Ah, Bintan. A show of (rhetorical) hands how many of you actually have yet to visit the Indonesian island? In some ways, Singaporeans are pretty fortunate. We get many things packed into a small area. If you want nightlife you got it. If you want the beach you got it. Everywhere is usually only less than a 30 to 40-minute drive away. Pretty neat on some level, you have to admit. My day job involves scouring for a picture-perfect location. When my work brings me abroad, sometimes those long two, three hours’ drive just to get to a place can be tiring.
So this little fortune means that we do not really need to explore too far for a slightly different vibe.
Situated in the north-western part of Bintan, Nirwana Gardens enjoys an area of their own with five different properties stretched along the beach area. This past weekend, we stayed at the Nirwana Resort Hotel and tried their one-week old themed restaurant, Neydles House.
We happily took a much-needed rest in our Premier room after the most choppy boat ride in all of our entire Singaporean lives so far (just our luck). Half of the people on our boat were throwing up but I digress. Nirwana Gardens had just renovated all their rooms and as someone who stays up to read before bedtime, I am happy to spot the reading lamps beside each bed. A small but very considerate touch I appreciate. I was also happy to see that the power sockets are our 3-pin version, which means no need for pesky adaptors.
I was relieved to find that toiletries and towels are provided, so you do not have to waste precious space in your day travel bag packing your own towel. These are not amenities I take for granted (I had very recently stayed at a property where they do not have dental kit even upon request). Hairdryer mounted on the wall is always a plus. Pretty pleased with our room. If I were to nitpick anything of the room it would be the sometimes-slow WiFi and the aged water boiler.
We were ready for more sea! Neydles House sits on the beach where we enjoyed a mocktail by the rolling waves. But because of the proximity to the sea, mocktails may taste slightly salty if the it gets really, really windy, like it did while we were there. I sure did not mind though.
Neydles House crafted its menu based on inspirations from all over Asia, so you can expect flavours from Thailand, Singapore, Japan, Korea, and China, amongst others. The 120-seat restaurant boasts an open kitchen concept, a full service bar, and an outdoor deck lounge to cater to different occasions. The restaurant is only in its infancy; more developments are under way, like Teppanyaki counters, and new dim sum selections. It surely makes for a very all-round and convenient one-stop shop for food.
Aside from the udon, the rest of the noodles are handmade in-house daily by the chefs. If I had to pick a favourite dish, it would be the two bowls of nuts. It was so addictive! We were telling the staff they could sell them and I would buy it. I. Could. Not. Stop. Aside from the nuts distraction, the Stir-fried Udon with Seafood (Rp245,000; S$26) will satisfy fans of black pepper like myself. I also enjoyed the Hong Kong Style Crispy Noodles (Rp220,000; S$23.50). Some of us found it just a tinge too salty but it suits me just fine.
Heads up, Instagrammers. Introducing you to Blooming Tea (Rp50,000; S$5.30)! When you are no longer mesmerised by the novel appearance, you may like to know that it is a combination of green tea leaves from various flowers. I have never had so much different types of noodles in one sitting before. The tea was a nice digestive drink for me. Neydles House carries three different flavours for you to pick from. Now go snap away!
Food coma is real, everybody. Despite the need to walk those noodles off after a well-fed meal, we were too lazy and did the Ninebot Tour (Rp200,000-600,000; S$21-64, depending on whether it’s a circuit (10-15mins) or a tour package (about 1 hour), and whether it is on a weekday or weekend; check out more information and prices here. Note that we were told that a minimum of 2 persons rather than the stated 6 suffices to book a tour) instead. But first, you got to make sure you are at least the grand old age of 9 and be at least 1.4m tall for safety reasons. Not to worry if you have no experience with it! A short tutorial will be given to everyone to make sure you are comfortable on the Ninebot.
Alright, time to channel my inner Katniss Everdeen at the archery range. Actually, I got to have a go at Archery (Rp95,000; S$10 for 25 arrows) and Air Rifle (Rp95,000; S$10 for 25 pellets) because I absolutely volunteered to NOT be a tribute at the flying-fox activity (Rp115,000; S$12.20 per person per ride). Also, I have actually wanted to try these two activities for the longest time. So it is with unabashed delight I share that I managed one wondrous bullseye. I am really secretly Kat…niss Everdeen.
Of course there is also a spa option in the resort at Anindya Spa by Andaru, situated within the grounds of Mayang Suri. An array of traditional beauty and spa treatments is available to cater to differing preferences, complete with massage treatments from Borneo, Bali and Java. You will also be pleasantly surprised to learn of the numerous other activities offered at the resort.
After a quick shower, we all had a chance to tour two of the seven Indra Maya Pool Villas, which is one of the five Nirwana Gardens properties. I really enjoyed the view that comes with the villas – it sure helped we had a nice, windy weather that day too. Each villa comes with a private pool, courtyard and personal buggy. Oh yes, you can drive the buggy yourself if you so wish. Do I hear you say cheap thrill? Sure and why not? The villa also comes with Personalised Villa Host Service. Do you wish to have that coconut that is up on the tree next to your private pool? Personalised Villa Host Service. Do you wish for someone to cook your dinner while you are out trying to hatch a Tyrogue? Personalised Villa Host Service.
The first thing we thought of when we hear Calypso Floating Bar was Pirates of the Caribbean. If you have seen the movie you would know what I am talking about. Anyway, so no weird Calypso spotted as we walked on the bridge that is stretched out to the sea where the floating bar is. Cocktails with names like Essence of Rasta seem appropriate as Bob Marley sings from the speakers above the bar counter. It was still so windy out there (hi monsoon season) it is best you leave your Panama hat in the safe haven of your room. For all of us teetotallers, there are mocktails available as well.
Now on to The Kelong Seafood Restaurant for a feast of fresh seafood – featuring the 9-Course Set Meal (Rp3,850,000; S$405 for a table of 8). It makes up to about S$50/person for all those food, and honestly I think it is well worth it. We started off with Braised Conpoy Superior Broth that comprises sliced abalone, dry scallop, yu shun and crab meat. The in-betweens include Hong Kong Style Garoupa, Stir-fried Butter Prawns with Oats, and Braised Stone Crab with Chilli Sauce, amongst others. A classic Honeydew Sago dessert was served for a sweet ending. We should have expected another round of food coma on the horizon.
Another after-the-meal-walk was in order. This time we visited the Lagoi Bay Lantern Garden. Just a short ten minutes drive from the resort, the garden is a mini lantern exhibit featuring animals and sea creatures accompanied by short write-ups by the side. It is also there that we finally found Nemo and Dory. I imagine it would be a nice place for children to visit and gaze up at the huge octopus as they walk underneath it.
I have never heard of an Odong Odong in my life until that night. I realised they are actually four-seater pedal cycles dressed up with bright lights! You can get tickets for the ride at Yeah! Mart just beside the lantern garden. We hopped into one (they have a 3.5mm audio jack which you can plug into your phone) and cycled like crazy people down the boulevard into the night
blasting Taylor Swift’s.
I went easy on the buffet breakfast at The Coffee Shop the next morning after the two feasts the previous day. The Coffee Shop is the main all-day dining restaurant on the resort. We then headed out for another short drive to the Bintan Mangrove (click here for information and prices). There, we took a mangrove boat tour where we were lucky (or not) to pass under a branch with a very much alive (but motionless snake), spot a small family of monkeys, an iguana and… a Victreebel. Apparently our guide “caught” it and it was pretty cool to get to hold it myself. Its CP is still an unknown.
To be honest, I think that there is not much to see but I really enjoyed the boat ride and have the wind through my hair as we sped towards the mangrove. Like what our guide said, “This is not a zoo, this is the nature so I cannot promise you how many animals you will get to see.” The tide was pretty high so our heads were really close to some of the hanging branches. I may or may not have imagined myself as one of the contestants on Survivor as they sped towards their island and towards a possible million dollar. I would not mind going on the tour again but maybe the night tour instead (the route varies slight for safety reasons), where there is a chance to spot fireflies!
We had our last meal at Warung Yeah on the island before we headed back. Located next to the lantern garden, expect a more Indonesian-orientated menu here with dishes like Mie Bakso and Tahu Goreng. My personal favourite is the Tahu Goreng. I always have stomach space for lightly-fried, peanut dishes.
It was unfortunate that I did not really stuff myself with more food as a result of bracing ourselves for another choppy boat ride. It turned out to be nothing close to the one we endured on our way there, despite the light drizzle.
So stop giving yourselves excuses and start to wander a little more out of our own island, even if for only a night. How can we see and experience so little of our surroundings when they are all just a stone’s throw away? What would you say to travellers from the other side of the world you meet? You should be able to tell them more than they do you!