The world is discovering what Singaporeans have known for decades: nearby Bintan Island, in Indonesia, boasts incredible beaches, surprising wildlife, world-class golf and an expanding assortment of resorts to suit all budgets.
When kayaking along Bintan’s extraordinary coastline of sculpted boulders, coral-ringed islands, thick jungle and hidden coves, it seems impossible to believe that one of the world’s most densely populated countries – Singapore – is just over the horizon, a 45-minute ferry ride away.
We’ve been visiting Bintan for over 20 years, and watched it develop from an extremely limited (and expensive) weekend-only destination into a resort island with aspirations to be ‘the next Bali’. From our first visit to the Mana Mana Beach Resort two decades ago, to buying our own beachfront villa in the new Lagoi Bay development, the one constant has been Bintan’s amazing natural beauty.
Here is our insiders’ list of top things to do while you’re in Bintan:
#1: Kayak around the islands of Lagoi Bay – On the west side of the bay there are numerous islands and mangrove-lined channels, some of which shelter sea-gypsy dwellings. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to paddle around a few kelong, their traditional fishing vessels. On the east side of the bay there are a trio of gorgeous islands, one with a heart-shaped coral reef. You’ll be surprised by the wildlife you’ll encounter: I’ve seen green turtles, stingrays, horseshoe crabs, flying fish, sea eagles and cormorants to name a few.
#2: Take your kids to the Crystal Lagoon – Part of the Treasure Bay Resort, this giant, artificial lake has such stunning blues and whites that you’ll think you’re in the Maldives. They’ve got water slides, a floating ‘bouncy castle’ and every sort of vessel you can imagine (kayak, Zorb, water trike etc.) Warning: on a sunny day it is crazy hot! You’ll want to pack lots of sunscreen and get your kids in long-sleeved rashies and wide-brimmed caps. But your kids (and a lot of the parents) will have an amazing time.
#3: Critter hunting at low tide – Lagoi Bay is wide, shallow and sandy. When the tide goes out, it really goes out . And that makes it perfect for low tide ‘critter hunting’ along the sand flats. On certain days you can walk almost all the way out to the islands! Critter hunting is our kids’ #1 activity when we’re staying at Ombak Lagoi Bay. They never get tired of hunting for a variety of crabs, shrimp and fish hiding under rocks or trapped in tide pools. The timing for low tide changes daily, but whether it is at 7 a.m. or 7 p.m., our kids are ready with bucket and spades.
#4: A round of golf at Ria Bintan – We’re not golfers, but our friends tells us that the Gary Player-designed course is absolutely spectacular, especially holes 7 through 9 of the Ocean Course, which spill downhill right to the ocean’s edge!
#5: Mangrove encounter – There are a couple of companies that offer kayak trips up mangrove estuaries in Bintan and the reviews are generally very positive. If you or your kids have never done this sort of thing before, it’s great fun – with the potential of seeing a lot of wildlife (monkeys, crabs etc.). There are also night tours to see fireflies. Bring bug spray.
#6: Relax at Trikora Beach – One of the most stunning beaches on Bintan, this stretch of coast has beautiful curved boulders that remind us of the Seychelles! Trikora is located on the east coast of Bintan, so you’ll need to rent a car or hire a driver. When we first explored Trikora, there was nothing there; today there are a number of small resorts with restaurants. Our favorite is the laid-back Trikora Beach Club.
#7: Jog around Lagoi Lake – Early in the morning or as the sun starts to drop, a run (or bicycle) along the curving, paved trail around Lagoi Lake is amazing exercise. And the views across the lake or into the jungle behind make for a very peaceful interlude. We’ve seen monkeys and sea eagles in the larger trees and nearly trod upon a baby cobra that was sunning on the path!
#8: Tour southern Bintan – The northern third of Bintan (where all the resorts are) is a playground for Singaporeans and tourists. But if you want to experience the local culture of the Riau Archipelago, you’d best head south to the capital city of Tanjung Pinang and the nearby Penyengat Island.
#9: Visit Plaza Lagoi – The new resort mall in the center of Lagoi Bay has a growing number of shops, restaurants and massage salons. Once you’ve had a look around, walk down the promenade to the beach. On the weekend, it’s a hive of activity with locals from around the island coming to enjoy the long, beautiful beach and safe, wave-free swimming. There are also usually local food trucks and sometimes musicians.
#10: Spa Time – We can arrange masseuses to come to the villa and you can relax either in your room or in the sala for your massage/foot reflexology. There are also many spas in Bintan including the award winning Banyan Tree spa which is a 15 minute drive away.
-Accommodation: 1. Villa Ombak (ombaklagoibay.com) – Gorgeous 5 Bedroom beachfront villa that sleeps 15 people so perfect for several families, 2. Club Med Bintan (clubmed.com.sg)- All inclusive resort that’s extremely kid friendly.
-Ferry to Bintan: Bintan Resort Ferries (www.brf.com.sg) has 5-7 ferries daily from Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal in Singapore to Bandar Bentan Telani in Bintan.