Bintan, Riau Islands, Indonesia
Just a 45 minutes ferry ride away from Singapore, Bintan is a popular spot for a weekend getaway from city life and here is what it has to offer:
Forget about resort spas and go for a therapeutic boat ride on calm green waters instead. Enjoy lush green sceneries along the winding Sebung River (also known as Snake River) and observe how the unique mangrove roots grow on wetlands. Surrounded by humming sounds of nature, look out for wild animals such as snakes, monitor lizards, hermit crabs, monkeys and birds in their natural habitat. At night, sparkling fireflies work their charm and mesmerize the opposite sex and visitors alike, transforming the river into an enchanted water forest.
A short walk from the river through a water village on stilts would bring you to the oldest Chinese temple in Riau Islands. Quietly tucked away in the forest, the Jodoh temple is small and simple but do check out the murals inside depicting trials and tortures of hell.
Watch trained Sumatran elephants perform graceful stunts at the Bintan Elephant Park and learn about their characteristics, diet, habits and group behaviour in a 40-minute elephant show. After the show, visitors are presented with a wonderful opportunity to interact with the elephants by petting and hand-feeding them. For something more up close and personal, animal lovers can also hop onto an elephant and have a ride into the tropical rainforests around the park!
Be an Athlete
Participate in the annual Bintan Triathlon held at Jalan Panglima Pantar. There are five race courses of varying distances to suit everyone from children to professional athletes, including the Fun Race Duo Challenge, Sprint Triathlon and Kids Triathlon. Challenge yourself with the Olympic Distance Triathlon, which requires participants to swim 1.5km in the South China Sea, cycle 40km around the island and run 10km through beaches and greeneries.
Want more? Try cycling 283km over two days through fishing villages, forests and beaches at Tour De Bintan and get a chance to win $10000 while at it. Or just soak in the atmosphere and cheer the athletes on.
Climb Bintan’s highest mountain
Because of its height, Gunung Bintan Mountain has been a navigational point of sailors for centuries. Scale up the mountain while trekking through Bintan’s tropical foliage and be rewarded with breath-taking scenic views from the 340-metre high summit.
On the hiking trail, discover giant trees over 40 metres tall and watch out for wild animals such as deers and porcupines. Along the way, do pick and try fresh seasonal fruits growing in the wild such as rambutans and mangosteens.
Lastly, learn the local legend of “The Princess Pool” and cool yourself under the waterfall upon descending to receive what the locals believe to be a shower of blessings and luck.
Fish like a local
Follow a local fisherman on an authentic sampan boat and learn to catch fishes, crabs and shrimps with age-old methods still practiced by fishermen in Bintan today. Test your skills by casting the jala (fishing net) into the water, or use the bubu (wire trap) and injab (bamboo trap) to entrap sea creatures. Visit traditional fishing villages and kelongs (stilt houses on water) to get a glimpse of how the locals breed fish.
Tanjung Pinang is a place in Bintan where local life and culture could not get more authentic. This capital of Riau Islands in Indonesia is a typical Indonesia town with an old village feel to it.
Check out the ancient market located partly on stilts in the sea and shop for local specialities such as dried seafood and kerupuk snacks (prawn or fish flavoured crackers) at the many roadside foodcart stalls. Explore old shophouses. Try Teh Prendjak, a local tea commonly found in Pinang that is made with rose and pandan. Soak in the atmosphere and charm of this busy little town.
Take a 15 minute boat ride from Tanjung Pinang to Penyengat Island, a historic place with traces of its glorious past. The palace of Raja Ali Haji (Bintanâ€™s national hero) sits on the centre of the island while the impressive yellow Royal Mosque with its many domes cannot be missed. Also, check out the old stone forts he built in the 18the century to fend off Dutch attacks.
After exploring heritage sites, take a break at the cultural centre and enjoy Malay song and dance performances.
Trikora is a long stretch of separate beaches with picturesque shorelines and surprisingly clear water. Â Although it is a popular weekend escape, Trikora is for people who appreciate peace and quiet as crowds and nightlife are non-existent here. (If you must drink, stock up on alcohol at Tanjung Pinang.)
Instead, engage in water sports and get wet. Lie down on a beach chair underneath a coconut tree and read a good book. Or simply spend lots of time sitting around and staring into the sparkling sea. Take a stroll along the beach underneath coconut trees and say hi to colourful sea snails lying lazily on the white shores. Doze off to the sounds of waves. Wake up to a stunning sunrise on the horizon. And remember it all.