City breaks are buzzing, energetic and packed with activity. So, why not end your Singapore getaway with a few days of deluxe relaxation and exploration? Allow us to introduce a tranquil finale to your visit; three or four days on a tropical island called Bintan, just an hour from Singapore. A lesser-known Indonesian destination there are so many things to do in Bintan from 5-star indulgences to unique cultural experiences.
Zoe Louise Lagesse | Cover image © The Residence Bintan
In case you haven’t heard of it, Bintan sits on Indonesia’s Riau Archipelago, just an hour’s ferry ride from Singapore. It’s known mainly for its championship golf courses and luxury resorts. So, it’s the ideal place to escape to from the buzz of the Little Red Dot. But that’s not all it has to offer.
Singapore to Tanjung Pinang
Travelling from Singapore to Tanjung Pinang, Indonesia takes just under an hour. A twenty-minute cab ride from downtown Singapore will have you at Tanah Merah ferry terminal, where your adventure begins.
Booking ahead is always recommended when it comes to Bintan ferry tickets. So, once you’ve got your $40 SGD (approximately) ticket, you’ll be on your way. Buy your Bintan ferry tickets through BRF or Sindo.
Flying from Singapore to Tanjung Pinang is possible with Garuda or Lion Air. However, the route requires at least one stopover, so the ferry is a much faster option.
To save you waiting in the heat, pre-book a transfer with your hotel from Tanjung Pinang. If you forget, don’t fret, there’s plenty of friendly taxi drivers at the Bintan ferry terminal more than willing to take you to your Bintan hotel.
While it is possible to take a day trip to Bintan from Singapore, we recommend you spend the weekend and get the most out of your time on the island with all of the fun and interesting things to do in Bintan.
Getting Around Bintan Island
Public transport in rare on Bintan so visitors usually hire scooters (for around Rp. 100,000 per day) or a car (for around Rp. 500,000 per day). Your hotel can help you organise either or simply negotiate with the local businesses in person.
If you aren’t confident driving around the island yourself, pre-book a private car and driver for your stay or your excursion days. This can also be done through your accommodation.
Meet the Sea Gypsies of Panglong Village
You’d be amazed at how much Bintan’s 453 square miles has to explore. The island is a melting pot of cultures and one that’s best embraced with a visit to traditional villages like the Sea Gypsies’ (also known as Orang Suku Laut) in Panglong.
The people of this humble community are some of the most welcoming you’re ever likely to meet and will be keen to entice you into their make-shift restaurants so you can feast on local delights like dried salted fish (don’t worry, it tastes better than it sounds!)
Catch sight of the locals crafting fishing nets or making their own boats, and don’t forget to venture further into the village to admire the mosque and cathedral too.
The village is located on the north of the island, not far from Trikora, and is easily accessible via our preferred method of transport – renting a moped or car – as it allows you the freedom and flexibility to explore on your own schedule.
Step Back in Time in Senggarang Village
The Chinese settlement of Senggarang, close to the ferry terminal at Tanjung Pinang, is also worth experiencing for yourself. Here, canals weave their way between the wooden houses built on stilts and there are numerous temples and shrines to admire. And don’t deny your taste buds the chance to sample the bounty of local seafood specialities, either. Look out for them piled high on the street food carts. See more in our Bintan photo journal.
Visit the Incredible 500 Lohan Temple
The 500 Lohan Temple is one of the most interesting things to do in Bintan. When it comes to Bintan attractions, it is really unique. The intricate hand-carved stone statues stand at the ready to welcome visitors and their cameras. Wander around and take in the incredible expressions of the arhats, step into the small vihara and enjoy the views. There is a small entrance fee to visit the site. It is closed on Mondays.
Take a Bintan Mangrove Tour
The Sebung River snakes around through the mangroves and offers visitors a brief encounter in the jungle. Tours run for about 90-minutes with guides sharing their local knowledge of the surrounds and wildlife you come across in passing from monkeys to monitors. The mangrove tour costs about Rp 180,000 per person.
Join the Locals at a Street Market
Try the delicious mie bangka (hakka – style dumpling soup) and mix with the locals at one of the local food markets. Or hit the shops at the popular Pulau Bintan markets to hunt down some bargains.
Enjoy Some Water-Based Fun
If you’re something of a water baby, you’ll be happy to hear there are few sea-based activities that Bintan cannot offer up.
Rent (or take a lesson on) a paddleboard, jet ski or kayak and set out toward some of the island’s most beautiful bays. Particularly worth a visit is the saltwater Crystal Lagoon where the waters are calm and stunningly clear and Trikora Beach.
The latter is made up of four sandy beaches dotted with restaurants and wooden huts that you can rent for the day. It’s well worth taking a snorkel with you too to discover the colourful fish that are living a life beneath the waves.
Try Some Tropical Hiking
As for more lively activities, Bintan is so varied in terrain and lush in tropical foliage that it’s no surprise hiking here is a popular pastime.
One of our favourite trails leads you through the rainforest and up Mount Bintan, past waterfalls and wildlife like monkeys, lizards and vibrantly coloured birds. It’s not ridiculously high – only 340 metres – but the peak is still tall enough to reward you with sweeping panoramas that showcase the unique natural landscape.
Be sure to stop a while in the small, quaint villages at the bottom too, notable as some of the earliest settlements on the island.
The Grotto Santa Maria is another beautiful trail, and one that’s often dubbed a ‘hidden gem’. Built by a religious man from Holland in the eighteenth century, it’s made up of a series of fourteen sculptures and crosses that lead you up to the grotto and chapel.
Services are still held there every Sunday and tourists (if respectful, of course) are more than welcome to join, should they wish to. It’s tucked away not far from Trikora, and is a pretty, interesting trail that we strongly suggest adding to your itinerary.
Where to Stay in Bintan
As for where to stay in Bintan, one of the newer and most highly recommended additions to the Bintan resort scene is The Residence Bintan.
Complete with stunning infinity pool, faultless service, a heavenly spa and glorious chilled-out vibe, it’s a beachside property that’s well deserving of its five-star status.
It has been designed as a restorative escape, making it the ideal base for a stay that you want to be both relaxing and exploratory. Despite being less than an hour’s drive from the ferry terminal, it has an almost private island feel thanks in part to its abundance of greenery and sleek, zen-inducing spaces.
The infinity pool is undoubtedly our favourite area of the resort. Positioned to overlook the sea, it’s encircled by sun-drenched cabanas and a cocktail-laden pool bar, making for an idyllic spot to while away an afternoon.
And it’s equally peaceful once darkness falls too. Picture gently swaying palm trees, lights glinting on the horizon and the sound of the waves lapping over the shore as the tide makes its night-time retreat.
If that wasn’t already relaxing enough, head to the spa. Theirs is helmed by award-winning British brand, The Spa by ilā and it’s a little haven of serenity. Here, guests can take their pick from couples treatments, reflexology, chakra healing, pampering spa journeys and beauty rituals. Their wellness programmes dedicated to holistic health, yoga and rejuvenation come highly recommended too and are a wonderful choice for those who need to press the reset button.
Complimentary yoga sessions held morning and evening are also on hand to cater to your wellbeing, as is access to the state-of-the-art gym. Other activities at the resort include cooking classes, birdhouse painting and ATV driving. By far the most memorable, however, is the sunset boat trip that takes you out among the mangroves and into the glowing firefly caves.
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When it’s time to retreat to your private lodging, there’s nothing not to love about The Residence Bintan’s spacious garden villa. It’s a luxurious suite that’s set back from the beach, with a sprawling terrace that overlooks the lush landscaped gardens and views of the sea beyond. The super king-sized bed and deluxe toiletries ensure total comfort; utter perfection after a lively, adventurous day.
If you’re celebrating with that special someone, however, you might want to spring for the couples’ estate villa. It spans two storeys and has its own infinity pool; all positioned in a quiet, secluded spot away from the main resort, allowing you to savour the feeling of peaceful isolation.
Anyone in the travel industry knows that good food is one of the most enjoyable parts of a vacation, so we were happy to discover that the culinary options at The Residence Bintan don’t disappoint.
Overlooking the rest of the resort is the Dining Room, where your days here begin. Breakfast combines Western flavours with Asian specialties, and we suggest bringing your appetite for what’s in store, as not only is there a waffle and pancake station, but also a dedicated egg chef ready to make your poached, scrambled or omelette dreams come true. The hot and cold buffet selections have plenty of variety too, to ensure carnivorous, pescatarian and vegan palettes are all well catered for.
The piece de resistance of The Residence Bintan dining, however, is Rica Rica. The menu is a celebration of modern Indonesian flavours and is best enjoyed via an amazing set menu designed for two. It’s made up of a selection of Indonesian small plates that come exquisitely prepared using locally sourced ingredients. Particular highlights include the Wagyu beef rendang (slow-cooked for four hours) and aromatic fish curry that had us marvelling, eyes closed, at the rich cacophony of flavour in every bite.
The Residence Bintan also puts on ad hoc barbecues and romantic beach dining experiences. The latter happens most weekends and is beautifully set up after dark with tables on the sand dotted between the trees. The combination of candlelight dancing on the trees and fantastic Indonesian live music creates an intimate, casually elegant ambience that’s guaranteed to have you feeling utterly stress-free. As for the food, there are three tantalising set menus to pick from; one for meat, another for seafood and a third focused solely on vegetables.
Bintan is a conveniently located slice of heaven that – quite literally – has something for everyone. Whether you’re seeking a romantic getaway, active weekend with friends or a solo adventure, this combination of five-star resort and boatload of tropical island activities manages to tick all the boxes you could hope for.
Zoe Louise Cronk is a freelance writer and editor who left the corporate world behind to spend her days crafting ideas into articles and exploring new avenues of health and fitness.
When not writing or daydreaming, Zoe can be found planning the next tick off her travel bucket list.