And taken care of we were. The endless experiences that come as standard in Bawah are all spectacular. From complimentary daily deep-tissue massages in the Aura Spa, to unlimited snorkelling out in the reefs surrounding any of the islands, where species of coral and iridescent schools of fish abound (our daily quest to spot the elusive turtles who make their home in the bay was exciting, if unfruitful).
Bawah’s experiential elements have been carefully developed to inspire visitors to be at one with nature. All this is before even considering paddleboarding or windsurfing in the calm lagoons, invisible-kayaking in the crystal clear waters, trekking in its tropical forests and the daily sandbank or private beach picnics. The island’s unique geography means there’s an unending list of things to do and explore. Given that it’s a small place, we thought we might get a little bored after a few days, but at the end of our trip we actually left lamenting all the things we hadn’t had time to do.
There are also fabulous culinary adventures to be had, with three meals a day included – whether in the amazing and aptly named Treetops restaurant, where we dined on multi-course gastronomy, both local and international, and watched dramatic thunderstorms over the sea, or at the idyllic beachfront Boat House, where we grazed on long satay-and-spring roll lunches and belly-busting BBQ dinners while gazing at the most perfect view of a sandspit leading out to a nearby island, the gentle lapping of waves as the soundtrack. When we craved some privacy, we ate in the comforts of our own villa, but we only did it once, as it was so lovely being an islander. Meals are generally quite relaxed affairs, with thoughtful and creative fare, always fresh and delicious and tailored to guests’ tastes. We knew we weren’t going to find five-star-hotel palatial buffet breakfasts or award-studded Michelin cuisine on the island, but there was something mouthwateringly charming about the food – and for us from Southeast Asia, nostalgic.
The cocktails at the Jules Verne bar above the treehouse restaurant are intoxicating and the view here is particularly beautiful at sunset. The atmosphere after dinner at The Grouper bar was super social, as our fellow castaways came together to discuss what we’d seen and experienced that day. Every other night, the resort team puts on some other great extras – we particularly enjoyed stargazing with the island’s impressive telescope (the enormous full moon at the time of our visit meant we spent hours talking craters and local lunar legends). And when we were done with that, a pop-up, silent cinema on the beach saw us dozing off to a popular movie on a beanbag for two under the inky night sky.
Accommodation at the reserve consists of tented camps and overwater villas made out of Javanese bamboo, in harmony with nature and the surrounding forests and designed to bring the outside in and the inside out, complete with a bathroom and terrace exposed to the elements. The tented camps are far, far, far more luxurious than glamping, so don’t get us wrong – but if you’re looking for a more solid structure, the overwater villas are available at a premium. In our humble opinion, though, to stay in a tented beach suite is to experience Bawah properly, especially since ours provided direct access to a private stretch of sand that invited us to run freely into the perfectly clear sea. While the marketing may extol the fabulousness of a stilted hut, we much preferred our beachside home.
In either case, the resort’s accommodation is styled much like a safari-lodge. With all the conveniences an OutThere traveller needs, playfully stripped back to get guests into the vibe – mosquito nets, rattan furniture, colourful cushions to match the tropical wallpaper, steamer trunks, ceiling fan, a copper bathtub – it was hard to tell what was practical and what was for show. There were also lovely in-room touches throughout, such as handmade soaps, stylish panama hats and wicker beach bags.
Each night, thoughtful gifts – handmade souvenirs, bamboo straws, local cakes – were left by our bedside. And instead of a room number, our names were carved out of wood and hung on a nearby tree.
Panama hats off to Bawah
We very rarely gush about the resorts we visit, but it’s hard not to with the Bawah Reserve. This is just our kind of place and, whether you’re in the market for an experiential honeymoon or you’re celebrating a milestone or looking for a romantic ‘just-because’ vacation, we guarantee you’ll be enchanted by the magic of it. For the paradise seeker looking for pure relaxation or the modern-day explorer with a taste for indulgence, Bawah offers eco-conscious, barefoot luxury at its very best – and most remote.
If you have a penchant for glitz and glamour on holiday, then perhaps this is not the place for you, but real OutThere travellers know the difference between a resort for show and a resort with soul.
Was it perfection? No. But that’s what made it so utterly charming and why we fell head over heels for it. Moreover, we applaud the vision of the owners in creating this stunning, sustainable resort – it’s taken more than five long years to get it to where it is today, with planning and thinking beforehand. We also admire the way that the ethos and heart of Bawah have been passed down to every single person who works here.
The result is somewhere between magical and spectacular. We would even go out on a limb and say that Bawah is quite possibly one of the most – if not the most – OutThere resort we’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting.
Photography courtesy of Bawah Reserve