Janda Baik is known to be one of the more popular natural getaways for local KL and PJ urbanites. With umpteen crisscrossing streams flowing through the area, it is a popular site for weekend picnickers and small corporate group meetings. Over the recent years, Janda Baik has soared in popularity with new signposts emerging along the winding road leading into the area. From kampung style homestays to conference-type resorts, Janda Baik offers a variety of lodging options.
However, the option of private estates is rare, especially if you are looking for pure exclusivity and excellent hospitality. Aman Rimba was an excellent find. Situated within Kampung Janda Baik, this three acre private estate houses six villas, four of which embodies the Malay kampung (village) style built up. The six villas, Sireh (betel), Serai (lemongrass), Kantan (ginger flower), Halia (Ginger) and Kunyit (Tumeric) named after Malaysian typical well-loved herbs is able to comfortably accommodate up to 25 people, ideal for small corporate groups or large family retreats.
I made my way to Aman Rimba on a weekday afternoon in time for lunch. Ashari Shuib, the resort manager greeted me as the sturdy wooden picket door opened into the estate. Cobbled staircase led up to Selasih, an open air pavilion where I was offered a glass of cucumber and lemon house blend. I was immediately drawn to the surrounding garden, an amalgamation of manicured landscaping and rugged kampung lawn. Heliconias, hibiscus, wild orchids, Ixoras and lilies are just a few of the many blooms speckled around the estate.
I ventured further into Sireh, the first kampung house built on the estate, as Ashari unravelled the story of how Aman Rimba came about. Owned by Sabri Rahman and his wife Wati, Aman Rimba initially started off as a family weekend getaway hideout. “It literally started off with a park table, some chairs and a platform next to the river in front of the resort,” says Ashari. Then Sireh was built and that was the weekend home for Sabri and Wati. Years went by and the couple received many requests for the place to be rented out and eventually, another kampung house came into being, and then another, and finally in 2009, Aman Rimba was open to the public.
The organic growth of Aman Rimba is one of the secret ingredients of why it has retained its homey feel. Leading up to Sireh, the family home, is a large living room area with comfy plush sofas, a selection of good reads, a coffee table and hand-picked furniture and fixtures dating all the way back to the 1950s. One can imagine the spacious living room used as a family space for tea time chats and children playing congkak, a traditional Malaysian game using marbles. Sireh has only one bedroom with a massive four poster bed drabbed with silky linen cloth and a sizable bathroom with a glass ceiling above the shower area.
Halia, Kunyit and Serai are slightly modern kampung houses with beautifully crafted wooden door frames leading into the house. There is so much attention to detail when it comes to the interior and exterior design of these houses. Every tile, sculpture, bed frame and lamp is hand-picked and each kampung house is different aesthetically, although the layout may be similar.
A particular highlight in the estate are the newest units; Kantan I and II, a modern and lux dash to kampung living. Kantan features a grand sense of space with a high timber ceiling living area overlooking a pond with bobbing ducks and black swans. The unit offers modern day comforts such as high definition flat screen tv, air condition, power jet Jacuzzi, semi-open air shower area, a massive four-poster bed, unlimited supply of coffee, tea and milo, and a small day-bed cushioned with plush embroidered pillows ideal for daytime lounging. It does get better… as the tall wooden vertical glass windows open up to an outdoor verandah overlooking the entire estate.
However, at Aman Rimba, the most utilized space is D’Pandan, the common dining area. This is where all the chatter happens and delightful meals are served. Breakfast is thrown in if you stay a night at Aman Rimba, but one will not be satisfied with just breakfast given the selection of local dishes to choose from. From a variety of grilled meats marinated with Malaysian spices to slow cooked curries, from Chinese steamboat options to a blend of western-fusion offerings to soothe your palate, nothing is too difficult for a whip up at Aman Rimba. Ashari jokes, “Sometimes our guest jovially ‘blames’ us for the extra kilos they put on after a stay here.”
I was treated to a generous spread of nasi campur (mix rice) with choice of grilled ikan keli (fresh water fish), ayam goreng berempah (fried spiced chicken), ulam (local herbs), sup tulang (peppery meat soup) and pajeri (slow cooked brinjal) to pick from. Ashari explains that some dishes are cooked in their small in-house kitchen, while other local favourites are bought from the local stalls in Kampung Janda Baik. “We have a select few vendors that we often patronize. It’s our way of giving back to the community,” says Ashari. He adds that some “fresh herbs are plucked from our small herb garden.”
A mere mention of durian after lunch sent Ashari hunting for the king of fruits. Lo and behold, durian pulut (durian served with glutinous rice) was served for tea. Swimming in a bed of creamy durian santan gravy is block of puffy pulut and golden plump durian. The dish gave new meaning to the king of fruits as the flavours of sweet, salty and decadently pungent merged into a perfect dessert blend.
As if there was not enough feasting! Dinner was a huge platter of fresh meats and veggies over a steaming pot of clear broth. After tea, we made our way to the local farmers market in Bukit Tinggi to shop for fresh veggies that will be consumed for dinner. Much to my amazement, the selection was aplenty, with uncommon fresh herbs, veggies and edible flowers to choose from.
Aman Rimba is designed for families in mind; however it is also ideally suited for corporate groups. With facilities such as a swimming pool, games room, small gazebos sprawled over the estate for small group discussions or quiet contemplation and bicycles for bee lining around the estate, both children and adults will appreciate this place with the exclusivity it promises.
Before I bid farewell, Ashari and I took a walk to Kampung Janda Baik, taking in all that this destination had to offer. Meandering into small gravel dirt lanes, Ashari introduced me to Kampung Janda Baik where wild farms grow uninhibited and cattle roam free. Janda Baik is after all a haven to weekend urbanites, but really, at the heart of it, it is home to local kampung folks – and it is best kept that way.
And so, I left Aman Rimba with a lingering memory that will one day lure me back. Its authenticity of culture and sincerity in service has left an indelible mark of what a top-class Malaysian retreat can be. And what’s not to like? With such good food (that’s the Malaysian in me speaking), I dived into a hearty bowl of mee rebus before bidding farewell.