On a super-easy and convenient Bintan break, many of us are content to enjoy everything on offer at the resorts, whether it’s a round of golf, a spa treatment, a walk on the beach, letting the little ones have fun at the kids’ club, or just lazing beside the pool. (Yes to all of these!) Yet Bintan, an island over three times the size of Singapore, offers much more than just resort-style R&R. Here’s a taste of some of the other hidden gems to discover during day trips on Bintan.
#1 Temple Time – Senggarang
This Chinese fishing settlement, located a short distance across the water from Tanjung Pinang, is an eye-catching place, distinguished by villagers’ timber homes that have been built directly over the sea. According to locals, Senggarang was where the first Chinese immigrants gathered when they arrived on the Riau Islands many years ago. It’s especially renowned as a religious place, and no visitor should miss a visit to the hundred-year-old Banyan Tree temple.
This popular pilgrimage site is sheltered by a giant, overgrown Banyan, whose thick, twisting roots have encroached on the building materials, much like the trees you find in Cambodia’s Angkor complex. Just a stone’s throw away is a temple built to give thanks for the safe sea passage of the aforementioned early settlers. Called Vihara Dharma Sasana, it features some beautiful ornamental arches.
#2 Kings & Queens – Penyengat Island
This Malay settlement marks the epicentre of the historical Riau kingdom. The Malacca Sultanate had originally moved to Bintan from Melaka in the 16th century, after that city was taken over by the Portuguese, though Penyengat’s heyday came in the 19th century, when it was the administrative, cultural and religious centre of the Riau-Johor Sultanate.
Penyengat Island is located around six kilometres west of Bintan’s capital, Tanjung Pinang, and is easily reachable by local sea-craft. All of the attractions here are pending listing as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the Sultan of Riau’s Grand Mosque, built almost 200 years ago, and adorned in distinctive green and yellow hues. History buffs will also enjoy seeing the nearby rusting cannons that were used to defend the local people against Dutch invaders; interestingly, the cannons are Dutch too!
#3 Trading Port – Tanjung Pinang
The capital of Bintan Island, Tanjung Pinang is a bustling place of 200,000 residents, and a great spot for getting a glimpse at the lifestyle of the locals. This harbour city and trading port unsurprisingly has a seafood focus, and one experience not to be missed is shopping for various types of kerupuk– prawn- or fish-flavoured crackers that constitute the region’s favourite snack. Plenty of other local produce is available to try and buy at Tanjung Pinang’s malls and markets.
Like the previously mentioned sites, Bintan’s capital is also notable for its temples, among them the eye-catching Luohan Temple. This is a Buddhist temple that has been developed as a kind of sculpture park, featuring 500 life-sizedarhats, each one with a different expression and pose. The newly built Vihara Avalokitesvara Graha temple contains the tallest Goddess of Mercy (Guan Yin) statue in Southeast Asia, 16.8 metres tall and gold-plated.
All of these locations can be explored on organised day tours that can be booked through Bintan Resorts; tours include all transport and guides, and many also include local snacks or lunch. Aside from places of cultural and religious significance, you’ll also find tours with a focus on nature, such as the Mangrove Discovery Tour (day or night).
For more information on Bintan Resorts, or to book your next quick getaway from Singapore, visit bintan-resorts.com
This article first appeared on our December 2016 issue.
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