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19-Dec-2016 22:50

At first Nikoi looked like a smudge of green in the distance; it didn't get much bigger as we approached.

The island, which covers not even one square kilometre, was bought by Australian couple Andrew and Julia Dixon five years ago.

They'd been holidaying nearby and had met Bintan resident Peter Timmer, an architect from the US.

The Dixons were charmed by the natural beauty of the Riau islands, yet disenchanted by the anonymous hotels that colonised them.

It just so happened that Timmer knew of one that was up for sale.

Together with a group of financiers, the Dixons purchased Nikoi and, with Timmer's help, developed it into a luxurious but low-key retreat.

An ice-cold towel scented with eucalyptus was pressed into one hand, a glass of fresh tropical juice into the other.

Five years down the line, the paradise tag still applies.

Despite being south-east of Singapore, you have to wind back your watch by an hour in the Riau islands, gaining precious time.

Lured by a "Welcome to Bintan" sign painted in tropical colours, we snaked on to dry land: white sand, dense green foliage and chirping wildlife.

Inside, sunlight streamed through the ferry's windows on to gaggles of over-excited teenagers clutching cool bags and cameras, families escaping the city, and clusters of men armed with golf clubs.

Just under an hour later we pulled into the harbour at Bintan island.

My shoes were discarded as I hopped off the boat into the warm shallows of the sea and paddled up to the talc-white beach.



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