Unearthing the secrets of a remote island in Indonesia
I was never an Eat, Pray, Love fanatic and had already been to Bali when the book and movie came out. But Indonesia, a country made up of thousands of islands, is so much more than Bali.
Wander off the "find yourself" path, skip Bali and head to the remote island of Moyo. Moyo, derived from the Sanskrit word "maya", is at the mouth of Saleh Bay and off the north coast of Sumbawa.
On Moyo, it is easy to get away from it all (mobile-phone reception is virtually non-existent) and embrace the island life where magnificent waterfalls, a national park, lush vegetation and a wilderness retreat exist in harmony with its inhabitants.
Amanwana occupies 12,000 hectares of the 36,000 hectare Moyo, though not all is developed. The tented camp resort is set in a cove overlooking the Flores Sea, with each of its 20 luxury tents overlooking the beach. Forming a natural backdrop is the national park, home to a few native species of animals who roam freely around the resort.
Amanwana, which means "peaceful forest", was Jean-Michel Gathy's first project, having opened in 1993. A hidden slice of paradise, few things have changed over the years, keeping the essence of Amanwana intact.
Pioneering the luxury tented camp resort in Southeast Asia, it has kept its charm throughout the years. The tents, a word which seems to be rather primitive for them, are classic in their design. Double tarp roofs and concrete walls form the basis of the huge tent villas.
But Moyo isn't only about a luxury resort with its crystal clear waters and white sandy beaches. A short boat ride away is the closest village of Labuan Aji (there are eight villages along Moyo's coastline), where a few homestays are available. From the village pier, it's a short walk to a rustic jeep, the mere beginning of an adventure to magical lands. A rather fun and bumpy ride on a semi-concrete path, created especially for Amanwana guests, past rice fields and fruit orchards, takes us to the edge of a natural reserve. A short trek through the rainforest, that includes crossing a stream on a tree trunk, opens out to the most amazing sight.
The Mata Jitu waterfall, known locally as the "queen's waterfall", is breathtaking. Named after Lady Diana's visit to Moyo's hidden treasure, no waterfall is as magical as Mata Jitu. (Fun fact: Lady Di stayed in tent No.20.) The 7m waterfall has three levels, created by limestone sediment. Though no one is allowed to dip into the main waterfall, because of contamination, you can bathe in the afterglow. Due to its isolation, there aren't many visitors and you have the turquoise waters to yourself at most times. To enhance the serenity that nature wraps you in at Mata Jitu, Amanwana conducts a kumkum meditation class at the waterfall with an Indonesian yoga and meditation master. Spiritual bliss best describes the entire experience -- a place where time stands still.
Overlooking Amawana Bay, the Broadwalk is furnished with sun loungers and umbrellas. A freshwater dipping pool is set against a wall of coral rock nearby, and a shower is set into the cliff face.
The other waterfall on Moyo, Diwu Mbai, is harder to get to, though you are rewarded with a jump from the top into its waters below.
It's impossible not to pay attention to the numerous butterflies, dragon flies and birds that are part of the experience in the national reserve. Moyo is home to more than 80 species of birds, the indigenous Rusa deer, long-tail macaques, wild bovines, wild pigs and bats.
Due to illegal hunting, the deer population has reduced over the years and thus given rise to the Amanwana sanctuary, created for the deer in the protected area of the bay. The deer, which number around 21, roam freely around the resort and are so friendly that they will eat a sliced apple out of the palm of your hand. The macaques, on the other hand, are often heard and seen on the roof of your villa, though they aren't aggressive like most.
Breang Sado, the closest hamlet to Amanwana, is a 45-minute walk on a track that begins from the helicopter pad above the resort's boardwalk and follows the ridgeline. The hamlet is inhabited by 50 people and is home to Ibu Halima, the OG of Moyo. Ibu Halima welcomes visitors with a home-cooked lunch and a warm smile, and if you're as lucky as I was, she may even give you a cooking class right before.
But enough of the land, let's not forget the sea! Needless to say, the waters around Moyo are excellent for snorkelling and diving. Just off the coast of Amanwana, you may see a dancing octopus and plentiful schools of fish. The resort bay is a marine reserve and all coral, shells and marine life in and around it are protected. Three large reefs lie 15 minutes from the resort, with spectacular schools of tropical fish and corals dating back more than 100 years.
Early in the morning, when the waves idly lash against the shore, is the best time to see baby reef sharks make an appearance against the horizon.
Between December and April, sea turtles lay their nests on the various beaches around Moyo. A five-minute boat ride takes you to the turtle conservation area, where nests are monitored and hatching and releasing of the babies into the ocean is overseen, typically after 60 days.
Though if all these activities are not what you're looking for, Wana Spa comes to the rescue, where the global Aman Signature Treatment Menu is on offer along with Indonesian touches. Carefully curated, the Grounding, Purifying and Nourishing massages use organic and natural ingredients known for their healing powers. The three distinct parts of the signature menu are personalised to each individual to target general concerns and specific conditions. Don't forget to indulge in one!
At a time when climate change is a hot topic (pun intended), it is important to note that Amanwana was ahead of its time in terms of sustainability and being environment conscious. Though it opened 26 years ago, it was conceptualised around 30 years ago. "People were still looking at maps then. This is what makes Amanwana so special," says general manager Marc Bittner.
Keeping this in mind, the Moyo Conservation Fund was set up to protect the habitat and its numerous projects. The fund was used to build the school in Labuan Aji, donating textbooks and school supplies. An English teacher is also employed at the school and a majority of the local community is employed at either Amanwana or by the fund to keep poaching and illegal fishing at bay.
Needless to say, no island adventure is complete without a sunset cruise. The trip is aboard a traditional wooden outrigger. No better way to end a magical day than with sundowners while sailing off into the sunset. If you're in the mood for romance, nothing sets the tone better than a short ride out into the bay where the captain will cut the engines to allow you to simply drift beneath the dazzling canopy of stars. No fault in these stars!
Though Moyo may not be as renowned as Lombok or Bali on the tourist trail, the genuine warm nature of the Moyo people make the hospitality on par. From land to sea, Moyo is surrounded by abundant wildlife and offers plenty of ways to explore the pristine natural setting. The entire island has an overlaying sense of serenity that brings together the flora, fauna and man in harmony.
- For more than 160 nationalities, travel to Bali is visa-free.
- AirAsia flies direct from Bangkok to Bali three times a day.
- For guests requiring an overnight stay in Bali, Aman Villas is a 20-minute drive from the airport.
JOURNEY TO MOYO ISLAND
PT Tavira Air offers direct flights to/from Bali Denpasar Airport/ Sumbawa Besar. The 65-minute flight is three times a week, Monday, Wednesday and Saturday. Between June and September, when flights are four times a week: Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Between July and August, flights are five times a week: Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Once you have arrived at Sumbawa Besar, you are transferred to Amanwana via its private speedboat, which costs US$150 (4,600 baht) per person per way, and is an approximate 45-minute transfer.
Alternatively, you could arrive in style right at Amanwana's doorstep, aboard a Cessna 208 Caravan. The seaplane is available for up to eight guests at US$450 per person each way. Guests can enjoy the private jet lounge upon landing at Bali Denpasar Airport. Pack light as a cabin and hold luggage limit is enforced at 15kg per person.
REAL-LIFE LOVE BOAT
If you love sailing the high seas, Aman Voyages has two flagship vessels, Amandira and Amanikan, which sail to and from Amanwana, their home base. They sail from April to October, five days at a stretch to islands like Komodo or the Spice Islands, even the underwater kingdom of Raja Ampat. There are also exploratory packages where guests can choose where they want to sail like East Timor and Sulewasi, anywhere in the archipelago. Even the conventional voyages are based on the preferences of the onboard guests. Each vessel has a cruise manager, each with their own special skill sets, who are matched to the guests.
The island-sprawling nation of Indonesia is so rich in culinary diversity that one doesn’t really know where to start. Amanwana doesn’t disappoint with the head chef being Indonesian. The restaurant is open air and casual, offering spectacular views of the Flores Sea right to Medang Island and the mountains of Sumbawa. It serves fresh and simple cuisine, much of it made with products grown or reared on the island. The catch of the day, direct
from the fishermen’s boats, is a highlight of the daily menu. A good sundowner is the Amanwana martini, which is infused with fresh mint to give a cooling kick.
An absolute must-try is the delicious Moyo honey, which is cultivated from wild bees in the jungle and collected during the dry season by locals. Though the hives are in trees measuring 5-10m tall, the locals use a special oil on their bodies to prevent getting stung.