Singapore has become an enjoyable multi-faceted destination in its own right, but for the majority of visitors it still represents a stopover on the way to somewhere else. It can, however, also offer a stopover on top of a stopover, in the form of the eminently accessible Bintan Island, which is part of Indonesia and a longtime playground for cashed-up Singaporeans. It's also home to the venerable Banyan Tree Bintan, a long-standing five-star resort with about 70 luxury villas on both land and sea.
The sizeable island of Bintan is a comfortable 45-minute ferry ride from Singapore and Banyan Tree Bintan is perched on its north-west tip, just a few minutes by road - through glorious jungle and island scenery - from Bandar Bentan Telani Ferry Terminal. Do remember to pack your passport as it's necessary to pass through immigration in both Singapore and Indonesia, though the process is usually smooth and quick.
Banyan Tree Bintan is spectacularly set in bird-filled rainforest on a lush and beautifully manicured hill, its villas perched on sturdy concrete stilts overlooking the South China Sea.
Bintan is a long way from the brighter lights of Indonesia's most famous holiday island but there's still no escaping it because the Banyan Tree villas are built in the Balinese-style, complete with requisite thatched roofs. The elevated position of the villas means there is no direct access to the resort's private beach but a motorised buggy – the main form of transport within the resort - is just a call away.
Despite the recent arrival of some serious competition, Banyan Tree is still able to market itself as Bintan's only all-villa resort, each one featuring either a sizeable infinity pool or smaller relaxation pool. I stayed in two different villas during my stay. The first was one of the resort's new floating kelong villas, the design of which was inspired by the traditional, rickety timber fishing platforms of coastal south-east Asia. Banyan Tree Bintan's fully reimagined kelongs are anchored about 250 metres from the shore and feature expansive decks, as well as nearly all the mod-cons you'd expect back on dry land, including king-size beds and reliable hot and cold water in a semi-al-fresco bathroom with twin basins. There's also the option of kayaking, swimming, fishing or just relaxing during your kelong stay. Back on shore, my lavishly-appointed oceanview villa - which could be straight out of Bali - features a stunning, and stunningly large, infinity pool.
The Banyan Tree group prides itself on its signature Saffron Thai restaurants, which are a feature of each of its properties and serve fresh ingredients sourced from local growers. But given you're in Indonesia it would be a shame if you didn't experience some of the delicious local Indonesian cuisine at Banyan Tree Bintan's newly-refurbished Treetops restaurant. Banyan Tree is also renowned for "speciality" dining experiences which transport guests beyond the physical confines of its restaurants to some stunning, often private locations.
The resort has its own private beach, a championship golf course and the mandatory luxury spa. There's also the option - if you're staying longer than a few days - of exploring other parts of Bintan Island, such as its provincial capital, Tanjung Pinang, a historic trading port characterised by Dutch colonial architecture. Banyan Tree Bintan also has a floating restaurant modelled, like its floating villas, on a kelong. Guests are transferred by traditional boat and the restaurant serves locally-sourced seafood prepared and served by a private chef and waiter.
Banyan Tree Bintan provides a relaxing and accessible diversion from the hustle and bustle of Singapore as well as an opportunity to experience a quieter and far more restrained face of Indonesia, compared to Bali.
Villas start from $US420 with breakfast included. See banyantree.com
Bintan Island is officially part of indonesia but it couldn't be more different to Bali.
The ageing - albeit immensely comfortable - on-shore villas could do with a bit of a spruce-up.
Anthony Dennis was a guest of Banyan Tree Bintan.