1. Pulau Ubin
This boomerang-shaped Singapore island escape is situated off the northeast coast of Singapore, just a $3 and 15-minute bumboat ride from the mainland. The jumping-off point is Changi Village – which itself is worthy of a visit, with an excellent hawker centre dishing up some of the country’s best nasi lemak (coconut rice with condiments), leafy cafés and other great eateries.
Setting foot on Ubin is like stepping inside a time warp, back to when skyscrapers and expressways were non-existent in the country. Some of the island’s earliest inhabitants were the seafaring Orang Laut people and indigenous Malays of Javanese descent, though Ubin was later settled by Chinese families and Malay fishing communities.
Walking tracks and cycling trails lace around the island – you’ll cover more terrain on the latter. Bikes can be rented near the end of the arrival pier for around $10 a day, and you’ll be able to enjoy more of Ubin’s rustic, charming villages, shrines, thick jungle and pretty lakes created from old granite mining sites. On the eastern end of the island you’ll find the Chek Jawa wetlands, home to a plethora of wildlife including kingfishers, snakes, fish, wild boars, otters and plenty of marine creatures. A boardwalk juts over the mangroves, letting visitors see the marine life up close.
This large, 1,173km2 island (almost double the size of Singapore) may be part of Indonesia’s Riau archipelago, but the Little Red Dot is regarded as its easiest access point – just an hour-long high-speed ferry ride away from Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal. While Bintan is a popular Singapore island escape for a weekend, most visitors don’t venture outside of Lagoi, where the sprawling Bintan Resorts property is located. It spans sweeping golf courses, family-friendly beach resorts and manicured luxury villas. But there’s plenty to explore further afield – the southeastern coast has gained a reputation as a first-rate dive destination, particularly for beginner divers, with its good visibility, shallow 10-15m reefs and an array of hard corals and marine life such as moray eels, cuttlefish and pufferfish.
However, if you’re looking to take it easy, there are high-end resorts where rest and relaxation are elevated to art forms. Back in Lagoi, The Sanchaya – a luscious, 10ha beachfront estate built on a former coconut plantation – dials up the luxury several notches, boasting a gorgeous stretch of powder-white sand and even its own VIP lounge at the ferry terminal. The 30 villas and suites are all elegantly furnished – some are colonial-inspired with teak floors and marble bathroom fittings, and others feature Thai-style pitched roofs and Khmer antiques – and come with Bang & Olufsen televisions and sound systems, wine fridges and iPads. The pièce de résistance, however, is the 50m infinity pool – perfect for lolling in before feasting on the Sanchaya’s excellent brunch menu.
For a holiday that will truly take you off the grid and give you time away from your tech devices, head to remote Sugi Island, which, like Batam and Bintan, is part of Indonesia’s Riau archipelago. The two resorts on the island, Telunas Beach Resort and Telunas Private Island, are both free of WiFi, air-conditioning and televisions – letting you truly focus on yourself while you’re there.
Getting to this Singapore island escape may seem like a hassle, requiring a ferry ride to Sekupang Ferry Terminal followed by a transfer to a smaller, traditional boat, but total travelling time is only about three hours from Singapore. Upon arrival, gracious hosts will direct you to your spacious villa which comes with a panoramic view of the water.
These resorts encourage you to focus on yourself and nature, so offerings like spa treatments, water sports and visits to untapped natural sights are part and parcel of your stay. Meals are also specially curated and feature both Western and local cuisine.
Initially a project started by likeminded eco-conscious friends in 2004, Telunas continues to be committed to sustainable practices, supporting the local community through a myriad of initiatives such as preserving endangered species and offering scholarships to residents of the neighbouring islands.
From Singapore, jump on a Bintan-bound ferry, traverse the island for about an hour by car, then transfer to a private speedboat – and in about two and a half hours, you’ll find yourself on the Cempedak Private Island resort.
Spread over 17 hectares, the 20-villa resort is home to an array of wildlife such as otters, hornbills, monitor lizards and pangolins; a small but dedicated and friendly staff; and thankfully not much else. Its bamboo architecture is the star of the show – New Zealand-born architect Miles Humphreys, together with Balinese architects Chiko Wirahadi and Ketut Indra Saputra, both experts in bamboo, built the villas using this sustainable “super material”, along with recycled teak and rubber wood and cogon grass for the roofs.
The villas are available either on the beachfront or perched atop jungle-festooned ridges with stunning views of the sea. Shaped like curvaceous conch shells, the two-storey open-air villas boast luxe features such as stone en suite bathrooms, private infinity pools, organic cotton sheets and speaker systems. And while they’re completely wall-less and without air conditioning, the spacious 150m² floor plans are a true study in smart design – natural ventilation works a treat, and the sea breeze flows throughout the villas.
Meals are mostly enjoyed at the resort’s airy hilltop restaurant (private picnics can also be arranged) that comes with 180-degree views and private dining pods. The menu changes daily and spotlights the region’s rich local produce – think barbecued seafood sourced from local markets and organic veggies grown in the resort’s garden – while also putting a modern spin on Indonesian flavours. Have a nightcap at Dodo Bar, which has a fine collection of aged rums and top-notch craft cocktails. It’s also a prime spot for stargazing – there’s even a telescope on site.
While its slightly seedy reputation might precede it, Batam is a Singapore island escape is just a 45-minute ferry ride away and has a side that is sophisticated and prioritises luxurious relaxation as well as adventure and sports. The island is also the perfect jumping-off point for further exploration of the Riau islands, especially for divers.
On Batam’s eastern side, you’ll find Montigo Resorts’ Nongsa outfit – the gleaming white, modern villas dot the coast and face the rolling waters of the South China Sea. To reach the resort, take a 10-minute shuttle bus ride upon disembarking at Nongsapura Ferry Terminal. Since the resort is secluded from the main part of the island where the bulk of tourists congregate, a stay here guarantees peace and privacy with the option to reap nature’s benefits. From guided morning treks and bike tours to mangrove cruises and fishing trips, there are plenty of opportunities to explore the quieter side of the island. For a touch of local living, take part in a cooking class which includes herb-harvesting in the resort’s dedicated garden.
If you’ve come for a respite from the stresses of everyday living, the spa offers tailored experiences where you can fully rejuvenate your mind and body. On the other hand, thrill-seekers can get their adrenaline pumping with some target practice – go old-school with a bow and arrow at the archery range, or try a state-of-the-art Airsoft gun that’ll have you racing across the resort’s grounds playing wargames.
SEE ALSO: The hotel hot list 2019: Island escapes