regional flavours:

An ever-growing number of cafes aimed at visitors offer up all manner of fresh, creative and often organic meals. Freshly caught seafood figures on many menus while in towns and cities Indonesian classics and the ever-changing nasi campur (dish of the day) are cheap and tasty.

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AMANWANA – INDONESIA

It’s simple, yes, but don’t be fooled. The restaurant may not have a Michelin star and there isn’t even a fancy spa, but this retreat east of Bali is everything a perfectly formed island escape should be. Twenty tents furnished in hardwoods, canvas, coconut and coral are pitched next to a beach lapped by the best water in the world to explore above and below, and then swim back to shore to shower under a cliff (twist a rock to turn the water on, Flintstones-style).

There isn’t a lot to do except make friends with the fishes, which is the beauty of the place. Napoleon wrasse, schools of batfish and reef sharks cruise above gorgonian fans and giant sponges; cuttlefish wobble about the sea bed as camouflaged as a chameleon.

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Diving with a Napoleon wrasse

Even the house reef, named Turtle Street, is worth travelling halfway around the world for. Here you can snorkel with manta rays and there’s a resident three-flippered turtle (who doesn’t go around in circles).

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The three-flipped turtle

Look closely to find a black-and-white damselfish living under a half coconut on the shore. And if that’s the kind of castaway life you’re seeking, the camp’s 32-metre cruiser Amanikan can make trips to the remote reefs of Raja Ampat.

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The Amanikan cruiser heading to Raja Ampat

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Bali’s Cascading Beauties

If Bali has only been a quick getaway vacation spot during a long weekend, it might be time to book another flight to explore the island beyond the comforts of your resort. The Indonesian island may be famous for its majestic sea temples, like Uluwatu Temple and Tanah Lot, as well as its rice paddy fields but an oft-overlooked attraction are its waterfalls.

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Uluwatu Temple

There are numerous gorgeous waterfalls in Bali, especially in the central-northern highlands. Most tourists tend to stay away from waterfalls due to their hard-to-access nature but each and every trip is worth the effort to come face to face with one of the most stunning phenomena of nature.

The easiest to access and the most visited is Gitgit, twin waterfalls accessible from the main roads of Bedugul to Singaraja. Getting to Gitgit from the main road just requires a comfortable 20-minute walk through a shady forest on a wooden boardwalk.

gitgit-waterfall

Gitgit Waterfall

What greets you at the end of the path is rushing waters cascading from a height of 40 metres into a rocky pool. Cool off from the heat and humidity of Bali by taking a dip and then continue the trek to the falls of Mekalongan, a continuation of Gitgit’s watercourse.

Another waterfall to check out is Sekumpul Waterfall. It takes a three-hour trek that requires crossing over streams and hiking up about 100 steps.

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Sekumpul Falls

Sekumpul Waterfall is actually a cluster of a few narrow cascades centred in a lush bamboo valley. The best views are accessible through durian and coffee plantations for a vantage point that gives you a full view of the 80-metre high falls.

There are many other falls to look into during a weekend trip to Bali. Lake Tamblingan has two: Munduk Waterfall and Melanting Waterfall, set between orange groves, coffee plantations and fields of hydrangea and bougainvillea. Then there’re the twin falls of Banyumala that flow into clear, shallow soaking pool and are surrounded by some exotic birds. Also not to be missed is Blahmantung Waterfall, located near the farming village of Pupuan. In the rainy season, the waters gush from a drop of 100 metres, making it Bali’s highest and most impressive waterfall.

blahmantung-waterfall

Blahmantung Cascade

MAKE IT HAPPEN

  • National carrier, Garuda Indonesia, flies from Singapore and Kuala Lumpur to Bali’s Denpasar Airport multiple times a week. If staying at a hotel or resort, make prior arrangements with the concierge for an airport pick up.

  • For a comprehensive tour of Bali’s waterfalls and other places of interest, book a tour with InterContinental Bali Resort. Their ‘In the Know’ insider guide customises personal tours centred on visitors’ interest to the Indonesian island. Prices vary per tour.

  • Stay at InterContinental Bali Resort, which is located on a sandy stretch of Jimbaran Bay. The 417-room hotel caters to couples, families and large groups on its expansive tropical land filled with six swimming pools, a children’s resort, and other recreational activities (from US$258 per night for Resort Classic Room).

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    InterContinental Bali Resort – Bali, Malaysia

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Torajaland – Sulawesi, Indonesia

Elaborate Funerals and Eloquent Architecture

Once known as the Celebes, Sulawesi is a fascinating island destination for exploring one of Indonesia’s most distinctive cultural groups. Tanah Toraja, or Torajaland, located within mountainous folds north of the popular port city Ujung Pandang, is famous for its unusual and elaborate death feasts.

A visitor hits the jackpot if he or she arrives in time for a local funeral ceremony, to which outsiders are enthusiastically welcomed. Joyous cele­brations of the soul’s departure for the here­after go on for days, and are marked by flowing palm wine, music, dancing, colorful dress, and the sacrifice of a pig or water buffalo or two – or dozens, depending on the family’s means. Wooden coffins and earthly goods are buried in caves hewn into the limestone cliffs.

The Toraja profess Christianity, but instead of crosses, carved and painted wooden effigies – lifelike figures of the deceased called tau tau – line the cliffs. Although grave-visiting is the draw (there are cemeteries for the nobility, cemeteries for babies . ..), the island itself is a marvel to explore, for the templelike architecture of its tongkonan homes (bamboo-roofed structures that resemble the prow of a sailing ship), clove and banana plantations, bamboo villages floating on beautiful Lake Tempe, and remote mountain enclaves accessible only by foot.

Unlike their policy in other parts of Indonesia, the colonial Dutch encouraged the Toraja to preserve their rich architectural and cultural traditions – with the exception of human sacrifice, a custom extinguished some­time ago.

amanwana-moyo-indonesia

Amanwana – Moyo, Indonesia

A Luxury Nature Camp in the Back of Beyond

Located east of Bali, the tiny island of Moyo is inhabited almost exclusively by butterflies, crab-eating monkeys, and rusa deer – plus a handful of cosseted barefoot visitors from this luxury nature camp, carved into a secluded cove amid lush jungle.

The Amanwana gets its share of high-profile guests, but you needn’t be trying to elude paparazzi to relish being both a million miles from civilization and within hailing distance of an excellent kitchen, superb water sports, and a hotel staff that lives to serve you.

The twenty beachfront “tent” accommodations are actually spacious, canvas-roofed, teak-floored bungalows replete with camouflaged modern amenities, where the absence of TVs, tele­phones, and a daily newspaper will make reality seem like a bad dream. Most of the island is a protected wildlife reserve, so guests eventually set off on a series of nature walks inland, jeep trips to a waterfall (where you can dive in from overhanging trees), or boat excursions to pristine bays and secluded coral coves.

Amanwana is one of Indonesia’s prime dive resorts, and its 1,000-foot vertical drop is home to giant lobster, turtles, and white-tip reef sharks. At 5 o’clock, everyone’s aboard the hotel’s wooden outrigger for a sunset cruise on the Flores Sea, the evening sendoff to another fine day in paradise.