Riau Islands : Bintan
Bintan: the northern tip of the island, Bintan Resorts (Lagoi), 45 minutes from Singapore by ferry, full of expensive resorts and manicured lawns. As it has very little in common with the rest of the island, the resorts are covered in the Bintan Resorts article.
Separated from the resorts by checkpoints and armed guards, the rest of the island is "real" border town Indonesia, home to electronics factories, fishing villages and local style resorts (beach and adventure type) along the East Coast Bintan.
The colorful town of Bintan, Tanjung Pinang, 1.5 hours away from Singapore by ferry, used to be a local destination for prostitution and gambling (just like neighboring Batam), but after a clamp-down by the local authorities it is regaining its rightful reputation as one of Indonesia's most historical cities, with its ancient vibrant market partly located on stilts in the sea.
Bahasa Indonesia, which is spoken throughout Indonesia, is modeled on the version of Malay which originates from Riau on the Sumatra mainland and the Riau Islands. In fact, Riau Malay is regarded as the purest form of the Malay language and visitors from Malaysia will find the Malay spoken here very similar to Bahasa Malaysia, which is the version of Malay spoken back home.
For detailed information on visas, please see Indonesia page. All Bintan ports, namely Sri Bintan Pura (Tanjung Pinang), Lobam and Bandar Bentan Telani/Lagoi (Bintan Resorts) are visa-free and visa-on-arrival points of entry.
As of July 2011 a 7-day visa on arrival at 10 US$ per person is available again for individuals. This visa is valid for visits to the special economic zone of Bintan / Batam / Karimum only.
Bintan's Raja Haji Fisabilillah Airport (IATA: TNJ, ICAO: WIDN) only caters to a limited number of flights, none of which are international. The main operator is Riau Airlines which provides connections to Jakarta, Pekanbaru, Palembang, Jambi and the remote Natuna Islands. Sriwijaya Airoffers daily flights from Jakarta. Alternatives include flying into Singapore and taking the ferry across (see next section), or using the larger airport in neighboring Batam.
You are most likely to arrive by boat. Most international travelers arrive from Singapore and Johor Bahru. Bintan is also the major domestic seaport for the Riau Islands and is a port of call for Indonesia's major passenger shipping company Pelni. The ride across itself (return ticket around S$50) is worth the trip. Make sure you get on the open deck (most locals stay in the air-conditioned cabin). Close to Singapore, hundreds and hundreds of oil tankers, freighters and huge container ships from all over the world literally fill up the horizon in any direction. Later on on the ride, there will be small islands dotted across South China Sea, most seem uninhabited, with mysterious jungle coastlines, and dark volcanoes in the background. Just use your imagination and think about the pirates that have been hiding on those islands for centuries (and are still now), or how participants of the "Survivor" TV series would cope on such an island, with huge pythons all over the jungle.
There are several passenger ports in Bintan. The most common one is at Tanjung Pinang where most short-distance inter-island ferries and those from Singapore and Johor Bahru dock. The other ferry terminals are at Tanjung Uban, Kijang (where Pelni boats dock), and Teluk Sebung which serves the Bintan Resorts area on the northern part of the island. Please see Bintan Resorts for details to get to that part of Bintan.
Public transportation on Bintan is very limited, and is probably not worth the effort unless you have a passable command of Indonesian and a lot of time on your hands. Virtually all visitors use taxis or rent cars.
Taxis compete furiously for your custom and cutthroat bargaining is a necessity. The safety of these is dubious though, and it is generally advisable to avoid the taxi touts at Tanjung Pinang's ferry terminal entirely and arrange transportation with your lodgings.
Car rental could cost between S$50 - 100/day for a sedan, depending on how far you go: all the way around the island, visiting Tanjung Pinang, the east coast, and the resort belt in the north would be a 4 hour, 200 km venture, while a short day visit to Trikora coast might be had for $50.
Prices about S$35/day (or 20/half a day), fun and convenient way to hop from beach to beach or even travel quite a long distances over the island. They will provide you with a helmet and price of the gasoline is cca Rp10000/2l bottle (every shop near the road sells that)
Bintan's embryonic public transport system consists of white minivans known as mikrolet or angkutan kota (angkut). One set of vans runs around Tanjung Pinang, while another set covers the rest of the island. The only way to tell where they're going is to yell out your destination as they pass, and to get off, just yell kiri. You can transfer between the two near Bintan Centre, also known as Batu Sepuluh (Marker 10). Fares within the city are a fixed Rp. 5000, fares outside it are negotiable; going to Trikora might cost around Rp. 40000.
Go to Trikora Beach. It is beautiful and there are many seasports readily available.
More untouched beaches can be found in the area around Sumpat.
Also, the primary rainforests, although reduced in size due to commercialism, they are still majestic and magnificent.
Bintan has excellent beaches, although the water tends to be murky due to its proximity to Singapore, shipping lanes, and Batam's industries. Bintan Resorts is best known for golf, while Trikora is a cheaper option for sea sports.
You can also go island-hopping from the main ports. From Tanjung Pinang, going to a nearby island would only be about S$5-10.
The local wooden handicrafts are worth buying, if you're on the lookout for a souvenir or two. The prices are generally cheap if you can find the right places to buy from.
The resorts use Singapore dollars as their de facto currency, but while they're accepted elsewhere on the island as well, exchange rates may not be in your favour and you'll usually be better off using rupiah. Prices on the "Indonesian" part of the island are on par with or slightly higher than other islands in Indonesia, while the price level on Bintan Resorts is quite expensive even by Singapore standards.
The major shopping centres in town, like Ramayana Mall or Bintan Mall, hardly compare to those in Singapore, Jakarta, or Kuala Lumpur, but the items sold are generally cheap, varied, and acceptable quality.
Seafood in Bintan is fresh and affordable (about S$3-7/pax) and Tanjung Pinang has many restaurants, although they usually have sub-standard fans and minimal or gaudy decoration. However, service is good and waiters are friendly. There isn't always an English menu, so take a look at the Indonesian phrasebook and learn the basics. Also remember that 'vegetarian' is defined differently here than other parts of the world, so if you are a strict vegetarian, make sure you mention no meat is to be included.
Hygiene may be a problem, but restaurants here depend on repeat customers, so generally they will do their best to make sure you have an enjoyable experience.
Drink bottled water. Except for a few 4/5* hotels, tap water is generaly not potable.
Fresh tender coconut water may be available at a few places, if not at your own resort.
As the locals are generally Muslims and thus do not usually drink alcoholic beverages, beer and wines are not available in every shop, but major shopping centres/hotel concierges can tell you where to buy them.
While better than it used to be, Tanjung Pinang has a partly deserved bad reputation. Do not carry large quantities of cash or flash it about, and do not take unfamiliar taxis (particularly the touts at the jetty).
Locals will readily befriend you, but be warned, they will inflate your bills and take a cut. However, since the cut they take isn't very large unless they are really unscrupulous so they still make good, friendly, and knowledgeable guides.