Phoenix Hotel Yogyakarta (Jogyakarta)

After passing several huge Kentucky Fried Chicken “palaces” on our way from the airport into town, we finally arrived at the gates of one of the oldest hotels in Yogyakarta.  Built back in 1918, and considered to be a Colonial-era landmark, the Phoenix Hotel Yogyakarta is clearly one of the city’s “crown jewels” when it comes to accommodations.  Oddly, first impressions of the M Gallery property recalled images of New Orleans or Paris thanks to a rather ornate lobby and the fantastic indoor/ outdoor restaurant called Paprika which unfolds lovingly into a tropical courtyard.  We were immediately impressed with the Phoenix vibe, particularly upon spotting a tiny female bell person adorned in an elaborate brown uniform topped with a large conical hat!  You gotta love a hotel that has both style - and a sense of humor!

And speaking of style, check out that stunning pool.  Positioned at the center of another courtyard, in a completely different wing of the hotel, the pool attracts attention from each of the terraced hotel rooms that line the U-shaped building.  Our room, an upgraded suite, was just one of the units to enjoy the superb setting.  (Too bad the weather wasn’t very good as we would have jumped right in for a midnight or morning swim!)

The room itself was pleasantly plush and tastefully modern.  An offering of free gum drops and salak fruit was a nice touch.  The sheets and duvet were extremely comfortable and the room’s mini-bar offered a selection - and pricing - good enough to raid!  We also loved the “waterfall shower,” the best we would experience in all of Indonesia.  There was one problem however.  In the middle of the night we almost tripped on a puddle of water that resulted from a leak in the ceiling.  Further inspection proved that this was not a new problem.  We pushed a trash bin under the drip for the remainder of the night and then called the front desk to investigate later in the day.  Thankfully, the engineers were able to resolve the problem - always a good sign in a hotel!

Sadly, we just had too much on our Yogya agenda to really enjoy our two night stay.  We never had to opportunity to check out the Phoenix’s inviting restaurant, posh shops or pool and spa, and the live, early morning gamelan music certainly brought that fact to light.  In fact, it is here where your Set of Drifters came up with a new rule altogether.  If staying in any large hotel or resort that features picturesque outdoor lounges, multiple restaurants, a lobby museum, fitness center and spa, the minimum stay must now be at least three nights!
We did find time though to check out Vino, the hotel’s swanky cocktail bar.  Swathed in crimson lighting, the decor was considerably more “modern” than the rest of the Colonial-style hotel, yet still felt a bit dated.  And then there was the music.  UGH.  When will international hotel bars learn?  Sure, we love The Carpenters just as much as the next pair if gents, but who wants to listen to “Close To You” while sitting in a loungey bar in the year 2011?  Trust us, it was awkward.  Nevertheless, our friendly - and dare we say it, flirtatious - bartender served us up some rather delicious vodka cocktails.  But don’t expect them to be strong.  This is Indonesia after all, where the government has put some sort of strange ban on imported spirits!  For more on this topic, see "sips" in "Sulawesi." 

Overall, we had a great time at the Phoenix Hotel Yogyakarta and definitely would come back to spend more time at the hotel’s many facilities... that is if we are not lured by Sosrowijayan’s cheaper accommodations.  When we pulled up here after our tour to Borobudur, our van mates from Holland remarked at how fancy our hotel was.  They told us that they were spending $8 USD a night at a small losmen.  While room rate was considerably more, it was still an incredible value for the quality of the property.  Set of Drifters tip:  Check CheapTickets or Kayak for good rates on the Phoenix Hotel Yogyakarta.

Set of Drifters video:  Check out our YouTube channel for video from this event!

Phoenix Hotel Yogyakarta - Jenderal Sudirman No.9, Djetis 8, Tugu Jogja, Yogyakarta  55233, 011 (62) 274-566617

Bromo Cottages (Tosari)

Every once in awhile, advance expectations of a unique setting - or the attributes of a particular accommodation - don’t quite hit their mark, and though the mountain top village of Tosari was ultimately an unforgettable surprise (see “sights”), it’s Bromo Cottages left us a bit disappointed.

After traveling what seemed like hours along narrow, winding roads (see “essentials”), we were itching to get out of the car and unwind for the afternoon.  While we were thrilled to arrive to a town that seemed completely untouched by tourism, we had to wonder how the harrowing pathway that led to the Bromo Cottages could possibly deliver us to same grandiose property we had researched online!  Nevertheless, after a few more minutes of pot-filled pavement, there it was.  Perched at the edge of the mountain, Bromo Cottages looked somewhat like a Swiss ski chalet set in Portmeirion (the Welsh setting used to depict “The Village” in the ‘60s TV show The Prisoner.)

Beyond the main “ski haus” lobby, Bromo Cottages unfolds down the side of a mountain, comprised of about 80 different rooms scattered amongst a series of buildings that cling (vertically) to the terrain.  The paths to each of these cottages can prove so harrowing that management is currently working on the construction of its own mini-funicular to ease access from main reception.  (We felt so bad for the bellman having to carry our enormous bags up and down the various inclines and staircases, but there was no way we were going to be able to manage it.  Set of Drifter tip:  Have plenty of rupiah available to tip these guys.  Their hauls must cause pretty gnarly backaches from time to time, and they will deserve a massage or two on you!).

Of course, the main reason to stay at Bromo Cottages in the first place is its proximity to Mt. Bromo.  To catch the sunset there, one has to get up mighty early, making every ounce of sleep that much more precious.  We were given one of the hillside cottages about halfway down the cliff.  Now don’t get us wrong.  While the panoramic view was incredible, the accommodations themselves did not quite rise up to the occasion.  In fact, after open air vents let in both the misty mountain cloud cover - and chatter of noisy neighbors - into our room throughout the duration of our stay, we made a formal complaint to the front desk.  Our dampened sheets and blankets made it next to impossible to fall asleep, an unfortunate result shared by our guide Herman when we checked with him later! 

Bromo Cottages does have a great, full-color brochure that we snatched up as souvenirs for friends and family back home.  Aside from its proximity to Mt. Bromo, the advertisement promises guests a Business Center (with fax and Internet), meeting rooms, a bar and lounge and a drugstore.  The Internet reception was severely lacking throughout Eastern Java - not that it should have been any surprise - and the bar was not staffed with anyone from what we could surmise.  Still, we did partake in food and drink from the restaurant that was attached to the main reception.  First, we huddled together for coffee and tea with the hotel’s many other guests at 4:00 AM as we all waited to meet our various 4WD drivers to Mt. Bromo.  Then, around 10:00 AM, we returned to find a larger buffet-style breakfast that included Western dishes as well as Indonesian and Chinese breakfast favorites like vermicelli noodles with chicken and vegetables.  The offerings were mostly tasty, if not basic.  We relaxed with our guide over a cup of hot coffee and wondered what that strange Christmas tree was doing up so early in October?

Ultimately, for one night, the Bromo Cottages is not the end of the world, though it may resemble it from the view out your front window!  Still, when your wake-up call is 3:30 AM, you need every ounce of sleep you can get, and we simply did not have that luxury while staying here.  That being said, where Bromo Cottages lost us in comfort, it more than makes up for in ambiance.  The beautiful view at night accompanied by the musical sounds of the local Tenggerese peoples echoing off in the distance made this a very magical place indeed, one where we felt millions of miles away from the hub-bub of any city.  Perhaps they will figure out a way to keep those linens more dry in the future!

Set of Drifters tip:  One other issue that we had the Bromo Cottages was the functionality of the room’s electrical outlets.  Only one of them worked, which meant that if we wanted to charge our various camera batteries for the tremendous events of the following morning, we had to unplug lamps and the television set to do so.  If we had been there for more than one night, that fiasco alone would have been enough for us to switch rooms, or hotels altogether!

Bromo Cottages - Tosari, Pasuruan 67177, East Java, 011 (62) 343-571222

Kalibaru Cottages (Kalibaru)

Our afternoon drive from Jember to Kalibaru was a lot shorter - and easier - than the previous day’s journey to Tosari (see “sights” and “essentials”).  In fact, when we first noted signs for the village of Kalibaru, we figured there would still be another hour or so of mountain driving ahead of us before we reached our destination.  (There simply did not appear to be enough around to elicit the existence of a resort.)  And yet, after only another few turns, we reached Kalibaru Cottages.

With its tall palms and large open-air lobby pavilion, the grounds of Kalibaru Cottages easily conjured up memories of the impressive Le Meridien property on Phuket's Karon Beach.  In efforts to combat the grand humidity afoot, we quickly downed our “welcome drinks” and were then directed to our room.  There, the intense purple haze of an incredible sunset diverted attention away from the simple, yet entirely pleasant accommodations.  At Kalibaru, the “cottages” consist of two units, each with impossibly tall ceilings that are cooled by a single fan set into the wall.  We particularly liked the indoor/ outdoor rock-wall shower that complimented an otherwise basic bathroom, and were equally satisfied to discover that rumors the hotel ran rampant with pesky ants appeared to be false.

After freshening up a bit, we made a B-line for the hotel bar.  Sadly, it turned out to be only a few tables of lounge seating served by a waitress from the hotel’s 24-hour “Mountain View” restaurant!  We stocked up on large bottles of Bintang - what else is new? - and casually exchanged conversation with a young honeymooning couple from the Netherlands.  (They were adorned head-to-toe in Balinese style ceremonial palm fronds and chose bottles of Coca-Cola for refreshment.)  As the only other “bule” couple staying at the resort, they would stick out like a sore thumb throughout the duration of our stay.

Next up, we checked out the aforementioned restaurant, a spot we must report is severely lacking in ambiance.  (The harsh florescent lighting and TV would be a good place to start renovations.)  Though the food was tasty, now weeks later, nothing stands out as particularly memorable.  We suppose that’s just one of the drawbacks of offering a full menu 24 hours a day!  (The room rate came with free breakfast served in the same dining room the following morning.  While omelets were made to order, the rest of the offerings were simple Indonesian/ Continental breakfast standards.)

The most interesting aspect of our “Mountain View” dinner experience was that it was accompanied by some sort of celebratory reception which took place out in the adjacent pyramid-shaped lobby.  A live band performed for a crowd of about 30 people who arrived by bus.  While we cannot be sure, they must have been local Javanese having a family reunion, or perhaps a large tour group visiting from Malaysia.  It was interesting to watch how the large group entertained themselves, stumbling their way to the stage to sing popular songs of the day not unlike Adam Sandler in The Wedding Singer.

The following day, Kalibaru Cottages gleamed in the bright light of morning.  We took a quick dip in the pool after breakfast and relaxed a bit more before that day’s next adventure, a plantation tour of local Kalibaru communities (see “sights”).  We would later find out that one of the small villages led right into the grounds of the hotel!

There probably is no reason to stay in this region if you are not checking out the plantations.  (We highly recommend it by the way.)  Still, if you are looking for a place to unwind, you could do a lot worse than Kalibaru Cottages.  The grounds are lush and the surrounding environs are even more so.  Aside from the pool, activities on-site also include outdoor badminton, a jogging track, billiards, and on certain nights of the week, performances of the unique Banyuwangi Gandrung dance.

Hotel Kalibaru Cottages - Jalan Raya Jember, Kalibaru, Banyuwangi, East Java, 011 (62) 333-897333

Ijen Resort (Randuagung/ Banyuwangi)

“Remote” is perhaps the easiest way to describe Ijen Resort, a lush outpost of welcoming accommodations that is situated on a lonely road about 25 minutes west of Banyuwangi.  When our tour guide Herman and driver Kiman found out that we were staying here they both growled for the trek to reach Ijen Resort is not for the faint of heart, particularly when paired up with the equally tumultuous drive up from Sempol to Jampit’s Ijen gateway (see “sights”).

Nevertheless, our trusty minivan somehow made the journey on the small rocky road that bisected exquisitely carved rice terraces on each side.  The rolling hills were enough to unsettle even the most ironclad stomach!  Finally, after passing through two small villages, we reached Ijen Resort, somewhat of an oasis “at the end of the line. ” As is tradition, we were greeted at the open-air lobby with delicious fruit juices and then escorted to our room.  Our bags would follow later, carried on the backs of the bell staff over a series of twisting paths and stairways that led down to our villa.

The room itself was certainly one of the most modern we would encounter on our trip, though its “Western” features were not its strongest point.  That honor belonged to the view, a quixotically green panorama of the surrounding rice paddies that unfolded just beyond a private balcony.  Of course proximity to all of that nature does have a couple drawbacks.  It ensures overnighters a rather loud evening of “jungle sounds” - as well as a host of unwanted visitors in the form of moths and others bugs!  Still, we really enjoyed the upscale character of the room.  We just wished it had been carried into the bathroom.  While the powerful, hot shower was a welcome treat, it also unforgivingly spilled water all over into the toilet area!

The grounds of the Ijen Resort are some of its best assets.  Everywhere you walk, delicately landscaped paths lead to charming gardens or picturesque bungalows set into the hillside.  The pool was inviting enough - though we did not have time to take a dip - and a new construction project reveals that management is looking to expand Ijen Resort’s offerings with another larger pool that directly faces Ijen crater and its surrounding mountain landscape.

We did find time for an elaborate foot rub at the on-site Asmara Massage villa (see “essentials”), and certainly indulged in various forms of food and drink at the resort’s centrally-located restaurant and bar.  Decorated with a few traditional shadow puppets and statues, the highlight of the open air cafe’s decor is its high ceilings that are adorned with carved ivory lamps.  (The setting is rather moving by nightfall.)  We enjoyed a pot of ginger coffee in the afternoon before returning for dinner and, drum roll please, our first cocktails of the trip!  (“BaliMoon” liqueur menus were on hand to describe the offerings, though we suspect that the bartenders do not really know how to make each and every concoction.)

Dinner at Ijen Resort was fabulous, aside from the fact its menu showcased traditional Indonesian and Western options via large, garish photos, a pet-peeve of ours that we believe instantly brings down the class level of any establishment.  (The cheap, poorly-designed dinner menu was the one aspect of Ijen Resort that did not jive with the others!)  And yet, the spicy flavors of the food and the warm, respectful service more than made up for any other transgression.  We returned to the restaurant very early the next morning (around 4:30 AM) to greet the same waiter we had the night before.  (He had changed out of his “fine dining attire into something more relaxed.)  Breakfast was “on the house” as part of the rate, and the mix of traditional Indonesian dishes with Western favorites was seemingly a hit with everyone making the trek out to Ijen that morning.  (The croissants were excellent if memory serves.)

Ultimately, Ijen Resort was another of those places where we wished we had more time to explore.  The village walk and trek to Ijen (see “sights”) kept us mighty busy - and out of the resort.  Considering the treachery involved in reaching this place, it would have been nice to have one more day in which to relax and enjoy the magnificent beauty that surrounds this insanely magical place.

Ijen Resort - Randuagung, Desa Licin, Banyuwangi  0333 (about 25 minute drive from town), East Java, 011 (62) 333-7733338 

Ameera Boutique Hotel & Waroeng Kopi (Jogyakarta)

We may have mentioned this already, and if we haven’t we will soon enough, the Sosrowijayan kempung (“backpacker’s neighborhood”) of Yogyakarta is a bit rough’n’ready... not that there’s anything wrong with that.  Your Set of Drifters like a bit of vice and grit just like the next set.  Still, when we eye a hotel that appears to us like a phoenix rising out of the ashes, we must report it to you - even if it’s a property that we didn’t actually stay in!

The Ameera Boutique Hotel (their name, not ours) attaches itself to Waroeng Kopi, a little coffee shop and bar that we cozied up to during a sudden rainstorm.  Located on an active side street off of Jalan Malioboro (see "goodies"), Waroeng Kopi and the Ameera both feature whimsical design that is colorful and charismatic, but not cloying.  Having undergone a recent renovation of interiors - and management, the property seems poised for immediate success.  Check out those accommodations on their website.  The all-white translations of traditional Indonesian motifs are simply stunning!

Elsewhere, the Ameera Boutique Hotel features free wifi, laundry facilities and even a hair salon and spa!  Next door, Waroeng Kopi offers a simple menu of Indonesian staples, coffees and desserts daily from 6:00 AM until 11:00 PM.  While their "keroncong bossanova" soundtrack was a bit uneven, we oddly found ourselves quite fond of the female-sung reggae covers of Beatles tunes.

Room rates at the Ameera start at a criminally low $29 USD per night, but head upwards of $50 depending on room choice.  (The floor dedicated to the art of traditional wayang puppetry sounds intriguing enough, yet garners the highest cost.)  Chance are that we will head to the Ameera next time we are in town, especially when considering its address is more centrally located than that of the Phoenix Hotel Yogyakarta (see above).

Ameera Boutique Hotel - Jalan Dagen 13 & 15, Yogyakarta  55271, 011 (62) 274-580634