JUST FOR THE GROWN-UPS.
Cempedak Island is paradise, and it’s just a couple of hours away from super-busy Singapore. The main difference? No young kids are allowed, there’s no tech (time to disconnect), and you almost feel you’ve got the whole place to yourself. Account director of public relations consultancy W Communications, Eliza Barrow, spent a weekend there and can’t wait to make a return trip.
1. The villas are set against lush green forest.
2. Bamboo is used in many of the structures
3. Mosquito nets keep bugs at bay – you’ll need them as the villas are not air-conditioned.
4. Eliza hangs out at her villa’s private pool, with amazing views of the South China Sea.
5. You can also enjoy a shared pool, just a short walk from the beach.
6. All daily meals – made using locally-sourced produce – are included in the package.
My husband and I were looking for a quiet weekend getaway to celebrate our ninth anniversary earlier this year, and Cempedak Island (which I’d read about online) seemed like the place for a dream vacation.
Getting to the island, which opened in late 2017, is a charmingly quaint process. You don’t go by plane – water is the mode of transport. I remember the day was perfect, with cloudless blue skies and pristine waters. The leisurely pace also meant we could wave at the locals in a fishing village that was set on stilts. As we approached land, we could make out the roofs of the villas, surrounded by rich greenery. There to greet us at a rustic wooden pier was the resort’s residential team, who led us to the main restaurant for a welcome drink and guided us through a swift check-in.
Cempedak Island extends across 17ha of rainforest, and it delivers both privacy and peace – this was one of the first things we noticed when we got there. We were one of 15 couples staying on the island, but it almost felt like we had the island to ourselves. Because the villas are 15m apart and surrounded by thick vegetation, we didn’t see or hear our fellow guests. Those looking for peace and quiet will be happy to know that kids under the age of 16 aren’t allowed on the island – so you won’t encounter them in the dining area or other shared spaces. Our villa was on a steep hill, just five minutes from the main building, but we had the option of calling for a buggy ride whenever we wanted to head out. We preferred to walk, though.
If you’re into sustainable travel, the resort’s eco-luxe philosophy will definitely appeal to you. The first thing you observe is how the island is incorporated into the resort – the villas have thatched roofs made from lalang leaves, and locally-sourced bamboo serves as pillars. Since the point of coming to Cempedak Island is to be immersed in nature, it has no air-conditioning. Instead, you get ceiling fans and mosquito nets over the beds to keep out unwanted guests. That didn’t bother us too much as the nights were cool, thanks to the high ceilings of the villas and the constant sea breeze (our villa faced the glistening South China Sea). Waking up every morning to the sound of birdsong and the bustle of fishing boats on the sea was idyllic.
But escaping city life doesn’t have to mean just lying horizontal. The resort has a spa, a tennis court, kayaks and guides to show you around the island. We did an easy trek through the forest, where we kept an eye out for rare native species like hornbills, otters and pangolins. We weren’t so lucky, and they proved elusive. If hikes aren’t your thing, go for a stroll instead in the resort’s garden, which has fruits and vegetables grown and tended by the resort staff.
Some of the fresh produce we saw while exploring the place actually ended up on our dinner plates. The resort restaurant generally does things omakasestyle, but you can request certain items. On our first night, we were served a delicious steak dinner, but once we told the chef that we wanted authentic local flavours, we were treated to an Indonesian feast of curries, beef rendang and soto ayam.
At Cempedak Island, we got quality time without distractions, and a brief respite – during which we traded our corporate attire for some barefoot luxury. Rates at the resort begin at $450 a night. Book a ferry ride to Bintan from Singapore, and get the resort to arrange a private boat ride from there. Go to www.cempedak.com
COORDINATION JASMINE TAY
GET THE MOST OUT OF YOUR CEMPEDAK ISLAND STAY
1 Arrange a private picnic
Order a hamper full of treats from the resort’s restaurant and get a boat out to a small island nearby. The resort team takes care of everything. You literally just have to show up.
2 Catch a sunset
The Dodo Bar, perched at the top of the island, offers balconies, sweeping views, and an extensive list of spirits and wines.
3 Don’t bring your tech
While the resort has Wi-Fi so you can stay contactable, you won’t find phones, TVs or desktops. Tech kills the laid-back vibe, so tell your boss you won’t be checking in. Leave the laptop at home.
4 Skip the visit to the money changer
Prices here are all in Singapore dollars, so don’t worry if you’re keen on a gift from the souvenir shop or bringing home a bottle from the resort’s wine cellar.
IF YOU WANT IT FAMILY-FRIENDLY
THE PRIVATE ISLANDS THAT LET THE KIDS TAG ALONG FOR THE FUN:
1. Vivanta By Taj Rebak Island
From Singapore: two-hour flight to Langkawi, followed by a 20min boat ride
Just off the coast of Langkawi in Malaysia is this 158ha plot of land taken over by Indian hotelier Vivanta by Taj. Watch the sunset by the Andaman Sea on a private yacht, or enjoy dinner by the Moon Deck cabana on the edge of the island. Rates start at $178 a night.
2. Nihi Sumba Island
From Singapore: two-hour flight to Bali, followed by a one-hour flight to Sumba and a jeep ride
The island, roughly the size of Massachusetts, is a popular location for surfers or snorkellers. Stay at Villa Rahasia, the only accommodation situated miles away from the main resort with its own private beach. Rates start at $1,060 a night, and you’ll have to book a minimum of five nights.
3. Bawah Private Island
From Singapore: 50min ferry ride to Batam, followed by a 70min journey by private plane
The cluster of five small islands is home to three clear lagoons and 13 beaches – and accommodates a maximum of 70 guests at any one time. The island is also an official marine conservation area with an abundance of coral reefs, so snorkelling is a must. Rates start at $2,370 a night, and you must book a minimum of three nights.