It’s 6am and the sun is just edging above the horizon when I enter the water at Bintan Island’s The Canopi Resort. No-one else is around except for a few staff raking the sand and the only noise is the quiet splash of my swim stroke as I pull out into the middle of the resort’s lagoon.
Treading water and squinting in the early morning light, I gaze down the 800-metre length in what is South-East Asia’s first and largest recreational sea-water lagoon. Developed by Chilean founded (now Amsterdam-based) company Crystal Lagoons, the 6.3-hectare lagoon is equivalent in size to 50 Olympic-sized swimming pools and is beautiful to behold.
The beauty lies in its sheer size and the fact it seems like you’ve padded across the sand into an untouched pristine island lagoon. Yet things are not what they seem. Yes, it’s a massive body of water but one painstakingly maintained – kind of like a resort pool. The bottom and sides are covered in a patented liner and Crystal Lagoons have developed a filtration system that uses two per cent of the energy normally associated with a filtration system. They’re even developing robots to clean the lagoon.
According to the company’s Oceania Regional Director, Germán Rocca, the maintenance on the lagoon is 30 per cent less than a public park and 50 per cent less than a golf course. Moreover, it’s a lot cheaper to build than a golf course but provides a greater amenity.
Large and luxurious
For starters, while it’s a large lagoon, it uses half the amount of water that a golf course needs and can be built quickly on less land. The company already has around 400 projects on the go globally in 60 countries.
“It’s no more golf widows because the whole family can basically spend a day at the lagoon,” Rocca says.
“We’re already seeing big global brands such as Ritz-Carlton, Wynn Resorts, Hard Rock and the Accor Group build with us and we’re the largest builder of lagoons in the United States.”
In Asia, the company currently has two lagoons open. One is at the Ritz-Carlton at Hua Hin in Thailand and the Bintan Treasure Bay development.
Branded as Treasure Bay, it’s a rather huge undertaking – a 338-hectare waterfront resort city on Bintan Island still in its early stages. The lagoon is the centrepiece and a mix of accommodation and attractions will be built around it over the next 20-years. For the moment, though, it’s rather serene.
Two nights before we’d caught a fast ferry from Singapore and after a short commute to Treasure Bay we checked into our glamping accommodation at The Canopi. Sure, they’re tents but the circular structures come with a four-poster bed, TV, lounge and a gorgeous stone bathroom open to the stars. Pure privacy and rather quiet.
Plenty of activities
The resort sits at the end of the lagoon so it’s possible to dive in from the reception areas and complete a rather lazy 800-metre lap. Nearby are plenty of activities such as mangrove tours, golf (if you must) and shopping. Treasure Bay itself offers a plethora of activities ranging from inflatable kayaks to a water park, Segway tours, mountain bikes and wakeboarding in the lagoon.
I must admit being the first into the lagoon early in the morning meant I complete a number of daily firsts. Being my second morning I was keen to beat my fellow guests and put the first footprints in the freshly-raked sand; be first to sit in every sun-lounger on the beach and first to swim across the narrowest point because there was no way I was trying for 800-metres. I also wanted to be out of the pool before the day’s tropical heat kicked-in.
On the first night, I had hoped to sample the local nightlife but ended up winding down in the Canopi’s bar with Indonesia’s comfort food of Nasi Goreng and a few ales. It was exquisitely peaceful and no sounds except for the surrounding rainforest and the gentle lapping of the lagoon. We made plans for the following day which included plenty of water-based activity and a visit to the Bintan Lagoon Resort and Villas for dinner where we would enjoy a large Indonesian-themed banquet.
Floating around the lagoon alone (on this second morning) I propelled myself with the gentlest hand movements and thought of the previous night’s banquet under the stars at Bintan Lagoon Resort. I’d met the resort’s owner Moe Ibrahim and he had spoke at length about Bintan’s potential and the expansion of his own resort.
Regional holiday haven
Put simply: his vision and the Indonesian Government’s is to transform Bintan Island into one of Asia’s premier family pleasure destinations. While popular with Singaporeans keen on a quiet weekend away from the city-state it was still relatively unknown to most Western tourists who tend to opt for Thailand and Bali. This is despite Bintan having a number of great golf courses designed by the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman and Ian Baker-Finch, plenty of water-based activities and beautiful fresh seafood and other local produce for gourmands.
As for where to stay besides Treasure Bay, the luxurious Banyan Tree Bintan on the island’s north coast sits in a spectacular cliffside position looking out over the South China Sea while Ibrahim’s Bintan Lagoon Resort boasts its own ferry terminal with direct transfers to Singapore, a range of accommodation and dining options for all budgets.
Submerged and cocooned by the water in the early morning cool, I listen to the peaceful sounds of the nearby jungle awakening and realise I’m not quite ready to leave this watery holiday haven just yet. What makes it a little extra special is its proximity to Singapore. Beyond being a weekend island haven for Singaporeans, it really is an ideal stopover destination for those looking to break up a long-haul flight with a few days in paradise.