Ed – Since the publication of this article, changes in health and safety and facility upgrades have taken place at the Angsana Spa & Resort on Bintan Island. I have been invited back by the apologetic management to see for myself that this is truly a world-class resort. I intend to do so as soon as I am in the region again. There has been no word on the current situation at the Banyan Tree Resort.
In Indonesia’s Riau Archipelago lies an Island that is more expensive than Singapore or Tokyo. The inflated prices are of no benefit to the consumer as there is no difference between Bintan and any other resort island in Indonesia.
The only difference is that Bintan is completely devoid of community or culture. It seems as if the whole island was constructed by Singaporean companies. Even the local housing looks suspiciously like a decrepit Singaporean schoolroom. Exactly where is all this foreign money going?
Bintan’s only saving grace is its beaches. They are beautiful with white sand, clear water, shells, waves – Lagoi beach being the finest of all on Bintan Island. If you are planning to go, I have some advice, but first I want to tell you where not to go. If you stay away from the resorts, shops and restaurants you should be fine. Unfortunately, that only leaves the beach.
Let me tell you about the places I’ve visited on Bintan Island – I feel it is my duty to warn you before you book your holiday.
The Banyan Tree is supposed to be a five-star resort. On first inspection it seems to fit the bill. Upon closer inspection, the service and the cuisine certainly do not. The resort’s signature restaurant is Saffron, which serves modern Thai cuisine. It’s not bad. It’s not good either. The Cove restaurant is another matter – it’s just appalling: Warm, fish carpaccio that was definitely not today’s fish – or yesterday’s for that matter; Veal like bubble gum and the most appalling decor – blue plastic beads and garish napkins are Banyan Tree’s attempt to channel a Mediterranean taverna. They failed.
Angsana Bintan Hotel is another of Bintan’s five-star resorts towhich I wouls award three stars at a stretch (maybe I need to start my own rating system as Indonesia can’t figure out how to do it themselves) The Angsana Resort, while on the divine Lagoi Beach, is a total disaster. Despite the deceptive website, the reality is that there is only one dining area, the Lotus Cafe. A second beach bar/cafe is only open on the weekends. They may well offer dining on the beach at an inflated price and room service as well but it’s all from the same mediocre, filthy kitchen. The rooms are shabby and old; There aren’t enough elevators. The staff are very friendly but unless you speak Bahasa Indonesia you are going to have some communication issues.
The worst thing about this resort, by far, was the food. A dreadful, unclean selection is all that is available at the Angsana.Between two of us we ordered lamb chops, pesto pasta, Diet Coke and Evian. It cost about $100 – yes, in Indonesia! Forty minutes later I got a plate of cold pasta. We sent it back. It came back again a little warmer but still revolting. Fresh ingredients don’t seem to be available even though they are apparently shipped in daily. Take a look at the breakfast buffet: flies all over the fruit; cheese next to an open window in the tropical heat.
When I asked the staff what was leaking from the drains in the courtyard next to my table they reassured me that it was “only chemicals”
Anyway, take a good look at the website for a laugh, it really is a marketing and sales masterpiece. I guess because this resort is in Indonesia they get away with letting shabby, squalid rooms for a $200-500 dollars a night and no one has sued them yet.
Club Med is perfectly fine if you have children, although I’ve never eaten there so I have no idea whether or not you may suffer a similar culinary catastrophe.
I hate to deliver more croakings of doom but the area surrounding Lagoi Beach, outside of the resorts, is not any better than the resorts. The local market, Pasar Oleh Oleh, is anything but local – $20 sunscreen, $50 sarongs that are $10 anywhere else in the country. I have yet to find a decent restaurant on Bintan Island.
If you’d like to stay on a tropical island, I suggest that you go to Malaysia or Australia and never, ever visit Bintan. However, if you are in Singapore and the proximity of Bintan with it’s fine beaches appeals to you then I recommend this course of action:
1) Bring a lot of snacks with you – and all your own toiletries and medicine. There appears to be no real pharmacy on the island and the sunscreen is not cheap – and you’ll need a lot of the stuff here.
2) Try camping, or even “glamping” – that’s glam camping for those of you who aren’t in the know. Many places on Bintan’s east coast such as Pantai Trikora’s Bintan Cabana Beach Resort and Mutiara Beach Guesthouse usually give travellers the option to pitch a tent, use the bathroom and facilities and often they even give you a towel. Simple beach huts are also available if you look around. Check with the resorts and villas before you set out for Bintan to find out what they offer. I am sure, as with the rest of Indonesia, that the fresh seafood on the beach and the ubiquitous satay sticks are fine. I wouldn’t expect fine dining here but you won’t starve.
I don’t think one is permitted to just camp on the beach – this island relies on tourism and they will probably want to squeeze every last rupiah out of you whenever possible. I did warn you, it’s not my favourite place…