Firefly Bali: Waking up in a Rice Paddy

As a nomad traveling the world in search of unique accommodations, I’ve noticed that the glamping trend has accelerated partly due to the emergence of short-term rental marketplaces like Airbnb and These websites enable creative, local proprietors to offer their hospitality on a small scale, resulting in a boom of unique lodgings available across the globe. From used shipping containers, to treehouses, to igloos, you can now find it all depending on where you are. Ubud on the island of Bali is no exception. While visiting the trendy town, we discovered Firefly Bali: a single bamboo hut in the middle of a rice paddy.


Despite its agricultural setting, Firefly is located surprisingly close to the urban core of Ubud. To access the property you first need to convince a taxi driver to drop you off on the side of the road, alongside an unmarked dirt path leading up a hill and into the forest. The process of communicating these unusual instructions to the driver is an experience unto itself. Then you need to hike about a kilometer through a labyrinth of rice paddies. Don’t worry, you don’t need to figure this all out on your own. Despite being a single hut, Firefly is still staffed, sharing employees with a nearby sister property. One of the friendly hosts helped us direct the taxi driver and met us at the trailhead. From there, he helped us with our luggage and led us through the paddies.


The hut is unlike any property we’ve ever visited. It was constructed in the local architectural material of bamboo with a grass thatched roof. It has a queen-sized bed, a small amount of electricity for lights and an outlet, and an outdoor shower, but the modern conveniences end there. There is no air conditioning or fan. Instead, Firefly relies on its open-air design to keep things cool. It’s so open, there isn’t even a front door!


This open layout pairs with the hut’s land site, carved out of a working rice paddy, to make the Firefly experience so unique. You naturally settle into the surrounding environment without disturbing it, which in this case entails observing the paddy workers beat the bushes to scare away crop-eating birds or simply enjoying the unobstructed view. The terraced rice paddies were particularly spectacular at sunset.


As Firefly warns guests in advance, its alternative accommodations will not suit everybody. Despite this, Firefly’s one of a kind outdoor experience set in an authentic Southeast Asian environment seems to be in high demand. The little hut was booked solid for two months following our stay and only by sheer happenstance was a night available during our time in Ubud. Demand is so strong, in fact, that Firefly’s creative proprietor is currently constructing a new bamboo eco-structure about 500 meters away. The new property is slated to hold four bamboo micro-units stacked on top of each other, targeted towards budget travelers seeking a minimalist natural experience in Ubud. Similar to Firefly, but even more alternative. As the Balinese locals would say, “same same but different.”

4 Rivers Floating Lodge

If you build it, they will come.

These are the famous last words of real estate developers across the world who try, but fail, in their bold attempts to create something out of nothing. Occasionally, however, someone with an exceptional vision, perfectly executed, manages to prove the old adage true.

Enter: 4 Rivers Floating Lodge.

4 Rivers Floating Lodge is a boutique glamping resort located at the confluence of four rivers at the base of the Cardamom Mountains in southwestern Cambodia. Yes, you read that correctly. As the name suggests, 4 Rivers is literally located on top of a river, a construction style inspired by the floating villages native to Cambodia’s countryside.

Credit: 4 Rivers Floating LodgePhoto Credit: 4 Rivers Floating Lodge

Further, the lodge is located in a remote part of an already faraway country, about five hours west of Cambodia’s capital city, Phnom Penh. But this did not deter us or thousands of other travelers. Like I said, “build it and they will come” occasionally works out.

Our trip started with an adventure: a harrowing, five-hour bus ride during which our driver played chicken with oncoming traffic the entire time. We spent most of the ride with our eyes closed, teeth clenched. All part of the experience, I guess. Once deposited in the village of Tatai, our journey continued with a longtail boat ride down the river.


4 Rivers Floating Lodge is only accessible by boat, naturally. After twenty minutes of putt-putting down the river, the secluded resort finally appeared in the distance, around a bend, tucked between the eastern bank and a small island.

Even though we knew what to expect, landfall — or shall I say “tentfall” — was still astonishing. There’s something hard to believe about real estate created on top of a moving body of water.

The property, if you want to call it that, consists of a landing area in the center, which includes the restaurant, the office, a library, and some back of house operations. This central landing area is flanked by two long pontoons, with six tents each, for a total of twelve suites.


Our suite was a massive safari tent with a pitched roof, great room, and ensuite bathroom. We also had a large riverdeck with lounge chairs and swim ladder.

Once settled in, we spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing by the river, reading, swimming, and kayaking.

We also enjoyed a bottle of pinot noir while watching an unexpectedly spectacular sunset.


The next morning, the river’s beauty continued to amaze. The surface was like a polished mirror, covered in fog which had snaked its way down from the highlands. While we rose, the land fog began its retreat from the heat of the rising sun.

After a morning swim and breakfast, we set off on one of 4 Rivers’ many nature excursions. We chose to visit the Tatai Waterfalls. Sambo, a local Khmer guide employed by the lodge, took us up the river.


Once there, Sambo immediately showed us the hidden climb up the slippery rocks and through rushing water to the top of the falls. He wasted no time demonstrating how to properly jump off. After some nervous jitters, Meghan bravely went first. Once I let her test the depth, it was my turn.


We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the falls, eating a picnic lunch, and kayaking back down the river. Among Sambo’s many talents, we learned he’s also a candid photographer when we discovered these shots on our camera afterwards. Thanks Sambo.

The waterfalls were stunning and our kayak ride further added to a connection we were starting to feel with the river. To passersby, the river might be overlooked as a mere geographical feature blended into the overall landscape. Once you get up close and personal, however, it becomes clear that the river is the source of life for everything in its path. It is the backbone for a way of life practiced by the locals for hundreds of years.

This was one of the surprises of 4 Rivers Floating Lodge. I honestly thought we’d find the “floating” aspect of the resort to be a gimmick — just a cool way to differentiate from other glampsites and ecolodges. But it’s so much more than that. By floating, you are authentically connected to the river: the cradle of life in this part of Cambodia.


In talking to Sambo and the rest of the staff, I began to understand that 4 Rivers accomplishes this connection in a sensitive manner, protecting the environment, instead of exploiting it. This is, in my opinion, the most impressive accomplishment of 4 Rivers. Unlike typical destination resorts, which purposefully isolate themselves, 4 Rivers has integrated into the community and generated remarkably positive effects on the locals and the environment.

Sambo was literally a hunter-gatherer before 4 Rivers. Now, thanks to the lodge, he and many other locals speak fluent English and hold an unusually progressive view towards protecting the environment. No longer just a natural resource, they want to preserve the environment for the future. For example, we were impressed as we noticed Sambo quietly collecting litter left behind by other shortsighted locals while we climbed the waterfalls.

For these reasons, 4 Rivers Floating Lodge has redefined what we consider to be the pinnacle of glamping. The basic promise of glamping is to provide an opportunity to enjoy nature without sacrificing modern day amenities. 4 Rivers takes this pledge one step further, providing an opportunity to not just enjoy nature, but to connect with it. And protect it.


Perhaps the old aphorism should be rephrased in 4 Rivers’ example: if you build something special, they will come.

Sandat Glamping: Truly Glamorous Camping

Normally, when I think of “glamping,” I imagine camping… with with a touch of glamour. You know, a few modern day amenities like a real bed, electricity, and maybe an ensuite bathroom if I’m lucky. What I don’t typically imagine is a luxurious safari tent that could very well appear on the cover of an interior design magazine. This was my experience at Sandat Glamping — a boutique tent hotel on the island of Bali in Indonesia — which elevates the glam in glamping to a whole new level.

Sandat Glamping is located just outside Ubud, the artistic and cultural hub of Bali. Ubud is a popular destination among international travelers because of its hip vibe and stunning natural beauty. The town itself is rife with craft shops, dance performances, yoga studios, restorative spas, artisanal coffee, and organic chocolate. Immediately outside Ubud are lush green landscapes of rice paddies and bamboo forests. Given all these ingredients, it is no surprise that a luxury glamping destination would thrive here.

Meghan and I came to Ubud after spending a week in Bali’s busy coastal surf meccas, so we were excited for some well-deserved peace and quiet. Fortunately, Sandat Glamping is located outside the town center, about a 15 minute drive east of central Ubud, in the middle of working rice paddies.

As a boutique resort, there are only eight accommodations in the entire place — five luxury tents and three lumbungs. A lumbung is a traditional Indonesian “rice warehouse,” easily recognized by its bamboo pole structure and grass thatched roof.


While the two-story lumbungs would have offered a beautifully authentic Balinese experience, we opted to stay in one of the signature luxury tents instead. Each of Sandat Glamping’s five safari tents has its own, Indonesian-inspired name. We were staying in the Bantan tent, which we learned was also known as the “white tent.”


The concept of color theming would normally conjure mental images of a tacky hotel on the Las Vegas strip, but that association could not be farther from reality here. Sandat Glamping was developed by a fashionable Italian husband and wife duo with a tasteful eye for design. The color theme in this case is merely an accent, exquisitely woven throughout the unique decor of each luxury tent. Meghan in particular could not be happier that we chose the white tent with the shabby chic decor.


It was obvious that not a single detail of the interior design had been overlooked, and there were some thematic features that varied from tent to tent, from the hanging light fixture in the bathroom to the musical instrument used to summon room service. (Seriously. Our tent had a little xylophone, in lieu of the standard hotel telephone, if we needed something during our stay.)


The staff at Sandat Glamping are overwhelmingly accommodating and they would have gladly helped us participate in some of Ubud’s many tourist activities.


But we only had enough time in Ubud to stay at Sandat for one night, so opted to stay put and experience all the resort’s luxurious details. No need to leave! We’d rather rest and recuperate in our plush lounge chairs by our private plunge pool in the middle of our own slice of tropical jungle paradise.



We spent the rest of our day relaxing and reading in luxury. When we got hungry, we dined in Sandat Glamping’s main hall, which serves many functions including bar, lounge, restaurant, and meeting area. Just like the luxury tents, the hall is exquisitely designed, with attention to detail obvious throughout. Dinner was tasty too.



The next morning, we arose naturally with sunlight pouring into the tent, which is one of the many things we love about the glamping experience. This was the first time while glamping, however, that we found ourselves in a luxurious bed that’d rival any 5-star resort. Well-rested and feeling inspired, we went for a run along the paths carved out in the rice paddies and soaked up the beauty.


Our time at Sandat Glamping was now running short, but we still had time for breakfast. Like everything else, the meal was elevated by an unfailing attention to subtle details. I particularly loved the fresh assortment of Bali’s best bread, pastries, and jam. (I had gone running already, after all.)


After breakfast, it was time to go. Reflecting on our stay, it’s amazing how we never cease to be surprised by the range of our glamping experiences. We were initially drawn to the concept because we love nature, but find that camping can be cumbersome and a little too rough at times. Even then, glamping usually involves some sacrifices. Not at Sandat Glamping. On the contrary, Sandat has found a way to harmoniously merge the best elements of a boutique hotel — luxury, decor, and hospitality — with Ubud’s natural beauty, without making either feel out of place.