Friday, January 30, 2009

Bintan - Day 1

30 January 2009

Viv and I had never really done a weekend getaway before, and had been planning one for some time. Finally, we zeroed in on Bintan in Indonesia. Bintan Island (or Negeri Segantang Lada) is about 1,866 sq km in size, and is part of the Riau Islands province of Indonesia. It is the largest of 3,200 islands in the Riau Archipelago. Less than 40 km away from Singapore, it is just a 55-minute ferry ride away. Add to that the comfort of visa on arrival, and we were sold. Plus, we had travelled to almost all the countries around Singapore, but not to Indonesia.

So we packed our bags and headed off to Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal on a Friday afternoon.

Waiting lounge of the ferry terminal

I had not expected the ferry terminal to be so much like an airport. Luggage was checked in, security scans done, departure cards filled out, the works. There were even duty-free shops at the terminal.

We even got laminated boarding passes for the ferry!

The sea looked calm from a distance, but oh boy, were we in for a surprise later.

That's our ferry, the Indera Bupala.

At last the gates open and we made our way towards the ferry.

The luggage was loaded though the door in front, while the passengers got in from the back.

The inside of the ferry was also quite airplane like...

...except that you don't expect to see this out the window of an airplane!

Finally, the ferry took off and moments later, was bouncing up and down the crazy waves. And I was to discover shortly what exactly happens to people when a ferry bounces up and down crazy waves. Ahem.

Dad and Mom recently went to Andaman for a holiday. When I found out they were taking a flight, I asked them, "Go on a ship!" Dad said, "No way. What if we get seasick?" I pooh-poohed, "Come on, Dad. How many people get seasick? It's not that common."

Turns out I was terribly wrong. And what a way to find out I was terribly wrong.

It started with one woman in front, and soon, there were some 7-8 people throwing up into blue plastic bags provided by the kind ferry people. Now I don't get seasick, but the sound of other people being sick kind of makes me sick too. I was cursing myself for not bringing along my ipod, at least that would have muffled the sounds. Of course, there was no chance of me escaping to the deck because the sea was very rough. However, the cabin crew were extremely efficient and promptly cleared all the plastic bags. So if you're going on a ferry for the first time, here are some tips:

1. Eat light. (Our friend Starbreez was in town and we had hogged on mysore masala dosas just before the ride, which was probably not a good idea.)
2. Take some sour candy or lozenges along.
3. Take your ipod (or some kind of earplugs) along.
4. Ensure that the seat in front of you has plastic bags for you-know-what.

In order to distract ourselves, we tried to look out of the window as much as possible. We saw this goods ship and wondered for the longest time what LNG stood for. Any ideas? Liquefied natural gas?

Finally, we landed at Bintan in about an hour. Bintan is one hour behind Singapore so we actually boarded the ferry at 5.30 pm local time and alighted at 5.30 pm local time. Talk about time travel!

Anyway, here's a little bit about Bintan itself. Southern Bintan is home to quaint fishing towns with a kampong (local village) atmosphere. Numerous kelongs (fishing houses built on stilts above sea) thrive there, with seafood places catering to tourists. Northern Bintan, however, is much more developed and 'touristy'. Bintan Resorts is a 23,000 hectare development, which is a part of an agreement signed by Indonesia to lease out the northern coast of Bintan and develop it into a resort for Singaporeans. It is no wonder that everything, from clothes to items in restaurant menus are listed in Singapore dollars.

The local currency is rupiah, and 1 Singapore dollar is equivalent to about 7,400 rupiah. Everything is paid for in Singapore dollars, but if you choose to pay via credit card, you are billed in rupiah.

A poster for Bintan Resorts. I like the tagline - The city can wait.

Visa on arrival

The sights and sounds were fabulous. The holiday had begun!

"The arrival/departure card shall be fulfilled by every passenger including children."

Everything went on like clockwork. Our luggage was promptly loaded into a bus and we were given luggage tags.

Soon, we were off in the bus to Nirwana Garden, a development comprising 5 resorts - Nirwana Resort Hotel, Banyu Biru Villa, Mayang Sari Beach Resort, Indra Maya Villa and Nirwana Beach Club.

About 10 minutes later, we were at Nirwana Gardens. The bus was moving too fast so the 'A' of 'Nirwana' and the word 'Garden' got chopped off in this picture.

We had booked a room in the Nirwana Resort hotel. The bus dropped us off and we were served pineapple drinks. We identified our luggage and this hotel staff whose name was -- I kid you not -- Januar, took care of us and helped us with checking in and sending our luggage to our room.

The room was simple and very comfortable. Virgo Viv does an inspection of the room for microscopic dirt particles.

It was already evening and there was no time for us to do any island-exploring on Day 1. But we did make up for that on Days 2 and 3. On the first day, we pretty much only had time for dinner.

All set for Friday night out

The customary pose using the camera timer before we headed out for dinner

For dinner, we decided to go to The Kelong, a restaurant famous for fresh catch that local fishermen bring in every day. Nirwana Garden is pretty big and the restaurants are all over the place. The resort provides a free shuttle bus service for getting around. We boarded one and shortly reached The Kelong.

The dinner spread. I loved the tom yum soup, but other than that, the food was quite average. The prices were also Singapore-standard, and since we paid by credit card, the bill was in rupiah. Over the next two days, Viv and I took a while to get used to seeing bills for meals worth 4-5 lakh rupiah!

After dinner, we decided to take a walk around the place. The picture above is that of the Calypso bar, built on wooden stilts and extending into the ocean by about 100m.

It was starting to get quite chilly and windy. Bintan is generally warm and sunny all year round, but October to March is the monsoon season, when it gets cooler and windier. Finally, we returned for a good night's rest. The following day was packed with activities - bumming at the beach, swimming in the pool, go-karting, jet skiing, hiking and topped up with drinks at our favourite bar ever. All coming up in Bintan Day 2!



  • as always your travel accounts rock...

    that pic of the two of you looks super good.

    By Blogger Pinku, at 8:30 PM  

  • Neat! very nice presentation.

    By Blogger Krishna Shankar, at 2:55 PM  

  • Hi,

    I am new to your blog!! Loved your writing style...

    Had fun reading :)))

    By Blogger Deepa Iyer, at 5:16 PM  

  • Nice pictures and laminated boarding pass looks really cool.

    Yes you are right LNG - liquefied natural gas


    By Blogger nycbewda, at 5:25 AM  

  • why don u guys adopt me.. fir mujhe sath leke jana to all the good places

    By Blogger Sanchit, at 7:22 PM  

  • HIs name was not JanuarY?

    By Blogger The Narrator, at 12:00 AM  

  • #Pinku,
    Thank you! :)

    #Krishna Shankar,
    Thanks! :)

    Welcome and thanks. :)

    Thanks, man! :)

    Hehehehehe... :D

    #The Narrator,
    Nope, it was just Januar. :D

    By Blogger Sayesha, at 8:48 PM  

  • haa nahin bola :(

    By Blogger Sanchit, at 8:50 PM  

  • Hey, you all looked like you both had so much fun! I'm actually planning a trip over there in Sept! Could you advice how much Singapore Dollars should I bring over? How much did you guys spend for 3d2n??

    Thanks for the information!

    By Blogger N, at 4:36 PM  

  • #Sanchit,
    Sochega sochega apun! :P

    Bintan is actually not that cheap compared to Singapore, and you pay for everything in Singapore dollars, except credit card payments which are in Indonesian rupiah. You'll probably spend about S$200-300 per person in addition to accommodation. Best to pay everything by credit card though. Take a couple of hundred dollars in cash just in case. Enjoy!
    PS: Do NOT miss the jet-skiing!!! :D

    By Blogger Sayesha, at 10:10 PM  

  • Hey! Thanks for the advice. Why with credit card? Haha. Wouldnt it be more expensive that way with all the USD and SGD and rupiah all charged in?

    Oh! And the jet ski, you get the whole jet ski to yourself?!?! :D

    By Blogger N, at 9:15 AM  

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