A hid­den gem

A short ferry ride from Sin­ga­pore, Bin­tan is a glo­ri­ous trop­i­cal play­ground we should all get to know,

Ruislip & Eastcote & Northwood Gazette - - Getaway - says KATIE WRIGHT

EV­ERY­ONE’S re­ac­tion is the same when I tell them the name of the In­done­sian is­land I’m about to visit.

“Like the beer?” they ask. No, that’s Bin­tang, I point out. I’m off to Bin­tan.

Ev­i­dently this In­done­sian out­crop isn’t as fa­mous as its sounda­like lager, but by rights it should be.

Be­cause the high-end hol­i­day des­ti­na­tion has got a lot go­ing for it, with some res­i­dents tout­ing it as a ri­val to the coun­try’s best-known tourist des­ti­na­tion, Bali.

Part of the Riau ar­chi­pel­ago, the 450-square kilo­me­tre is­land is only ac­ces­si­ble by sea (un­less you hap­pen to have a he­li­copter), with most vis­i­tors sail­ing via Malaysia or Sin­ga­pore.

The lat­ter is where I fly into, jump­ing on the speedy 45-minute ferry from the Tanah Merah ter­mi­nal af­ter spend­ing a cou­ple of days sight­see­ing in the city. And, hon­estly, I couldn’t have timed my ar­rival at Banyan Tree Bin­tan any bet­ter.

The pic­turesque re­sort is si­t­u­ated on the north­ern side of the is­land, its 67 Thai-style vil­las spread over two lush hill­sides.

It’s just gone 6pm when I step through the carved dark wood door of my villa, and the sky is be­gin­ning to turn from hazy blue to marsh­mal­low pink.

As the fiery or­ange sun slips be­low the hori­zon, the stun­ning sun­set is per­fectly framed in the win­dow as I watch it from my four-poster bed.

Af­ter a bliss­ful night’s sleep, I’m up at sun­rise for out­door yoga at the high­est point of the prop­erty, do­ing sun salu­ta­tions while gaz­ing out over the calm azure sea. It feels won­der­ful to stretch and loosen up, but, truth be told, that’s about as en­er­getic as life gets for me here.

Days are spent at an ex­tremely leisurely pace, re­lax­ing by the two ho­tel pools or pad­dling in the warm wa­ters that lap at the wide white­sand beach.

Just when I think I can’t get any more re­laxed, I spend two glo­ri­ous hours in the Banyan Tree spa, hav­ing the last rem­nants of city-in­duced stress kneaded out of my knotty back and shoul­ders by a Thai mas­sage ex­pert.

If too much loung­ing around leaves you rest­less on hol­i­day, there is plenty to do on Bin­tan be­sides sun­bathing. Golfers have four pris­tine cour­ses to choose from and you can find ev­ery kind of wa­ter sport, from laid-back kayak­ing through shady man­groves, to high-speed jet-ski­ing on the ocean.

If it’s cul­ture you’re af­ter, head south to the area around cap­i­tal city Tan­jung Pi­nang. Re­flect­ing the di­verse her­itage of the Riau re­gion, here you’ll find Bud­dhist tem­ples, Mus­lim mosques and a beau­ti­fully re­stored Malay palace.

Per­son­ally, I got my fill of his­tory, not to men­tion moder­nity, dur­ing my 48-hour stopover in Sin­ga­pore, which be­gan with a fas­ci­nat­ing walk­ing tour around the Joo Chiat area to mar­vel at the tra­di­tional, or­nately-painted ‘shop houses’, and get a taste of the melt­ing pot lo­cal cui­sine.

With bustling hawker cen­tres (street food mar­kets where some ven­dors ac­tu­ally have Miche­lin stars) right through to posh rooftop bars, the in­cred­i­bly clean and green me­trop­o­lis is per­fect for a city break.

But af­ter a bustling blast of con­crete jun­gle, the seren­ity of Bin­tan is even more wel­come.

As with so many tourism hotspots, sus­tain­abil­ity is a big buzz­word in In­done­sia at the mo­ment – and that’s no dif­fer­ent at Banyan Tree Bin­tan, which has a ma­rine con­ser­va­tion cen­tre on site, ded­i­cated to help­ing boost the lo­cal tur­tle pop­u­la­tion.

Here, con­ser­va­tion of­fi­cer Ad­lan Fadhlan Bakti col­lects eggs laid in nests on the beach by Hawks­bill tur­tles, who then leave their off­spring to fend for them­selves (or risk be­ing stolen by poach­ers). The hatch­lings are looked af­ter un­til they’re strong enough to head out into the wild.

“Then we let na­ture do the rest,” Bakti ex­plains on my last af­ter­noon at the re­sort, when I get to help re­lease one of the adorable green crea­tures into the sea.

A few me­tres from the shore I watch my tiny lit­tle tur­tle slowly wad­dle into the waves and even­tu­ally swim off, hop­ing that he thrives and lives to be 80 years old (as some tur­tles do).

Then it’s time for my fi­nal din­ner, a spec­tac­u­lar send-off at one of the eight pri­vate din­ing des­ti­na­tions that are dot­ted around the re­sort, in ad­di­tion to the three restau­rants.

This one re­quires a boat to reach, but it’s a very short voy­age (a mat­ter of min­utes) to the ‘ke­long’, an open air float­ing restau­rant based on the tra­di­tional South East Asian fish­ing plat­forms of the same name.

Here, we’re treated to a feast of In­done­sian del­i­ca­cies from sea snails (sur­pris­ingly tasty) and otak otak (seafood wrapped in co­conut leaves) to spicy crab and nasi goreng fried rice, all while bob­bing gen­tly un­der the star-filled sky.

For those in search of the ul­ti­mate se­cluded es­cape, the ke­long con­cept is be­ing ex­tended to a beau­ti­ful float­ing villa, due to open at the re­sort in 2019. The is­land as a whole is set for ma­jor ex­pan­sion in the next few years, too, with an in­ter­na­tional air­port ex­pected to open in 2020.

Right now, it’s pop­u­lar with af­flu­ent Sin­ga­pore­ans and ex­pats, not to men­tion celebri­ties who ap­pre­ci­ate the pri­vacy that the is­land af­fords. But it will be a while be­fore the Riau is­lands hit the main­stream – and that’s a good thing.

If Bali is the crown jewel of In­done­sia, Bin­tan is a hid­den gem, but a pre­cious one that’s just wait­ing for dis­cern­ing trav­ellers to dis­cover.

With a view like this, you’ll want to take your time over a meal at Banyan Tree’s The Cove restau­rant

Sea View vil­las at the Banyan Tree

A bit of yoga and a stroll on the beach was enough ex­er­cise for Katie - but there is much more on of­fer

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