Story by Dian Arthen
Photos by Bawah Reserve Doc. & Lina Gan
Originally published in August-September 2018 edition of Indonesia Design.
Bawah Reserve in Anambas Islands offers visitors a chance to get in touch with nature in the most luxurious and sustainable ways possible.
Located 150 nautical miles northeast of Batam Islands in the North Natuna Sea is Anambas Islands Regency, a small archipelago of Indonesia comprising of more than 200 islands.
Due to its remote location, the islands are still considered as a hidden gem that most tourists, even the local ones, are still unaware of despite the fact that the area has a high potential for nautical tourism. Of the hundreds of small islands on Anambas Islands, only 26 are inhabited and the regency’s population is around 45,500 people with most of them relying on fishing to make ends meet.
Right at the bottom of Anambas Islands, a group of six islands, three lagoons and 13 beaches has been transformed into a private luxury resort called Bawah Reserve. The term Bawah is an Indonesian word meaning below, and is a nod to its location.
Bawah Reserve is the first luxury resort on the islands. It was founded by Tim Hartnoll, a British who works in the shipping industry and a lover of all things boats and ocean. Hartnoll was sailing the seas surrounding Singapore when he discovered the Anambas and the six islands where the resort is now located. Initially wanting to spend one day there, Hartnoll was enchanted by the greenery of the jungle, the mountains, turquoise lagoons and powdery white sands that he stayed for a week.
As fate would have it, a few years later, the islands came up for lease. He immediately jumped on the opportunity and enlisted his great friend Singaporean architect Sim Boon Yang of ECO-ID to lead the design project. When the design was drafted back in 2012, the team behind it wanted the resort to be more than just a place to stay and relax; they had a strong passion for preserving the ecosystem of the place and turning it into an ecological utopia.
“We decided not to pursue a design that was going to be seen in other resorts in Southeast Asia, such as a Balinese structure or a wooden pavilion, and the solution was to design in bamboo. It has a mixture of craft modernity, something very exotic and this is very interesting combination for a villa in the tropical resort,” Boon explains in an interview video posted on Bawah Reserve’s website.
The construction was conducted without the use of heavy machinery. Bamboos that were harvested in plantations in Java were shipped to the resort, everything was done by hand and they cleared out some small parts of the islands to make footpath for visitors.
“This explains why the vegetation is so lush on the island now, using [heavy] machinery would’ve been [quicker] but would damage and cause a lot of erosion and the killing of vegetation,” Boon adds.
One standout design feature of the resort is the organic curve of the roofs of the public pavilions cascading down the hill, which were the shape and silhouette of the islands. “The background of the island becomes the mother island with the offsprings being the smaller roofs of the public pavilions,” he says.
The construction took five years to finish. In total, there are 35 luxury suites that can accommodate up to 70 guests. The suites are divided into four different types: Overwater bungalow, beach suite, deluxe beach suite and garden suite. It’s the only retreat in Asia where the rates include all spa treatments, guest experiences and transport via an amphibious seaplane from Hang Nadim International Airport in Batam and fly them for around 80 minutes before landing on the secluded island.
After guests are done settling into their respective rooms, there are plenty of marine activities to do here, such as snorkeling, diving, stand up paddle boarding, kayaking and even sailing.
If you’re up for an adventurous trip, explore Bawah’s lush jungle where you might get a chance to encounter some exotic animals and plants like lizards and 50-metre keruing tree that is 500 years old. Moreover, Bawah Reserve has paved three well-marked hiking trails that lead to picturesque views of the coastline, coconut beach, the statuesque North Rock and surrounding islands.
When it’s finally time to relax, other than the spa, there’s also a beach cinema where you can watch a movie while sitting on a beanbag placed under twinkling stars with the sound of rolling waves and gentle sea breezes that create a new and different kind of cinematic experience.
Everything offered at Bawah Reserve is eco-friendly, there are no plastic bottles here; they sell only ocean-friendly sun cream products and use eco-friendly detergent. They also recycle diligently; all paper is mulched, food waste is composted, rainwater is stored and filtered, and water is heated by solar energy. Most importantly, nothing is disposed in the sea.
One last great thing about Bawah Reserve is since the location is very remote from the modern world, internet connection and cellphone reception might be weak which makes the resort the perfect place for you to take a social media detox and just spend your days without constantly checking your emails or answering work-related phone calls. Doesn’t that sound like pure bliss?