Need to get away from the big city? Long working week, endless meetings and MRT breakdowns getting you down? You need a weekend in paradise…
Problem: You need to catch a flight to the nearest slice of paradise… right?
Wrong! Enter… Cempedak (pronounced Chem – pe – dak). Opened in March 2017, it’s a small private island located just off the eastern coast of Bintan in Indonesia. Brought to you by the owners of a similar island paradise – Nikoi – which is located just to the north.
We spoke to one of the owners about their inspirations. Guests loved Nikoi (opened May 2007) but the common feedback was, “We love it but… there are just too many kids!”. Plenty of families are looking for an island getaway but they also wanted to offer something quieter, more romantic and exclusively for adults.
That’s right – no under 16s allowed. So you don’t have to worry about hoards of screaming 3-year-olds around the breakfast table whilst you are nursing a hangover, or the pool being overrun with pink inflatable unicorns.
Moreover, the owners have learned a lot from their experiences of building and running Nikoi – so Cempedak is even more polished, thoughtful and sustainable.
It all starts at Tanah Merah ferry terminal. You have a choice of 11:10am, 5:00pm or 8:00pm. You only need to arrive around 1 hour before. The ferry ride is 50-55mins. Sit near the back if the sea is choppy!
Pro Tip: Only book economy – but when you arrive at check-in, ask if it’s busy… if so – pay to upgrade to “Emerald Class”. You’ll get access to an average lounge but, you get to board and disembark first, allocated seating and space for your luggage. No need to upgrade on the way home – being a Cempedak guest gets you access to the VIP lounge and priority boarding.
On arrival in Bintan, you’ll be met before immigration by Cempedak staff, they will guide you to a priority lane and then into a VIP lounge before you are taken on the next part of your journey.
A private car (no sharing!) takes you across Bintan. It’ll take about an hour on smooth roads with nice scenery. Water is provided. The driver was very professional and friendly.
You then arrive at Nikoi and Cempedak’s very own speedboat station. One of their new, powerful and safe “Mana” boats will then whisk you the rest of the way – only around 20 minutes.
The journey may sound arduous – but honestly, compared to travelling with a low-cost carrier to Bali… it’s a cinch! And just wait till you arrive… it’ll all be worth it – trust me!
Absolutely stunning. The perfect mix of traditional building practices, sustainable materials and thoughtful luxury touches.
All villas are identical. Each has a private plunge pool. One master bedroom, one bathroom and one downstairs toilet with an additional outdoor shower.
The only difference offered is location. Seaview villas are on the hill and have a better view, but are slightly harder to get to (walking uphill after another stunning 3-course dinner can be a challenge). There is also slightly more… wildlife up there, but if anything – it’s all very charming. Beach villas are only metres from the sea and have direct access to the beach.
We preferred the beach location but would be happy in either.
No minibar fridge! But never fear – that sneaky bottle of champagne from duty-free can be chilled in an ice-box that they are only too happy to fill for you.
It’s all part of the eco-friendly/sustainable mission. So is the shower, being heated mostly by solar, backed up by gas when required. It’s warm, not hot – but absolutely fine and, unlike most showers, it comes with great views!
Now we come to the greatest sustainability point, but also the one that causes my friends to recoil in fear… NO AIR-CONDITIONING! I have to say, people’s hesitation over this issue is completely unjustified. Because you are so far a major city and there are no obstructions, the ambient temperature is much lower. Combine that with a near constant sea breeze and a very thoughtful, silent ceiling fan over the bed – you will have no problems.
Not to mention, after 5 days of not being in continuous air-conditioning, we all felt great. My skin looked better, my nose wasn’t dry. It’s like a super health kick!
Food and Drinks
Because you are on a private island – there is only one restaurant. All guests have to pay a fixed supplement that includes all your meals. S$95++pp may sound like a lot, but having done it, we can honestly say it represents very good value.
The menu for the next meal is shown to you as you finish the former e.g. Dinner menu after lunch. It is fixed but they are happy to make adjustments for items you don’t like. All produce is locally sourced or grown in the islands own garden where possible. There is a wide mix of Western and Indonesian dishes. After 5 days, there was not a single dish that we disliked.
The drinks menu is formidable and meticulously curated. There is a note in the menu explaining the difficulties and expense of importing alcohol into Indonesia – considering this – the selection offered is not only very comprehensive, it’s also very reasonably priced.
Cocktails are served up alongside breathtaking sunset views in the affectionately known “Dodo bar” and are the standard you would expect at a high end 5* city hotel.
A note on “eco-friendly” credentials… The owners shy away from the term “eco”, instead preferring “sustainable”. I share their frustrations that large hotel chains claim to be “eco-friendly” by asking you to re-use your towel and not change your sheets – only for them to then do it anyway, most of the time. It feels like a cop-out when they could be doing so much more. Nikoi and Cempedak take sustainability to the next level: no plastics, sustainable building materials, natural water wells, solar power and local grown/sourced food are just the basics – they will show you so much more on their fantastic daily natural walk – incidentally, a great way to walk off the sumptuous Mee Goreng and homemade banana bread you just ate for breakfast!
If the plunge pool in the room is not enough for you – there is a main, larger pool equipped with a bar. There’s a glut of complimentary non-motorised water-sports, guided walks around the island and numerous off-island excursions available should you desire, but we put the emphasis on relaxation, peace and jolly good G&Ts for our break.
For those who need to stay in touch (or make their friends and family jealous!), there is excellent wifi coverage. The speed is broadly similar to 4G. Also, good phone signal should you choose to roam.
The staff are all genuinely excellent. Well trained, friendly, helpful and clearly… happy!
We almost don’t want to recommend Cempedak… but only for the most selfish reasons – we don’t want it to become too busy!
The care and attention that has been lavished on every aspect of the experience make a trip to Cempedak effortless, enjoyable and relaxing. There is very little room for improvement and yet the owners are still very keen to receive feedback and are continuously looking for ways to push up standards.
For us, it’s already perfect. One of the very few hotels we’ve stayed in where we haven’t left with a list of “cons”. Book early to avoid disappointment.
Seaview Villas from S$450 per night
Beach Villas from S$475 per night
Daily Board S$95++ pp/pn
Stayed October 2017