Category Archives: Asia

Trip Notes: Yangoon, Myanmar

I was thrilled to be in Myanmar a couple of weeks ago with my family. Since time was limited, we only spent three days in Yangon.

Myanmar is the 57th country I have visited – and I should say I am quite amazed by it.

After visiting Cambodia, I wondered if I was doing the right thing flying to Myanmar with a 15-month old, but I can truly say that it is a very safe country. There are many warm people and the infrastructure for a country with USD 1,300 per head is pretty good.

The airport was built quite recently and looks modern. Even though the online visa processing could have been a little smoother, nothing really bad happened on that front. Immigration to the country also went fairly well.

We stayed at the Savoy Hotel, near the centre of the city. It is a nicely-kept colonial building. The hotel is operated by a German company and the staff’s level of English was extremely high. The room was spacious and nicely decorated with local ornaments.

We had a chance to spend some time at the Strand Hotel, located literally just next to the British Embassy. This would be a great hotel as an alternative to the Savoy!

We were extremely lucky to have a Burmese friend, a London Business School alumni like my wife, who invited us for a nice dinner at a local restaurant, Padonman Restauant. The walls were covered with American and British diplomatic pictures. Burmese food is very similar to Thai food and people who like spicy food (like myself) will really enjoy the cuisine in Myanmar.

We visited many temples, such as the famous Inclining Buddha, the Shwedagon Pagoda and the Sule Pagoda. Although Yangon is not the best place to visit pagodas on the whole, the Shwedagon Pagoda was an original example. If you are really keen on temples, I have been recommended many times to visit the city of Pagan in Myanmar. I am not personally a big fan of visiting temples, as I found them rather similar after going to one after another.

We were brave enough to taste Burmese wine – and I would not advise others to try it… Stick to the beer instead!

During our time in Myanmar, there had been a water festival going on, and it was a real experience to see lots of people packed into the back of a truck, throwing water at each other throughout the city. We did not see any violence and watching people having fun was really good. The water festival marks the beginning of a new year for the Burmese people.

Video: Water Festival in Yangoon

For a country where civil war ended only a couple of years ago, and which is opening up slowly, Myanmar has definitely got a lot of potential. With its beautiful people and wide landscape, Myanmar is a candidate to be a real star in the region.

Hospital building from colonial times

Is a new Thailand emerging in south-east Asia?

YES!

All the best from Singapore.

Sukru Haskan
Twitter: @sukru_haskan

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Lecturing in Hong Kong

I was honoured to co-lecture with Eric Sim, an investment banker and an adjacent professor at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology last week.

Hong Kong Univesity of Science and Technology has a great campus located at Clear Water Bay Road which is half an hour drive from Central Hong Kong Island. It has a great view of couple of islands.

Not only its campus makes it great, but also HKUST ranks quite highly between its peer among the globe. It had been previously ranked Asia’s No.1 by the independent regional QS University Rankings: Asia for three consecutive years between 2011 and 2013. It’s one of the fastest growing institutions as ranked #2 and #3 by QS world’s under-50 universities and Times 150 under 50 universities respectively in 2015 and 2016.

Financial Times ranks its Global MBA programme as the 15th best in the world in 2017.

My lecture topic was banking and it was an enjoyable almost an hour chat with the students about the current trends including Fintech that are affecting the financial industry as well as job description and challenges/opportunities ahead of the financial industry.

The most encouraging part for me was the Q&A session which turned out to be quite active and interesting.

This has been my third lecture after SMU in Singapore in 2014 and Renmin University in Beijing in December 2016. I hope to continue lecturing since it is a great way of giving back to society whilst improving my skills for public speaking and having a great fun!

Thank you Eric Sim for inviting!

All the best from Singapore.

Sukru Haskan
Twitter: @sukru_haskan

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Trip Notes: Sri Lanka

We spent our holidays in Sri Lanka over the Christmas and this is the fifty-fifth country in the world that I’ve visited. It is an island country which is located south of India and has recently become open to tourism, since the civil war ended in 2009.

Room View from Jetwings Galle Hotel

We made a big mistake by booking the hotels and the driver through a tour agency in Singapore and, as a result, we were significantly overcharged and stayed in the hotels that we did not particularly enjoy.

Our first destination was Colombo City and we stayed at Mirage Hotel. Since we landed very late at night, we stayed in Colombo City to sleep and go to Kandy in the morning. Colombo City is the capital of Sri Lanka and there are a lot of nice colonial buildings.

Sri Lanka was a colony of Portugal, the Dutch and the British.

I would not recommend spending much time in the capital, and I think a day should be more than enough to see the all landmarks. I would not recommend staying at Mirage Hotel, either. There is a Hilton in the city centre which would be a much better option.

We arrived Kandy in the afternoon after six hours trip by car. Christmas traffic and a one lane road increased the duration of the journey, which would usually take three and a half hours.

Sunset in Kandy

We stayed at Amaraya Hills Hotel in Kandy. The hotel sits at the top of a hill and has a beautiful view of Kandy. Having said that, the hotel is not up to good standard and they are lacking very basic service requirements. You can find my review of the hotel on the Trip Advisor website.

Kandy Lake and Tooth Temple are places to see, but I would not advise spending much time to see them. Kandy sits in the middle of a valley and, as a result, the air can be quite polluted. Unfortunately, during our two day visit, the air quality was horrible.

We travelled to Sigiriya Rock, which is around a two hour journey from Kandy. Sigiriya Rock used to be a fortress for monks and, today, it is a UNESCO listed World Heritage site. It is an example of ancient urban planning. I would say that this is the most interesting place that we visited throughout our eight day trip to Sri Lanka.

Sigiriya Rock

On the way back to Kandy, we stopped at the Elephant Corridor Hotel, where we ate our lunch. It is a good hotel with a good manager. I would recommend anyone wanting to stay close to Sigiriya Rock to stay there.

On our second day in Kandy, we went to Elephant Park Orphanage, which charges around USD 20 each for entry. It was interesting to see elephants, however, I was not particularly amazed.

Elephant Orphanage

After Kandy, we headed towards Galle which is located to the south of the island. It is another five hour journey by car. Luckily, there is an express way between Colombo and Galle and this makes the journey much more enjoyable.

On the way, we stopped at a spice garden and were introduced to different types of spices. We also stopped at a tea shop where they gave us a free introduction on how tea is processed. It was interesting to go on a small tour to learn about the stages of tea processing and we bought some tea during our visit to the tea shop.

We stayed at Jetwings Lighthouse Hotel in Galle. I would recommend staying at this hotel, since it has a great location, by the beach and lives up to certain international standards. They have a nice open buffet, as well as a good a la carte menu.

The staff are friendly and they definitely do their best to help.

The only downside to this hotel was that they were not able to give us a late check out, since we were checking out on the 30th December, which is understandable.

There are not many places to visit around Galle, except the Galle Fort, which is a must. A lot of small shops and leftovers from colonial times make you feel as if you are somewhere in 18th century. There are some very nice hotels inside the Galle Fort, however, I would not stay in any of those as they are not by the beach. There are nice tea shops inside the Fort, which I would recommend visiting to buy various selections of beautiful tea.

Overall, Sri Lanka is a nice country to visit and is developing very fast. Many foreigners are buying their holidays homes there. For me, it is a good to place to visit, but I am not sure I will go back soon. If I were to go back, I would definitely stay in the middle of the tea plantations, rather than in Kandy and Colombo.

If you are planning a trip to Sri Lanka, I am always more than happy to help.

Best from Singapore.

Sukru Haskan
Twitter: @sukru_haskan

 

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Trip Notes: Bali

I was in Bali a couple of weeks ago for the second time in my life. It is one of the few things that I really regret that I have been so close to Bali in the last 3.5 years and this has been only my second visit. Many people have asked for recommendations for Bali, so I decided to provide this short write-up. There are many different areas in Bali, such as Ubud, Nusa Dusa, Jimbaran and Seminyak. I personally prefer Ubud over any other area as it is very tranquil and authentic.

So far, I have stayed at the Kamandalu and the COMO Uma Ubud. I slightly prefer the Kamandalu to the COMO Uma Ubud as it has larger grounds. I would say that the staff were very friendly and helpful in both cases. The COMO Uma has a great yoga area, with a stunning view. Alternatively, you might like to check out the Four Seasons, but it is a bit pricey.

Como Ubud Hotel

You might want to try out the Bridges or Mosaic restaurants if you like European cuisine. The Bridges has a good variety of wines, but relatively reasonable prices, although my “carnivorous” friend was not very happy with the size of the meals. For a local treat, you might like to go to Pulau Kelapa, where they grow their own organic vegetables and fruits. If you have chance, walk around their gardens and you will be amazed by the lovely smell of each plant. If you would like to try the local cafés, you could visit the Seniman, Clear and/or Elephant coffee shops.

Pulau Kelapa Restaurant’s own garden

In terms of sightseeing in Ubud, I would suggest you go to the Volcano, Monkey Forest, Uluwatu and Bath temples. There are many temples and I personally don’t think it necessary go to all of them, except the Uluwatu and Bath temples.

In Nusa Dua, I stayed at the Amanterra Villas and my experience was good overall. The level of English may sometimes be challenging, but the access to the beach and the hotel facilities are good.

Como Ubud Hotel Yoga Area View

If you would like to have some drinks, try the Single Fin and the Rock Bar in Jimbaran. The Single Fin is the place the Aussie surfers go and there are many beautiful ladies there, so watch out! 🙂 The Rock Bar in the Ayana Hotel is a “must visit”, but it is unnecessarily expensive and be prepared to wait in a long queue to be able to see the sunset from the bar.

Monkey Forest

I hope these are some useful tips for trips to Bali. If you want to have a chat, you are always more than welcome.

All the best from Singapore.

Sukru Haskan
Twitter: @sukru_haskan

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Lecturing in China

I was honoured to give a short lecture on wealth management last week in Beijing at Renmin University. It was my first time in Beijing and I wish I could have spent more time discovering the city, but giving a short lecture was definitely more accommodating.

This has been my second teaching experience; my first one was in late 2014 at Singapore Management University.

Public speaking skill is a virtue which I really want to develop further, as it is always good to give back to society and meeting younger people to connect with different generations is always a great opportunity.

My session took about 45 minutes and I spoke about various aspects of wealth management such as its challenges and the opportunities ahead, along with its advantages and disadvantages compared to other departments in an ordinary bank.

What I am amazed by was the quality of the questions and the level of spoken English in the class.

It was such a good experience and I hope to avail of similar opportunities more regularly.

Thank you Eric Sim for the invitation!

All the best from Sri Lanka.

Sukru Haskan
Twitter: @sukru_haskan

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Lattice80 – Largest Fintech Space

The world’s largest fintech hub opened in Singapore on 10 November and I was honoured to be at the launch.

Singapore’s deputy prime minister and chairman of the Monetary Authority of Singapore, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, was the guest of honour at the opening ceremony. His speech was full of insights regarding the stance of the Singaporean government and the regulator towards fintechs.

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The Singapore government fully supports the fintech industry and sees fintech as complementary to the banks in the financial industry, rather than a direct competitor.

Besides that, the Singapore government fully acknowledges that there will be a lot of fintech startups going bust, but it is vital to create the right ecosystem to create a fintech unicorn from Singapore.

Lattice80 is located at the centre of the central business district of Singapore and occupies two floors at the moment and plans to host 350 people in the coming week/months.

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Compared with its peers The Floor in Israel and Level 39 in the UK, it is now officially the largest fintech startup space.

Singapore Fintech Association and Finlab are already in the space, which shows the strong commitment to create the right ecosystem.

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It was established by the Marvelstone group founded by a Korean entrepreneur and hedge fund manager, Joe Cho.

It is a great step for Singapore to fully leverage its well established common law system with its highly skilled labour force. There is no doubt that Singapore will be playing a key role in fintech space.

Personally, I am thrilled to enrol on the MIT Fintech Course, which will take place during the next 12 weeks. It will kick off on 21 November.  It is not only a regular academic education, but importantly the course will need students to participate in business planning of a fintech idea to pitch to venture capitalists.

I look forward to sharing my experience about the course within the next weeks.

All the best from Singapore.
Sukru Haskan

Twitter: @sukru_haskan

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Can Singapore model be applied in Turkey?

Following from my last article, I would like to find some answers as to whether Turkey could replicate the success of Suzhou Industrial Park in Diyarbakir.

Actually, some work has already been carried out in this field.

A reputable businessman and philanthropist, Erdal Aksoy, aims to replicate the project in Diyarbakir in order to create an eco-system for 1 million people in the region, including Syrian migrants.

Turkey has a strategic role in natural gas transit because of its position between the world’s second largest natural gas market, continental Europe, and the substantial natural gas reserves of the Caspian Basin and the Middle East.

Since Turkey is well placed to serve as a transit hub for oil and natural gas supplies as they move from Russia, Central Asia, and the Middle East to Europe and other Atlantic markets, the project is to develop an energy industrial park as the main platform to:

  • Create employment to improve lives in order to stabilise the region, particularly at the borders.
  • Leverage the energy resources and infrastructure in the region and target markets in Eastern Europe and Western Asia.
  • End the refugee crisis in Turkey and Europe.
  • Eradicate terrorism and maintain stability in the region.

The project will involve social housing (HDB equivalent in Singapore or council housing in the UK), education centres such as nurseries, primary schools, and universities, as well as hospitals for the health services.

To ensure that it is built on strong foundations, the project is intended to be a public private partnership involving the Turkish government and possibly other governments.

Surbana Jurong, a Singapore company that also provided the expertise for Suzhou Industrial Park, has already drafted the project and the Turkish government has already been briefed and promised support for the project.

The next step is to find other sustainable and strong partners, especially from Asian countries such as China and Singapore, to support the project.

Mr Aksoy is quite open to sharing the project with anyone that would like to enhance and take ownership of this huge socio-economic innovation.

The realisation of a project of this scale could bring stability and prosperity to the region, and could potentially be replicated in other parts of the Middle East.

Personally, I believe that this is an exciting project and that everyone who wishes to contribute to peace of Middle East shall be involved in it.

All the best from Singapore.
Sukru Haskan
Twitter: @sukru_haskan

 

 

 

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Suzhou Industrial Park in China

I had an opportunity to go Shanghai last weekend and I took the opportunity to visit Suzhou Industrial Park which is about 1.5 hours away from the city centre of Shanghai.

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Suzhou Industrial Park is a landmark project between Chinese and Singaporean governments to create an ecosystem to enhance people’s lives through creating jobs, providing healthcare and education services.

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In the late 1980s, when China modernisation gained momentum, Chinese delegations visited Singapore and they were eager to learn modern management methods from Singapore. In 1992, the idea of developing a modern industrial city with Singapore flourished when China’s leader Deng Xiaoping told the public that they must tap into Singapore’s experience and learn how to manage better from Singapore’s good social order.

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After several rounds of discussion, both governments decided to develop a modern industrial park in the east of Suzhou, which was founded on February 1994 when Chinese Vice Premier Li Lanqing and Singapore Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew signed an agreement on the joint development of Suzhou Industrial Park in Suzhou. Suzhou Industrial Park has a total jurisdiction of 288 km2 where China-Singapore cooperation area covers 80 km2 with a residential population of 1.2 million.

Of course, this huge project has gone through many different phases and there were a lot of disagreements with both governments during the journey. Because of these disagreements, Singapore has decreased its share in the park from 65% to 35%. Also, between 1994 and 2000, the park made huge losses. The profit between 2000 and 2003 has erased all the losses made during the period between 1994 and 2000.

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The numbers speak for themselves today. Today, the park generates one of the highest incomes per capita in China. The regional GDP per capita is 257,900 yuan in Suzhou Industrial Park where Suzhou is 136,700 yuan and Jiangsu is 88,000 yuan. The per capita disposable income of urban residents in SIP is 56,696 yuan, in Suzhou 50,390 and 37,173 yuan in Jiangsu.

Another interesting statistic is that patents per ten thousand people are 86 in SIP, 25.46 in Suzhou and 14.22 in Jiangsu. A lot of international companies have presence in the park such as Bosch, Samsung, Hitachi, Nokia, Loreal and Panasonic.

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Can Turkey copy this model in southeast of Turkey to generate economic growth, to educate Syrian migrants with the Southeastern Turkish population and most importantly to eradicate terrorism in the region?

I will write this in my next article in the coming days. Please keep following!

Best from Singapore.
Sukru Haskan

Twitter: @sukru_haskan

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Book Review: Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall

Whilst I was in London last month, one of the books that I bought was “Prisoners of Geography” by Tim Marshall. Tim Marshall tells us how the leaders of the world are restricted by their geographies and how their decisions are influenced by it. It is a great book that looks at historical turning points of different nations and helps us understand why they behaved in a certain way. His book is divided into ten sections: Russia, China, USA, Western Europe, Africa, the Middle East, India and Pakistan, Korea and Japan, Latin America, and the Arctic.

The book contains a lot of anecdotes about each region.

Image result for prisoners of geography

Russia:

Russia covers eleven time zones and, even now, it takes six days to cross it by train. Russians were fighting on average in and around the North European Plain once every thirty-three years. By 2004, just fifteen years after 1989, every single former Warsaw Pact state bar Russia was in NATO or the European Union. Russia is the biggest country in the world, twice the size of the US or China, five times the size of India, twenty-five times the size of the UK. Although 75 per cent of Russian territory is in Asia, only 22 per cent of its population lives there.

China:

Xinjiang is the largest province of China. It is the twice the size of Texas, and you can fit the UK, France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Belgium in it and still have room for Luxembourg. Xinjiang is too strategically important to allow an independence movement to get off the ground: it not only borders eight countries – thus buffering the heartland – but it also has oil and is home to China’s nuclear weapons testing sites.

Large-scale migration south to north can be expected, which will, in turn, give China more leverage in its relations with Russia.

China intends to become a two-ocean power. This is China’s way of reducing its overreliance on the Strait of Malacca, through which almost 80 per cent of its energy supplies pass.

USA:

By 1814 the British had gone and the French had given up on Louisiana. In 1867 Alaska was bought from Russia. Many US government foreign policy strategists are persuaded that the history of the twenty-first century will be written in Asia and the Pacific. Half of the world’s population lives there, and if India is included it is expected to account for half of the global economic output by 2050.

Western Europe:

There are unprovable theories that the domination of Catholicism in the south has held it back, whereas the Protestant work ethic has propelled the northern countries to greater heights.

France is the only European country to be both a Northern and Southern power.

Geographically, The Brits are in a good place. Good farmland, decent rivers, excellent access to seas and their fish stocks, close enough to the European Continent to trade and yet protected by dint of being an island race. There is a theory that the relative security of the UK over the past few hundred years is the reason it has experienced more freedom and less despotism than the countries across the Channel.

Africa:

We are all from Africa since that’s where homo sapiens originated 2,000 years ago. Challenge is the rivers ince parts of it navigable by shallow boats, but there are parts that do not interconnect, thus limiting the transportation of cargo. The ethnic conflicts within Sudan, Somalia, Kenya, Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, Mali and elsewhere are evidence that the European idea of geography did not fit the reality of Africa’s demographics.

About a third of China’s oil imports come from Africa. South Africa is one of the very few African countries that do not suffer from the curse of malaria, as mosquitoes find it difficult to breed there. Is it a coincidence that European colonialists chose to settle there and that South Africa is the biggest African economy today?

Middle East:

Prior to Sykes-Picot, there was no state of Syria, no Lebanon, nor was there a Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Israel, or Palestine. Lebanon’s most recent civil war lasted for fifteen years and, at times, it remains close to another one. Syria may suffer a similar fate.

The Mongols were the last force to make any progress through Persian territory in 1219–1221 and since then attackers have ground themselves into dust trying to make headway across the mountains.

Turkey granted its women the vote two years ahead of Spain and fifteen years ahead of France.

India – Pakistan:

There is an approximately 1,900 mile long border between the countries. Pakistan received just 17 per cent of the financial reserves that had been controlled by the pre-partition government.

In the spring of 2015, the two countries agreed to a USD 46 billion deal to build a superhighway of roads, railways, and pipelines running 1,800 miles from Gwadar to China’s Xinjiang region. This would make it possible to bypass the Strait of Malacca.

The Afghan-Pakistani border is known as the Duran line. Sir Mortimer Durand, the Foreign Secretary of the colonial government of India, drew it in 1893 and the then ruler of Afghanistan agreed to it.

Korea – Japan:

Satellite images and witness testimony suggest that at least 150,000 political prisoners are held in giant work and re-education camps.

The territory of the Japanese islands together make up a country that is bigger than the two Koreas combined, or in European terms bigger than Germany.

Latin America:

The Latin American population, including the Caribbean, is over 600 million, and yet their combined GDP is equivalent to that of France and the UK, which together comprise about 125 million people.

In 1914 the newly built, 50 mile long, American controlled Panama canal opened, thus saving an 8,000 mile journey from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans and leading to economic growth in the canal region.

The Texas-based geopolitical intelligence company stratfor.com estimates that Brazil’s seven largest ports combined can handle fewer goods per year than the single American port of New Orleans.

The Arctic:

The Arctic Ocean is 5.4 million square miles; this might make it the world’s smallest ocean but it is still almost as big as Russia, and one and a half times the size of the USA.

I highly recommend that you have this book on your bookshelf, as it will not only enhance your vision, but also make you understand where the world is going. Prisoners of Geography is the kind of book that you could easily go back to many times as a good source for references.

All the best from Singapore.

Sukru Haskan
Twitter: @sukru_haskan

 

 

 

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Weekend Get Away – Bintan Island, Indonesia

Since I was expecting my baby, we had been unable to travel around much over the last month, and it is not easy to travel with a newborn.

The desire and intention to travel has been always there for our family so we decided to go for a quick weekend getaway to Bintan Island in Indonesia.

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A lot of my visitors in Singapore ask me where they can go from Singapore easily. This is the easiest option to travel from Singapore, since it only takes 45 minutes by boat to reach the island.

I booked the ferry tickets through Bintan Resort Ferries (www.brf.com.sg). The booking process was a bit complicated, as the website requests all passengers’ passport numbers, passport expiry dates, etc.

I had been to Bintan in September 2013 where we stayed at Bintan Lagoon Resort and we were not happy with our experience. The property was old, the breakfast was awful and it was overpriced.

Bearing in mind the previous experience, I booked the Angsana Hotel for this visit.

The ferry leaves from Tanah Merah ferry terminal, which is very close to Changi Airport. The immigration process is fast and smooth at the ferry terminal. We took the ferry out at 08:10 am and luckily we found a good spot on the ferry as we needed mobility because of the baby.

After almost an hour, we arrived at Bintan. Among the changes since our previous trip, Indonesia has initiated visa free travel to many nationalities, including those with Turkish and British passports. Before, there was a visa check on arrival and you would need to buy a visa for USD 15. Getting the visa was easy, but the queue and securing the exact USD 15 was a bit of a hassle.

Once we were through immigration, the hotel had arranged a complimentary transfer from the terminal. Angsana is only ten minutes away from the terminal, which was great.

The hotel is in an old complex and has a friendly staff. It has a long private beach and is situated just next to the Banyan Tree. We were able to access our room before the standard check-in time and headed to the beach, where there is a nice restaurant.

The menu is quite simple there but the food is good. Unfortunately, like anything in Bintan, it is very overpriced, though.

The hotel provides beach chairs along the beach, with towels. Even though the sea in Southeast Asia is not my favourite, given that it is hot and not crystal clear, it is nice to lie in front of it and relax.

We visited the Saffron restaurant—which is inside the Banyan Tree—for dinner. I should say the highlight of this trip for me was this restaurant. Perfect food, nice ambience and great service.

Even though we had some small communication problems at Angsana Hotel, I would say they are fairly friendly and do try their best to make sure you feel comfortable. On the way back, they arranged a private transfer for us to the ferry: since we had our newborn with us, it was a great gesture.

In Bintan, everything is overpriced. Proximity to Singapore and an easy tropical escape make the place popular so the prices are high! Once every two years, though, it is a good place to visit.

If you are visiting Singapore, I would recommend that you spend two or three days in Bintan.

All the best from Singapore.

Sukru Haskan
Twitter: @sukru_haskan

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