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.
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.
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.