Sam@Really Savvy joins us on a trip to Batu Batu

The internet is an amazing place that allows us access to all sorts of people that you would never otherwise meet. And thus I met Sam Tyers, fresh off a 15-hour flight, in an Australian bar on Robertson Quay one Friday evening to talk about Batu Batu and responsible tourism (we had emailed each other photos so that we’d be able to pick each other out amongst the Friday-night-post-work crowd). After a couple of drinks, I invited her to join us the next morning on a mish-mash trip part-family-holiday-part-Wild-Asia-reconnaissance-mission to Pulau Tengah. Three days of snorkelling, attempted reef-mapping, jungle-trekking and children’s entertainment ensued. Read about her experience and her thoughts on Batu Batu here.

Sam is the founder and owner of Really Savvy, a roaming responsible tourism consultancy. Describing herself as “location independent”, she has worked and lived in Thailand, Indonesia and China. Sam holds a masters in Advanced Environment and Energy Studies and is also a qualified dive instructor. “We were founded on the belief that travellers shouldn’t have to choose between sustainability, quality and fun when they go on holiday – they can have all three!” a sentiment that we share wholeheartedly. We hope too that our responsible / ethical aspirations can be realised. Thanks Sam!

Logos Logos!

I’ve been working with Kv, a graduate fresh from LASALLE College of the Arts who we’ve mandated to design our new Batu Batu logo. We sat together yesterday in The Coffee Connoisseur for a couple of hours, changing colours, changing fonts, moving things around. This is where we’ve got to…

Some opinions please…! Anything? Anyone? Preferences on colour? Do you like this logo? Do you prefer our old one (see it here)? Any thoughts would be much appreciated.

Thank you!

Placing BRISC on the Arkitrek blog

Ian Hall – one of our two volunteer architects for BRISC – has posted on the Arkitrek blog about his last trip to Pulau Tengah when BRISC was placed amongst the casuarinas and groves of hibiscus… Read his post here.

On my side – I know, I know, I’m behind on my posts! To come: posts on FSC certified recycled teak furniture and gorgeous batik in Yogyakarta, about soap, fair trade and the renaissance of the tastefully done boutique hotel in Georgetown, Penang, about the Batu Batu logo design journey and I’m sure by the time I next write – about chefs and diving on Pulau Tengah over the coming weekend. Until then – enjoy the Arkitrek post.

BRISC in a nutshell

It all started with dad chasing Debs from Wild Asia around Suntec City’s Exhibition Hall last October at ITB Asia asking how he could speak to this rather austere and important-sounding figure – Dr. Reza (the head honcho at Wild Asia). After a few weeks of text stalking, we finally arranged a rendezvous and met the not-very-austere-in-the-end Dr. Reza for dinner. It’s all a bit fuzzy in my head from there on but one day several months later, we sat round a table in the shade of the bar pavillion on Pulau Tengah and drew-up the concept for BRISC – Batu Batu Reef & Island Study Centre – a partnership between Wild Asia and ourselves.

BRISC in a nutshell? Basically, we Batu Batu are building our resort on a lovely untouched island that we really don’t want to spoil. Wild Asia has the know-how and contacts to help us achieve that aim (being a social enterprise whose stated aim is to “inspire and create positive social and environmental change”). It occurred to us that a good way of going about it was to create a not-for-profit entity which offers revenue-generating nature-based activities on the island (diving, trekking etc.) and used those revenues with (fingers-crossed) some external funding to run projects to conserve, preserve and proliferate life in and around the island.

BRISC will be located behind the tree line on the Long Beach – the loveliest beach on the island – and is being designed right now by 2 architects – Ian Hall and Seng Kheong – who are volunteering their time for the cause. It’s a very exciting project and I cannot wait to see the updated BRISC plans. Here’s a photo of the first-stage BRISC layout. Will post updates as they come in.

For the official blurb on BRISC – follow this link:

https://batubaturesort.wordpress.com/brisc-competition/

Have a good weekend!

Bali Trip Part 2 – the things I forgot to mention…

The problem with starting a post after dinner and finishing it half asleep – is that you forget to put in everything you meant to. So here’s – Post 2 on Bali – the things I should have mentioned/shown and didn’t.

1) Pictures of Tony’s House/Shop – Naga Mas.

2) The lovely fabric / umbrella shop near Ubud. They have such a variety of fabric and it’s so attractively colour-arranged – I had to show you a picture.

AND – I also wanted to show you the parasols below. I’m not 100% sold on them yet – I’d thought plain canvas traditional parasols would suit Batu Batu’s style – but honestly – these are growing on me. Any opinions – let me know! I’ve included some pics of the Amans in Bali which use these very parasols (Amankila on top, Amanusa below).

3) I wanted to tell you about a dinner we had one chilly(!) evening in Soori with Jen and Mathieu – an Alaskan-French diving-and-much-more couple. They motorbiked all the way from Sanur (no mean feat in the dark on those roads) to meet and have a chat about BRISC (BB’s reef and island study centre). In the summer they dive, and for the past few winter seasons, they ran Morino Lodge – a ski lodge in Japan which had in fact been suggested to us by Hans – my ski-school classmate. Anyway, over a large but slightly too dimly-lit meal, we navigated our way around unknown but tasty food and talked diving and pranayamas and trees and organic vegetable farming and islands and boats and skiing and english lessons and more. Jen and Mathieu are currently working on liveaboards in Bali – but will hopefully make a trip out to Pulau Tengah in August to have a look-see.

One of my very favourite things about working on Batu Batu (staying in luxury hotels for the good of the job aside) has been meeting so many great people who pop-up from all over – through forums, random dive sites, FB, friends of friends. And with internet and social networking sites – it’s been so easy to make contact. When I lived in London and had no real need to network, I hadn’t realised how easy it was to find all these nice, highly competent people to potentially work with. It’s really been a revelation and a bonus…

Eating, lounging, “sourcing” – a working holiday in Bali

We recently returned from a week’s fact-finding / “espionage” / sourcing (i.e. the hospitality industry’s term for “shopping”) trip to Bali. Our first stop – Alila Villas Soori. We’ve been admiring the Alila-style for some time and I felt that it was highly important (!) for the sake of research and the resort to experience it first-hand. We were not disappointed. The resort is not particularly close to anything – the roads around are narrow and pot-holed – and once you’re there, you’re more or less just there. In fact, we didn’t leave the confines of the resort over the three days we stayed there – a good excuse to put those “sourcing” trips on hold and spend the time lazing about the pool and beach (when not running after our highly mobile toddler).  A few things we loved and learned from Alila Soori – the importance of understated, smiling, seamless service, the glasses of icey cold water (with orange slices) which appeared every time we put our bottoms on a sun bed, the lovely sliced wood tables – found all over the resort, their generous use of candles and lanterns at night, the in-villa nespresso machine, the excellent local balinese dishes served at Cotta over-looking the sea, great big breakfasts and the complimentary freshly-made baby food. The villa prices are steep – but I can highly recommend looking at Jetsetter from time to time where we got an excellent deal.

From Soori we moved further east, closer to the more densely populated tourist town, Seminyak. At 3pm on our first afternoon there, irritable with hunger and searching for lunch amongst hundreds of restaurants, we found ourselves at the lovely Cafe Bali – where we were all instantly calmed – my husband by the array of French newspapers on offer, our baby by a large fruit salad and me by the lovely decor and good food.

Other Seminyak highlights included the great variety of beach / resort wear collections ideal for Batu Batu’s boutique (Beachgold and Sabia being two favourites with lots of very floaty simple cotton/viscose summer dresses and simple sandals which I hope to stock on Pulau Tengah). Jalan Gunung Tangkuban Perahu in Seminyak was also a gem for furniture – shop-after-shop-after-shop of reasonably-priced pieces – but you have to be patient and have time as the road runs for several kilometres and there are hundreds of shops to sift through. One shop we came across had a great selection of restored and re-vamped old teak pieces – a few items perfect for our spa pavillion and resort boutique. There were also some colourful, old keropok (indonesian prawn crackers) tins in various shops – cheap and great to use as lanterns.

On our penultimate day in Bali, we met-up with Balinese-Dutch Tony – someone had suggested him to me through the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree forum. He took us to his house/shop, Naga Mas, near Ubud – several houses and out-houses overflowing with his antique collection – anything from whole Javanese houses to beautiful looms-turned-coffee tables, carved doors, trunks, sideboards, bits of boat – you name it! He also took us to Tepi Sawah in Ubud for the best ribs and crispy duck I’ve ever eaten  – do stop by if you fancy a meat-fix Balinese-style. But the best thing about Tony for Batu Batu is that he’s been in Bali for over 40 years and knows where to find quality items from parasols to batik, shell trinket boxes to stone carvings, lanterns to the do not disturb signs found at the Aman Resorts…

Finally, I thought it was worth mentioning our final stop on our final day – an excellent, laid-back, authentic beach-side Italian, Sticky Fingers on Echo Beach – where we ate very good freshly-made pesto with penne and dark chocolate cake whilst watching the surfers “ride the waves” in the distance (a nice change from the more trendy-chichi spots in Seminyak). And so with our stomachs full we headed at speed for the airport (as anyone who knows us well knows we are rarely on time) and just about made it on time to board our flight back home.

Next stop, next week – Yogyakarta, Java for more sourcing!

A weekend on Pulau Tengah by Dada Bacudo

When I put out a call for volunteers for our reef and island centre project on Lonely Planet’s forum, Dada Bacudo, an environmental manager (recently back in SE Asia after a stint in Uganda) answered my call. A flurry of emails followed and 48 hours later, Dada was en route to join our expedition to hatch a plan on our little island…

I was in Bangkok recently, looking for information on diving sites on the internet when I encountered a call for volunteers to help out with a conservation project for a resort currently being built in Pulau Tengah, Malaysia. I am an environmental manager experienced in working with finances for national parks, and currently with time on my hands I decided to contact Cher Lassalvy, the owner of Batu Batu resort. Cher kindly extended an invitation for me to join a group of natural scientists from Wild Asia who were already familiar with the initial stages of the project. Without much knowledge of the location at first, I thought “Why is my plane ticket bound for Singapore? I thought we’re going to Malaysia?” Not knowing how exactly I could contribute, I set about with optimism and began my little adventure in Pulau Tengah.

A vision was planned

I learned later that Pulau Tengah is a tiny island located within the jurisdiction of Johor, a state in Southern Malaysia, which is next door to Singapore. Batu Batu occupies a good portion of the whole island, and to get there first entails a trip to Mersing, which is where the jetty to other more famous islands in Malaysia such as Pulau Tioman is located. From Mersing, it takes 40 minutes on a slow boat, and only 20 minutes on a speedboat.

As I caught my first glimpse of Pulau Tengah with its gleaming white sands, Reza Azmi, the ED of Wild Asia, pointed out a strip of long beach which he is proposing to be allocated for a research study centre. I agreed that it was a wonderful idea and suggested that we began focusing and talking about this project during the weekend. Reza and his team at Wild Asia have been on the island on several occasions to assess and suggest plans for the hotel’s environmental sustainability direction. I admire Cher and Dato Chua, her father’s commitment to build this place with environmental values in place.

On our first day, we were greeted with coconut juices and later sat down and put our heads together to articulate a commonly agreed vision for the resort. After a while, with more refreshments and lively discussions, Batu Batu Reef Island Study Centre (BRISC) was born. BRISC is envisioned to be a research centre that offers opportunities to study nature in a pristine environment in ways not possible in other areas. A big job ahead but extremely exciting!

We also discussed having volunteers to assist in reef and turtle population monitoring as these are the two concrete projects that need urgent attention. We also emphasized on BRISC’s biggest strength that is the commitment of landowners and resort owners to environmental protection, an issue some resort operators find challenging to grapple with.

Two days of nature trips

Among the Wild Asia team is an intrepid birder (aren’t they all?) named Dave Bakewell who went around the island to assess its biodiversity. Dave always came back with photos which are magical in their quality. As a non-biologist, all I can say is that where birds are abounding, other biological qualities thrive. Cher and I took to the waters by snorkeling, and I was quite happy to see a lot of marine life thriving underwater despite obvious challenges that the marine life in Southeast Asia face in recent years, such as the El Nino phenomenon.

What I marveled at the most in Pulau Tengah is the variety of beaches that the resort is bound to offer. There’s the long stretch of blindingly white beach, which will host BRISC, and where turtles abound and are oftentimes spotted. Cher’s family through the leadership of her dad hopes to start preserving the turtles by buying eggs off the poachers’ hands. The eggs could then be brought to a government hatchery project which has now run short of funds. Therefore, there exist opportunities for co-operation between the government and BRISC for continuous protection of the turtles. At the long beach, the family is committed to keeping it as pristine as possible.

The main activity hub will take place at another beach and where the freshwater pool will be built.

And the third beach where cottages are also constructed expands into shallow tide pools teeming with marine life. Dave who is an early riser reported back with beautiful photographs of sea cucumbers, starfish and crustaceans of all sorts.

Behind the beaches lies the jungle. Here, it is proposed to demarcate nature trails for guests to discover the wide range of unique flora and fauna and also to develop an organic farm where the resort’s restaurant can source its fresh vegetables and also an opportunity for tasting or cooking activities for guests.

Pulau Tengah and beyond

If it were up to me, I would just want to stay on as there are so many nooks and crannies waiting to be discovered. The island is also the location where the original version of Survivor was shot for many years and I fancied tracking some bygone celebrity trails!  But there’s more to the island than just the beaches and forest. Cher’s family packed us up in a speedboat and brought us all over the cluster of islands surrounding Pulau Tengah where wonderful marine and terrestrial structures flourish. Reza noted the GPS points for various rich coral and fish systems, all just within fifteen minutes away from Pulau Tengah. I also noticed some caves and would have loved to explore them if we just had enough time!

Alas, we ran out of time for exploration, and it was time to leave the island. Exiting Mersing, I was shown where the resort hopes to build its own jetty, which would spare most visitors the trip to Mersing town.

It was one of those moments which I am truly grateful to be a part of, and I hope that my involvement continues. Despite my cynicism of most CSR projects that give token advert for so-called sustainable businesses, I felt the commitment of the owners of Batu Batu resort to be very genuine. They have incorporated environmental considerations right from the start, and have reached out to environmental experts when they feel like they were treading in unknown waters. Plus, they truly love having the turtles beaching on their sandy shores, and they have thought up exciting ways to protect them while working with local authorities and volunteers. I can’t wait for the resort and BRISC to officially open early next year and it’s a promise to be an outstanding responsible getaway!

And not to forget a big thanks to Dave Bakewell for his great photos used here. See his post about this same trip on his blog.

This week it’s all about wood

This week, I’ve been forced to think about wood. Wood and trees. Did you know that we grew our own wood to build the resort? In fact, we built the resort because we had the wood… It’s a long story and I’ll post it separately one of these days.

So, back to the past week. Our BRISC (Batu Batu Reef & Island Study Centre) partners Wild Asia and architects Ian and Kheong made an excursion onto Pulau Tengah over the weekend to look at the site and plan out the space. One of my activities over the week was to prepare a design brief. We have logs ready (pinus caribaea) to build the structures and so I’ve been looking for images of open and airy raw wood structures and found a few lovely examples. The first from Danielle de Lange’s Style Files  (a great resource for lots of beautiful design ideas) – a holiday home in SW France.

And then I chanced upon Danielle’s new blog Travel Files and the most lovely Uxua Casa Hotel on Brazil’s Bahian coast. More ideas to play with.

The architects’ exploratory trip was fruitful and it’s been very exciting to see BRISC taking shape (conceptually). On Tuesday, I found these in my inbox – maps of trees on the site and a first draft plan showing how BRISC will be designed to occupy space around and between the trees. Unfortunately, a handful of trees will have to come down.

But then, yesterday afternoon I had lunch with some new friends – Mel and Natanel who had heard about Batu Batu and wanted to meet. Natanel (Gluska) has just arrived in Singapore from Zurich and is an artist who makes beautiful things from wood (often whole trees). An image of his studio in Zurich and work below.

Isn’t it uncanny that all of these things came together at the same time? I don’t know yet whether the to-be-culled trees will one day metamorphosise into pieces of art – but I’ll keep you updated!

Loving the R.R. House (Brazil)


In researching and writing the architects brief for the long beach structures today (beach bar & BRISC), I came across this very cool seaside summer house near Sao Paulo, Brazil. Designed by Andrade Morettin Arquitetos, it’s basically a very beautiful giant mosquito net house which allows cross ventilation but stops the insects from getting in. It also glows at night. I like the idea of having BRISC look something like this amongst the casuarina trees behind our long beach…

Dave Bakewell’s Birds and Rock Pools

I wanted to point you towards a blog post by Dave Bakewell about a long weekend spent at an evolving Batu Batu with ourselves and some other friends from Wild Asia last month. Dave is a Wild Asia Associate and “birder” / bird specialist / enthusiast / expert based in Malaysia and has taken some great photos of birds in-and-around Pulau Tengah. He’s also taken some very good pictures of the island’s tidal reef or rock pools (all taken from above water). Do take a look – Dave’s post has the actual names and descriptions of the birds so I’ll leave you to investigate further there.

I’ll post more in the not-too-distant future about the weekend and the birth of BRISC (Batu Batu Reef & Island Study Centre) – a very exciting project! Until then – enjoy some of these lovely photos (stolen from Dave’s blog – thanks Dave!).

And one last pic of the BRISC founding team leaving the Pulau Tengah (as Reza points out – shame that Dato CJL was taking the picture and didn’t get into the pic or we’d have had 3 generations of BB/BRISC).

From left to right: Rastam (one of our head-builders), Mei, Dave, Chew, Mathieu, Cher, boatman, Winelyn, Dada, Shiya and Reza.