Sunlight peeked through the windows and the long mosquito nets draped over our bed. We gently stirred before waking up and padding across the bamboo floor to the balcony. Views of a lush forest and the undulating ripples of the sea are laid out before us. In the stillness of the morning, we felt like castaways on a remote tropical island, ala Robinson Crusoe. But for once, reality is better than fantasy — we’re comfortably ensconced in a bamboo paradise on the private isle of Cempedak Island.
The luxury of informality
Its proximity to Bintan may have you thinking it’s a mere hop, a skip and a jump away but the journey requires a 45-minute boat ride to Bintan and a one-hour drive to a jetty where we travel another half-an-hour on a speedboat. Upon arrival, we’re heartily greeted by the resort’s staff — an everyday practice for them to get to know guests.
What distinctively sets Cempedak Island apart is this winning sense of familiarity. The staff takes every effort to remember your name, preferences and habits. Take a buggy ride up to your villa once and your name and room number will be memorised. At the restaurant — the only one on the island — they also remember your dietary preferences, and even your inclination for certain spices. The personalised interactions make up the island’s charm, and merges luxury travel and intimate island living seamlessly.
The term ‘barefoot luxury’ is taken quite literally here. Staff forgo footwear, and encourage us to do the same. Sales and Marketing Manager Jill Agnew kicks off our orientation with these magic words: “Don’t feel like you need to dress up. Wear whatever you’d like. You’re on your time now.”
A quick skim through the site’s website reaffirms this — Cempedak Island wants you to think of it as a “friend’s island hideaway”. You’re free to do as you wish. Activities — whether in water or on land — have no set times, and are planned to suit your preferences and the island’s weather. Do as you wish; the resort emphasises that there are no rules or reminders. This is most evident in the shared spaces, where there are no restrictions on swimming pool opening hours or bringing your libations into the water.
A barefoot bamboo paradise…
The resort is built entirely from scratch and by hand from alang-alang bamboo with roofs made from Cogon grass for natural ventilation. Founder Andrew Dixon chose bamboo because “it is the most sustainable building material available [that] you can do amazing things with in terms of design.”
At over 150 sqm each, these double-storey villas boast two bathrooms, a massive bedroom, and a balcony that overlooks your private plunge pool. Two types of villas are available, granting you either direct beach access or ocean views from atop a hill.
…that forces you to unplug
Cempedak Island is barefoot luxury at its best. Villas are not air-conditioned; an electric ceiling fan and a vaulted ceiling for natural ventilation keep the nights cool. With no television for white noise, there is little to keep you from basking in the solitude, with the exception of WiFi. There are no other shops, restaurants or properties on the island and you won’t find a telephone here either; in-room iPads keep you connected to the concierge. Downstairs, you’ll find a bluetooth speaker encased in bamboo, no less. Villas are generously spaced within the island for maximum privacy — these are so private and safe that there are no room keys and are left unlocked when you leave. For peace of mind, stash away your belongings in your in-room safe.
A wildlife holiday
All our meal times were shared with Dixon who revealed personal anecdotes of real island living, including Cempedak Island’s unique visitors of monkeys and wild boars who swim up to the shore from neighbouring isles. On its own, the island teems with wildlife. A walk through the resort grounds takes you through a rich rainforest, where pangolins dig its own burrows, monitor lizards saunter and ducks wander.
Marine life in Cempedak Island is astonishingly vibrant. Islands nearby are surrounded by coral reef, and brim with sea turtles, stingrays, seahorses, cuttlefish, bat fish, octopus, sweet lips and, occasionally, unusual species of starfish and puffer fish.
With such barefoot luxuries awaiting in Cempedak Island, the isle was made for laidback living. A three-day stay here is enough to feel far removed from everyday life. Our only advice? You’re going to want to grab a book or two to keep your days occupied. Leave the reliance on WiFi at home, as it’s a superfluous distraction for those looking for a real Crusoe experience.