Nikoi Island, a 15-hectare private island off the coast of Bintan, partly sells itself on the fact that you can be on your own deserted beach within just two-and-a-half hours of leaving the Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal – yet it was still somehow a shock, having walked out of the office in Tanjong Pagar at 4pm, to be swimming in the sea under a starlit sky by 7.45pm.
The resort has the transportation down to an art – after getting the 5pm ferry, we were met off the boat by a Nikoi staff member and whisked through customs without having to queue, then into a spacious car for a surprisingly beautiful hour-long drive down the coast (who said Bintan was tacky?), where the palm-fringed coast road at sunset recalled a dream scene in a David Lynch film. It got more like James Bond when, just as night fell, two of us were met at Nikoi’s elegant private jetty by seven staff, who ushered us onto a speedboat and whisked us off into the dark. This felt rockstar enough, but they’re planning to make it even better with seaplanes from Singapore.
Despite its proximity to civilisation the 15-hectare island feels remote, with rocky beach around a humming rainforest and wooden buildings poking out of the foliage. It’s a conservation zone, so you’ll sporadically spot sea turtles laying eggs on the beach. On our first morning, a giant monitor lizard ambled past our room. The resort feels nicely organic, which is largely down to the design – almost all the structures have been beautifully handcrafted from rough driftwood and bamboo (yes, it’s eco-friendly too), and melt into the island. One of the partners led the building himself, and the place is clearly a personal labour of love. We got drunk with another of the owners (he didn’t know I was a journalist), who was clearly deeply passionate about the resort, which also helps out with numerous community projects on Bintan.
Accommodation consists of 15 gorgeous beach houses on stilts, making them feel as much like treehouses. All are within 15m of the beach, so you doze off to a glorious sea sound. Beach houses come with one to three bedrooms – our three-bedroom hut could comfortably sleep seven, though bookings are limited to four adults.
The vibe is less couple-y than we’d expected, with more kids – one of the two restaurants is unofficially the ‘family restaurant’, and staff put on regular kids’ activities including the odd treasure hunt and a bonfire most nights. It’s good clean fun rather than clowns and whistles – the website recommends that kids can swing from vines and play on boulders, and on our trip a couple of boys were fishing from the jetty. Kids or not, there are few enough people that the other guests are never intrusive, and the island works equally for a romantic mini-break or a quietly boozy chillout break with friends. We paddled round the island by kayak in less than an hour, even allowing for lots of sunbathing; jumped off the jetty and snorkelled beneath it (it might not be world class, but there are cute Nemo fish); hung out around the pool and generally spent lots of time sitting and staring at the sea. Be careful if you swim in the sea – it’s rocky in most places, as we found out in the dark on the first night. Other activities include catamaran sailing, proper diving, windsurfing and rock climbing.
The food is solid rather than spectacular, with set menus at set times throughout the day, perhaps our main reservation (we wanted to eat whenever we felt like it). At night the bar will stay open as long as guests are there to drink, which is usually not that late – people here tend to wake early and go to bed early, especially as the time difference means that the sun sets early, at around 6.30pm.
Overall, Nikoi Island was a sunny breeze of a weekend, and – unlike so many trips – the journey was almost as pleasurable as the stay. You’ll be more relaxed come Monday morning.
The ferry from Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal to Bintan starts at $67 return, with five ferries a day, the first at 9.10am and the last at 8pm. See www.brf.com.sg to book.
Rooms start from $330 per night. Return transfers from Bintan Ferry Terminal cost $90 per adult and $45 per child. See www.nikoi.com.