When I started planning this year’s 8th annual round-the-World trip I’d never even heard of tiny Nikoi Island.
But before each big trip these days I cruise my friend and London-based-travel-writer, Jill’s, eco-hotel website for properties that still need to be reviewed. In exchange for doing the review, the writer receives a two-night stay.
In the past year, Jill has introduced me to some pretty incredible (and luxurious!) eco-lodges around the world. From Laguna Lodge in Guatemala to the amazing explora properties in Chile – explora Rapa Nui (on Easter Island) and explora Patagonia.
So, that’s how I discovered the little gem of Nikoi Island. A private island resort located just 50 miles from Singapore.
With Singapore already on the RTW #8 itinerary, Nikoi Island seemed like the perfect place to escape the buzz of the city for a few days.
How to Get to Nikoi Island from Singapore
Getting to Nikoi Island from Singapore sounds complicated at first glance but turns out to be a breeze.
From Singapore, I take a ferry to Bintan Island in Indonesia (1 hour, and the entry visa is easily processed on the boat). Then Nikoi’s staff takes over from there.
They greet me at the ferry terminal and escort me to a private car for the 1-hour ride across the island to meet the Nikoi boat.
From there, it’s just a 15-minute speedboat ride to the private island paradise of Nikoi.
The Nikoi Story
When Nikoi Island was purchased in 2004 by a small group of expatriates residing in Singapore, it was completely uninhabited, truly a deserted island.
The group had become disenchanted with the resort options easily reachable from Singapore and set out to bring to life their own idea of an island escape. They wanted space, privacy, and simple luxuries.
The goal was to create a relaxed environment akin to visiting a friend’s private island home.
The result is Nikoi Private Island, which opened to the public in 2007. On this private island, you’ll find no rules, no signs, and no room keys.
In fact, there are hardly any doors.
And when I say no rules, I mean it. For example, when I ask what time the bar closes, I’m told, “when the last guest leaves.” That’s the kind of service you can expect here on Nikoi.
And Nikoi Island is anything but a typical resort development.
From the beginning, the owners were committed to protecting the natural environment of the island and passionate about giving back to the local community. Sustainability, as essential as luxury.
Prior to construction, they engaged a highly-regarded naturalist to survey the island and make recommendations for construction to minimize the impact on the island’s natural flora and fauna. He made several recommendations that were implemented into the resort’s design.
For example, the coastal foreshore around the island was left intact to maintain healthy and regenerating reefs. Lighting is minimal so as not to disturb nesting sea turtles. And the eastern side of the island has been left virtually untouched except for the addition of a limited trail system.
Cempedak Private Island
After Nikoi opened in 2007, its tremendous success led the owners to search for another local island to develop. They found it in nearby Cempedak Island and in 2017, the Cempedak Private Island resort opened to guests.
Like Nikoi Island, Cempedak boasts simple yet luxurious beachfront villas in a private setting. Unlike Nikoi, Cempedak Island does not allow children. It’s pure adults-only relaxation.
But I digress…back to the simple joy that is Nikoi Island.
Beach House Living
From the moment I step off the jetty and get my first look at Nikoi’s pristine beachfront and thatched rooftops nestled among the native flora I know I’m going to love it here.
I’m greeted by the manager, Tony, as I step off the boat and after a brief introductory tour, I’m shown straight to my two-story beachfront villa.
Constructed primarily of driftwood, each of the 15 villas enjoys prime oceanfront real estate. Yet each is spacious and secluded.
The downstairs area features a wide-open seating area with no walls and perfect oceanfront views. Despite the lack of walls, the villa is surrounded by native Sea Almond trees that provided total privacy.
Just off the living area, my own private beach area with two lounge chairs and a shaded daybed.
But the upstairs is the real showstopper.
A king-sized bed draped elegantly with mosquito netting creates a simple but chic design. Two chairs sit on the balcony facing directly to the sea.
On either side, cozy built-in daybeds offer plenty of room for lounging and soaking up the view. The bathroom is spacious and well-appointed with an open shower and toiletries made with essential oils.
The bedroom does have sliding patio doors and a door to the staircase that can be closed if you want to but I don’t dare interrupt the island’s steady cross-breeze.
There’s no air-conditioning, of course, but the villas are designed with pitched thatched roofs that draw the warm air upward and each level has a ceiling fan. Between the design, the fans, the cross-breeze, and the sound of the waves just a few feet away, you never want for AC.
Day 1 on Nikoi Island
Unfortunately, the weather is just about the only imperfect detail on my first day on Nikoi Island. It rains for most of the day so I spend the afternoon in the comfort of my villa, enjoying the ocean views.
I also use the time to dive deeper into the eco-initiatives of the resort for my review. And what I discover is as impressive as my villa.
In addition to teaching local farmers to grow organically and providing a library with computers for the local children on Bintan Island, Nikoi has created The Island Foundation. The Foundation seeks to aid in local community development through education and environmental projects.
Dining on Nikoi Island
After an afternoon of writing from the peaceful comfort of my villa, I head over to the dining area for dinner.
Each time I leave my villa I have to keep reminding myself I don’t need to bring a key. It’s so ingrained in my psyche to grab my key before leaving my hotel room. Nikoi’s open-door policy takes a little getting used to. But it’s growing on me.
The meals at Nikoi are one of the best parts of my stay.
The chef crafts each day’s menus based on what is fresh in the local markets and what’s in season. At each meal, there’s a chalkboard posted with the menu for the next meal. Before you leave one meal, the staff will enquire if you’re okay with the set menu for the next.
If you don’t like it, they’ll make you something else. Simple as that.
I figure the chef knows what he’s doing and my experience with Indonesian food is limited so I stick with the pre-planned menus. And during the course of my stay, I thoroughly enjoy trying the various menu combinations the chef creates.
A delicious dinner
Dinner that night is a spicy prawn salad followed by grilled snapper with steamed vegetables and roasted sweet potatoes. For dessert, a pear and almond tart. Everything is delicious at each meal and along the way, I learn a lot more about Indonesian cuisine.
After dinner, I retire back to my lovely beach house. As I walk back, I glance up at the sky only to discover it is blanketed with more stars than I’ve ever seen in my life.
It is absolutely mesmerizing.
Somehow, I eventually manage to tear myself away from the celestial view and head for bed. With the sound of the ocean beneath my window and the fan spinning above, I sleep better than I have in months.
Day 2 on Nikoi Island, the Sun Finally Shines
The next morning I awake to the pink swirls of a perfect sunrise. Finally, the sun has returned!
I spend most of the day exploring the island, which is quite a bit larger than I originally thought.
The main part of the resort is on the southern side of the island while the pool is on the northern side. I take a walk over to the pool which boasts a dramatic setting overhanging the ocean, surrounded by enormous granite boulders.
Soft sandy beaches cover half of the island’s coastline and I spend some time walking those as well. I discover it’s kind of fun to have an island all to yourself (practically).
Though I’m sure the other 14 villas are all occupied, the island never feels crowded. In fact, I often go hours without seeing another guest.
The luxury of simplicity
And that’s when I realize that while the resort may not be luxurious in the traditional 5-star hotel sense, it offers a type of luxury I’ve yet to experience in all my travels. The luxury of space and solitude.
There’s an elegant simplicity to Nikoi Island. It’s peace. It’s quiet.
But most importantly, it’s disconnecting from the modern world and reconnecting with the things – and the people – that really matter.
In an electronic world where truly disconnecting has become increasingly impossible, Nikoi Island offers the rare chance to escape to your own private island.
It feels light-years from the roar of Singapore, yet it’s just two boats and a car ride away. After two days on the island, I can hardly bear the thought of returning to reality, yet I know I have to. This is, after all, a 30-day round-the-world trip.
But something tells me I’ll back someday. Life without walls is just too hard to resist forever.
Next up, a beach destination that I know (from experience) is the exact opposite of the serenity of Nikoi Island. And – spoiler alert – I will soon discover why it’s an especially bad idea to go there over the Chinese New Year holiday.
Phuket, Thailand, here I come!