My review of quarantine-free travel to Bintan and the sea VTL
Updated: Mar 11, 2022
Bintan has always been a popular weekend getaway for Singaporeans before the pandemic, and two-way quarantine-free travel has just opened up.
This means that Singapore residents can enter Bintan and roam freely. Singapore’s sea VTL also allows quarantine-free travel from Indonesia to Singapore via ferry.
I’ve never actually been to Bintan, so I was excited to visit when I covered the first day of two-way quarantine-free travel for a travel trade publication (you can read my story here, which mainly revolves around the experience of travel agents and how they’re looking to market Bintan for holiday-goers).
If you’re a lover of sun, sand and tranquil resorts a mere one hour away from Singapore, you’ll enjoy Bintan.
Here’s what you need to know before going, and what to expect when visiting under the travel bubble.
Of course, a trip to Bintan is no longer a simple, last minute weekend getaway. There are quite a number of steps involved, admin-wise. Be sure you have everything in check before you take your ferry.
As of 8 March 2022, here are the island’s Covid-related entry requirements*, taken from Bintan Resort’s website:
Fully vaccinated and have a valid COVID-19 vaccination certificate at least 14 days before the departure date (Exception for children under 12 years old).
Must be Singapore and Indonesia citizens who have stayed a minimum 14 days in Singapore.
Singapore Permanent Residents (PR) and other international travellers who have stayed a minimum 14 days in Singapore are eligible for the travel bubble but must acquire an entry visa here.
Take a pre-departure PCR test within 2 days (48 hours) before departure.
Purchase travel insurance with COVID-19 medical coverage for at least SGD 20,000/person. I got mine from AIG Travel Guard, which cost $31 for two days. In addition to your official policy document, do print out the first page of AIG’s terms and conditions, which states the coverage amount.
Book an on-arrival PCR Test (SGD 30.00/pax) when purchasing the ferry ticket
Have your proof of hotel booking confirmation/your package ready when boarding the ferry at Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal.
Be sure to have all the necessary documents (pre-departure PCR, hotel & ferry confirmation, insurance documents, vaccine certificate from Notarise) in both hard and soft copy.
*Do note that these rules may be changed/relaxed further once Covid restrictions ease.
Expected travel costs
Not including accommodation, here’s how much you can expect to spend travelling to and from Bintan. All costs are in SGD.
Ferry tickets: $80 to $90 round trip (depending on peak versus non-peak periods)
Pre-departure PCR in Singapore: $94 (a discounted rate if you book your PCR test together with your ferry ticket, and take your test at a Northeast Medical Group clinic in Singapore)
On-arrival PCR: $30
Pre-departure test PCR in Bintan (if staying more than 48 hours): IDR 300.000 (around $29 to $30 SGD) /pax, result within 24 hours
Expected costs: $250 +
Ferry to Bintan
The ferry to Bintan departs from Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays). You can check the full schedule and timings here, but do note that frequency may increase as the island starts welcoming more guests. Due to Covid restrictions, only 350 travellers are allowed into Bintan per week( at time of writing), so be sure to book your ferry tickets in advance.
I travelled to Bintan on the first day that Singapore's sea VTL with the island launched, on 25 Feb. Based on my estimation, around 50 other travellers were headed to Bintan (including my tour group on the media trip). Aside from them, the terminal itself was pretty empty.
The boarding process was relatively smooth and fuss-free, considering that I printed all my pre-trip documents beforehand and there were no queues at the check-in counters. After being issued ferry boarding tickets , I boarded the ferry to Bintan which left punctually at 11:10am.
The ferry ride itself was a little bumpy once we left Singapore waters. If you're prone to seasickness, do take motion sickness pills beforehand.
As for the ferry itself, the seats and toilets were clean and comfortable. We reached Bintan’s Bandar Bentan Telani terminal in around 1 hour.
There was a small welcome party for the first few passengers who touched down at Bintan’s terminal. Upon arrival, the immigration process was pretty smooth as well.
We were ushered to a counter where they checked all our documents, like the pre-departure PCR and vaccination cert. We were also required to scan our E-Hac QR code on the PeduliLindungi app, which is similar to SafeEntry on Singapore’s TraceTogether app.
As Bintan is still in its early stages of re-opening, the PeduliLindungi app is rather buggy as of now. For one, I couldn't enter Singapore as my departure port during the application process (it kept reflecting a port in the Philippines). When trying to scan the app to enter public venues, there was an error message in red stating that I was unable to enter public venues.
The immigration officers and staff at the various resorts waived us in despite the problems with the app, so I’m guessing these are tech-related teething issues that need to be sorted out.
After checking our documents, we were ushered to Covid testing booths, where officers in full PPE did a PCR test. I won’t deny that the nasal swab was uncomfortable, it went in really deep and I found myself tearing up! A throat swab was done as well.
After the swab, I went to another counter to collect my Blue Pass. These contact tracing tokens are issued upon arrival at Bintan, and must be worn at all times during your stay in Bintan Resorts. You pay a $20 deposit, which is returned when you give your Blue Pass back at the ferry terminal upon return to Singapore. Be sure not to lose this token!
After arrival, I was ushered to another waiting area, after which a coach took me to my resort at Banyan Tree Bintan. There, I was required to self-isolate until my negative PCR results were received, with a tasty bento lunch served by the resort.
Do expect a few hours wait for your PCR results. We were informed that results would be out within 90 minutes, but they were delayed and we only received an official email confirmation about 4 hours later. This has been feedbacked to the management team in charge of testing, and I hear they are working on expediting results for tourists coming in future.
After you receive your negative result, you are free to roam around your resort and the travel bubble area.
What happens if I’m Covid-positive?
If found positive and asymptomatic, you’ll be taken to Bintan Service Apartment to self-isolate. However, if one is symptomatic, a medical officer will give instructions for isolation at a designated hospital, or you can opt to return to Singapore by Medical Evacuation Facilities provided (this service is chargeable).
As such, travel insurance is really important to cover these expenses!
Where to stay: My Banyan Tree experience
I was hosted for one night at the very lovely Banyan Tree Bintan, where I stayed in an Oceanview Infinity Pool Villa.
I was staying alone, but the very spacious villa actually has two bedrooms and accommodates 4 people. It was truly one of the most luxurious villas I’ve ever stayed in, and reminded me very much of my time in Bali.
The infinity pool also looks out into the South China Sea, and views are especially stunning on a sunny day where you can see the clear blue waters. The pool is great for a night-time swim too - I suspect it might have been heated as it wasn’t too cold even in the evening.
There was also a small pantry room, outdoor Japanese-style seating area and even an outdoor bathtub. The bedrooms, bathrooms, villa grounds and outdoor seating area were clean and well-maintained too.
My canopy-style bed itself was extremely comfy, and I enjoyed the nighttime turndown service which included a sarong and dimmed lights to wind down.
There were a couple of kinks that needed sorting out, such as the phone lines being down due to the rain, as well as the shower taking some time to heat up.
But in general, I had no complaints, with the resort’s service being excellent. Housekeeping was attentive but not intrusive, staff were extremely friendly and buggy service to the breakfast and lobby area was efficient.
We also explored the grounds and got to visit one of the outdoor reception areas, as well as some of the other villa types such as the Ocean Villa on the Rock, which sleeps two, has an outdoor pool and is perfect for couples.
Breakfast was held at the resort’s Treetops restaurant, with a generous variety of dishes including western and Asian options. Western options included eggs, hash brown, sausages, cereal, salad and a variety of tasty cheeses, hams and pastries.
There were also Asian dishes like DIY mee soto, mee goreng, nasi lemak and dim sum. There was even a selection of dried fruits like pineapple and mango, as well as fresh fruit juices.
Whilst I wouldn't say all the dishes were memorable, I particularly enjoyed the sausages, cheeses and pastries.
Unlike in Singapore, hotel buffets here are self-serve, and you can also sit together in groups of more than 5. Yay for bigger gatherings!
Of course, a stay at Banyan Tree Bintan doesn’t come cheap. My villa costs around $1500 USD a night, so sharing amongst 4 people is definitely advised. It certainly is a nice splurge!
There are cheaper room categories as well, and you can also opt to stay at other resorts in the travel bubble. For example, Cassia Bintan, Nirwana Gardens, The Amnon, Natra Bintan and even a ship hotel called Doulos Phos.
I’m eyeing The Amnon and Natra Bintan next, as I’ve always wanted to try glamping. The luxury tents do look enticing, as well as the picturesque lagoon setting.
What to do in Bintan
Besides enjoying your resort and its beaches, you can also take a mangrove tour, do water sports at Treasure Bay’s Crystal Lagoon, an ATV tour at Nirwana Gardens or interact with animals at Safari Lagoi.
I visited Safari Lagoi, and enjoyed seeing animals like tigers, giant snakes, horses, cattle and primates. I also got the chance to feed rabbits and pet elephants. The safari is pretty sizeable, and well worth a visit if you love nature and wildlife!
Departing for Singapore via Sea VTL
As my trip was only one night, I wasn’t required to take a pre-departure ART before returning to Singapore .
But if you’re staying more than 48 hours after your on-arrival PCR, you’ll have to arrange for an ART. Do contact the hotel you’re staying at for how to book and pay for this, and if it's part of your room package.
Departing for Singapore via the sea VTL was a pretty smooth process as well. You’ll need to show your negative PCR/ART to the staff at Bintan’s ferry departure hall, your vaccine cert, a filled-in SG Arrival Card, as well as your ferry confirmation ticket back to Singapore.
Upon arrival in Singapore, the immigration process was quick and efficient too. Grab rides and taxis are hard to get via mobile app at Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal, but there’s a sign with numbers to call the various cab companies for your ride home.
Upon arrival, do remember to book an on-arrival ART at one of Singapore’s Quicktest Centres, or a supervised art via tele-doctor service Doctor Anywhere within 24 hours. I chose the tele-ART option, and did it from the comfort of my home the next morning. The process was fuss-free, and much more convenient than heading down to a testing centre.
My thoughts on travelling to Bintan
So is visiting Bintan worth it, with the numerous tests you have to undergo?
While travelling to Bintan isn’t the quick and affordable getaway it used to be, the fact that the island's re-opening is still in its early stages means that many of the resorts won’t be packed with tourists. I foresee you having many beaches and facilities to yourself, if you chose to visit during this re-opening period where only 350 travellers are allowed in via ferry per week.
The fact that Bintan is just a one hour ferry away is a huge plus point too, saving you the hassle of getting on a flight.
Aside from complications with the PeduliLindungi app, the rest of my trip was relatively smooth too. And if you’re concerned about health & safety protocols, rest assured that many of Bintan’s protocols are actually similar to Singapore (e.g. mask-wearing, SafeEntry) .They’ve even hired a SG Clean consultant to help them develop their safety measures.
Many of the resorts are also bundling Covid testing into their stay packages, saving you the hassling of arranging this yourself.
Additional tips for travelling to Bintan
If you have a weak stomach, be sure to take probiotics before each meal. I actually had a bout of gastric flu for a few days after my trip. It’s hard to identify the source as I ate at different places during my trip, but I suspect seafood may have been a contributing factor.
I signed up for M1's data passport and internet service was intermittent as I travelled via coach around the island, so just bear that in mind. Service at the resort itself was great though.
Given the additional costs, I’d recommend staying at least three or four nights in Bintan to get your money’s worth.
Distances between various resorts and venues are longer than you’d think. Remember to factor in travel time when visiting different spots.