INTRODUCTION TO BAWAH RESERVE, INDONESIA
Travellers have long used Singapore as a hub to explore pristine coastal lands in the vicinity – Langkawi and Batu Batu in Malaysia, Phuket and Koh Samui in Thailand, and much closer to Singapore, Bintan and Batam in Indonesia. A few private island resorts have opened up nearby too, but none are more paradisaical than the Anambas Islands, far flung from Singapore yet just within reach. This region houses Bawah Reserve, a sustainable eco-lodge that redefines paradise.
Date of stay: February 2019
Room: Overwater Bungalow #2
Reviewed by: Aaron Yeung
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PHOTOS AND VIDEOS by CHINMOYLAD
WHAT I LOVED
- Location. If you’re on the lookout for remote, off-the-beaten-track, far-flung destinations, this is really it. Located some 250km from Singapore, the Anambas Islands in the Riau Archipelago are part of the 17,500 idyllic islands that make up the wonderful Indonesian archipelago. The 3 lagoons, 13 beaches and 6 islands form the Bawah Reserve in the Anambas Islands, which sits between the Malaysian Penisnula and Borneo.
- Arrival and aerial view. Arriving by seaplane is always a special treat – and at Bawah you do just that. As with the Maldives and other such destinations, in many ways, the best way to see the beauty of the islands is from above, which the seaplane arrival offers glimpses of. Unlike the Maldives, these islands have some elevation, offering short-hikes and strolls which offer further incredible views. Drone lovers will also rejoice – Bawah is one of the most incredible destinations we’ve covered by drone, with sharp contrasts between land, sea, coral, shallow waters and deep waters.
- Underwater. And naturally, the other best way to explore a region like this is actually underwater. The area surrounding Bawah Reserve used to be a dynamite fishing area. The coral and marine life has been heavily damaged by fishermen. Bawah Foundation has been working tirelessly to restore the marine life at Bawah Reserve, and it is an official marine conservation area in which fishing, anchoring and collection of any marine life is forbidden. Bawah has 3-4 coral reef plantation sites, and the jetty area was one of their first sites, making it one of the best snorkelling spots at Bawah. We covered the snorkeling/diving in a bit more depth in the ‘Activities’ section below.
- Beach and water. Do we really need to say anything for this? The photos do the talking here. Just white, powder-soft sand and the blues of the water in as many hues as you can name.
- Ecologically friendly and sustainable. Bawah’s entire concept is centred around preserving paradise, and sustainability is at the forefront – from its design (note the unique split jetty, designed that way to specifically protect and preserve the coral; the fact that building was primarily constructed using bamboo and other local materials, forgoing heavy machinery). When you visit Bawah, be sure to talk to their specialists to find out more about their measures taken on-site and to visit the sites from where some of these key initiatives are led. More about Bawah’s sustainability and foundation efforts can be found at
https://www.bawahreserve.com/sustainability/ and at
- Service. Generally speaking, service throughout was warm and friendly, as the Indonesians often are. There were some thoughtful touches that really elevated service at Bawah:
- Name plate. Guests don’t really have room numbers, they have name plates. On arrival, we were checked into our room which featured a name plate outside. This was handed to us upon departure, and remains one of our favourite ever hotel souvenirs.
- House Master. Each room is assigned a House Master, who assists with activites, excursions, resertaurant and spa reservations and generally ensuring you have a memorable stay. We made several last minute changes to our planned itinerary and the House Master was efficient in accommodating these.
- Activities. Bawah Reserve isn’t about sitting in your room or villa, it’s about getting out there and getting out and about in the wonderfully biodeserve region.
- Snorkeling and diving. Naturally, this is the key activity at the resort. The coral around the region is still recovering from damage, but Bawah’s continued efforts will ensure that it grows appropriately over time. The water is crystal clear though, and there are around 10 points of interest each for snorkeling and diving, featuring different reefs. Black-tipped reef sharks, Green Turtles, and schools of various fish including Barracudas, Parrotfish, Emperor Angelfish and Eagle Rays are seen in the vicinity.
- Kayaking. Kayaking is complimentary. The twist here is that unlike at other resorts (although some are catching on), at Bawah, they feature transparent, clear kayaks so you can see the marine life underneath as you kayak around. Future resorts have a lot to live up to when it comes to kayaking after this experience! In keeping with the watersports theme, there is also standup paddleboarding and sailing on offer, though to protect the environment, Bawah does not offer motorised watersport activities.
- Picnics and private dining. With plenty of space and plenty of coastline, Bawah heavily promotes the idea of picnics and private dining venues. Unfortunately, our picnic setup and food at Turtle Island (5-10 minutes speedboat ride from the jetty) was a bit disappointing. However, the venue itself is absolutely spectacular so we think bringing the set up and ensuring the food is on point will help bring these excursions and experiences to the next level. Note: Bawah Reserve has gone and done just that! The Castaway Picnic now retains the rustic vibe, but is spruced up to the luxury levels we imagine and expected from this resort, and it looks ABSOLUTELY SPECTACULAR!
- Also on offer are sunset cruises, sunrise hikes, stargazing, beach cinema, yoga and cooking classes.
- Spa. The Aura Wellness Centre makes up the spa portion of the resort, featuring four treatment rooms including one for couples. Guests can enjoy daily complimentary spa and facial included in the rates, but be sure to book early as since this is rate inclusive, you would want to reserve early to guarantee your spot. Unfortunately, there were not enough female therapists at the resort on the first day and both of us had to choose male therapists. Inside each spa treatment room, there is an outdoor bath and shower area. The make the spa treatment even more relaxing.
- Food. There are 2 restaurants (Treetops and Boat House – both feature stunning views) and 2 bars (Grouper Bar and Jules Verne Bar) at Bawah. The food is either purchased from nearby villages or arrives by ship every ten days, so some food is restricted in terms of availability.
- Treetops. The western dishes were disappointing for breakfast, but we recommend the “beef tenderloin” and “smoked aubergine caviar” on the lunch and dinner menu.
- Boat House. Only available for lunch till before sunset, or on occasional BBQ nights. The “Vietnamese fresh spring rolls” is our favourite and “Thai style green papaya and prawn salad” is also worth trying.
- All-inclusive. The resort rates are practically all-inclusive, featuring full-board, laundry, house drinks and activities. And longer stays also include transfers from Singapore. So yes, you pay a lot for a slice of remote paradise (as you would expect), but in comparison to other, similar destination resorts worldwide (Maldives), it actually works out quite reasonable price wise.
POINTS TO NOTE
- Design. When the design was conceived in 2012, Singaporean architect Sim Boon Yang wanted the resort to be more than a place to relax. He wanted to preserve the ecosystem and turn it into an ecological utopia. Therefore, he was tasked by using sustainable sources of bamboo, found and recycled woods. The construction was conducted without the use of heavy machinery, and the resort took the team more than five years to complete. The rustic design might not appeal as fancy and elegant, but it is quite incredible how the resort was constructed. However, those who prefer a slightly more elegant look will want to take note (it really isn’t for everyone). Even by rustic/barefoot luxury standards, Bawah is probably the most rustic resort we’ve visited in its style. There are no two-ways about it, the overall look and feel of the resort is very, very much Robinson Crusoe-esque, although it does feature many of the required amenities you’d expect from a resort of its standing. However…
- While most of the rooms have all the key features including bath tubs (with the exception of the new two-bedroom Jungle Lodge):
- The shower stall is a small, circular space enclosed by a shower curtain – it’s far too small a space, and water can and does leak out on the sides.
- The air conditioning unit is directly above the bed, and we had wind blowing direct in our face all night.
- Rooms. There are five room types:
- Overwater Bungalow (105 sqm), sea view
- Beach Suite (70 sqm), sea view
- Garden Suite (70 sqm), garden view
- Deluxe Beach Suite (150 sqm), sea view: comprising two beach suites with a common central living pavilion
- Jungle Lodge, jungle view: a two-bedroom lodge (both bedrooms are ensuite) under a single roof with a common living and dining space
- Since Bawah Reserve is quite a large resort in its footprint, it is important to select your room based on needs and requirements. Also give plenty of time for buggy to arrive, or for walking around to your spa appointment, lunch, dinner etc.
- As Bawah does have space to play with rooms, we are quite surprised that the rooms are (for a resort of its size and price), rather small in nature, and we are also surprised at the lack of private pool options, or multi-bedroom villas, or rooms with more living/common spaces. The Deluxe Beach Suite is currently undergoing renovations to add a private pool, and we suspect we see more of this in the near future.
- Not quite perfection. It’s safe to say that Bawah, which opened relatively recently, is still finding its feet so we do give it a lot more leeway. With that being said, at a private island style resort paying top-notch luxury resort rates, one expects perfection, where Bawah falls ever so slightly short (but we hope they will pick up on these points for the future). In general, there is some lack of attention to detail:
- Several simple requests, such as a fruit juice, matches for the rooms to light candles, are often met with “I have to check” from frontline staff, who seem to be unsure if they can provide simple items and need further clarification or checking for literally everything that is requested.
- Housekeeping needs to be a bit more alert – on a couple of occasions after housekeeping had done their rounds, empty glasses were still found on the sundeck coffee table.
- Some of the private picnic setups were a bit barebones and disappointing for a luxury resort, even accounting for the Robinson Crusoe-esque rustic vibe.
- However, the greatest compliment we can pay is that Bawah is learning, and learning fast from guest feedback and they seem to be open to change. We have seen photos of similar picnics after our stay, which have improved considerably in their styling and offering. Service is something that may take a while, but the staff are warm and friendly which always helps.
- Family friendliness. Families, with younger and older kids alike, will enjoy Bawah Reserve because of the activities, excursions and experiences on offer – just a few key points to keep in mind:
- Distance/length of travel from Singapore (see below section on Getting There)
- (Current) lack of a large number of family-friendly villas. This will likely change in the coming few years.
- Pools and private pools. It’s a question we’ve often seen on Instagram or on social media – usually positioning a pool next to a beautiful, pristine ocean: “Why bother with the pool?” Pools are important because a) Swimming in a pool is vastly different from swimming in a salty ocean next to a sandy shore, especially in terms of after-swim care and b) There are no currents or waves to deal with, which might be preferable for families with younger children or for those who aren’t too confident in their swimming abilities. Currently, there is no private pool villa at Bawah (though again, this will change in the next year or so). And sadly, although the main pool is certainly functional and not at all bad, it does seem to be a bit of an afterthought – which might be a resultWith that said, there are plenty of beaches and one of the most spectacular shorelines.
- WiFi. The WiFi is rather weak in public areas and the restaurants, and don’t expect top notch speeds inside the rooms either. But then, you’re here for a social media detox aren’t you? Get off Instagram!
GENERAL INFORMATION AND GETTING THERE
- Stays of 5 nights or more include round-trip transfers from Singapore. This rate also holds over peak seasons.
- Except during peak seasons, there is also a 5th night free rate which is combinable with the inclusive round-trip transfers.
- Pick-up is at 07:00am at your hotel in Singapore (so we recommend staying overnight at a hotel in Singapore) in a limousine, to be driven to the ferry terminal for a 30-minute ferry ride to Batam Centre. After a fast-track VIP clearance at the Indonesia customs, you will be driven to the airport and catch the 70-minutes seaplane ride at 10:00. The whole journey should take a bit more than 4 hours. The return seaplane will leave Bawah Reserve at 13:00 and get to Singapore Harbour Front by 17:00. There is a strict 15KG luggage allowance per guest for the seaplane, and excess luggage can be stored at Batam office free of charge.
HOTEL FACT SHEET
- LOCATION: Anambas Islands, Indonesia
- OPENED: 2018
- HOTEL ROOMS: 35
- RESIDENCE VILLAS: 0
- RATES FROM: USD 1,980/night
Rates are only an approximation and subject to change and availability
OFFICIAL HOTEL PHOTOS AND VIDEOS
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Special thanks to Bawah Reserve for hosting us