Private Island Paradise: Bawah Reserve

Indonesia’s Bawah Reserve exudes all the beauty and wonder of Bali, minus the crowds.
By Melissa Sorge  |  Photos by Germaine Ttran

Exotic tropical beaches, lush green forests, cascading waterfalls, and sacred ancient temples evoke images of the famous Indonesian island of Bali in the minds of travel connoisseurs. However, since tourism ignited in the 1980s, Bali has become increasingly more popular, and the “Eat, Pray, Love” hotspot is often overrun with tourists. Fortunately, Bali is not the only  remote archipelago where visitors can experience tropical beauty and spiritual recharge.

Located 160 miles from Singapore, a band of six remote islands lie within the Anambas Archipelago in Indonesia. Unbeknownst to most of the world until very recently, these unspoiled isles of white-sand beaches and tropical forests are now home to the luxurious Bawah Reserve. When Tim Hartnoll–a Singapore-based financier–happened upon the chain of remote islands in 2012, his intention was to rescue them from imminent destruction. In his efforts to protect the Indonesian islands from illegal fishing practices, he developed a conservatory, naming the six recently discovered islands a protected place area where fishing would be prohibited. As a part of this conservation effort, Bawah Reserve was built from local, sustainable resources, making every effort to respect and conform to the natural environment.

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While the journey to Bawah Reserve is not a quick one, the resort takes pride in spoiling their guests with five-star service throughout their long journey from personal chauffeurs to travel coordinators who will escort them to the Batam International Airport by ferry. The next stop is an 80-minute ride aboard the resort’s private seaplane which touches down in Bawah’s Cerulean Lagoon, just a stone’s throw from the guest villas.

The resort is comprised of 35 private guest villas, all of which overlook or sit directly atop the crystal blue waters of the lagoon. When booking a stay at Bawah Reserve, guests can choose from an overwater bungalow with direct access to the lagoon, or a beach or garden suite equipped with outdoor showers and private verandahs. From the adventurous ride in to the luxurious, secluded accommodations and locally sourced cuisine, Bawah Reserve is a world traveler’s fantasy come true.

We were fortunate enough to speak with Germaine Ttran–a world-renowned travel blogger and influencer–and gain an inside perspective into the hidden gem that is Bawah Reserve. Ttran traverses the globe sharing her travels with an extensive following (@germaine.ttran), and Bawah Reserve stands out in her mind as one of the most unforgettable places she has visited. She revealed to us the details of her recent stay and let us in on some of the most memorable moments of her trip.

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How did you find out about Bawah Reserve, and when did you first visit?
I had never heard of Bawah Reserve, and if I recall correctly, I randomly stumbled onto their Instagram account. As I scrolled through their feed, watched their stories and researched their website, I got really interested in visiting them. Aesthetically, it [Bawah Reserve] reminded me of the Maldives, but it was located in Indonesia and so accessible from Singapore. The main draw for me was that the resort was said to be six years in the making consisting of six islands, 13 beaches and three lagoons—all of which make up a designated marine conservation area that made fishing illegal. Everything from its design and build to practices, Bawah Reserve was centered around having a light impact on the surrounding flora and fauna and minimizing energy consumption. It sounded like an untouched paradise that few knew about yet and seemed to have an authentic narrative to their environmentally-friendly practices. Hence, I was keen to find out if it was all I’d imagined it to be. I visited Bawah Reserve sometime around mid-July of 2018.

bawah reserveCan you tell us about the transportation required to reach this remote island resort?
My journey started from Singapore, outside my doorstep, right to the resort, and it was a seamless, hassle-free and premium experience that I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying. First thing in the morning at 7am, my husband and I were whisked away in a white Mercedes Benz, pre-arranged by the resort, to Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal. A 30-minute ferry ride and we arrived in Batam to take a private van to the international airport for our seaplane to depart to Bawah Reserve. The best part of travelling to Bawah Reserve was being on a seaplane! From up above, the views were incredible, especially upon arrival to the resort. The whole journey from Singapore to Bawah took only three hours and we arrived just in time for lunch.

What were your first impressions of the resort, and did they meet your expectations?
Upon disembarking from the seaplane, I could tell that my imagination of Bawah (reminding me of the Maldives) had been spot on! I was awestruck just standing by the jetty! The sea was a turquoise shade of blue and so crystal clear that the coral reefs could be seen from above. In the distance, a white sand beach stood at the end of the azure blue sea and I could begin to see some beach suites enveloped in lush greenery; it was truly a feast for the eyes. I felt like I was at the epicenter of marine biodiversity and couldn’t wait to go snorkeling and join in on some water sports activities. Throughout my stay, it was clear that the resort has genuinely implemented sustainable and environmentally-friendly models into their practices from the ocean-friendly sunscreen, eco-friendly laundry detergent, and no use of plastic bottles or straws. The water used for showering is heated by solar energy and wastewater is treated for use on their organic fruit and vegetable gardens bringing cauliflower, chillis, papaya, melons, pineapples, lemongrass, mint, lettuce, spinach, potatoes and tomatoes, to your plate.

Did you try any of the on-site activities such as snorkeling, kayaking, hiking, or cooking classes?
As part of the all-inclusive vacation package, a wide array of activities are available at no extra charge. Water-sport lovers can look forward to snorkeling (around the three lagoons at one’s leisure or during the snorkeling trip that sets off twice a day, weather dependent), paddle boarding, kayaking and sailing. Land activities include yoga and pilates classes, guided hikes, beach cinema by the light of the moon, stargazing and bird watching. Unique moments can be customized to your liking to include personalized dining, private picnics on the beach, a sunset cruise of the six islands, hands-on cooking classes etc. I managed to do some self-snorkeling and paddle boarding, but I didn’t get to try my hand at other water sports as the weather was not particularly cooperative. The all-inclusive concept is not new to me and while some brands champion this concept on all fronts such as activities, food and drinks, Bawah Reserve truly shines for its exceptional service and attention to detail.  

What would you describe as your most memorable experience during your stay at Bawah Reserve?
Bawah Reserve is a stunning private escape away from city life where the waters are crystal clear and sport all shades of blue. It is so untouched, you feel as if you are at the epicenter of marine biodiversity, such that a leisurely snorkel by the lagoons gives you easy access to beautiful coral reefs and an opportunity to spot colourful marine life. I even spotted a baby stingray while paddle boarding! While sustainability was at the core of its practices, a great deal of attention to detail has been poured into the design to ensure that guests were able to enjoy their surroundings while kicking back to plush interiors. The dining facilities that were available superseded my expectations with beautiful spaces for different moments and moods. Our hosts (Trioo & Bayu) went above and beyond to make personalized arrangements, all within short notice, and constantly paid close attention to our needs. Since we were on island time, it meant we had no care for the time of the day and they came to remind us about every engagement we’d booked. They were so thoughtful that they even had the kitchen prepare us sandwiches before our seaplane ride home, since we’d missed out on lunch. In a nutshell, Bawah Reserve is a beautiful private oasis for those looking for a luxurious retreat close to Singapore and will certainly give the Maldives a run for its money.