Imagine the creased foreheads and raised eyebrows when people heard you say, “I went to Batam over the weekend”. I know. I was one of those people eons ago, oblivious that there’s more to Indonesia than Bali and Jakarta.
Err from the enthralling thoughts of Bali, consider this as a head’s up, Batam is a far cry from those two wonderful cities I’ve mentioned.
It is a quick escape from Singapore, that I could guarantee. But if you conceptualize your short holiday on white sand beaches and leading-edge shopping malls, Batam should be the last place to consider. Then you’re starting to wonder how I ended up going to this place, and even more baffled why I decided to blog about it. For somebody suffering from the strains of working 3 thousand miles away from home, there comes a time when you ‘re in dismal need of a respite, to bolt away from it all and make yourself whole again (that last one sounded melodramatic & it’s not my intention), so you create immediate plans and hastily settle on getting away, for the sake of getting away.
Snippets of what you should know. . .
Point of compass
Being a part of the Indonesia-Malaysia-Singapore Growth Triangle, Batam is considered as a free-port zone. It is located south of Singapore (20km away) and separated by the Riau Strait from another Indonesian island, Bintan.
Dubbed as an industrial hub, numerous factories owned by giant multinational companies could be found in Batam, and an increasingly booming shipping industry. With an estimated population of 1.2 million, this tiny island is quite bustling and is yet to be developed as a hot tourist spot.
Indonesian Rupiah (IDR)
1 IDR = approximately 0.000082 US $
1 IDR = approximately 0.00011 SG $
1 IDR = approximately 0.0037 Php
Fare table: (as of this writing)
From Harbourfrount (Batam Fast)
2-way to Batam – S$ 48
1-way to Batam – S$ 25
Also, prepare yourself in paying for additional charges they may possibly collect like system fees, terminal fees, departure fees or whatnot.
Travel time from Singapore to any of the 5 Ferry terminals within Batam should not exceed 1 hour.
The main airport in the island is Hang Nadim Airport which boasts of its long runways. International flights are currently limited to Singapore and Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur & Penang only). There are also domestic flights towards Jakarta and other major Indonesian cities.
Sop Buntut (Ox Tail Soup) with Rice
There’s a slight bitterness to its taste that initially I thought I wasn’t going to love it. But half bowl into it, oh boy, I wanted to order for another. This exemplary ox tail soup is a major home-run and perfect to dig in after a day’s tour.
Black Pepper Crab and other Fresh Seafood Dishes
It’s seafood, it’s spicy and it’s absolutely wonderful! This dish deserves to be the star on every buffet table when dining. There are two famous seafood restos in Batam: Harbor Bay & Golden Prawn. We had our buffet lunch at the latter and was somewhat satisfied on the food (and the price).
Stir-Fried Kang Kong in Sambal Sauce
Sambal is a very spicy sauce with chili peppers as main ingredient. It emits a strong flavor that makes any vegetable more challenging to eat, but worth the sweat and sting!
Spots never dare to miss. . .
The resort offers a stunning view of Singapore skyline and is situated near the Sekupang Ferry Terminal. The pool and amenities are alright, but if beach swimming is what’s on your mind, KTM should not be your choice. They actually don’t have a shoreline where you could lie down and do sunbathing, and I don’t think it’s safe enough to swim on the water. But they do have a nice outdoor pool and beachfront villas where you could relax and enjoy the sea breeze.
Also in KTM Resort you can find a small Buddhist temple with a giant white buddha called Kwan Inn Statue.
Equipped with great amenities and has 140 rooms for tourists, Turi Beach is the most famous beach resort in Batam that showcases an unexploited beauty of nature. Just like KTM Resort, beach swimming is also not possible here, but they got better pool and stunning views that will make your stay worthwhile.
Recreational activities are also being offered here and you can indulge in different water activities like jet skiing, wakeboarding, snorkeling, kayaking, etc. at relatively cheap prices. Or if you just want to experience the beauty of nature sans the water, they also have other outdoor explorations like jungle trekking and fun activities like paintball & wall climbing.
And if you just want to unwind, loosen up and wash away your worries, you could just take advantage of the scenery, take a lot of pictures (like my good friend Rizza Malonzo on the photo) while sipping your favorite cocktail or reading a good book.
Tua Pek Kong
The largest Chinese (Buddhist) temple in Batam is the Tua Pek Kong and could be found in Nagoya. It is a favorite place of worship among locals that offer prayers and candles on a daily basis.
There are many statues inside and outside the temple that devotees could visit. Guests are always welcome on the temple and is open everyday. Burn some incense sticks and utter a quiet wish for your life, health and loved ones.
Miniature Park in Golden Beach
With no entrance fee, anyone could sneak inside this tiny park that features miniature model houses from the 33 different provinces of Indonesia.
The sun was high when we went to this park, and so we never got the chance to take many photos of the model houses. Also we were only given 15 minutes by the tour guide to roam around and was merely spent on enjoying the lush area.
There is always something about the Indonesian Immigration whenever I hear stories from other travelers aiming to tour Batam, and it always involves money extortion. Instances where, allegedly, immigration officers coerce travelers to give them money in exchange of letting them in, especially to people who are just passing through and planning to go back to Singapore and extend their stay as tourists.
I am not in the position to speak ill of their government, but I believe that you don’t have to experience something first-hand for you to learn a lesson or two. So a quick reminder, make sure that you possess valid visas before hitting Indonesian borders, or you have enough proof (and bucks) that your stay in Batam is purely for travel purposes.
The safest place to exchange your dollars into Rupiah is directly in Indonesia. I have recently learned that the Indonesian government changes their circulating notes on a regular basis, meaning, the Indonesian Rupiah you have may not be valuable in the market anymore, especially if you have them exchanged in Singapore or in your own country. So spare yourself from being scammed and just wait to reach Batam before exchanging your money.
Batam Shopping Experience
Frankly, there is nothing topnotch about shopping around Batam. Why?
1. Their malls are short of the international brands that we like (except maybe for Ralph Lauren, which I think is the only international brand they have), and instead you’ll find a lot of boutiques selling terrible knock-off products. No kidding.
2. There are only 2 big (not really big) shopping malls where you can find decent spots to dine, do some souvenir hunting and walk around: The Mega Mall and Nagoya Hill.
Maybe just hold on to your money first and save them for better activities rather than spending them on shopping. Sometimes I wonder if Intellectual Property Right exists in Batam. My gosh, fake products are so rampant that for a minute you’d think you’re in China. =)
Authentic Indonesian Massage
If there is one very important thing that you should never miss out when in Batam is to try their authentic spa massages. I personally enjoyed the 1 1/2 hours of heaven I experienced when i availed the Balinese massage. For somebody who has an addiction to spa treatments, I could say that what they offer in Batam is one of the best I have had so far.
This is me enjoying a cup of ginger tea after a glorious experience on the massage table. I have to warn you though, I purposely requested for the deep muscle variety and suffered from bruises on my arms and back after a couple of days. Still, I’m doing it all over again coz I’m that crazy.
Load up with caffeine goodness and try one of Batam’s well renowned products, their Arabica Coffee. It is quite strong and will perfectly suit every coffee lover’s taste.
Where to Stay
While in Batam, we stayed at Harmoni One. It was a nice hotel, also with pool on the topmost floor. What I loved was their buffet breakfast with a combination of Indonesian, Chinese as well as American cuisine.