I was a guest of The Sanchaya, a member of The Small Luxury Hotels of the World. All the opinions are honest and my own.
I have been to many of the beach resorts on Bintan, the Indonesian island resort that is just an hour ferry ride away from Singapore, but I had never stayed at The Sanchaya, the island’s most luxurious resort. Until now that is.
The story of The Sanchaya
Very little is known about The Sanchaya’s origins and I was terribly curious to find out more.
The estate’s owner, the fabulous Natalya Pavchinskaya, is a Russian designer, artist, businesswoman and film producer based in Singapore and owner of S’YA Concept. Her talent for design and fashion is unparalleled. It suffices to quickly scroll through her Instagram feed or that of her company to realise that she is a gifted artist with an eclectic taste, and she herself admits.
She is also a patron of the arts and has produced three movies in 2018, the awarded Home Shopper with Dev Patel, from Slumdog Millionaire, Hotel Mumbai of the same actor and Buffalo Boys. And yet not much can be found about her online.
The Sanchaya opened in 2014 after six years of work since the land was purchased and it was the results of Natalya’s collaboration with Thai design firm P49 Deesign who also designed several of my favorite hotels and resorts like the two top resorts in Oman the Alila Jabal Akhdar (where I stayed at the end of 2017) and Al Bustan Palace by the Ritz Carlton in Muscat. It also designed several properties of my beloved Six Senses brand including the Six Senses Laamu in the Maldives. The studio is also behind several other iconic properties like the Taj Tashi in Bhutan, the LUX South Ari Atoll in the Maldives, The Strand in Yangon or The Sukosol in Bangkok, sister property of the stunning The Siam.
Sanchaya means Collection in Sanskrit and reflects the resort’s amalgamation of Southeast Asian inspiration, Natalya’s personal art collection compiled through three years of research and art exploration and the historical experience the first explorers had when they came to Asia, bringing a piece of what they saw back home to their collection.
There are pieces from Thailand, Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia, Myanmar, The Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos and each piece has its own place in this large puzzle of styles and themes. Not a singular theme runs through all the spaces, only the textures and hues are common. Side by side you can find naval instruments, tools, items which would be suited to an explorer’s basement.
The furniture was handmade in Indonesia at a factory that had not produced any furniture or furnishing for any other hotel.
Arrival and check-in at The Sanchaya
It is a long weekend getaway and there I am, checking in at the ferry terminal in Tanah Merah, near Changi Airport, and already noticing the details that justify The Sanchaya premium positioning: a small welcome pouch with ginger candies designed to counter seasickness and two luggage tags.
When we arrived in Bintan the staff were there to greet us and the priority treatment continued. We were whisked through the fast immigration lane, put our luggage through a scanner and were at the resort’s private ferry terminal lounge within minutes.
The Sanchaya’s 19th century colonial-inspired design felt, to me, more like a tropical plantation in the Caribbean, like the type of property the explorers who ventured into Cuba or the Dominican Republic from my native Sitges would have built for themselves while building the large sugarcane plantations in the overseas colonies.
The white verandas with pillars, the sunk-in sofas, the black and white tiles, the dark brown leather chesterfields and the lush greenery outside were a prelude to what was to come.
I would normally tell you about check-in after arriving at the resort, but The Sanchaya has decided to leave the administrative formalities for the ferry terminal reception so by the time you arrive at the resort you are ready to enjoy and not to attend to paperwork. And that is a great use of the brief waiting time we had before our short transfer to the resort.
Because of this efficient check-in process, we arrived at the resort ready to be greeted by the larger than life Estate Manager, Magnus, who warmly welcomed us to The Sanchaya and introduced us to the Front Office Manager. He was ready to hand us over to his staff for our short resort tour and buggy ride to our Lawang Villa.
The rooms at The Sanchaya
There are only 33 rooms and villas in this large property, split across several categories but only 29 can be booked separately as the last four are all part of the Vanda Villa and booked as a whole. Each room has a name regardless of its category so you don’t write down a number when signing dining bills, but the name of your room.
The entry level rooms are the Lawan Villas which sit along a man-made lagoon and are inspired by a Thai village. The wooden villas on stilts face the lagoon and are cozy and warm. They are quite large and have an outdoor verandah above the water, a four poster bed (which no longer has the draping it had when the resort opened), a walk in closet and a very large bathroom.
The decor of the villas is similar to the rest of the resort in dark wood, black and white but because of their design and the black wooden blinds, the villas are darker and cozier than the rest of the rooms.
The furniture and furnishings are colonial-inspired and splashed with Southeast Asian antiques. The walls are covered in art pieces and made of wood. The bathroom is black and white only and holds a decadent and inviting clawfoot freestanding white bathtub from Lefroy Brooks. There is also a dressing table with a premium beauty bag including bird’s nest masks and cosmetics available for purchase.
Next category up from the Lawan Villas are the Junior Suites which follows the caramel wood, black and white style of the rest of the rooms but with more white than black. Bathrooms have the same freestanding bathtub but a larger dose of white than the Lawan Villas. These suites are located on the upper floor of The Great House where the restaurant, library and bar area are located.
Their verandahs with white columns and rattan sofas, take you to the Caribbean, perhaps to a sugarcane plantation. No better place to relax than with a book than the outdoor verandah with views over the tall swaying palm trees and the sea breeze.
The Sanchaya Suite comes with its own living room space and is twice the size of the Junior Suites. They have large outdoor spaces and are also located on the main building’s upper floor which grants them extraordinary views of the sea, or on the other buildings. Some are on the ground floor with direct access to the beach. The colors here are the same caramel wood, white and black with beige and marble. The Sanchaya Suite is a really spacious room to stay at and comes with sun loungers for the verandah to sunbathe or read.
The Two bedroom villas are located on the ground floor of the adjacent buildings and are made of a living room space and two bedrooms, perfect for families. The verandahs, on the ground floor, can be accessed from either room or the living room and have rattan sofas that draw you in. The rooms are similar to the Junior suites and the living space follows the same design as The Sanchaya Suite. There is a small kitchen that can be used by the staff to serve family meals at the villa’s dining table.
The Leelawande compound is made of three one bedroom villas at the end of the lagoon, where the Lawan Villas are located. They come with their own private pool shared among the three villas and is perfect for friends or larger families. The large outdoor deck is great for sunbathing, relaxing or for private dining which can be arranged by the hotel’s chef. Although this is a nice setting for a larger group, its location at the end of the lagoon means that there is no guaranteed privacy as the rest of the guests in the nearby Lawan Villas can see you.
The highest category room is the owner’s estate, the Vanda Villa which comes with a cottage and a main building accommodating up to eight guests in four rooms. The entirety needs to be booked together and it has its own pool. The Vanda villa is located to the left of the main building right on the sand. Inside, there is a splash of white with some dashes of caramel and beige but the decoration is largely similar to the rest of the rooms, just whiter, and it is stunning.
The upper floor has a huge outdoor terrace with sea views and this mansion comes with its own kitchen too so you never even have to leave. The outside area is not fenced off from the rest of the resort and other guests could walk by but it is removed enough from the main guest area that you are likely to feel like you are on your own private beach estate.
In contrast to the old colonial plantation feel of the estate the rooms come with high-tech designer features. The TV and sound system is Bang & Olufsen, and is connected to an Apple TV. B&O sound quality cannot be compared to any other brand and its sleek Nordic design is beautiful.
I have a TV from the same brand at home so I know how to work the remote control but if you have never used one before, you will need to pay attention to the butler’s walk through as they are not obvious to use. There is an iPad to be used throughout the hotel and the WiFi is strong everywhere.
All guests will get their personalised letterheads ready on the desk to be used should you need to send an official letter back home from your desk at The Sanchaya. Mr Morris, the hotel’s mascot and leader of the resort’s charitable efforts sits on the desk and is available for purchase. His long arms and legs and his soft fabric made for a great gift to my partner’s 4-year-old daughter.
The bathroom amenities are branded with The Sanchaya logo and the bath products are from Aesop, except for the premium bird’s nest products in the beauty bag which are signature S’ya skincare and available for purchase. The beauty bag contains a facial massage stick, a rejuvenating face oil, a facemask and an exfoliating skin brush.
For the perfect bath, salts and foam are available on a pretty three-tier cabinet and there is a herbal salt menu too. The bathrobe is one of the plushest and softest I have ever seen and, despite it always being very hot and humid in Bintan, I badly wanted to wrap myself with it.
All rooms have private wine cabinets which can hold four bottles at different temperatures and minibars with complimentary juices, soft drinks, beers and chocolates. A couple of snack bags are also available. There is a Malong espresso machine and premium Ronnefeldt tea bags. Should you wish to get fresh milk you can request it at check-in so they can stock it.
Dining at The Sanchaya
The Sanchaya has two restaurants, the main restaurant opened for breakfast, lunch and dinner is the Dining Room and is located by the entrance across from the water feature. The Dining Room serves food all day; when breakfast ends, lunch begins and when lunch ends dinner is served. The second restaurant, the Tasanee Grill is open for dinner and serves Thai street-food inspired cuisine. They are both refined and serving a fine dining version of hotel food. There are juice shots given at breakfast, nightly sweets (not the typical chocolates) left in the room and amuse bouche before dinner.
Both restaurant menus are extensive and have several international dishes with a French touch as well as a local Indonesian and Southeast Asian options.
Breakfast is made of a buffet with pastries, breads, cereals and a changing Southeast Asian dish prepared in the live station (noodles, etc.) plus a large hot dish menu made to order. You can eat as much as you want and order as many dishes as you can possibly eat. Breakfast is laid back and relaxed and finishes at 11am. We wanted to try a few dishes and found ourselves over-ordering on both mornings which meant that we were barely hungry for lunch, so lighter versions worked for us. Look out for the traditionally dressed lady offering three types of jamu, an Indonesian herbal tonic. Or order a fresh coconut.
Lunch can be eaten by the pool or the Dining Room with a few lighter options available. Drinks and cocktails are served all day from the very extensive cocktail list and I found them to be great and perfectly suited to the tropical setting.
Dinner can be had both at the Dining Room or the Tasanee Grill by the pool. The Dining Room has an indoor air conditioned area while Tasanee Grill is 100% outdoor. The comprehensive menu can be enjoyed at both restaurants and I found the Thai dishes from Tasanee Grill were fantastic.
The Sanchaya has an extensive wine list and boasts its own wine cellar located alongside the Library and called the Decanter. Here, wine tastings, and wine and cheese pairing workshops on paperthin Riedel wine glasses are held by the passionate Sommelier who has certainly seen the world of wines. He even has his own cheese made in Bali since importing international fresh produce into Bintan can be cumbersome at times while getting it from Bali is easy.
The cellar glass fridges contain other goodies like a Cinco Jotas jabugo ham leg from Spain, various olive oils, bottles of Modena vinegars and other delicatessen items. The range of champagnes is also exquisite.
The Bar at The Sanchaya is a gentlemen’s club room with chesterfield sofas in dark chocolate, wooden stools, and glass. Artefacts from across Asia decorate the walls and you can find anything from telescopes to books, naval items, etc.
The cocktail list at The Bar is no longer of the “no menu” philosophy and instead offers a very comprehensive list of options that include the classics as well as many tropical, plantation inspired options prepared table side by the expert mixologist. Cocktails start at S$30 per drink, which is expensive even for Singapore standards. In the evening, cocktails are served with flavoured nuts and canapes so make sure to enjoy at least one drink before dinner.
For something different and lovely try the pink margaritas, “Natalia special” as the Estate Manager called it, referring to the owner’s favorite neon pink tequila brand. But beware, it is lethal. I am not sure what was in it but after one and a half (they are so potent that they are also available as half size) I was completely KO. The Bar also serves pretty shishas and cigars from an extensive private collection for that extra indulgence.
I found the food was fresh and the very extensive menu offered a wide range of choices from many cuisines and styles that did not force you to go out of the resort for variation, but the prices were on the high side with mains that could go up to S$60 or S$70 and even soups and salads for S$30 or more. Food was priced at the level of fine dining restaurants in Singapore.
That meant that any meal with starter, main and dessert could easily be over S$100 per person. Adding the most affordable bottle of wine would bring the bill to S$350 per meal which is a significant amount. It would not be difficult to spend S$1,000 per day on food for two when a couple of sunset cocktails and drinks by the pool were added. Worth noting that the portions are extremely large so we ended up sharing two starters and a main without any space for dessert on most meals.
You can of course go out and head to other resorts on Bintan where dining is probably more affordable, as The Sanchaya is near Bayan Tree’s famous Saffron Restaurant, but you are unlikely to do so in the evening when the resort’s dimmed lighting is both inviting and romantic, who would want to leave?
Bring repellent to dinner as the mosquitoes and sand flies are vile, I got dozens of bites even after using the hotel’s repellent, you need a heavy duty one with DEET if you are prone to being bitten.
The Sanchaya also organises private dining options in your villa and has 24h room service. For something special, get them to prepare a romantic beach dinner for two. They will put together a lovely beach table with candles and draping close to the sea, in the privacy of your little cocoon far from the rest of the guests. The price for the beach dinner with wine pairing is close to S$1,000 for two.
The facilities and activities at The Sanchaya
If you are one of the one million residents of Singapore going to Bintan for a weekend every year, you are most likely going with one objective in mind: disconnecting, relaxing, getting pampered and spending quality time with your loved ones. Therefore, you will probably not be really keen on doing too many things or having too active of a holiday.
However, a lot of people visit Bintan from farther away places for a longer period of time and realise that the island has a lot of activities to keep them busy.
At The Sanchaya you can play croquet (there is a croquet lawn) or petanque, practice some archery or join in the water sports. The Balinese inspired Spa is a great place to get truly pampered. They have a large selection of oils from The Kawasaki Way you can choose from and outdoor bales to completely relax in during a reflexology session.
Couples’ rooms are perfect for sharing a massage with that significant other. The spa also organises morning yoga classes complimentary for everyone at the outdoor pavilion facing the sea. And they are scheduled at the relaxing time of 8,30am so you don’t have any excuses. I can’t think of a better way to start the day than a relaxing yoga session followed by a slow breakfast.
If you want to explore the island, your companion will be able to organise a variety of tours. You can also go on night mangrove tour to spot fireflies (like I did in Brunei) or head to one of the many golf courses on Bintan. Bintan also has several other water activities like light aircrafts tours, water parks and even cultural explorations of the island’s villages and temples. The Sanchaya has complimentary Tokyo bikes to use and you can take them to the nearby Lagoon for a 14km cycle.
If you are interested in food and wine, the in-house Dutch Sommelier can organise great wine or champagne tastings and pairings with cheese. There is also help from the useful La Nez du Vin smell guide which is a great resource (I bought it for my sister last Christmas) and you can also join a cooking lesson with the chef which includes several options for Southeast Asian dishes, not just Indonesian.
On site, there is an Olympic size pool for some laps complete with sunken daybeds which are right in the water by the shallow ledge. There is also a boutique that stocks rare designer-worthy clothing, bathing suits and other accessories where you can buy some of the items you will see across the hotel. They also sell apparel from the S’YA Collection, especially designed for The Sanchaya by the owner.
Because the hotel sits on a long stretch of beach in Lagoi Bay you can also go for long walks on the beach or even a morning jog. While there is the Lagoi Hotel right next door, there is nothing on the other side of The Sanchaya so you will have the beach all to yourself.
Lastly, if all you want is to feel like a wealthy person in his or her own colonial mansion, nothing will give you that feeling more profoundly than the handsome Salon and Library. Completely decorated with Southeast Asian antiques and Natalya’s private book collection around a huge cage chandelier and two large chesterfields. The library is an Eden of peace and grown-up entertainment.
Compete in a game of chest, read one of the classics, marvel at the beautiful photography coffee table books or get lost is the pages of many a fascinating book. When you sit in the cocoon armchairs you are in a different world, miles away from Bintan.
The Service at The Sanchaya
The staff at The Sanchaya are not called butlers, guest relations or concierges they are Companions and they are ready to help you with anything.
The amount of nice touches and thoughtfulness is stunning and it reminded me of Aman Resorts which I am a huge fan of (who isn’t!).
The moment you get close to a sun lounger a staff member will come to set up the towel for you and a basket will materialise in no time offering cold water in glass bottles (still and sparkling from the hotels’ purification plant) with lemon slices, cold towels, sunscreen and aftersun and the drinks and food menu. A discreet flag can be used to order, lifting arms and yelling to get the attention of the staff is vulgar. From time to time the staff may go around handing out small frozen fruit kebabs or other treats.
Anytime you need anything it is provided without fail and quickly. I wanted an iron for a maxi dress and it came in just a few minutes, the time it took to walk to our villa from the main building essentially, and complete with a pretty wooden ironing board, not one of those plastic ones you get at any business hotel. Thoughtfulness went as far as thinking of a designer ironing board.
The staff knows you by name, expected in a small property like this, and the management team regularly comes to check in. The Sommelier will drop by to see if you need help selecting a wine, the General Manager will occasionally come to converse, the Egyptian Front Office Manager will approach with late check out when realising your ferry is later in the day. You can be sure that you will be taken care of.
The Sanchaya is immaculate. It is a tastefully designed property painstakingly created with the smallest details in mind and looking as if it opened yesterday.
Everything is a work of art and the result of years of love, or of collecting art pieces from several trips abroad. You can feel it from the moment you walk in. What is more, I am sure that many a guest will part with interior design ideas for their own home. I personally would love my home to look like the Sanchaya: the perfect balance between bright tropical accents, sophistication and a global outlook.
My apartment in Sitges, which can be rented on Airbnb as part of their Airbnb Plus program aims to look like that. A B&O TV sits next to paintings from Sudan, the sound system is installed in every room including the jacuzzi bathroom, and there are art pieces I have picked up from my trips to 100 countries scattered around the flat. But of course, mine is not a 10-hectare property but a 65-square-meter apartment.
Perhaps what I admired the most was the level of attention to detail that went into every aspect of the property. Nothing at The Sanchaya was done without careful thought, everything had a reason to be there. The many artefacts were meticulously staged across every room, the books were piled up with a logic in mind, the baseball caps were adequately worn, the symmetry was everything. Even the beach palm trees were perfectly arranged in a straight line and from shortest to tallest. It was an Instagrammer’s dream and my OCD photographer alter-ego took great pleasure in taking pictures of perfectly proportionate frames.
Having lived in Singapore since The Sanchaya opened and being a frequent traveler in the luxury segment I always wondered why the majority of my savvy traveling friends had never heard of the property. Just before visiting I asked everyone again and heard crickets back from all. They had not heard of it, ever.
Perhaps previous managements teams failed to convey the personality of The Sanchaya, its unique flair and true feeling of exclusivity. No other property on Bintan can offer the same level of luxury, not even in Singapore can you find this level of personalisation and love for the details in such stunning surroundings. And to achieve that in a place like Bintan, not as naturally gifted as other parts of Asia, is an extra impressive feat.
With such incredible design and prices going all the way up to $2,000 it should come as no surprise that The Sanchaya is a secret known only to the most discerning international guests. The Sanchaya appeals to a global clientele, those who are artistically inclined, or who appreciate art and interior design, fans of beautiful surroundings and of service that can go the extra mile to satisfy the requests of millionaires.
As we indulged in the “Natalia special” margarita, the one that knocked me out and put me to sleep for the entire ferry ride back, Magnus, the Estate Manager, tells me of the extravagant requests they sometimes get. They once flew a member of the staff to Jakarta to procure a special cuve of Krug Champagne because the one available at the cellar was not the guest’s preference. The Sanchaya obliged.
You can expect that behind the casual (designer) swimming suits and flowing linen shirts lazing by the pool are Russian magnates, successful Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, CEOs of multinationals and even celebrities. Photo shoots are scheduled from time to time, board of directors meet at the colonial meeting room, couples get engaged during a romantic champagne filled beach dinner, artists in residence get inspired to create temporary or permanent exhibitions at the hotel, musicians perform their art, famous actors like Dev Patel screen their new movies.
The Sanchaya welcomes the extravagant, the outrageous and the inordinate to indulge and contemplate in a destination for the wealthy and the lovers of all the great things in life: food, drinks, sun and a good conversation under the perfectly symmetric verandah with sea views.