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Friday, February 10, 2012

Bintan - Virgin Trip

So my company has recently launched a new product and those of us in the Sales and Product Management teams involved with that product can get to enjoy a one day Bintan getaway if we hit the initial sales target for it set within a specified period.

Which was what happened. Yeap, we made a bullseye for this one.

Bintan - I've never been there before and the mention of its name conjures up an image of an exotic place with sandy beaches, palm trees, dancing straw skirts and cocktails galore for me. Thing is, I didn't even know if it's in Malaysia or Indonesia. Still, I wasn't that innocent enough to have thought that it's in Hawaii.

So today is the day of the trip. I got up real early so that I could take the train all the way to East Point to catch a ride with Lester, my colleague from the GP Sales team. Everybody was supposed to meet at this ferry terminal situated at a remote place which I had no clue on how to get there.

So after breakfast with Lester at the ferry terminal, we waited for the rest of our colleagues to arrive, rendezvoused with them, got the tickets and proceeded to board the ferry together.

We were supposed to keep this hush-hush but while making our way towards the ferry, Ken checked in his location on FaceBook but he was smart about it; he didn't tag or mention anyone else. It was just a short 'Bintan getaway' or something innocently sounding like that, heh. Showing off can be done safely with discretion :)

I've only experienced seasickness a couple of times in ferries while other times, I was ok. Still, there was this little nagging worry for this one. Jason, our National Sales Manager is very prone to seasickness, so he popped a pill.

Well, it's gonna be an hour's watery ride to Bintan, so we settled down, made ourselves comfortable and everybody started looking for ways to entertain ourselves. We mostly chatted and some of us, including myself, whipped out our phones to play mobile games, which is the next best thing to do besides chatting if you are grounded in a flight or ride and you need to kill time.

I was playing the quirky Cowboys versus Zombies and since there are lots of zombie moans and gun blasting in the game, I had to turn down the volume in order that besides making sure I wouldn't disturb anyone else in the ferry, I could also avoid possible strange looks that tell me: "You some gun-toting homicidal maniac or something?"

And finally, about an hour later, we arrived at Bintan. Whoopydoo, I didn't experience any seasickness. Either my body has gotten stronger and more resilient or my center of gravity has shifted and gone askew.

I was prepared about the weather here, which is basically of a similar temperature range and climate as home ground's, which suck. Well, we were still within the tropical belt after all.

So we booked this car transport service at this small shopping area just past the check-in section of the terminal where drinks and souvenir are sold. While waiting for our transport to arrive, I bought a can of coke with SGD and in Bintan, SGD and USD are accepted.

Cost of goods and services here are quite on par with back home, so don't come here expecting to be able to rip the market off, the local economy will rip you right back if you attempt to do so. My can of coke was a dollar in SGD if I recall correctly. I forgot the exact cost down to the decimal points but I remember coming away with my purchase with the impression that it was as if I bought a can of coke on home ground.

When our ride arrived, the driver drove us past remote areas full of vegetation that reminded me of the kampong life I've lived from birth till I was around 5 years old. We got chauffeured to this reception place which seemed to be like the rallying point for the whole island, since the free buggy service that takes everyone to & fro from the other parts of the island is stationed here.

There are buttons all across the island that you can press to request for buggy service and one will be sent to your location. Without such a system, I think the whole transportation network on the island will freeze, since the roads are narrow enough that only the buggies can traverse them safely enough and there are certain spots that made me cringe when 2 buggies heading in the opposite direction on the same stretch of road maneuvered past each other.

It was a sunny day and the weather was hot and we've already started perspiring by the time we were driven by the buggies to this place called 'Tree Tops' for lunch. The weather sucked, yes, but the scenic view around Tree Tops by the sea made up for it.

So we were having authentic Indonesian food for lunch and I have to mention that all of Bintan's service staffs we came across thus far had been really courteous, professional and very helpful. They were willing to go all out to help us, big kudos to them for that. They really made us feel like guests.

Due to a tight allocated budget by the company for this trip, we couldn't order a mountain of food but what we had was adequate, at least for me since I'm not a big eater. Right, so let me show you what we had for lunch:

Most of the food we had, I found it nice. There was just one dish that was only so-so for me. I liked the rendang, though I can't remember if it was beef or chicken.

Right after lunch, a guide came on a buggy and brought us around the island to have a look-see of the resorts. Not only was this trip an incentive reward for us, the managers made use of it to spot for resorts which were suitable for the company to sponsor doctors, which are also our customers, to enjoy with their families.

Bintan's resorts are under 2 categories - the hotel kinds and the villa kinds. We visited the villas first which were really nice with quiet surroundings but which we thought would be a little scary at night, considering that some of them are located at rather remote areas with lots of vegetation. Imagine having to live in the woods at night and you get a rough idea.

I also wondered how folks staying in the villas can get supplies and groceries with ease without convenience stores within their vicinities. Anyway, the villas are nice and here are some pics of how they look like:

After the villas (which are expensive to rent), we went to visit the hotel and the accommodations there (which rental are cheaper than the villas) and here are some pics of how they look like:

The conclusion we've arrived at after visiting the villas and the hotel rooms was that the villas are more suitable for couples and the hotels are more suitable for families. Of course, no company would just sponsor their customers to enjoy trips without holding events or talks to promote their products to their customers. It has to be a win-win situation, which is only fair.

For events and product talks, you need venues and facilities like a ballroom, so after we were done visiting the hotel rooms, our guide brought us to the hotel's ballrooms that has facilities for talks and presentations. The scenic environment around the hotel we passed by while making our way to the ballrooms was pretty. It was just too bad the weather was hot.

After that, it was time for the main reason of why we came to Bintan - our incentive reward at Banyan Tree spa. Banyan Tree is renowned for its spa, massage and facial services and each of us could choose whether we wanted massage or facial. Everybody else chose massage and I was the only one who chose facial. It was beauty over bodily thrills for me.

So everybody else except Angela and me went to this place for for some hot-stones massage while me and Angela got buggied to another place at the villas. Strange that Angela opted for massage but got separated from the rest and had to follow me to the villas instead.

Her villa was just next to the one I was assigned to, so we both made a deal that whoever finished first would wait for the other outside our villas. And with that, I entered the villa where I would get my facial and get wowed by the excellent service by the Banyan Tree staff who attended to me.

The lone staff that attended to me and did my facial was an Indonesian woman and I could sing praises about her professionalism. She was so professional, thoughtful and courteous that honestly, I was feeling rather uncomfortable.

You see, I've never really been treated like a king before but she made me feel like one. I do believe that she could sense my uneasiness. She gave me something cooling and delicious to drink first thing before she knelt in front of, introduced herself formally and started to wash, massage and soak my feet in water filled with herbs or flower petals.

When she started kneeling in front of me, I almost asked her to stand up out of impulse because for some strange honest reason, I felt that she was degrading herself but common sense barged in and told me that she was just doing her job and so I told myself to treat her kindly in return. Honestly, I don't like it when people kneel in front of me.

Following that, she escorted me to the room downstairs where the facial started. She told me I had to take my clothes off but uh, I told her I wasn't comfortable with the idea, so I had my undies still on as she wrapped a sheet around my waist area.

I thought the session didn't include any massage at all, so I was surprised when she started giving me massage on my back, arms and legs after applying some ointment all over me. She asked me the massage strength level I would like applied on me and so I told her to go moderate.

Following the massage came the facial where I got layers upon layers of healthy stuff that made my face leap for joy applied onto me. My gosh, the whole thing was so comfortable I actually dozed off. It was actually that good. This was the very first facial treatment I went to, by the way. At home, I just D.I.Y.

There was a moment when my throat itched and I started having a mini coughing fit and my attendant immediately gave me something nice to drink. I don't know what it was exactly that I drank but it tasted herbal and when I say nice, I really mean Nice.

When the massage was over, I went to the washroom to change back to my clothes, resisting the temptation to take a shower since I didn't wanna wash away the good stuff applied on me. A pity, since I knew that going out of the villa meant facing the humid weather again.

I went back upstairs and a set of refreshment waited for me. My attendant requested that I fill up this service survey form and of course, I ticked every box labelled 'Excellent'. The service was really that impressive and I gave my attendant some tips even though my entire package was already paid for by the company. She deserved it. I was actually worried that her fingers might be hurting as she was giving me the massage earlier. I would have gladly allowed her to stop and rest if she needed to.

Angela came in as I was filling up the forms and she snapped a pic of me sitting there with the forms. We told each other excitedly about what we went through and apparently, she had a great massage session.

Bidding my attendant farewell, Angela and me took a buggy back to the island's main reception area where the buggies are stationed to wait for the rest of our colleagues. It's truly a pity that after my facial, I gotta perspire again because of the weather.

When the rest came back, the car transport we hired that brought us here drove us back to the jetty where we had to wait for the ride to arrive after out-processing at the customs. To kill time, Lester and me went to the shops on the second floor to browse around, after which the ferry came and we headed back to home soil.

We were all hungry by the time we reached home ground and the plan was to have seafood over at East Coast. So we proceeded there in a convoy and I took Lester's ride again. By then, my iPhone was almost out of juice and I mentally strangled myself for not bringing my casing charger with me.

Lester reached the mouth of the ECP when Clarissa called me and warned us not to head in there any further because of a massive jam. True enough, there was one. Lester's car was already just right inside the entry point of the expressway and all the cars in front of us were all at a standstill.

Then this cyclist all on his racer bike cycled over to us and advised us to make a u-turn and that was what we did. Lester than reversed and the cars behind us started doing the same thing. I remarked to Lester how comical the whole situation was, considering that was the very first time I've seen cars reversing out of an expressway.

By the time we reached the dinner place, the rest of our colleagues have not arrived yet. They were ahead of us when we started the journey here, so I guess they took a longer route. Anyway, the seafood restaurant we were supposed to be having at is called 'No Signboard Seafood'. Quirky.

The MacDonald's here is really out of place, since every other restaurant here is a seafood restaurant. So it came as no surprise that only a sprinkling of customers was in there, most of them students using the premise to study, as students here like to do in fast food restaurants.

Anyway, when the rest arrived, we ordered some dishes but due to allocated budget constrain, we couldn't order much and we were all hungry, so we made do.

When we finished, we split and when Lester and me reached his car, I remarked to him that since he really enjoyed his hot stones massage during the afternoon at Bintan, he might just already be so addicted to it that when he reached home, he would probably find go out again to look for some stones, bring them home, heat them up using his stove and run them on himself. That cracked both of us up.

So Lester gave Clarissa and me a ride since she didn't use her car today and dropped her at her turf before driving me to Paya Lebar train station, just up ahead the road from where Clarissa is staying.

Lester parked outside the train train station where we chatted for awhile before I split and took the train home. And by the way, Bintan is a scenic and pretty place, though the weather there is not something I'm pleadantly agreeable with.

Update: Lester left the company shortly later. He worked with us for a duration that was coming to a year. Thanks for all the rides all these while, man. It's a pity you had to go.

- De Lion Speaks

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