The vibe: Luxury with a conscience in the jungle
Location: Buahan Kaja, Payangan, Kabupaten Gianyar, Bali | View on Google Maps
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The AFAR take
Bali has no shortage of high-end lodgings, each new one outdoing the last. But when Buahan, a Banyan Tree Escape, opened in June 2022, it aimed to offer travelers a less trammeled side of the island’s jungle interior. Located in the village of Buahan, the resort sits on a hillside 40 minutes by car north of motorbike- and tourist-thronged Ubud. The resort’s biophilic design, which includes meandering pathways fashioned out of local stone, harmonizes with the green setting, whose hues shift with the changing light.
Banyan Tree purchased the 12-acre site nearly two decades before it began developing the resort. In recent years, it created a retreat that aims to not disrupt surrounding communities. The hotel company embedded researchers from Balinese architect Gede Kresna’s firm Rumah Intaran for three months so they could study what sustainability and cultural preservation mean in this part of the island, which resulted in a low-impact design. The firm also studied how the resort could support the village in meaningful ways, and today, it hires almost all staff locally and purchases as much as possible from area farmers and small businesses.
Who’s it for?
The resort is adults only (minimum age: 18). The hillside setting is best for active guests who have the mobility to navigate steep steps and uneven terrain. It’s ideal for seasoned Bali travelers seeking an antidote to busy Ubud, while eco-conscious foodies will appreciate the delicious creations coming out of the zero-waste kitchen and the open-flame cooking classes. Nature lovers will love swimming beneath the property’s thundering 115-foot waterfall, which tumbles down a rock face in the river valley. Sybarites will want to book the spa’s locally inspired pijat (massage) treatment, which uses a fragrant detoxifying oil made with lemongrass and ginger. Solo travelers who prefer exploring with a buddy can opt for guided hiking or cycling excursions through the idyllic landscape. Given Banyan Tree’s open, door- and wall-free design, be prepared for the occasional close encounter with an insect or gecko. Banyan Tree uses an earth-friendly enzyme mist that deters insects, made in-house from biodegradable and mostly repurposed ingredients, such as by-products from Bali’s many incense factories.
While other locales like Ubud, Canggu, Seminyak, and Sanur are well-established on Bali’s tourism circuit, the village of Buahan has remained mostly off the radar, even to many locals. Located 12 miles from Taro and reached by car via a winding road hugging a green ravine, Buahan is less than two hours from I Gusti Ngurah Rai International Airport. With an elevation of around 2,000 feet, the resort is cooled by frequent breezes. The grounds are filled with cacao, mangosteen and durian trees, a hidden waterfall that spills into the Ayung River ravine, and multiple waterways—all of which were carefully preserved in the building of the hotel.
When Buahan, a Banyan Tree Escape, opened in June 2022, it aimed to offer travelers a less trammeled side of the island’s jungle interior.
The 16 wood-shingled bales, or villas, sit above the picturesque confluence of two rivers; all face west toward seven often mist-shrouded green mountain peaks. The open-plan spaces are a sprawling 1,775 square feet, and eschew doors, windows, and walls in favor of connecting guests with nature. There’s plenty of privacy, thanks to opaque curtains and ample space between the bales. Floors are fashioned out of salvaged wood, and large beds are draped in mosquito netting.
My villa had its own dipping pool and private gazebo. I indulged in a soak in the deep, hand-hammered copper bathtub while sipping a Baligroni, a cocktail with the local arak liquor and the resort’s own bitters made from leftover spices. I felt in tune with the soundtrack of the jungle, which Balinese artist Made Wirata interpreted as a swirling pattern on the resort’s bathrobes, pool towels, and sarongs using cymatics—the visual representation of sound waves.
The food and drink
One of the highlights of a stay at this Banyan Tree Escape is the Open Kitchen, the zero-waste restaurant that sits behind the cantilevered infinity pool with the same mountain views on display from the bales. Here, Buahan-born chef Eka Sunarya infuses his creativity into breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The restaurant is 70 percent plant based, with sparing use of meat and lots of good-for-your-gut fermented preparations that repurpose would-be kitchen waste. Ninety percent of primary ingredients—including the poultry and coconut oil—are sourced from within a 43-mile radius on the island. Some 70 fruits, veggies, and herbs—including ferns, turmeric, cacao, mint, and mangosteen—grow on site in the organic garden, which is surrounded by used coconut husks that give calcium to the plant roots. Most luxury retreats in Bali don’t serve local beef, saying it’s not high enough quality, but Sunarya elevates Bali-raised beef by slow cooking it to tenderness with his house-made miso and dashi powders.
Not to be missed are Sunarya’s five-course dinners, which feature ever-changing selections of pickled vegetables and mochi-like fermented sourdough flatbread with moringa butter. A revelatory banana flower dish tastes almost like braised meat, a refreshing watermelon tartare is laced with pickled green peppercorns and cultured cashew cheese, and an indulgent roasted jicama sits atop a passion fruit peanut oil emulsion. Breakfast might be nasi jagung, a sweet and savory rice and corn dish, served with vegetables just pulled from the ground, freshly baked bread, and tropical preserves such as soursop.
Just above Open Kitchen is Botanist Bar, which serves close to a dozen house-made kombuchas, plus craft cocktails that reference Indonesian herbal tonics and healing potions. The bartenders are working on a wine made from fermented native kepundung berries.
Staff and service
Seventy percent of the gracious staff is local, and everyone knew me by my name from the moment I arrived. By the end of my trip, they felt more like friends. In an open-air pavilion near the garden, a member of staff playfully instructed me to smack a large bamboo kul kul (a percussive drum-slash-bell) three times as hard as possible to announce my arrival. In addition to enjoying the team’s impeccable service, I loved the willingness of individual members to share their own cultural perspective and childhood memories of Buahan.
As is the norm in hilly Bali, steps are required for reaching almost every space in the resort, and it’s not ideal for travelers with limited mobility. The stone paths can be tricky, so bring sturdy footwear.
Going above and beyond
In addition to the impressive zero-waste kitchen, Banyan Tree is close to achieving zero single-use plastic on site. Wildlife conservation is also a priority: Banyan Tree built owl abodes to house the rare sewak jawa (barn owl). A Balinese consultant from the village of Taro named Wayan Wardika has helped to establish a firefly conservation program to resuscitate the species, which has been on the decline in recent decades. A firefly nursery debuted in March 2023 under intersecting arches of bamboo. Guests can request guided visits to learn about the conservation initiative.