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June 29, 2016

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Island paradise a stone’s throw from Singapore

IN recent years, exotic Southeast Asian islands have become popular destinations for newly married or soon-to-be married couples in China.

In addition to Phuket, Bali and Boracay, Bintan resorts, located just 45 minutes by catamaran from Singapore, offers an ideal setting for romance, family fun and shopping.

Compared with some overly-developed resorts, Indonesia’s Bintan is tranquil and relatively free of large crowds. Those who come are drawn by its pristine tropical beaches and lush rainforests.

In the 15th century, Bintan island was also mentioned in the writings of Chinese mariner and explorer Zheng He, who sailed throughout the Western Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean.

Recently, the island hosted a group wedding ceremony with 22 couples from all over China. The couples exchanged vows on the beach and received blessings from the local people, who turned out in their traditional Indonesian costumes. Many luxury hotels also offered romantic presents in the rooms for participating couples.

Last year Indonesia officially granted visa-free travel to citizens of China, a move which has given a strong boost to tourist numbers from the country.

“Our cooperation with Bintan resorts will grow stronger and cover many aspects of tourism,” said Cao Zhonghua, a representative with Rose Wedding, a Shanghai-based travel service company and the organizer of the group wedding event.

Constructed in 1991, Bintan Resorts is home to an array of beach-front international hotels and resort chains, including Banyan Tree, Club Med and Sanchaya. Indonesian, Singaporean and Chinese tourists now account for the majority of the island’s visitors.

The resorts offer a variety of activities and amenities, including golf courses, spa services, jungle adventures and water sports. Visitors can also take photos with elephants on the beach, enjoy family barbecues or have a marriage proposal dinner for two with a private chef.

Doulos Phos, built in the US in 1914, is one of the world’s oldest active ocean-faring passenger ship. It is now permanently berthed at Bintan Resorts. Local officials say that they plan to develop the ship into a land-berthed heritage hotel, complete with an on-board maritime museum.

Other new facilities planned for the coming years include beach pubs, a car-racing park and an international airport.

Gerald Hendrick, vice president of business development and hotel operations at Bintan Lagoon Resort, says they will host the hotel’s 20th anniversary celebration in July.

“Over the passing years, we have seen a huge increase in customers, especially Chinese tourists,” Hendrick added. “A lot of babies were made here. The peak travel season here is generally from July to September and around Christmas.”

In addition to the beach fun, the Bintan Mangrove tour is a highlight on the island. The back-to-nature adventure includes a boat journey along the 6.8 km Sebung River, where tourists can observe endangered mangrove species and various types of plants and wildlife. The jungle’s fauna includes monkeys, snakes, lizards and king fishers. River cruisers can also see local fisherman setting their traps for crabs and shrimps.

The island also offers a diverse array of dining options. The Kelong Seafood Restaurant provides a panoramic view of the South China Sea. It is also an ideal place to catch the beautiful sunset as well as dazzling star-filled skies. The restaurant, built on stilts just above the sea, also has a bar where you can enjoy drinks, music and sea breezes.

Its menu features a blend of Chinese and Indonesian cuisine. Among the signature dishes are gong-gong (sea snails), black pepper crab and stir-fried butter prawns. Diners from all over the world have also written down their feelings and wishes on crab shells which are displayed in the restaurant. In the lobby, an Indonesian band adept at English and Chinese songs performs each evening.

Outside the tranquility of the resort area, a bustling night-fair on the island provides a glimpse into the lives and traditions of locals. A variety of Southeast Asian-flavored dishes and snacks are offered there, including sliced fish soup, bak-kut-teh (a meat dish cooked in broth), otak-otak (grilled fish cake), chicken rice and crispy pork.

Given Bintan’s proximity to Singapore, it is often regarded as a “backyard garden” for Singaporean tourists. After several days of relaxation on the island, many visitors hit Singapore for shopping and entertainment.

Singapore’s must-visit attractions include Sentosa, Marina Bay Sands, the Singapore Flyer, Singapore Night Safari, Chinatown, Gardens by the Bay and Universal Studios Singapore. Its well-developed public transportation system enables tourists to easily get around.

The Singapore Flyer, the world’s largest observation wheel, will delight visitors with its stunning skyline views of Singapore. One revolution takes about 30 minutes. One can also have dinner and cocktail parties there.

The Marina Bay Sands Skypark is well-known for its viewing deck and infinity pool in the “ship” that tops the hotel. At the Skypark, snacks and coffee are offered for relaxation.


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