Bintan – The Island of Pirates
Formerly known as “The Pirate Island”, Bintan has gone through a huge development program and is now attracting pirates of a very different type. Its close location to the city of Singapore has seen marauding bankers, businessmen, and casual tourists make the golden shores their second home. In masses they flock to the newly-created Bintan Resorts to visit a growing selection of beachfront properties.
The rest of the island is also a potential destination, with sleepy fishing towns and adrenaline-pumping watersports seeming to go hand in hand.
Here’s what you should know if you’re planning a trip to Bintan Island.
It’s not a stretch to say that Bintan has had a difficult past. Because of its strategic location, the island has been a point of struggle and domination for many nations, including Portugal, Holland, the United Kingdom and several Arab countries. One of the results of this constant changing state of occupation is that there is a large Muslim community on the island, which may surprise some visitors.
In the last 20 years, tourism development has been a high priority and the campaigns have worked well. It is estimated that more than 400,000 visitors come each year, with the vast majority coming from nearby Singapore.
Getting to Bintan
The island of Bintan can be reached by two main methods – boat and plane. From Singapore, a catamaran ferry to Bintan Resorts will take less than an hour while a trip to the capital of Tanjung Pinang will take almost double the time. Other ferries run to Malaysia, Sumatra, and a handful of other islands.
The alternative choice is to fly in from other Indonesian cities like Jakarta, Batam, or the Natuna Islands. Island hopping is very possible and is a common method of transport for locals and travelers alike.
What to Do in Bintan
The places to visit in Bintan will largely depend on what type of vacation you want. If you plan on taking it easy and staying in Bintan Resorts, then there are plenty of activities. Four world-class golf courses have been created to meet demand and a wide array of recreational activities are on offer. For most though, a Bintan vacation will largely translate to basking in the sun and enjoying the spa.
If you have more of an adventurous streak, then getting out of the Bintan Resorts is probably your best option for having a good time. Tanjung Pinang can be challenging, but the urban setting is also home to some unique sights. The Buddhist Temple with an ornate sculpture park is definitely worth a visit. The same can be said about the cultural center, which often plays host to music and dance events and is where many festival celebrations take place.
If tasting exotic foods is more up your alley, taking a day to visit Kijang could be the highlight of your Bintan trip. Mostly an abandoned mining town, the seafood on the beach is as good as anywhere else on the island, usually at a fraction of the price. This is true Indonesian food without any peddling to milder Western palettes. Be sure to try the gong-gong, a local type of mollusk.
The watersports scene is also quite big on Bintan, primarily in Trikora. While it does border Bintan Resorts, Trikora is a much less pretentious place and used to be the backpacker capital of the island. Nowadays, many younger visitors come to the shores of Trikora to try kite surfing, sport fishing, and snorkeling.
The traditional Kelong constructions (water-based homes on stilts) are also common in Trikora and can be a great place to see them first-hand.
Shoppers will also discover that there are some choice goods to be found on the island. In particular, wooden crafts are a highlight and haggling can lead to an extremely discounted price. The same pieces can be found in either of the two malls at inflated prices, but the ones bought at market will be of a higher quality and better suited as a souvenir.
Hotels and Resorts in Bintan
As with many other southeast Asian destinations, Bintan offers the full range of accommodation options with every budget in mind. For a list of the top rated resorts in Bintan, check out our list: Top Rated Resorts in Bintan
At the top end of the spectrum, one of the best resorts on the island is the Banyu Biru Hotel. I was lucky enough to stay at this top-of-the-line resort and was amazed at their villas, which have every conceivable amenity. To my surprise, even the WiFi worked flawlessly throughout the property. In a place filled with resorts, the Banya Biru Hotel stands out as being exceptional.
If you fall under the category of a normal tourist, then some of the mid-ranged hotels may be a better fit for your wallet.
Even though they may be cheaper, many of these locations offer a surprisingly good stay with plenty of extras. One such place that I had the pleasure of visiting is the Bintan Cabana Beach Resort. The rooms are slightly above average, but the real specialty is the included breakfast which showcases traditional Indonesian cuisine as well as international favorites.
Fortunately, sticking to a tight budget is easy, even if Bintan is mostly composed of resorts.
The Sentral Hotel ’98 is the absolute epitome for low-priced quality accommodation. When I stayed there, the price was less than $15 per night, allowing me to easily see as much of Tanjung Pinang and the rest of the island as I wanted. But don’t let the cheap price fool you. It also includes a completely adequate breakfast to boot.
Facts to Know
- The official currency of the island is the Indonesian rupiah, but Bintan Resorts businesses will also accept Singapore dollars.
- The Bintan Resorts area is separated from the rest of the island and you will need to cross a border-like checkpoint if you come by land.
- Outside of Lagoi, English is not commonly spoken and having a phrasebook would be a good idea.
- You may be required to pay a $10 visa fee upon entry to the country.
Bintan Island may not be the best known southeast Asian hotspot, but the numbers of visitors are growing quickly. As such, development is high and the traditional life is undergoing a radical change. Book a trip to Bintan now to see the best of both worlds before it’s too late.