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 colourful 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 neighbouring 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.
- 1 Tanjung Pinang - largest town on Bintan, and capital of Riau Islands province
- 2 Kijang - long-distance ferry port (another bigger town of Bintan)
- 3 Tanjung Uban - second largest town on Bintan
Bahasa Indonesia, which is spoken throughout Indonesia, is modelled 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.
English is spoken at Bintan Resorts and, to a lesser extent, the resorts of Trikora, but not much elsewhere.
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.
A 7-day visa on arrival at US$10 per person is available for individuals. This visa is valid for visits to the special economic zone of Bintan, Batam and Karimum only.
Tanjung Pinang's Raja Haji Fisabilillah Airport (TNJ IATA) caters to a few domestic flights. The main Indonesian airlines Garuda Indonesia, Lion Air, and Sriwijaya Air all offer daily flights from the Indonesian capital Jakarta. Local airlines offer connections to the remote Natuna Islands, and Xpress Air has three weekly flights between Bintan and Pekanbaru on the main island of Sumatra.
A viable alternative is to fly into neighbouring Batam (BTH IATA), which has a larger airport, and taking a ferry across. However, for most foreigners, unless you are coming from Malaysia or elsewhere in Indonesia, the most convenient way to reach Bintan would be to fly into Singapore (SIN IATA) and take a ferry to Tanjung Pinang. There is a convenient shuttle bus connecting Changi Airport Terminals 1 and 4 to Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal, where you can catch a ferry to Bintan. If you are flying out of Singapore, make sure your ferry departs Bintan at least 4 hours before the scheduled departure time of your flight. See the "By boat" section below for more details. Bintan is one hour behind Singapore, so be sure to factor in the time difference when checking schedules.
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 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.
- From Singapore - There now appear to be only two companies with ferries between Singapore's Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal and Tanjung Pinang, but they each have four or five departures per day.
- The ferries from Singapore take around 2 hours to get to Tanjung Pinang. Bintan's time zone is one hour behind Singapore's; take note of that when you look at schedules, particularly if you are connecting to a flight out of Singapore. When you arrive in Bintan you should confirm your return at the ferry company offices ASAP as the ferries can get full. It is impossible to get out of the terminal without a guide latching on to you, so take advantage and get them to show you where the office is, they may offer to do this anyway. It is roughly - left out of the terminal, then take the first left and the office is at the end of the street and should only take a couple of minutes to reach.
- From Malaysia - around five ferries daily from the Johor Bahru International Ferry Terminal at Stulang Laut, Johor Bahru, to Tanjung Pinang. Tickets cost RM75/125 one-way/return excluding taxes. Journey takes 90 min.
- From Batam
- Baruna (Tel: +62-771-28578 in Tanjung Pinang, +62-778-479162 in Telaga Punggur) and Sentosa speedboats run virtually every 15 minutes between Telaga Punggur on the southeastern end of Batam and Tanjung Pinang, the main town on Bintan. The fare is Rp40,000 before port taxes of Rp3,500 (1 hour). Slightly less frequent speedboats run between Telaga Punggur and Tanjung Uban on the western end of Bintan.
- Several ferries which originate from cities in the Sumatra mainland also call at Sekupang, the main domestic ferry port on Batam, before continuing to Tanjung Pinang. One such operator is Dumai Express.
- From Dumai, Sumatra - several ferries daily by Dumai Express run to Tanjung Pinang via Sekupang, Batam. Some ferries also stop at Tanjung Balai on Karimun Island.
- From Pekanbaru - SB Kurnia Usaha Baru runs daily ferry to Pekanbaru, departing at 06:30. The fare is Rp220,000 before port tax of Rp3,500.
- From Tanjung Balai, Karimun Island - daily ferries by Arena from Tanjung Pinang.
- From Tanjung Batu, Kundur Island - one daily speedboat operated by SB Giam Mas (Tanjung Batu agent at port, Tel: +62-779-431589) departs daily from Tanjung Batu, the main town on Kundur Island, at 0745 for Tanjung Pinang. The boat returns to Tanjung Batu on the same day, departing Tanjung Pinang at 12:00. The boat has scheduled stops at Galang Island and Moro on Sugibawah Island, while unscheduled stops may be made at various little settlements along the way. Journey time is about two and a half hours each way. The fare from Tanjung Batu to Tanjung Pinang one way is Rp130,000 before port taxes.
- From Singkep Island - ferries Batavia and Superjet run daily between Tanjung Pinang and Dabo on Singkep Island, departing at 11:00. The fare is Rp105,000 before port tax of Rp3,500. You can catch boat connections to the Lingga Islands from Singkep.
- From Natuna Islands
- From other parts of Indonesia - PELNI ships link various Indonesian islands with Kijang port on Bintan. These ships provide direct links with Jakarta (KM Ciremiu), Pontianak and other more distant ports. Getting there: From outside Kijang harbour there are bemos (public minibuses) going the 26 km to Tanjung Pinang.
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. However, as there are only a few main routes, Mikrolets are worthwhile investigating and whilst the locals don't speak much English, they will go out of their way to help you if you look lost.
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 Rp5,000, fares outside it are negotiable; going to Trikora might cost around Rp40,000.
Go to Trikora Beach. It is beautiful and there are many watersports 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. By some accounts, the expensive private island resorts of Nikoi and Pangkil (see "Splurge" accommodations in the Trikora article) are the only good places to go snorkeling in Bintan, though tour operators may have other sites they can take you to by boat.
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 prices in Bintan Resorts are 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/person) 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-star hotels, tap water is generally 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 they will inflate your bills and take a cut. However, the cut they take isn't very large unless they are really unscrupulous, so they still make good, friendly, and knowledgeable guides.