Off The Beaten Path – Bintan Island
Singapore’s location and its efficient airport allows seamless connections throughout Asia for a quick escape from The Lion City, for those who may not wish to fly or are time constrained may wish to consider Bintan Island, one hour off the coast of Singapore via ferry. Within one hour, visitors are transported from the hustle and bustle of The Lion City to a peaceful, tranquil island paradise with options (budget and activity) to suit the vast majority of leisure travelers.
Why Bintan Island? We were in Singapore on business. We were looking for a 3-night getaway, yet our options were constrained as our flights to return were booked out of Singapore (SIN). Due to flight schedules to the United States; most options requiring a flight due to scheduling would only allow us 2 nights at any destination and a 3rd night in back in Singapore to make our scheduled flight back to the United States. Thus, by traveling to Bintan we were able to leave Singapore on a Tuesday early afternoon via ferry and return Friday afternoon with ample time for a dinner before embarking on the 18+ hrs. flight time to New York/Newark (EWR).
Getting to Bintan Island: There are actually three ferry lines and depending where one is residing on Bintan Island will dictate which ferry line is used. As we were staying at The Banyan Tree, we used the regular ferry service operated by Bintan Resorts Ferries (BRF) that plies between Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal (TMFT), Singapore and Bandar Bentan Telani (BBT) Ferry Terminal, Bintan Resorts. The high-speed catamaran ferry ride only takes 60 minutes. In addition, BRF has their own meet/greet and departure assistance at Bentan Telani allowing one to maximize their time at the multiple resorts serviced by BRF.
The BRF line is one of three operators (thus be sure of your destination) running 5x/day (additional trips on holidays). When booking tickets online I strongly suggest opting for Emerald Class, their version of business class which includes a private pre-boarding lounge including snacks/drinks, a private elevated cabin on the ferry (allowed to board last as seats are reserved), first to unload, no charge for baggage and expedited disembarkment, luggage retrieval and expedited customs and immigration upon arrival at Bintan Island (of note, the island is within Indonesia thus one will go through customs and immigration to and from the island from Singapore).
Banyan Tree: While The Banyan Tree was our choice based on reputation and location the BRF serves multiple resorts that can be found at http://bintan-resorts.com ranging from rustic beachfront to serviced flats to a Club Med toluxury resorts including adults-oriented Banyan Tree, neighboring Angnasa perfect for families and even glamping found at Amnon.
Upon arrival guests staying at one of the Bintan Resorts noted above have access to their own lounge at the ferry terminal. While taxi’s and rental cars are available most of the resorts offer transportation from the ferry terminal for a small, nominal charge. Representatives from the various resorts meet/greet guests at this lounge.
The representative from Banyan Tree greeted us warmly. We had opted for the RT transfer for the two of us, approximately $25 USD. We assumed we would be in a shared shuttle, instead a private deluxe minivan shuttled us the 10 minutes from the ferry terminal to Banyan Tree.
(Of note, Banyan Tree has a reputation of providing understated luxury accommodations, exemplary, professional services and in some would suggest a tariff structure that matches these attributes. I will be the first to advise Banyan Tree is not for the value oriented, it is a deluxe/luxury resort and for those willing to pay the tariff; expectations will be exceeded).
Through a gated secured armed guard entry and past a lush and from my view challenging golf course meandering between rainforest and waterfront we arrived at reception at Banyan Tree. If you are expecting a grandiose bustling reception area/lobby you will be disappointed. Upon arrival one word encapsulates the experience: Zen. From the local architecture and furniture design, the serenity is enhanced by the burning of incense. Check-in is efficient, no ques, no standing around at a check-in desk; all handled while relaxing in a Balinese style lounger.
We were provided with Unit #112; Rainforest Oceanfront i.e. private lunge pool, studio villa and seafront view. As the cart transported us from reception to our villa; one appreciates comments that yes, the resort has serious grade changes i.e. hills and even though you do not believe so upon arrival, trust me you will take advantage of the on-demand cart transport service. (Of note carts are electrically powered thus engine noise is not an issue).
Our escort parked in front of a charming entry way. Opening the front doors, as is typical in older Asian design there is a private courtyard. Then the entry to the Villa. I can honestly say, upon entry truly one of the very few times I have walked into a room, villa, flat….and been speechless.
Upon entry there is a foyer (per Indonesian custom, proper to leave footwear in the courtyard). On one side is the private bathing chamber and loo (toilet), the other-side, dual vanities and closet area. Beyond is the main villa. An xxpansive 904 SF/ 8SM, (standard hotel rooms measure 325 SF on average) the villa is dominated by a king bed in the middle of the room. On either side of the bed, expansive windows looking into the surrounding rainforest (one-side of the villa has a cushioned window bench, the other a work desk. There is a Nespresso coffee maker and a cabinet with minibar and snacks). Dead center beyond the bed, a private covered patio opening onto a plunge pool and direct views of the South China Sea framed by sliding glass pocket doors. Trust me, upon entry you will literally just stand and take it all in as the presentation, design and view are so unique and so comforting and relaxing; almost overwhelms the senses.
While the whole villa is impressive, literally built on supports over the forest adjacent to the water, the design elements are truly timeless. The tub/shower combination is unique. Sunken into the floor, the tub is spacious, can easily fit two persons. The shower inclusive of Hansgrohefixtures includes a hand-held and rain-shower head and the ability to open a frosted plate glass panel and feel as though one is showering in the courtyard (of note select villas have outdoor showers). The terms romantic, decadent, comforting, timeless, enchanting all come to mind when describing the villa.
Dinner Evening I: The resort offers three restaurants, all are walk-in, yet reservations are suggested as the restaurants also cater to clients from neighboring resorts. The first night as we had not explored the resort, we chose Treetops which was just a few steps from our villa. The restaurant (which is also where the breakfast buffet is served) is built on a platform surrounded by lush landscaping with views of the water. Of note below the restaurant is the well-respected spa and adjacent the resort pool and sundry/gift shop. With a diverse menu,Treetops is oriented towards authentic Indonesian food i.e. culinary traditions of Indonesia yet allows for adjustment from spice level to dietary restrictions and is the most causal of the three dining establishments. As to be expected at Banyan Tree, quality and service was exemplary.
While at dinner, housekeeping prepared our room for the night including closing all shades, pulling the netting around the canopy bed (I assume more decorative versus necessity) as well as placing their signature slippers and robe by the bed as well as bottles of water. If so inclined, the reception area has a vast selection of movies on CD available for guests to use in their villas. Of note while there is satellite television in the room, I do not believe we turned it on once. Your primary objective at Banyan Tree is rest and relaxation.
Breakfast: As mentioned breakfast is served at Treetops. A quite bountiful, delicious section of traditional Asian, Indonesian and western offerings. I addition to the buffet, chefs are available for custom orders. One can be as indulgent or as healthy as they desire. Of note, if in search of pork bacon or dumplings, you will be out of luck. The restaurants are oriented to Halal, thus options usually made with pork have been prepared with beef. And for those who desire their European and Western breakfast, from Nutella to cereals, all available. Yet I always suggest to clients, be adventuresomeespecially at a buffet, always options available. Of note the staff were most accommodating i.e. each morning prepared iced coffee/kopi for us that rivals Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts!
Our day was literally spent by our plunge pool reading and relaxing. There are routers in each villa thus there is a strong Internet signal if desired. Since we were full from breakfast, we skipped lunch instead partaking in multiple naps with the sounds of the waves below us lulling us to slumber.
Dinner Evening II: We decided to try The Cove restaurant which is located in a multilevel waterfront building at the edge of the resort above the beach shared with Angnasa. Due to the hills, while we walked to the restaurant, we decided early on a cart would return us. The Cove is unique with a nautical color theme, formal yet comforting as well as available al-fresco dining (where we opted to enjoy our dessert). The menu at The Cove is oriented more towards traditional European fare as well as the standard American burger and fries i.e. the beef. The Cove is an excellent option for those who desire a more western menu and while somewhat formal welcomes families and young children. The al-fresco dining above the water is the perfect venue for dessert and coffee.
Spa: Post dinner we decided on massages as Banyan Tree is world-famous for their spa services and products. Within a serene setting the spa allows one’s body to be treated with opulence. I indulged in a Balinese massage and to be honest not sure my monthly massage at Massage Envy will ever compare. From the ceremonial foot bath to the post-massage rinse, an experience not to be missed. The spa menu is extensive and operates later into the evening, perfect for those with jetlag for which they offer a spa service to alleviate).
The following day I explored the resort on foot (of note there are workout facilities available for Banyan Tree guests at neighboring Angnasa.). Trust me jogging those hills in the heat and humidity is a workout. Around every bend is a view that is more spectacular than the last bend. While not a physically large resort, all villas and their placement are designed with privacy, views and comfort as paramount. I explored the adjacent golf course as well; while not a golfer, I would take up the game just to enjoy the course.
Beach: As mentioned prior the resort shares a beach with neighboring Angnasa. More of a large cove orientation the beach is sandy, few if any rocks, shallow (perfect for children) the water tranquil. Angnasa is more family-oriented with standard hotel room and multi-room flats and thus more activity. However, this is NOT your typical Mexican or Caribbean Beach…. there is no volleyball, the music and bar scene are truly muted and has the air of a more rarified resort.
Dinner Evening III:For our last night we decided to try Saffron which is their upscale signature restaurant, an award-winning Thai orientation with a modern twist, featuring fresh ingredients sourced locally for the most authentic Thai meal within an opulent setting. This is the option for a romantic dinner and is more oriented to adult diners. The Thai menu is diverse and spice level can be altered to one’s specific tastes. With large picture windows even at night the view is enchanting. A most satisfying meal and a ride back to the villa via cart.
Of note during our visit I believe we were the only Americans at the resort. The guests were evenly split between Asian (Indonesian’s and Chinese seem to be the majority of the Asian guests) and Australians. There were a few Europeans, mostly Dutch and German. Trust me; no chance in running into your neighbors from home at Banyan Tree Bintan.
Departure: As our ferry back to Singapore was not until 2P we requested a later check-out which was provided. (We could have opted for a later ferry as the terminal is adjacent to the airport however the majority of our luggage was at The Regent off Orchard Road in Singapore thus we needed to retrieve and also provided us the opportunity to have dinner in Singapore before our red-eye flight.)
At the appointed time a cart picked up us and brought us to reception to check-out. Meals and gifts from the Sundry store and spa services were all charged to the room. Once the bill was settled, off via deluxe SUV to the ferry terminal.
I believe being Emerald Class we were escorted to a private lounge area of the ferry terminal. Staff took our passports to process exiting from Indonesia. No waiting in lines or paperwork to execute. Again, last to board, reserved seats and we were on our way back to Singapore. Of note upon arrival in Singapore one has to again go through customs and immigration. Forms are NOT provided on the ferry thus if not a Singaporean resident you will execute a form upon arrival and pass through customs and immigration yet much more pleasant and less crowds than at SIN Airport.
From the ferry terminal we used Grab (can easily sign-up, their version of Uber and Lyft) for a car back to The Regent. After dinner and changing into flight attire, off to the airport for the 10,000 miles journey to the East Coast of the United States.