Written by Candice Neo
Bintan is easy to peg as resort central. Just hearing the island’s name sends most people’s minds drifting to swanky resorts and pristine pools. The general mind-set seems to be that when you need a break from the hectic pace of Singapore, you head to Bintan.
And no wonder – the Indonesian island is home to stunningly luxurious hotels and epic swimming pools. It’s easy to spend an entire weekend on the island simply lounging by the pool while sipping a cold drink.
But don’t be too quick to write Bintan off as a mere resort destination.
As it turns out, this stunningly beautiful and diverse island has more than a few tricks up its sleeve, ranging from natural wonders to man-made marvels.
So don’t just settle for luxuriating by the pool, but head out to discover the real Bintan instead with these secret and incredible things to do!
1. Visit Bintan’s oldest Chinese settlement on a floating village – Senggarang Water Village
Travel back in time as you step into this quaint floating village that houses one of Bintan’s oldest Chinese settlements.
Built on stilts right on the sea, this ancient seafaring village is just a water-taxi ride from the local Bintan port of Tanjung Pinang (where most locals live). The slow pace of life here is a good reminder that sometimes, slowing down allows us to better appreciate the little things in life.
You’ll also get to visit the Banyan Tree Temple, where the trunks and roots of a giant banyan tree are wrapped around the structure of the old temple.
Another temple you’ll visit is the Vihara Dharama Sasana, built by early Chinese settlers to give thanks for the safe journey across the sea. While you’re there, don’t forget to also pick up some local produce and dried seafood from the local market of Tanjung Pinang.2. Pamper yourself with an affordable massage – D’Bintan Salon Day Spa
One of the must-dos during a weekend getaway in Bintan is a luxurious but affordable massage, to ease our upcoming Monday blues!
But I’m sure most of you find that massages in your resort are usually quite expensive. If you’re looking for a more value-for-money option, you can consider D’Bintan Salon Day Spa. A one-hour traditional massage starts from Rp. 350,000 (approximately S$ 33) and you get to relax in a comfortable ambience.
They offer complimentary pick-up and drop-off services from your hotel too (with minimum spend of Rp.700,000 and as long as you are staying in the Bintan Resorts area) so you don’t have to worry about transport!
3. Indulge in affordable facial, seafood and fine dining experiences at Tanjung Pinang
If you like me are tired of overpriced food and spa in the touristy areas, and don’t mind travelling a bit to find the hidden gems at local prices, you should definitely spend a day at Tanjung Pinang!
It’s about an hour’s drive from the Bintan Resorts area, but it’s worth it if you’re travelling as a group and want to experience a different yet comfortable side of Bintan.
Here are some local secrets most tourists wouldn’t know (some shared by a local!).
Not sure how to get to Tanjung Pinang? You can call for a taxi at your resort or simply rent a car (which might be more value-for-money if you’re travelling in a group) – check out our Getting Around section at the end of this article!
a. High quality facials at local price – La Bella Aesthetic Clinic
This beauty clinic has raving reviews from Indonesians and it’s not difficult to see why. They offer facial detox from Rp. 200,000 (approximately S$19) and many of their customers are very satisfied with the results.
As an aesthetic clinic, they also offer botox, fillers as well as laser treatments.
Do note that this is a local non-touristy area, so they might not be able to converse fluently in English, but simple English is fine! Remember to WhatsApp or call them to make an appointment before you go!
b. Sunset dinner right by the sea – Manabu Bintan
Yes we are talking about sunset cocktails and casual dining overlooking the sea. Locals say this is one of the best restaurants in town – at affordable prices too.
Manabu Bintan is perfect for a chill evening with friends and loved ones as you bask in the sea breeze and the lovely ambience.
They generally serve a large variety of Italian, Thai and Indonesian cuisine as well as dessert and pastries (think croffles, cinnamon buns, croissants, pain au chocolat, etc), so if you’re not here for the sunset or dinner, you can even pop by for brunch!
Here, you can get medium-sized pizzas at less than Rp.45,000 (~S$4) and regular-sized (larger) ones at less than Rp. 75,000 (~S$7). Mains typically cost around Rp.60,000 (~S$5.70) – so much more affordable than in the resort area of Bintan!
Don’t forget to pair your meals with a cocktail (which generally costs around Rp. 60,000 – Rp.70,000, approximately S$5.70 – S$6.65) or mocktail (Rp. 30,000 – Rp. 40,000, approximiately S$2.85 – S$3.80)!
Our recommendation? Come here around 5pm, so you can take good photos with natural lighting. Take your time to sip on a sunset cocktail as you watch the sun go down. As the sky transitions to night, the fairy lights are turned on for a different ambience at dinnertime.
Remember to make a reservation before heading there as they tend to be quite popular with locals!
c. Dig into seafood at a locals’ favourite – RM Alim
It’s not easy to find a seafood restaurant that’s not overly touristy in Bintan but you can find a few in Tanjung Pinang!
This is one of the locals’ favourite in town, where you can dine right by the sea and enjoy the sea breeze as you dig into fresh crabs, fish and shellfish. Make sure to check with them beforehand if it’s the season for large crabs!
Do check the prices directly with them before you order due to the seasonal pricing of most seafood!
This is a local secret so there’s no signboards, and you have to walk down a narrow alley (next to Bank Permata) before reaching this restaurant, so do ask for directions in case you get lost!
4. Fresh and affordable seafood near Trikora Beach – Teluk Bakau Bay View
If you’re staying near Bintan Spa Villa Beach Resort & Spa, you’re in luck.
This seafood restaurant is right next to the resort and they are popular for their fresh seafood and al fresco dining right on the beach.
Go for their chilli crab, black pepper crab, fresh snapper, and we heard that their pepe (a kind of shellfish) is good too!
The staff might not be able to communicate fluently in English, so do be patient and ask in simple English if they can’t understand what you need. Do bring along mosquito repellent especially if you are travelling during the rainy season!
5. Explore the enigmatic sand dunes – Gurun Pasir Busung
The diversity of the Indonesian landscape seems to truly be endless. In the middle of all the lush rainforests and pristine tropical beaches, you can also find a stretch of desert.
This is exactly what you’ll discover in the mysterious dunes of Gurun Pasir Busung. What was once a quarry is today transformed into picturesque sand dunes that instantly transport you to the dreamy landscape of the Arabian nights.
Lately Gurun Pasir Busung has emerged as something of an Instagrammers’ favourite – but since the site hasn’t attracted any significant tourism development as of yet, the dunes remain charmingly low-key.
This Indonesian take on the Sahara desert is easy to find since it’s located right by the side of Jalan Raya Busung, but keep in mind that there is no public transport to reach it.
6. Visit a ghost ship at sunset – MV Doulos Phos
With all the glitz and glamour of Bintan’s swanky resorts, it’s easy to forget that this island, has its own rich and colourful history too.
To get a first hand feel of a time gone by – not to mention some serious photo-ops! – pay a visit to the abandoned ship docked next to Bandar Bentan Telani Ferry Terminal.
Originally built in 1914, the vessel currently known as MV Doulos Phos sailed the high seas transporting produce and passengers before being repurposed as a floating bookstore.
The ship was finally put on sale in 2009 and has since been waiting to be turned into a boutique hotel by the new owners. The project is finally approaching finish and the hotel is set to open at the end of 2016.
But for now, the abandoned vessel sits on the beach, waiting to be immortalised in truly unique holiday snaps. It’s an especially impressive landmark during sunset, when the skies are painted a glowing shade of pink!
7. Discover a surreal lagoon with bright blue water and white sand – Danau Biru, Kawal
Though Bintan is surrounded by clear blue ocean on all sides, those picturesque shores might just pale in comparison to the mesmerizing shades of blue you will discover at Danau Biru.
The lake and its surreal blue waters surrounded by white sandy dunes are in fact so beautiful…That you might be surprised to learn that instead of a natural oasis, Danau Biru was in fact created as a result of mining activity in the region and active mining still takes place in the area.
Because the lake is not a tourist attraction as such, you can expect a peaceful visit complete with stunningly beautiful views. Just remember to pack your own lunch to go!
8. Splash around in pristine waters and indulge in your favourite water sports – Treasure Bay Bintan
Just as the name would suggest, Treasure Bay Bintan is a shining jewel of a resort. In fact, it’s more than a resort – it’s a full-blown resort city. This cornucopia of luxury travel offers so many unforgettable experiences that it’s hard to know where to start!
So dive into Treasure Bay head first and choose your favourite!
8-1. Inject some glamour into camping – Natra Bintan
Camping meets glamour at Natra Bintan (previously known as The Canopi), where guests get to experience sleeping out in the great outdoors without sacrificing one inch of luxury and lavish comfort.
Natra Bintan consists of 41 tents set amidst a lush tropical setting complete with a mangrove river and the ocean glimmering in the distance.
If camping brings into mind mosquito bites and soggy s’mores, it’s time to think again.
Each tent is fully air-conditioned and houses a plush four-poster bed, and with alfresco hot tubs and stellar WiFi – this is a camping ground that will win over even the most discerning traveller.
8-2. Discover a unique paradise bay – Crystal Lagoon
Imagine the most beautiful, pristine white sandy beach you have ever seen. Got it? Now multiply it by ten and you’ll have some idea of what to expect from a visit to Crystal Lagoon.
Boasting a status as Southeast Asia’s very first man-made seawater lagoon, Crystal Lagoon is all about stunning turquoise water and epic fun in the sun.
Although this manmade wonder draws quite a crowd, there’s plenty of room to splash around for everyone as the lagoon’s size equals a whopping 50 Olympic-size pools!
8-3. Get your adrenaline fix and prepare to get wet! – Chill Cove @ Treasure Bay
Calling all water babies! Whether you prefer to explore the underwater world or to catch your thrills above the surface, Treasure Bay has got you covered.
Chill Cove offers an array of different water sports suitable for beginners to the adventurers!
You can kayak in the crystal clear water, take the paddle boat, plunge down the 7.5-metre Slip and Slide or simply have fun at the Water Sports Park!
Or if you prefer something on land, there’s ATV rides too!
9. Explore mysterious brick igloos – Rumah Arang
Igloos in Indonesia? Might sound strange but in Bintan they really do exist! Or at least, something very akin to those icy abodes.
Once used as furnaces by the nomadic Sea Gypsies, the domed huts fell out of use after the traditional way of burning mangrove to produce charcoal was banned.
Today the brick buildings, which are strangely reminiscent of a beehive, are enjoying a second coming as a quirky tourist attraction.
Wander through the village and snap photos besides the mysterious looking huts – and leave your friends back home guessing into what ancient kingdom you have stumbled upon!
10. Escape to a private beach paradise – White Sands Island
Get ready to experience the desert island paradise of your wildest dreams.
White Sands Island is a not your basic resort, but an actual private island where guests get to indulge in a customized holiday experience in a stunning tropical setting.
You can spend your time snorkelling in the crystal clear waters, kayaking around the lush island or settle in for a night of camping under the stars.
It’s all about what makes you happy! After roaming about in this paradise, grab a drink at the bar or set a picnic by the sea and prepare to be swept away by a stunning sunset.
11. Take your vacation into new heights – Gunung Bintan Adventure Trek
Take your Bintan experience into stunning new heights by conquering Gunung Bintan!
Hike up to the 340-metre summit and be rewarded by jaw-dropping 360-degree overlooking the island. The height is just enough to offer stunning vistas and terrific photo-ops, but still manageable in 2-4 hours.
In addition to the gorgeous views, you’ll encounter exotic flora and fauna, and a waterfall too! Catch photos of mischievous monkeys and tune into the singsong of exotic birds.
Reach out your hand a grab a juicy mangosteen or a ripe banana straight from the vine. Heading down the hillside, pause by a hidden waterfall, where you can enjoy a refreshing dip beneath the cool cascading waters.
12. Seize unmissable photo-ops at a grand 500 statue garden – 500 Lohan Temple (Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva Vihara)
Diversity is the backbone of the Indonesian landscape, and sure enough, you can find mosques, churches and temples happily coexisting in Bintan, too.
One of the island’s most fascinating holy sites is 500 Lohan Temple, a Buddhist shrine which houses a mesmerising sculpture park.
As you might have guessed, the park is home to some 500 Lohan statutes that will make you feel like you’ve stumbled into an ancient shrine in Mainland China.
Make sure to take your time as you make your way through the sculpture maze, as each one of the life-size statues is unique. You can check the name of each stony inhabitant from the carvings etched to their feet.
13. Enjoy fresh seafood and chill at a floating bar! – Kelong Seafood Restaurant, Calypso Floating Bar
Looking for the best dine and wine option? Look no further than Kelong Seafood Restaurant, and Calypso Floating Bar that’s both located right at the same place!
13-1. Fresh seafood with a side of epic sunset views
At Kelong Seafood Restaurant, it’s all about food with a view!
Built on high stilts just off the shoreline, the restaurant offers a prime spot for taking in a tropical sunset over the ocean – as you tuck into a plateful of incredibly fresh seafood.
The cuisine on offer is a delicious mix of Indonesian and Chinese fare and when it comes to seafood– it doesn’t get much fresher than this, as much of the fish is caught mere coconut’s throw from the restaurant.
After filling your belly with fresh seafood, finish the night off with cocktails at the neighbouring Calypso Floating Restaurant and let the reggae tunes sway you into sheer tropical bliss.
13-2 Catch Bintan’s best sunset view floating over the South China Sea – Calypso Floating Bar
What better way to end an epic day on Bintan than by walking into the sunset – literally!
You can do just this at the aptly named Calypso Floating Bar at Nirwana Gardens Resort. Trust us: this is the absolute best place for taking in a seaside sunset on Bintan.
Make your way down the winding pier and discover an oasis of a cocktail bar, which appears to be simply floating on water, standing on high stilts and surrounded by ocean on all sides.
True to its name, guests at Calypso are treated to Caribbean vibes with some groovy Rasta influences. Case in point: the drink list includes names ranging from The Essence of Rasta to Reggae Fever.
14. Aim for a hole in one and enjoy breathtaking ocean views – Ria Bintan Golf Club
Cynics say that golf is a good walk spoiled. This cliché couldn’t be further from the truth at the jaw-droppingly beautiful Ria Bintan Golf Club.
Regardless of whether you are a seasoned pro or have never held a club in your life, this gorgeous location is guaranteed to inspire you to strive for a hole in one.
The resort is perched right on the water, opening out to marvellous views overlooking the South China Sea – with a lush green forest shrouding the exclusive course from the outside world. And the club’s high standards aren’t just limited to the views, either.
If you’re looking to really work on mastering that perfect swing during your stint on the island, the club’s world-class 18-hole course is more than up to the challenge.
15. Catch a glimpse of Bintan’s nomadic sea gypsy village – Trail of the Sea Gypsies
Trust us – life on Bintan is not limited to what you see within its many resorts. In fact, one could argue that the real Bintan lies somewhere far beyond the private pools and thrilling water sports.
To catch a glimpse of some the island’s authentic magic, follow the trail of the Sea Gypsies. The Sea Gypsies are nomadic people to whom home has traditionally meant a boat sailing the waters surrounding Indonesia.
Though the gypsies have put down shallow roots on the idyllic shores of Bintan, a lot of their traditional ways still prevail. Visiting their village of brings you up close and personal with these maritime people and you get to witness everything from traditional boat making to houses built on stilts over water.
Be prepared to lose your heart to the children running around you, shooting shy smiles and giggles at every turn.
16. Tune into the blissful frequencies of the jungle at Aroma River Spa
Aroma River Spa takes relaxing spa treatments into blissful new heights!
At Bintan’s one and only floating spa, you can enjoy heavenly massages and healing spa treatments all the while being surrounded by the lush beauty of a pristine mangrove river.
The facilities have been built in complete harmony with the surrounding nature, with bamboo huts perfectly blending into the luscious rainforest.
After blissing out on a Traditional Riau Body Massage or going all out on a De-stress River Spa Package – enjoy a leisurely boat ride down the tranquil river, and let the lush green vistas cast their spell on you.
17. Go on a jungle adventure – Mangrove Tour / Fireflies Tour
Go on a jungle adventure through Bintan’s lush nature and witness the vibrant green of the island’s mangrove forests and the soft sparkle of its fireflies.
Mangroves are true multitaskers and a vital part of the ecosystem.
Mangrove forests provide a home for countless varieties of fish and other marine life as well as protecting the coastline from erosion. During your mangrove cruise, you get to encounter monkeys and other wildlife and simply relish the lush calm of the forest. As an added treat, you might just glimpse local fishermen at work.
If you are more of a night owl, why not opt for the nocturnal tour instead?
The night tour will allow you to marvel at the starry sky, whose magical twinkle is only rivalled by the soft glow of the swarming fireflies as your boat slides down the jungle river.
18. Sample Bintan’s original beach life – Trikora Beach
Looking to escape the city for a bit of seaside bliss? Look no further than Trikora Beach, Bintan’s original beachfront paradise.
This stretch of white sand on the island’s northeastern coast is where beachgoers used to flock before the emergence of the island’s grand resort developments.
Trikora Beach is actually a chain of four beaches, conveniently named from one to four going from south to north – so that would be Satu, Dua, Tiga, Empat in bahasa Indonesia.
During dry season, you can expect white sand and crystal clear waters perfect for snorkelling!
With a few huts selling cold drinks and local snacks, the atmosphere is irresistibly laidback – with a delightfully small number of local beach lovers, and fellow backpackers looking for that idyllic breed of low-key seaside living.
19. New glamping in Bintan, Stay at this magical desert hideaway! – The Anmon Resort Bintan
Glamping just got taken to a whole new level at this desert-inspired resort in Bintan, sleep under the stars and experience luxury at the same time!
A true hipster experience, not only can you laze around their pool in colourful and unique floats, but you can also spend an evening gazing between stars and an old-school cinema screen on sunbeds by the sand!
At only 5 minutes from the Bintan-Singapore ferry pier, you won’t need to travel so far to experience this slice of luxury!
From SGD $156 (Approximately Rp. 1,550,000) a night for a double tent, take your sweetheart on a magical island getaway that’s going to whisk you away to a different era!
Sounds like the perfect romantic getaway!
So there you have it – our Bintan favourites, ranging from sandy dunes to lush mangrove forests, and from a mysterious stone statue park to a full-blown private island!
Now, we’d love to hear from you: what are your unmissable attractions in Bintan? Let us know in the comments below!