Australia to Batam, Indonesia

A couple of days have passed since leaving Australia. Destination? Batam, Indonesia via Singapore, without a plan…

Looking back, travel in June 1998 was just like a time warp, compared to travel decades later in 2020.

Must apologise for the lack of photos in this post. This first leg of travel was a long trip without time for sight-seeing.

A little background

In May 1998, Indonesia experienced racial violence and riots against Chinese Indonesians, which left an estimated 1,000 people dead. Though, many more underlying issues such as lack of jobs and food also fuelled racial tension.

With flights already booked and no real travel plan in place, the path is laid open. New choices. New adventures. The desire to explore a new country smothers any apprehension from the conflicts in Indonesia, so decide to travel.

Australia to Singapore

But first, the long drive from Brisbane to get to Sydney Airport.

Driving Brisbane to Sydney, Australia, Oceania

Driving over 900-kilometres from Brisbane to Sydney along the long uneventful highway that cuts the eastern coast of Australia north and south, we arrive at Sydney Airport.

Expansive Sydney airport seems a lot bigger than when I was here last in 1989 – everything changes.

Egypt Air

Finding the check-in counter for Egypt Air, an endless queue of Arabs confirms this is the correct line for the painless check-in.

A non-alcohol plane, the very few westerners on this aeroplane are handed small plastic bags containing bottles of alcohol while boarding the Boeing 777. Our free bounty includes 3 bags, each of 6 travel-sized spirit bottles and wine but can collect more if needed!

Settling in for the not-so-long 8-hour flight, the surly flight attendants ignoring the boisterous and excited children, provide a good service, nonetheless.

Toilets are nauseatingly smelly and gross. Only one inflight video is on offer, for the duration of the flight. Remember those? How times have changed!

Imagine the revolution today, flying without full inflight entertainment – offering a plethora of movies, TV series, audio selections, and of course, USB charging points at your seat!

Landing in Singapore

Flight Sydney, Australia, Oceania to Singapore, South East Asia

Arriving in steaming Singapore at the ungodly hour of 02:30am, a wall of humidity hits you on leaving the airport – instantly, clothes slide dripping with sweat.

Buses don’t start until 06:00am and the MRT (train) until 05:30am. So, what do you do for 4 hours in a new city, during morning twilight hours?

Share a cab with a couple of other lost travellers, taking in the sights of soaring high-rises along the pristine clean streets of Singapore to the MRT. Passing only a couple of souls along the way, we wait for the city to awaken from its slumber. Need to continue on the next leg of this long sleepless journey.

Singapore to Batam

Sultry Singapore slowly comes to life as we make our way by train then a bus, to the bustling Harbourfront Centre ferry terminal. Should you feel the need, apparently it takes around an hour to drive from one side of Singapore to the other. Public transport is pretty efficient on the island, so settle on this to get us around.

With not-so-optimal mobile devices or technology back in 1998, travel information is hard to get your hands on. Especially the further you venture, leaving large cities behind. Asking locals questions seems to be one way to make headway.

Have you noticed that no matter where in the world you are, people travelling on public transport early in the morning, look solemn and grumpy?

Buying tickets

Beware of wheeler and dealers at the ferry terminal.

Tried to buy tickets on the 45-minute “fast cat” at one of the ticket booths. The lady took one of our passports and proceeded racing up the stairs. I get too nervous when someone takes my passport. So, we run after her and get the passports’ back.

Apparently, once you hand over your passport, you’re obliged to buy the ticket from that seller. At SG$3 per ticket extra, decide to buy the cheaper SG$13 tickets. The Australian and Singapore dollars are equal, so anything is a saving, to stay travelling longer.

The ferry ride

Ferry from Singapore to Batam, Indonesia, South East Asia

Boarding the ferry with loads of locals, we steam ahead at the promised fast speed.

Singapore slides away as we pass dozens of large iron container ships at anchor, in the small busy harbour.

Pristine white high-rises emerge from lush green hills in the fading distance, as the ferry slips past small islets dotting the waterway. And, announcing that we’re nearing Indonesia’s Pulau Batam – only a stone’s throw away.

Pulau Batam

On arrival, prepare to be swamped by intrusive taxi and Becak (pedicab) drivers, vying for your cash.

Everyone has to make a living, so stay calm and politely decline, if you don’t feel comfortable. You can’t blame locals really and try not to be abrasive, as the Asian culture is very different from ours.

Wandering around until finding the boat to Sumatra’s Dumai, cars toot and locals on bikes ask if we want a lift. We definitely look like tourists and can’t hide – might need to robe up.

A little on Batam

Batam Island, Indonesia, SE Asia

Batam’s history dates back to 231AD when the island was first inhabited by Malays. Petroleum logistics started in the 1960s.

Although the largest city in the Riau Islands, Batam seems very poor, which is surprising as there’s oil on this island.

As usual, the wealth never seems to filter down to everyone or trickle down to even the poorest. Only 20-kilometres from Singapore’s south coast, the richness and modernity of Singapore is a stark contrast to Batam’s poverty.

Escaping the riots’ backlash

Landing in Indonesia a month after the riots in June, the vibe is still tense and raw. So, decide to bypass Java for a while and start travelling in the north of Sumatra, before heading slowly south. Mainly to escape any potential backlash of the previous month’s dangerous civil unrest, especially as pasty white foreign travellers.

Wanting to steer as far away from Jakarta and big cities for a month or so until the angry mood diffuses and calms down, decide on a bus to Medan in Sumatra’s north. Even though Medan was also a hotspot centre for the riots, two months previously.

We make travel plans up on the fly. To be honest, there really isn’t a plan. Though, I would love to get up close to an Orangutan at some point.

Check back next week for the next Indonesian instalment…

Visit Nilla’s Photography for more global images. More posts at Image Earth Travel.

Gunung Pengsong Temple, Lombok, Indonesia, SE Asia
Gunung Pensong, Lombok (Photo credit: Colin Palmer)



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38 responses to “Australia to Batam, Indonesia”

  1. wetanddustyroads Avatar

    What an adventure … even more so back in 1998!
    Funny to read about Egypt Air – we have flown with them in March this year from South Africa to Egypt (and then Covid-19 happened and we had to move heaven and earth to get back to South Africa in time before all borders closed 😳) … long story to get to what I actually want to say: They don’t hand out those bags with liquor anymore – it’s a “dry” flight now. And their inflight entertainment is non existent (there are small tv sets, but most of them are not working) … so yeah, not much has changed with them since 1998 🤨

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      I was surprised when the flight attendant handed the small alcohol bags on boarding the plane. Interesting it’s a “dry” flight nowadays, but really not surprising.
      Was hoping the the airline improved over the decades but from what you say, it hasn’t.

  2. Geri Lawhon Avatar

    My fiance visited Singapore last February, and he said for now (once the ships start running again) that seems to be the best way to see it.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hi Geri,
      Sounds like a great time to visit many countries if we can…imagine the photos?
      Appreciate your feedback.

  3. Ace Vision Nepal Avatar

    Good to hear to see your travel post during Covid pandemic, Thank you for sharing your Informative post, Here is some Travel Information to Nepal, Kindly visit us

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      This is travel from 1998 as I’m digitising all my travel journals. 🙂
      Visited your site! Many thanks for leaving a comment.

  4. Mimi's Travel File Avatar

    As a visual person, I was expecting to be bored by your post, since you said at its beginning that it would contain no photos. But, surprise, I loved your post! Your words brought the place alive. The map and history were great additions. (Note to self: I must remember to include maps in my travel blog!) I am so curious to read your next installment!

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hey Mimi,
      Thank you for the lovely feedback and so happy that I didn’t make my post boring! 😉 I love maps, so this is why I include so many.

      My scanned photos are poor quality and I don’t like post-production so makes it even worse.

      I have another instalment coming out tonight, although I’ve published several others already that you may like to read:
      The Long Road from Batam to Dumai, Indonesia
      Dumai to Bukit Lawang, Sumatra
      Sultry Bukit Lawang, Sumatra

      Thanks again for taking the time to comment.


  5. Poorwa Vishwakarma Avatar

    Hi Nilla. I’ve nominated you for the liebster award. Here’s the link of my post…

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hey Poorwa,
      Many thanks for nominating Image Earth Travel for the Liebster Award – very humbled. Although, after much deliberation, I’ll have to decline in taking part in (this would be my 5th Liebster Award) as I just don’t have the time right now.
      Thanks again from nominating my blog and congratulations! 🙂
      All the best,

      1. Poorwa Vishwakarma Avatar

        Hi, and no problem. I understand you’d be busy. Thank you for your support.

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Cool, thank you!
        Are your questions the same as Divya’s?

      3. Poorwa Vishwakarma Avatar

        They aren’t same, I’ve prepared different questions for each nominee.

      4. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Ah right, I didn’t your questions, so you send them through individually – great idea Poorwa! 🙂

      5. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        You’re very welcome! 🙂

  6. karenincalabria Avatar

    Wow, some story. Interesting about the little liquor bottles in the plastic bag. It’s sort of like getting the “special meal” in reverse.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Ha, ha, that’s funny!
      I haven’t flown Egypt Air since, so not sure if its changed it’s alcohol policy. Have you ever flown with this airline?

      1. karenincalabria Avatar

        No, the only time I flew a non-American or European airline was Air India to London once. I was young and remember being amazed at the stewardesses in their saris, the Indian food and accordion doors on the bathrooms, but what made the biggest impression was all the jewelry the passengers were wearing.

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Great story!
        I know what you mean. The jewellery depicts wealth and status so the more, the better. As does being fat in SE Asia, this also depicts wealth so a fat child is a good sign. Maybe times have changed a little since a couple of decades, but not so sure. 😉

  7. Christie Avatar

    Another piece of your amazing journey🙂 Quite different than today’s ways LOL
    I had to laugh when you mentioned people being grumpy early in the morning. Who can blame them, sometimes I have to have a second coffee in the morning to be able to talk HAHAHA
    take care, xxx

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Ha, ha, know what you mean but I’m like that when I need to go to work, not when travelling. 😉
      Yes, travel back in 1998 was so different and think it was more adventurous (I may get a caning for this) it’s much easier to travel these days.
      Hope all is well with you? x

      1. Christie Avatar

        LOL indeed, I was referring to the day to day life, I still need to make my living, have not won the lottery🙂 .. yet!!

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Ha, ha, neither have I! It would help if I played it though… 😉

      3. Christie Avatar

        Hahaha, same here!!!

  8. Puzzles of the Soul Avatar

    Oh brave ones traveling at this time of unrest. Though according to a friend it can be the best and quiet time to travel in a country. Looking forward to reading more.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hi Nanette,
      This travel was in 1998. I’m starting to digitise decades of travel journals. Hope that the time of travel still makes it interesting.
      Take care…

  9. Maurodigital Avatar

    Very Interesting✌🏻

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you!
      Have you visited to Indonesia? I ended up spending 4 months travelling there so many stories to share yet…

      1. Maurodigital Avatar

        No, my travel experience is only inside Europe…if my blog helps me to make money, maybe I can go there and visit those places!

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Excellent! Good luck with your blog. 🙂

      3. Maurodigital Avatar


      4. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        You’re very welcome! 🙂

  10. Poorwa Vishwakarma Avatar

    You know I always wait for your new post every week because I like your journeys a lot. Take care Nilla!

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hi Poorwa,
      That’s so sweet of you to say and very happy that you enjoy my posts.
      I hope this section of travel is still interesting even though Indonesia was in 1998. I have many travel journals I’m starting to digitise. 🙂
      Best wishes and take care also…

      1. Poorwa Vishwakarma Avatar

        Take care Nilla! Stay safe and healthy.

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Thank you and you too!

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