Bintan is nice but pricey

You see, our timeshare comprises of one resort and four apartment locations. Not a bad deal huh? All of them are in Thailand, save the odd one that is Angsana Bintan. For some reason it is part of the deal. Well, since we have not been there, why not try it?

Bintan is 45km southeast from Singapore and an hour’s ride by ferry. While it cannot compare with the pristine waters of the Maldives, it offers somewhat a good alternative to rest, relax and rejuvenate before getting back to the hustle and bustle of Singapore.

26th July
Take the 11am ferry ride from Tanah Merah Ferry terminal. After a disappointing visit to Plaza Lagoi we returned to the resort to spend time exploring the place.
Tanah Merach ferry Terminal1Tip: check it in. No space for a trolley luggage onboard. Like the airport, we had to check in the luggage if we are not planning to carry on. And we came to the terminal about 1.5 hours ahead. Bintan is Indonesia, so passports needed!
We had time for breakfast of mee rebus and toast before heading in the boarding area.
It will be an hour’s journey.Tanah Merach ferry Terminal3
Boarding for Bintan1 Boarding for Bintan2 The ride to Bintan7
The ride to Bintan4The journey to Bintan itself is uneventful and the ferry has a small café.  Most folks are headed to the same cluster of resorts. While there are shuttles that can be arranged at Bintan, best make this ahead of your trip. We are on our way to BBT, a terminal in the northwest part of Bintan.
It is also the nearest point to get to our destination – the Angsana, which is located on the Northern coast of the island.The ride to Bintan9
Plaza Lagoi4Upon arrival, we took the transfer to the resort and dropped off our luggage.
Taking the free shuttle to Plaza Lagoi, we searched for lunch and found this one restaurant where we had our first meal in Bintan.
 Plaza Lagoi2 Plaza Lagoi is not fully developed and much of the place is still unoccupied.The daily shuttle to Lagoi bay is at 12pm and the return at 3:30pm. We wasted time here and nothing was noteworthy of a visit. Today’s Sunday and quite a crowd as the locals headed to the beach. A series of stalls selling food was open.View from the suite1

Perhaps it will be bustle with more activity when the place is fully opened and all the hotels slated to for development is complete. There are 4-5 hotels signage that we saw on the way back.
Coming back to the resort we checked in and got to rest our feet after a long morning.

Suite view2We had ourselves a one-bedroom unit, which comprises a hall with kitchenette and a large connected balcony. Not that the kitchenette will be of any use, since we found out that there are no amenities to support self catering. However this trip was not meant to be cooped up in the room and we soon set about to explore our environs.  Suite view3First stop – the beach.
The beach has pure white sand and is really rather beautiful. No oil slicks here or smelly water. What a surprise!Rock boulders of Bintan3 Angsana Beach2The rock boulders that the site is known for (pictures of it are in all the brochures) separates Angsana from the Banyan Tree. It will take a flight of stairs to get to the Banyan Tree resort.

The boulders are said to be naturally formed over long periods of time and deposited all over the beaches of the island. Rock boulders of Bintan1Large and small, they form a natural protection against the sea waves pounding the shoreline.

In the evening, you can have dinner on one of the larger boulders, overlooking the sea. It is one way to spend the evening enjoying the setting sun.
We continued our exploring and walked up to Saffron restaurant that overlooks the cove and beach area. Recommended for lunch with its views.
Rock boulders of Bintan8 Rock boulders of Bintan10 Banyan Tree Tops lookout6
Today our dinner will be at the “The Kelong” restaurant. It is not a real kelong in the sense o fishing platform – just the name.
It is a seafood restaurant located in within the Nirwana group of resorts. Every evening at 6:30pm there is a free shuttle from the Angsana to the restaurant. The return is at 8:15pm.
The pricing here is slightly better than at the resort restaurants and of good quality.
Dinner at Kelong3Be careful with ordering fish and lobsters, as they are charged by weight. Dinner at Kelong5Prawns on the other hand are not (by plate serving) and quite a good value for quality.
Calypso at Kelong2In addition to the restaurant, there is an adjoining bar (the “Calypso”) that juts out into the sea. Enjoy the breeze here over a glass of liquor perhaps late in the night. It is suppose to be a reggae bar, but when we were there, no music was pumping…just a few couples enjoying the quiet and the stars on a cloudless night. Nice if you like it that way.

The thing about the Angsana Bintan resort is its “isolation”. If you are one for a quiet solace without the hustle and bustle of thousands of other people, AND you do not mind the prices (as in money is no object), then this is the place for you. This applies to the entire resort cluster that is actually remote and relatively inaccessible to the public.

Bintan Map

Plaza Lagoi is touted to the next nexus of resort with a supposed generous dose of public access. But then as you would have seen in the preceding sections above, it is largely under developed or progressing at this time (Sep-15).​

27th July
Melvin went for a trail walk in the morning while Suan slept in. We then spent some time playing at the recreation center and went to the conservation center for turtle watching.
Forest trail walk - large Panda2 Forest trail walk - large Pandan1 Forest trail walk - Tongkat Ali
Forest trail walk - Pitcher plants Today Melvin went on a ranger trail walk in the forests just around the resorts while Suan enjoyed her beauty sleep.
The guide took me through the mixed forest, showing me large pandan, Tongkat Ali (local aphrodisiac plant) and pitcher plants along the way, before we headed up to a look out that affords views of both the Banyan Tree and Nirwana resorts.
Forest trail walk - view from top2We are facing north and the “mountain” like features that we can see in the distant would be in Johor, Malaysia.
Forest trail walk - view from top3 Forest trail walk - view from top5 It’s really that near! Well its only 45km from the little red dot right?
Of course we could also see to the west, in the distant which will be Batam island. We cannot see Singapore from here as Batam blocks the way but the sea view on this sunny day was gorgeous!
Forest trail walk - view from top6 Forest trail walk - deadfall1 Forest trail walk - deadfall2
Continuing on the trek, we came across dead falls – evident by the large fungus that are growing on the bark – ie that the tree is rotting on the inside.
Lunch at Lotus2The afternoon was spent playing pool at the recreation centre, to work off the heavy lunch. For a first timer, Suan did pretty well! She beat Melvin! The centre is also where kids can learn to paint batik prints on canvas all day long ↓ Lunch today was at the Lotus, the resort restaurant. Prices here may be higher, but we actually found that some of the items are actually good value for money.Lunch at Lotus1

For example, we had the “Catch of the day” – which prepared in the Jimbaran style, is not only savory but also generous in portion.

The preparation and the quality is very good and well justifies the price charged… My King Prawns were a little less bountiful, so ordering the “right” item will be key!

Playing Billard at Angsana1 Conservation centre Conservation centre - presentation
Conservation centre - baby turtles1Conservation centre - baby turtles5Conservation centre - baby turtles3Coming back to the resort, Suan joined me at the conservation centre of the resort. Banyan Tree has a conservation programme – one in which both Hawksbill and Green turtle babies are nursed before being released into the sea. In the late afternoon, it was time to visit the conservation centre once again for a presentation by the resident biologist. It was explained how the resort is attempting coral planting (just like the other resorts of Banyan Tree).

One interesting nugget of knowledge : you cannot make hard boiled eggs out of Turtles’ eggs!

Rock boulders of Bintan13 We took an evening walk by the beach and rock boulders once again, this time spying on the structures set in the sea. These are dinner platforms for couples that seek privacy and exclusivity. Our dinner would be at the Kelong restaurant again, taking the 6:30pm shuttle. Rock boulders of Bintan16Our fare today is humbler,
Dinner at Kelong6 Dinner at Kelong8 Dinner at Kelong10
though we still had the usual prawn dish – it is the only seafood that is not priced by the gram. Be careful when ordering fish or lobsters! Don’t overpay and verify with the waiter.  Then it was back to the resort where we enjoyed a nice evening drink before turning in for the night.

If you are a Banyan or Angsana regular, you would know that the all their oceanic resorts comes with a conservation station. Fulltime biologists, zoologists man these stations. They conduct talks for guests and frequently organize treks too.

In Bintan and also their Maldives resorts, there are turtle sanctuaries where the babies are incubated and nursed till they are deemed fit enough to be released into their natural habitat. And in most of their resorts (not this one), there are also programs to support local crafts and cultures. For budding YOLOs, this might be a good avenue to go travel the world…

28th July
Again today Melvin went for a bike ride with the resort guide to the nearby kampong. It was a rainy rest of the day which we spent playing table tennis and when the rain stopped, took to the beach for walks.
Bike tour - Kampong Bahru1 Bike tour - Kampong Bahru3 As with yesterday, Melvin was the sole participant of the guided bike tour. It was been quite many years since Melvin last cycled and was initially wobbly.  We biked around the golf course first but as we had time, we headed across to the nearby kampong, where ~60 families still live on their farms.
Bike tour - Kampong Bahru4 Bike tour - Kampong Bahru5 Bike tour - Kampong Bahru6
The population of Bintan is ~300,000 on an island of ~2400km². Its history is closely tied with Johor, for which it was part of for a long period of time since the 16th century. It is considered the centre of Malay culture when the sultanate was based in Bintan.
Its reputation as a “pirate island” dates back centuries and it is said that Chinese ship logs (up to the Sung dynasty) reported being robbed or forced to trade when entering the narrow straits that stand between Bintan/Batam and Singapore.
Angsana Swimming Pool6In the afternoon, we took a stroll by the iconic swimming pool of the resort. Angsana Swimming Pool2We had not swam here these few days as it was normally packed with Chinese tourists. However at the height of the heat it was quiet here.
Our lunch today was again at the Lotus restaurant. It was such a chore to get a transport (which costs RP175k one way) to restaurants outside the resort.
The cost of transport added on to the “cheaper” meals outside the resort probably negates the expected savings.
At least here the portions was generous.Lunch at Lotus7 In any case we were just plain lazy.Lunch at Lotus8
Recreation Centre1It was raining and so not to Recreation Centre2waste any time, we are back at the recreation centre again. Seems we are the only ones to frequent the recreation centre regularly. Here you can learn and practice painting motifs for batik and bring home your art with you! We simply decided to play table tennis.
 Recreation Centre5 Recreation Centre4It was a good thing we stayed indoors for it poured tropical for nearly 2 hours! Now you just need to be prepared for this. It’s the tropics right? Recreation Centre3Surprisingly no one came to the recreation centre despite the rain! So we had the place to ourselves and played till the rain ended.
It’s time we took a walk on the beach where there was almost no one. We had a private beach all for ourselves! Again the swimming pool was void of people, who have all left for shelter away from the rain. Perhaps they went back to their rooms? Angsana Swimming Pool10Empty pool greeted us as we Angsana Swimming Pool11stepped out after the rain.
Rock boulders of Bintan22The rain’s over and the rainbow has emerged. There must be a pot of gold in the sea just off the beach! Now if this was Ireland…perhaps there would be a Leprechaun
We are back on the beach again to take photos of the natural phenomena of light and water…
Rainbow after the rain3and there is no one else to share room with! Again!
Time flies and pretty soon it was close to dinner time. This evening we had hoped to catch some star gazing on a clear night and it appears that the clouds were still around.
At least the air adventure folks have continued to fly their ultra light seaplane – they were buzzing in the air. We sure want to try it out the next time (costs RP1.2mln for a 20 minute flight per person).
As the evening came to fore, the sun clouds began to dissipate and
Sunset walk on the beach3 we have long shadows cast on the beach. Sunset walk on the beach5
Sunset walk on the beach31 Seems like we may have a chance to see the stars tonight!
The setting sun provided many photo opportunities and fun with shadows. We walked to the end of the beach (demarcated by rock boulders) before heading back.Sunset walk on the beach38
Sunset walk on the beach29As the sun disappeared over the horizon we made our way to the Lotus for our dinner. No heading out to the Kelong tonight!
We finally had Pisang Goreng tonight with chocolate ice cream. The resort did not have this for the last 2 days!
Topping off the day, we took a night walk by the beach where we were able to gaze at the stars on this near cloudless night. They say one of the best spots to view the stars is at the Calypso bar at the Kelong restaurant! If you are staying at Bintan lagoon resort, you may see sky lanterns every Friday-Sunday.

Be prepared for short but heavy showers. The sun that comes out after that will make it look it never rained. But beware of the seasons. No winter or summer, but there is a Hot or Hotter as well as a Wet or Wetter pattern in the year.

29th July
Today we said farewell to Angsana as we took the ferry home…
Bintan ferry terminal view1This morning was a lazy one as we woke up at 9am and tossed in bed till 10am. Then it was packing up and checking out at 12pm. No charge here, we were using our time share for the four days.Bintan ferry terminal view2
We spent an hour at the lobby reading and playing games before taking the transfer at 1:30pm to Bandar Bentan Telani terminal, 10 minutes’ drive away.
We decided not to check in our trolley luggage as they were light and probably faster to clear customs than to wait for the download from the ferry.
Bintan ferry terminal 1 - Copy
Bintan ferry terminal 2 - CopyThe terminal is small and only a few shops – mostly tour companies with 2 small cafe/shops. Laguna/Banyan has a counter for concierge services. Outside the terminal, coach buses wait for the incoming folks to be transported to the various resorts. The view of the bay area is nice even at low tide and we could see the terminal is being expanded.
Bintan ferry terminal 3 Bintan ferry terminal 4 Bintan ferry terminal shops2
Ride back to Singapore2 Ride back to Singapore4 In an hour, we had sailed back to Singapore and the images of the city (one of the MBS far left) welcome us home.
Singapore is an hour ahead and we arrived at 4:30pm and were fortunate to get out first, and manage to get a cab for the onward journey home. otherwise, take bus route 35 to Bedok.

Probably because of its proximity with Singapore, prices seem to be very much “aligned” to the little red dot. Probably because we are in the resorts on the northern end of the island.

Our conversations with other travelers revealed that it is probably much more affordable in the southern part of the island nearer to the town of Tanjung Pinang. But that’s 67km away by road and there isn’t much in the way of developed public or even privately offered transport. Unlike places like Bali or Yogja, there are no Tuk² or Jeepneys…

So this is not the cheap getaway that is close to Singapore. Melvin’s colleagues also liked Batam. Perhaps we can consider that too.

July 2015

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