When one looks out from Singapore’s high towers across the Straits onto the Indonesian islands, there the islands of Batam and Bintan appear very inviting, basking in the sun. Lying less than one hour by fast ferry from Singapore, the islands promise a completely contrasting environment from that of busy metropolitan Singapore.
Batam and Bintan are only two of the more than 2,400 islands that make up the Riau Islands province, stretching from Sumatra, rounding north east all the way to the Anambas islands in the South China Sea.
The island of Batam today is the third busiest entry port to Indonesia next to Bali and Jakarta. Situated so near to Singapore, it is a favorite resort for residents and international toursts in Singapore who wish to get closer to nature, relax for a short vacation of golf or sailing, enjoy mouth watering fresh seafood, luxuriate in a traditional royal spa, go shopping or just for family fun.
Although Batam, Bintan and the Karimun islands are designated an industrial free trade zone, yet there are still plenty of wide open spaces and hundreds of large and small untouched islands in the Riau archipelago where one can have that feeling that one is entirely alone on the island.
Twenty years into its hectic development, Batam has indeed become more crowded, where business mixes with pleasure. With no less than six ferry terminals , wide roads criss-crossing the island , an international airport and clusters of industries, hotels and housing estates, Batam still promises a leisurely weekend getaway offering reasonably priced freshly caught seafood , fine golfing , plenty of duty-free shopping , or an escape to a remote island ideal for trekking, diving, snorkeling and lazy fishing. For shoppaholics, Batam offers the excitement of shopping at the Nagoya Superblock with its 450 kiosks and 170 shops with a Hypermarket on Nagoya Hill.
Batam has six golf courses, a large number of good hotels for businessmen in Nagoya town , beach resorts and Spas at Nongsa, and shopping malls galore. One of the well-known Golf Course is the Palm Springs Golf and Country Club, which is conviniently located only 2 minutes away from Batam’s Nongsapura Ferry Terminal. Batam’s own Nongsa Point Marina has berthing facilities for yachts , and sailing and diving facilities for those wishing to explore Riau’s many islands.
The island of Batam itself is connected by six large modern bridges -known as the Barelang bridges– to the islands of Rempang and Galang to its south. On Galang are remnants of the Vietnamese Refugee camp now a museum to the struggles for survival that the Vietnamese had gone through, leaving their country in small, cramped boats to escape brutalities at home.
At Telunas beach on Sugi island, already in the Karimun archipelago, an idyllic resort offers groups of visitors the exhilarating experience of living on a remote island, away from the noise of civilization to listen to the sounds of nature. Here rooms built on stilts overlook blue-green waters. Explore the jungle, enjoy the serenity of white sandy beaches and return home completely invigorated.
Freshly caught seafood at inexpensive prices is the main appeal of Batam. Dining options here are amazingly varied. Moreover, there’s fine dining, seafood, fast food, local specialties, Chinese, Japanese, Korean and other nationalities and even vegetarian restaurants – you name it, and it can likely be found. Most of the upscale restaurants, particularly international ones, are usually found in the starred hotels.
At Nongsa you can eat in a “kelong,” a restaurant built over the sea on stilts. In Nagoya visitors and locals mingle at the night markets or the Pujasera Nagoya food center for traditional Indonesian food. At the Harbour Bay you can eat your favourite food in the open air along the sea front.
Popular offerings include chilli crabs, king prawns, steamed or barbecued fish, and the unique gong-gong sea snails, which can only be found in the waters of the Riau Islands. Best eaten steamed, the meat is fished out from the shell using a toothpick and dipped in ‘sambal’ (locally-made chilli sauce).
There are six beautiful golf courses located just on Batam Island alone. The Indah Puri Golf Resort is set in greenery and ringed by water, and is designed by renowned golf architect Ronald Fream. Each of the 18 holes of the championship course is distinctive with its own special character.
The Palm Spring Golf and Beach Resort ranks as one of Batam’s most popular courses with three nine-hole layouts. The Batam Hills Golf Resort has an 18-hole championship golf course designed by Pro Max Wexler. It is part of the Waterfront City development that includes housing, a marina club, campsites and cable skiing. The Clubhouse has picnic and barbecue areas, karaoke lounge, saunas, squash and tennis courts, jungle and jogging treks, and a swimming pool. Other facilities on the island include the Southlinks Country Club and the Tering Bay Golf & Country Club.
Seeing the Barelang Filsabillah Bridges is a must for any visitor to this island. The icon and pride of Batam, especially the first bridge is beautifully designed, and constructed entirely by Indonesian engineers, connecting Batam with the island of Tonton Nipah. The height of this bridge is 38 meters, and is 642 meters long. There are six bridges in all connecting Batam with Rempang and Galang to its south giving one the feeling as if the Barelang islands are one large island.
When you proceed to Galang island, here you will find the Vietnamese Refugee Camp. Here are the Ngha Trang Memorial Wall in tribute to the boat people of Vietnam , and the Galang Museum.
Another Batam feature is the Maha Vihara Duta Maitreya, one of the largest Buddhist temples in South East Asia which draws thousands of devotees and visitors daily.
At the Padepokan Seni art center in Sekupang you can see arts and crafts from all over Indonesia, as well as various kinds of performances that are staged every day for visitors and tourists. Desa Seni, is an art village built to maintain, conserve and develop Indonesian culture in Batam, and to manage a cultural institute where qualified instructors conduct various shows and courses.
For duty free shopping go to Batam’s own Nagoya , the commercial center of Batam. Here are shops, restaurants, hotels, spas, dance clubs, karaokes, cinema bars, music lounges, shopping centers and plazas. Shopping malls are available mostly in Batam are at Nagoya, Waterfront City and Batam Centre. The most popular on Batam are the DC Mall, Lucky Plaza, Centre Point, Batam Centre Mall, Robinson & Ramayana, and Megamall.
At Nagoya, the major city center of Batam, are shops, restaurants, hotels, spas, dance clubs, karaoke, cinema bars, music lounges and shopping plazas. The Lucky Plaza and Jodoh Square. have shops and boutiques selling Indonesian art and crafts, duty free goods, and branded luxury items. Nagoya at night lights up as entertainment facilities spring to life.
The easiest way to travel around in Batam is by taxi or rent a car which are best called from the hotel’s desk, or have a travel agency arrange your stay and transportation in Batam. Public buses are rare.
By Ferry to Batam:
The island of Batam has six ferry terminals, they are at Sekupang, Waterfront City, Batam Center, Harbour Bay, Nongsapura and Telaga Punggur.
Batam Center receives the most ferries from Singapore and Johor. Ferries to Harbour Bay carry passengers wishing to go to Nagoya, Batam’s business centre, while the terminals at Waterfront City and Nongsa serve mostly tourists visiting resorts. At Sekupang are ferries that ply between Batam and the main island of Sumatra and to the Karimun islands. While Telaga Punggur is the terminal for ferries plying between Batam and Tanjung Pinang on Bintan island.