08 Mar Back to Basics on Indonesia’s Sugi Island • Alex in Wanderland
Jumping out of chronological order to skip ahead and tell you about my February adventures! We’ll be back to Hawaii soon <3
I know that to some people, our entire lives kind of look like one long, never-ending vacation. But in reality, Ian and I get frazzled and overworked and disconnected from what’s important like everyone else.
By the time February rolled around, we were both coming off a hectic holiday season and wrapping up busy work periods, and we really craved a little getaway where we could recharge, reconnect, and rest like we had on our health retreat in Siem Reap years before.
My Thai visa was up, so I had to leave the country, but we didn’t have long so we didn’t want to go too far. Which made it seem like kismet when Telunas Beach Resort, a unique eco-lodge just a few hours by boat from Singapore, reached out to me about coming out to create some content. I couldn’t accept fast enough.
Now, you’d think that traveling from a tiny, airport-free island in Thailand to a remote, airport-free island in Indonesia would take at least one night in transit. At least, from our years of traversing Southeast Asia, we did!
But with the organized hub of Singapore as a transit point, it was actually fairly seamless — we woke up in Koh Tao, took the first ferry of the morning to Koh Samui, hopped a direct flight to Singapore, efficiently transferred to the harbor where we took a one-hour ferry to Sekupang, Indonesia, and were picked up by Telunas Beach Resort representatives, who took us by local boat the remaining ninety minutes to Sugi Island.
We watched the sunrise from a ferry that morning, and were watching the sunset from our balcony with welcome drinks in hand that evening. It might sound like a lot of steps, but it was one of my most efficient days in transit, ever. If you can get to Singapore easily — you can get to Telunas, too.
I emphasize this because throughout our three days on Sugi Island, we had to continually pinch ourselves and remind each other we were just a few hours by boat from one of the most modern, cosmopolitan and developed cities in Southeast Asia. Forgetting that fact, it was easy to imagine we were days away from civilization. And that’s what made this trip so dreamy.
We could see the thatch roofs of Telunas Beach Resort in the distance as our boat approached, and as we got closer, the waving figures of two staff members who had come to meet us, fresh fruit welcome drinks in hand. There’s no formal reception or check-in, instead, the staff gave us a sweet and smiling introduction to the property before showing us to our room to get settled. Don’t worry about locking your door, they assured us. There’s no key.
We knew then, we were going to love this place.
Our room was a chalet with a balcony, the highest room category at Telunas Beach Resort, though they all share a natural style of construction based on local Riau architecture. Our room had lovely, Indonesian-inspired furnishings like a hand-carved bureau and side-tables, hand-stitched pillowcases and local carvings in the main bedroom, plus a small nook with bunk beds for families traveling with little ones.
Our favorite feature, however, was a balcony with two chairs and a hammock facing the sunset, and well designed for total privacy — from where we stood, our bungalow might have been the only one at the resort.
The room showed a true commitment to the eco-principles Telunas touts. Rather than giving guests single-use plastic water bottles, glass jugs of filtered water are provided in the room (as well as on the beach, in the restaurant and at reception). Rather than churning through thousands of tiny single-use plastic bottles for shower toiletries, ceramic jars for shampoo, conditioner and soap were refilled daily. And instead of using energy-crushing AC units, the resort was designed to take advantage of trade-winds to keep cool (and never once did we crave anything more.) A booklet in the room encouraged us to reuse towels, but assured us all linens were line-dried when laundered.
And Telunas knows exactly where to draw the line. The shower, much to our elation after a long travel day, was piping hot.
I’ve actually yet to mention my absolute favorite feature of Telunas — the fact that it is intentionally wifi-free. So instead of arriving and rushing to plug in electronics, get connected to the internet, and catch up on any emails missed while in transit, we arrived and simply sat in silence, hand in hand, and watched the sun set over the horizon.
And for the second time in about an hour I thought to myself, I really am going to love this place.
The next morning, we woke naturally with the sunrise and lolled in bed, listening to the waves lap under our bungalow, until we heard the wooden gong signifying that breakfast was ready. Meals at Telunas Beach Resort are part of a compulsory buffet meal plan, as, well, there’s really nowhere else to go! We had one dinner and one breakfast at Telunas Beach before heading over to their private island, and enjoyed both.
With more time, we might have explored one of the add-on meal options, such as a Malay lunch at a nearby village, a private candlelit dinner, or, the one Ian was dying over, a make-your-own-pizza lesson at the resort’s own pizza oven on the beach!
One thing to note is that there’s only beer and simple wine sold at Telunas Beach Resort — this suited us just fine as we were on a detox of all kinds, but don’t expect fancy cocktails list with dinner.
Once the school group that was at the resort while we were there set off on a post-breakfast tour, we pretty much had the place to ourselves. We spent some time poking around the communal areas, in which meals were served and the small canteen and gift shop were located, before heading to the resort’s expansive beach.
The beach stretched on for ages, dotted with small hammock-strewn palapas, sets of beach chairs, and, set back from the water, an impressive array of things to do and ways to pass the time.
Complimentary activities at Telunas Beach Resort include dock jumping, a ropes course, sustainable traditional kelong fishing, volleyball, and beach bonfires. There’s also an array of options with a small fee, like kayaking, stand up paddleboarding, and shrimping, as well as lessons in the cute ceramics studio, a Melayu village tour, and a ten kilometer jungle waterfall hike. The ceramics studio, the local village tour and the hiking trip were all calling to me, loudly! While this short trip was all about relaxing, I would love to return to Telunas Beach Resort again someday and explore more of Sugi Island while doing so.
We couldn’t resist peeking in the little ceramics studio, which warmed my heart as it reminded me of an evening ceramics class my dad and I took together at a local arts center when I was in high school — I took it for college credit, and my dad audited it in order to spend some extra time with me.
I regaled Ian with the memory and loved noting that years into dating, we still have stories that the other hasn’t heard. And it’s trips like this where you have the space and time to tell them, and to listen.
And of course, the adventurer in me couldn’t resist jumping off not just any dock, but the absolute highest dock, the one you need to check with staff before tackling. I almost crawled back down in shame multiple times before Ian finally cheered me into making a shrieking leap.
I haven’t jumped off anything so high since I went deep water soloing in Krabi years ago — don’t forget to cross your arms across your chest and cross you ankles! I forgot to cross my arms and my shoulder wasn’t happy about it, but the adrenaline shot I got both times I jumped made it well worth it.
Typically, a two night stay is the minimum required at either Telunas Beach Resort or Telunas Private Island (I’ll explain more about the differences in my next post.) However, if you’re staying at both properties like we were, there’s only a three night minimum total.
Now, looking at these photos, I’m sure you’re thinking, ugh, overwater bungalows are great and all, but I won’t be able to afford anything like that until maybe I splash out on a honeymoon someday. Well, I love that Telunas Beach Resort attempts to make an experience like this accessible to a larger audience. Chalets like ours start at just IDR 1,150K per night, or about $83USD! Deluxe rooms are even more affordable, starting at IDR 750K, or about $55USD per night.
You’ll also have to purchase round-trip transfer from the Sekupang ferry terminal for IDR 850K or about $60USD per adult, plus the compulsory dining package of IDR 550K, or about $36USD per adult per night. Overall, it’s a more affordable and accessible experience than I ever would have imagined for waking up on the water like we did.
I only loved Telunas Beach Resort more when I read about its history and its mission. The resort was founded by a group of college friends and their wives after a tour through the Riau Islands in 2000. They were looking for a place to create something special, a place where people could really unplug and reconnect, when a local guide led them to a beach the locals called “Telunas,” or “Squid Cove.”
The rest is history. They aimed to build a resort where the local culture and surrounding environment shaped the experience; a true island escape. They wanted to build holistic connections with Sugi Island via their staff; making Telunas a place local people strive to work, with an excellent reputation for benefits and mutual respect. They make a notable effort to develop the local economy through service projects, education projects, and beyond. It seems to work — we found the staff incredibly sweet and sincere, and we left every interaction with smiles on our faces.
Additionally, Telunas pledges straight out that they want to be a company worth of international recognition for their ecotourism efforts and their care for the local environment. From what I read and more importantly what I saw, they are well on their way.
After nine years of bopping around Southeast Asia, I have a lot of beloved memories, and Telunas Beach Resort reminded me of the grown up version of some of my favorite ones from my backpacker days (which aren’t over yet, for the record!)
While I was here, I thought of my nights sleeping in a lock-free bungalow on then-undeveloped Koh Rong, Cambodia, an island that was at the time as pure and pristine as this one. I remembered my adventurous trip rafting through the Thai jungle from Pai to Mae Hong Son, totally off-the-grid with little to do other than chat to my guide and my travel companions as we luxuriated in the natural beauty around us.
And now I’ll remember my weekend getting back to basics in Sugi Island, Indonesia… there may have been a few more creature comforts than those previous memories involved, but the important elements remain the same: Unplugging from the digital world and reconnecting to the one in front of me, quality time with special people, and the healing power of being still and in awe of nature.
Next up… stay tuned for our move to Telunas Private Island!
This post was written by me (duh!) and brought to you by Telunas Beach Resort. As usual, I maintain full editorial control and all thoughts, opinions, and photographs are my own.