Bintan, The Largest Island in The Riau Archipelago
Bintan is the largest island in the Riau Archipelago, which comprises almost 3,000 large and small islands, immediately across Singapore and Johor Baru, Malaysia. The islands stretch from the Straits of Malacca all the way to the South China Sea. The town of Tanjung Pinang is the capital of this province, located on the south western shore of Bintan.
Bintan’s chief tourist attraction today is Bintan Resorts, a spectacular beach holiday destination in the north of the island, covering 23,000 hectares along the entire sandy white coast that faces the South China Sea. The island itself also has interesting historic remains in Tanjung Pinang and Penyengat, and offers plenty opportunities for surfing, adventure and ecotours for schools and family, but is also ideal for relaxation and wellness.
While, for dive enthusiasts the Anambas archipelago in the South China Sea offer pristine dive sites, reachable from Tanjung Pinang airport. Whereas, the Natuna islands are reachable from Batam.
Strategically located south of the Malay peninsula at the mouth of the Straits of Malacca, the Riau islands were, ever since the first century AD, the favourite holding area for Indian and Chinese trading ships to find shelter and wait out typhoons that raged in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean. Already in 1202 Marco Polo, the famous Venetian world traveller, told of his voyage to the island of Bintan.
It is small wonder, therefore, that in the 18th century, European merchants, – the Portuguese, Dutch and the British – fought each other and the local sultanates as well as the Malay and Bugis mariners in these waters for hegemony over this strategic shipping channel.
At the time, this part of the Malay Peninsula was ruled by the Johor-Riau Sultanate, whose seat alternated between Johor – in present day Malaysia – and Bintan Island, in present day Indonesia.
In 1884 the British and the Dutch closed their differences over these islands with the signing of the Treaty of London, by which all territories north of Singapore were given suzerainity to the British, while territories south of Singapore were ceded to Dutch powers.
Since then the fate and history of the territories north and south of Singapore parted ways. Singapore became the center of thriving British commerce, whereas, the Dutch who concentrated on present day Jakarta on Java, left the Bintan islands isolated and neglected from the central power.
In the past decades, with cordial relations between Indonesia and Singapore, an agreement was signed between the two governments to develop the Riau islands cooperatively to benefit both countries in the designated Free Trade Zone of Batam, Bintan and Karimun islands.
A first feature of this agreement was the development of the Bintan Resort, a beach holiday destination, covering 23,000 hectares along the entire sandy white coast of Bintan that faces the South China Sea.
Seafood is a special treat in the Riau Islands. Freshly caught and reasonably priced seafood is served in quaint restaurants on stilts, called Kelong – overlooking the sea, in street stalls or in posh restaurants. Try the delicious chilli crab, steamed fish, or drunken prawn. The specialty of Bintan is the “Gong Gong” or Pearl conch (Strombus canarium) which can be found only around Bintan and Batam Islands.
The huge wet market that is usually teeming with people is definitely worth a visit. It is a true bargains galore for almost everything especially fresh seafood.
Visitors can buy shells sold near the beaches or other local souvenirs from shops around Bintan Island.
Bintan has complete accommodation facilities including hotels and resorts at Bintan Resort but also in Tanjung Pinang and around the island.
Bintan Resorts on Bintan’s north coast offers top-class hotels, each located in over 300 hectares of land, featuring world class golf courses designed by internationally renowned golf architects. Bintan Resorts also offers plenty of beach activities and luxurious spas and is ideal for meetings away from the hustle and bustle of busy Singapore but located very close to it. Because of its wind and waves at years end, Bintan is also suitable for surfing.
Here are seven international class hotels and 5 fantastic golf courses, some of the best in Asia. Two courses are located at Bintan Lagoon Resort, which is world renowned for its exceptionally designed championship 18-hole golf courses. The Jack Nicklaus Sea View Golf course and Ian Baker-Finch Woodlands Golf course, both offering spectacular signature holes, fast greens, undulating fairways and scenic water hazards. Other courses include the Laguna Bintan Golf Club, and one located at the Ria Bintan Resort. The 27 hole Ria Bintan Championship Golf Course was awarded Asia’s Best Golf Course in 2008.
On the west coast of Bintan lies the town of Tanjung Pinang, once a quiet town, now the province’s busy capital. Here you can still find quaint houses built on stilts at Senggarang. There are Buddhist temples on Senggarang, including an old temple embraced by the roots of a large banyan tree.
Across the Bay, within 15 minutes boat ride from Tanjung Pinang is the small island of Penyengat, once the seat of the Queen of the Johor-Riau kingdom and the place of origin of the fine Malay language, the base for the Indonesian language. Here the Sultan Riau Mosque still stands as testimony to the heydays of the Johor-Riau sultanate. Upon approaching the island, you can see turrets of the yellow mosque peeking above the greenery like a palace in a fairy tale. On Penyengat are the royal tombs of the past Sultans of Riau, while descendents of the Sultan still live on the island until today.
Tanjung Pinang serves some of the most delicious seafood. At night a road is closed off and all kinds of food stalls emerge selling sumptuous dishes of chilli crab, steamed prawn, grilled fish with spicy sauces, and Riau’s favourite gong-gong, a kind of oysters.
While along the east coast of Bintan are more white beaches, azure blue seas and a number of attractive islands. On the island of Nikoi, chalets and outbound activities have been developed, ideal for a perfect getaway into nature. A launch will take you from the Bintan coast to the island of Nikoi. Further south on the Bintan coast, the Loola Adventure Resort offers ecotours and adventure trips for groups and the whole family. Along this coast is also the Bintan Agro Beach Resort which promises complete relaxation including special Spa treatment.
Bintan Island has many beach focused tourist sites with exotic natural conditions and climate. On this island, you can enjoy local historical and cultural attractions including Kota Piring palace which is located on Biram Dewa island, Melayu Kota Piring, Tanjung Pinang Timur, or Tugu Pensil and Gurindam Gubahan Raja Ali Haji, the icons of Tanjung Pinang city.
Most overseas visitors to Bintan enter by ferry. There are frequent services between Singapore’s Tanah Merah ferry terminal to Lagoi’s Bandar Bentan Telani terminal as well as between Singapore and Tanjung Pinang’s Sri Bintan Pura ferry terminal.
There are also frequent ferries from Batam to Lagoi, as well as between Batam and Tanjung Pinang.
Visiting Bintan will not be completed if you don’t drop by Tanjung Pinang city where you can see the life of local the community and visit a 300 years old temples in the Senggarang area.