Buzz is building over Bintan, where almost a dozen new attractions and resorts have opened in the past two years – and travellers are arriving in record numbers to enjoy them.
More than 670,000 tourists visited Bintan Resorts last year, a 22 per cent jump from 2015 and the highest number on record since the 17,500ha parcel of land – where the majority of the island’s tourism infrastructure is located – officially opened in 1996.
About half the tourists are domestic, but Singaporeans make up the island’s next largest market, accounting for 20 per cent of arrivals last year.
And the number of Singaporeans visiting Bintan Resorts, managed by Singapore and Indonesia-owned investment company Gallant Venture, is on the rise – already up 13 per cent in the first half of this year, according to Bintan Resorts’ visitor arrival statistics report.
Travellers, it seems, are eager to check out new developments such as The Canopi, a 2ha resort which offers safari-style glamping in opulent, air-conditioned tents.
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The unique luxury-camping experience is what convinced Ms Jacinta Poh, who works for a bank, to visit Bintan for the first time in January. She spent one night at The Canopi with her mum and sister to celebrate her 30th birthday.
“It was unique and different from a staycation. All the facilities were new and clean and there were lots of things to do. I also liked The Canopi’s decor and furniture, which had a cool safari theme,” she says. “I would definitely go back and have been recommending my friends to go too. I think it’s a great place for a nice family vacation or couples’ retreat, especially since it is so near Singapore.”
Bintan is a roughly 45-minute ferry ride from Singapore and The Canopi has become a prime attraction. Opened with 40 luxury glamping tents in 2015, it has since expanded to 100 tents, which are almost always fully booked every weekend, says a Bintan Resorts spokesman.
The Canopi is part of the Treasure Bay integrated resort development, which launched with Bintan’s other new integrated resort, Lagoi Bay, in 2015.
Luxury tents line its star attraction, the Crystal Lagoon – a 6.3ha saltwater swimming pool equivalent to 50 Olympic-size swimming pools, where guests can swim, wakeboard, kayak, ride a sea scooter, cable ski and fly 9m up into the air on a hydro-powered Jetovator.
In Lagoi Bay – home to The Sanchaya luxury resort, Plaza Lagoi shopping centre and Grand Lagoi Village hotel, which opened in 2015 – Lagoi Bay Villas opened its first boutique villas in June last year, and Holiday Villa Pantai Indah, an allvilla property, opened in August last year.
Lantern Park in Lagoi Bay – an attraction with huge lanterns of marine creatures and threatened animals of Indonesia such as the Javan rhinoceros, Komodo dragon and Sumatran elephant – opened in January.
Meanwhile, Bintan stalwarts such as Laguna Golf Bintan and Club Med Bintan – which opened in Bintan Resorts’ first phase of development in the late 1990s and early 2000s – have reopened after major renovations.
A new Banyan Tree Group resort, Cassia Bintan, is expected to open next month.
Nine other brand-name hotels, including Alila Villas Bintan, Four Points by Sheraton, Novotel and Chiva-Som Bintan, are set to open across Bintan Resorts in the coming years.
The next opening is likely be Doulos Phos The Hotel, a century-old ship bought by a Singaporean businessman which is now in the final stages of its conversion into a unique boutique hotel.
The ship’s engine room and bridge will become a maritime museum, while the captain’s deck will become the presidential suite – a 100 sq m cabin with a private jacuzzi and barbecue pit – and its eight decks will be decorated to reflect different periods of the ship’s history.
The ship’s old bunk beds are being turned into guest beds and the hotel will feature a swimming pool, library, spa, piano lounge and amphitheatre when it opens on a 1.4ha site beside Bintan’s Bandar Bentan Telani ferry terminal next year.
Getting to Bintan is also easier.
In June, Changi Airport Group and Singapore Cruise Centre launched a $2 shuttle service between Changi Airport and Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal, and a private airport in Bintan Resorts is scheduled to open next year, making it easier for international travellers to venture to the island from Singapore.
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Bintan Resorts spokesman Iris Kok says it is also boosting marketing efforts on attractions outside the resorts area, too, such as tours of Tanjung Pinang in Bintan, the capital of the Riau Islands, and visits to the sea gypsy village at Berakit, which will give travellers a glimpse into the unique way of life of the orang laut, or sea nomads.
The small island of Pulau Penyengat, where the Riau kingdom used to be based, is another attraction just 10 minutes from Bintan Resorts by water taxi. People can visit the royal mausoleum and the majestic Masjid Raya Sultan Riau that was built in the 18th century.
“With the rise of discerning travellers, Bintan Resorts recognises the importance of consistent development to attract new visitors and maintain novelty,” says Ms Kok.
Though Bintan is the largest of the Riau Islands, there are many others worth visiting. Here are six of the best within easy reach of Singapore.
Next page: Pulau Pangkil and Cempedak Island
(Photo: Facebook/Club Med Bintan)