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Why Bintan should be your next holiday destination

Alila Villas Bintan;
Alila Villas Bintan

Things are afoot on Singapore’s nearest Indonesian neighbour, Bintan, in particular along palm tree-lined Lagoi Bay, where the construction of a sprawling new resort town is underway. One of the properties being developed is Alila Villas Bintan; we asked Singapore-based President of Alila Hotels & Resorts, Mark A. Edleson, for a status report.

Bintan is sometimes seen as the poor cousin of Langkawi or Phuket. What would you say in its defence?
I agree that Bintan isn’t as developed as those two places in terms of infrastructure, direct flight access and the general quality of its tourism product. However, it has lovely beaches and forests, a new international airport being built (expected to be completed in 2015), is experiencing a new building cycle with the development of Lagoi Bay and, most importantly, is a 45-minute ferry ride from Singapore.

Tell us a bit about Alila Villas Bintan.
This will be the third Alila Villas property, following two in Bali. Construction commenced in November 2011 and the resort is expected to open around the fourth quarter of 2013. It’s on 14.4 hectares on a headland of scenic Lagoi Bay, 15 minutes from the Bintan ferry terminal. It will have 12 three-bedroom beachfront villas and a luxury beachfront resort with 52 one- and two-bedroom guest villas. “The Village” will serve as the resort’s hub for the arts, culture, food and wellness.

Being so close to Singapore, we expect Alila Villas Bintan to appeal to everyone who is based in Singapore and looking for an escape, as well as being an ideal add-on for the more than 13 million visitors who come to Singapore each year.

Is there an “eco” bent to the resort?
A naturalist was engaged by the developer to inventory the flora and fauna of the large site and understand their requirements. Every effort has been made in the design and construction to protect as much of the natural heritage of the site as possible. Environmental consultants will monitor the development on behalf of the EarthCheck accrediting agency.

Bintan aside, what are your favourite travel destinations in Asia?
I am biased, having lived in Bali for over 30 years and travelled there for even longer. I still think it is an unparalleled destination in the variety of natural attractions, culture and experiences it offers the visitor. I never cease to be awed by the natural beauty of the island and the aesthetic of the people.

With that out of the way, I do enjoy visiting some of the less-developed destinations in Southeast Asia like Komodo and Sumba in Indonesia, Luang Prabang in Laos, Siem Reap in Cambodia and Hoi An in Vietnam. They all still offer glimpses of Asia’s past in a relaxing and enchanting way.

Sounds like you enjoy getting off the beaten track when you can.
Yes, having lived in Southeast Asia for more than 40 years and witnessed dramatic changes in the region, I still yearn for the charm, simplicity and culture of the past. One of the attractions to me of Asia is the ease in which the past, present and future have all coexisted so comfortably.

A really special experience I had about two years ago was to drive about 800km across the Tibetan plateau in Qinghai Province, China, to the Yushu Horse Festival. Everyone was staying in tents on a large grassy meadow around the festival grounds. The event was extraordinarily colourful with people from all over Tibet dressed in their finest clothes and jewellery. There was music, dance and exciting competitions among the horsemen. A unique and memorable experience.

What do you do in Singapore if you get a free weekend?
When I’m not travelling, I appreciate Singapore’s greenery and public spaces. I start the weekend with yoga practice on Saturday morning followed by a nasi lemak breakfast and a couple of mugs of kopi. On Sunday, I either cycle to Holland Village for a dim sum breakfast or walk to the Botanic Gardens and stop for a dhosai and sambar for brunch on the way. These are some of my special weekend Singapore treats.

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