Mangrove magic

1 Jun 2005 by business traveller

Jacintha Stephens is bewitched by fireflies and moonlight on a weekend break from Singapore.

We¡¯re sitting on the edge of the South China Sea, listening to the waves. We watch the sun set over a blood orange horizon, then indulge in a feast of fresh seafood, scooped out from the nets below.
At the Kelong Restaurant (a kelong is a wooden fishing platform which extends into the sea and traps fish, crabs, lobsters and prawns in its stilts) ¨C star venue of Nirwana Resorts on Bintan in Indonesia¡¯s Riau Archipelago ¨C you tell them how you¡¯d like your seafood, and the spices and condiments you desire. Pepper? Chilli? Soya? Indonesian or Chinese style: your wishes are the chef¡¯s command.
Wanting the magic to linger on, we travel some 20 minutes to another jetty to catch a boat ride through a mangrove forest. Leaving the sea behind us, we meander some 7km up Bintan¡¯s Sebung River. Here, majestic thickets form the ecologically protective shield of the Indonesian rainforest. In the freshwater that irrigates the mangrove live a multitude of sea creatures. We are still thinking of dinner ¨C why, in just 1ha of mangroves, there could be over 160kg of shrimp!
Venturing deeper into the estuary, the boatman navigates the narrower waterways with consummate skill. From time to time, we reach out to touch the branches, but gently, so as not to stir the slumbering snakes. It¡¯s well after evening but a beaming crescent moon throws just enough light over us to create an awesome reflection of the mangroves in the crystal clear waters.
The highlight of this nocturnal safari is the myriad fireflies in the foliage, some floating right up to the tree tops in a synchronised mating ritual. The moment is savoured in silence since the boatman has thoughtfully switched off the engine. We can¡¯t resist cupping a firefly in our hands ¨C we feel as if we¡¯re touching a bit of the divine. Then, it¡¯s over; the boatman starts up the engine, speeding us back to civilisation.
Deciding to spend the night, we get a room right on the beach so the waves are within hearing distance. The chalets at Nirwana Resorts¡¯ Mayang Sari are perfect for such reveries. Cocooned in their tasteful interiors, we feel safe, tranquil and in a blissful mood.
Before leaving, we indulge ourselves with one more treat ¨C we visit a spa. At the popular Asmara Tropical Spa we are pampered from head to toe with a traditional Indonesian massage in a Balinese hut garlanded by lush tropical flora. This begins with a herbal turmeric scrub, followed by a creamy yogurt rub and a full body massage, ending with a soak in a floral bath, known as mandi lulur, in the sunken stone bathtub.
Our masseuse is a lovely girl dressed simply in a black T-shirt and batik sarong. There is no chatter. She works in silence.
Another alternative is to stretch out on a comfortable chair while she applies a pleasant pressure to points in your soles and massages your feet and legs for 45 minutes. I could be persuaded to stay here. ¡ö

The Indonesian island of Bintan is a 45-minute catamaran ride from Singapore. There is a regular ferry service from Singapore¡¯s Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal, 10 minutes from Singapore Changi Airport.
For schedules log on to
www.brf.com.sg. Visa on arrival is available for a range of nationalities. To enjoy private, secure and beautiful unspoiled beaches, head to the north of the island where hotels hug the shoreline and face the South China Sea.
The Nirwana Group offers a wide choice of accommodation types. For more details, check
www.nirwanagardens.com. The main currency used in Indonesia is the rupiah (Rp) but the Singapore dollar is widely accepted at the resorts. Most hotels accept Visa, Mastercard and American Express. If you decide to venture out to greater Bintan to experience the local culture, make sure you have notes and coins in rupiahs.

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