“BINTAN Resorts” is the name of the estate in the northern coast of Bintan island in Indonesia comprising of 224,000 hectares of lush vegetation (towering trees, wild bushes, flourishing ferns, flowers here and there); and an expansive coastline alongside crystal clear waters. The all-resorts haven is perfect for people who want to get-away from it all and be one with nature in the midst of comfort and luxury. On the other hand, there are various recreational activities from sea sports to art lessons to singing sessions for those who are out for some action in that bucolic setting. Bintan Resorts is marketed as the place to “escape the mundane, unwind the senses, discover the colours.” It is a short 50-minute ferry ride away from Singapore’s Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal... And Singapore is a convenient three-and-a-half hour flight from Cebu.

When I was invited by Cherrie Callelero of Grand Holidays to join a tour group to Bintan Resorts, I more or less imagined that I was going to another Bali but on a smaller scale. I was so wrong. Bintan Resorts is a world all its own. Far away from the chaos of the capital city and its populace, the privately-owned domain boasts of wide concrete roads, landscaped roadsides, and well-maintained open spaces.

Bintan Holiday Resorts marketing officer Patrick Lee says that the place is exclusively developed as an integrated tropical beach resort destination with premier class beach resorts and designer golf courses operated by different players in the hotel/resort industry. At Bintan Resorts, there are neither private residences, nor commercial establishments. One has to go to the other side of the island to get a feel of local life.

We made the most of our stay at Bintan Resorts by visiting the top-rated resorts and golf clubs to see and admire the beauty all around. Our first stop was the Nirwana Gardens where we were welcomed by pretty Indonesian dancers doing a graceful native dance. The Nirwana complex is huge with a collective of five different hotels and resorts. It offers a host of dining options and a comprehensive line up of activities for its guests.

Then there was the five-star Angsana Bintan where we spent our first night. We loved the Asian contemporary lines of the place and its beachfront setting which gave a fantastic view of the raging South China Sea.

Another home of ours was the Bintan Lagoon Resort, the largest and longest-operating resort and the only one in the island with its own ferry terminal. It is home to two highly-acclaimed 18-hole golf courses designed by Jack Nicklaus and Ian Baker-Finch.

And speaking of golf courses, we had a chance to go around the Ria Bintan Golf Club designed by Gary Player. The 27-hole course has been named “Best Course in Asia” by Asian Golf Magazine. It has two signature holes set on a rolling terrain by the South China Sea. The clubhouse also offers room accommodations as well as massage services.

Very upscale - that’s Holiday Villa, an exquisitely-furnished all-villa resort, each with its own private pool.

The Canopi was something quite different from all the other resorts. “Glamping” (glamorous camping) which means staying in an air-conditioned tent with the comforts of modern living is the name of its game. And the whole complex is just beside Treasure Bay.

Treasure Bay Bintan is a one stop place that integrates hotel, entertainment and night life. Its centerpiece is the 6.3 hectare Crystal Lagoon which offers various interactive water sports (think wakeboard, jetski, Jetovator, to mention a few). Then there is the social hub called Chill Cove, a “playground where adventure, fun and friendship never end.”

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Outside the enclave of the upscale resorts, we went on a cruise along the Sebung River for a Mangrove Discovery Tour (winner of Pata Gold Award for Ecotourism and Travel-related Projects). We revelled in the peace and quiet of the mangrove forest but then got scared when we saw a slimy snake coiled around one of the mangrove branches.

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Our three-day interlude in Bintan was coming to a close and it was time for us to see the other side of the island, the “slice” that spelled “local color,” a completely different world from the exclusivity and luxury of Bintan Resorts.

Visiting temples is definitely a must in the island and the 500 Lohan Temple (Vihara Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva) was first on the list. It is a Buddhist temple with 500 statues of arhats (people who have reached a certain stage of enlightenment in Buddhism), each one with a unique facial expression. Very interesting!

We were pleasantly surprised when one of the tourist spots we were brought to was the Grotto Santa Maria, a Catholic sanctuary up a tiny hill with a statue of Mother Mary enshrined in a little cave, considering that the locals are mostly Buddhists. It was built by a Dutch priest a long time ago and a little chapel has been added.

Our final stop that day was at Vihara Avalokitesvara Graha, a temple with the tallest Goddess of Mercy statue in Southeast Asia. The statue is made of brass and coated with 22 karat gold.

Thus ended our tour of the other side of Bintan where we saw life as lived by the local community.