My girlfriend and I planned an Easter vacation trip excursion from Singapore to the Island of Bintan in Indonesia. We decided to try this as there is a ferry costing 113USD in Emerald business class that takes 1 hour, so we figured it would be cheaper than flying to Chiangmai.
Our Hotel Stay
Arriving at the Nirwana hotel, we were greeted by a fake Ralph Lauren Polo store, which was indicative of the level of the resort. (The real Ralph Lauren is not allowed in Indonesia because the local copy has the trademark.)
It was clear that the resort has suffered from the pandemic and probably the lack of Chinese clientele as the “Hot Pot” restaurant opened in the height of the Chinese tourism boom of 2017 was closed with other facilities deserted as well, such as the “local” pub and bowling alley.
The reason I, personally, won’t stay at this hotel again is because of the restrictive and customer unfriendly internet policy. Upon check-in, you are given Wi-Fi access, which only covers one device.
Fortunately, I brought along a travel router and was able to get around the one device restriction.
However, the hotel does not only restrict the number of devices, they restrict the internet speed. The top tier was around 3MB/s at 13USD a day!
On principle, we didn’t pay for the upgrade, however this made finding things outside the hotel to do by searching the internet a slow task.
Overall, we found the food quality sorrowfully lacking at the resort, especially when you consider the price. An additional annoying thing was at each restaurant they would not give us a copy of the receipt after we charged it to our room. We had to take a photo of each bill to ensure we could confirm if there were any “mistakes” at checkout.
As the resort is broken up into multiple places to stay, the restaurants are spread around each one, and you have to take a free bus to get to each one that goes every half hour.
Breakfast was included in our stay, but was mediocre. The coffee machines would often break down, and we would have to wait for them to be fixed. The capacity of these machines was not enough to keep up with the large number of people at breakfast.
Even though it was Easter weekend, there was nothing exceptional on Easter Sunday at the breakfast.
In the evening, we first tried the The Kelong Seafood Restaurant which is on a pier in the sea, so it gets points for a special location and view with a “floating bar” called Calypso bar that is a key location to watch the sunset on the island. The food was fine, and the fish was fresh. The view was great, but the food didn’t give me any wow factor, and the total meal and drinks cost two people 104USD.
Trying to find other places to eat, there was what was supposed to be an Indonesian restaurant called “Spice” however when we went there, we were presented with an extensive vegetarian Indian menu. Still, we were able to find some Indonesian food; however, my girlfriend complained about how the chicken dish was dry a and I found the beef satay to not “melt in my mouth”. This was not 60USD well spent.
In-between our out-of-hotel excursions, we wanted to have lunch and chose the Nirwana’s Dino restaurant. It was surprisingly busy at 2pm and after waiting quite a while, we both came out disappointed with our Caesar salad and burger for 53USD!
Some activities we tried are snorkeling and bike riding. Many of the activities promoted seemed to have a “cheese” flavor to them, such as paintball. Maybe they are better for families. The one horse available for the horse riding activity made my girlfriend sorrowful after she saw how it was stuck outside tied up waiting for a customer.
While the Nirwana Resort Hotel is on an extensive property called Nirwana Gardens, it is not a big enough property to keep you entertained while riding bikes for a full hour. We returned our bikes with almost twenty minutes left on our clock, as we had already gotten bored. Bike rental was around 17USD for two people with the duration of 1 hour.
One of the more positive experiences was taking the boat snorkeling. However, even for this, we had to wait an extra ten minutes for a late arrival couple. Once on the water, it was beautiful to see the shore of the island. Arriving at the snorkeling spot, the boat had to find a spot we could go in that didn’t have much oil floating on the water. Once we dove in, the clown fish were plentiful and there was much to see, even with many of the coral dying due to climate change.
One of the treasures of the resort is the beach. The resort actually has two beach sections. One is out in front of the main hotel and the other is where the beach club is and is the gateway to all the water sports activities.
The beach in front of the hotel has sand that is fine and soft, and on nice days the water is clear and blue. We were able to relax, read and listen to the waves with the occasional swim.
As our ferry back to the island was not until late in the afternoon, we asked for a late checkout and were told it would be an additional 40USD. Instead, we decided to check out at 12pm and go into town.
Outside the Hotel
As we were trying to find better food options than what was in the hotel, we spent a lot of time using the slow internet to search for restaurant options that would satisfy our Indonesian food craving. Unfortunately, the hotel is a ways away from the main city in Bintan.
Practically, next door was the Bayan Tree Bintan resort, and we wanted to escape there for better quality food, however, during the Easter weekend we were told the restaurants were fully booked.
There is no Grab taxi on the island and at the Nirwana Resort they were charging around 20USD to go even short distances on the island, however , we did find there are also electric taxis which are half the price.
One of the main things we wanted to try was massage. Luckily, a friend recommended a massage place that was near the hotel, and they picked us up and dropped us off. To get around the expensive taxi from the hotel, we also asked the spa to take us to the Warung Yeah! restaurant for dinner, and then paid about 10USD extra to pick us up later and take us back to our resort.
At first, the spa was asking to pay partially in cash and credit card. We just said flat-out “No” and then we were able to charge the massage to our Visa. In total, we went to this spa twice on our trip as the massage experience was superb and acceptable price for 90 minutes totaling 96USD for 2 people. The name of the Spa is D’Bintan Salon Day Spa.
On TripAdvisor, we saw that one of the higher-rated restaurants was Warung Yeah!. Upon arrival, we found it was a very casual Indonesian dining restaurant located on a public Lagoi Bay beach. We ordered multiple Indonesian dishes for more than half the price of a meal in the Nirwana Resort. In the two times we ate there, (yes, it was that good) we spent less than 20USD.
The beach that this restaurant is located at is also a perfect place to watch the sunset. There used to be a shopping mall and other attractions around this area, but they seem to be closed down.
Mangrove Boat Tour
Though we wanted to kayak the mangroves, we couldn’t find an appropriate last-minute option, so instead we took a Mangrove boat tour booked through TripAdvisor for around 60USD for two people. This was well executed as they picked us up at our hotel and brought us to the cute jetty where we boarded a small speed boat to travel up the brackish water. The boat consisted of a captain and guide to explain what we were looking at, and it was a great experience to be out on the water again and in narrow mangrove waterways. Most of the wildlife we saw was snakes, but the captain was excellent and spotting them and pointing them out, including a python.
Overall, my impression of Bintan is that it is really focused on extracting money out of Singaporeans coming for the weekend and not providing enough value to the customer. If you are going to come here for the weekend, you would need to stay at one of the very high-end resorts that has good food and plan to stay in that resort except for maybe a spa excursion.
If you have had a better time in Bintan, feel free to tweet bdeverman.