Bintan, Indonesia, is only a 45 minutes ferry away from Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal (TMFT), Singapore. Upon purchase of the ticket, you’d be informed to arrive an hour prior to your departure time. Now, we know the real reason why. No, you don’t need that much of time to do all the clearance and collection of tickets etc. It’s that, the traffic jam along the narrow road leading to the Terminal will kill you.
- Tip #1: Cater at least about 20 minutes for the potential traffic jam.
There are a couple of eateries at TMFT. Being at such a secluded location and thus the monopoly, prices are predictably more ridiculous. For instance, a slice of toast + coffee can cost you up to about $3.50. And they aren’t necessarily the best food around.
- Tip #2: Have your breakfast / meal before getting to the Terminal.
This would be the itinerary if you were to take on the Adventure Trip of the Great Bintan Sale. Read on to find out how things turned out for us.
Q: How was the ferry trip for you?
Edsmond: It was free-seating, and because the crowd was largely Singaporeans, don’t be surprised seeing stabbings and trippings to get to the front first. I was relieved to find that there was ample leg space. It was in all a very smooth ride. Oh, I have to add, I LOVE their toilet. Besides being pretty clean, it was like being transported into another place. To me, it was heaven, because the speaker was blasting with songs from Madonna, Shania Twain and the likes. Sorry, I’m a sucker for loud awesome music.
Kathleen: Pleasant. It’s not my first time on the ferry. Still as clean as I remember. I was hoping not to be around rowdy kids. Turns out I worried for nothing. There were kids around, but I guess the TVs playing Forrest Gump looking for his kid under the sea was enough to keep the children on board quiet for a fun ride.
Because of the difference in timezone, it’d be something like, leaving Singapore at 8am, and reaching Bintan at 8am. That, weirdly, feels good.
- Tip #3: Really, try to be kiasu and get in front when getting down. At one point at the Customs, there were only 2 persons doing the clearance. Can you imagine how long was the wait?
Upon getting out, look for your name / resort name / resort store for your transfer arrangement.
Brunch was first up before trekking. It was very unfortunate that there was only the Ayam Goreng Presto available during our stay. As most of the staff were headed back to their village for celebration of Hari Raya, the menu wasn’t offered in entirety.
Opened by a local family, this restaurant is renowned for its Ayam Presto. It is located approximately 45 minutes away from the resorts area.
Q: How was your first meal at Bintan?
Edsmond: Not taking into account the annoying flies, it was perfect. Though not my idea of brunch (eggs), it was still completely satisfying. Ayam Presto is where the chicken is deep-fried with skills such that it’s crisp but still retaining moist on its soft meat. Except for the primary one, the bones are edible. That wasn’t the best part though – it was the sambal chili that blew us away. The plain, white rice can be easily taken just with the company of the chili. It was that powerful. Whilst here, you might want to get bottled plain water as well (RP40,000). I can safely say that it’s cheaper that what you get in the resort area.
Kathleen: Don’t let the unassuming shop front fool you, the food was great! According to our driver, the chicken was cooked (or was it steamed?) for about 9 hours beforehand to make the smaller bones edible. The sambal chili was so good, I almost asked the owner if I can buy a packet from them. The serving was just right for me but maybe it won’t be for guys. Our driver also had the good foresight to suggest us getting bottled mineral water from here (it costs more at the resort itself).
As you’re being driven around, you would be introduced to their street food. Street full of fresh fruits. This season, it was the durians and rambutan. Similar to many other humble establishments, they are family-operated.
Q: Durians, how do they fare in comparison to that of Singapore’s?
Edsmond: With our helpful driver’s help, I got two small durians for RP20,000. It was alright. Though it was a little dry, it was sweet for sure. Completely worthy to get savor some. However, the resort we were staying in does not allow durians. I’m not sure about the others, but I guess it’s across the board.
Kathleen: I am 100% Singaporean, but I literally run at the opposite direction of durians whenever I smell them! I’m about as good as dogs sniffing out drugs at the airport at sniffing out durians near me. True story. Even so, I am still very curious about the street stall. I see families together, spending time at their stall, eating durians they’re selling together. Nobody was tweeting on their phone, surfing the net on their laptop. It was comforting to see a slower paced life of simplicity for a change.
No thanks to the wet morning, we had to reschedule our Trekking session to the next early morning. In view of that though, we had more time to ourselves on the first day, including a tour by our driver in the nearby roads. At around 1pm, we went for our Spa treatment, which had taken the place of Trekking instead.
- Tip #4: Don your trekking attire before you take the ferry already. You will not be checking into the hotel before trekking. Your bag can be placed in the car when you are trekking, but I’d suggest you keep your passport and valuables on you.
Q: What was the smell-test about?
Edsmond: They have quite a decent selection of aromatherapy oil, from rose to grapefruit, to lavender to peppermint. We have the option of concocting the oil used for our massage. I picked Lemongrass + Orange. The 60 minutes massage was the highlight of the first morning. To be frank, it was my first time at a massage parlor – I’ve never dared. And this experience further reaffirms. It. Was. Ticklish. Like. Hell. Back, legs, arms. All of it. I almost died trying to contain the laughter.
Kathleen: It’s only my second time getting a massage. The idea of a freshly-massaged body makes you feel like paradise. Until I am being massaged. Like Edsmond, I hate how ticklish it made me feel! The good thing is, because I’ve experienced it before, this time I am slightly more ready with the touch. They have a “menu” of the different scents available, suggesting what purpose they are ideal for. I picked Grapefruit + Orange. During the massage I can smell the fruits briefly at the start. After a while I kind of got used to it and wish the smell is a little stronger because they are refreshing. Good thing is the smell will stay with you throughout the day if you smell the back of your hand! By the way, we love the iced ginger drink served for us after the massage. Remember to ask about it!
After the massage, we were driven back to the resort for free-and-easy hours.
Nirwana Resort Hotel is one of the five accommodation options the 4-star Nirwana Gardens offers. It spans over 330 hectares = 3,300,000 square metres = 450 soccer fields. It is crazy ass big.
- Tip #5: Check-in is at 3pm, quite strictly. If you can, avoid heading back to resort before then.
If ‘worse comes to worse’ happens, you’d be relieved to hear that at least there’s a money changer here. Though there shouldn’t be much of a problem if you are only staying in the resort area, spending SGDs.
Life-size chess pieces. Ronald Weasley would be most pleased.
Soon after the tour around the resort, it was 3pm, check-in time.
Q: From the first touch point to the room, how was the resort experience?
Edsmond: I must say that the service could be improved. We were not welcomed at the lobby – the first touch point. I thought that was the most important, since travelers, especially beach holiday makers like to be pampered and treated like kings and queens. The Front Desk agents, on the other hand, were of reasonable standard. They were most helpful. After being cut off of WIFI, I was glad to have received the code to WIFI upon check in (unique password, thus you wouldn’t be able to get it before check-in). Signals were strong at the lobby area, but not the same in-room, which was disappointing. I’m generally pleased with the room, spacious enough and decked with a theme of shades of brown and gold. Having been in the hotel line, I was quite surprised to see that the in-room safe was movable and not nailed down, which defeats all purposes of being a ‘safe’.
Kathleen: My line of work brings me to a lot of hotels and resorts locally. I guess I was used to being greeted the lobby the moment I get off the cab so was a little surprised when nobody did when we got to the resort. Not a big deal though, the staff at the check-in desk was helpful and pleasant. The shower was surprisingly spacious. WIFI in the room wasn’t as strong but personally, I don’t really even need the WIFI. I like to be “cut off from the outside world” whenever I am away on a holiday so I spend minimal time on my phone and/or laptop. Goal is to chill and focus on the people around me, not somewhere else on the phone!
Q: What do you think of the food at Dino Bistro?
Edsmond: I love it here, from the food to the setting. Okay, maybe not so much of the food, but drinks. The Nachos was a great muncher, big portion and value-for-money. The toppings were generous and warm, and the chips were crisp and well-salted. Best to order and spend some time chilling at the Bistro. They have a series of Mocktails available as well, priced at an affordable $8. They did their job as they should – refreshing-tasting and pretty-looking. From where you sit, you can potentially overlook part of the pool, and further down, the sea.
Kathleen: We love it here, spent quite a bit of time here on both days. Away from the sun but you can still choose seats near the railing overlooking the swimming pool below behind the coconut trees. The bistro has a good balance of energy and relaxing environment where you can laze your day away with some good company or a book. Also, the nachos were surprisingly good.
After high-tea at the Bistro, we took the half-hourly shuttle service from the resort lobby to Kelong Restaurant, our dinner place for the day.
- Tip #6: Be at the lobby at least 5 – 10 minutes before the scheduled time. The shuttle services depart either on the dot or even scarily, earlier.
Q: How was dining on a kelong?
Edsmond: The Seafood-Chinese Restaurant has the prime location, no questioning. We were, very fortunately, a stone-throw away from the South China Sea. View was stunning. I can’t say the same for the Frozen Lavender Mocktail I had though – it tasted like soap. The Sambal Kangkong though, did not disappoint. It was big enough a plate for at least 3 persons. It wasn’t entirely sambal, it used chopped chili to help lift its flavors as well. The Jiang Bao Chicken was skewed toward the sweet side, which was alright, but not my preferred style of cooking. The chicken itself was tender.
Kathleen: Dinner was no fuss. We got a kick out of sitting by the South China Sea. I am contented with my freshly squeezed orange juice and Sambal Kankong. I ate 2/3 of it! I am very particular about my kangkongs. Some cooked it too soggy, some uses the wrong kind of chilli (as I’d like to call it). This is crisp, cooked the right way, good chilli.
Stretched out further into the South China Sea is the Calypso Bar. I would imagine it being a perfect spot for a drink while letting your hair down. If not, the same shuttle service would bring you back to your hotel.
An early night sleep was needed for the next day’s trip up Gunung Bintan.
Q: Did you manage to wake up in time for breakfast?
Edsmond: Barely! We had about half an hour to scan and sift through what we wanted to eat. I like that it has quite a range of pastries and bread available – my favorite section in breakfast buffet lines. Juices, coffee and tea are inclusive as well. It also serves porridge, which, I avoided, as always.
Kathleen: I didn’t want to leave the pillows, but it was good to know a good selection of breakfast buffet was what I was dragging myself out of bed to. You know how elder people tend to sleep early and wake up really early every morning? Well we were so early, even the elder people weren’t around yet. There were only a couple of tables seated! I wish I had more time to eat my way through the line, but I liked my standard go-to of DIY congee and cereal selection before rushing off for the next activity.
Q: How was the trek?
Edsmond: If you have, it’s most apt to wear boots + number 4 pants, because I didn’t see this coming – it was exactly what I did in the Army – climbing up the steep knoll, on just a roughed-out track, no proper pavement alright. It was very much a YOLO experience (outside of the Army), because halfway upwards, the bright sunny morning quickly turned into a wet, dark clouded one. It rained and we were drenched. Because it was potentially dangerous, with the storm coming, we had to head downwards. It would take about 1.5 hours per way. It was sad that we couldn’t get to see the much raved about pool and waterfall. The local guide was knowledgeable and approachable. He climbs up and down twice – thrice a week, crazy.
Kathleen: The guide was aware of how out of breath I was after every 15 minutes and would randomly suggest a break just as I was out of breath. Didn’t openly admit to my inadequate stamina once. There’s a good lad! During the breaks he would tell us interesting stuff like an annual event where teams of 4 would have 2 hours to conquer the mountain and at the end, everyone will enjoy some good (smelly) durians together. I think I must have slipped, fell and scratched myself enough times on the climb up and down to last till I need to be on a walking-cane. I wore my Converse sneakers and shorts to the trek. Biggest mistake I made next to those 12 publishers who rejected J.K. Rowling’s manuscript for Harry Potter before Bloomsbury signed her up. I wasn’t expecting the terrain we trekked on and didn’t dress accordingly. Best to bring your trekking shoes and pants along to prevent mosquitoes and scratches from the bushes!
- Tip #7: Bring along mosquito repellant; you wouldn’t be sorry.
The entire trip was a well-balanced laid-back and exhausting one. If the weather had permitted, we would be trekking on the first day and doing a massage on the second. That would have been better, since I like it all ‘no sweet without sweat‘. Though there were some boo-boos along the way, I still thought that it would have been worth the $165 spent.