Off the northeast coast of Indonesia, some 900 miles from Bali—which attracts a staggering five million tourists per year—six islands rise from the South China Sea. A part of the Anambas archipelago, these islands form Bawah Reserve, an eco-luxe private island with 13 beaches, three lagoons and a protected marine conservation area, all of which is shared by just 35 suites. Opened in 2017, the high-design resort lies off the coast of Singapore and is an eco-friendly escape with all the trappings of a five-star hotel. The all-inclusive Bawah is the only resort in Asia that includes complimentary spa treatments, and the pampering experiences don’t stop there.
Bawah was built to have as little environmental footprint as possible, and all of its structures are made from bamboo harvested from Java. The 35 safari-style rooms are a study in barefoot-chic décor, but they are supremely comfortable, too, with strong WiFi and air conditioning. The tented beachfront suites open up onto the sand, whereas the overwater bungalows are surrounded by crystal-clear waters (however, it is too shallow to jump from your deck into the water). All feature the same design, with billowing canopy beds, shell chandeliers and semi-open bathrooms with copper bathtubs and rain showers. An island uniform is included as well—each room comes with a beach bag, sun hat, Turkish beach towels and sandals—and the mini bar is stocked daily with fresh smoothies and such snacks as beet chips and chocolate-nut clusters.
Related: Where to Go in 2019
The culinary offerings at Bawah are shockingly impressive for such a remote destination. Thanks to the on-property garden, the four dining outlets have access to fresh cauliflower, papaya, spinach and more, which they incorporate into the daily menu. The standout restaurant is the Asian-fusion Tree Top, an all-day venue perched high in the canopy that has stunning views of Bawah’s two jetties and the surrounding islands. The menu here has a mix of local favorites, including nasi goreng (stir-fried rice) and international dishes such as hummus and falafel wraps, pan-fried lobster burgers and black cod with cashews, pesto and aioli potatoes. In the morning, the “local heritage” breakfast set—which comes with Indonesian classics including turmeric rice, lemongrass fish skewers, chicken rice congee and coconut chicken curry—is a must-order. If you can’t tear yourself away from the soft white sand, the Boat House, a beautiful alfresco restaurant with prime sunset views, serves a casual à la carte menu. For pre- or post-dinner cocktails, guests flock to the casual Grouper Bar or the more elegant Jules Verne Bar, which has great views (note that while Bawah is all-inclusive, alcohol is an additional cost).
Related: Overtourism: Finding Solutions
Days at Bawah are easily filled thanks to an abundance of activities. The water sports center offers kayaking (in regular or glass-bottomed kayaks), stand-up paddle boarding, snorkeling and scuba diving (diving is an additional cost). On land, Bawah has several hiking trails, a tennis court, an infinity swimming pool and an open-air cinema. The signature Bawah experience is a beach picnic, where the staff sets up a beautiful private lunch on one of their secluded beaches. Bawah has made a name for itself in that its all-inclusive rate includes daily complimentary spa treatments (limited to one per guest, per day). So, naturally, guests will spend a significant amount of time at the Aura Spa & Wellness, a peaceful oasis with daily yoga, Pilates and meditation classes, an open-air lounge and a handful of treatment rooms where guests can indulge in facials, massages and body scrubs.
It’s easy to forget about all your responsibilities while at Bawah, but you can rest easy knowing that your stay is contributing to improving the surrounding ecosystem. First and foremost a reserve, Bawah is committed to sustainability and giving back—the property uses solar energy (it even has two solar-powered boats), has a ban on plastic bottles, composts food waste and has a reverse-osmosis water filtration system. It also runs the Bawah Anambas Foundation, which is focused on conservation and community development through employment and education opportunities. The foundation’s many projects include turtle conservation, forest rehabilitation and coral reef restoration.
As far as private islands go, Bawah Reserve is relatively easy to get to. It takes four hours from the moment you leave your hotel in Singapore to each the jetty at Bawah. The journey includes a few legs, but Bawah representatives escort guests the entire way. A private driver will pick you up at your hotel in Singapore and drive you to the ferry terminal for a 40-minute ferry to Batam, Indonesia, where you will pass through customs before a private car takes you to the Batam Airport (a 20-minute drive). From here, it’s just an 80-minute ride on Bawah’s own eight-seat seaplane to reach the reserve—just in time for a beachfront lunch. Guests are limited to 15 kg of luggage, but Bawah offers complimentary laundry service and a storage room for extra luggage in Singapore.
Related: Travel Trends 2019