Tuesday, 5 June 2007

Bintan Discovery 7-8 August 2006

A quick pick-me-up just before we hit the books again. What perfect way is there to start the semester? With a tan of course! But not at East Coast Park (if you don't mind imported sand and murky waters with occasional oil films). Instead, leverage on the fact that we are surrounded by numerous natural beaches belonging to our Southeast-Asian neighbours. But why Bintan? Honestly, before we even thought of going there, a dozen other more popular locations zipped through our minds: Langkawi, Redang, Phuket (I will talk about this later), etc. But this was an eleventh hour decision, and of course being undergrads, our pockets are not that deep.

So a frenzy went on in search of a destination near enough yet offers a decent beach to frolic in. Bintan came up tops. Firstly, we didn't have to fly. There was no hurry to look for last minute airfare deals. We just had to take a 55 min ferry ride from Singapore to Bintan at the Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal booked through Bintan Resort Ferries which operates 365 days a year. Adult two-way fare prices are S$54.20 for peak and $43.20 for off-peak seasons. Besides offering ferry booking services, they also offer package bookings for resorts at their head office in Beach Road, Keypoint. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, we didn't have to get our hands on Rupiahs. They accept Sing dollars and prices are listed in Sing dollars. How convenient is that! So no hassle to hunt down our regular money-changer and do our math mentally during the trip.

Yearning for an opportunity to experience some sea sports, we decided to stay at Mana Mana Beach Club, which offers the most extensive range of water sports in the whole of Bintan. Not taking into account that they also offer the cheapest rates for a resort stay @S$78/night.

With all that settled, the journey began. Being a true blue budget traveller, the trip from Clementi to the ferry terminal was an MRT ride to Bedok Interchange, lunch break, and finally a bus ride on service no. 35. Bintan was not yet in sight. Instead there were some unpleasant sightings on-board. Get ready your puke bags if you are one who pukes when others do.

Upon reaching the Bintan Ferry Terminal, a line of men holding placards of the names of various resorts were ready to guide us to the complementary bus shuttle service which brought us to the resort directly. The journey took about 30 minutes.

When we arrived at the resort, we were impressed by the front desk staff, who rattled on fluently in Japanese to a group of visitors. Needless to say, their English was also near impeccable. Besides feeling comfortable with being able to communicate properly, the resort also gave us a very relaxed mood as it was set in a style of individual wood huts as guest rooms. In-keeping with the surroundings, the room interior exceeded our expectations as well. Despite being sufficiently spacious, with a queen-sized bed and a day sofa, the toilet was also clean and fresh.

After dropping our baggages, our tummies were signaling to us for some nourishment, therefore we headed down to the resort cafe for some yummies. We ordered a plate of local fried noodles to share and the portion turned out humongous. Lucky we didn't go solo. The picture below was taken only after we wolfed down half of it.

After a scrumptious savoury lunch, it was time to have some serious fun. We zipped to the beach, just in time for the snorkeling tour that was about to set off. Without any ado, we hopped onto the speedboat with our gear, all ready for a whale of a time. The instructor was perhaps an Australian, who had been doing this for quite a while. He gave us simple instructions and passed around booklets of information on the type of fishes and corals that we might see while down in the water. Indeed it was an eye-opening (literally) trip, as we kept our eyes wide open to spot the assortment of corals as well as fishes which were swimming past us in such grace. It ended on a dramatic note when I panicked and pulled away upon seeing a jellyfish half a metre away.

After receiving an adrenaline rush from the snorkeling trip, our tummies were growling out for some food again. This time round we took up the recommendation by the front desk staff and found ourselves on the way to the local kelong on the southern part of the island. The charter there cost S$35 but could be shared amongst more people. The dinner was very well worth for the 30 min ride. A total of 6 dishes including snails, mussels, crayfish, fish, crab, kang kong, drinks and plain rice cost S$65. We chose the seafood and the staff told us the price by weight and recommended ways to prepare it.

We had the snails steamed as recommended and dipped them into a delicious sweet and spicy sauce. They were so succulent that I was pleasantly surprised by how much they bounced when we picked them out of their shells. The mussels were big and juicy, which tasted like oysters and went nicely with the spicy sauce it was stir-fried in. An extra serving of rice please! Our favourite had to be the buttered crayfish. Being a close relative of lobsters, it definitely did not disappoint with its texture, enhanced to divinity by the melted butter and salted spring onions sprinkled generously on top. We practically licked up everything on the plate, except for the empty shells of course. The fish came in a close second for me as I always love a good plate of teochew style steamed fish with a light dash of superior soy sauce and generous helpings of spring onions and coriander. It was exactly what I had expected. The fish was of a smooth texture with just the right touch of savouriness. The crab was disappointing not because of the curry and glass noodles it came with, but rather the texture was a far cry from being fresh. It was plain stale. The saving grace was the good ole' plate of belachan kang kong, which went well with both of us. It was a truly unforgettable kelong dinner set in a simple background of round dining tables which could sit 20 each, with disposable plastic table liners. The ambience of light tidal waves, fantastic food and service, and most importantly dining with someone dear makes it a great experience in the kelongs (Though I wished mozzies were not included in the package).

Back at the hotel, we were sufficiently stuffed and satisfied. Did I mention that we were in Bintan? But we still got Channel 5, Channel 8, and Channel U on the tv set, though signal quality is a little lacking. We were slowly lulled to sleep.

The next day began with an attempt at spotting the sunrise but it was far too cloudy, with a slight drizzle. Still, we lounged on the beach chairs and fell asleep in the tranquil surroundings.

Breakfast was your typical American buffet fare at the cafe. The food was reasonable with toast, tropical fruits, cornflakes, milk and local fried noodles. After checking out, we had the option of leaving our luggage at the front desk while carrying on with other activities before leaving for the terminal. There was also an option to change the ferry timings at a fee with the concierge staff. We decided to do just that and headed to Pasar Oleh Oleh, Bintan Resort's own market.

It could be reached by a bus which picks up people from various resorts. The market offers local snacks like keropok (prawn or fish crackers) and dried seafood like ikan bilis (anchovies) and shrimps. Local handmade arts and crafts can be found amongst the shops selling supposedly authentic Polo Ralph Lauren t-shirts and other knick knacks. I was fascinated by a particular handicraft shop which sold nostalgic paraphernalia like paper balls, spinning tops, marbles, and crafted blocks which needed to be assembled in a certain way to fit into a shape. So I bought one, to satisfy my curiosity and also to support their trade at the same time. We also saw a local artist who makes a living by selling paintings of his own creation, reflecting the lifestyle of Bintan as a fishing village. His artworks are great for souvenirs or home deco if you have a penchant for Balinese or Indonesian rustic charm.

The idyllic and carefree lifestyle of the locals seemed to have effected a therapeutic touch on my much battered body, mind and soul. They see the beauty in life and celebrate it. Can we?

Sunday, 3 June 2007

So called 2togo at my whim and fancy

I've finally gotten down to starting another blog. The old one closed down due to some financial crisis (yah right! more like I was too lazy to maintain it. And it felt like a chore to update postings and tell people what I've been up to.) Most importantly, this time round, the impetus is really a need to jot down somewhere the experiences I had travelling to places so that I can review it later on if I want to revisit the place again, and also to relive the moments I shared with my special half. And of course I'm sure I'd forget some stuff sooner or later. It benefits (I hope) anyone who just wants to get information about some places they are planning to visit, as I lay out my cheers and jeers. I'm pretty darn sure I will survive through this blog, since I won't be updating it so often as I won't be travelling that often. Much as I love to be a jet-setter, monetary constraints can only bring one so far. Therefore, expect a budget-conscious fresh grad lowdown on my trips. Hopefully as I earn more moolah I can give a more luxurious description! (Sponsorships are VERY much welcomed!)

Coming soon... The quest in Asia: Bintan, Hong Kong, Phuket. Stay tuned!