Cempedak is a 17 hectare private island 9km off the east coast of Bintan, Indonesia. Located 91km from Singapore, the travel time from Tanah Merah ferry terminal is approximately two and a half hours.
Surrounded by unspoilt islands it is one of only a handful of private islands along this beautiful coast. Cempedak is ringed with white sandy beaches and studded with magnificent white granite boulders. Rising to a height of 40m, the island boasts a rain forest that provides sanctuary to a diverse population of local birds including hornbills, eagles and kingfishers. Other residents on the island include the critical endangered pangolin and a family of sea otters.
The architecture is dramatic and unique. Bamboo has been used throughout and in ways not seen before. Crescent shaped curved roofs made from a local grass provide a natural symmetry to the environment and at the same time protection from the elements. With private plunge pools in each villa, huge decks, the guest accommodation is very private and very spacious. This is “simple barefoot luxury” in a sublime natural setting.
The villas are designed to promote natural ventilation. Overhead fans and the siting of each villa to maximize the cool ocean breezes is a wonderful working example of “nature’s air-con”.
Activities available to guests includes ‘serious’ relaxation, swimming, sailing, snorkeling, diving, massage, nature discovery and island hopping, windsurfing, standup paddle boarding, kayaking, tennis, croquet, and boule.
THE CEMPEDAK STORY
Cempedak is owned by the same small group who created Nikoi Island. Nikoi opened in 2007 and quickly became a popular escape for those looking for an escape from the maddening crowd. The owners have all lived in Asia for most of their working lives and share a passion for the outdoors, nature, food and wine.
The inspiration to develop Nikoi and subsequently Cempedak came through disenchantment with the standard of holiday accommodation on offer within easy reach of Singapore. It was either flea-ridden shacks or opulently garish five star hotels. Cultural sensitivity, vernacular design, good service and simple luxuries seemed unheard of.
The success of Nikoi led the owners to look for another island to develop. The lessons learnt from Nikoi and a passion for being sensitive to both the environment, the local culture and to engage the local community inspired them to use bamboo as the primary building material on Cempedak.
The design of the buildings masterfully blends a vernacular design to create dwellings that are gracefully intertwined with the natural environment.
The unique design of the villas incorporates a huge crescent shaped roof which helps capture cool breezes releasing the hot air and keeping the villas cool thus avoiding the need for air-conditioning.
Working on site all of the buildings have been designed around the natural canvas of the island. The end result is structures that have a real sense of belonging.
Best labeled as ‘Luxury Survivor’ or ‘Crusoe Luxe’ it is a concept that has not been seen in the region before. Coupled with the fact this has been done on a truly private island makes Cempedak truly unique.
In 2009 the owners formed The Island Foundation to help the local community develop in a sustainable manner. For more information on The Island Foundation please go to the “Our Commitment” section on this website or visit the foundation website.
All of the staff on Cempedak, except for one, are Indonesian. Combined, Nikoi and Cempedak employ over 200 staff. With no more than 40 guests on Cempedak at any time there is always a good number of staff to look after guests. Many of our staff started with us during the building phase so they have a true affinity with both Nikoi and Cemepdak.
A lot of effort has gone into trying to create a relaxed and convivial work ethic that breaks away from the traditional hotel model. The goal has been to have healthy and happy employees who take pride in their jobs. They are encouraged to learn new skills and many staff have moved from back of house roles to front of house roles. A number of innovative programs have been established to help staff and their families get ahead financially. Staff turnover is less than 10% per annum. This has been rewarding for all of those involved.
GETTING TO CEMPEDAK
Overall journey time from Singapore’s Tanah Merah ferry terminal to Cempedak Island is approximately two and a half hours.
Ferry from Singapore to Bintan Resorts: One hour
Taxi across Bintan from ferry terminal to jetty: One hour
Launch from jetty to Cempedak: Less than half hour
Regular high speed catamaran ferries operate between Singapore and Bintan Resorts (Bandar Bentan Telani). The service takes less than 1 hour and operates at least five times every day. Ferry bookings can be made online: www.brf.com.sg or by email firstname.lastname@example.org. The Tanah Merah ferry terminal in Singapore is 10 minutes from Changi International aiport or 30 minutes from the city centre.
Our main vessel is a custom built 36ft boat, powered by 2 x 200 hp engines which can comfortably seat 20 passengers and make the journey to Cempedak in less than 30 minutes. It will meet designated ferries from Singapore. Additional charges will apply if guests catch non-designated ferries and a slower boat may be used. All of our boats have been built by local boat builders and specifically designed for the local conditions. The crew are well experienced and all of the boats are equipped with life vests, VHF radio and navigation equipment. The boat journey is approximately 14km and either Bintan Island or Cempedak Island are in view for the whole journey.
There are daily flights from Jakarta to Bintan on Sriwijaya Air and Lion Air. From the airport on Bintan it is a half hour car journey to Kawal and then a half hour boat trip to Cempedak.
Follow this link to view the Cempedak Island on Google Maps
The main restaurant on Cempedak commands a prominent position on rocky point and offers a variety of dining configurations from tree shaded dining pods to a long sweeping balcony with fantastic sunset vistas. For those seeking total seclusion, picnic hampers can be ordered and taken to your choice of the nearby deserted islands (additional charges may apply).
The menu changes daily according to the seasonal availability of ingredients from local markets. The emphasis is on the freshest ingredients prepared simply. Barbequed seafood, local dishes and tropical fruits feature prominently on the menu.
The daily menus are put up on blackboards in the dining room. The team in the kitchen is happy to tailor them according to any specific dietary requirements. We just ask that you let us know in advance. Fixed menus allow the kitchen to focus on providing dishes that are based on the freshest ingredients in the markets and what we grow on the island. This also helps reduce food waste which is important given the neighbouring communities are less fortunate.
The daily board charge includes 3 meals and most activities and is charged at S$95++ per day per adult. Note all prices in Singapore $ and “++” refers to 11% tax and 10% service that we are obliged to charge on board and transfers.
Handcrafted from bamboo with vernacular ‘alang alang’ grass roofs all of our villas have private plunge pools with either direct access to the beach or glorious sea views from the ridge that runs over the island.
Privacy is guaranteed with all of the accommodation generously spaced over the island. The rest of the island is primary rainforest and being the more environmentally sensitive portion of the island has been preserved it as a sanctuary. There are no other hotels, restaurants or shops on the island, it is truly a private island.
The beach villas are just metres away from the beach whereas the seaview villas all have magnificent seaviews of the surrounding desert islands. They all have the same master bedroom with an ensuite bathroom upstairs. Downstairs is a lounge area with a guest bathroom, a bar, large deck, sun loungers and a private plunge pool.
The bedrooms have vaulted ceilings, bamboo ceiling fans and king sized beds resplendent in luxurious organic white cotton sheets and draped with generous cotton mosquito nets. Ensuite master bathrooms have hot water showers and modern fittings set amongst natural stone and recycled teak. Each beach house has an iPod speaker system and a safe. Whilst free of telephones, computers and fax machines there is excellent mobile phone reception on the island should you wish to be contactable. Free wifi is also available.
Whilst many people will visit Cempedak just to unwind, there is a wide range of activities on offer for the more active. The best thing about this is that there is no charge for most activities and you are free to use the equipment for as long and as often as you like. Charges apply for use of the more advanced equipment and activities such as diving. Many of the staff are experienced sailors, divers and rock climbers and are always happy to help introduce guests to a new activity.
Rock climbing/mountain biking & trekking. There are some exciting trails for walkers or mountain bikers to explore on Bintan and neighbouring islands.
Tennis and Croquet
There are two natural grass tennis courts on Cempedak that are lovingly tendered. The courts are rotated so one is in play for tennis and the other set up for croquet. The nature of a natural grass court is that it cannot be played all the time but without doubt it is the best surface to play.
There are plenty of opportunities to explore the island’s flora and fauna. If you are lucky you may be able to spot some of the some rare and endangered species including hornbills, sea otters, sea turtles, terrapins and pangolins. At low tide the rock pools make a fascinating area to explore. Cempedak staff will be happy to help you identify what you see or even take you on a guided walk pointing out the flora and fauna. There is a team that monitors the beaches for turtle nests and works on marine conservation so do ask to speak to any of these staff if this is something you are interested in.
Boule and volleyball,
There are a few sets of boule and our staff are always keen for a game of volleyball.
There is a wide variety of water sports on offer including swimming, snorkeling, fishing, kayaking, windsurfing, stand-up paddle boarding and sailing (Lasers and catamarans)). All equipment is provided free of charge, except for the catamarans and advanced level windsurfing boards. Kite surfing is also a popular activity on nearby Bintan.
There are tremendous opportunities to snorkel from the various beaches that surround the island. With prior arrangement experienced divers can explore both wrecks and outer reefs. Charges apply for the use of the diving equipment. A number of the watersports staff are qualified divers and can act as guides. Dive courses are not on offer as the area is not well suited for learners. The best time of year for snorkeling and diving is from March to November. Tanks, weights, BCDs, masks and fins can all be provided. Visibility varies greatly throughout the year with typically the best conditions from March through to November. For more information visit our section on Marine Life.
The islands near Cempedak are ringed in stunning coral reefs and there are many opportunities to dive. Visibility varies greatly throughout the year and whilst the best conditions for diving will depend on many factors the months from March to November are usually the best for diving in these waters. Currents can be strong and only fit divers that are suitably qualified will be allowed to dive.
Several of the water sports staff are qualified divers and are able to act as guides or dive buddies. The nature of the dive operation and the local diving conditions are not conducive to offering dive courses.
The area around Cempedak is part of the Sunda shelf, hence the seabed is relatively shallow and rarely exceeds 20 meters. The strong tidal flows that are typical of the area encourage the growth of soft coral gardens that are probably the best feature of the area.
You should not expect to see big schools of fish or giant pelagic like sharks or mantas. That said, the area has pristine hard coral gardens, and there are surprises for the careful observer. Sea turtles, stingrays, seahorses, cuttlefish, bat fish, octopus, sweet lips and occasionally unusual species of starfish and puffer fish are regularly spotted.
There are different levels of diving possible, within a variety of different ecosystems. If divers focus on details rather than grand vistas, embrace the mood of the moment rather than expecting 30 meters of visibility then the experience becomes as good as anywhere, especially considering the proximity to Singapore.
For more information about diving and the marine life around Nikoi Island please view the images on the Cempedak Facebook page or visit the excellent blog – Nikoi below the Surface, which is maintained by Michel Lippitsch, our marine conservation officer.
Guests are encouraged to think of Cempedak as if it is a friend’s island hideaway. Therefore there are few signs, formal rules and a preference to keep things more laidback. Instead of having set times, activities are arranged to suit the guests on the island and the ebb and flow of the natural environment.
The approach is to let guests decide what they want to do and when. You will find no reminders telling you to hang up your towels or signs to remind you to wash your feet here or to keep off the grass. It is left to guests to decide what is reasonable. If you would like to go for a midnight swim or stay up all night drinking the staff are happy to oblige. Similarly if you would like something to eat there is always a jar of cookies or a bunch of bananas at the bar.
One of the truly unique aspects of Cempedak is the extensive use of bamboo in the buildings. With the experience of some extraordinary specialists and years of planning Cempedak is truly out of the mould.
The success of sister property, Nikoi inspired the owners to take what they had learnt to another level. Unique in the design is the fact that the rooms are naturally ventilated and there are no air conditioners in the villas. With the master bedrooms raised 3m off the ground and a vaulted ceiling the natural horizontal and vertical ventilation helps keeps the rooms at a comfortable temperature. Fans have been incorporated inside the mosquito nets to help keep guests cool at night.
As much as possible there has been minimal use of cement, plastic, paint, glass and other man made materials. Solar hot water systems are used to provide hot water and LED lighting has been used throughout. A solar PV system will help power the island.
Wherever practical materials are unfinished or finished with natural oils and waxes. You will therefore find very few painted or varnished surfaces.
External consultants were engaged to advise on how to minimise and where necessary help protect and restore the environment. Those same consultants continue to carry out surveys on the island and help protect the local flora and fauna.
From the outset, building and operating Cempedak along strict sustainable principles has been at the forefront of the development plans for the island.
Not only was Cempedak built and is operated using local materials, labour and services but the owners have taken this one step further and taught many of their contractors and staff new trades and techniques. This not only makes operational sense but it also means that in the long run there is a mutual respect with the local community and the staff and tradesman take greater pride in their work. In terms of supplies Cempedak buys almost 100% of food supplies in local markets and from small traders. This means Cempedak is able to obtain the freshest ingredients which whilst they might not be certified as organic it is known to have been organically farmed.
All of the staff working for Cempedak except the guest relations officer are Indonesian. Many started working with Cempedak during the construction phase and have gone on to learn new skills that have allowed them to continue to work in operational roles. As a result of this Cempedak has a very high staff retention and loyalty.
One key aspect to the engagement with the local community was to establish The Island Foundation. Registered as a charity in Singapore the Foundation has been able to attract external donors that has allowed the Foundation to have a much larger reach than might have been achieved by a small resort operation on its own. Working with the local community on Bintan and neighbouring islands the goal of the Foundation is to help the communities to help themselves. Initially the focus of the Foundation’s efforts has been to establish a network of learning centres so that the local children can learn English and IT – identified by the villagers as one of their most pressing needs. Since establishing the first learning centre the Foundation has been approached by other villages to help establish more centres.
The Foundation’s education programs are designed to supplement the local school education and the focus on English and IT is so that they will have opportunities to benefit from the growing tourism industry in the area.
A full time independent CEO and independent directors have been appointed to run the Foundation.
An important aspect to the company’s approach to responsible tourism has been to ensure that not only is the environment protected but where possible it is protected for future generations. An important task in protecting the environment is to educate guests and the local population. In terms of educating guests this is done through the Cempedak website, Facebook page, room literature and nature walks around the island. The process of educating the locals on the environment is one of the roles of the Foundation and the group’s Marine Conservation Officer.
Like Nikoi, Cempedak aims to become a Long Run Alliance Member (LRAM). This means that we directly manage or significantly influence the management of a natural area of conservation value with defined geographical boundaries, have signed The Long Run Charter and are committed to achieving sustainability through a holistic balance of the 4Cs: conservation, community, culture and commerce.
Being part of the Long Run Initiative means applying The Long Run approach to life of acting today for a better tomorrow and aspiring to become a Global Ecosphere Retreats® certified Long Run Destination, actively demonstrating innovative approaches to sustainable business and providing practical examples of sustainability in action.
Cempedak has a Responsible Tourism Policy which is reviewed and updated annually – here is a link to the most recent version of that document.
If you are interested in finding out more about our programs or would like to help out then please do get in touch with us by emailing email@example.com.
A key consideration in our approach to developing Cempedak was to work with the local communities on Bintan and neighbouring islands. Not only do many of our staff come from these communities but the island supports these communities by sourcing supplies locally.
The picture of Bintan changes once you travel beyond the entrance to the Bintan Resorts zone. The broad population has by and large been left behind by developments in the tourist zones. This is especially true in the coastal areas where fishing is the main occupation and rising fuel costs, over-fishing and sea travel restrictions have taken their toll on local incomes.
Through The Island Foundation the island is working to help improve the income, health and education in these communities. In doing so the goal is to address environmental concerns and implement sustainable community-based projects centered on social justice, community organization, micro-finance and entrepreneurialism. The approach is that poverty alleviation/eradication is the correct long-term goal, in its own right and because so many other issues flow from it in terms of poor education, sub-standard health care, low environmental standards, lack of economic opportunity, pessimism and fixed local hierarchies. All of these things are evident in the Riau Archipelago.
Cempedak staff take great pride in our involvement in these projects and are encouraged to get involved with the programs run by The Island Foundation.