Life begins at the end of your comfort zone. Neale Donald Walsc
Travelling all the way to Singapore and then just visiting one country is not fair, isn’t it; so we decided to visit Bintan, Indonesia. It is the largest island among the 3200 Riau islands. Singapore is the closest major city to Bintan and is a 45-50 minute trip by ferries across the Singapore Strait to the Bintan Resort area in the northwest of the island.
You can travel to Bintan by air as well, but we preferred to experience the ferry journey. The ferries leave from Singapore harbour regularly to Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal and Bandar Bintan Telani Ferry Terminal, Bintan Resorts. We took the early morning ferry to Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal so we could get the entire day to ourselves. The 45 mins ferry journey sails you through the beautiful waters of Singapore Strait to view the Bintan Island in distance. The best part of this trip was we didn’t have to get visas, visa free travel for Indian passport holders.
After alighting at the Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal, a quick passport check, we were out of the airport to see a lot of vendors selling items, providing taxi services, guides etc. We generally book tours in advance, but for Bintan, we didn’t because the online touring companies were charging a fortune for day trips. We decided to try our luck by speaking (more bargaining) to the different taxi providers outside the airport. We did some bargain and managed to get a good deal, car booked for the entire day with the driver (acting as tourist guide as well). The driver was very friendly and he knew we didn’t have our breakfast (early ferry); he took us to a local food court where we were so confused with the number of food options available. I must say you will never be disappointed with food in Asia, as they have so much to offer at such cheap prices.
After a sumptuous breakfast, sat in our air conditioned car, which is a necessity for the humid weather, off we went to visit the famous Mangrove forest of Bintan Island. The mangrove forest is located at Sebung Lagoi on the Sungei Sebung river. The mangrove trees grow in areas with low-oxygen soil, where slow-moving waters allow fine sediments to accumulate. Mangrove forests only flourish in tropical climates. They can be recognised by their dense tangle of roots that make the trees appear to be standing on stilts above the water. These roots allows the trees to handle the daily rise and fall of tides, slow the movement of tidal waters, causing sediments to settle out of the water and build up the muddy bottom.
We opted for the 1.5 hours mangrove tour which comes with a guide and skipper with a boat. The guide was very friendly and knowledgeable about the amazing rich ecosystem of this place. With the safety briefings, off we went through the entire stretch of the Sungei Sebung which goes on for about 8km. As we sailed through the waterways, the sights, serenity, and calmness of the forest was quite amazing and mesmerising. The river is known for exotic wildlife and we did spot some silver leaf monkeys, monitor lizards and snakes.
One of the best things mentioned by the guide was the traditional life is still very much alive among people living on the banks of the Sebung river. The homes, boats, fishing traps and daily meals are largely derived from the mangroves. On our tour we did catch some glimpse of the traditional charcoal kiln, kelongs (over-the-water fishing houses built on stilts), and bubus (static fishing traps) that fishermen use. The 1.5 hour tour did look short when we finished as there was so much to see, grasp, and feel the nature.
After our mangrove tour, it was time for some sandy beaches, so we headed straight to Trikora beach. Despite its popularity, this beach is isolated, calm with white sandy beach and crystal clear waters, it’s the ideal environment to relax and unwind in the sun. As we crossed the fishing village to view the beach, we saw women cleaning oysters, men building small boats for fishing; kids playing in the sands, simple life isn’t it.
One thing about Bintan is that it is home to many well-preserved, hidden secrets that only a few people know about. One of them is the Grotto Santa Maria, right opposite Trikora beach, which involves the portrayal of the way of the Cross and a chapel that is still being used for Sunday mass. It has been said that this unique religious site was built a long time ago by a Dutch priest, with newer parts of the site added by sea gypsies from Vietnam, and Catholics from East Timor. Hidden in the shade of a shallow forest, we followed the journey of Jesus through the 14 stations of the cross beautifully carved into stone. This place is very peaceful, calm, and quiet with the much required shade provided by the trees surrounding this chapel, a blessing for us to escape the heat!!
After some relaxation and clicking pictures of the beautiful beach, it was time for some food. We strolled to the nearby fishing village where we saw a number of mobile ‘kelongs’ (stilt houses built by fishermen to breed or trap fish) along the horizon. These kelongs are a must if you are a seafood lover; the seafood here is fresh, tasty and highly affordable.
A sumptuous lunch with an amazing view of the sea under the beautiful sunshine, we were pumped up and ready for the next leg of our tour. Next, we headed to the Vihara Avalokitesvara Graha, commonly referred as the Guan Yin Temple. It is the one of the largest temple in Southeast Asia with a land mass of 10 hectares which amounts to approximately 9 or 10 football fields! This is a Buddhist temple on a hilltop with an amazing huge golden idol of the Buddha. The Buddha’s statue is considered biggest in Southeast Asia. The walls inside this temple are decorated with lots of Chinese Buddha statues and from the gate entrance there are some Buddha statues kept in a row, it’s a nice place if you want to find peace and tranquillity.
The heat and humidity gets on your nerves after some point, so the best way to cool it down is by gulping something cold, what better than ice-cream. We stopped at a local vendor shop and bought some ice-creams which were a saving grace from the heat. We then set off to see the famous Banyan Tree temple, a Chinese shrine worshipped by locals. The banyan tree wraps the temple completely, and people here believe this tree has spirituality to guard this temple. Honestly speaking, it would be easy for us to drive past if you didn’t know what you were looking for. Fortunately, it was the driver who took us directly to this place, although in reality, definitely not worth being part of day trip itinerary!
After a disappointing Banyan Tree temple visit, we didn’t let our hopes fall. We left to Senggarang, a Chinese settlement to view the beautiful temples and experience their way of life. Senggarang has many unique temples, Sun Te Kong temple, Marco temple, Tay Ti kong temple to name a few. All these temples are known for their unique features, such as Sun Te Kong temple is known as temple of the god of fire, the Marco temple as the sea god and the Tay Ti kong temple as the god of earth. We took a stroll around the area to view the beautiful architecture and simplicity of the place.
By now, we were completely exhausted, the driver suggested us some good spa places if we wished to relax. It was an instant yes from our side. The spas and massage parlours in Tanjung Pinang are generally cheap, however, you need to always bargain as they quote really high. We took the one hour massage and I must say they are really good at it. They are very friendly and make sure that you are comfortable before they start the massage. You just have to relax, let everything go and they will do their job.
After a relaxing massage and a tiring day, we were looking forward to go to our hotel. There are many sea side resorts in Bintan but we preferred the Bintan Lagoon Resort for our stay due to its good reviews and free coach service to the ferry terminal. On our way to the hotel, we were intrigued to see some local food courts by the road where in the local people have snacks, food, or get together for a chat. We stopped by to look around the place, and ended up having dinner. The food court had so many food counters serving seafood to meat and chicken. There was so much variety in terms of the food served here and the people here are so kind and friendly. The most famous delicacy we tried was ‘otak otak’ – fish meat, cooked in coconut milk and a variety of Indonesian spices, which is then wrapped in coconut leaves and grilled over a charcoal stove. We tried some seafood delicacies as well, yummy I must say.
Finally, we reached our resort, where we spend the next day strolling along the beach, trying some activities, relaxing under the sun and most importantly trying the delicacies served by the resort.
Overall, I must say Bintan Island is a definitely yes for anyone who wants a quick getaway from the hectic city life and wants to enjoy sublime beach resorts.
Read more of our Singapore Journey here (Read more)
If you have any questions/feedback, please leave a comment with your email id and I’ll get back to you at the earliest.