07 Mar Bawah Reserve, Wellness Travel Eco-Lux Private Island Paradise
Travel with me to Bawah Reserve, a private island eco luxury paradise in the southern brim of Indonesia.
I knew this would be an adventure. An adventure, to say the least. I got the invite from Bawah Reserve to come and review their newly launched Wellness Journey program, seeking my feedback, experience, and curated content from what this eco-luxury private paradise had to offer.
After one quick tap on their instagram profile, my passport had already volunteered itself to begin looking up flights. With rates starting at just under $2000 USD a night, you know you’re in for some surprises.
So, what’s it like to venture to an eco-luxury private island paradise? Here’s the wellness traveler’s recap journey to the other side of the world to experience Bawah Reserve.
All photography and video is original content filmed and created by Sara Quiriconi.
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I have to back-step a bit and preface this paragraph with some behind-the-scenes information.
After landing in Singapore, and on my ride over to Bawah, I was fortunate enough to be traveling there the same day and time as the owner’s wife, Suzanne. Lucky for me, I had a passionate, private tour guide who is incredibly knowledgable and fueled by her acute attention to every one of nature’s details from the island.
Bawah Reserve was originally a coconut farm. Apparently, it wasn’t doing incredibly well. Plus, coconut farms take a lot of work, in order to continue to be profitable and (for lack of a better phrase) “fruitful.”
The now owner — shipping entrepreneur, Tim Hartnoll, a Briton born and raised in Singapore — had a lifelong dream to own his own island. Talk about being in the right time and in the right place, the coconut farmer was ready to end his career farming the island. Hartnoll heard of the opportunity, hopped on board a flight and a few more boats later, to arrive at what is now known at Bawah Reserve. At first sight, he was sold.
Hartnoll’s original intention for purchasing the islands was preserving their ecology, with their pristine turquoise waters, corals, ocean life, and lively fauna. Bawah opened in 2017, and has only deepened its promise to preserve the eco-system and area restoring nature’s balance of life above the waters in their island plant life and below under the waters and sea.
Today, Bawah is a luxury sustainable resort and conservation, welcoming visitors from around the world (mainly the U.K., Mexico, Australia and the United States) to experience some back-to-nature “play” in the middle of — literally — nowhere.
First leg of the race was getting to Singapore, the only location visitors can venture from. My itinerary had me flying Miami to Dallas, Dallas to Narita, Narita to Singapore (Changi Airport). Thirty-nine hours later and thirteen hours ahead from my Eastern Time Zone in Miami, I arrived in Changi Airport at 1am in the morning.
I decided to stay for two nights in the Changi Airport Crowne Plaza Hotel (want a review on this stay? Comment in below) to ground a bit prior to heading to Bawah. This was a smart decision, giving me ample time to explore the number one airport in the world seven years in a row, @changiairport. And, yes; it lives up to its hype!
The morning of departure, my private escort arrived for pick-up promptly at 7am. Five hours later of private luxury vans and limos, a ferry ride, and finally arriving at Bawah Reserve via their own 12-seater Seaplane. It was quite a haul, being honest, albeit a seamless one.
@livefreewarrior, Monkey-ing around at Crowne Plaza Changi Airport
Bawah Reserve, Seaplane View
The Jewel, Changi Airport
Once I was on the Seaplane flying over the blue waters, beginning to see Bawah’s green-topped islands between the cotton puffs of clouds, I simply smiled, saying to myself, “Yep. Totally worth it.”
There’s only one plane that arrives, and departs, each day. Even though this is a high-end resort, I was pleasantly surprised to notice most of the pilots chose to fly barefoot, and had a brilliant sense of Indonesian humor.
After de-boarding the Seaplane, I was warmly greeted by the Bawah team, and escorted off to my villa to unwind, unpack, and change in to a more island appropriate outfit. This was the last time I wore shoes for the following three days.
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Rosella Tea, Arrival Refreshment at Villa 23
Jetty, Bawah Reserve
WHERE IS IT?
Bawah Reserve consists of six of the 250 islands located in the Indonesian Anambas archipelago between Malaysia and Borneo. Its hours and multiple modes of transportation to reach this remote sustainable paradise, but Bawah is an adventure that is well worth it.
When I told friends, family and fellow travelers that I was traveling to Indonesia, they said, “Oh, Bali?” Not Bali, but better. More remote, more new, more undiscovered…at least, up until now. Bawah has arrived!
Like everything in life for me, the journey is the real adventure, and getting to Bawah was nothing short of such. Even Wilson, from Castaway, would be impressed how remote this private island is. You look on a map, and you have to go, “It’s where…?”
Bawah has 35 villas, all of which are suits. Ten of those villas are over-water bungalows — one of those that you can take a dip in ocean using your own private ladder that’s connected to your room and balcony.
I was in one of the bamboo villas directly across from the spa with an oceanfront view. I could have taken the golf cart, but after that much flying and air travel, I was ready to ground in nature. Arriving at Villa 23, I was greeted by a name tag hanging with my name properly spelled “Sara.”
You wouldn’t believe how many times its insisted that my name has an “H” added to it. Bawah Reserve is that kind of destination, where attention to every detail is their specialty.
Nets hang over the bed, with a fan above. It is fully air-conditioned in the main bedding space, however, so I never needed the net for any bug purposes; but it did give me that “tropical island” reminder and feel. Only the bathroom area is open air, which is pleasantly welcoming. To your left bedside, there’s a full set of touch-device controls for you to turn on and off lights, air temperature controls, and room settings with just the touch of a finger.
Environmentally friendly amenities are fully provided in the bathrooms with mouthwash, soaps, creams, shampoos and conditioners.
Fortunately, for myself, I was pleased to see a mini fridge with extras waters, seltzers, and snacks readily awaiting, and is restocked twice daily. On top of the mini fridge is your own selection of teas, coffees, hot water heater and expressos to refresh without having to leave your room. You could, of course, call concierge for room service. But, we’re self-sufficient warriors, who like to get our hands in the mixes.
Best of all? There’s no plastic bottles or containers on the island. The waters, teas, coffees, and dried fruit snacks are in resealable glass containers.
For myself, a content creator, it was key to have a workspace. Behind the bed is a full desk and even my own iPhone to connect via Whatsapp with the concierge for anything (I mean, anything) I might need. And, yes! They have wifi. It works fairly well from the room, being able to stream a YouTube video and upload an IGTV tour.
FOOD & DRINK
There are three dining options on Bawah: Tree Tops (where I ate most of my meals, especially for breakfast and lunches), The Grouper Poolside Bar, and Boathouse (oceanside dining with my feet grounded in the sand suites me quite well).
Two food options I can’t leave out are room service (which I did order one night after being exhausted from a day of filming and activities) and a private picnic on Coconut Beach.
By far, the two stand-out meals were:
- the private picnic, where I was picked up in front of my villa and delivered by my own boat for a few hours of “me time” — just myself, a walkie-talkie, my drone, and a few books to enjoy during my private meal.
- the last evening meal held at Tree Tops, where a small group of us staying, working and visiting on the island collected for dinner together, conversing, learning and sharing our life stories.
At Bawah, you can be as private to yourself, or connected to others, as you choose to be. There’s no pressure, just the space to fill up your own needs and cup, taking in the pure peace and beauty that being directly in nature has to remind us.
The second afternoon I was there, I meandered over through the gardens, where Bawah grows about 30% of their food you find in your meals.
Malik was kind enough to see me strolling and offer a mini tour of the area. Beds of Bok Choy lined one side of the garden. An overhang of gourds and pumpkins strung through a tunnel of greens. Rows of cinnamon, and other local herbs were sprouting. Peppers, banana trees, and so much more.
That’s when you understand why so many of the meals taste incredibly fresh and flavorful.
More professionally, and probably appreciated, you can schedule a tour with the concierge team to learn more about what’s grown and sustainably sourced with the Bawah team in advance.
As mentioned earlier, my villa was situated right across from the spa, and had a treatment scheduled for me each day I was there.
Aura Wellness Centre and Spa has two floors of nature’s beauty and inspiration to fuel your restoration — physically, and mentally. The upstairs is the welcoming lobby, lined with chairs and netting for you to sip on teas and small bites before or after your treatment.
Day 1 I had a full body massage, and very welcomed after the long hours of flying and traveling to arrive. My pleasant surprise(s)? The therapists hands were STRONG, to the point that I was impressed by this woman’s strength — and I like a strong massage.
The little details that stuck in my mind included:
- the hibiscus flower placed in a pot of sand displayed below the face cradle (more peaceful than staring at a wooden floor during your massage).
- the coffee foot scrub done before each treatment in a basin of fresh water by the private patio.
- soft, warm lighting that was bright enough for you to see, but not too strong to disrupt the energy flow.
- no music…which was blissful to hear only the sounds of nature in the background.
There may have been music playing, but it was so soft that I didn’t hear much, and honestly preferred it that way. I’ll take natures sounds over Spotify any day.
If you want to experience a massage truly in the middle of nature, book a Spa Explorer excursion. Accompanied by private boat, you’re dropped off at one of the corner tips of a neighboring island. There, you have a private massage table and full setup on a covered patio, cliffside. It was a bit breezy, but truly an experience to try out.
A memorable moment, after the massage on Day 3, Wayan, one of the attendants in the spa, offered me the traditional Rosella tea. The flower Roselle helps to increase circulation, lowers blood pressure, can help fight bacteria and is loaded with antioxidants. It’s very similar to the hibiscus flower.
Wayan told me you can eat it. And, so we did! Very sweet, tasty, and even more potent with well-being benefits than its sister tea version. I was impressed, and delighted.
There is a gym on property as well. However, when there are so many other outdoor activities, such as waterfront yoga and pilates, kayaking, paddle boarding, hiking, snorkeling, and swimming, I passed on being inside the gym for all of the outdoor activities.
The newly launched Wellness Journey was a treat to sample, and included a portion of the activities mentioned above, such as the private picnic, Spa Explorer, daily Yoga, and daily spa treatments.
What was an addition to the Wellness Journey also included:
- morning meditations by the sunrise
- journaling exercises
- life coaching exercises
- Zentangle session — Zen, meaning to calm your mind. Tangle, because of the use of patterns
- SUP Yoga (by my request)
- Private Yoga Class
Even though you’re naturally immersed in a wellness experience, this Wellness Journey takes the mindful activities to the next level with personalized touches.
Bawah was hand-built from sustainable bamboo and other recycled materials, such as driftwood and copper. In fact, the build-out of Bawah took longer than most resorts because they refused to allow machines or large shipping boats to get closed to the island, preserving the eco-system and corals surrounding the island.
In addition to:
- All water is sourced on the island and recycled as drinking water.
- Water is heated using solar energy.
- All paper is mulched; composted, crushed glass is used to filter water; and all other waste is sent back to Batam for recycling.
- The hotel is part of the Bawah Foundation, created to channel funds back into the local community.
At night, little touches of sustainable gifts were left on the bed. Bamboo pens, a wind-up flash light, and hand-crafted sea urchin, reminding me of Bawah’s extra effort to sustain their habitat, while inspiring and educating its guests.
Pack as light as possible. The Seaplane has a limit for luggage, along with the ferry. Anything extra and you’ll be charged on the ferry, or asked to stow elsewhere before departing. If you’ve traveled on a Seaplane before, this is nothing new to you, as you’ll have to accommodate for the added weight of your bags prior to leaving to balance the plane and fuel.
In the case you do forget something, there’s a little shop on the island as well. The rooms come fully stocked with eco-friendly shampoo, conditioner, soaps, mouthwash, and creams.
As a welcoming gift, I also received a mini tote filled with eco sunscreen, bug repellent, lip balm, and after sun care. There’s a sun hat, beach throw and sandals for you to use in each villa as well.
Would I go back?
Right before departing, I was asked, “Would you like to take your name tag home with you?” I replied, “Save it for the next time I visit.”
You have your answer.
Being honest, I would have loved to plan more time to visit and experience the island, hike to the top and snorkel a bit longer. The time passed almost too quickly, for the amount of travel time I took there.
My recommendation? If you’re planning a trip to Bawah Reserve (which I highly recommend, without a doubt), plan for at least four nights to really soak in all that is offered there off the grid.
Book a few extra days in Singapore to stay and explore downtown, and plan off another week or so to explore neighboring countries, such as Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, and other areas of Indonesia.
The culture, kindness and pride of Indonesians is probably what stuck with me the most from this journey. That kindness comes from their heart, is shown in their eyes and in their smiles. Indonesians are eager to connect and share with you their culture, to care for you with their experiences, and to connect with you as a visitor.
That is transformational travel, and being a conscious traveler — being able to take it all in, look back, and when you return home, still remember those names, those moments, and those connections without having to reference your phone, feed, or notes (as I did for this blog review).
See you soon, again, Bawah! Or, in Indonesian, Sampai Jumpa Lagi, Bawah!
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