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  • Rathin Shah

Bintan Island: Indonesia’s best kept secret?

Updated: Oct 5, 2018


The serene island of Bintan overlooking the South China Sea

Bintan Island, Indonesia.

June 04, 2017.


Did you know that Indonesia has over 17,000 islands?! That makes it the 3rd largest island region in the world, after Scandinavia and Canada. Of course then, it makes sense to explore the picturesque islands of Indonesia. Of the plethora of choices available, I zeroed in on this wonderful erstwhile volcanic island city of Bintan. (Yes, there’s a LOT more to Indonesia, than Bali!) And boy was it a piece of paradise. Allow me, as I take you through some offbeat travel.


Lunch views at Nirwana

But first, let me explain the choice of my destination. Last summer, I had a 5-day short break and wanted to make the most out of it. My constraints included:

- Mid-budget location (about INR 50k per person incl. flights; more on finances later)

- A combination of thrill-seeking activities + serenity (yes, paradoxical – but stay with me for the moment)

- A place where the temperature is pleasant

- And somewhere where I did not have to apply for a visa before-hand


Owing to such curated constraints, I did not have a whole lot of choices at my disposal – in fact, only 2, that I could think of. I narrowed down to Bhutan and Bintan. Now, since I’d been to the Himalayas multiple times thus far, the latest being Leh Ladakh, I was keener on exploring something different this time. And so, Bintan it was.


Bintan has that quintessential laidback tropical island life vibes, further aided by the pristine beaches, blue waters and eye-relaxing greenery – yes, the entire package

Our trip started from Mumbai, India, and the best way to reach Bintan was via Singapore. This Asian port is a 90-minute ferry ride away from Bintan, and so it made sense economically and logistically. Singapore allows a 96-hour visa free transit for Indians. Indonesia, meanwhile, has visa on arrival which effectively meant that we didn’t have to fret about any visa issues until upon arrival. Convenient! Soon as we reached the shores of Bintan island, we were greeted with heavy rains and tropical thunderstorms. Bummer. But the forecast predicted sunny, clear skies with a pleasant mid-twenties temperature throughout for the next 4 days. Silver lining.


The Tanah Merah ferry terminal at Singapore

Bintan has that quintessential laidback tropical island life vibes, further aided by the pristine beaches, blue waters and eye-relaxing greenery – yes, the entire package. The added advantage? Lesser tourists than the more popular similar destinations such as Thailand. On the first day, we reached our resort (Nirwana Resort Hotel, the largest resort on the island) – home for the next 4 days. Nirwana apparently owns half the island, in that it has many resorts and hotels operating there. After thorough research, the one where we stayed suited our constraints the most. We relaxed for the rest of the day by treating ourselves at one of the Resort’s many restaurants.


The next day (and our first complete day) was when things got interesting. No better way to start the morning than with a lavish spread at the all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet at the Resort garden by the poolside, overlooking the gorgeous South China Sea. The day’s agenda was to get our adrenaline pumping through an array of adventure activities on offer at the Nirwana Resort – starting with the ATV Quad Biking. Racing these enormous diesel-powered beasts through the muddy roads underneath the canopy of forests has a thrill of its own. More so, when there are distributaries to cross on wooden stilts. Definitely something to experience.


ATV quad-biking through the forests

But if there’s absolutely one thing I’ve to recommend, it would be the 3-storey Nirwana Happy Valley. Simply put, it is a gigantic structure, which we have to scale vertically, overcoming a series of formidable obstacles and reach the apex. Once at the top, you then have to jump – hurling yourself through the flying fox, over a hill’s valley to the other side, where you crash land yourself into a net. Extremely exhilarating and not something for the faint-hearted.


The 3-storey edifice we had to scale, before our jump

Post lunch at one of the resort’s restaurants, we then set out to explore the area on our segaways, exploring the beaches and bumping into the kelong bar (an offshore platform built predominantly with wood, in the South-East Asian regions) – easily the best spot to witness a sunset. For the remaining part of the day, we set out to Plaza Lagoi – the central marketplace near our resort, to devour some local food and drinks.


The picturesque kelongs of Bintan

The agenda for our 3rd day was to explore the Treasure Bay and the Bintan Mangroves. Treasure Bay is the hub of all water-based sports, here in Bintan. But the ones that stood out for me were Wakeboarding and Flyboarding (Or Jetovator, as they call it on the island). After a good morning session at the hub, we proceeded to dive deep into the mangrove forest trails of Bintan. You essentially take a long motor-boat ride in the Sungei Sebung river, the heart of the ecosystem here, surrounded by mangroves on both side. The idea is to keep going along the mangroves, until they completely close on you and the boat can’t move an inch further. The entire trip will take about 90 minutes, give or take. Needless to say, the river is also home to a wide variety of indigenous flora, fauna and wildlife such as mangrove snakes, macaque monkeys, kingfishers and even otters. We had our fair share of sightings. There are also the night tours where you are highly likely to be enchanted by fireflies dancing amongst the mangrove roots as you cruise down the river under the twinkling night sky. 


Flyboarding at the Treasure Bay

But the real MVP of the entire expedition is the guide who joins along on every boat. Not only are they very knowledgeable, but are also wonderful to converse with. Ours was particularly charming. A proper local Indonesian kid, he told us about his fascination for Bollywood, especially SRK and how he’d viewed all his films atleast 3 times. He shared with us his dreams of coming to Mumbai and making it big in the film industry one day. He’d certainly started his homework, what with his legitimate Hindi and suave dance moves!

Back at the resort, the later part of the day centred around chilling by the poolside with some relaxing local coconut-based drinks.


Mangrove forests on the Sungei Sebung river

Day 4, and it was time to visit the capital region of the island – Tanjung Pinang. But first, onwards to Trikora Beach enroute. This rocky white-sand beach definitely brought back memories of similar sights closer to home (Goa!); Based on the East Coast, it almost seems untouched & pristine, forming a perfect foreground to the clear blue skies and crystal clear waters.


Pristine Trikora beach

If you’re ever on this beach, do not miss the Pizzeria Casa Italia. Hidden along the long stretch of beach at Trikora is the most unlikely establishment you’ll expect to find in Bintan – a family-run Italian pizzeria with a legit wood-fired oven flown in all the way from Italy! This restaurant is run by the charismatic Armando and his family, who after visiting Bintan for the first time during his honeymoon made it his dream to open a pizzeria and settle down here for the rest of his life. Armando lives on the premises itself with 8 dogs and his wife, son and daughter. And while you’re devouring over the pizzas, don’t forget to have the highly recommended Kopi Susu (local coffee).


Armado at Pizzeria Casa Italia when he sees his 8 dogs returning from their walk on the beach

Back on the road, and on to the next stop: the 500 Lohan Temple. This is by far, one of the most peculiar places in Bintan. A temple that housed 500 life-size statues of Lohan, in various avatars, is definitely a unique to behold. It’s an imposing temple set on a hill with impressive Chinese architecture and high walls. Not something to miss!


The 500 life-size statues of Lohan

Eventually, we reached Tanjung Pinang. The fruit markets here have some really authentic juices worth recommending. After exploring a bit around the city, we settled in for a long cab ride back to our resort.


The final day was upon us, and we stayed as lazy as possible to end this wonderful sojourn. After a late breakfast, we lay by the resort’s beach, chilling with our books and some music, on the hammocks. You can also avail of the massages offered in the resort. Indulging in some comfort food and coffee, the evening led to a peaceful end to the stay here. Time to (reluctantly) head back to India via Singapore and immerse ourselves into the daily hustle.


Run by the charismatic Armando and his family, he lives on the premises of the pizzeria along with his 8 wonderful dogs! (Yes, 8)

But, before I end, let me give you a brief overview of the per head finances:

Mumbai – Singapore return flight: INR 20k

Singapore – Bintan ferry: INR 2k

Resort acco (incl. breakfast & activities done in the resort): INR 16k

Other activities: INR 5k

Food: INR 10k

Total: INR 53k per head


I’ll shortly put up a post on accommodation options and the local food items to try (coming soon). Till then, hope you’ve enjoyed coming along with me (vicariously) to this brilliant island. If you did, do check out the blog posts too.


Happy travels,

Rathin

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© 2018 by Rathin Shah. All images captured by author. No external images used.

About Me

With so many well established travel blogs, I’m pretty sure no random person is going to find themselves on the ‘About me’ page of my blog. If you do, you’re clearly (kind) friends and family – in which case you already know about me. 

 

But to the 3 random people who have found themselves here today, firstly – you’ve had too much of internet. Secondly, let me tell you a bit about myself. 

 

I’m currently a 25 year old aspiring entrepreneur trying to make sense of my current situation. I graduated from BITS Pilani University in India, as an engineer (surprise!) and worked at J.P. Morgan, a financial firm, for about 2 years. But always wanting to start something of my own, I left my job in 2017 to pursue my startup. About 18 months into this startup journey, I still haven’t got the hang of it. Hence, I flinch to call myself an entrepreneur – yet. But even with all this, the one thing that has remained constant for me has been my love for travel. As cliché as it sounds, I like to get lost in the streets of an unknown place and soak in the soul of a new place every now and then. 

 

You know how they say, people go on a Eurotrip once and fuel their Instagram feed from the photos for the next 5 years? They’re right. I’m guilty of that. But well, you’re more than welcome to sponsor a new trip for me. I’ll put new photos, I promise. Anyway, this blog does not aim to list down the top ‘13 things to do in Prague’ or the ’17 things you should definitely experience in your meaningless life’. No. There are way too many revered blogs, listicles, articles, books and shows that talk about it all. I’m no Anthony Bourdain. But, I simply wish to share my experiences and my take on travel. Why would you be interested in such a thing – I don’t know. But since you’re here anyway, I suggest you go through my 2 cents. 

 

Welcome to the blog. I hope you have a good time.

 

Rathin Shah