Sun, sand and mangrove: Where else to get wet when in Bintan
Don’t be limited by your hotel pool
Bintan seems predictable, right? Basically you take a Friday off from work to head down to the ferry terminal, and join the army of soulless Singaporeans who had the same idea—to shuffle onboard a boat for a long weekend away in Bintan. Because of the sparse layout of the island, you won’t even consider stepping outside your chosen resort, and will spend the next two uneventful days by the pool you paid for.
Restful, but not the most original. Little do most visitors know that there is indeed a life beyond the hotel swimming pool. We checked in to newly opened The Residence Bintan, to check out where to have a dip around the most popular Riau Island.
Deluxe one-bedroom Beachfront Villa
We said we wouldn’t speak of it, but might as well get this necessary evil over and done with. A stay at any of the resort’s 28 Beachfront Villas comes with private infinity pools on the verandah, while the one-bedroom villas under The Estate category boast infinity pools overlooking the sea. Compared to the main guest pool, the size is nothing to shout about; but it sure feels luxurious having a slice of blue that’s yours alone to enjoy, any time of the day.
The private beach at The Residence Bintan
Because the hotel is located on the far end of the Indonesian island (away from the town center of Tanjung Pinang and the more mainstream Bintan Resorts properties), it enjoys more seclusion even on the beach. The stretch of coast belonging to The Residence Bintan is a palm tree-lined walk away from the hotel restaurant Rica Rica, and runs down to outside the aforementioned Beachfront Villas; perfect for a quiet stroll or private yoga at dawn.
The best time to head down to the beach is at low tide—when the unspoiled sandbank stretches out far beyond the eye can see, beckoning you towards the horizon, to walk where sea creatures scurried just hours before.
Local fishermen camping out on Kawal River, near Tanjung Pinang
But enough about in-hotel water bodies. For the adventurous, a trip out to Bintan’s mangrove forests should be eye-opening. We embarked on the day trip with a boat full of skeptics—mangroves in Southeast Asia are a dime a dozen; what’s so new about this one? The ride down Kawal River felt different; less commercial, closer to nature, and that little bit more authentic—that one golden aspect we tourists crave when abroad these days. Perhaps it was the torrential rain that started moments after we climbed into the boat; Bintan’s tropical, atmospheric way of saying hello.
Our tour guide pointing out local berries found in the mangrove forests
Beyond cruising down the forest-lined river, a tour to the mangroves brings you to lesser sailed waters inhabited by the island’s nomadic “sea gypsies”. These North Bintan natives once lived entirely in rickety boats sailing around Indonesia, subsisting on the fishing trade and what nature could provide. They had no need for hospitals and modern amenities in times of illness; expecting mothers would even give birth right on the water, our guide added. Today, the community has largely relocated into houses on stilts at the riverbank, though the river is still their primary resource. In all honesty, there’s nothing more endearing than spotting the local kids splashing about during “bath time” in the water.
The corals beneath the water at Pulau Mapur are 100% natural, according to General Manager Bagus Paramarta at The Residence Bintan
Color us surprised when we found out that Bintan offers snorkeling opportunities. A bumpy, 20-minute speedboat ride away from the main island is private oasis Pulau Mapur—all pristine white sands, teal waters, and an underwater wildlife scene that can rival Phuket’s over-fished one. The boat anchored at a safe distance away from the coral bed, giving us space to wade deeper in life jacket and flippers for a closer look. For a moment, swimming above the corals—in startling hues of greens and pinks—it was easy to forget we were just a few hours away from Singapore.
The Residence Bintan, which partners with local operators for both the mangrove and snorkeling tours, also happens to own roughly 80 percent of the private Mapur Island; so you can rest easy away from the hordes of tourists. If you have a whole day to spare, head out to the beach to catch some sun and Zs.
We’ve been to Bintan before, but this time felt different. This time, it felt like we’d actually seen something new.
Where to stay
The Residence Bintan, the latest addition to the Cenizaro group’s resort brand The Residence. Kampung Galang Batang, RT.005/RW.003, Gunung Kijang, Kabupaten Bintan, Kepulauan Riau 29153. +62 778 6000888
After disembarking at Bandar Bentan Telani terminal, hop aboard the hotel’s shuttle service for a one-hour car ride to The Residence Bintan. If, as evidenced in this article, you prefer travel by water, continue on a ferry ride to Tanjung Pinang, then grab a taxi to the resort.
1 SGD = 10,570 IDR