With jungle-fringed beaches, wildlife-rich mangroves and luxury spa resorts, Bintan Island, in Indonesia – a hop from Singapore – is a great spot for total relaxation. Part of the Riau Archipelago, it has an interior that’s mostly wildlife-rich jungles, while around the coast you’ll find seafaring folk living in homes on stilts. Here’s our pick of what to see and do here.
The Orang Laut (sea gypsies) of Bintan lived nomadic lives before settling on the shores of Panglong, around an hour’s drive from the port. Among the labyrinth of their stilt houses you’ll still find a traditional seafaring way of life, as well as remnants of the village’s history, including several domed kilns once used to make charcoal from mangrove trees.
The first artificial saltwater lagoon in Southeast Asia is so big – 6ha (16 acres) – that bathing in it feels like being in an impossibly clear and quiet sea. Crystal Lagoon at Treasure Bay isn’t just designed for wallowing, though. Water activities include sailing, underwater scooters and Jetovators, a jetpack-like mechanism that sends you flying above the water. When you’ve tired yourself out, grab a drink at the Bora Bora beach bar.
Known as the Thousand Face temple, there are, in fact, 500 faces staring back at you at Vihara Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva. At this Buddhist site of worship, life-sized monk statues, arranged in rows, have all been crafted with unique facial features and expressions. It’s a 45-minute drive from Bintan Resorts on the north coast, but the temple gate and shrines are so grand, you’ll feel like you’ve landed in the Far East.
The beating heart of Bintan is its fishing communities, so you’re never short of delicious, fresh seafood. Lagoi Bay offers the best choice of restaurants, including the Kelong Seafood Restaurant. Built on stilts at the end of a long jetty, it’s as popular for its sunsets as it is for its Asian fusion menu, ranging from gong-gong (sea snails) to black pepper crab.
The floating fishing hamlet of Senggarang is home to Bintan’s Chinese population. These wooden huts are built on stilts, sometimes revealed in the rise and fall of the tide. As the first Chinese settlement on the island, Senggarang is still a place of tradition, with huts containing temples and shrines recognisable by their festive decorations. For lunch, try the local speciality, shrimp porridge (he moi).
All sorts of activities are on offer that can help you get closer to nature. A relaxing choice is to join Banyan Tree boat trips around the waterways of the mangrove forests, which serve vital functions in the island’s ecosystem. Keep your eyes peeled for monitor lizards and mangrove snakes among the trees, as well as macaques and silver-leaf monkeys.
The capital of Bintan, Tanjung Pinang, is a bustling port occupying a chunk of the southwest coast. Markets selling handmade crafts and delicacies such as sea snails are always lively, and when it comes to lunch, the Manabu restaurant serves reasonably priced seafood in a blissful seafront setting. Strike out by catching a 15-minute boat ride to Penyengat Island, where historic landmarks include 18th-century forts, a mosque and a palace.
Pack your walking boots, as the best way to experience Bintan’s beauty is to hike in its jungle-covered interior. The highest peak is Mount Bintan: its summit, 340m (1,115ft) above the sea, delivers a sweeping view of the jungle, rivers, villages and beaches. It takes about two hours to reach the peak, but make time to stop and take in the wild orchids and waterfalls along the way.
All-inclusive resorts form the backbone of Bintan’s tourism, many of them offering so much to do that their guests need never leave. Club Med Bintan is one of the best known, with its 18-hole golf course, beachside trapeze and water activities such as windsurfing and kayaking. If you’re here to unwind, the Club Med Asmara Spa has treatment rooms that look out across the sea.
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