top of page

In search of serenity (and elephants) at Ubud's Tanah Gajah

The historic estate of Tanah Gajah is one of Asia's most captivating resorts, discovers Carolynne Dear. Not only that, it's a haven for families


Tanah Gajah

Home-away-from-home at Tanah Gajah


The vast sea of rice shoots whispers in the wind as great, grey clouds scud over the paddy fields. A storm is on its way, but for now the breeze is a welcome respite from the muggy heat. As I gaze across the vast fields of green crops, punctuated here and there by swaying coconut trees, I’m snapped out of my reverie by the arrival of a towering cake stand and a teapot that are ceremoniously deposited onto my terrace table. It’s afternoon tea time at Tanah Gajah, a luxury resort just outside of Ubud.


Later, the storm will break, with crashing thunder and lightning bolts illuminating the night sky. April is the tail-end of the rainy season in Bali and my stay has been punctuated by heavy downpours followed by blue skies and burning sunshine. It’s a mixed bag and it’s keeping me on my toes. 


I’ve travelled to Ubud, the island’s ‘arts and crafts’ centre from Bali’s buzzing seaside resorts in the south of the island. While Ubud may be just as busy these days, Tanah Gajah is the polar opposite of the all-inclusive, beachside hotels popular in Bali's coastal suburbs. This resort is an entirely different mindset. 


The sweeping lawns of the Tanah Gajah estate, surrounded by those mesmerising paddy fields, were once the family holiday home of the late renowned Indonesian art collector and architect, Hendra Hadiprana. 


Tanah Gajah

Cooling off at the main pool


In his day, Hadiprana worked on some of Bali’s most acclaimed properties, including the InterContinental Bali Resort and the Legian Bali. In the 1980s, he turned his attention to his own backyard and had a raft of private villas built for his family on the Ubud estate, set around pools and with rolling green lawns and space for family gatherings. An amphitheatre was included to host the spectacular ‘kacek’ dance shows by the local villagers. These performances continue, twice weekly, to this day and are well-worth time-tabling into your stay. 


The estate is named for a nearby temple, Goa Gajah, or ‘elephant cave’; Tanah Gajah means ‘elephant realm’ and elephant symbolism can be found everywhere, from stone elephant water features standing guard at the pool, to celestial flying elephants on the ceiling of the lobby and a cluster of elephant statues on the front lawn welcoming guests to the property.


In 2004 Hadiprani ceded management and the property became The Chedi Club Tanah Gajah, until finally, in 2020, it was rebranded as Tanah Gajah, a Resort by Hadiprana, the flagship resort of brand new hotel management group, Hadiprana Hospitality.


As my taxi comes to a halt at the end of the driveway I am warmly welcomed by general manager, Deasy Swandarini. She ushers me into a golf buggy driven by my personal butler which makes a tour of the estate before delivering me to my villa. 


Tanah Gajah

Elephants guard the entrance to the outdoor amphitheatre


Twenty villas are scattered across the 12-acre estate, running from one bedroom club suite villas, to one bedroom club pool villas and two-bedroom club family pool villas. My stunning private pool is surrounded by comfy daybeds and loungers, perfect for soaking up the sun when it makes an appearance. 


Inside the spacious villa, a welcome plate of sugary banana fritters and tea has been laid out for me. The villas are traditionally Balinese in design but with the most modern of amenities, including a complimentary minibar, coffee machine, docking station and bose speakers. The generous ensuite bathroom has a soaking tub and indoor and outdoor rain showers. Artwork from Hadiprani’s private collection hangs from the walls.


My days are largely spent lounging by the villa pool or stretching out in the main pool, watched over by the omnipresent stone elephants. The resort offers complimentary transportation into Ubud, but I prefer to spend my time relaxing at the estate, far from the madding crowds. On the second day I venture to the spa for a memorable massage overlooking the rice fields. On my final morning, I join a rice paddy trek with Nik, a local guide, who talks me through the importance of the local rice harvest as we stroll through the fields and into the local village. It’s a fascinating experience and a couple of hours later I’m back at the estate in time for a well-deserved late breakfast of pancakes and coffee. 


Tanah Gajah

Enjoy a treatment overlooking the rice fields at the resort's spa


Tanah Gajah may be high-end, but it also welcomes children. The estate was, of course, originally designed for a family. Along with the main pool, there’s also a pool specifically for families, which was recently opened on the spot where the Hadiprana family once gathered. It has a smaller wading pool for toddlers and a deeper section for teens and parents. Bean bags are set-out for lounging around the sides and stone elephants spout water at each corner. 


“This was once a spot of a lot of joy, laughter and the giggles of children enjoying themselves,” says Swandarini. “We wanted to bring that playful nature back.”


During my visit, children were also enjoying feeding the resident swans, which represent knowledge in Balinese mythology. Intriguingly, at Tanah Gajah, there are white swans from Holland and black swans from Perth. 


Further highlights for families include hot air balloon rides from the property. The balloon ride, the first and only in Bali, rises 50m above the estate taking in views of Mount Agung in the distance, the rice paddies and the estate itself. Intrigued, I book a trip myself but unfortunately the inclement weather has the last word.


Last year the resort opened a family art room with art materials and colouring books to introduce Balinese culture to children.  


Tanah Gajah

A children's room in the two-bedroom villas


Tanah Gajah is currently offering a three-night family package which includes a family spa experience with face masks and manicures for under 12s, a half-day tour in a vintage VW safari wagon ending up in the jungle at Tanah Gajah’s sister property, Dua Dari, for lunch and a 45-minute family photo session. Families are accommodated in the resort's two-bedroom club family pool villas, which have a twin room set-up for youngsters. The package is available until December this year. 


Perhaps the highlight of my stay was watching the spectacular kecak dance performance at the outdoor amphitheatre. Performers from the local village vividly and energetically bring to life the tale of the wife of King Rama who is kidnapped and spirited away. The king sends the white monkey king to free the queen and he is joined in his quest by the red monkey king. Together, they attack the stronghold imprisoning the queen and bring her home. I am awestruck by the drumming, the chanting, the fire - at one point burning fire sticks are hurled through the night sky as the fighting reaches its climax - and the extravagant costumes. It is unlike any Balinese 'tourist’ show I have ever seen. It’s also quite intimate as we audience members perch on a stone ledge in the grassy amphitheatre during a snatched ‘dry’ half-hour between rainstorms. Afterwards, we’re invited to meet the cast.


Tanah Gajah

The mesmerising kecak fire show has been performed at the estate for more than 40 years


At the beginning of my stay, Swandarini had told me she wanted me to feel at home during my visit. This goal has certainly been achieved. The friendly and attentive staff have made me feel incredibly welcome and looked after. Much care has been taken over my food orders in the restaurant. Nik, my paddy field trek guide, was unendingly patient, responding with enthusiasm to my questions that had no doubt been asked many times before. The housekeeping staff had crept into my villa to tidy each morning when they knew I was at breakfast. It’s this attention to detail that propels a holiday from good to great.


And so sadly, after one final photo shoot with the swans, it’s back to Denpasar airport and real life.


Asia Family Traveller was a guest of Tanah Gajah, a Resort by Hadiprani.


Read more stories like this by signing up for our FREE weekly newsletter, straight to your inbox and packed with Hong Kong and Asia news, holiday inspiration, resort reviews and giveaways.


Comments


Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page