Amongst the hundreds of hotels in Bali few have such an extensive history as Tandjung Sari, and nowadays few hotels look like it. Built in Sanur in the 1960s, it began as a family home to founder Wija Waworuntu and his family, and a few years later it became one of the first boutique hotels on the island that attracted expatriates and even international celebrities.
So when Wija passed away, how did such a historic hotel continue without the lifeline and mastermind behind it all? Under the wide Camplung trees, the same tree that has existed since the hotel’s opening, Aviadi, or Avi as is fondly called, shares his unique way to revitalize the property and carry on the Tandjung Sari spirit into modern times.
For those who’ve never been, how would you describe Tandjung Sari?
I would say Tandjung Sari is a craft but on the scale of a hotel…
That’s an interesting quote. Would you mind telling us about the origin of Tandjung Sari?
Tandjung Sari was started by Wija Waworuntu, my father in law. It was not his intention to make a hotel. He and his first wife, Judith just wanted to escape Jakarta and be close to nature and make a family home. He and Judith used to live in Jakarta and owned an antique shop there.
Wija was born and raised in Utrecht, Holland until his parents brought him back to Indonesia as a little boy. He’s lived in many places in Indonesia such as Sukabumi, Surabaya, and Jakarta. As a kid he was exposed to a mix of cultures and lifestyles of Western and Indonesian backgrounds, and he also had made lots of friends.
Through their antique shop in Jakarta they also met many important clients, amongst them diplomats, senior government officers and expats all of whom, at the end, became the couple’s friends. Wija always invited these clients to visit Bali and stay at their humble house in Sanur.. And their friends had other friends who would stay with Wija as well.
How did a family home turn into a hotel?
The idea of making an accommodation actually came from their friends. Many of them offered Wija to build a bungalow for them and while they were not on the island, Wija could rent it out to other people. Wija thought that wasn’t a bad idea and he started building bungalows in stages.
So from the beginning they had no intention of making a hotel or money out of their place. They just wanted to make a family home and host their friends and friends of friends. This principle has been stated as the Tandjung Sari tagline; ‘my hotel is my living room and my guests are my friends’.
After Wija and Judith separated, Tatie came. She had complimented Wija’s way of hospitality. Tatie had contributed so much with her feeling and touch to Tandjung Sari and she had kept the beauty of Tandjung Sari until today. In addition, she is also a wonderful cook. They both became a marvelous team running the hotel.
So why did they decide to settle in Sanur?
They would stay in Sanur whenever they had to source antiques for their shop, and their good friend Jimmy Pandy, an influential art collector, was also living in Sanur at the time.
Bali’s been their base and the place they want to spend their future. So, they picked Sanur to have their family home. You can imagine in the late 50s there was no beach boardwalk, no Jalan Tamblingan main road, there was nothing, only lots of coconut and banana trees.
Due to Pak Wija’s multicultural background, I can see how his upbringing has been reflected in the design of Tandjung Sari.
Like I said earlier, Tandjung Sari is like a craft in hotel scale. Wija is not an architect but he is an architect by nature. He understood that he’s not from Bali, he’s a ‘pendatang’ (newcomer). It is his principle to look at what has been in place locally and to respect local values and identities. If we look at the buildings in Tandjung Sari, some of them are not perfectly aligned or not symmetrical or on a grid because he build to follow the typography of the garden just to keep the trees alive..
Wija created the bungalows in Tandjung Sari so whoever comes and stays with us, they will feel that they are in Bali. And, at the same time Wija was also able to offer a high level of comfort to guests .. In every single corner in the bungalow, you will certainly feel that you are in Bali; the batik tiles, the Balinese artifacts, alang alang roof, sculpture and so on but the room is also equipped with the comfort of modern functionalities… such as the kind of toilet they have at home, the bath tub, the wash basin….
The other important aspect is that he always used local materials and worked together with local craftsmen. The coral walls, the gateways, the temples, the red brick walls are only chosen with the collaboration between Wija and the local craftsmen.. And a long time ago, when there weren’t many building material choices, the room walls in the bungalow were made by woven bamboo panels.
Where did Wija and his family live at the time then?
I’ve asked one of my brother-in-law and he says the first family home was at the wantilan (large Balinese pavilion) where the restaurant is currently at. And, he remembers that the two big Camplung trees have always been there. *points at trees around the pool deck and Bale Beton area*
Does Ibu Tatie (Pak Wija’s wife?) still come around to greet guests?
Yes, she does come to the hotel from time to time mainly if she has friends coming to the hotel or if we have special events. She is also the ‘hotel cooking advisor’ since she is a great cook!
And food brings people together..
I always ask her advice on how to make this and that, and she always gives me the recipes. The thing is that she doesn’t really have an exact amount or volume of the ingredients. She always uses her hands and intuition to figure out the amount of each spice and ingredient. So, I have to find out a precise amount from her direction.
I’m happy to hear that places like this are still family-run. How does it feel like to continue Tandjung Sari’s legacy?
Well we, myself and my wife Wita (Wija and Tatie’s only daughter), are the second generation. When we came we basically were at a crossroad. When Pak Wija passed away in 2001, this “ship” was kind of rocky because no one was really steering the wheel. And, the situation was getting worse when the Bali bombing hit the island in 2002. Unfortunately, when the hospitality businesses started to wake up and take back in shape Tandjung Sari was still not there yet because we were still missing the leadership. The family almost decided to sell the hotel.
I remember my mother-in-law, Tatie, with some members of the family, contacted me and my wife, and asked us if we were interested to come to Bali and help manage Tandjung Sari. I have no clue why they contacted me but maybe they thought I studied business a few years ago in the States- even though my undergraduate degree was in electrical engineering.
And, at that time I was still working for TELKOM Indonesia in Bandung. Anyhow, I decided to come to Bali to visit Tandjung Sari in December 2003. I remember I was standing on the beach facing the hotel. I said to myself, it was too sad to let the property go after 40 years of beautiful journey of this historical place.. Wita and I decided to move in June 2004, on my birthday actually. I remember, when I arrived at Tandjung Sari and stayed in one of the bungalows, the staff was so nice. They came to the room and brought a nasi tumpeng (cone shaped rice dish) and we all ate together! Couldn’t forget that moment!
Were you not tempted to change the place?
I was so tempted to… there were so many new hotels coming up with a completely different direction than ours. I was so confused and everyday I would ask myself if I should change direction and concept, or stay with whatever has been set before. But the more I thought about it, the more I was sure that we should stick to our original concept. I think if we change Tandjung Sari towards a direction like many hotels were heading at the time, we would be one of the crowd and no different from the rest.. . We decided to still do some changes and development but we would do it very gently without ruining the value, feeling and ambiance of the place.
It’s interesting because there is a quote “if everything is to remain as it was, everything must change.” To keep Tandjung Sari the way it is, what are some things you had to change or to keep the same?
It was very challenging. When the bar’s roof was leaning and almost collapsed due to strong winds in 2005, we [Avi and his wife Wita] had no other choice but to renovate the bar. We did a lot of research and discussion with friends and some professionals on how we should design the new bar.. This would be our first “big” project and decision to “mark” on the property. It was a big challenge. Everyone was looking at us and wanted to see what the bar would look like..
After having a long thought and fully understanding the history of the property, we thought it would be better to keep the legacy and continue it as it once was, do some adjustments as needed to complement better amenities and facilities as well as the schemes that can keep up the service efficiently.
An interesting story, when we did the restaurant renovation in 2011, I was asked by the architect and the contractor if we were going to change the wooden column with the new timber or use the existing column. But I thought these existing wooden columns had been there and survived to support the roof structure for years, so I told them “why should we change something that has worked very well before?”
Can you tell me about the uniforms of the hotel staff?
One thing about the uniform for staff in Tandjung Sari is that we do not put a name tag. Many of our guests asked me, why don’t you give your staff a name tag? I told them, when you’re at home you don’t give them a name tag either on your staff outfits. I said to them, you don’t have to remember their name, they will remember your name.
I know the likes of David Bowie and Mick Jagger have even stayed here! Do you have any stories to share?
The staff has so many stories to tell. One day, Mick Jagger was here and asked the staff to take him to the local market in Denpasar. Mick Jagger gave the staff his leather jacket before he left Tandjung Sari as a thank you! I asked the staff where the leather jacket is now, and he said, unfortunately, one day his house was burned down and so the jacket!
After I came to Tandjung Sari in 2004, I’ve met some celebrity guests such as Annie Lennox, Sigourney Weaver from “Alien”, Edward Norton “the Incredible Hulk” and David Blane “the street magician”. They are very humble and nice people. I always greet them at the hotel. I remember Annie Lennox said she came to Tandjung Sari 20 years ago when she was still single and this time she came with her daughters. She wanted to share with them the place she used to stay in Bali. And so Sigourney Weaver also came years ago. She asked me if she could walk around the premises and she was amazed to know that everything looks the same still, mainly the feeling and the ambiance. At the end of the day, the staff would say, these celebrities are just like any other guests.
If guests ask you what kind of souvenirs they should leave Bali with, what would you suggest?
Oh that’s a good question… there’s so many nice and beautiful crafts in Bali but I’d suggest bringing home something unique and original. You can really see the originality and the quality of the craftsmanship, it doesn’t have to be antique or classic. We always appreciate craft produced with passion and it is always our intention to support local talent with respect to passion.
And lastly, what are some of your favourite places in Bali, besides Sanur?
Hmm, ever since the pandemic I’ve gotten a chance to drive around Bali more. And, surprisingly, I discovered many nice and beautiful scenery in Bali I had never gone to. Well, that’s one good thing about the pandemic,I have more time to explore the island. I liked staying in Amed during this time because of its quiet and beautiful beach. Even though I prefer swimming in freshwater rather than seawater, I found it nice to swim by the sea in Amed.. I also quite often spend time in our small little farm land in Pupuan (Tabanan) to just relax, have an opportunity to explore and make a plan for our retirement. Just to have something small that we can live with a more sustainable kind of living..
Thank you Pak Avi!
I hope I can help.