Bintan Island that forms a part of the Riau Archipelago in the South China Sea is a perfect getaway for friends and families in Singapore with its wide array of things to do. A 45-minute ferry ride will transport you to a world of white sandy beaches, clear blue sea, great Indonesian cuisine, and a bevy of outdoor activities.
The ferry ride also adds to the most important part of a holiday – the journey. And all the more because it is so convenient. There are multiple rides a day from Tanah Merah, Singapore to the three ports in Bintan: Badar Bentan Terani, Tanjung Pinang – the capital, and Bintan Lagoon Resort. The last one is perfect if you are booked into this particular resort, like I was, as the ride takes you directly there. But if you want to add a road trip to the journey, get off at either of the former two ports and take a car to your resort. I’m glad I took the Bintan roads one-way as they were spectacular.
While there’s plenty to do on the island, here’s my personal top 10 things to do in Bintan Island for you to pick from:
Immerse in history and culture at Senggarang Village
The history of a new place has always appealed to me. It’s like hearing the story of a faraway time and then seeing the evidence for real. Bintan, though a small island, is steeped in rich historical and cultural stories, especially due to its strategic placement on the Indo-China trade route. While being pivotal to Malay support system, the island also became home to many Chinese migrants who came in large numbers and settled here. Senggarang Village is the first Chinese establishment. The quaint village is a mixture of houses of different styles and architecture, and shops in sheds. Being an open community, the doors of most houses are left ajar and you can sneak a peek into the lives of these people. One of the nice things to do here is to take a charming walk along the village, which has quite a few temples, Banyan Tree Temple being one of the most interesting ones.
Located just outside the capital of Bintan Island, Senggarange Village is easily accessible via small ferry rides, locally known as Pongpong, which will get you to the other side for Rp5000-10,000 for a single ride.
Get the best shopping bargain in Tanjung Pinang
I found Bintan’s capital, Tanjung Pinang – a small and friendly town – to be a great hub for trying out local food, picking up souvenirs, and learning about the island’s culture. Shopping in this town is quite affordable as the wares are mostly local and handmade. While the concrete shops offer a diverse range of electronic goods, dried food items, and antiques, the street peddlers provide the best bargains with their colorful display of Javanese batik cloths, gems, local artefacts, and handcrafted toys.
If a shopping mall is your thing, head straight to the newly constructed Plaza Lagoi mall located in Lagoi Bay. Spread over almost 1,000 sq. meters, the contemporary retail space houses over 60 shops catering to fashion, Indonesian gifts, artefacts, and convenience stores.
Play golf at resorts and clubs
Bintan is definitely a golfer’s paradise and it is one of the top activity to do here. It has four spectacular golf courses – two in Bintan Lagoon Resort, one in Laguna Bintan Golf Club, and one in Ria Bintan Golf Club. The Bintan Lagoon Resort by far boasts the most luxurious ones: the Jack Nicklaus (Sea View) course and the Ian Baker-Finch (Woodlands) course. Since I stayed at this resort, I could indeed see the golf courses in all their glory. Ria, on the other hand, gives Bintan Lagoon stiff competition as golfers flock to this resort which boasts of having all 27 holes at its Ocean and Forest courses designed by the ace golfer, Gary Player.
Being a spectator, I would take in the sights of the rolling green courses against the blue skies while sipping on a cool cocktail. Simply looking at the soothing landscape would take away all stress and elevate my holiday mood.
Indulge in spa and massages
Speaking of de-stressing, the one and only thing that can completely relax you is a great spa treatment. If you’re from Singapore where massages and spa treatments don’t come cheap, this is the place to completely unwind and indulge in a luxurious Balinese body massage or even a Thai massage. Most resorts offer a range of treatments to soothe the body and mind, where you would be paying for the ambience as well as the service.
A little exploration in and around the island and I found that you could get cheaper massages in the local spas near Pasar Oleh for as much as Rp500,000 for a 90-minute body massage, although you may have to compromise on the ambience.
Eat fresh and highly affordable seafood/local food
Sebung Village, the sleepy little village near Sebung River, actually serves the best seafood in Bintan. I binged on everything from lobsters, prawns, mussels, freshly caught fish, crabs, and more. Fresh, delicious, and highly affordable, the seafood gets served in restaurants built on stilts that offer you a beautiful view of the mangrove river at the same time.Additionally, the capital, Tanjung Pinang, has an active night food bazaar called Akau, where you will find a wide range of delicious local snacks to satisfy the taste buds. One must-eat item on your list should be the ‘otak otak’, which is basically fish meat cooked Indonesian style and comes wrapped in coconut leaves.The resorts also lay out quite a buffet but, of course, for a higher price. If you happen to stay at the Bintan Lagoon Resort, don’t forget to try their Wasabi Prawns.
Try out some outdoor activities like ATV
Being an island destination, Bintan does not disappoint where water sports are concerned, you will find plenty of things to do. As most resorts face the beach, you can easily avail these activities in the water sports centers. November to March are ideal for boogie boarding, wind surfing, and long boarding as the north-easterly winds give the water that perfect swell that is a surfer’s delight. On the other hand, April to October sees calmer waters that make it ideal for jet skiing, water skiing, and, of course, diving and snorkelling.
On land, you can try your hands at ATV rides, mountain biking, and adventure treks. Your resort will help you with bookings and transfers. I had the best time in Bintan Lagoon Resort with ATV and Segway rides. You can also hire bikes and cycle within the huge resort, but since I didn’t have time, I’ve left that to my next visit.
Visit the Bintan Elephant Park
Eight Sumatran elephants run the show here. They are trained to perform delightful tricks like 360-degree turns on their hind legs and then jiving to some disco music. The show timings are at 10:00 hours Monday through Thursday, and at 10:00 and 15:00 hours Friday through Sunday. Tickets are priced at S$34 per adult and S$28 per child.The park also lets you interact with the gentle giants – you can feed them and learn about their living habits, behavioural patterns, as well as dietary habits. You can ride on their backs and take a tour through the forest, which is a one-of-a-kind experience. It would be best to avail the combo packages for ride and show, which range from S$34-39 for adults and S$25-31 for children, depending on the duration of the rides. Located in Lagoi, it’s an easy ride from your hotel as the concierge will be only too happy to book the transfers.
Sunbathe and dip in clear blue sea at Trikora Beach
The local beach lies along the eastern shores of the island and is a perfect spot for sunbathing or dipping in the sea. I found the on-rent cabanas dot the beach a good enough way of relaxing for a mere Rp2000 (SGD 0.20) for the entire day. The sea boasts of three different hues of blue on a clear sunny day, and you get lovely local food in the beach shacks. My beach sauntering led me to a fishing village close by, marked by the fishermen’s stilt houses built to catch/breed fish, locally known as ‘kelongs’. While it’s interesting to watch the fishermen concentrate on their chores, there’s another section that’s busy making boats from the scratch. Though camera-shy, these people are quite friendly and have a ready smile for tourists wandering close to them. In addition, close to the beach lies the Santa Maria Cave, which is home to a Mother Mary statue atop a half globe. It was apparently built by a Dutch priest in the 18th century that still sees people gathering there every Sunday to pay their tribute.
To get to Trikora, there are two options: you can reach it from the south via Tanjung Pinang main port or approach it from north from the Bintan resort area. The former is the preferred and, more importantly, pocket-friendly option. It’s more than an hour’s ride either way. Once you reach the capital’s ferry station, you can grab a taxi to the beach, or if you’re feeling adventurous, hop on behind the bikes of the ready takers outside the ferry station. You can also hire bikes from there for the day. But make sure you settle on an agreeable price first before they ‘take you for a ride’.
Solve the mystery of the Snake River Temple
This 300-year-old temple is by far one of the most interesting places in Bintan. Also known as Sungai Ular Buddhist Temple, the Snake River Temple is accessible only by boat from Tanjung Pinang and looms up suddenly at the mouth of the Sungai Ular or the Snake River. The structure has a mysterious aura surrounding it, and its walls are covered with paintings of the horrors and torture methods of Chinese hell.It is also a popular destination for Chinese pilgrimage, and the ride is made interesting by the winding river lanes through the mangroves that instill in you a sense of adventure. If paganism and traveling off-the-beaten-track are what fascinates you, this one’s worth a look.
Marvel at the Grand Mosque at Penyengat Island
A short boat ride from Tanjung Pinang, the Penyengat Island houses the then-ruler Raja Haji’s formidable stone fortress. Amid the tombs that dot the entire island, the citadel stands right in the middle and offers a spectacular panoramic view of the entire island. Take your selfies and family clicks at this viewpoint. Some of the tombs belonged to people who helped shape the history of this place e.g. the Bugis Princess who received the island as her dowry and the poet whose work somewhat forms the basis of modern Bahasa Indonesia. The highlight of the island, however, is the Sultan of Riau Grand Mosque which was built with a curious mix of egg white and lime as cement.
I found Bintan Island absolutely delightful, with its beautiful palm-fringed beaches, delicious seafood, great shopping spots, rich cultural heritage, the quaint little temples, and smiling, friendly faces. Easy accessibility is yet another advantage for this value-for-money getaway. So for the next short holiday, drop by the beautiful Bintan island. It certainly won’t disappoint and you will find yourself busy with all the activities it has to offer. I’ll definitely be going back one more time.