The Aman Bali Experience

There are a few basic principles I try to live by:

  • At the end of your life I believe you’ll regret more what you didn’t do than what you did do
  • If mom’s happy everyone’s happy
  • Don’t fly Royal Jordanian

Anytime I can knock out two of the above three, I consider it to be a win. 😉

So why do I mention this? Because this past week it was my mom’s 60th birthday, and I wanted to do something special. Something really special. My parents bought a business in Florida close to 10 years ago which requires them to be there every day (or so they think), so my mom hasn’t taken a vacation in almost 10 years, and has been working 12 hours a day (at least) six days a week.

I moved to the Pacific Northwest last year and I haven’t seen my parents during that time as much as I’d like, so I wanted to take my mom on a really, really, really special trip for her birthday. In a post several years ago Gary said that “people as a whole underinvest in peak experiences,” and that stuck with me. And that’s exactly what motivated my thinking with this trip.

Two of my four favorite places in the world are Hong Kong and Bali, so I figured since my mom has never been to Asia before, visiting those two destinations would be awesome. But I also remember how absolutely transforming my trip to India was, where I had the chance to stay at the three Aman properties (Aman New Delhi, Aman-i-Khas, and Amanbagh).

There are luxury hotels, and then there are Amans. Anyone that frequents them (sadly not me) will agree they’re in a league of their own, and are actually transforming. It’s not the level of luxury that impresses me about Amans (though it’s impressive as well), but how brilliantly they blend into the local culture and how sincere and understated the hospitality is.

Only one slight problem – you can’t redeem points for them and they’re outrageously expensive. I shouldn’t have spent the money and am certainly not in the demographic of their average guest, but after much thought I pulled the trigger. How did I justify it? I asked myself if there’s any way I’d regret the decision to spend more money than I should to give my mom one of the most memorable trips of her life for her 60th birthday. After deciding the answer was “no,” I pulled the trigger.

While I’ll have a full trip report in due time (I have to finish a couple of other reports first), I wanted to just quickly summarize the Aman experience best I could. Because frankly despite the high price tag, I think it was worth every penny and then some.

On this trip we spent three nights at Amandari (in Ubud) and three nights at Amankila (located on the east coast of Bali, one of the few parts of Bali I haven’t visited before).

Each Aman has only about 30 rooms, as is the norm at Amans, and the rooms were stunning. Simply stunning. They’re not really rooms, but standalone villas.

At Amandari we had a beautiful villa overlooking the rice fields. Half of the experience were the sounds. It was almost like an audio track. I feel like I could have had half of the Amandari experience with my eyes closed all the time, as hearing the wildlife 24/7 was just incredible.

At Amankila we had an incredible suite overlooking the ocean. In both cases the rooms were just spectacularly appointed and in immaculate condition.

But that’s not what makes Amans special. It’s not the facilities – which are spectacular in and of themselves – but the people.

To start, for 30 rooms they have about 160-180 employees. Figure at any given time the property is about half full, maybe a bit more. You do the math.

Service is so spectacularly hospitable, refined, and over the top yet understated. I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but at Amans it isn’t.

When on property you’re not addressed by your name, but as “ibu” (for women) or “bapak” (for men). As every Aman employee describes it, you’re treated as part of their family. Just about all the employees live in the villages around the property and have been with Aman for 20+ years, so the degree of local knowledge you get is second to none.

The thing that blew my mom’s mind is how everyone knows everything. When you go to a restaurant or order a drink at the bar there’s no check. You’re never asked for your room number. They know who you are. And they don’t just know who you are, but they know everything you’ve done. If you had a massage in the afternoon you’ll be asked in the restaurant by the waiter how it was. If you go white water rafting and return to the hotel to relax by the pool, the guy working at the pool will ask you how it was. If you get a tour of a village, your Aman host will often show you their home.

The first 24 hours we were at Amandari our room was refreshed five times. FIVE times.

And the little touches are never ending. For example, when our bags were transported from the car to our room, the luggage claim tags were removed and were instead replaced with personalized permanent Amandari luggage tags.

At Amankila my mom mentioned to someone how much she loved the smell of the roses in the garden. 30 minutes later a basket of them was in our room with a note from the GM.

Perhaps the most spectacular “little touch” was when we switched between Amandari and Amankila. The properties are maybe 90 minutes apart. Two hours after arriving at Amankila there was a package sitting on my desk in the room with a pair of shoes I didn’t even realize I left at Amandari. And they didn’t even make a fuss of it!

I think that really sums up the Aman experience – it’s amazing while seeming utterly effortless. Because everyone that works there wants to be there, loves what they do, and genuinely wants to let you into their world.

Truly the only horrible part about staying at Amans is leaving. We checked out of Amankila today and were “blessed” and given a gift upon leaving, and then close to a dozen of the employees lined up to wave goodbye to us. I almost wanted to cry.

Anyway, if you can swing an Aman, it’s on a different level of any other place I’ve stayed. There’s lots of hyperbole used to describe the “hospitality” industry, and I think Aman is the only one that scores a ten out of ten every time.

In the car today I couldn’t help but ask the driver “so how does Aman do it? How do you guys know everything about everyone?” He smiled and said “well that’s the Aman secret.”

Did my bank account take a big hit from the stay? Yep. Is the smile on my mom’s face worth every penny? Yes, and then some. And I’m not alone, because just about every guest I interacted with at the properties were “Amanjunkies,” and plan their vacations around them.

More details with the trip report! In the meantime if you can’t wait, here are some well produced videos I found on YouTube of Amankila and Amandari:

If you’ve stayed at an Aman before, I’m curious if your impression is as favorable as mine!

Comments

  1. I think its awesome you took your mom on a trip to Asia with you. I’m doing the same with my mother who’s never traveled outside of NA and figured the combo of Singapore/Kuala Lampur and Tokyo would be a good first toe dip for her to get a taste of Asia.

    As for the Aman hotels, I expect to see some credit card referral links in the coming months LOL! Bali probably is as good of any place to stay at with them though as hotels there can either be very stale and westernized or a good mix of local and comfort.

  2. @ listen — They actually set up an extra bed in the rooms. All Amans only have king beds, as far as I know.

  3. I totally agree with your observations. Aman is just on a totally different level. We stayed at Amangani 4 years ago and to this day, my husband and I still talk about it. They’re pricey, but it’s so worth it.

  4. Lovely story, Ben! Thank you for sharing what must have been, indeed, a memorable experience with your mom. The memories will be there for you both….And please pass on a Happy Birthday to her!

  5. I have not stayed at amandari BUT I did have a WONDERFUL dinner there about 15 years ago. We were on our honeymoon and stayed at a hotel about 200 yards down the road fromAmandari. The food and service were wonderful and the cost was only about $100.

    This last year in Galle Sri Lanka we had afternoon tea lunch and dinner at the Aman hotel there.

    We were treated WONDERFULLY at both hotels and look forward to EATING at more Aman hotels in the future.

  6. Yes totally agree. Have stayed at Amangalle and Amanwella. Amangalle was one of my best hotel experiences. I still remember the wonderful breakfasts, the service and the baths. Will definitely return here in the future.

  7. Our stay was Amandari and Amanjiwo. We were in the corner suite at Amandari – the river on one side and the rice paddies on the other.

    We did the ‘Bali and Beyond’, extending it to 8 nights.

    Our next Aman will be either US based (Giri or Gani), or possibly their new, and utterly stunning, Venice property.

    It is the little touches that count, and they consistently executed flawlessly.

    Definitely worth every penny from my partner and my perspective.

    Book with DavidO or your favorite Virtuoso Agent for a variety of additional benefits! 🙂

  8. I am not sure that I am as much impressed by your Aman experience as I am about how good you are to your Mom. I once climbed Mt. Elbrus (Russia), the highest mountain of Europe. A young climber from our group, from Demark, whipped out a portrait of his parents and take a picture of himself holding his parents’ photo on the summit. Considering all the equipment and care to make it to the top, I was blown away by how much this man wanted to honor his parents. His Mom now keeps that picture on her desk, no surprise.

    Love this kind of stories.

  9. @Lucky, one question, do they have 2 beds in one room? Otherwise how did you managed to sleep on one bed together?

  10. I’ve been so fortunate to stay at several Aman properties throughout the world and couldn’t agree with you more. Their approach to service is one-of-a-kind and unlike anything else. It’s hard to pick a favorite but the Amankora circuit is a journey that has stayed with me everyday since my visit a couple years ago. I always look forward to the Aman experience!

  11. Not $5100, that’s for a garden suite, without tax or service fee. Ocean view as shown above, with tax and service included, is $7623. Now as soon as the new Chase Aman cc comes out, with 6 free nights after spending $5K, we are SO staying there.

    “They know who you are. And they don’t just know who you are, but they know everything you’ve done”

    Not surprising, since they are tied directly into the NSA surveillance program. 😀

  12. @ Robert Hanson — I booked through a Virtuoso agent that was able to get me Virtuoso benefits as well (so a room upgrade and a free lunch per stay). So I paid for entry level room.

  13. How come I wasn’t treated like you are at Amans. Is it because I’m indonesian? My people usually think highly of Americans and the others but not to their own 🙁

  14. Yay! I am so happy the trip went well for your mom (and you). It is awesome that you such a lovely relationship with your parents and that you get to take her on an amazing and well deserved vacation.

  15. For an experience as you describe, $5,100 for 6 nights doesn’t seem unreasonable. Certainly not at all inexpensive per se, but in terms of value it sure beats many others (e.g. the ~$1,000/night rack rate that the St. Regis NY wants for Fall dates).

  16. Aman on the East coast you finally made it yeah! Now for the ultimate Aman experience Bhutan here they are on a different level again! 30-40 nights a year. Unseasonably wet in Bali at the moment hope you missed the worst.

  17. I’m sure Aman junkies laugh at us when we make a big deal about elite status at Starwoods, Hyatts, and the like. Glad you both had a great trip.

  18. Far superior to any Park Hyatt free night stay! 😉 Good to see reports like these…indeed, Aman is the top hotel flag (if you can call it that) in the world.

    These special trips are wonderful. I sent my mother and her twin for a run around in Europe for their 70th birthday. They had a blast….it will be a vivid memory for the rest of their lives.

  19. Absolutely AWESOME idea, and you certainly went to the two that anybody on a limited schedule (or budget) should hit up IMO (although Ubud is pretty inundated with tourists these days). Along with Amanjiwo in central Java, these constitute the reference/standard that I hold all high end resorts and hotels to. They really have it all, from hard to soft product. We really can’t resist going back to these places every couple of years or so, it always feels like visiting the exotic home of a friend! Congrats on a great trip…

  20. Your mom will remember this trip forever.

    Money is another mean to happiness, but not happiness. And if you have some, why not spend it with the one who truly love you?

    I am so glad to read that my favorite blogger, is a darn good son!

  21. Both of my parent’s hit the next decade of their lies in a few months and I’m INSPIRED to give them a GIFT like yours. WELL DONE for taking good care of your mummy. WELL DONE.

  22. Ben, that was great thinking. Money is just money, and if you have it, using it on this kind of thing is the best investment there is. Clearly most of us (myself definitely included) can’t do this every year, but for a one-off? If the experience is right you will have no regrets at spending thousands of dollars but often you can regret 200 dollars spent on a poor hotel stay more…

  23. Looks stunning but I have to correct one thing–the flowers in the basket aren’t roses!! They are tuberoses–a bulb like daffodils or tulips but with an amazing smell. I”m guessing your mom commented on the tuberoses and you only caught the “roses” part. 🙂

  24. Speaking as a mom with a son slightly older than you, I can honestly say it’s such a treat whenever we are able to spend time with our children. I’ve no doubt your mom treasures that, perhaps even more than the destination. (Although I must say, it does look fabulous.)

    My husband and I alternate taking trips with our son. Last year for the two of them it was the eclipse in Australia, this year it’s my turn for a mini rtw with him. We’re wildly excited about our plan, but I’ve always loved all our trips together. I have incredible memories of each and every one of them.

    You’re a good son Lucky, and I’m sure you made your mom very happy.

    And yes, I was wondering if someone was going to point out the tuberoses.

  25. Start saving now for mom’s 70th – and try Amanpuri in Phuket (still my Aman fave after 30+ years). Stunning people and property.

    Congrats for giving your mom an experience of a lifetime!

  26. @lucky – thank you so much for this blog entry! My husband and I did the same Aman Experience offer you and your mom did last week at Amandari and Amankila, and actually we remember you two! We never met, but a mom and son stick out in a hotel full of honeymooners. We did 4 nights at Amandari and 3 at Amankila, checking out on June 15, arriving back in the US on June 16. Anyway, your description is SPOT ON with our thoughts as first time Aman guests! I am saving this (as my writing is not nearly as descriptive!), and look forward to reading he full report. We couldn’t be happier with Aman, and thanks again for summing it up for us!

  27. My first Aman experince at Amanusa. Since 2008 and really fall in love Aman in Indonesia. It’s not just the place because of all staffs there make me feel like home. 🙂

  28. That’s really awesome! If you do something similar for your father on his big *0th birthday, then I look forward reading about it.

  29. @Lucky– It’s cool that you did this trip with your Mom! One never knows how long one’s parents will be able to travel and you’ve created a lasting memory that will stand out among your many great trips as you reflect back years from now. Thanks for sharing it!

  30. Wonderful thing you did and beautiful mini report. Honestly, for the description, I think that (like some others) this actually isn’t all too expensive. When you compare some bogus places that charge 750-1000 a night, it looks like you came out ahead.

  31. You did your job Ben! Well written and thought out and now I feel the need to experience an Aman Resort somewhere. Great job!

  32. @ AmanHoneymooners — Too funny, our dates overlapped almost exactly. Did June 9-12 at Amandari and June 12-15 at Amankila. Happy to hear you had a great stay as well!

  33. Lucky, congrats. I wasn’t able to leave a message before because your great trip report and the nice care you showed in explaining the reasoning behind taking your mom on this trip, hit home for me.

    I lost my mom to a stroke this past January, it was unexpected and sudden and she wasn’t ill. So your piece reminded me of the trip we also took to Bali, one of her favorite destinations; made me feel glad again that I did that for her.

    Money can always be made again, but a special time in such a spectacular place only happens once in one’s life. The memories that you created with your mom in your quest to give back to her just some of the love that you’ve received, are truly priceless. So, well done, really, well done!

  34. Hey Lucky! You inspired me so much with this post I immediately booked it – lol. Heading there this weekend – Amandari then Amankila. Reading Tripadvisor reviews people complain about the ‘noise’ at Amandari – did you have a hard time sleeping? Roosters crowing, etc.? Also, other than your complimentary meals at Amankila, did you eat your other meals at the hotel or elsewhere?

    Anyway, looking forward to it and THANK YOU again!

  35. @ stacey — Awesome, I’m sure you’ll have an amazing time. Please report back on your experience.

    There are indeed lots of “noises” at Amandari, and I actually found them to be half of the fun of staying there. It’s simply amazing the variety of wildlife you hear. I didn’t find it bothersome at all, but when in Asia I wake up early in the morning naturally.

    I did have most meals on property, and the food was phenomenal all around.

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