Sunday, January 31, 2016

Welcome to Bintan Island (Indonesia): An Overview

Because my sister could not join my parents and I in Bangkok because of work, we arranged a long weekend trip together as a family to nearby Bintan Island. My brother is also not with us as he had other stuff to do and remained in the Philippines.

Bintan is part of the Riau archipelago of Indonesia. For many Singaporeans, it is their playground for a quick beach weekend getaway when they have had enough of man-made Sentosa Island. It takes just 50 minutes with the catamaran from Tanah Merah ferry terminal.

General Overview of Bintan Island

Bintan Island I realised is actually an island with 2 totally different worlds. So different from each other that the contrast somewhat shocked me a bit. The island has 2 communities and these are:

1. BINTAN RESORTS - This is a protected international community of hotels, beach resorts and nature mangroves. The place is leased by the government to a Singaporean-Indonesian investment company that manages (and resells) the whole estate.


Our home for the 3-day weekend: Bintan Lagoon Golf and Beach Resort.

This area of Bintan is located in the northern part of the island with views to Singapore. It is a gated estate with security guards and a checkpoint. I am not exaggerating. The locals in Bintan are not allowed to get in here unless they work in the resort, have some business with any of the resorts or are a customer.

This is also where majority of the tourists coming from Singapore go to. That said, the prices here mimic Singapore and some will even charge you in Singaporean dollars. It is not a cheap place, which is why most vacationers come here for the weekend only (overnighters). Some do an extended weekend like what we did and a few western tourists stay a day or two longer.

2. THE REST OF BINTAN ISLAND – Is where the locals live.


This is Tanjung Pinang, the capital city of Bintan Island.

Once you step out of the gated and security manned Bintan Resorts into the real Bintan, the first thing you will notice are the cheap prices of everything, although mind you, the Indonesian Rupiah has a lot of zeros! Compared to neighbouring Batam Island, Bintan is relatively quiet.

Because we were looking to experience not just the beach and pool, we ventured out to the real Bintan in search of local culture, food, sights and some cheap shopping.

Just to give you an idea of the location between Singapore and Pulau Bintan:



Bintan Island is just 50 minutes with the fast catamaran service from Tanah Merah. Use the + and - signs to zoom in and out the map.

Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal (Singapore)

My sister arranged all our tickets and we had to be here 1 hour before ferry departure to check-in and go through immigration.

I actually like travelling with the family because I do not have the burden to arrange everything, and because the costs are shared, I spend less. Sometimes the parents pitch in more which is much better. So that’s my tip on saving money while travelling. Travel with family =)


The Boat Ride

The sailing was uneventful. We did experience some waves but it was not that dramatic. My mom had a bit of sea sickness but managed to control it.

I think the worse we have seen was during the boat ride back when one of the passenger ladies became very sick. I was about to give her my white flower oil when the old man behind her gave his. The white flower oil helped as she calmed down after.

TIP: If you are easily seasick and don’t have any white flower oil, bring with you some lemon and menthol candies. It helps.


My mother who suffered a bit of seasickness and Myrhh. Welcome to Bintan!


My dad is more uppity. Welcome to Bintan =)

Immigration at Bendar Bentan Talai Ferry Terminal (Indonesia) 

There is an express immigration counter which you will have to pay extra for this service. This is really for people who can’t wait (fine!) and for those who prefer the privilege status of being pampered and felt special (yeah, those people exist). If there is no emergency, this express counter is just a waste of money.

In Hong Kong and Macau they only offer an express immigration counter for people with disabilities, senior citizens and diplomats. The rest has to queue up at the normal immigration counter.


Upon a quick look at the visa on arrival board, I thought I would have to pay for visa entry: US$15 for 7 days and US$35 for up to 30 days. But then a young man from immigration told me that the Netherlands have just been recently added to the non-visa required countries. That is good news to me =)

I travel with my Dutch passport you see. I also do not anymore have a Philippine passport. I could ask for a Philippine passport from the embassy in Den Haag but what for? I’m not the sentimental and patriotic type. I also live in Europe. It will just cost me time and money to get one. Moreover, I see myself as a world citizen.

Shuttle Buses to Bintan Hotel Beach Resorts

Anyone who has booked for one of the hotel beach resorts in Bintan Resorts gets a free shuttle bus transfer to their hotel beach resort. The shuttle buses are usually ready and waiting outside. We booked at Bintan Lagoon Golf and Beach Resort which is about 30 minutes from the ferry terminal.


Main hall of ther ferry terminal in Bintan.


Will be posting soon some of our Bintan jaunts and experiences.

Travel Period: November 2015
Destination: Bintan , Indonesia

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Bangkok Snacking: Thai Spring Rolls (Po Pia Tod) + Sticky Rice Mango (Khao Niao Mamuang) and Street Scenes

After my parents and I have visited the Grand Palace, we were craving for some relaxing time with something to eat and drink, far away from the heat and human chaos.


Our experience at the Grand Palace was a mixture of pleasure and disgust. Pleasure for having seen beautiful grand palatial Thai architecture and disgust from the frenzied activity there. Having too many people around you makes you tired, and combine that with the heat? It is the best recipe to just go somewhere low key and chill off.

We found this Thai café and restaurant just across the Grand Palace. My mom is mobility challenged—she walks with a cane that converts into a stool (cool huh?), so I had to always search for places within a radius of 200 metres. We got lucky with this one as it was not full.

We ordered a sharing snack of 2 portions of Po Pia Tod (Thai Spring Rolls), a plate of Khao Niao Mamuang (Sticky Rice Mango) and some cold drinks (ice coffee and honey lemon tea). We didn’t realise that the spring roll servings were big. Had we known we would have ordered just 1 portion instead of 2.

I love Thai Spring Rolls because of its filling: glass noodles and oodles of fresh vegetables. The Sticky Rice and Mango is also a favourite of mine, having grown up with this in Cebu, Philippines as our Sunday breakfast.

This was a nice afternoon lunch and light snack =)

PO PIA TOD (SPRING ROLLS) + KHAO NIAO MAMUANG (STICKY MANGO RICE)
Paired with iced coffee and honey lemon tea.


I have no idea what the name of the restaurant is in English, but it is located just across the Grand Palace main gate (left).


The senior citizen parents having a discussion on what to order.


Sticky Rice and ripe Mango. Always a good idea when in Thailand.


Thai Spring Rolls with sweet and sour sauce and peppermint. Those peppermints are great to eat with the spring rolls.


Oh yes! I need some =)


There is more room upstairs I believe.

STREET SCENES OUTSIDE THE GRAND PALACE

Beside the restaurant I found a general store and a post office. Just perfect, I was able to buy some postcards and send them off. Do you send postcards to family and friends when travelling?


Taxis in Bangkok are pink, so are some of the buses.


Local policemen having a little meet up. They all have body forming/fitting uniforms, there is literally no room for gaining weight.


Street food -  Steamed minced pork and prawn dumplings called Kanom Jeeb.


Street food - Grilled Pork on skewers called Mu Ping.


Haggling for a tuktuk ride. Tuktuks are not cheap, they are more expensive than taxi cabs.


I eat streetfood but sometimes I draw the line based on several factors. 

Travel Period: November 2015
Destination: Rattanakosin (Historic District) - Bangkok, Thailand

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Saturday, January 30, 2016

Photo Essay of the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand

After having said my piece here: Grand Palace Bangkok – Dress Code, Chinese Tourists and Buddha is not for Tattoo and Furniture, I can now post the pictures I took peacefully.


Entrance fee to the Grand Palace is 500 Baht. It is not really that cheap. The locals find it very expensive even.

The palace is divided into 3 areas:
  • Outer Courtyard - where all the old beautiful buildings are located
  • Central Courtyard - you will pass here once you exit the Outer Courtyard
  • Inner Courtyard - not accessible to the public

The whole place is an eye candy for someone like me who is a history and architecture enthusiast. The Grand Palace is one of those places that if you visit Bangkok, you must go here, at least for once in your life. It’s my second time here already so I must be doing good =)

Only the ‘Outer Courtyard’ is accessible to the public. The ‘Inner Courtyard’ which is where the royal family used to live is closed to the public. The ‘Central Courtyard’ however is partly open and partly closed to the public. You can see the beautiful facade of the buildings from the street such as the Chakri Palace that once was a royal residence.

Fact is, the buildings and temples in the Outer Courtyard are already spectacular enough. There are lots to see and ogle at! And I have to agree, from an architecture point of view, the Grand Palace complex is one of the most beautiful and amazing places on earth. The Thais really have something to be proud of.

Hope you enjoy my pictures.

GRAND PALACE - OUTER COURTYARD


The senior citizen parents were tired from the heat and human chaos.


Beautiful mural paintings depicting the Grand Palace on the walls of the covered walks.


Phra Sri Rattana Chedi.


We obviously need to take some souvenir pictures.


Mosaic tiles and glass artwork.


Inside the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.


Phra Mondhop is made of tiny shiny mosaic tiles.


The Golden Demon Guardian with a tail.


These are all demon guards.


More demon guards here...


If you check out the covered walks you will find stunning mural paintings such as this.


GRAND PALACE - CENTRAL COURTYARD


This guard is guarding the Inner Courtyard I believe which is not accessible to the public.


This is the Chakri Mahaprasad Hall, once a royal residence but is not used for ceremonial ocassaions such as coronations, marriages, funerals and banquets for the royal family.


The Thais have really something to be proud of. Thai architecture is beautiful.


Travel Period: November 2015
Destination: Bangkok, Thailand

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