Another dot in the blogosphere?

Review of Nikoi

Posted on: December 15, 2013

I first read about Nikoi Island in a blog. My first question was: Where is Nikoi?

It is in the South China Sea and 2.5 hours away from Singapore over a three-leg journey (ferry-car-ferry).

I really needed a vacation with my family after an exceptionally taxing semester. Vacations can sometimes be more tiring than restful, but I can count Nikoi as truly relaxing.

Their website is not only well-designed, it is also very informative. It provides information on what to do before you go and what to expect once you are there.

The reassuring experience started with the booking and confirming processes. The people behind the technology were very prompt. I recall sending a query one evening on a weekend and receiving a detailed reply after about an hour.

They are also very quick on Twitter. When I returned, I shared this general tweet and they responded even though it was not necessary.

These prompt and personal communications bracketed what must be the most positive and relaxing trip I have had in a while.

Upon arriving on Bintan, staff identified us, sat us in a lounge, and processed our passports and immigration forms. After a quick pass through security, we were whisked into waiting MPVs.

After a windy, undulating hour-long drive, we arrived at another jetty for a 15-minute boat ride to Nikoi. Once there, I started to feel my cares melt away.

I loved being able to wake up to the sound of sunbirds tweeting and waves crashing gently on the beach. The frangipani trees provided a sweet, mild perfume.

What might surprise visitors initially is the lack of walls and doors on the lower level of each villa. There are rudimentary locks for rooms and a personal safe on the upper level, but otherwise there is an open kampung feel to the place.

A central kitchen prepares meals for couples with no kids in one dining area and families in a separate dining area. Both dining huts have sandy floors and it was lovely to dig my feet into the cool, fine grains.

You also have “no choice” on what to eat there, but this is a good thing. They find out when you check in if you have dietary restrictions, but you eat what they serve. The staff indicate every day what the meals are on blackboards and they tell you at the end of one meal what the next meal is.

And what an excellent spread they offer each day. My wife went nuts with photographing every dish to create Facebook/WhatsApp photo envy. Kids get served first (main and dessert) followed by adults (starter, main, dessert).

I should mention that menus were not limited to blackboards. Servers offer iPad-based menus if you wish to drink something like alcohol or espresso.

You will put on weight if you do not enjoy some island activities. Kids get entertained at the Kids Club. My son and I went snorkelling, and my family went on walks and skimmed the coast in kayaks. But I still made deeper footprints and sat lower in the water with each meal!

Nikoi seems to be a model of ecologically responsible development and maintenance. With minor exceptions, the food is bought locally from certified eco-sustainable sources. The infrastructure is mostly driftwood and recycled wood, non-drinking water comes from a well, and lighting takes the form of LEDs and tiki torches.

The lighting options make the place dim at night and this prevents the disorientation of turtles who haul themselves on the island to lay eggs (roughly Apr-Sep). Staff protect the eggs with wire fences to prevent the resident monitor lizards from gorging on them.

On a less cloudy night, the moon provides enough light for you to wander the paths and beach. You might notice lots of coral fragments underfoot. I am told this was due to illegal fishing with explosives and fishing boats dropping anchor in the past.

I like the lack of light anyway. It helped me spot a few fireflies.

Nikoi is not cheap, but the cliche that you get what you pay for holds true. The thing is you are not likely to think about the bill. I was looking at the smiles on the faces of my family and the Nikoi staff and wondering when I would be back there again.

Would I do anything differently the next time round? Yes.

I will avoid the crowds in the Bintan ferry by opting for the Emerald Class. This gets you priority embarking and disembarking as well as reserved seats.

I am not sure if I will get a prepaid SIM card with XL again. Reception was OK on the island but service was not reliable. My phone would display 3G and enough bars, but it would claim insufficient quota one hour and not complain the next.

By the way, prepaid SIMs can be purchased at the kampung immediately beyond the gantry that divides the resorts special zone from the rest of the island. I also spotted an Indosat stall about halfway into the car journey.

I would also bring my own nano SIM cutter as the store holder only has micro SIM cutters.

Yes, I need Internet access even on a relaxing holiday. Staying connected helps me relax. And share my photos immediately!

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