As I sit beachside at Bintan Lagoon Resort’s Nelayan restaurant, I stare out at a prime example of what a South-East Asian beach should be. For starters, there’s actual surf with the waves rolling in forming azure barrels almost to the shoreline. The sand is almost white and there is a distinct lack of trash, hawkers, and the remnants of drunken revelry that characterises many beaches found on some of Indonesia’s better-known tourist islands.
Behind me stretches the sprawling resort, surely the grande dame of Bintan Island’s accommodation set. Built about 20 years ago, BLR (as it’s now known) spans an impressive 720 acres (310 hectares) along an almost 1.5 kilometre stretch of unspoiled shoreline. It encompasses a pair of 18-hole championship quality golf courses – one designed by history’s greatest ever player Jack Nicklaus and the other by former British Open winner Ian Baker-Finch – luscious tropical manicured gardens, numerous pools, eleven dining venues, a full-size indoor children’s Jungle Gym, a large conference centre, 470 rooms and what would have to be one of the more well provisioned gyms I have seen anywhere.
For water lovers, there’s everything from paddle-boards, to jet skis and kayaks. Feeling in a landlubber mood and keen on something a little more adrenaline-packed, I grabbed an ATV (quad bike) one afternoon and took it for an exhilarating burn up the beach, exploring gardens and beachside woodlands as I went. After an hour of discovering the resort’s extended natural delights I headed back to the beach and left my motorised steed with its handlers.
I was in need of a refuel and headed back to the main resort building. Wandering back into Bintan Lagoon Resort’s grand foyer it’s hard not to be impressed by its sheer scale – a sweeping, palatial space melding Indonesian and colonial-era architecture. It’s grand columns and darkly timbered interiors are open to the elements on all sides allowing the sea breeze to flow coolly through. The space is also surprisingly intimate with modern seating throughout; I find it rather easy to find a nook to take a work call in.
I wander down a grand central staircase to the resort’s newest culinary offering, Chop Shop. The venue – designed to echo the colour and visual noise of Chinatown precincts across Asia – serves up an accessible mix of northern Chinese and Taiwanese favourites. I try the Octopus and Jellyfish salad (fresh), a selection of steamed dumplings (authentic) and a stir-fried chicken with dried chilli and cashew nuts (full of zing). Ticks all round.
The décor is fun, modern and relaxed – red’s the dominant colour with stylish faux street signage in everything from bright yellows to neon pink. It’s a comfortable place for a chopstick skills contest with friends, family or workmates.
Chop Shop is a visible sign of BLR’s complete rejuvenation. Under the guidance of the resort’s President and Director Moe Ibrahim, work began a few short years ago with the addition of several new dining and entertainment options. According to Ibrahim, the renovation project will culminate with a reimagining of the vast grand foyer.
A hands-on leader, Ibrahim is the author of much of BLR’s current renaissance. In an industry where new is often seen as better, Ibrahim seems to have struck a particularly subtle balance between harking back to the nostalgic days of the grand hotel-resort with a thoroughly modern approach to space and design. A place filled with beautifully decadent design yet juxtaposed with private, reflective spaces and event venues that are about experiences and not just habitation.
Simply put, while many large resorts claim to have something for everyone, Bintan Lagoon Resort is actually delivering. It’s a destination offering a wonderful mix of work, rest and oh-so-much play.