Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Yogyakarta and the creation of an Aman-junkie

The journey continued as we left our little cabin in the Indonesian rainforest and flew from Pangkalan Bun to Solo airport in Central Java. A driver drove us almost three hours to Yogyakarta, and the Amanjiwo resort. Amanjiwo is perfectly situated for a visit to Borobudur, a 9th century Buddhist monument and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

We knew we arrived to someplace special as we were showered with rose petals by two young local girls at the entrance to the resort. We were ushered to our suite which had beautiful views of Borobudur and the surrounding valley. After the jungle lodge, this felt like a palace! The huge suite had separate dressing areas, outdoor bathtub and a private terrace with chaise lounges and a covered daybed for alfresco dining or relaxation.  The luxurious suite was only surpassed by the service we received from the gracious staff. I think our room was serviced every time we left it. I couldn't use a towel more than once before it was replaced with a fresh one! The most amazing part was that we never saw anyone ever come or go, it was just magically cleaned.

Many of the suites have their own private plunge pools, but for those that prefer swimming laps, there is a beautiful pool central to the resort. They also have a fitness suite and spa. I did do some damage in their very well-stocked boutique. They offer some logo items, but the majority of things for sale include high quality local crafts, carvings, art, jewelry and clothing. You can find some great treasures here as mementos of your stay.

We found the meals to be spectacular at Amanjiwo - excellent quality and wonderfully prepared. The menu changes nightly and they offer both Western and Indonesian cuisine.
Indonesian specialties at Amanjiwo
Amanjiwo offers many activities and excursions. We opted to do the Sunrise tour to Borobudur. We received a wake-up call at 4:15am and grabbed a coffee and a pastry in the lobby before we left. Borobudur is a quick 10 minute drive from the resort. We had our own private guide escort us up the steep stone steps to the top of the monument. Once at the top, we enjoyed the peace and serenity of the moment. Unfortunately, the morning sky was filled with clouds so it wasn't the perfect sunrise, but it was a beautiful way to visit the temple. The main dome at the center is surrounded by 72 seated buddha statues enclosed in stupas. There are elaborately carved stone panels which depict stories, teachings or show the daily life from 9th century Java.

You can also hike, bike or tour the local villages and temples in the area. Or, it's a great place to relax, unwind and read a good book in the comfort of your own suite.

I have to say that I have never experienced service at quite this level before, and I've stayed at some very upscale hotels and resorts over the years. I can tell you how great it is, but you really don't understand the difference until you experience it yourself. The Amanresorts have their own name for their guests who "have seen the light" and converted to only wanting to stay at Aman properties for their vacations: Aman-junkies. Well, I've seen the light, and I told my husband he'd better keep working!

Are you ready to book your luxury stay at an Aman property? Book with us and you will receive complimentary amenities such as upgrades and breakfast daily.
Call the Travel Specialists at Bee Kalt Travel today!

Tel: 248-288-9600 or Toll-free 1-800-284-5258
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Sunday, October 28, 2012

Hangin' with the Orangutans

Did you know that orangutans share 97 percent of their DNA with humans? The word Orangutan is derived from the Indonesian words: Orang, meaning human and Utan, meaning forest. I wanted to meet our tree-dwelling cousins in the wild and the best place to do this is on the island of Borneo. Borneo consists of three nations: Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia. The Malaysian side has better infrastructure and nicer hotels, but I was most interested in visiting Camp Leakey. This is where Dr. Birute Galdikas, the well-known primatologist, pioneered her studies of orangutans in the wild and has worked tirelessly for their conservation for over 40 years.

So, off to Kalimantan, Indonesia we went for our adventure in the rainforest.
We flew from Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia, to Pangkalan Bun, a small city in central Kalimantan, in the southern part of Borneo. We transferred to a wooden boat, called a klotok, which would be our means of transport for the next three days. Some travelers opt to actually stay on the boats, where they set up mattresses for sleeping on the open air deck.  We chose to stay in the jungle at the Rimba Lodge. Accommodations are very basic, but provided a comfortable respite after long days on the river. We were very happy with our little cabin that provided a hot shower, air conditioning and the staff tried very hard to be helpful.

Each morning we woke up early, had breakfast, and were on the boat by 7:33am. Our guide, Erwin, was a former ranger so he knew the forest and all of its inhabitants very well. Indeed, he identified my first glimpse of wildlife when I almost sat on a bronzeback snake.

There are three different feeding stations you can visit in the Tanjung Puting National Park. Many of the orangutans living here were former orphans, their mothers having been killed by loggers or poachers. They have been rehabilitated and returned to the wild, to live on their own in the forest. As their habitat has been diminished by logging and other human activities, food can sometimes be scarce. This is why the National Park Service provides supplemental fruit and milk for the animals in case they are in need.

It was a magical experience encountering our first orangutan in the wild! We could spot young males hanging from trees, moving effortlessly from branch to branch. Their flexibility and strength is amazing - they can do yoga poses I can only dream of! We saw mothers with babies, and we got to see the King. He was one big fellow! He can do whatever he wants, whenever he wants. If he is at the feeding platform, the other females can approach, but the younger males wouldn't dare to.

We could stay and watch them for as long as we liked. In order to reach the various feeding stations, we usually had a short walk on a wooden-plank boardwalk and down the trails in the forest. It wasn't too strenuous and the longest walk was no further than 2 kilometers.
Along the way, we also saw monkeys, gibbons and wild boar.

While leisurely cruising on the river, we were able to see lots of other wildlife: many species of birds, crocodiles, monitor lizards, and the very odd-looking proboscis monkey. These monkeys only live in the rainforests of Borneo. Not only are they funny to look at, but they make a very funny honking sound as well. We felt very fortunate to see these unusual and endangered creatures in the wild.

Our expert guide, Erwin
If you would like to plan your own adventure in the rainforest, contact the Travel Specialists at Bee Kalt Travel!

Tel: 248-288-9600 or Toll-free 1-800-284-5258
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Sunday, October 21, 2012

Raffles hotel, Singapore

Raffles Hotel in Singapore celebrated its125th anniversary this year, in 2012. Throughout history it has hosted Presidents, Celebrities and Royalty, most recently, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (William and Kate to you and me)!


This stately hotel has just 103 suites and 14 restaurants and bars. The rooms are decorated in the original colonial style with dark woods and rich fabrics. It is located in the heart of the business and historical district.

Even if you don't stay here, you must at least make a visit to the Long Bar and sample a world famous Singapore Sling. The pink, fruity concoction  was invented here in the early 1900's, consisting mainly of gin, cherry heering, Cointreau, pineapple juice, lime juice and a few other ingredients. I thought it might be too sweet but I was pleasantly surprised and it was quite delicious. The Long Bar serves over 800 Singapore Slings per day at a cost of around $28 apiece! 

Reserve your stay at Raffles with us and you will receive these complimentary Virtuoso amenities:
• Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability
• Daily breakfast
• Complimentary non-alcoholic mini-bar replenished daily

Contact the Travel Specialists at Bee Kalt Travel today!
Tel: 248-288-9600 or Toll-free 1-800-284-5258
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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Singapore, Singapore

Singapore is a city of contrasts: two-story colonial buildings are dwarfed by huge skyscrapers just next to them. You can observe the elderly gathered in an outdoor plaza, spending their days playing checkers while a block away you see the frenetic energy of the young workers in the financial district. There are 5 million people living on this relatively small island nation.

I would recommend a three night stay for the average leisure traveler. There are many attractions to keep you busy day and night. We started our first day with an orientation tour of the city. Our guide, Ben, informed us that Singapore has four seasons: hot, hotter, hottest and extremely hot. I'm not sure which season we were in but it felt awfully hot to me!

We visited Chinatown, Little India, and Arab street. Each neighborhood retained its own distinct culture. We also drove down Orchard Road, a major shopping area with all of the brand name stores lining both sides of the road.

We stayed at the Fullerton hotel, located in the financial district, with beautiful views of the bay. Interesting to note that much of this area was built on reclaimed land. It's hard to imagine how they built huge skyscrapers on top of former wetlands and beach. The Fullerton is a 400-room hotel occupying the space of the original Post Office. It has a very stately facade with tall columns. You feel like you are arriving somewhere very special when you pull up to the front entrance. The rooms are large and many have views of the marina or the city. The breakfast buffet is extensive, offering both Western and Asian specialties. I enjoyed having my eggs along with noodle soup each morning.

The location was a great vantage point for exploring on our own. We walked down to Lau Pa Sat, an open air food court of sorts. The place is jammed with workers during the lunch hour and it can be hard to  find a table. You don't need to worry about the sanitation of the food as it is all strictly regulated by the government. Each food stall is given a rating of A - C. We enjoyed a simple dish of chicken and rice for about $2.50.

We also took time to visit the Marina Bay Sands complex comprised of a convention center, theaters, casino, a 2600-room hotel, and a huge shopping mall containing every luxury brand shop you can think of from all over the world. At the very top of the hotel, 57 floors up, is a Skywalk connecting all three hotel towers. You will find a bar, restaurant and the world's highest infinity pool all seemingly floating in the sky. The views are fantastic! Another unique attraction is the Singapore flyer - the tallest Ferris wheel in the world. It beats the London Eye by a few meters and from the top you can see three countries: Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia.

When you book your stay at the Fullerton hotel with us, you receive these complimentary Virtuoso amenities:
• Upgrade at time of booking, subject to availability
• Daily Buffet breakfast, for up to two in room guests
• Commemorative historical book
• Complimentary access to the Straits Club Lounge
(offering daily breakfast, tea items throughout the day and evening cocktails and canapes)
• 4PM late check-out

Contact the Travel Professionals at Bee Kalt Travel to book your next vacation to Asia!
Tel: 248-288-9600 or Toll-free 1-800-284-5258
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