10 Reasons This Indonesian Island Is The New Maldives


10,000 years old, 100 staff, and 1 guest. Me. This is how I spent last week, ensconced on a luxury eco resort in Indonesia, half way between Malaysia and Borneo. So exotic is this location, it was part of the Sunda Land which linked up Peninsula Malaysia, Cambodia, Java and Sumatra, during the last Ice Age. Now, you’ll find the newly-opened and breathtakingly beautiful Bawah Island, just three hours from Singapore. Yes, last week I died and went to heaven…and the angels were serving cold Bintang on the beach.

Here’s 10 reasons Bawah Island is the new Maldives for Aussies…at only half the travel time.

1. It has luscious lagoons
Sporting not one, but three lagoons, Bawah Island is plonked in Indonesia’s Anambas group of islands. Bawah, which means “lower” or “southern”, denotes its position and because of its remote (yet accessible) location, you can expect unspoilt, crystal-clear waters. Spend your days snorkelling or diving the aqua ocean, or sailing, paddle-boarding and kayaking. The passionate Paulo, an enthusiastic Italian who runs these activities, will happily be your snorkelling buddy, provide you with gear, and introduce you to Bawah’s underwater wonders.

2. Life is sweet in your overwater suite
They don’t call these bungalows here, but suites, as this is luxe plus. Saunter along a walkway which splits into your own private jetty, where your name is etched in sand on a timber board (which you get to keep). Perched over the lagoon, your suite comes replete with a huge deck and stairs which lead directly into the water. Inside, the bed is draped evocatively in fabric and the bedroom is air-conditioned. The bathroom is all louvres and Indonesian timber, with a gorgeous copper bath and separate shower. There’s also a walk-in robe and separate toilet. This island boasts 21 beach, 11 overwater, and three garden suites.

3. The food is five-star
Apart from breakfast, where you can choose from the likes of coconut scrambled eggs from the a-la-carte menu, dining here is akin to having your own private chef, with menus based on the fresh produce produced on the island and your personal tastes. Before each meal, the chef will discuss your preferences before disappearing to craft creative plates. For fine dining, head to Treetops restaurant, 88 stairs to the top. The Jules Verne Bar is up here too, up a timber and rope spiral staircase. The Grouper Bar, at the end of the jetty, is an ideal place for a casual drink while The Boat House is perfect for feet-in-the-sand barbecues. Want to learn how to cook amazing Indonesian fare? You can do that here too.

4. The service is superior
Want something? Just ask. This travel writer has a habit of drinking the local beer wherever she goes. (Hey, I like to assimilate). When the island informed her there was no Bintang left for lunch (you are remote, remember that) but there were plenty of other beers, wines and cocktails from which to choose, by dinner, two cold cartons of the local brew had magically arrived. Yes, the staff had disappeared in their speedboat, 45 minutes each way to a neighbouring island, to bring back this liquid gold. Now, that’s service.

5. You can enjoy your own private beach
There’s 13 beaches here, and with only a maximum of 70 guests at any one time, chances are, you won’t be bumping into anyone else anytime soon. Staff will happily pack an esky and deposit you, and your picnic, at an exclusive enclave. And if there’s anything an Aussie loves, it’s being left alone on a beach. Think along the likes of beaches such as Coconut, Lizard and Turtle, christened after their flora and fauna inhabitants. Sipping champagne in the warm waters? Oh, OK, if I must.

6. Mother Nature sparkles
Fling open the curtains of your overwater suite, laze back in bed and watch the sun rise over a neighbouring island (there’s 5 in this group). At sunset, head to the Jules Verne Bar for a cheeky cocktail. And if you’re lucky, just after dawn, witness the harmless black-tipped reef sharks circle the shallows. There’s plenty of butterflies, birds and giant monitor lizards on this island too. Walk one of the three marked trails for great views of the island. And on a clear night, look up. There’s more stars here than at the Oscars.

7. It’s eco-friendly
The island’s Permaculturalist Joe Semo, who calls himself “the green pirate of Bawah” is working on making the island so self-sufficient that it grows around 80 per cent of its own vegetables and 60 per cent of its own fruit. Where possible, the island trades seeds for food with neighbouring villages. Water is a coveted resource here and comes from three sources: rain, wells and a reverse osmosis system. And you won’t find any plastic bottles, guests are supplied with endless glass bottles of sparkling or still water.

8. It embraces the local community
The island has established the Bawah Anambas Foundation (BAF) which focuses on initiatives to make above (the rainforest), below (the ocean) and beyond (local communities) more sustainable and ethical. The big issues throughout all of Indonesia have been over-fishing and waste disposal and through BAF, local communities are being engaged and encouraged to look at alternatives that will not only address these issues, but ensure long-term employment for future generations. Around 45 per cent of staff on Bawah hail from local villages.

9. The spa is sublime
In the name of research for this story, I took one for the team and experienced a treatment every day. At Bawah’s wellness centre, Aura, you’ll find a spa and yoga pavilion. Select from a magical menu of mind and body treatments. I started my week with a 60-minute Garden of Deep Calm, continued the next day with a 60 Minute Aura Lost Treasure, followed by 60 Minutes of Facial Yoga and finished with 60 Minutes of Foot Mapping, or reflexology, by the pool.

10. You can mix with the staff
Bawah has captured Indonesia’s laid-back vibe that Aussies love so much, and paired it perfectly with five-star service. Unlike other luxury resorts, guests are invited and encouraged to tour back-of-house where you can witness how this property maximises its resources and see where its workers live. A highlight of my week was dining in the staff canteen as well as attending an English class for employees.

HOW TO GET THERE
FLY
Start your journey to this exotic locale in style, flying with Singapore Airlines Business Class. This award-winning carrier, which is renowned for its superior service, has just introduced its Book the Cook service from Brisbane for its Business and Premium Economy Class customers. Under Book the Cook, customers can pre-order a main meal from a selection of options, with creations inspired by the Airline’s International Culinary Panel of chefs, including Australian celebrity chef Matt Moran.
http://www.singaporeair.com/en_UK/au/home
STOPOVER
Due to airline connections, you may need to stopover in Singapore either before or after your Bawah adventure, or both, as was the case for me. On this journey, I experienced the Royal Plaza on Scotts – a member of Preferred Hotels & Resorts https://preferredhotels.com – which has just been awarded its 10th win as Asia Pacific’s Best Independent Hotel. Inside, enjoy Singapore’s first 100 per cent smoke-free hotel, outside you are mere metres from Orchard Road.
http://www.royalplazagroup.com.sg
TRANSFER
Bawah will arrange for a limousine to collect you from your Singapore hotel and transfer you to Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal where you will board the Majestic Ferry to Batam Centre in Indonesia. From there, you will be met by Bawah staff for VIP fast-track through Indonesian Immigration and Customs, and driven to the airport where you will board a seaplane and taken to the island.
http://www.bawahisland.com
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Bawah Island; Singapore Airlines Business Class; and Royal Plaza on Scotts Singapore.

On the road again

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I’M back on the road again tonight, returning to Europe and one of my favourite cities, Vienna. I shot this cool car above, and this man in lederhosen below, on my trip there last year. Keep an eye out on this page for what I’m sure will be a crazy ride.
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Glasgow Gins and Bares It

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I AM utterly incapable of finding my way around a map, let alone the world, constantly confusing my north with my south, and in the global game in which you have a 50 percent chance of heading in the right direction, I always get it wrong. I do, however, possess an uncanny knack of sniffing out an Indian restaurant in any city in the world, no matter how unlikely this may seem. And, as it turns out recently in Glasgow, a gin joint. There should be some kind of humanitarian award based around these gifts, really, there should. On this particular day the accents are as soupy as a Scottish winter when I wander into 71 Renfield Street. Yes, there’s 71 wee drams on the drink menu here and not one of them is whiskey, making owner Paul Reynolds possibly the Scotsman bravest heart of all. Or a little insane. Reynolds has bucked tradition, quite possibly risking life and limb, to open a gin bar in the heart of Glasgow where whiskey is the drink of choice. And this tale gets even juicer for this is a tea lounge by day and a gin bar by night. From cupcakes to quinine, what’s not to love?
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During the day, Cup Tea Lounge serves 47 types of tea and 16 kinds of cupcakes made on site. But when 6pm arrives, the quaint interior of this heritage-listed Victorian building goes from Clark Kent to Superman and transforms into Gin 71. It’s named after its street address and the number of gins on the menu making it Glasgow’s largest collection of artisan gins and home-made tonics.
“A friend mentioned a gin bar and I stayed up until 3 in the morning researching gin bars. Originally I thought we were going to have 300 gins but we condensed it down to 71,” Reynolds says.
“I learned how to make tonic and on May 1 this year when we opened you could hardly move in here. It fits with the story of the colonial building. Queen Victoria used to be a tea drinker and the colonials also drank a lot of gin.” And because I can be a bit of a wanker sometimes, the idea of sitting and quaffing gin on a big, plump couch in Glasgow just like a wild colonial, appeals greatly to me on this spring afternoon.
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Brave he may be, but stupid Reynolds is not, reluctant to call gin the new whiskey, instead preferring to refer to it as the new vodka. And for the record, there’s only one whiskey on the shelves and even that’s actually a bourbon rather than a real whiskey. If patrons do prefer whiskey, Reynolds is more than happy to send them around the corner to Hope Street and The Pot Still Pub, which is considered the host of the finest collection of malt whiskey in the land. Back at Gin 71, there’s seven Scottish gins on the menu, selected from thousands around the world, and chosen via a scoring card which not only examined taste but the “gantry presence” or what the bottle looked like on the shelf. I pause briefly and consider my own “gantry presence” as I slouch on the couch.
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During the Commonwealth Games, Gin 71 will be sourcing and serving gins from around the Commonwealth. And on this long, lazy afternoon, Reynolds makes a remarkable claim. He says it’s not gin, but the quinine in the tonic that is said to make gin drinkers depressed (I knew it) and one of the reasons he makes his own tonic. Discerning gin drinkers at his establishment can partake in a gin “flight” in which they can sample a range of gins coupled with unusual spices such as lemongrass and coriander.
“I want people to have a wee journey of types,” he says.
And a “wee journey” is what The Global Goddess enjoys this fine day, eventually stumbling out of Gin 71 (while it is still in its tea house mode, mind you) and down the main shopping mall of Glasgow. Suffice to say, sufficient money was spent on items I’m sure I will never wear. Unless of course a tartan kilt comes into vogue during a Queensland summer, sometime soon. Just call me Clan Crazy.
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Glasgow is set to sparkle when it hosts the XX Commonwealth Games starting this week. Visitors can stroll the cobblestoned streets of Merchant City, named in the 1980s to pay homage to the city’s merchant trade dating back to the 16th century in which Glaswegians were among the first in the world to travel the globe spruiking their wares. It’s now a bustling hub boasting 90 bars and restaurants such as Central Market, which sources local fresh produce such as plump mussels and was named the Most Stylish Restaurant at the 2013 Scottish Style Awards.
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There’s plenty of theatre to be had in the this city, and one of the most charming traditions is the daily A Play, A Pie and a Pint at Oran Mor, an old church in which the basement dedicates its lunchtime to a one-hour play, while patrons feast on a pie and a pint. OK, so the actor may or may not have spat in my beer, such was his passion in delivering his lines, but who can blame him? And really, he wouldn’t be the first bloke on the planet to do so. God, in Brisbane it’s practically considered a mating ritual.
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Around the 1980s Glasgow started to embrace tourism and more recently, has become Scotland’s “media city” housing the modern studios of the BBC and providing the background for films such as World War Z and Cloud Atlas. The space-ship shaped Hydro arena was opened last August by Rod Stewart (regular readers will remember The Global Goddess saw Barry Manilow there live earlier this year and hasn’t been quite the same since) and will be the venue for gymnastics during the Commonwealth Games. Australian graffiti artist Sam Bates has also added his touch to the city, commissioned to paint colourful murals to commemorate the Games.
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At the end of my Glasgow journey, the words of Reynolds (or it could be the gin speaking) ring loudly in my ears. “Glasgow is a bit of a diamond just waiting to be polished.” A city which has gone from drab to fab. Perhaps that kilt will come in handy after all.
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The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Glasgow City Marketing. For further information on visiting Glasgow please visit http://www.peoplemakeglasgow.com.au
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My Dating Double Life

HE called himself “Gregarious Guy” and my word was he witty…on paper. To put you in the picture, my internet dating profile goes a little like this: “Secret Agent…I could tell you the truth that I am secret agent Natascha from Minsk, but then I’d have to kill you. Let’s just pretend instead that I’m a down-to-earth Brissie girl…”

And I loved his response. “Dear Natascha, very clever to disguise yourself as a down-to-earth Brissie girl. I think the last time I met you was in Amsterdam on the M15 cover up job. Do you remember me? I had a moustache at the time. I would have loved to have taken you out for a drink but I was teamed up with that tall Armenian woman Rhona. She was a real handful! Yes, I am also stuck here in Brisbane. Those American idiots in the CIA will never think to look for us here. Let me take you out for a drink. Do you still have a weakness for Vodka?”

To writers, word play is like foreplay. Punctuation is our porn. And if you are any good at alliteration, I will have your children. And with Klaus, I was hooked. He had me at hello.

 And then we met. It was a cold, wet winter’s night more suited to secret agents than a slothful Brisbane girl who was slightly resentful at having to surrender her pajamas and hot water bottle for dress-up gear, but never let it be said I don’t give things a go. And so off I trotted into Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley to meet in a dimly-lit wine bar.

I was the first to arrive. I ordered a champagne and perched myself on a bar stool. I was aware I looked a little like a “working girl” waiting for a client. I tried not to look like a working girl. His first fatal error was he was late. I don’t care if you’ve just passed a kidney stone, you don’t turn up late for first dates or job interviews. In fact, a little early is pretty good in my opinion. There were so many opening lines he could have used, but instead, he stared right at me and simply said: “So, here you are.” I looked back awkwardly. “Yes, I am.” By this stage, I had almost finished my champagne, bar a drop. He walked to the bar, and ordered himself a drink. There was no offer for me, which wouldn’t have been quite so bad if “gregarious guy” wasn’t so dull. It occurred to me 5 minutes into the meeting that I’d need to be rather intoxicated to survive this evening.

He was 52. He spoke about power lines and moving back to live with his mother to save money. Red flags were jumping out all over the place. He told me about his second cousin. Forty-five minutes into the date, he asked me to dinner. By this stage, I was stone, cold sober.

“Yes, I am hungry but I’m going to go home as I’ve got an important meeting tomorrow,” I replied. And at the same moment I went to shake his hand, he went to kiss me in another of those awkward exchanges you wish you could erase. I dashed out of the bar and made my way home, starving. I stopped at my local Ceylon restaurant and ordered a champagne and a takeaway prawn curry.

“Where shall I sit while I’m waiting for my curry?” I asked the lovely waiter.

And right in the front of the restaurant full of diners he motioned towards a throne. A carved wooden throne. Perfect, I thought, climbing up onto the regal perch, careful not to spill a drop of champagne. I may have started out the evening as a secret agent (if you ignore that brief stint as a “working girl”), but at least I ended it as a princess.

As for Klaus, he texted three days later. He told me he loved my “energy” but didn’t feel any chemistry between us. Then he asked me out again.  I’d love to Klaus, really I would, but Natascha has been sent to Dubrovnik on assignment. Indefinitely.