An idyllic retreat on Singapore’s doorstep, the Indonesian island of Bintan promises a wealth of discoveries for those who venture beyond its well-known beach resorts. Exploring the island allows you to connect with its storied past and the multi-ethnic charm that infuses the present.
For an immersive experience, catch a glimpse of daily life in the trading port of Tanjung Pinang, Bintan’s largest settlement and provincial capital of the Riau Islands. Its array of traditional markets are a feast for the senses, with dried seafood products, locally grown fruits and vegetables, freshly caught fish and all manner of snacks on display. Be sure to try several varieties of kerupuk, prawn- or fish-flavored crackers that are an enduring local favorite.
In the city’s seafood restaurants, sample popular delicacies such as gong-gong, a marine mollusk served with sambal, and succulent crabs known as ketam, which are often marinated in a rich red sauce flavored with plum paste, onion, and red pepper. Street food enthusiasts will find plenty of choices just a stone’s throw from the main ferry terminal. At sundown, the waterfront promenade along Jalan Hang Tuah transforms into a bustling market; its hawker stalls offer Indonesian favorites such as mie goreng (fried noodles) and batagor, Sundanese fried fish dumplings in peanut sauce.
Tanjung Pinang is also the gateway to Pulau Penyengat, a small offshore island that was once the seat of the Riau-Lingga Sultanate before its dissolution in 1911. Visitors will find the ruins of an old Sultan’s palace, the royal mosque and mausoleum all painted in vibrant shades of yellow and green, while the cannons at a hilltop fortress bear witness to a time when Riau’s Malay rulers defended themselves against the machinations of the Dutch. The island is also the resting place of Raja Ali Haji, a 19th-century historian, poet, and scholar who is now considered one of Indonesia’s national heroes.
Time travel is almost possible at Panglong Village, where visitors can expect to walk past over-water stilt houses and salted fish being dried in the open. The experience provides a rare window into the lifestyle of the Orang Laut, nomadic sea gypsies who have inhabited the Riau Archipelago since time immemorial. Spend an afternoon playing games with the local children, and visit the nearby kilns once used to convert mangrove roots into charcoal.
Because of its strategic location near the Strait of Malacca, Bintan has been a cultural melting pot for generations. The island’s long-established Chinese community has built a variety of religious sites around Tanjung Pinang, based on the traditions of their ancestors. In the fishing village of Senggarang, a temple draws pilgrims for its pair of 200-year-old banyan trees, which have wrapped their roots around the walls of the main hall.
A more recent construction is the 500 Luohan Temple, named for its impressive sculpture park of life-sized Buddhist arhats, each one carved with unique postures and facial expressions. Meanwhile, the tallest gold-plated Goddess of Mercy statue in Southeast Asia is housed in Vihara Avalokitesvara Graha (Guan Yin Temple). Another Buddhist house of worship well worth visiting is the Snake River Temple, accessed by an hour-long scenic boat ride up the meandering Ular River.
Urban dwellers can get a sense of the island’s tropical bounty by touring the 17-hectare Bintan Eco Farm, where visitors will walk among patches of ripening dragon fruit, pineapple, and vegetables. Guests can taste the seasonal produce grown on the farm, while hands-on activities such as barbecuing corn and feeding catfish are encouraged. The Eco Farm also has a sanctuary for local birds that will be released into the wild after rehabilitation.
A 45-minute drive from Bintan Resorts, Trikora boasts a string of four white-sand beaches along the island’s eastern coastline. Its crystal-clear waters are perfect for snorkeling and kitesurfing, while those wanting to soak up more local flavor can witness traditional boat-making on the beach, or choose to visit the floating fishing platforms known as kelong. Thanks to its diverse attractions and easygoing charms, Bintan will have you wanting to return in no time.
This post is published in partnership with Bintan Resorts.