Published by Asian Traveler, 2008
I am getting hungry.
Hello Editor! Dust is starting to settle. I’m seated by the pond at the entrance of the Nirwana Resort hotel. Large koi fishes are cavorting in the water. The underwater lights are bouncing off their colourful bodies, making them look like mystical creatures, moving around in graceful circles as if participating in a strange ritual.
|Nirwana is a sprawling 240 resort.|
A gong sounded nearby, perhaps announcing the arrival of more tourists. I’m weary to the bone, but my heart overflows with gratitude and anticipation. Before heading back to our place, the Nirwana Resort hotel, we passed by the resort zoo which features several exotic wildlife. The first one to greet us were several albino alligators tanning their white skin. There were also a couple of pythons lazing in the afternoon heat, and a huge vulture watching us warily.
8:00 am, Day 2
It’s day two in paradise. if you’re wondering why I’m writing this on the hotel stationery instead of a postcard, it’s because I got a feeling that this is going to be long one. Through my window, I can see the garden fountain gurgle endlessly. Early this morning, I explored Nirwana by foot, a place “where variety comes to life.” At least that’s what the resort’s tagline says.
Nirwana Gardens is a sprawling 340 hectare property characterized by five resorts and hotels to cater to every type of guest. “Variety after all is the spice of life,” Nirwana’s general manager proudly explains. Last night, I had a nice chat with the resort’s general manager, Abdul Wahab, and he told me more about this place over a tall glass of fresh watermelon shake. He had friendly eyes that brought light to his dark face. Smiling, he claimed he was Filipino. However, his thick Singaporean accent easily gave him away.
“Nirwana is a beach holiday resort for families. We are a family resort,” says Abdul. The Nirwana Resort Hotel, where I am staying for a few days, is a 245 room hotel that caters to every budget. Most of the rooms overlook the beach and the infinity pool where the chlorinated water overflows out to the sea (at least that was how it looked from my room). When guests tire of lazing by pool where frog statues spitting water watch over the sun worshippers, they can simply walk to the beach and wash off the chlorine in their hair with the salt water.
I walked farther, on my bare feet to feel the powdery sand under my feet, and cut through the jungle. After about five minutes, I found myself at the Mayang Sari Beach Resort. The name alludes to the fragrance and essence of natural beauty. Beauty must smell like the sun and the sea and the promises of a ripe summer.
This part of paradise features fifty single-storey air-conditioned chalets with thatched roofs and private verandas. Each chalet has its own unique design, complimented by aromatic scents from lighted incense to match the mood and theme of the place. Farther ahead is the Indira Maya, the paradise of romance. The exclusive villas boasts of extravagance fit for gods. Overlooking the north-western coast of Bintan, the villas include a private swimming pool, an individual courtyard, an outdoor sunken bath, luxurious furnishings of teak and antique and countless other amenities.
|Getting coz with a new friend.|
I was informed that if I got tired of sunbathing (as if that is ever possible), I can go jungle trekking, coastal rock trekking, cycling, rifle shooting or try archery. I thought of how heavy the bow must feel on my sun kissed shoulders and politely declined. They were eager to keep me occupied and persisted with the Sri Bintan Kampong Tour, the Traditional Fishing Tour, the Gunung Bintan Adventure Trek, the South Bintan Heritage Tour, and the Tanjung Uban Explorer. I thought of the mosquito bites versus the feel of the sun biting my shoulder and smiled coyly, shaking my head. “How about Go-Karting, Elephant park, mangrove tour.....” Wait a minute, elephants you say? The thought of Dumbo and his flapping pink ears did it for me. It’s set. Our elephant park tour is scheduled for tomorrow. Those sweet sneaky Indonesians....
I gained some new friends today, Emma and Rollie. Rollie likes to dance and play soccer. He’s an attacking midfielder with a powerful kick. He also stinks a little bit, but everybody seems to love him. Emma on the other hand is regal and graceful. She sat quietly, raising her trunk as I sat on her strong leg. Stretching out lazily, she sat on one of her hind legs like a giant walrus lounging on the beach and raised her head high, allowing me to hold on to her one short tusk. Her master said female elephants have short tusks while males have long ones.
We’ll be doing the mangrove tour after lunch. I’ll write to you again.
Lunch was fantastic. We had crispy baby squid, sprinkled with sesame seeds, laden with barbeque sauce, and nestled on fried spaghetti noodles shaped like a basket. We also had Gong-gong, sea snails considered to be an aphrodisiac. I didn’t really need to awaken my desires, but I thought I’d try out Bintan’s delicacy. It was tough fishing it out of its shell with a toothpick, but my hard work was rewarded by a soft chewy treat spiked with a dip of chilli and garlic sauce with a splash of lime juice and tomato sauce.
|Fish on! fish on!|
I am happy to report that I literally fished for lunch. I used this heavy fishnet to catch a feisty black garupa while balancing on a swaying plank by the side of Kelong, the floating restaurant. It was worth risking a cold dip in the water as the steamed dish melted like cream in my mouth. It was cooked in Cantonese sauce, not too salty or spicy as the shy chef, Ken Ow explained.
530pm, Day 3
We set out to the Sungei Sebung Mangrove at exactly 2pm. Apparently everyone is always on time here. Even the shuttle buses and the buggies that drive us around.
The Bintan Mangrove is not only a popular tourist destination, it’s also a unique ecosystem that serves as coastal protection and provider of countless raw materials. On our tour, our small but efficient boat sliced through the mercury like brackish water. After two days of sun, sand and sea, the line of endless mangroves on both sides was an interesting break. The sound of the jetty’s motor drowned out the noise of the wild. We sat back relaxed by the droning sound and the still waters. Occasionally, we would be treated to little surprises like a tree snake coiled around a branch, its yellow striped body standing out in a sea of green leaves.
1030pm, Day 4
|Like an oasis in the middle of a tropical jungle.|
It was drizzling when we headed off to Kedaton Tropical Spa. The light patter of rain blessed our warm skin as we made our way into the spa on a checkered patterned path, where grassy green squares alternated with concrete.
I was treated to the south seas massage. I drifted into a half sleep, taking in the intoxicating and oddly relaxing scents of oils and flowers, as firm but gentle hands worked through my body, stimulating the circulation of my blood and lymphatic system.
I am so relaxed. I’ll cut this report short before I doze off. I loathe the packing that I have to do tomorrow.
Nothing ever good lasts. My brief Sojourn this part of paradise has come to a close. Alas, I have to bid the quiet swaying palm trees farewell. The white plumeria blooms nodded goodbye, but their intoxicating perfume will always haunt me. The hot Bintan breeze will always keep my soul warm. Its heat will constantly remind me, on my cold and dreary days, that there really is such a thing as nirvana, not a fantasy heavenly world, but a paradise of powdery sands, sparkling waters, and welcoming people.
I’ll be seeing you in the next few days. In the meantime, I hope you will start to consider sending me to somewhere colder next time for a change, somewhere where I can wear my trench coat, perhaps?