The eco-luxe sen­si­bil­ity of Bawah and Cempedak is­land resorts

Bawah and Cempedak, new pri­vate is­land resorts in Sin­ga­pore’s back­yard, may be smaller com­pared to pop­u­lar In­done­sian des­ti­na­tions but they’re big on be­ing en­vi­ron­ment-friendly.

Jetgala - - CONTENTS - by Foo Mei Anne


It would take you at least two hours of pad­dling to see ev­ery­thing in Bawah, a reef-rich en­clave sit­u­ated 300km north­east of Sin­ga­pore. Chief Oper­at­ing Of­fi­cer Paul Robin­son proudly ex­plains the des­ti­na­tion’s “Re­serve”-af­fix: “Bawah Re­serve – a group of six is­lands named Bawah, Batu Tokong, Muerba, Sang­gah, Elang, and Lidi – has been des­ig­nated as a marine con­ser­va­tion area. The zone has three la­goons, full of coral and all kinds of wildlife, plus many pri­vate beaches that in­vite sea tur­tles to lay their eggs, her­mit crabs to find shel­ter in pris­tine shells – mak­ing the en­tire ex­pe­ri­ence some­what equiv­a­lent to a game re­serve.”

The main is­land, Bawah, is where guests set foot first, as the sea­plane drifts to­wards one of its two jet­ties, af­ter land­ing on the vast turquoise-cov­ered la­goon-turne­drun­way. The break­through in am­phibi­ous ac­ces­si­bil­ity means you can reach this Mal­dives-al­ter­na­tive lo­cale in about three hours from Sin­ga­pore, mi­nus the tran­sits.

Ei­ther way, the jour­ney will be worth it. This is a one of those rare places where re­al­ity sur­passes fan­tasy in the beauty of its nat­u­ral forms, the breadth of the ex­pe­ri­ences it of­fers and the qual­ity of its staff and vil­las. Bam­boo is ex­ten­sively used in the fa­cil­i­ties and cab­ins are evoca­tive of a glamp­ing-wor­thy hut, with straight lines and a bath area beau­ti­fully ac­cented with re­cy­cled cop­per and teak.

Less is the ul­ti­mate lux­ury

Ship­ping ty­coon and owner Tim Hart­noll sought the help of Sin­ga­porean ar­chi­tect Sim Boon Yang to en­sure eco-minded meth­ods were put in place dur­ing the build. No heavy ma­chin­ery was used in the con­struc­tion, so tasks such as break­ing boul­ders were done by hand. De­sign lovers will ap­pre­ci­ate the big state­ment pieces found in the restaurant and bars, such as the trippy-dippy ten­ta­cles of jel­ly­fishes that light up in tech­ni­colour at the Tree Top restaurant and a giant grouper-skele­ton made from drift­wood at the Grouper bar.

They are also very proud of their wa­ter in Bawah – and we’re not talk­ing about the sur­round­ing blue ocean, which hand­ily is the name of a must-try sig­na­ture mock­tail at the bar or boat house. For wash­ing and ir­ri­ga­tion needs, wa­ter is col­lected not only from rain and wells but through a high-tech re­verse os­mo­sis sys­tem, too. Hol­i­day­mak­ers are sup­plied with end­less glass bot­tles of sur­pris­ingly tasty sparkling and still wa­ter, which goes through an ad­di­tional eco­con­scious Swedish wa­ter fil­tra­tion sys­tem called Nor­daq Fresh.

Bawah may have bar-rais­ing eco­prin­ci­ples but the lux­ury retreat ul­ti­mately of­fers you the choice. Lift the drapes of your beach or gar­den suite to turn your tent into an airy snug in­stead of us­ing the AC, which is hid­den be­hind the head­board. Or re­frain from ask­ing for soft terry tow­els and stick to the pro­vided Peshtemal tow­els, the tra­di­tional kind used in Turk­ish baths, which re­quire less wa­ter to wash and dry in al­most no time.


Cempedak is a 17-hectare pri­vate is­land off the east coast of Bin­tan. Here, the golden sands are pris­tine, with nary a foot­print. Closer to land, jun­gle fo­liage pro­vides a healthy habi­tat for many in­ter­est­ing fauna, in­clud­ing the crit­i­cally en­dan­gered pan­golin. The is­land also plays host to a fam­ily of sea ot­ters, known to frolic in the wa­ters at dawn, and the Ni­co­bar pi­geon, which looks a lot like its ex­tinct cousin, the dodo. There’s a clear homage to this bird in the re­sort’s Dodo bar, a strik­ing struc­ture with a black-tiered roof that rises like an or­ganic tower. The el­e­vated tav­ern is also the per­fect place to chase sun­sets or stargaze at night via a top­notch tele­scope. But while the scenery is stun­ning, it’s the bam­booboun­ti­ful vil­las that are the true stars.

Cempedak opened to vis­i­tors early 2017. It’s the sec­ond se­cluded get­away de­vel­oped by banker-turned-hote­lier An­drew Dixon, an Aus­tralian who moved to Sin­ga­pore more than 20 years ago. Dixon and his friends bought nearby Nikoi Is­land in 2004, which has been oper­at­ing as a fam­ily haunt since 2007. They then pur­chased Cempedak in 2011 as an adult­sonly oa­sis. It would take more than half a decade to make sure Cempedak be­comes a sus­tain­able ven­ture in all re­spects.

This means no sin­gle-use plas­tics, in­clud­ing straws and wa­ter bot­tles, are to be found on the is­land. To take it up a notch, there are no in-villa mini bars and air-con­di­tion­ing. Cempedak aims to up­hold an all-out green ethos but pack­aged in an el­e­gant way. Dixon and his team have man­aged to prove that lux­ury and sus­tain­abil­ity com­ple­ment each other – craft­ing a sen­si­ble lux­ury of sorts.

Bam­boo par­adise

A clear ex­am­ple would be the beau­ti­fully hand­crafted vil­las, which are built mostly from bam­boo. Ap­prox­i­mately 20,000 pieces of dry bam­boo canes from Su­ma­tra and Java were used to con­struct the 20 iden­ti­cal freeflow­ing co­coons. The Ba­li­nese ar­chi­tects have clearly em­ployed min­i­mal­ism and asym­me­try to help the golden un­walled cot­tages blend into the land­scape, rather than com­pete with it.

Each villa also boasts a teardrop-shaped in­fin­ity pool and a spec­tac­u­lar spi­ral stair­case that con­nects the two lev­els. On the top floor, a four-poster bed, with an en­ergy-ef­fi­cient over­head fan and cot­ton mos­quito net­ting, is fur­ther ven­ti­lated by the lo­cally sourced alang alang grass roof and con­stant sea breeze.


In keep­ing with its poli­cies, Cempedak works hard to in­cor­po­rate home­grown in­gre­di­ents into its fixed sea­sonal menus to min­imise any car­bon foot­print. Eggs come fresh from the is­land’s small-scale farm, and so do most fruits and veg­eta­bles. As far as we’re con­cerned, down-to-earth food doesn’t have to mean down-at-heel dishes. The re­sort’s farm-to-ta­ble con­cept has pro­duced in­no­va­tive plates of lamb cous­cous with pomegranate and jack­fruit while desserts like lemon and basil tart, and the spicy cho­co­late va­ri­ety, are sure to tickle the taste buds. It’s amaz­ing what a small is­land can bring to the ta­ble.

And to think 30 min­utes is all you need to kayak around the whole is­land.

A stay at both Bawah and Cempedak surely will al­ter vis­i­tors’ per­cep­tion of ul­ti­mate lux­ury – that it’s def­i­nitely about less, not more. Less traf­fic, less peo­ple, less stress, less wastage, less im­pact to the en­vi­ron­ment. Let’s never for­get that.

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