It’s been nearly thirty years since luxury hospitality innovator KP Ho and Banyan Tree took hotel guests out of the box and into their own private villa with a swimming pool in Phuket, Thailand. At the time, the idea was radical, captivating, and edged over the boundary of hospitality norms.
Fast forward to 2022 and KP’s daughter Renyung Ho has embarked on a generational leap with her own version of escaping the box, this time at the newly opened Buahan – A Banyan Tree Escape on the outskirts of Ubud, Bali. What’s different this time? In a nutshell, the walls of the box have disappeared and what’s left can simply be termed an amazing journey into a magical rabbit hole.
I’d heard whispers about Buahan and on a recent trip to the Island of the Gods, and decided to make an overnight side trip and see for myself what all the buzz was about. My expectations were high, and from the start, I was not disappointed.
Set in the unassuming Balinese Village of Payangan, the ride in was mostly random glimpses of tropical jungle, rice terraces, a deep river gorge, and scenic rural life. My mind reset as the images blurred. The arrival experience was a simple standalone rustic sala, as I was greeted by just one staff and a ceremonial greeting.
There was no welcome drink with a tiny umbrella, cold or warm towel, and no over-the-top resort lobby. My request to take me to my room was greeted with a gentle Bali smile and a motion to follow down the winding path ahead.
Easing down the hillside and steps was a journey that didn’t seem like an unknown but into a warm and inviting place. Entering through a small gate I arrived at a spacious jungle bale. The latter is essentially a pavilion with no walls and pays homage to vernacular design. Part of my welcome talk from the host was about the use of recycled wood, a love of the land and reliance on local materials.
Unlike so many luxury hotels I have stayed in, the layout was intuitive, with an amazing amount of space and layout that was livable. A private pool and sala framed the view across the rice terraces on the opposite side of the river, and the only sound I could hear was the chattering of birds in a nearby tree.
Once alone, I explored the pavilion and what a sense of wonder. The small touches reminded me where I was, of the food, fruit, and stories of this exotic place. An assortment of dried fragrant flowers in individual glass jars was bedside, with instructions to create my scent.
As the day wore on, a host came and asked what time I’d like to have my pavilion firepit lit and checked on dinner plans. As the moon rose, the embers of the fire played long into the twilight when the stars came out. I didn’t really want to move, but it was time to eat.
A short walk away into an outdoor covered pavilion, candles lit the way and in the dining area was an open plan kitchen where staff easily moved in and out, and the aromas mingled with laughter. The food was farm-to-table fare, Balinese-inspired, and crafted in a simple yet refined way. There was no pretension and the service genuine.
Back to the pavilion, flashlight in hand, and a trip that has camp lights well placed along the way, the sound of silence and the quiet noise of the forest collided and chatted. No, there was not an abundance of mosquitos and the environmentally-friendly natural air system worked well. While you had the option to have the blinds of the pavilion closed and a mosquito net up over the bed, I opted to keep them open and ponder the gentle wisdom of nature.
A great night’s sleep, a morning dive into the wooden bathtub while enjoying a Balinese coffee, and a hike down the hill to see the resort’s own private waterfall. Breakfast again, was local, inspired adaptions that played tribute to farms and foods from the area. I did indeed take another nap and as I drifted off to sleep, secretly plotted how I could stay just a while longer.
My impression of Banyan Tree’s Escape is one of a hospitality brand seeking to reinvent and renew its vision of travel. To redefine what is important in 2022 and not carry the weight of the past. I absolutely loved the attention to detail, felt the passion of those who created it, and dream of returning one day soon.
Written By: Bill Barnett