Room For Two – Bawah Reserve, Indonesia – Hotel Review

Bawah Reserve Indonesia - aerial view of the whole island

By Matt Brace

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Bawah Reserve is a clutch of six small paradise islands with pristine forest, white-sand beaches and stunning reefs. It lies in the remote Anambas group in the equatorial waters between Peninsular Malaysia and Borneo. It’s hard to put into words (even for a travel writer!) just how idyllic this place is. Every element of the reserve exceeded our expectations and in terms of genuine sustainability, we’ve not yet found a place to beat it.

Overview

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Bawah is the ultimate example of discreet, barefoot, tropical luxury, with a dedicated and innovative approach to environmental and social responsibility. Getting there sounds like an expedition (ferry from Singapore to Batam Island in Indonesia, car transfer to local airport, then 80-minute seaplane ride) but Bawah’s personal chaperones guide you from your Singapore hotel right to the seaplane door, including handling all immigration, which makes it all a breeze.

Look and feel

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As we strolled through the resort’s grounds we felt the entire place was at one with its environment. Nature is everywhere. Walkways curve around trees and are lined with frangipanis and pink ginger plants, forests are lush and alive with birdsong, turtles and rays play in the shallows, and healthy reefs sweep away to the horizon.

One morning the staff showed us tracks left by a huge turtle that had laid eggs in the night right by the Boat House bistro. The marine biology team had carefully transferred them to the turtle nursery, out of the reach of predators.

We started each day with a morning swim, then breakfast in the Boat House as we watched the rising sun glinting off the shells of turtles. We either snorkelled the mesmeric reefs or kayaked past the coral nursery and round the headland to Coconut Beach, an expanse of perfect white sand, fringed with tall palms. There we swam with yet more turtles and some baby black-tip reef sharks.

Best room for two

Bawah Reserve Indonesia - aerial view of the resort

Tranquil and romantic Tented Beach Suites (70m2) sit a few metres from the waves, while sublime Overwater Bungalows (105m2) offer direct access to the reef. There is also a charming Tented Garden Suite(70m2) and glamorous Pool Villas of different sizes.

So, which to choose? We love to feel sand between our toes so our ‘best room’ suggestion is a Tented Beach Suite. Each is made up of a solid bamboo platform raised a few feet off the sand, and a permanent canvas tent reaching into the tree tops. For ‘tent’ think of the poshest safari-style tent you can imagine, complete with king canopied bed, canvas chairs and table (binoculars included), fridge and minibar, fresh local coffee and tea, bottles of chilled still and sparkling island-made water, and a bathroom with copper bathtub, separate shower, twin sinks and tonnes of hanging space for tropical frocks.

The bedroom is air-conditioned while the bathroom relies on a ceiling fan, which was perfectly adequate for us. By the front door is a broad deck with an elongated day bed which is perfect for napping. Each suite is set in lush grounds with palm trees, frangipanis, twin sun-loungers and direct access to the main beach. Also, the suites are well spaced so we were hardly aware of having neighbours.

Whatever accommodation you pick, you’ll get free homemade daily juices and snacks (the banana chips didn’t last a minute) and little sustainable treats, such as locally made bags and cute, clay model starfish.

Food and drink

Breakfast, lunch and a weekly beach barbecue are all served at the Boat House, which is an open-sided hut on the beach made ingeniously from driftwood found along Bawah’s beaches. The Anambas Shakshuka, Matcha green tea and chia bowl and Bakwan Jagung (sweetcorn fritter with poached egg, coleslaw and sambal) were all delicious. We also made our way through the list of healthy shots, deciding the Kunyit Asam turmeric one was our favourite.

The Boat House was very cruisy. You can wander right in off the beach and order. The staff were exemplary, always cheerful and keen to explain the different dishes, highlighting which elements were grown on the islands.

Evening meals are served up in the open-air fine-dining restaurant Tree Tops, right in the forest canopy and cooled by evening breezes. The kitchen team produces wonders, including a plate of snapper carpaccio, decorated with flowers and herbs grown on the island. It was a work of art and so delicious I ordered it every night. All food and drink at Bawah is included in the all-in rate apart from alcohol but Bawah’s innovative chefs have devised some fabulous Tree Tops mocktails, again using local produce.

Sustainability

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Bawah is the most sustainable tropical resort we have ever stayed at. It was built with no heavy machinery and without knocking down a single tree; in fact the owners have planted thousands of new trees during the past few years.

There’s a strict no-plastic rule, with ways to recycle any plastic guests bring with them, and an on-site water desalination and bottling plant so you can drink litres of free, soft, clean water every day.

Electric golf buggies carry you around the resort while 50% of Bawah’s power comes from its marine solar farm, the largest in Indonesia. The panels are tucked away in a lagoon and are a great spot for kayaking and snorkelling with turtles.

There are permaculture gardens that grow a considerable amount of the resort’s produce and operate an innovative composting system. There’s also a coral nursery where the resort is helping to expand the reef, and a turtle nursery where eggs are incubated in the sand and baby turtles released when they are ready to go. We got lucky one morning, witnessing a release and following the little fellows down the beach as they sprinted for the waves.

If only there was a seaplane that ran on liquid kelp, Bawah would have it all.

Couples will love

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The sheer tranquil majesty of it all. Take a morning swim together, an afternoon kayak or forest stroll and an evening reef snorkel, interspersed with grilled fish lunches at the Boat House and romantic dinners up at Tree Tops, then let yourselves be lulled to sleep by the gentle equatorial waves.

Book via the Bawah Reserve website https://www.bawahreserve.com/book-your-stay/, call +62 813 1297 2018 or email reservations@bawahreserve.com.

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