Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Postcards from Nirwana (Bintan, Indonesia)

Published by Asian Traveler, 2008

12 May 2008

Dear Editor,

Salamat Datang! After three hours of waiting in the airport, another three hours on the plane, two hours  on the Singapore ferry terminal, and 55 minutes on a high speed catamaran, we are finally here. The weather is scorching hot, and the people’s greeting is just as warm. I’m sipping on a cold glass of sweet red tea that cooled my dry lips and refreshed my weary spirit. I have a feeling that  this is just a taste of what I will experience in the next few days. I will be writing you postcards constantly to update you  and more importantly, make you envious.

Can’t wait to get my feet wet.


Wish I had brought home this gorgeous Indonesian woodcarving.

3:30 pm, Day 1

I’ve barely unpacked, and  I haven’t even had the time to get used to the dim coolness of my room when the Nirwana staff ushered us excitedly out for the initial tour. I’m writing this right now in a buggy as it cruises through the smooth roads of the Nirwana Gardens resort compound. Driving the golf cart is Ady, the communications manager of the resort. As she drives us through the well manicured lawns and the generous trees, revealing the ponds and fountains, I am beginning  to see why the resort is called paradise. I was told that Nirwana is Sanskrit for paradise.

We’re getting off at the resort’s Thai restaurant. Check with you later.



4:25 pm, Day 1

I hope you’re not working too hard. Summer is eager and waiting. I can feel it as the sun bites on my skin, hungry for a burn. I’ve found a perfect spot here by the spice garden at the foot of Baan Aarya, Nirwana’s Thai restaurant. It has a spacious veranda with wooden floors overlooking the beach. Inside, the feel is warm, elegant, and eclectic.  Rich tones of greens and reds complement the dark hardwood furnishings made even more alive by the golden tinged tableware.  The generous glass windows reveal  coconut trees dancing with the wind outside, looking like live portraits.

From where I am seated, on the grass, by the herb garden where the chefs harvest spices for their Siamese delicacies,  I can see the dark blue waters go on forever until it meets with the open friendly sky. I am surrounded by the smell of chilli, lemongrass, and pandan leaves.

I am getting hungry.

6:30 pm, Day 1

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. 
Heading back, I found myself at the Nirwana Beach Club. This resort is situated on the water’s edge of Bintan.  The club offers accommodations in very reasonable prices, but the rustic huts are in no way cheap. They’re quaint colourful cabanas, complete with amenities, including wireless internet access.

Getting coz with a new friend.

The club is also near the Seasports Centre where windsurfing  and dinghy sailing lessons are offered regularly. Day fishing, kayaking, boogie boarding, snorkelling, waterskiing and wake boarding are also available. As I sat on the hot sand, cooling my toes in the salty water, I watched as the tranquil sea was occasionally disturbed by Banana boats and  jet ski hydrocrosses speeding by.

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 have to go. I can smell the Thai noodles from here. They always serve that on the buffet line for breakfast. Will write to you soon.

1145 pm, Day 3

part of the joys of traveling is making new friends.

Hello Editor,

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.
The crab dish was a sharp contrast to the strong flavours brought about by the black pepper sauce. The tangy flavour was washed down by the fresh watermelon smoothie which wasn’t too sweet. According to the chef, most of the dishes are prepared Cantonese style. This means that the flavours are subtle, not too sweet, spicy or salty. Even their fruit shakes are not dripping with sugar, which was perfect for me.

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.
It was a full day. I’m ready for my spa treatment.

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.
Kedaton is a Javanese term that refers to the dwelling of a queen. How fitting, considering we were treated like no less than royalty. The word Kedaton also suggests “haven” or “new heaven on earth.” The Nirwana Gardens spa is hidden in the heart of a tranquil tropical garden where white blooms hang from a trellis ceiling and  delicate colourful flowers litter the floor.

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.
2:30pM Day 5

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?
Warm regards,

Ana Viajera


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