Over the recent holidays, we did a couple of accessible-to-Singapore adventures. One I wrote about recently – Malacca in Malaysia – a place we all loved. We also did another adventure to Nirwana Gardens on Bintan. What did I think? Well within less than 24 hours of arriving, we agreed to reduce our stay by a night and get the hell home. However, we did stay four nights in total, coming to appreciate that it does have a lot to offer our youngsters. But Bintan really ain’t my cup of tea. I’ve always felt you can’t build soul – they keep trying though.
So I’m not a big fan, but sometimes you need somewhere close by with beaches and lots of outdoor stuff for the kids. It has that, and even though the beaches are by no means pristine – think jelly fish and clumps of oil – it definitely kept the boys happy for a few days. Kids are much less judgmental than their parents it seems.
As far as the positive goes, it definitely represents good value. Some of the hotels on Bintan are definitely not cheap, but Nirwana Gardens prices it’s cheaper rooms around the $200 mark, so that’s not expensive for a family needing two rooms. The staff were also lovely. Every night, they made a special little animal out of towels for the boys, and they couldn’t do enough for us. They were definitely attentive and loving towards the kids.
Nirwana Gardens also has a small zoo on site out the back of the resort. It’s not much, but it’s surprising what they have – snakes, crocodiles, birds of prey, and more – the boys were absolutely thrilled with this. There is also the elephant show nearby (which was quaint), a shooting and archery range (which we all enjoyed, but do note, the bulls eye in the photo is mine thank you very much!) and an indoor area with a bowling alley, food court and more. With the elephant show, I recommend giving the guys a decent tip, because they’ll really go to town letting the kids feed the elephants and happily pose for photos as well.
Concluding the positives: Bintan is quick and easy to get to, but a good tip for anyone planning a trip – buy first class tickets. It’s not much more expensive, but you’re first to get off and that means less time lining up at Indonesian immigration on the other side. With small kids, it makes a difference.
Moving onto the not so good. We booked late and got one of the older style rooms that haven’t been upgraded yet. The beds were absolutely pathetic, which meant Steve and I spent the trip feeling crippled from sleeping in them. These rooms also have no balconies, so one of the things we love doing on holidays – sitting on the balcony, talking while the boys sleep – wasn’t possible. We always feel like we haven’t spent any time together when we have no balconies in the evening – it’s really important to us. If you enjoy balcony time as well, book a suite with a balcony. Unfortunately we couldn’t change rooms because it was holiday season, but we definitely know better for next time.
The food was also terrible at Nirwana Gardens. While we did find some great little restaurants in the other resorts eventually, the first 24 hours were very disappointing. The boys are at the pizza-only-when-we-go-out-for-dinner-age, and it was horrible. So do explore beyond Nirwana Gardens quickly to find a decent feed. The breakfast buffet was the usual stampede and definitely low down on the quality scale. It’s obviously a Muslim country, so turkey bacon is the norm, but all up it was just pretty bad – sweet bread, UHT milk in the coffee, horrible cereal, etc…. There is a lot of Asian food, so if that’s your cup of tea you might not think it’s so bad, but I wouldn’t know. I just knew it wasn’t my ideal breakfast.
Some other observations. We had a pretty bad run of oil on the beach and the only thing you can do is rub sand on your skin to get it off. It never comes off clothes though. There was also a lot of jelly fish action – so keep an eye out, because you wouldn’t want to swim in the ocean at this time. The dead jellies on the beach did provide a bonus – it kept the boys entertained for hours circling them so no one stepped on them. There’s always an upside.
I also found the life guards overly-exuberant. Seriously, if you’re going to build rocks around the edge of a pool, you’ve got to expect active boys to both climb and jump off them. We heard a lot of whistles going off and our boys were usually the center of that attention. We always monitor our boys to make sure they’re safe and respecting other people’s space, so this did get annoying.
Would we go again? When we need to escape and get a bit of sand and sea, why not. But we’d book the higher class rooms and make sure it had a balcony. We’d also aim for different restaurants immediately upon arrival. Personally, I’d rather get on a plane and go to Phuket, but when we always plan so late, that’s not always do-able. Perhaps we should be more organized? There’s an idea.
What do you think of Nirwana Gardens? Or if you could recommend a great place on Bintan or Batam, what would it be?