To escape, to truly get away, is an elusive pleasure. But that’s exactly what you’ll do at Bawah, a new resort in Indonesia’s Anambas archipelago, about 270 kilometres northeast of Singapore. Accessible only by boat or seaplane, and the first property of any note in this underdeveloped region, Bawah, a handful of pristine, hilly, forested isles that feel almost prehistoric, gives guests the sense of being blissfully marooned at the end of the earth.
Bawah, which means below in Bahasa Indonesian, took five years to construct, everything built by hand without the use of any heavy machinery, a conscious choice by its Singapore-based owners to ensure minimal disruption to the natural environment. The resort inhabits one of five islands, the others unoccupied or home to the private villas of the owners.
A long, forked jetty greets visitors and leads them to terra firma. Three domes in front of the jetty replicate the shape of the island. Under the domes, you’ll encounter the Grouper Bar, identified by the giant grouper sculpture made from driftwood; Treetops restaurant, with giant orb wicker lampshades trailing strands of mother-of-pearl discs (the effect makes them look like mammoth jellyfish); and the Jules Verne Bar, where a vast octopus made of wire mesh continues the marine theme.
Apart from the Boat House Bar, where seats are attached to ropes like playful swings, dining takes places here, with fine meals displaying local influences in dishes like tempeh with aubergine, avocado, tomatoes and edible flowers, or New Zealand lamb with kang kong and coconut curry sauce.
From the jetty, a serpentine path splits off left and right, under the canopy of sea almond and fig trees. One side feels more beachy with sand offering a pleasing crunchy underfoot, the other stone route more jungly. They lead to the 35 garden, beachfront and overwater villas where the guest’s first name, inscribed in sand on a wooden board, is slung on a post next to the room (it’s a surprisingly touching gesture).
A NEW, REMOTE, LUXURY RESORT COMBINES FABULOUS FACILITIES AND AMENITIES WITH ADMIRABLE GREEN PRACTICES
Beach villas have bamboo skeletons, taut, safari-style canvas roofs, and fully retractable side-screen walls that allow the breeze in; beach villas, built of recycled teak, promise water views that will empty your mind. All rooms have handsome bathrooms with vanity counters made of lychee wood, showers and tubs fashioned from recycled copper and served by fittings made to look vintage, and spacious decks from which to drink in the natural tableau. WiFi works in the rooms, but in another informed move by the resort, it’s not available elsewhere — the aim at Bawah is to disconnect to reconnect.
Such disconnection is effortlessly attainable at Aura, the wellness centre with high stone walls that make it look like a citadel. Treatments such as massages and facials are included in the room rate, and are framed around programmes that will leave the guest feeling energised, relaxed, and renewed. Guests can reconnect with the primary and secondary forest via trails that criss-cross the interior of the island.
As inviting as the land attractions are the crystalline waters, as stunning as the Maldives, that surround it. Jump in, right from the jetty, the overwater, or the beach villas, and you’ll see fields of acropora coral that look like pine trees. The seas here are teeming with aquatic life — dory, chromis, fusilier, sardine, crocodile fish, bat fish, long-fin banner fish, parrot fish, the list goes on — and Bawah hopes to transform this marine environment into a Unesco Biosphere Reserve within a decade. Visitors can snorkel, dive, or stay dry on the water on a kayak ride to a nearby cave populated by hundreds of bat (a big hit with children).
Underpinning the natural setting is a strong focus on eco-conscious, environmentally aware, and socially just practices. On a plainly visible level, the resort arranges for its staff to clean all the islands’ beaches every fortnight. At the back of house — the part of a resort that guests usually don’t see, but here is open for anyone to visit — is the less high-profile but equally commendable stuff.
A permaculture garden, a complex sewage biological filter, water recycling for use in toilets and irrigation, a soundproofed generator whose heat exhaust is captured to warm water, a nursery to grow trees that might disappear in Southeast Asia within the next 20 years (they will be replanted on the island), and more.
Staff that want to learn skills from a different department are encouraged to do so — a chef can train as a masseur and vice versa. Bawah will also teach local farmers on how to grow foods that its guests like, supply them the seeds, and purchase their products, part of its reach into the nearby communities.
These are grand statements from this Lilliputian, far-flung resort, but actions that speak to the commitment and responsibility of its owners, and enable travellers to this distant, hidden land enjoy their peace, quiet, and comfort with a clear conscience. ◼