Stumble Into Indonesia's Unseen Places
Submitted by viravira on 26 April 2018 • Destination
Honestly, I had no interest of visiting Bintan Island at all. I had not heard or read anything up in my alley about the island. I saw some photos of Bintan’s nature, but I’ve been to more attractive places. I heard that Bintan was a resort destination and I’m not much of a resort traveler. But then I saw a photo of real-sized Chinese statues in Bintan on a friend’s Instagram. Coincidentally, Mumun and I were then offered a writing gig for Bintan Resorts Indonesia that required us to travel there. It was my first, and Mumun’s second time – she had written about the first visit to Bintan here. I had no great expectation other than the statues and the Crystal Lagoon I browsed later on. But then I found out, the island has a lot to offer. I guess that explains why it’s a hit among Singaporeans other than because Bintan is only one hour away from Singapore by ferry.
So here are 10 things I like about Bintan Island. Read on because you might like them too!
Right after we landed on Bintan Island airport, named Raja Haji Fisabilillah International Airport, we visited the 500 Lohan Temple. Its official name is quite tongue twisting: Vihara Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva. Located about 4 km from the airport, it welcomes visitors with a giant statue of a goddess. Behind it, a tunnel entrance that leads to a paved open field surrounded by statues and temple buildings. Why do I like? That many life-sized statues each with a different expression is just quirky, creative, and simply whoa!
We only had a few hours visit to The Sanchaya, which immediately stole my heart. The British Colonial architecture is painted dominantly white, making an elegant contrast with the fresh blue swimming pool, sea and sky. I couldn’t stop wishing I was living for good there. The Sanchaya comprised a main building with guest rooms, private villas with their own swimming pools, a library and music room, a wine-tasting room, a spa and boutique. All designed in matching style with the main building, which I sensed quite a bit masculine. If you had the chance to stay at this gorgeous resort, I strongly recommend you not to skip it.
The menu at Treetops Restaurant consists of Indonesian traditional food. The taste is not that traditional, it’s kind of adjusted to the visitors’, mostly westerners, liking, which is a bit bland compared to the original tastes. However, they are delicious. The meats are soft, the spices are on the right track, just not so strong. Having said that, skip the Javanese dessert dawet or cendol – it’s hurting the original taste too much. The ambience? Treetops Restaurant Bintan is one of the coziest yet sophisticated restaurants in Bintan Resorts Indonesia.
To me, seafood is always a good idea. Seafood at a kelong, an establishment above water by the shore, enjoyed while watching the sunset, is a better idea. After having our drinks at Calypso bar at the end of the kelong, we indulged in the seafood. One menu we didn’t want to miss was the gonggong, a kind of sea snail. It’s simply boiled and we dipped the meat in a pineapple sauce. To me, it wasn’t that yummy, I still liked prawns, squid or crab better, but definitely an interesting thing to try. It is also unique to Bintan and the surrounding islands, so there’s no reason not to try it!
Chinese descendants reside in Senggarang Village, mostly in the wooden stilt houses. We visited it in a late afternoon. I loved the peaceful ambience and just sitting on a wooden bridge near the jetty after some talk with the residents that sold a sugar cane (?) tea in their terrace. The obvious main attraction of Senggarang Village is the Banyan Tree Temple Bintan. Not to be mistaken with Banyan Tree Bintan resorts, this is a house turned a Buddhist temple built in 19th century. Roots of the giant banyan tree hugging the building is one view you rarely see anywhere.
I had never liked any fish in any kind of soup. But out of courtesy and a bit of culinary adventure in Bintan, I tried the fish soup recommended by a local, who has a lot of experience driving guests around the island. Unexpectedly, I really like the fish soup at Aulia diner in Tanjung Pinang. Chunks of fresh fish swim in a rich broth with plenty of minced garlic, added with some chili pickles. It’s a dish I would definitely come back for if I visit Bintan Island again. Oh by the way it’s located on Jalan MT Haryono.
Starbucks may be a hit with their tumblers, but none of those overpriced merchandise can beat the awesomeness of the take-away packaging of Hawai coffee shop in Bintan. It’s no cheapie paper-cup, not a Styrofoam cup, but a glass bottle. A big green glass bottle with Heineken embossed on it. They use that kind of bottle simply to keep the coffee warm longer. The taste? It’s got a hint of caramel and coconut or something in between, and the right sweetness for my liking (I’m not a fan of sour coffee).
It had me at seeing its turquoise water. The Crystal Lagoon is a 6.3 hectare man-made pool filled with saltwater. So you have a similar sensation swimming there with swimming in the sea. My favorite activity, which I also like to do in the sea, is kayaking. The cooler thing is that you get so many options of things to do in Crystal Lagoon, like SUP (stand up paddling), Water ZOVB (walking in a clear ball that floats on water), and the trending Jetovator. Crystal Lagoon is located in Treasure Bay, right next to the Canopi Resorts. You can also do non-water activities at the Treasure Bay, like ATV riding in the woods and riding around in a classic car.
By now you’ve probably known that I have a thing for turquoise. Or teal. (I have a hard time differentiating the two colors.) So I was so charmed upon our visit to Cassia Bintan hotel, which incorporated so many turquoise in the interior. It was not fully operating when we came (but now it is), so the staff just took us for a room show. The one we saw was a 1-bedroom studio with a kitchen and living room, turquoise walls and even turquoise pots and pans! Oh God, I felt like staying there permanently.
Penyengat Island is one of the main tourist attractions in the Bintan regency. It’s located about 15 minutes boat ride from Tanjung Pinang. Going around the island on a bentor (becak motor or motorized becak), a tour guide would tell you all about its history concerning the sultanates and it played a major role in the Malay literature. But what I liked the most about Penyengat Island is the Tabib building. Err, it used to be a building that functioned as a hospital or a clinic (tabib means traditional medicine man). Now it’s just rundown walls with sprawling tree roots. Why do I like it? It just looks eerily awesome, the same reason I like Angkor Wat’s Ta Prohm.