Escape to Bintan Island
It's not often that you would travel more than 7600km, including three plane flights, a 45-minute ferry trip and a 20-minute bus ride and end up meeting someone from Hobart.
Arriving somewhat dishevelled, sleep deprived and a little overwhelmed, it was comforting to be welcomed to Club Med Bintan Island by Mary, a vibrant young former Tasmanian who is embracing life working in more tropical climes.
But it wasn't just Mary who made us feel at home. Every staff member greeted us warmly and helped us find our feet, or in my case a comfortable sun lounge on the beach, to while away the hours before check-in. Set on a stretch of white sandy beach overlooking the South China Sea, Club Med Bintan Island is the perfect escape from the everyday.
In Australia, it has none of the hype of some of the more well-known destinations such as Phuket and Bali, but this is what makes it even more special. People from all over the globe come to Bintan Island as a holiday destination – its proximity to Singapore makes it easily accessible. During our stay we met people from South Africa, Italy, Canada, the US, UK and Russia, as well as plenty of Australians and New Zealanders.
The all-inclusive mantra of Club Med makes holidaying a breeze – no need for rapid currency conversions as you work out what to have for dinner, or which activities to take part in. And there's plenty of activities to choose from, including sailing, snorkelling, kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, golf and tennis, as well as slightly more unusual activities such as archery and trapeze.
These two are also incorporated into kids' club activities, which is where our family holiday really came into its own. While our children enjoyed experiences of a lifetime and making new friends, we had a chance to recharge and reconnect – even if it was simply a dip in the pool and a freshly squeezed fruit juice, just the slower pace and peace and quiet were greatly appreciated.
We did indulge in a deluxe spa treatment during one of these times, with the sound of the waves lapping the beach and the smell of the sea lulling us into a state of total bliss… for a few hours at least!
But even with all of the action and indulgence, for me it was the little things that made such a huge difference to our holiday. Starting with our plane flight with Singapore Airlines, we were treated like special guests. I had no idea how much I would appreciate hot towels, socks to sleep in and a toothbrush and toothpaste to freshen up at the end of our overnight flight.
The trip from Changi Airport to Tanah Merah ferry terminal in what only could be described as a 'clapped out' taxi was a little dicey, as was the trip back through immigration and customs on our arrival in Indonesia, with much noise, confusion and rushing in the sticky heat. But when we arrived at the Club Med 'lounge' at Bandar Bentan Telani ferry terminal, the warm welcome and seamless transfer to our resort had us settling back into holiday mode.
The first day of our stay had a bumpy start, with our youngest waking with a heavy head cold and fever. It's very daunting being in a foreign country with a sick child – every instinct makes you want to pick them up and fly them to the comfort of home. However, the Club Med staff were wonderful with him, and a quick trip to the on-site nurse left me almost in tears of relief that he was so well cared for.
The daily futsal match was another small thing, but a highlight for us all. With a crowd of locals cheering the children on, and players communicating with each other in languages from all over the world, there was an unspoken camaraderie that lasted well beyond when we left the pitch.
Even the housekeeping staff made our stay special. Every day they left us a small surprise – the fresh towels artfully crafted into animal shapes. We had everything from dogs to sting rays to elephants – the excitement of our youngest upon each new day's discovery was delightful.
And then there was the food. Before our departure, I did warn our children that they may have to try some 'new' foods during our trip, not knowing what to expect would be on offer. I needn't have worried – an abundance of dishes from all over the world greeted us each day, and the most adventurous the boys got was eating French fries with chopsticks!
We were, however, also able to try a number of dishes from Indonesia, and when we managed to break away from the buffet for dinner for two in the Terrasse specialty restaurant, were treated to fresh flavours while enjoying the evening breeze and a view over the ocean.
The views from the resort are postcard-perfect – sparkling pools, palm trees, white stretches of sand and the gentle lapping of waves beyond. A team of gardeners works tirelessly to keep the landscape pristine and green, providing a lush contrast to the heat of the days.
One slightly more unusual sight at a beachside resort is the trapeze area on the front lawn, where adults and children can try their hand at some acrobatics. I was extremely impressed as I watched the children fly through the air as part of their kids' club activities – it certainly adds a different element to the stories they can tell when they return home.
The team that runs this activity is also a central part of the weekly entertainment highlight at the resort, where guests gather to eat by the pool and then watch gravity-defying acts along with singing, dancing and music.
With the sounds of the party still ringing in our ears, we returned refreshed and with a new desire to broaden our horizons further – and perhaps even venture outside of the resort next time.
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Written by our Journeys Editor Paula Sward. Paula and her family experienced Bintan Island courtesy of Club Med.