I was blown away by Danau Biru, the blue lake, among other awesome sights in Bintan. Many residents of Singapore regard Bintan as just some island to go for a cheap day spa. But Bintan has far more to offer with incredible religious and natural diversity.
Let’s start with a few fun facts. Bintan is nearly twice bigger than Singapore in land mass yet it has a smaller population. Only 350,000 people live in Bintan. 200,000 are based in the capital called Tanjung Pinang. Compare this to a over 5 million people living in Singapore! People of Malay and Chinese ethnicity predominately reside here. The Chinese inhabitants speak Hokkien rather than Mandarin. Islam is the major religion but there are also many Christians, Buddhists and Hindus too.
Rent a car or hire a taxi driver, and enjoy checking off all the sights in my fun guide to exploring Bintan!
500 Lohan Temple
This is a relatively new temple built around ten years ago. The monastery is dedicated to the Buddhist faith and takes its name from the 500 life sized sculptures of arhats (enlightened ones) that appear in rows in the temple gardens. It is an awe-inspiring sight to behold!
The temple was only opened to the public in 2012 when an increasing number of Chinese tourists started to visit Bintan and showed a strong interest in paying pilgrimage. Pay a small fee to enter and you will be greeted by a sculpture of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva. Guarding the main hall are dramatic (to the point of scary!) sculptures of the Dharma Protectors Weituo and Sangharama Bodhisattva, who are devoted guardians of Buddhist monasteries. You can also wander up the small hill to light incense and marvel at the fountain with a baby buddha at its centre.
Masjid Besar An Nur
Bintan is a Muslim country and the Masjid Besar An Nur is one of the most beautiful mosques I have beheld. It is painted Barbie pink, after all! The mosque was originally commissioned by Ms Ahmad, the wife of Mr Ansar Ahmad who is mayor of Bintan. She gave the mosque to the local people as gift. Although the mosque is in use, building is not 100% finished. Check out this great video depicting its construction.
Grotto of Santa Maria
One of the things I miss most about living in Europe are the quaint and cosy churches. I cannot tell you how surprised I was to stumble upon this darling church all the way in Bintan! The Santa Maria Church has a modest steeple and old-fashioned wooden pews. Sadly, the church fell into disuse and near ruin the past couple of years. More recently some of the local Muslim population have taken on the care of restoring it to its former glory.
In the church garden is the grotto of Santa Maria, delicately painted by hand and surrounded by candles, potted flowers and sprawling vines. Follow the winding path and you can visit each of the 14 life-sized statues depicting the stages of the cross. These follow the trials of Jesus on the day of his execution, from the moment he is condemned to death until he is placed in the tomb.
The Crystal Lagoon, also known as Treasure Bay, is the largest swimming pool in Southeast Asia. I have no idea how big it is – despite numerous Google searches and asking of staff, the exact pool size remains a mystery, but it is huge! Swimming length-ways is probably around 100 metres.
Aside from the novelty of swimming in one monster-sized pool, the Crystal Lagoon is a pretty awesome place to hang out too. Whilst it is totally manufactured, you can enjoy reading a book on one of the numerous banana chairs or take a walk on fake sand. There are also “glamping” tents, boat rides, water sports (mostly aimed at young kids) and several bars and restaurants. Just don’t order any coffee because their coffee is that shitty “3 in 1” stuff.
At the top of the pool, the Patio Bar and Restaurant is a special treat in itself. They make stunning cocktails using fresh fruit and local ingredients. The charming bartenders can whip up anything from a classic martini to some fancy concoctions listed on the menu. The Patio Restaurant also has a good ala carte menu for dinner. We ordered the ayam peynet and half a roasted chicken with salad. The portion size was huge and the chickens were plump and juicy, not those scrawny chickens you are typically served in Indonesia.
Danau Biru means “blue lake” in Bahasa Indonesian. On the far right of Bintan island are several lakes of a most vivid, aquamarine blue. The lakes themselves are the result of mining activity in the region, however the colour of the water is natural. Before Danau Biru became a tourist attraction, the locals would fish here. However the fish are now too small to make it worthwhile.
Whilst you cannot swim in the lakes, they are a natural marvel and form a suitable backdrop for some Instagram-worthy selfies. If you can take the heat, enjoy walking around the several lakes and take in the vibrancy over a picnic lunch!
Gurun Pasir Busung
Right next to Danau Biru is Gurun Pasir Busung, which are the sand dunes of Bintan. This stretch of dessert is proof of the amazing natural diversity of Bintan! Gurun Pasir Busung was once a quarry but today you can enjoy the picturesque beauty of this mini Sahara in relative peace – provided, of course, you don’t mind the busloads of Chinese tourists that get dropped off.
The landscape is stunning but I found the cardboard cutouts of horses and camels, plonked in the middle, very cheesy. The volume of tourists with their selfie sticks was a little off-putting as well. Now that this is becoming a visitor hot spot, a number of small stalls have setup selling fresh fruit at exorbitant prices.
Eat Fresh Seafood
The freshest and most delicious seafood I have tasted in Southeast Asia was at Kelong Ciuyong Restaurant in Bintan. It is a little out of the way but worth the journey to the middle of Bintan. The place is full of locals on weekends, which is definitely a good sign!
The seafood at Kelong Ciuyong Restaurant is locally caught and cooked using a combination of Malay and Chinese recipes. I recommend ordering the fresh crab (they are famous for their juicy crabs) as well as the king prawns served in curry soup.
Visit the Sea Gypsies
The fishing industry has undergone a lot of change in Bintan in recent years. Chinese companies entered the market by offering money to local fisherman to repair their houses and boats. In exchange, they requested control over their catch. Now a lot of the trade is controlled by foreign investors and the government is powerless to intervene. Most seafood caught is sent to Singapore and China.
Sea Gypsy is an affectionate name given to the nomadic people who live on the water and survive on the fishing trade. Many sea gypsies have settled down and made Bintan their home. If you drive along the north east coastal road, you will see a few fishing villages. Some are derelict, but one village, just prior to Trikora Beach, remains vibrant. It is interesting to wander along the boardwalk and see these wooden houses built on stilts. Most fishing is done by line or small nets cast off boats. However you will notice some larger operations built on the water containing massive nets. These structures cost $20,000 to build and remain government controlled.
Swim at Trikola Beach
There are numerous beaches at Bintan but Trikola is by far the best! It is the beach that the locals swim at and if you visit on a Sunday you will see lots of Indonesian children splashing about in the water. Otherwise, Trikola is quiet the rest of the week. Because most tourists go to Lagoi and the beaches by the resorts, Trikola remains undeveloped. There is no bustling boardwalk nor restaurants, shops, change rooms or toilets. But what you can enjoy is crystal clear water that is warm and shallow.
Have a Massage at Lagoi
Lagoi is the “tourist capital” of Bintan. In other words, that is where all of the resorts are. Lagoi is super tacky with its modern, concrete structures and crappy restaurants. They even have a series of ridiculous lanterns in the image of Chinese fishermen that light up the beachfront when the sun goes down.
I don’t recommend spending much time in Lagoi except to enjoy an inexpensive massage at Nibbana Massage and Spa. The place is not too fancy but they have experienced masseuses who do a firm massage.
Mangrove Fireflies Tour
A trip to Bintan is not complete without a tour of the mangroves by boat at night. The boat ride lasts for 45-60 minutes during which you will see hundreds – if not thousands – of fireflies! What a magical end to a weekend in Bintan.
I hope you enjoyed my list of the most awesome sights of Bintan. As you can see by the photos, it truly is a special island with a lot of religious as well as natural diversity. If you are looking for something more adventurous to do in Bintan, then checkout my blog on hiking Gunung Bintan!