When some friends in Singapore suggested an all-boys college reunion trip to Bintan, frankly I was like – where?? I had never heard of this place. However, about a month later I found myself on a 1-hour ferry ride from Singapore to the island of Bintan in the South China Sea where a world of white sandy beaches and clear blue seas awaited us. With its luxury resorts, golf courses, spas and delectable range of Indonesian cuisine, this could be your perfect getaway…just put your feet up and relax.
If you are like me, however, and aren’t content with just putting your feet up, then Bintan has some surprises in store for you. I managed to take some time out and discovered more to Bintan than just its laid back resort themed lifestyle.
Among the fishing villages in Bintan, Panglong Village, home to the Orang SukuLaut or the ‘sea people’is a must visit. The Sea Gypsies as they are also known, have traditionally lived nomadic lives in simple boats off the coasts of Indonesia. Panglong village is worth a visit to get a glimpse of the idyllic lifestyle of the sea gypsies and their rustic stilt houses on the water. The best time to visit is in the morning when the fishermen return from their night out at sea and the village is abuzz with activity. If you are a shutterbug, this is a wonderful place to click candid pictures of playful children, the women in the village as they leave the fish out to dry, the fishermen as they go about their business.
Also called ViharaKsitigarbha Bodhisattva, the Lohan temple caught me totally by surprise. I did not expect to find a place so unique on this island. To enter the temple, visitors must pass through an impressive archway. Next to the archway is a pavilion followed by the main hall where a sculpture of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva sits on the altar. Guarding the main hall are life-size sculptures of the Dharma Protectors Weituo and Sangharama Bodhisattva. From the main hall, a flight of stairs lead you to the garden and this temple’s star attraction – the 500 replicas of arhats (saints). These life-size stone statues will take your breath away; 500 of them, standing next to each other, each with its own unique facial expression, hand posture, features and holding onto different articles. In a lighter vein, you would think the creators of emojis found their inspiration here! Legend has it that these are perfect figures that have attained nirvana but chose to stay on earth. The temple is not very easy to find – a little effort may be required getting there but it is definitely worth your while.
Once a bauxite mine, this place has now turned into a tourist spot. After the extraction of sand was prohibited in Bintan Island, the area was left untouched and transformed itself into a spectacular sand scape in the hands of nature.It is quite extraordinary to see this sand dune desert in the middle of a rain forest island! Photographers and sunset hunters should come here to catch the sunset as the glow of the setting sun turn this place into something magical. Undulating slopes of sand in varying hues of brown and red make GurunPasirBusung one of the most Instagram-able spots on Bintan Island.