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Mark's guide to Indonesia: secrets revealed, opinions voiced & tips divulged

Ampersand’s top sales consultant, Mark Wright, has recently spent two and a half weeks revisiting Indonesia, hopping across the islands of Java, Bali, Sumba, Komodo, Rinca and Flores. His enthusiasm for Indonesia has rubbed off on everyone in the office so we thought we’d sit him down to share his insights and divulge his top tips.

My ideal Indonesian honeymoon…
Even though I travelled alone this time (sob, poor me!), Indonesia struck me as the perfect destination for a romantic trip. Click on the video below to find out why and discover what my dream honeymoon itinerary would entail.

Rediscover Bali – the most famous of Indonesia’s 17 thousand islands…
Bali is a huge island and Seminyak and Legian are located in quite a small and highly populated corner of it. Although lovely, it’s a shame that many people only experience these areas or they get put off visiting Bali, thinking that’s all there is. Unlike 10 years ago, there are now fantastic properties all around the island. Some of our favourites include Alila Villas Soori further up the west coast, Amankila and Alila Manggis on the east coast, Puri Ganesha in the north, Surya Shanti inland in the east and Alila Villas Uluwatu on the southern peninsula. I would love to help change people’s perception of Bali and reveal its hidden gems.

Beyond Bali – other “don’t miss” destinations…
I am also eager to show people what else there is beyond Bali's shores - after all, Indonesia is the country, not Bali! Flowing from west to east, your first port of call would be the island of Java, home to Indonesia's capital, Jakarta. Don’t be scared of Jakarta - it’s not the most fascinating city but for 1 or 2 nights it’s a great place to relax after a long flight. Still on Java, continue on to the city of Yogyakarta, which has bustling markets and a fantastic colonial hotel called the Phoenix, and then on to Borobudur, which is the world’s largest Buddhist temple. Flanked by brooding volcanoes, Borobudur has a suitably majestic hotel, Amanjiwo, which is beyond impressive. You can spend 3 or 4 days around here and then do the core of your trip elsewhere for the beach paradise experience that everyone associates with Indonesia, be it Bali, Lombok, Sumba, Komodo, Sulawesi or Raja Ampat. A travel trend that has taken off here in recent years is luxury sailing and Indonesia has some fabulous traditional phinisi sail boats. For Ampersand's top sailing experiences, read my blog about Komodo Island and the best sail boats in Indonesia.

Hotels – golden oldies vs new openings…
In a place like Bali there are always lots of new hotels opening. While it’s exciting and important to make new discoveries, just because something is new doesn’t mean it’s the best. The Edge, for example, is very new, set in a stunning location and offers everything you could want from a luxury villa, but its elder neighbour, Alila Villas Uluwatu, operates more seamlessly and has had more time to integrate with its surroundings. The best example of a property growing into its surrounding environment is COMO Shambhala. It is set across a giant estate and while other hotel chains would have increased the room capacity, COMO have kept it at a mere 36 rooms. They have allowed the estate’s fauna to grow naturally, which allows guests to take long walks down to the river valley in complete peace. By not maximising capacity and ruining the nature they have kept the estate feel and exclusivity.

* Top tip: Do not rule out a hotel as too expensive just because you know it is the most luxurious option… you may be able to afford it if you choose the right room category! COMO Shambhala’s Garden Room for example is very reasonably priced and you still have all the benefits of the estate and its facilities, including 3 swimming pools, a natural rock climbing wall, world class yoga and pilates classes, and one of the best restaurants on the island, Glow.

Foodie favourites…

* Best all rounderPuri Ganesha. This boutique hotel is run by Diana von Cranach and her Indonesian husband Gusti, who, along with their three Dalmatian dogs, bring life and soul in abundance to your holiday. Diana designs menus for top restaurants and hotels in Asia and Europe, and is a cookery book author and a leading authority on raw food. Her creations are not just healthy, but visually delightful and divinely delicious. On this trip she prepared a tasting menu for me in their beachside dining cabana consisting of seared kingfish with braised lentils, cucumber, pomegranate and mint salad, and salmon carpaccio with avocado, seaweed, radish & ginger, tamarind and orange dressing. I…was…in…heaven! A few of Gusti’s renowned cocktails topped off a fabulous evening. With just 4 villas, it is perfect if you’re looking for exclusivity and hands-on service. Diana and Gusti are integral to the community and love to help; a memorable moment for me was watching Gusti teach local kids English after school. The energy that he brought to the class and to the kids was touching and engaging. Guests staying here really get a sense of where they are, which is quite unusual for such a luxurious property. Not only do you get the best linens and beds, a private pool, world-class food, loads of private space and your own private villa, but the community comes to you in the most unobtrusive way. It blends unbelievably well.

* Best cookery courseSurya Shanti Villa, Bali. The al fresco kitchen is within the upper garden of Surya Shanti offering 360 degree panoramic views of Mount Agung, paddy fields and the ocean beyond. If that doesn’t inspire you, the fresh local produce and the enthusiastic chef will. You could not think of spending a better 3 hours in Bali.

* Best seafoodNihiwatu Lodge, Sumba Island. Guests can go fishing and, more often than not, you’re eating seafood that other guests have caught themselves, which builds up the community spirit amongst the guests. You bond over food, talking to the guests across the table who may have caught your dinner that day, and to the chef who will come over for a chat. From start to finish you know exactly where your meal has come from.

* Best Indonesian foodAlila Ubud, Bali. I tried the tasting menu here with my older brother and it was just amazing. It had everything from famous suckling Balinese pork, to the six different ice creams at the end, all homemade by the chef with the element of the flavour in the presentation. It was just beautiful food overlooking a beautiful valley.

There were so many more wonderful experiences – from surfing the private Nihiwatu break to exploring the Prambanan temples outside of Yogyakarta – but we will let you discover the rest for yourselves! To see a selection of photos from my trip, please click here. If you are keen to visit Indonesia call me on +44 (0) 20 7289 6100 or email; I would be happy to share more tips and design a tailor-made journey for you.

Mark Wright
Senior Sales Consultant
Ampersand Travel
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