SINGAPORE - Located just a hop and a skip away, Bintan is familiar to most Singaporeans.
But it was only in the past five years that the Indonesian island, an hour away by ferry, began drawing crowds with novel and diverse resort offerings.
About 150,000 visitors from Singapore visited Bintan's northern coastline in 2016, which houses most of the island's resorts. The figure grew to over 220,000 in 2018. Guests from China have also increased exponentially, with 70,000 arrivals in 2016 quadrupling to almost 300,000 in 2018. Singapore, China and Indonesia are Bintan's top three tourist markets.
Senior art director Samantha Branson, 28, took her first Bintan vacation this July, spending one night at glamping resort The Anmon with her husband. The couple, who got married in March, take beach vacations about five times a year to destinations such as Bali, Phuket and Positano in Italy.
Bintan was previously not on their radar as Ms Branson had the impression there wasn't much to see and do. "There aren't as many food options, cocktail bars or beach clubs compared to Bali," she says.
Pictures of the desert-themed glamping resort on Instagram changed her mind, however, and the property did not disappoint. High ceilings, spacious bathrooms and a skylight left her impressed. "I thought a tent might be claustrophobic and smaller than a room, or that the facilities might be compromised, but it wasn't the case. The concept and aesthetic were really well thought out," she says.
The Anmon is built next to a 6.3ha man-made seawater lagoon where guests can do water sports such as wakeboarding and kayaking. Another resort, Natra Bintan (formerly known as The Canopi) is located along the same lagoon.
Meanwhile, a nautical-themed hotel, Doulos Phos The Ship Hotel, is slated to open this October. Guests can stay in "experience cabins", with small bunk beds reflecting the crew quarters of the 105-year-old MV Doulos passenger ship, during its seafaring days. The ship hotel will also offer facilities such as a spa complex, gym, swimming pools and a maritime museum with guided tours.
It will be located next to the Bentan Telani Ferry Terminal, where most visitors to Bintan arrive.
Soon, more transport options will let visitors explore Bintan beyond their resort. A complimentary shuttle service launched in 2017 connects various resorts with Plaza Lagoi, a two-storey shopping mall with spas, cafes, retail outlets and convenience stores. Next year, construction will begin to build a 7km bridge linking Bintan and Batam islands. It is expected to take three to four years to complete.
Ms Iris Kok, marketing communications manager of Bintan Resorts International, says: "Our new concepts have helped to steer guests from the impression that Bintan is only a golf and spa destination."
The Straits Times checks into three new themed properties for a novel weekend getaway.
THE RESIDENCE BINTAN
Most resorts these days are created for Instagram but not The Residence Bintan. To be sure, it boasts swings in the middle of the sea and hammocks lined up in a row, well worth a snapshot, tweet or a share.
But beyond that, the new addition to Singapore-owned Cenizaro Hotels & Resorts makes little effort to look good for social media.
The resort pool is smallish with few loungers for posing. Its secluded location, tucked along the eastern coast of Tanjung Pinang island, is designed for families who dislike mega-resorts. There is no hopping bar scene, no swimming pool games, not a single Unicorn float in sight.
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THE ANMON RESORT BINTAN
At The Anmon Resort Bintan, which opened in April, guests go glamping with a desert theme.
Anmon, which is a five-minute drive from the ferry terminal, is about as far from a camp site as one can get. There are no ventilation problems in the tents nor any need to time one's trips to the toilet, unlike setting up camp in the wilds (East Coast Park).
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BANYAN TREE BINTAN
I am at Banyan Tree Bintan's kelong villa, newly launched in July. Located about 800m beyond the shore, it is the most private out of the property's 68 villas.
It takes a two-minute ride on a small wooden boat to get to the kelong, which bobs non-stop on the waves. Experience manager Muhammad Yusuf says it may take an hour or two for my body to adapt, and suggests that I lie down if I feel unwell.
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Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.
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