Often, the discovery of a gem of a place leaves one wishing for more. It could be a restaurant tucked away in some far-flung corner of the city, a kopi tiam in a small town, a boutique hotel or even a hawker stall at some night market. All that is needed is a good fusion of excellent product and service, and you will have the privilege of having your clients doing all the word-of-mouth marketing for you.
Aman Rimba is such a place, and more. Timber Malaysia tracked down its owner, Sabri Rahman (SR), to find out the real motivations behind making Aman Rimba what it is today.
TM Aman Rimba is pure poetry. What is the concept of Aman Traditional kampong experience retains its charm at the Sireh House where Chengal and Balau have been used for the walls and flooring respectively. Rimba and why was this place built so nicely, especially since you are not living in it?
SR Aman Rimba was not initially conceptualised as a commercial venture. It was first designed to be a private weekend retreat for family and friends. We wanted to have a place big enough for our whole family to chill out together. You know the size of a typical Malay extended family: parents, siblings, uncles, aunties, children, and even our cats, sometimes! And what better way to introduce our young ones, most of whom are urban-dwellers, to the idyllic kampong lifestyle of yesteryears than to actually have them play in the stream, pick their own fruits and feed some peacocks and ducks in between? Over the years, however, as the children grew up to further their studies, these family gatherings became fewer and fewer. So, in 2009, we made a decision to open Aman Rimba to the public.
Aman Rimba is situated on a three-acre plot of land in Kampong Janda Baik, but we’ve always thought that it would be quite a novel idea to juxtapose typically urban five-star amenities with Aman Rimba’s quintessentially ‘kampong’ soul. We know, based on our own experience, that we like our creature comforts, even when we are here. When we first started Aman Rimba, it was nice enough but not as nice and well-equipped as it is now. The whole place just developed organically to gradually live up to its changing personality, from a family hideaway, to a commercially-run sanctuary.
TM Please tell us more about the suites and the materials used to build them.
SR The first structure to be built was the ‘Sireh House’. This is a traditional Malay kampong house, with one double bedroom, but with a large enough living area to accommodate six more guests, if necessary. We never thought twice about constructing it entirely of wood. Other materials just wouldn’t achieve that quintessential ‘kampong’ feel. Besides, nothing else would have blended in so perfectly with the natural setting of lush forests, gushing brooks and tranquil lakes.
We used Chengal for the walls, part of the flooring, the roof trusses and the beams. Balau was utilised for most of the flooring. In the old days, people used to build houses, mosques and churches without nails, and even huge palaces used to be put together based on the ‘mortise and tenon’ concept, and this is exactly how Sireh House was built. Clay roof tiles have been used to further reinforce the authenticity of a traditional Malay house.
‘Halia’, ‘Kunyit’ and ‘Serai’ (literally ‘ginger’, ‘turmeric’ and ‘lemongrass’) are chalets of more modest construction compared to ‘Sireh House’. These were obviously built more for function than anything else and Chengal was mainly used for these tiny but comfortable chalets. We love Chengal for its natural durability.
But Kantan (literally ‘ginger flower’) is by far most guests’ favourite accommodation. I would say 98% of the wood used for the Kantan Suites is Balau.
TM Many people prefer to take the easy way out and use concrete instead of timber, citing reasons like the inability to insure the building against fire. Why did you decide to go ahead with using a lot of timber at Aman Rimba?
SR This is the thing we do not understand about the local fire department. If only they understood the properties of wood better, they would not hesitate to recommend companies to insure wooden buildings. In fact, when the Tunku Chancellor Convocation Hall of University Malaya was razed by fire many years ago, the timber columns were still standing when the fire was finally put out. What is good about timber is that scientifically, timber chars and burns slowly, and that helps us predict exactly how long a wooden structure can remain standing before it collapses from having all the structural wooden items burnt entirely. Not so with concrete and steel, which can buckle under fire at a much faster and much less predictable rate than timber.
The other main reason for using timber is because no other materials would have blended in more beautifully with Aman Rimba’s lush greenery and natural vegetation than timber.
TM Please tell us more about the beautifully-appointed Kantan Suites and how you feel this could set the tone for the future of the ‘homestay’ industry in Malaysia.
SR The Kantan Suites comprises two units of accommodation that could be combined or separated by the use of a wooden screen panel. If Aman Rimba was a little kingdom, the Kantan Suites would probably be the royal palace! The suites sit regally on the highest point of the land, providing guests with a commanding view of the entire estate. The suites have identical mirroring layout, and are attached via the sitting room. For privacy, folding panels made of Nyatoh could be conveniently opened to separate the living areas, to have two self-contained standalone suites.
Each suite features a king-sized bed with an additional queen-sized daybed in the living area. We have used Balau for the flooring and Chengal for most structural applications. When viewed from the living area, the symmetrically laid wooden roof rafters and the ventilation-promoting timber strips placed vertically in a row high above the wall provide a geometrical visual poetry.
For us, the Kantan Suites are special and the highlight of Aman Rimba not because they are the nicest but because they epitomise the very concept of Aman Rimba: a fusion of five-star luxury with a rural setting. Some guests come expecting only basic facilities and they get bowled over by, for example, the open-air Jacuzzi and shower area, a spacious walk-in wardrobe, and high quality furnishings throughout. I must say that this concept is not novel, but Malaysia does not use this concept enough to promote its rural areas with pristine natural beauty. Look at Ubud in Bali, for example: the rice terraces sit comfortably next to luxurious villas that blend in well with the natural surroundings. There are no major attempts to flatten hills, sanitize the local landscape, build high-rise hotels or widen the roads for tourists. And yet, tourists still come in droves. Why? Because you are offering them a unique opportunity to experience life as a local - perhaps getting around mainly by foot or bicycle - and yet have their five-star creature comforts when they retreat to their villas. This might sound clichéd but I believe that when you engage your guests at that experiential level, for them it is rather like having their cake and eating it, too! And they will come back for more, or at least go back and tell all their friends and family about it.
TM Please tell us a bit about other wood-based structures at Aman Rimba.
SR There is currently a spa pavilion, a common dining area, and a bar. The octagonal spa pavilion, made entirely of Chengal, is situated ‘far from the madding crowd’ i.e., away from all the accommodation and the common areas, but nearest to the stream (which provides complimentary ‘water-splashing-over-stones-in-the-stream’ nature sound!). This provides guests with absolute privacy and tranquillity for their traditional massage, which is offered upon prior arrangement.
We do not allow food to be consumed in the suites and chalets, so we have a common place for meals, which is an open-air area covered with a high roof with exposed beams, rafters and trusses. There is no particular theme to this dining area, apart from ‘tropical style’, I suppose. This is a place for social dining and chilling out, and the use of timber (again, Balau and Chengal) has greatly contributed to the carefree and relaxed ambience. Here, guests can watch movies on a big screen, have karaoke singing sessions or just lounge about for chit chats. Patterned wooden motifs, made of Kempas, adorn the eaves of the roof to provide a taste of traditional Malay decorative woodwork.
We also have Chengal decking around the pool area, and this is very important because timber does not retain too much heat to make it uncomfortable to walk on, even on a very hot day at Aman Rimba. We are building a Games Room at the moment, using a combination of Chengal and glass. Thank God for our highly reliable local contractor! Not only does he have a team of highly-skilled carpenters, he also sources all the timbers for us. Most of the timbers we used are recycled from demolished old buildings.
I must also say something about the bar, which was initially flat-packed like Ikea furniture and shipped over from Sumatera. The Indonesians use Resak for this. Every piece employs the mortis and tenon concept, and this was assembled without using a single nail!
TM Does Aman Rimba require high maintenance? Has the use of a lot of timber been worthwhile?
SR She can be, but mainly in terms of keeping the grounds clean and tidy of leaves. You know how it is when you have lots of trees and natural vegetation around. And because the conditions here are so conducive for trees and plants to grow, there is plenty of pruning to be done as well. As for the timber structures, I must say that once you have chosen highly durable species like Chengal and Balau, all that is required after construction is periodic checks and a coat of protective oil every few months. Every property requires maintenance, whether it is built of bricks, concrete or timber. I certainly wouldn’t say that Aman Rimba requires more maintenance because of the large volume of timbers used for its main structures.
Whether the use of a lot of timber has been worthwhile can be gauged from our guests’ feedback of the place. Words that guests have used to describe Aman Rimba include ‘warm’, ‘cosy’ and ‘homey’. Analysing it more deeply, I certainly feel that timber has played a big role in engaging our guests at the experiential level. It is an experience that your inner self acknowledges, but cannot quite be described in words because the effect on you is so subtle: the sensation of walking barefoot on the timber floors, the creaking of the floorboards, the feel of smooth, planed timber against your palm...all this is enough to induce bouts of nostalgia about growing up in the kampong in the good old days.
Aman Rimba is situated in Janda Baik, a rural multicultural village located 400 metres above sea level. It only takes 45 minutes to get to Janda Baik from Kuala Lumpur, through the Karak Highway (E8). It is a mere 14 km from the well-patronised Genting Sempah R&R.
The resort accommodates 20 and is leased out on a full board basis. For ultimate privacy and comfort, the policy is to lease out the whole estate at any one time. Breakfast, mid-morning tea, lunch, tea and dinner are all inclusive of the price. There is a full-time cook who can also prepare made-to-order dishes for guests.
Guests often wake up to the symphony of fauna sounds, whose orchestra members include gibbons from the surrounding forests, cockerels and countless other forest dwellers, winged or otherwise. Children are encouraged to explore the surrounding areas, feed the swans, ducks and peacocks, and play in the shallow stream nearby. Fruits like rambutan, durian and jackfruit are freely available for guests’ consumption during the fruiting season. The resort has two all-terrain vehicles for more adventurous guests. There is also a karaoke machine for budding singers, a large projector movie screen, a foosball machine and numerous board games and books. Soon, the newly completed Games Room will add darts and snooker to the repertoire
of activities on offer.
For further information on Aman Rimba (www.amanrimba.com), please contact the Resident Manager, Mr. Izham Abdullah:
Tel : +6012 806 9955