Singapore is without doubt one of the most attractive cities in Asia right now. But neighbouring Bintan is for those in the know.
With its year-round sunshine, world-class shopping malls and vibrant food scene, Singapore is one of the most enticing tourist destinations in Asia. Its reputation as one of the safest and cleanest cities in the world has also made it a rm favourite among well-heeled travellers, and with Emirates and Etihad flying direct into the Lion City 14 times daily, it is increasingly popular with those from the GCC. But where to head to when the Singapore Flyer has been own, Gardens by the Bay unearthed and there isn’t a satay stand left unturned? Despite the city’s applaudable efforts to make itself the greenest in the world, finding a sense of space can prove challenging. Thankfully, the Indonesian island of Bintan is just over an hour’s ferry ride away and feels worlds apart from the urban skyscrapers, subway and inner city sounds.
Part of the Riau archipelago, which is made up of over 3,000 islands, Bintan is one of the closest and most accessible points to Singapore. While Bali, Java and the New Guinea islands might get more tourist attention, Bintan offers a lower key – some might say more authentic – version of Indonesian life. While it remains relatively unknown it is currently undergoing a major transformation that is set to propel it into the limelight.
Thailand’s luxury hotel group, Banyan Tree, has been one of the first to stake its claim on the island, opening a 64-room property that’s just a 10-minute drive from the ferry terminal of Tanah Merah. Set on the Angsana estate, the four-star hotel is flanked by the recently developed Cassia property and the Angsana Bintan, with which it shares a private beach. Guests are also welcome to use the facilities and restaurants at any of the resorts, although it is subtly cut off from its neighbours by dense jungle.
Perched on its rocky outcrop overlooking the South China Sea, the hotel feels more like a tropical lodge than a classic beach resort. The villas meander along a tightly woven path that rises and falls with the landscape (no levelling out here) and either jut out over the water or balance precariously on stilts, high up in the canopy. Reaching any of the three restaurants by golf buggy can be a slightly hair-raising experience, but it all adds to the refreshing sense of being immersed in nature – and makes dinner all the more worthwhile. Saffron is the resort’s signature restaurant, serving ne Thai cuisine for dinner only from its glass-fronted premises overlooking the sea. Beneath it, The Cove features a European menu in a slightly more casual setting and, nally, Treetops presents a mouth-watering display of local specialities from gado-gado and nasi goreng to beef rendang that will blow your mind as well as your mouth if you don’t specify that you’d like it mild.
A focal point in any Banyan Tree property, the spa at Banyan Tree Bintan is unmissable. All of the therapists have been trained in either Bangkok, Singapore or at the academy on the island and their massages are hands down one of the most indulgent hands-on treatments in this part of the world. Paying tribute to its surroundings, the spa menu includes a host of massages and techniques using native ingredients such as coconut milk and cinnamon, but there are also plenty of Thai therapies on offer for those whose idea of a spa treatment is a little more rigorous. For the more active, the neighbouring Laguna Golf Bintan course is a golf-lover’s paradise, 18 holes of gleaming green set to a pristine backdrop of palm trees and birdsong. Compared with Singapore, where space is scarce and prices high, rates at the Laguna Golf are modest, with an annual club membership starting from approximately AED 945. There is also a marine centre, where all of the usual watersports can be organised. Even on rainier days there is an activity program that ranges from cooking classes to the more niche towel folding.
In the case of rain, then there are worse places to while away a few days than in one of the Ocean, Rainforest, Oceanview or Spa villas. Ranging from one to two bedrooms, each one is its own private sanctuary complete with plunge or in nity pool. The décor is distinctly Indonesian, from the teak four-poster bed with its billowing mosquito net to the sumptuous day beds that have been strategically placed for optimum lounging and little touches, from the ever-rotating joss stick menu to the batik bathrobes, ensure that there is a level of personality that is so often missed by large-chain hotels.
With ferries from Singapore five times a day during the week and seven times daily at weekends, leaving the Little Red Dot for the leafy green idyll of Bintan is well worth it.