The Sanchaya Bintan hotel review
Most luxury travellers who live in Singapore, or transit through the Lion City, are often on their way to resorts in Bali or Thailand. Few consider hopping on a ferry and heading over to the Indonesian island of Bintan, a destination not famous for its high-end accomodations. But Bintan has undergone a revival in the past couple of years and new properties have been coming online. With its spectacular setting, striking aesthetic, and bygone era charm, The Sanchaya Bintan is helping to turn heads and shake up itineraries.
Traveller: C. James Dale
Room: One bedroom villa
Address: Jalan Gurindam Duabelas, Plot 5, Lagoi Bay, Sebong Lagoi, Tlk. Sebong, Kabupaten Bintan, Kepulauan Riau 29155, Indonesia
Date: October 2017 and July 2018
Best for: Secluded luxury beach escape that’s less than an hour by ferry from Singapore
The Signature factor
As with most winning luxury destinations, The Sanchaya Bintan succeeds in tying everything together to convey an overall feeling to its guests, one of an exclusive yet understated tropical retreat that oozes colonial cool. It’s something that’s noticeable everywhere, from the focal point of the hotel — the Great House — to the design of the rooms and villas, the pool and croquet lawn, or the sublime and sexy bar, with its egg-style chairs, vintage leather couches, old-fashioned ceiling fans, and assorted antiques and objets d’arts.
The Sanchaya Bintan is far and away the belle of Bintan’s Lagoi Bay, and that’s a credit to the work done by its owner, Singapore-based Russian businesswoman Natalya Pavchinskaya, and Thailand’s P49 Deesign & Associates. Pavchinskaya has said she wanted to create an escape from the city, a place she (and others) could consider a second home. Her inspiration was the European salons of the 18th and 19th centuries, but she’s also infused a strong Asian sensibility, with all furnishings handcrafted in Indonesia. And as her staff tell it, a number of the items you see in places such as the Dining Room, Library, and Bar are hers — mirrors, maps, eclectic light fixtures, brass instruments, and various antiques. The colour palette is limited, relying on a mixture of black and white (for tiles, cushions, cups, exteriors – roof vs. facade), browns (woods and leathers), and grey.
The journey begins upon arrival at Bintan’s BBT ferry terminal, where Sanchaya staff greet guests and escort them to a private, VIP lounge as they quickly facilitate customs clearance and check in. After refreshments, it’s a short, eight-minute drive to the hotel, referred to as “the estate.” At its heart is the grand, colonial-style Great House, the two-storey building that houses nine suites, the bar and library, and the main restaurant. Twenty one villas occupy the 9.6 hectare property, which includes a slate-tiled, saltwater Olympic-size pool that’s surrounded on one side by loungers, looking out over the white sand beach that meets with the aquamarine waters of the South China Sea. On some days, you could blink and think you’re in the Maldives. On both occasions, we visited during the week and were struck by the quiet and calm. At times, it felt like no one was there, even though the hotel had many guests. There’s also a feeling of simplicity, of not-a-heck-of-a-lot-to-do-here-but-that-suits-me-just-fine, which is enhanced by a glorious sluggishness brought on by the tropical heat. Staff keep the beach and grounds immaculately groomed, the gardens adorned with low-key native plants and flowers. Upon arrival, guests pull up to the front entrance and walk past a gurgling fountain before entering the main lobby, which really feels like the lower level of a venerable old mansion of yesteryear. The best places to get to-die for first impression glances: from the Great House overlooking the veranda, pool, and beach. And from the beach looking back at the Great House by day and by night, when it’s lit up and glowing magically against the darkness of the sky or under a bright full moon.
During our visit, we stayed in a one-bedroom villa that had a quaint, covered terrace and a grassed lawn that stretched to the beach. Inside, intricately designed black and white tiles lined the bathroom floor, upon which sat a deep, white clawfoot bathtub. Mirrors help give the space more light and make it feel even bigger. The bed sits on top of a rope rug and the walls are decorated with antique style prints and maps. The living space is comfortable, with a long couch and a TV that can be controlled by a tablet loaded with films. During turndown service, expect treats, usually in the form of delicious chocolate chip cookies. Customized pillow and bath experiences are also available. Other rooms boast Southeast Asian influences, including the group of seven villas in the Thai-inspired “Lawan Village,” which are clustered around a lagoon.
The mini bar
Guests also have the option of customizing the mini bar, although ours was fine as it was. There’s a lot to choose from, including juices and Indonesian beer. In addition, there’s organic popcorn and Sanchaya’s own European chocolate (80% cocoa dark, Croquante Caramel, and Sea Salt Milk Chocolate).
The best place to lay your head would be the Vanda villa, a two-storey house with pool and cozy guest cottage that feels removed from the rest of the estate and faces the ocean. This is the home-away-from-home Pavchinskaya dreamed up and then turned into a reality (and where she stays when she’s on the property). It’s like walking into a magazine or visiting the house of a friend who has exquisite taste, with all the details done to perfection, ornate without being too busy or over engineered. There are similar items on display that are found elsewhere at the hotel, along with added eye-catching things such as turquoise-coloured prints and pottery that pop out against white walls or furniture. Peaked ceilings make the space feel even more expansive and downstairs doors open wide, enhancing the indoor-outdoor living vibe. The upstairs veranda offers a view of the beach and the sea. The main building also has fully functioning kitchen facilities.
On my plate
We ate a number of meals at the open air Tasanee Grill, the hotel’s spin on Bangkok street food. Among the favourites were the crab cakes; the phad thai (warning: it’s small); and a pomelo-based salad with toasted coconut, crunchy water chestnut, and crispy tofu that comes with a tamarind dressing. During the day, we often ordered light bites by the pool (the smoked salmon wrap is a go-to selection) because we were never that hungry after the incredible breakfast, which provides the perfect balance between a la carte and buffet options. There’s plenty to choose from, but definitely try the yoghurt and granola with seared mango cheeks. This is probably one of my favourite breakfast items…ever. The variety of smoothie options are enjoyable, too, including the spinach with coconut milk. Make sure you flag down the “Jamu Gendong” lady, who visits tables offering shots of traditional Indonesian healthy drinks that blend local spices and root-tubers. It’s not all perfect, though. If you’re a coffee lover, you’ll want to be clear with your requests. Lattes and cappuccinos are weak, so consider ordering double espressos with a side of hot milk. We enjoyed one dinner at The Dining Room, where our favourites included the burrata with fresh, vine ripe tomatoes, the handmade gnocchi, and an intensely savory dish called ikan asam pedas melayu, which consists of spicy sour fish fillet cooked in tamarind, chili, ginger flower, and pineapple (served with steamed jasmine rice).
I wish I could take home
Some of the amazing cumin or salt-infused Gouda and other cheeses from our wine and cheese tasting experience at Decanter.
The small spa sits off one of the paths, surrounded by greenery and a garden where herbs and other plants are grown. It offers a variety of treatments, from a traditional aromatherapy massage to the “Sanchaya Signature,” a 90-minute odyssey involving Java volcanic stones. On my first visit, my massage treatment was quite good, but the facilities were underwhelming and I found myself stuck in a room with bare walls sitting in an uncomfortable chair as I got a foot rub. Since then, the resort has hired a new spa director who has given the place the attention it required, adding decorative touches and rearranging furniture while injecting fresh ideas into the treatment menu, which I reviewed sitting in a soft robe and sipping a hibiscus, cinnamon, chili, and lime drink. Soon after, I enjoyed an oxygen facial, which involved a variety of cleansers, scrubs, toners, and hot towels, plus a massage with a jade stick, followed by cold blasts from an oxygen gun. The treatment is meant to soften the skin and help counter the harmful effects of the sun. It’s definitely worth a try.
You don’t go to this kind of resort to leave it. But if you do venture out, there are a few things you can do, from wakeboarding and kayaking at Treasure Bay to flying an ultralight plane with the folks at Air Adventures Asia.
No need to worry about water quality or being overcharged for imported H2O. The Sanchaya purifies its own water, both sparkling and still, and puts it in glass bottles to avoid plastic bottle waste. The resort also composts food along with any organic matter collected during beach cleanups and landscaping. And while you may spend a lot of time poolside, you’ll want to make sure you’re there for 11am to enjoy frozen fruit delivery and 3pm for cocktail hour (mocktails also available). Plus, if you’re lucky you’ll be by the pool when some of the spa’s therapists pop up to offer quick, on-the-spot massages.
On my first visit, I found the level of English among the staff to be unreliable, leading to mix-ups when it came to restaurant orders and room service. I observed a marked improvement on my second visit. But I still found that sometimes ordering food at various times required a little bit of patience. If you’re poolside, grab a table and put in your lunch orders, but stay in the water or on the loungers to avoid wasting time sitting around and waiting. Another minor issue at the resort is the sun. It’s strong so rash guards are a must for people with lighter skin complexions. But I also found that while the resort has umbrellas for the loungers, they can’t be tilted as the sun moves throughout the day, forcing guests to reposition themselves or head elsewhere to get some shade.
…the hotel had set up some sort of scheme in which people could buy villas, use them for a few weeks a year, and then rent them out for the rest of the time to earn a modest return. I’m sure some investors in Singapore or elsewhere in Southeast Asia would have bought in.
- Among 50 “Top Resorts in Asia” in Condé Nast Traveler’s Readers’ Choice Awards (2017)
- Condé Nast Traveler’s Hot List of Best New Hotels in the World (2015)
- Travel + Leisure’s IT List for Best New Hotels Around the Globe (2015)
- DestinAsian’s Luxe List (2015)
Where to find The Sanchaya Bintan
Ferries for Bintan depart from Singapore’s Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal, located at 50 Tanah Merah Ferry Road. Bintan Resort Ferries operates the ferry connection.