Bintan Travel Blog: Backwater shores, lowkey towns, night crab hunters, beaches, and sprinkles of attractions are the quickest way to describe Bintan.
Living in Batam Riau, just an hour’s drive and a ferry from Bintan, I visited Bintan during my childhood and again visited it in 2023. Bintan is, honestly, most popular among the local regions like the Riau Islands and Singapore.
But people do step off their travel comfort bubbles from Singapore and end up here – it’s something nice to see. I already made a list of Things to do in Bintan. This, however, is my personal story to Bintan with more pictures and inside stories.
Here goes Bintan Travel Blog
My little brother had been awaiting with impatience to dip his little feet in the beach – so was my mom ready again to get tanned. We had been to most places in Batam already, Bintan – not so much. Since I was back in Indonesia for the holidays, we took off one early morning from Batam Riau!
It’s around an hour’s drive to the Punggur Ferry Terminal in Batam. I remember taking the big ferry from here to Tanjung Pinang. But my dad had booked a local stay this time at Tanjung Uban.
This weekend vacation there was no resort, no trip package, no itinerary, and no welcome drinks waiting at pickup. No planning meant just a pure leisure weekend. As we spoke the Indonesian language, that problem was solved too.
Here are some basic Indonesian phrases I noted down for you to get along well with the locals.
Tanjung Uban is the less touristy part of the Bintan Island while Tanjung Pinang is the capital of the Riau Islands. Way to save money. The even better part was that there was a direct speedboat to Tanjung Uban.
Taking a Speedboat to Tanjung Uban
This was the fun part of the whole trip – the local speedboat. There were the average-sized ferries docked on one end of the terminal. We walked past them and an even smaller ferry, and then was the speedboat.
This was no bigger than a local bus and the boat captain smoked away his cigarette as he cruised to Bintan.
It was a short 30 minutes to Tanjung Uban’s domestic ferry terminal. The term ‘domestic ferry terminal’ just seemed too fancy for its name. Neither was there an actual concrete building nor was there a security checkpoint of any kind.
We just alighted on the wooden dock, past local food stalls, and then into Bintan!
Bintan is small yet hard to get around because of its not-so-reliable public transport. For travelers, I highly recommend booking day trips to different parts of Bintan.
As someone who lives nearby, here are my favorite handpicked day tours in Bintan. Klook.com is a trusted partner and our readers get better deals too. So hurry and grab your tours today!Klook.com
Yes, food tour! One thing to not miss out on is the local delicacies Indonesia has to offer. I’ve myself gone on food-hopping, trying many seafood restaurants. For Batam, here are my best recommendations.
Meeting our fun Homestay Host (and Owner)
Our booked homestay promised to pick us up at the terminal. My dad called the host as we waited with our bags underneath the afternoon sun. After 15 minutes, the driver came to pick us up.
Since it was still early, he offered to drive us to a few temples on our way to the stay. Why not? I’ll talk of the temples later but later it turned out that our plumpy driver was also our host. He also happened to be the homestay owner.
Later we realized that he was also the chef at his little restaurant outside our room. You know it doesn’t get more local when the dude happens to be the tour guide, stay owner, host, driver, and chef.
It wasn’t the budget that got me hooked on this trip. It was a privilege to experience Bintan from such a local perspective. This reminded me of my snorkeling trip to Abang Island, Batam Riau.
The Vihar Dharma Shanti – Sleeping Buddha in Bintan
This was the first of the temples that we visited. I hadn’t bothered to check on the places to visit, but I didn’t mind the random turn of events.
5 minutes away from the ferry terminal, the Vihar Dharma Shanti is a Buddhist temple with a large statue of a sleeping Buddha.
While our host waited by the car, we took a quick tour of the place. I could see the gold-plated statue and the other smaller statues were intricately decorated. There was a pond at the center of the square which was equally photogenic.
The temple itself wasn’t big. We took no more than 20 minutes getting around for a couple of pictures and we returned to the car.
Another post for you to read: Amazing Nuvasa Bay Batam Beach
Homestay by Offbeat Backwater Shores
On our way to the homestay, our host elaborated (or bragged) on his stay right by the waters. He was particular about letting only his guests onto his side of the shores.
I half-listened to it as we drove down the road. When we got to the place – Golden Bay Sebong – I was still unsure of the place.
The rooms themselves were okayish. The bathroom was more or less functional. But hey, I’m a spirited solo traveler. Who am I to complain about? But after the heat settled down and we walked down to the waters behind our rooms, it was a fantasy.
The smell of corals, low tides, and a gentle breeze made the evening an unforgettable one. The orange sky was a cherry on top of the pictures.
Long after dusk, I sat out a long while listening to Free Flowing songs and hung around the Hammock. At midnight, I spotted fishermen hunting sand crabs in the low tides with their torches! It was the best local experience I’ve had so far in Indonesia. Read about my Bintan’s full evening story here.
Morning Swim, Breakfast and Karaoke
I managed to wake up early for an early swim. I don’t find the beach next to my bed that often. So I went in for an hour-long swim. Since these are backwaters, there were no currents and it was safe.
The waters were surprisingly clean even though this wasn’t a resort. But having such a few visitors here made sense. After playing and throwing my brother around in the water, we were starved. So we came back to the homestay’s little restaurant.
The host-slash-owner came in again. He took our Indomie breakfast order and began cooking himself! Since we had ordered some coffee along as well, he said he’d take some time and we could use the Karaoke set meanwhile.
It turns out, my dad’s great at singing :)
Another post for you to read: India to Batam Riau Blog: A 23-hour journey
Guan Ti Gong Temple and 500 Lohan Temple
Renting a cab next to our homestay, we decided to hit whatever Bintan had to offer next. A cab, because like most parts of Indonesia, public transportation isn’t reliable and cabs are cheaper.
So we rented one with a driver for half a day, an affiliate of the homestay host.
The Guan Ti Gong Temple’s main feature was behind the main temple. The Buddhist temple featured a ferocious 15-meter-tall statue of Guan Yu. He held the Green Dragon crescent blade in his hand. The whole structure beamed at us as we walked around.
The 500 Lohan Temple, one of the more recent additions to Bintan, was our next stop. We were greeted with umbrellas for the afternoon heat as we paid for the entrance tickets.
The entrance to the Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva Vihara (the same temple) began with large floating stone pillars that resembled Ashoka Stambh, the National Emblem of India. Then walking under a spacious archway, we spotted the 500 Lohans.
These, as I later studied about, were Arahats or ‘Enlightened beings’ in various forms. They stood with different facial expressions and each of them had their Chinese names engraved below in granite writing.
As we walked by the statues, the perfect spacing between the semicircle arrangement of statues made it a spectacular illusion.
Apart from the wretched heat (even though we had umbrellas), I didn’t regret visiting it. Its structure was unique compared to other temples I’d been to.
Vihara Avalokitesvara Graha (Last temple, I promise)
The moment we entered this temple’s gates, I felt familiar with it. I couldn’t tell why. But standing at the center of the Chinese Buddhist Temple’s entrance, I realized why.
I’d come here before as a kid. And the symmetrical gardens till the main gates stretched out forever like a castle’s landscape. The main temple itself was no doubt heavily invested in. The intricately carved stone windows and decorative pillars with incredible personality. Everything was simply rich.
The main temple, housing Dewi Kuan Yin was something that would be of less interest to little kids and enigmatic to architecture and history enthusiasts like myself. So my brother got bored real quick here.
Anyway, the impeccable Dewi Kuan Yin, a 40-ton copper statue plated with 22-karat gold, was almost 17 meters tall. I sat at one of the kneeling seats a good while before the Goddess.
Right beside the main temple was the Pagoda Vihara with a picturesque pagoda. This featured three elegant Buddhas carved out of marble.
Taking a boat on the Blue Lake (Gurun Pasir)!
After the grand temple, our last destination was something I’d been looking forward to. I hadn’t heard of it before that day. But upon our driver’s mention of the ‘Blue Lake’ (locally called Gurun Pasir Busung), it just seemed curious.
Why would people visit more water here? Indonesia is surrounded by water. But as we reached it, it was the coolest place of all!
Before you judge the pictures, this is man-made yet also natural. As the story goes, it once was a mining spot for Singapore and the residue material turned the waters bright blue here. Now it’s a tourist destination!
They call this place the Blue Lake and Desert because there is a tiny ‘desert’ that runs alongside this lake. Though harmless, they don’t let you plunge into the waters. But we could, however, take a raft ride here.
There was just one small raft that ran slowly around the waters with a motor. The friendly man charged us 50,000 Rupiah to take us around for 15 minutes.
It wasn’t much. But it made a perfect end to our little weekend gateway… and pretty cheap too!
Tailpiece to Bintan Travel Blog
To sum it up, this was a 2d1n itinerary. Well, almost 2 days. But hey my family lives close by and have the privilege to visit it anytime! But for one-time tourists, those who wish to look ahead on ‘what to eat’. To get the best of massage parlors in Pulau Bintan, I believe a good 3-day itinerary is sufficient.
There are some amazing residence spots like the Nirwana Resort, Canopi Resort, and Crystal Lagoon Resort to experience in Bintan. Unless you’re a budget traveler or someone who loves offbeat homestays, read my Bintan travel guide for the top resorts.
Experience an Island Resort in Indonesia
However, even as someone who prefers to stay away from touristy spots, I recommend trying at least one island resort here. I visited one in the Riau Islands – Kiki Beach Resort (links to my resort review), where the only way to get there was by boat. The resort had no road connectivity.
It was just a world away from the city and the only thing we could do in the evening was karaoke! One such island near Bintan is the Nikoi Island. I might too :)
This wraps up my Bintan Travel Blog. I hope you enjoyed this read. Happy traveling!