Sunday, April 26, 2015

Bintan Family Trip in Feb 2015

It was only a couple of months back when I visited Batam for the first time in my life and I must say that the one-day trip was rather enjoyable, with cheap and nice food as well as the unforgettable 1.5hrs full body massage that cost less than Sgd$20! It was rather like travelling to West Malaysia, which I enjoy doing too! So when an awesome colleague of mine offered me a free 2-night villa stay at Banyu Biru, Bintan for the family in February, I just couldn't refuse. I was actually half expecting it to be something like Batam but boy was I wrong! 

Since I got my accommodation covered, all I needed to do was to book the ferry tickets online. The ferry tickets for the 1hr ride wasn't exactly cheap and do note that infants in arms requires a ticket as well. Being the price-conscious me, I had tried searching for other alternatives but unfortunately there are none, as only BRF operates the Sin - Bandar Bentan Telani Ferry Terminal route.

It already felt like a holiday when we reached the ferry terminal. It was our first time to the Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal and I was quite surprised to find a lot of people buying bottles of soft drinks from the shop on the left (blue signboard). Then I realised that the although the prices were already marked up, it is still cheaper than the drinks at the resorts. 
The 3 kiddos were absolutely thrilled to go on holidays for sure!
Bintan is one hour behind Singapore time, hence we lost no time when we reached Bandar Bentan Telani Ferry Terminal. I honestly had no idea how to get to the villa and had initially thought that I would need to pay for taxi or something. We were pleasantly surprised that there was actually a coach waiting to pick us up from the terminal! It was a service offered to all guests and return trip was also included. Am thankful, but I definitely didn't read anything or heard about the shuttle service from any of the booking staff though. 

Our free shuttle bus waiting to pick us to our resort from the terminal.
A nice photo on board the comfortable coach to start our holidays!
There were welcome drinks and a short traditional dance to welcome the guests once we reach the main lobby of Nirwana Gardens.
There is actually free WIFI at many places in the resort but the speed was incredibly slow. But of course you can upgrade your WIFI by paying extra. I managed to actually tahan till the end without upgrading. 

We reached much earlier than the official check in time of 3pm and went for our lunch at The Coffee Shop, and got to experience firsthand what many friends had warned us in advance, that the price of the food was a little on the high side. One may feel that it is alright to splurge especially while on holidays and I would usually agree with that totally. But I also felt that hotel-priced food should at least match hotel standard. Which in this case, it doesn’t, hence my slight grouses. But the consolation was that at least the service staff were all friendly and well-trained and friendly.

It was a little hot but Leroy didn't mind striking a stylo-milo pose.
The food may not be that nice but the view from the restaurant was not bad at all!
Banyu Biru Villas reminded me very much of our NSRCC chalets back in Singapore. Hence it might not be “economical” to just have a simple holiday bungalow staycation in Bintan as one would need to purchase ferry tickets on top of paying for the accommodation. You would really need to try out their activities to really make it worthwhile. But the irony is, the more activities you try, the more you need to pay as these are all payable. Having tried some of the activities I would recommend the archery / shooting, the Nablez Kids Clud, the mini Zoo and definitely the night mangrove tours simply because it is not available in Singapore. You may also wish to explore other parts of Bintan such as their markets etc but it would be quite a long taxi ride out from the resorts and there was nothing really interesting there as well I was told.

The various activities available at Nirwana Gardens.
You are free to explore the resorts via the free shuttle buses that are provided at regular intervals but if you would like to venture out of the resorts, you can consider the various options available. 
This is our bungalow from afar! It is really relaxing to just sit by the balcony and have some coffee or beer!
This is how is looks like from the main entrance. The bungalow is managed by NTUC Club!
The spacious interior with all the basic amenities (except for WIFI which you need to pay!!!)
Of course we have to hit the swimming pool too!
There was also a water slide to keep the kids happy. It wasn't turned on when we went, and we had to check with the staff who turned it on for us happily. 
The kids didn't want to rest and we ending up playing bowling till late.
Well, Stacci was getting a little tired alright.
Steffi had some guidance from the friendly staff at the resort on how to shoot arrows like Katniss, well almost. 
And Leroy got to try to be Hawkeye as well!
Look at how many arrows the kids shot!
My little heroes wannabes!
Nablez Kids Club

The kiddos got to try out the many activities at the inhouse kids club at Nirwana Gardens on the second day.  The first thing they got to try was the outdoor bungee trampoline which thrilled both Steffi and Leroy but was too scary for Stacci. There are dedicated staff who will look after the kids while they engage in entertaining activities such as art and craft or ball games. You can leave your kids here without a worry while you relax at the pool or the beach with your partner. 2hr sessions would cost RP45,000 while a full day session will be RP145,000 per child (aged between 4-8 years)

The kids club is location at Nirwana Gardens, near the swimming pool.
Leroy enjoying his bungee trampoline jumps which would usually cost around $10 per try back in Singapore!
And the daredevil loves it too!
The uncle was definitely a friendly fella! I was pretty sure the kiddos got some little extra time from him. 
The kiddos were happy to be back in the club house for some air-conditioned indoor play after the jumps!
Shooting the hoops.
Leroy goes one up and does a slam dunk!
And the kids got to get some "face" painting. We opted for the arms instead.
Stacci getting excited!
Look, we all had our beautiful animal paintings done!
Night Mangrove Discovery Tour

This tour has got to be the highlight of our Bintan trip. This is where you take a boat out in the dead of the night, into the dark mangrove swamps. You will be briefed on what to expect before the boat ride and you will have to wear your life jackets as well. The boat ride takes around 1.5hrs but it really doesn't feel that long as you soak in the atmosphere. The stars looked exceptionally bright especially when there are no artificial lightings from high rise buildings in sight. For a good part of the boat ride, you will just enjoy the breeze and the bright stars. The real magic starts when you get into the mangrove and the guide points to you where the fireflies are! This is the first time that my kiddos got to see and touch these gentle creatures and it sure beats any books or documentary! They were really excited to see the green glowing beetles flying around the mangrove trees. But I must add that one may find it a little boring if one doesn't love the wild and nature.

Thumbs up before we get onto the boat.
Look at what we have got? A pair of mating fireflies! It is such a pity that we were unable to capture their glow in the dark using our cameras.
Steffi was the gungho one. No fears at all getting on and off the boat.
Another rare family photo after the ride!
Going to the Beach

There are long stretches of beach along the perimeter of the chain of resorts and we went to the beach in front of our resort on the very first evening we arrived. The moment the kids saw the sand, they ran toward in all directions towards the shoreline. But little did we expect to find something yucky lying beneath the sand. On hindsight, we should have known, for the smell of petroleum was overwhelming. The presence of tar was apparently a result of the monsoon waves during the time we were there. The situation was much better over at the Nirwana Gardens as we did not detect any tar at all there.

We missed this notice when we went to the beach on the first day.
It seemed that the monsoon had brought in the tar during this season.
Steffi was still happily playing at the beach in front of our bungalow and we all didn't notice the black tar until it was too late.
We ended up having to clean ourselves with a special liquid to get rid of the stubborn tar! The liquid is non other than plain cooking oil! Learnt something new!
Steffi having a swell time hanging around and looking out towards at the sea.
Yay!!! The beach at this end is CLEAN!!!
Wildlife and Nature

Of course besides the mangrove tour, there are lots of wildlife around Bintan if you just look. The highly urbanized Singaporean kiddos would really benefit from seeing and learning about the wild animals up close, many of which are also native to Singapore. I took the opportunity to introduce all the animals we got to meet during the trip and I am sure that they would have gained some precious knowledge.

A changeable lizard having its lunch, which looked probably like a praying mantis or a locust.
A very big yellowish-green locust atop some palm leaves.
We even saw a resident monitor lizard roaming freely on the resort grounds.
We had the front row seat to a monitor lizard wrestling match at our balcony! Eyeopeners to kids and adults alike!
Some after meal entertainment on the first day. Playing with serpent.
Steffi at ease with a albino burmese python.
There is also a mini zoo at Nirwana Gardens, with rabbits, guinea pigs, bantam chickens, parrots, eagles and even crocodiles. The kids would have fun pointing out the different animals. 
We also chanced upon a small stream that fed water directly to the sea and discovered small fishes and shrimps living in it. We caught some just to see what they were and then released them unharmed back into the freshwater stream.
And here's a little fishie that we caught using bare hands.

P/S We were sponsored a 3D/2N stay at Banyu Biru Resort by an awesome colleague.  Nirwana Gardens peeps gave the kids free fringe activities such as archery and Nablez Kids Club sessions while  the wonderful folks from Bintan Resorts hosted the family for the mangrove tour and sponsored my ferry ride as well. All opinions and photos remains solely mine and no other monetary compensation was received.

Useful Information
Nirwana Gardens was developed by PT Alam Indah Bintan, a consortium of five major Singaporean and Indonesian companies – Sembawang Industrial Pte Ltd, NTUC Income Insurance Co-operative Ltd, UOL Overseas Investments Pte Ltd, Eastern Realty Company Limited (a member of the OCBC Group) and the Salim Group. Today, the resort is wholly owned by the Salim Group.
The 330-hectare Nirwana Gardens is an integrated resort covering a comprehensive mix of hotel accommodation, real estate developments, recreational and dining facilities. The following are the existing attractions in Nirwana Gardens:

Nirwana Resort Hotel

A 245-room beach resort sprawled over 17.5 hectares, the hotel offers recreational and retail facilities, food and beverage outlets and a big conference/function room in Bintan Resorts. Specialty spa, Anindya Health Club is located here.

Mayang Sari Beach Resort

In operation since March 1995, the Mayang Sari Beach Resort is a 50-chalet, beachfront resort. Targeted at the mid-market, it has two restaurants, a lounge, a bar, a meeting room and a drugstore. The main spa, Anindya Spa, opened end of 2013, is located here.

Indra Maya Villas

Sited on a scenic promontory, the 10-hectare Indra Maya is an exclusive and luxurious resort villa development. Only 14 units are available presently, with each two and three-bedroom villa containing its own private pool and commanding a magnificent view of the South China Sea. There is only one four-bedroom villa, which also houses a full kitchen, a private pool, and meeting and dining rooms. With its own security guard post, it offers guests complete privacy.

Banyu Biru Villas

The Banyu Biru Villas are designed to offer guests a view of the sea or the garden. Available are two, three and four-bedroom villa and all 36 units are self-contained with a kitchenette and a living room. Recreational facilities include a free-form swimming pool and a clubhouse. The Banyu Biru and Indra Maya villas are available for both short-term stays and ownership.

Nirwana Beach Club

The Nirwana Beach Club replaced the popular Mana Mana Beach Club in February 2007. The Nirwana Sea Sports Centre located here offers a wide variety of activities which include windsurfing, snorkelling tours, wakeboarding, jet skiing and kayaking. Catering to both overnight and day-trip visitors, a qualified water sports coach also conducts clinics for windsurfing. Teambuilding programmes incorporating both land and sea activities are conducted here. The 50 fully air-conditioned cabanas with its attached bathroom are located on a gentle hill-slope adjacent to the Nirwana Beach Club. These no-frills but comfortable chalets are ideal for sea sports enthusiasts who want to be right by the beach. Other facilities include a beachside meeting room (for 28 persons), a surf shop and a food and beverage outlet with a pizzeria. La Luna Restaurant and Beach Club is located here.