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22 July 2014

Nikoi Island - When the feeling of being at a friend's private island is not enough


Beach house ground floor

"We didn't want to offer guests what they have come to expect from luxury resorts"


Andrew, one of the co-owners of Nikoi Island, confesses on our 1h journey from the ferry terminal to the small private pier on the East Coast of Bintan.

Contrary to what most couple friends of ours and us thought, Nikoi Island was opened in 2007 as a family friendly private resort and not as a romantic getaway. 

Nikoi from the sea

Owned by 4 expats looking for a paradise retreat not too far from Singapore the resort is solidly booked 6 months in advance and enjoys a 90% average occupancy, even during the week. All this, selling exclusively directly through their website.

The 20 beach houses are spread apart from each other for privacy and a few feet from the sand. 

The bed

After we got to our room Andrew's words resonated.

Upwards of $S400 per night the rooms have no AC despite the very high 30 degree and above temperatures, no bathroom amenities except for the shower ones, no bath tubs to indulge on at the end of a chilled day, no blinds to protect you from the 6am sunrise (or from the passing guests) and no room service. If you need anything you will have to walk back to the main area. 

The beach bar at sunset

There is no food on offer unless at the pre-established meal times which consist of pre-set menus with no choice. Of course, should you not like what is on offer on the adult menu you can always opt for the kids one. And probably, if you didn't like either or have a food allergy the chef would oblige. However, the lack of option not only surprised but also disappointed us slightly - for such an exclusive location and accommodation we had indeed come to expect at least choice and less of a feeling of being at an all-inclusive resort in Cancun. The food was mostly Indonesian, tasty and unsophisticate with a strong home-cooked meal feel to it but it always included a degree of spiciness which might be hard to stomach after a day in the hot sun.

Sinful daiquiri

There were also unexpected elements at the other end of the spectrum. Courtesy of one of the owners exquisite wine and liquor passion the resort boasts one of the largest selections of rums in Asia and a great array of cocktails made with fresh fruits. There is also an ipod dock to play music and three showers in each beach house. If you want a massage it will be delivered right to your room on your very own massage hut on the ground floor of your beach house. And, despite being in a remote tiny island, there is a tennis court to play and a movies room for families. Swinging ropes adn swings are scattered throughout the island so you can feel like a true Tarzan.

The swimming pool, calm before the storm

Despite some expected amenities lacking Nikoi is, no doubt, paradise, particularly if your expectations are aligned or you bring the kids along. There are treasure hunts organised by the staff and plenty of activities to keep them entertained while you can enjoy some "me" or "us" time and a delicious sunset cocktail.

Sunset

As a couple looking for a romantic retreat we were slightly let down. The rooms were fabulous 2 storey wooden huts with plush four-poster beds which we would have happily stayed in for most of our stay but every time we needed anything we had to get it ourselves. We would have liked to enjoy snacks mid-afternoon, room service or a drink on our veranda while relaxing yet all this was not possible unless at the main bar or unless you order it and take it back to your room. 

The beach before a tropical storm caught us all by surprise

Although the beach is a beautiful white powder sand crescent and the water of a crystalline blue teeming with corals, to get away from the running around and jumping of the kids we had to strategically organise our schedule and move away when we could hear their voices approaching to the pool are. The resort has at least addressed this issue at meal times when they have two dining areas one for families and the other for singles. However, during our stay when the resort was full there was only one other couple confirming Andrew's warning: we designed Nikoi with families in mind.

Swing by our beach house

If you are looking for a private romantic getaway Nikoi might require some work arounds and advance planning. When ordered in advance they can organise beach or private room dinners and if you care to insist the chef might cook you more beach-friendly fresh food.

The beach house

I can't help but ask myself: would I pay so much to visit a friend's island where, unavoidably, you compromise on some freedom and comfort for friendly hospitality and the ultimate island experience?

And on the other hand, as Andrew put it, are all the shortcomings something I genuinly need or something I have come to expect?


The devil is in the details

The bill from Friday to Sunday reached almost $S2,000 including (rounded numbers):

- Room: $S480 x 2 = $S960
- Full board: $S210 x 2 = $S420
- Transport: $160 x 2 = $S320 (ferry, car, boat)

Unfortunately these are all mandatory costs so there is not much you can do. If you plan to visit Nikoi you should expect at least $S1,700 for two. 

Budget for sunset cocktails, they are both a reason enough to go!