Singapore fades away into the horizon as another fast ferry returns us to the island of Batam in Indonesia, once again…
…to then find a way to exotic and untouched Borneo, for a month of intrepid travel exploring Kalimantan.
Apologies, the quality of the 35mm film photos are not great as photos and original negatives from 1998 are no longer in good condition.
Singapore to Pulau Batam, Indonesia
Baulking at the price of AU$400-600 return per person for a 1.5-hour flight from Singapore to Kuching, Sarawak (North Borneo), this is not the preferred destination. I hear that travelling through Kalimantan is not easy and takes too much time to get anywhere. As we only have a month left on this 4-month jaunt, valuable time would be spent travelling from the north of the island, down to Kalimantan. So, only a couple of other options are available…
A standby flight from Singapore in a couple of days for AU$68 one-way per person to Kalimantan, with a high possibility of cancellation at a moment’s notice, especially as fires have been raging since last year and smoke-filled air isn’t optimal for flights. Or the only other alternative is another ferry.
After spending 3 days of hell on a ferry trip that should have only taken 20 hours, I am hesitant to hop on another ferry just now, which is an understatement – apprehension comes to mind but it is the only option.
Reluctantly, a fast 45-minute ferry trip to Batam Island later without any glitches, and we’re back in the land of “ello Mista” and “where you go?”
Oddly, it appears that loads of locals are more interested in our travel plans than we are right now. Think we’re still recovering from the horrendous ferry trips trying to escape Indonesia on expired visas. Perhaps locals are interested because we’re foreigners.
A stay of two days and one night is enough to explore the island of Batam, especially in the heavy rain for the past couple of days. The only constructive thing so far is finding a laundry with a clothes dryer. Handing over our disgusting clothes to be washed and dried, I pity the lady handling these rags!
The sleazy Nagoya area boasts massage parlours, nightclubs, and dodgy bars – one bar I stumble across is conveniently named the ‘ore house.
Typically, the island is full of Singaporeans as not only is it a quick 45-minute ferry trip, but everything is much cheaper compared to Singapore. The island is a weekend jaunt for Singaporeans to eat plentiful cheap seafood and play golf, so I hear. Obviously, we are in the wrong area as I am yet to discover great seafood on the island, just the usual Padang food. This cuisine is pre-cooked spicy food – typically chicken with a faint green tinge – left in a glass display box under a scorching sun and in sultry heat. No wonder I am continually sick in Indonesia, although this cuisine is very tasty.
Pulau Batam to Pulau Bintan
Finally booking a flight from Batam to Pontianak (Kalimantan) including a 5% discount for a return flight, need to kill several days before the flight. How? Island-hopping on another boat trip of course!
A short half-hour ferry trip and we land in noisy Tanjung Pinang, Pulau (Island) Bintan.
To escape on a little sightseeing break from Bintan’s hustle and bustle, take a rickety boat to Pulau Penyengat.
A quick 15-minute boat trip to Pulau Penyengat as we hope to dodge some of the constant hawker badgerings – really don’t like this about Indonesia but understand that for some, this is their livelihood.
In 1998, this tiny island is surprisingly quiet considering its proximity to the capital city Tanjung Pinang, which is also part of the Indonesian province of Riau Islands.
After wandering around the uninteresting Palace of Raja Ali, the tombs of Raja Jaafar Ibni and also Raja Ali Ibani, head for the coastline. The receding tide unfolds a picturesque vista of rickety wooden houses on exposed stilts and randomly scattered forgotten boat wrecks,
Exploring along the coconut palm-covered island’s front for some time under the sultry sun and balmy heat of the day, decide to head back to the Hotel Surya – basic but not too bad for this town – for a snooze, as a storm is brewing on the horizon. Surprisingly, this hotel is still open in 2021, although the name is now the SPOT ON 2685 Hotel Surya.
Head out for some afternoon fun and adventure, taking a wooden Sampan (flat-bottomed Chinese and Malay wooden boat) up the Sungai Ular for some last-minute exploring. The reason why this waterway is named the Snake River becomes clear, with every twisting bend that the sampan skillfully navigates. Life on this watery artery is fascinating…
Not too dissimilar to the Hinchinbrook Channel in Queensland back home in Australia – secret waterways and thick jungle-like mangroves grace the banks of the river, topped with annoying mosquitoes and sandflies.
A tiny mangrove clearing exposes the occasional traditional wooden hut on stilts, protruding for air and announcing that locals exist beyond the mangroves.
Before returning to the hotel, our Sampan pulls up by an odd Buddhist Temple, which houses descriptive gory murals depicting the Chinese version of the trials of tortures and hell – charming.
Tomorrow, another island-hop on a ferry once again, this time back to Pulau Batam to take a quick flight to Borneo – Pontianak, the western side of Kalimantan. Aiming to travel from the west of the island to the east somehow, but later discover that this is the wrong way to travel. For ease of travelling and information, the heading should be from east to west…but then again, when do we ever take the easy road?