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Review: Bawah Reserve is Remote, Exclusive, and Elegant

Forget the whirlwind of Bali and catch a private seaplane to Bawah, a tropical, untouched, unmatched Indonesian island getaway between peninsular Malaysia and Borneo.

When thinking about tropical travel in Indonesia, one destination reigns supreme: Bali, a lush island packed with five-star treats. Yes, the island’s reputation is warranted, but there are plenty of alternatives to consider. One such option is much more exclusive and considerably more remote. The hidden island retreat of Bawah Reserve is the hottest opening in recent years, a back-to-nature sensation on an Indonesian island archipelago.

Found in the Riau Archipelago between peninsular Malaysia and Borneo, Bawah is already making a name for itself among the jet set as one of the most pristine resort islands in Indonesia. Built over the course of five years – constructed without the use of heavy modern machinery – the mission of this reserve is sustainability.

Dynamite fishing threatened the islands before they were developed by an English shipping entrepreneur from Singapore, Tim Hartnoll. He was captivated by this remote paradise’s potential and was driven to protect and develop the islands sustainably so that they might flourish again. And flourishing they are; the marine life has come back in droves, swimming around the colorful coral reefs that surround these lush islands.

ABOVE: Aerial shot of Bawah Reserve.

Due to Bawah’s limited capacity – a maximum of 70 guests in 35 private suites or villas – visitors feel like they have their own personal aquarium, brimming with tropical fish, reef sharks, and eels just steps from the lagoon-like infinity pool and white sand beaches. After landing by amphibious seaplane and taking a dip in the warm water, Bawah allows for your inclusive choice of resort activity: massages at the spa, hikes to the highest point of the main island to watch the sunset, or movie night in the outdoor theater (post barbecue of course).

ABOVE: Pool at Bawah Reserve.

The amphibious seaplane isn’t the first step in the journey to this remote island. The adventure begins in Singapore at your choice of hotel (the Fullerton Bay is our go to), before being picked up by Bawah’s chauffeur for your private transfer to Tana Merah ferry terminal for your one-hour ferry ride to Batam. The transfer from the ferry terminal to the local airport builds the excitement before gliding over the clearest of ocean in the resort’s seaplane.

As the seaplane glides over Bawah’s coral-filled lagoon, visitors can clearly make out the friendly faces of the staff who already know your name and are eagerly awaiting your arrival. Attentive but respectful, ready at a moment’s notice to attend to your every need but never in your way, the staff are one of the main reasons for this resort’s inimitable reputation. Upon arrival they put genuine care in assisting you in cultivating your “schedule” for your time there.

Because Bawah is all inclusive, every detail is seen to: kayaking to the surrounding islands, snorkeling with a divemaster who knows the reefs inside and out, trekking through the forest with a guide who knows the best spots to catch the sun rise and set, cooking classes with the passionate chefs, private picnics along your own strip of beach, and gourmet suppers under the glow of the handmade teak chandeliers on Treetops terrace; while there don’t forget to book “the lookout” for an even more intimate experience.

With three dining options besides Treetops – the Grouper Bar, the Jules Verne Bar, and the Boat House, which allows for a weekly BBQ pre-movie night under the stars – even your dining options are customizable.

It is the staff that curates a totally different for each guest at Bawah Reserve that really sets this resort apart. With a primeval forest and a topography that combines the Seychelles and the Maldives, is there really anything else you could look for in a tropical holiday?