Riau Archipelago : The Tropical Paradise in Sumatra

Riau Archipelago with Tanjung Pinang as the capital is blessed with a lot potential tourism objects, beautiful beaches and cultural attractions.

Its waters are the backyard of native seafaring nomads who fish and trade for a living. Their traditional wooden sailing craft’s, called pinisi still manage to pass the forested channels of these islands, along with other indigenous craft’s fishing vessels and cargo ships. Tanjung Pinang lies on the largest island of Bintan archipelago. Once known as Riau, it was the heart of an ancient Malay kingdom. Today, Bintan is the latest hot spot of development in Indonesias surging economy.

The riau archipelago, Sumatra
The riau archipelago, Sumatra (Source : far-horizon.com)

A master plan is underway to turn it into a major tourist destination. Barely an hour away from Singapore by ferry, tourist accommodation begins to take advantage  from its strategic location. It consists of Riau Archipelago, Natuna Islands and Anambas Archipelago. Originally part of Riau Province, Riau Archipelago was split off as a separate Province in July 2004 with Tanjung Pinang as its capital. Anambas Archipelago, located between mainland Malaysia and Borneo were attached to the new province. By population, the most important islands in this area are are Bintan, Batam and Karimun. Size wise, however, the sparsely populated Natuna Islands are larger.

Map - Riau Archipelago
Map – Riau Archipelago (Source : indonesia.travel)

Riau Archipelago with its thousands of island has plenty of scenic beaches and diving spots, among them Trikora on Bintan and Pasir Panjang on Rupat Island. The first is about 50 kilometers south of Tanjung Pinang on the eastern side of the island. Pasir Panjang, on the northern side of Rupat facing to Malacca Strait has natural beaches and they are also found on Terkulai and Soreh islands, about an hours distance by boat from Tanjung Pinang. One of the most popular beaches is Nongsa on Batam Island. From here one can see the Singapore skyline.

Batam city
Batam city (Source : hotels.com)

Batam is one of the 3,000 islands, which make up the Riau Archipelago and is closest to Singapore, which is only 20 km away or twenty minutes by air-conditioned ferry. It has a rapid-growing population of around 100.000. As the island develops into a major industrial and tourist area, it attracts an ever-increasing population from other Indonesian islands who see Batam as a haven of opportunity. Once almost uninhabited, save for a few scattered fishing communities, Batam’s history took a sharp turn beginning 1969, when it became support base for the State-owned Pertamina oil company and its offshore oil exploration. In 1971 a presidential decree designated it as an industrial area and in 1975 the Batam Authority was formed. In 1978 Batam was established as a bonded area.

In addition to the oil support industries of Batu Ampar and a fast growing electronics industry, Batam now attracts increasing numbers of tourists. Many come from Singapore for a short holiday with friends and family, duty-free shopping and great seafood. The visitors to Singapore hope over for a day or weekend trip.

International standard hotels and numerous economy establishments cater to the expanding demand for accommodation. Business, as they say, is booming. An island two-thirds the size of Singapore, Batam progresses by leaps and bounds. Where virgin jungle once stood are now whole new towns, mosques, churches, temples and supermarkets, soon to be followed by reservoirs with enough water to supply a population of 800,000 and for industrial use, an airport-to become an international gateway, a fine telecommunication system, well equipped industrial parks and the beginnings of a large new urban center.

ENTRY POINTS

Riau Island can easily be reached by air or  sea from Jakarta and Pekanbaru directly. Batam and Bintan have international shiplines and flight. It is only 45 minutes away from Singapore by ferry.

HISTORY

From Sriwijaya era until the 16th century, Riau was a part of greater Malay kingdoms or sultanates, in the heart of what is often called the ‘Malay World’, which stretches from eastern Sumatra to Borneo. The Malay-related Orang Laut tribes inhabited the islands and formed the backbone of most Malay kingdoms from Sriwijaya to the Sultanate of Johor for the control of trade routes going through the straits. After the fall of Melaka in 1511, Riau islands became the center of political power of the mighty Sultanate of Johor or Johor – Riau, based on Bintan island, and were considered the center of Malay culture.

But history changed the fate of Riau as a political, cultural or economic center when European powers struggled to control the regional trade routes and took advantage of political weaknesses within the sultanate. Singapore Island, that had been for centuries part of the same greater Malay kingdoms and sultanates, and under direct control of Sultan of Johor, came under British control. The creation of a European-controlled territory in Johor-Riau heart natural boundaries broke the sultanate into two parts, destroying the cultural and political unity that had existed for centuries. The Anglo-Dutch treaty of 1824 consolidated this separation, with the British controlling all territories north of the Singapore Strait and Dutch controlling territories from Riau to Java.

After the European powers withdrew from the region, the new independent governments had to reorganize and find balance after inheriting 400 years of colonial boundaries. Before finding their current status, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei and Borneo territories struggled and even came into military conflict against each other, and Riau islands once again found themselves in the middle of regional struggle. But the once strong cultural unity of the region with Riau never returned, and the line drawn by the British in 1819 remained, this time marking the divide between three new countries as of 1965: Singapore, the Malaysian federation in the north and Indonesia in the south. These new countries, however, recreated unity in Riau world for the first time after 150 years with the creation of the Sijori Growth Triangle.

But while bringing back some economical wealth to Riau, the Sijori Growth Triangle somewhat  broke the cultural unity within the islands. With Batam island receiving most of the industrial investments and dramatically developing into a regional industrial center, it attracted hundred of thousands of non-Malay Indonesian migrants, changing forever the demographic balance in the archipelago.

Today the name of Riau merely refers to this administrative region of Indonesia, a free trade zone heavily supported by Indonesian, Singaporean and international investments.

CUISINE

Renowned for its freshl ingredients and Malay-influenced cuisine, Riau Islands offer fabulous places to eat for sea food lovers.

PEOPLE AND CULTURE

Malay people who inhabit Riau Islands are renowned for their hospitality and warm welcome. However due to the economical and opportunity increases in certain islands, many people try to seek their fortune here thus creating Riau Islands as melting pot for various ethnic groups and races.

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