Bintan Bounces Back

Writer Pete Wong | May 22, 2014

Known for many things – Pirate Island, heart of Malay culture and playground of the rich – Bintan Island is undergoing yet another transformation with an infusion of new spas and resorts, including upscale retail and residential clusters at Lagoi Bay, its latest attraction.

If it weren’t for a twist of fate in history, the Indonesian island of Bintan could be what Singapore is today. After the Portuguese invaded Melaka in 1511, the Sultan of Melaka fled to Bintan and made it the seat of power from where he ruled the Riau Islands. Before that, Bintan – the largest among the group of 3,200 islands in the Riau Archipelago – was a stronghold for pirates. At the beginning of the 18th century, the Sultan of Johor also moved its base to Bintan and strengthened its position as a trading port. However, by the end of the century, the Dutch had taken control of the island while the British occupied Singapore. While Singapore has leapt from third world to first world status today, Bintan remains largely untapped although it was, for many years, the political, cultural and economic centre of the Malay sultanates. The course of history would have taken a different path if the British had chosen Bintan instead of Singapore to be a trading hub.

Twenty years ago, both the governments of Singapore and Indonesia saw the potential in developing an 18,000-hectare land on the northern coast of Bintan into an ‘integrated lifestyle resort destination’ or basically an upmarket playground for Singaporeans. Within the ‘protected zone’, collectively known as Bintan Resorts, are four designer golf courses, chic restaurants, duty-free shopping and five-star resorts, including Banyan Tree, Nirwana Gardens, Club Med and Bintan Lagoon. Folks within the zone mostly speak English and the currency of choice is the Singapore dollar. A cross-border ferry service was also established to bring tourists to Bintan in less than an hour from Singapore’s Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal. The terminal is just 15 minutes’ drive from Singapore’s Changi International Airport.

Bintan is miles and miles of coconut trees and white sandy beaches stretching as far as the eyes can see