Most of us have some prerequisite requirements when considering a paradise island getaway. Powder white sand, crystal clear waters, a smattering of palm trees, and a significant amount of sunshine usually come high on the list. If this sounds like your kind of must-have criteria, Cempedak Private Island ticks all the boxes.

As for the accommodation, a natural, stylish private hideaway with mandatory thatched roof and four walls will do the trick. Wait … what’s that? Cempedak doesn’t do walls? 

It’s true. Cempedak (pronounced ‘chem-puh-dak’), is an Indonesian paradise island of dreams that dares to do things differently. Located just 56 miles from Singapore, it’s a 50-minute ferry to the island of Bintan, followed by a one-hour drive and a 30-minute speedboat transfer. But where the Lion City fully embraces partitions and panelling, Cempedak bucks convention with the adoption of minimalism and freedom.

Right: Sarah and Jo at the spa

Covering 17-hectares, the island, founded by Australian Andrew Dixon, is as compact as it is Crusoe-esque, yet it still manages to feel spacious and secluded. This could be due to the lack of said villa walls. Cradled in thick, lush jungle, 20 giant eco-smart villas sit confidently on the beach and hillside boasting architectural structures so dramatic that they appear to be both natural and alien. It’s as if giant bamboo spaceships have risen from the soil. 

Natural air flow

Bamboo (ten types of it from Java, Bali and Sumatra) is everywhere – and used in ways never seen before. It moulds, blends, intertwines, and holds the villas together so impeccably that it provides symmetry to the environment  as well as protection from the elements. Crescent-shaped curved roofs made from local grass shroud each structure, allowing gravity to pull the shaggy thatch down towards the ground, almost shielding the villa like a protective parent. Walls don’t get a look in. The two-floor property we’re in simply goes without which, for me and my travel buddy Sarah provokes several questions.

“What if it rains?”
“What if there are bears?”
“What if there are jungle tribes?”
“What if we haven’t packed enough Moz Away?”

Thankfully, fears are quashed as we slide open the glass lounge doors to the huge deck of our villa, complete with plunge pool, sunloungers, and basic kitchen facilities. 

A sea breeze slips inside which ebbs and flows throughout the space. It weaves past the tastefully decorated lounge with rustic chic sofa, chairs, coffee table, dining table and thoughtful soft furnishings, and through the downstairs bathroom, encased in bamboo with minimum fuss but all the essentials.

It dances up the wide, cascading bamboo staircase, to the upstairs bedroom where it wafts around the four-poster bed and Australian-made sheets, simple side tables and writing desk. 

It slithers into the semi-open-air bathroom, resplendent with rainshower, and out again to two chairs, ideally positioned in front of more sliding glass doors, which present panoramic views of the ocean as it tapers into infinity. The gentle flow of air cancels out the need for air-con, and super energy-efficient fans keep things remarkably cool. Reader, we were not remotely hot, rained upon, or stolen by pirates.

Conservation & community

The villas may be the obvious showstoppers at Cempedak, but the island itself is just as mesmerising. Sandy walkways crisscross the diameter and the ocean is always by your side. There are two white sand beaches at the main entrance of the resort, and a third beach awaits a short hike past rocky coves and through thick emerald-green jungle if you really want no-one to find you. 

While avoiding people is easy here (especially little ones as the island only allows those aged 16+), steering clear of the array of wildlife is not: sea otters, bottle-nose dolphins,  green sea turtles, silver-leaf monkeys and hornbills will be your new friends. With nature coming first and foremost here, Cempedak works hard on its green initiatives: food is sourced locally, waste is reduced, and it supports many green endeavours, including water conservation and the community. We were fortunate to take an educational tour around the island to hear about ecology and were blown away by the safeguarding efforts (and the knowledge of our guide, Jaslan).

If you’re feeling sociable, there’s scope for finding some welcoming faces. The Rock Spa offers lomi lomi massages, facials and foot rituals to whispers of the South China sea, and the communal swimming pool accommodates those who want to do lengths before pitching up at the seashell-shaped bar next to it, or the Dodo Bar for sundowners. There’s also a range of complimentary and paid-for activities including stand-up paddle-boarding, sailing, kayaking, tennis and croquet. 

Above l-r: Delicious dining at Cempedak, beautiful bamboo design

Dining here is also pretty special, especially as it’s exclusive to guests only and meals are tailored to suit individual needs. A daily menu of modern cooking featuring Indonesian flavours and the freshest ingredients is highlighted on a blackboard in the dining room and changes according to the seasonal availability of ingredients from local markets. Portions are plentiful, and we devoured the likes of Pomelo Salad, Barbecued Seafood, Beef Rendang and Papaya Gaul. Indeed, so delicious are the offerings at Cempedak that a new cookbook Island Life: Recipes from Nikoi and Cempedak ( was launched late last year. So if you can’t make it to paradise just yet, you can get paradise to your kitchen on a plate. Walls optional.