How This Private Island Near Singapore Is A Champion For Sustainability
Wishing for a tropical getaway doesn’t automatically mean hopping on a plane to a faraway island for an out-of-this-world experience. A pristine beach paradise is also found in our own backyard, if you know where to look. Cempedak Private Island, as we’ve discovered on a peaceful and relaxing three-day jaunt, is a place that stole our hearts… for many reasons.
The charm of this island starts with its close proximity to Singapore. It’s situated off the coast of the Riau islands in Indonesia, and getting here includes a one-hour ferry ride to Bintan, another hour by car to reach the jetty (shared with sister island, Nikoi) and a final 30min speedboat ride to reach the remote location. It’s no walk in the park, for sure, but for us, this three-part journey beats being stuck on a plane for hours on end.
While it’s only two-and-a-half hours away from Singapore, it’s worlds away from the concrete jungle we’re used to. In place of reclaimed lands and towering buildings are emerald green waters teeming with marine life, fine sand that stretches out like a welcoming carpet, and lush foliage surrounding the villas. Completing the picturesque scene is the vast blue sky and wispy white clouds that frame everything like a Monet masterpiece.
NO SINGLE-USE AMENITIES
With founder Andrew Dixon being a champion of sustainability, the resort was built with ‘barefoot luxury’ in mind, with the purpose of treading the earth more lightly. Hence, our two-storey abode is stripped of 'daily comforts' like an air-conditioner, TV, fridge, as well as single-use amenities like toothpaste and toothbrush (it’s recommended you that bring your own). But what it lacks in supply, it makes up with clever and beautiful design.
The villa was made with sturdy bamboo (sourced locally in Java and Sumatra), which, Dixon, explained was the material of choice not only for its aesthetic looks but its ability “to grow back within two years”. As for the roof, it was crafted from alang alang cogon grass that lets the natural sea breeze in.
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Basic luxury came in other forms like our comfortable king-sized beds covered with organic cotton sheets, and a beautiful private pool filled with rejuvenating seawater.
The eco-friendly—and highly Instagrammable—design extends to the rest of the structures, including Dodo Bar and the adjacent restaurant. It’s the only one place serving food on this island, which for us, didn’t matter as it serves world-class Indonesian fare.
“We try to promote Indonesian culture through food,” Dixon shared.
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MINI GARDEN TO TABLE
Executive chef Dika Nainggolan helms the kitchen, but he works closely with consulting Aussie chef Penny Williams to keep things fresh and interesting. The chef-owner of secret haunt Bali Asli in Bali has an impressive culinary pedigree that includes stints at Savoy Hotel, Restaurant 41 and Boathouse.
Every day is a feast. While we were there, breakfast was homemade granola, organic eggs atop toasty bread, with a side of sticky rice and fresh fruits, while lunch and dinner included local favourites such as sayer asem, made with freshly harvested vegetables including melinjo, chayote, jackfruit and corn in a savoury tamarind soup, beef rendang and chicken curry.
Most of the ingredients and produce are picked from the resort’s mini garden or at the seven-hectare farm in Bintan, which they recently acquired to become as self-sufficient as possible—although Dixon admitted that they still have a long way to go. Aside from budding jackfruit, rosella, aubergine and chilli, they also tend free-range chickens as well as goats they’re raising for their future plans of making artisanal cheese.
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It’s an enriching feeling to be extremely close to Mother Nature—another thing that appealed to us when we were in Cempedak. What a treat it was to wake up not to the sound of our screaming alarm clocks, but to singing birds and waves crashing on the beach, just a few steps from our villa.
The whole island and its abundant greenery deserve exploring; while we were there, Dixon happily gave in to our request of a guided walking tour to witness its thriving flora and fauna. The forest was so dense with sky-high trees that it sheltered us from the intense midday sun; every few meters, we also encountered spiders (which are said to grow as large as our hands), butterflies and birds of every size and colour, monkeys and ducks. Apparently, the island is littered with pangolins, too; we didn’t catch sight of them—only the burrows hidden in the thick of the woods.
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Since last year, Dixon admitted that they’ve seen a growth in the insect and animal population on the isle, thanks to their strict conservation policies. Fogging and use of pesticides are completely banned here. Instead, they use a DIY bug trap and have planted lemongrass to repel mosquitos. They’re also working with the local government to establish a Marine Conservation Area that includes a no-take zone so that schools of fish and corals can flourish.
PAYING IT FORWARD
More than its physical qualities, what struck us the most about Cempedak is that it cares deeply about the local community. In fact, they’ve set up The Island Foundation to provide education to the children in neighbouring villages. To date, they’ve set up seven learning centres where over 500 children study subjects including English, IT, health, nutrition and arts and crafts.
It’s heartening to discover that every dollar you spend here extends beyond giving you the ‘unique island living’ you crave for. More than a promise of a peaceful and luxe holiday, Mother Nature as well as the community also benefit from it. Now, that’s something we would give up our comforts for… just for a few days.
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