It really is a jungle out there. Or at least it is for hoteliers discovering and embracing the restorative powers of nature. If luxury once meant keeping out the natural world in favour of around-the-clock air-conditioning and other manmade amenities, these days resort designers understand how to leverage the environment’s holistic pleasures – even if it means a few little critters might crawl in. Here are some of the standout jungle hotel properties across the region.
Hoshinoya Resorts’ first foray outside Japan offers a bold departure from the brand’s modern ryokans (Japanese-style inns) yet follows its usual commitment to blending into the natural backdrop. To get to this hillside enclave along the Pakerisan River, guests first pass by central Bali’s emerald rice paddies and head into the rainforest outside Ubud. Interspersed among the foliage are minimalist, Balinese-influenced villas in polished concrete with Japanese-style tiered rooflines. Jungle hotel lovers should opt for the Jalak villas, with their verdant vistas and extra-wide balconies. Water and its healing qualities figure prominently here as well, with canals running past all villas and into three sprawling swimming pools. The seven alang-alang thatched gazebos at the cafe hanging among the treetops might be Bali’s most meditative dining spaces.
For guests staying in the 23 tents and villas here, a top feature is the waterway that winds through the retreat. The hotel’s guest experience manager, a former monk, holds private meditation sessions along the sonorous cascade and leads treks to Buddhist temples hidden in the surrounding forest. Guests can also forage for fragrant mint, butterfly pea flowers and acacia leaves with local farmers. Head to Elephant Bridge Bar, set above a river, for traditional Laotian snacks and drinks made with spices grown in the property’s organic garden. Treatments in the hillside Sense Spa include those with Mr Xong, a revered village healer and trance dancer who prepares Hmong remedies incorporating rare herbs.
Located 900 metres above sea level, this jungle hotel offers captivating views of the Himalayas. Since it opened in 1998, the property has coexisted thoughtfully with nature, allowing the vegetation to wildly envelop its 18 guest rooms. The bungalows built of hand-cut local stone and wood feature a calming, cool slate interior warmed by vintage Tibetan rugs and hand-wrought wood furniture. Private terraces and oversized windows optimise both that mountainous panorama and the abundant surrounding greenery. Highly trained local guides play a key role here, leading bird walks and day hikes designed around the rejuvenating Japanese concept of forest bathing. The healing effects can be felt by simply breathing the fresh mountain air, so even those sunning themselves at the pool – eco-friendly with its saltwater – will feel restored.
This legendary property along Datai Bay reopened last year after a 12-month, US$60 million makeover. French architect Didier Lefort relied on local, sustainable materials to refresh the 121 minimalist guest rooms, suites and villas, all of which offer bucolic views of the sultry, overgrown grounds and, in some cases, the Andaman Sea. Guests can spot dusky leaf monkeys, their naughtier macaque cousins and colourful birdlife. Early morning walks with acclaimed naturalist Irshad Mobarak, known as the Jungle Walla, have long been on offer here. Now there’s also a dedicated Nature Centre, with a team of naturalists and marine biologists led by Mobarak. After dark, trek into the bush to dine at the stilt-supported Gulai House, where primates shake branches overhead as you dine.
The northern shores of Malaysian Borneo are expansive, empty and hemmed in by endless hectares of Borneo rainforest. It’s here that you’ll find the five-star and family-friendly Shangri-La’s Rasa Ria, right in the middle of a nature retreat. Jungle hotel credentials? A buffoonery of orangutans was found living in the trees within the hotel’s limits.
They’ve since been released back into the Borneo wilderness, but this beachfront mega-resort still offers plenty of chances to encounter our tree-dwelling relatives: the ‘breakfast with a view’ experience involves a hike through the rainforest to a champagne breakfast, surrounded by monkeys and views over the Borneo jungle and the South China Sea.
If the Bali jungle means a night out in Kuta or Legian to you, think again. The clifftop Alila Villas Uluwatu is south Bali’s version of jungle: the rich, fertile, volcanic slopes of Uluwatu. This sleek, designery hangout is set on the lush southeastern tip of Bali’s Bukit peninsula. Pool villas are set into the jungly limestone hills, 600 steps above a private beach. Warning: the neighbourhood macaques are occasionally known to visit for a dip in the pool (and help themselves to your fruit bowl if you leave your doors open).
The southern Cambodian coast is a fast-developing tourism hotspot – but Song Saa was here first. A charitable initiative first and foremost, it also has a stunning private island resort of the same name. Off the coast of Koh Rong in the waters of the Gulf of Thailand, Song Saa has dedicated jungle villas, tucked away in the island’s green interior. Spend days relaxing in the gorgeous wooden villas, decorated with locally collected driftwood, or diving the surrounding crystal-clear waters.
Phuket isn’t known for its jungle credentials (more its gorgeous beaches, super-luxe resorts and Peranakan shophouses in Phuket Town). At the boutique hilltop resort Sri Panwa, on the southern tip of the holiday island, you get close to the natural side of Thailand’s largest island. Pool villas and penthouses are studded among lush green forest that tumbles down to a wild beach (on our visit we spotted a monitor lizard creeping back up through the trees). A sunset drink at Baba Nest, its 360-degree bar, is a must.
This article was originally published in June 2017; it was updated and expanded in May 2019.