While Pulau Bangka & Pulau Belitung are rather known among the Indonesian tourists, a little further north, there is another tropical paradise much-loved by international tourists, scuba divers and beach bums – Riau. Within the eyesight of Singapore, Malaysia and Borneo, the Riau Islands are often visited by rich Singaporean and Malay holidaymakers – and that only indicates this would not be a place for budget travellers.
The archipelagos of Bangka-Belitung & Riau are hidden gems of Sumatra and tranquil vacation hubs that offer a wonderful escape from the hustle and bustle of Jakarta and Singapore.
THE BANGKA-BELITUNG ARCHIPELAGO
Situated off the coast of South Sumatra, right between the Java and South China Seas, the magnificent Bangka Belitung Islands comprise of two large islands – Bangka and Belitung and numerous small offshore islands and islets.
For being part of Indonesia, Bangka-Belitung once was a Dutch colony, and their colonial heritage is still quite evident in towns and villages.
WHAT TO DO ON BANGKA & BELITUNG ISLANDS
The granite boulders are a major attraction, and the striking scenery somehow resembles Seychelles. Fantastic scuba diving, snorkelling, swimming, sailing and yachting in the islands is guaranteed.
The best way to explore the archipelago is ‘island hopping’ – renting a water taxi allows you to be dropped off and picked up anywhere you like – search around the boulders, hidden coves, sandbars and villages around the islands.
The active ones will definitely enjoy the islands` national parks, including Batu Mentas (the endangered Tarsius primate) and the picturesque on Belitung Island, where they can have a refreshing swim after some jungle trekking.
You should definitely pay a visit to one of the fisherman villages along the coast. You can arrange an eco-tour at your guesthouse or hotel – the local children are very friendly!
POPULAR BEACH LOCATIONS
Bangka-Belitung beaches and growing infrastructures have recently attracted both the local and international tourists from around the world.
Bangka Island is popular with holidaymakers who look for relaxing, and the most popular beaches are Pasir Padi, Matras, Parai Tenggiri, Tanjung Pesona, Rambak, Teluk Limau, Teluk Uber, Tanjung Penyusuk, Tanjung Kalian and Tanjung Kerasak.
Belitung Island is rather known for scuba diving, snorkelling, fishing and sailing at Tanjung Kiras, Tanjung Pendam, Tanjung Tinggi, Tanjung Kelayang Beach, Tanjung Binga, Panyaeran Beach, Tanjung Kubu, Teluk Gembira and Tanjung Ru Beach.
There are fabulous offshore islets and sandbars near Belitung easily accessible by a boat from any resort.
ESSENTIAL EXPERIENCES ON BANGKA-BELITUNG
HOW TO GET THERE
BY AIR: Bangka Belitung Islands are well connected to the rest of Indonesia by air. There are frequent flights to Jakarta/Java (1 hr flight). From Sumatra, you can depart from Palembang or Riau Islands (2 hr flight).
BY BOAT: The cheapest option (often used by locals) is a day/overnight Pelni ship (10-11 hours) which is super cheap but extremely slow and basic or a speedboat from Palembang to Mentok for your comfort (Bahara Express, 3-4 hours).
The tiny archipelago of Riau includes thousands of islands, isles and islets scattered in bunches across the shallow, aquamarine waters of the Chinese Sea and the Indian Ocean. Having been a popular junction for pirates and traders as well as a part of the Riau-Johor and Sulu Sultanates, followed by the Dutch East Indies, the Riu Islands feature a very interesting cultural blend.
Within the eyesight of Sumatra, Singapore, Malaysia and Borneo, the islands are often visited by rich Singaporean and Malay holidaymakers, which indicates that there is a great deal of luxury to be expected. The good thing is, however, that the Riau Islands can be as expensive (and often even overpriced) as super basic and cheap… it solely depends on the island of your choice.
MAJOR BEACH RESORTS
The Riau Islands province is the second most popular vacation area in Indonesia (right after Bali). With well-developed tourist infrastructure and upscale beach resorts, the archipelago provides top facilities, with the major beach locations at Melur Beach, Abang Island and Nongsa Beach in Batam city, Pelawan Beach in Karimun, Lagoi Beach, Tanjung Berakit Beach, Trikora Beach, Bintan Leisure Park in Bintan and Natuna.
WHAT TO DO ON RIAU ISLANDS
The foremost activities in the Riau Islands are recreation, water sports, swimming, scuba diving, snorkelling. Eco-tourism has been increasingly popular as well as cycling, jungle trekking and extreme backpacking.
The visitors can find here both seclusion & luxury and extreme adventure. In addition to coastal beauty, Riau Islands promote other points of interest, including culture tours, ancient tombs, religious landmarks, traditional villages, dance performances and festivals.
CHOOSE YOUR RIAU-ISLAND ESCAPE
Some of the Riau Islands are within eyesight of downtown Singapore, while others are hundreds of kilometres away, literally in the middle of nowhere.
There are 5 major island regions to choose from: Bintan and Batam and the closest to the Malay Peninsula and the nearby Lingga and Karimun Islands are situated off Sumatran coast while the Tudjuh Archipelago (Anambas, Netuna, Tambelan, Badas) have Borneo in their near distance.
1.BINTAN ISLAND (FOR LUXURY AND CULTURE)
The favourite weekend-away for most of the Singaporeans with outstanding tourism development, sightseeing, water sports activities and recreation. Tanjung Pinang is the capital city, with plenty of luxurious tourist resorts along the coast (the most visited and expensive island), snorkelling, scuba diving (sea turtles).
Major attractions are: Penyengat Island (tombs of national heroes Raja Haji Fisabilillah and Raja Ali Haji), 500 Luohan Temple (impressive Chinese temple), Mount Bintan (trekking, views), Bintan Desert/Sand Dunes (Gurun Pasir Bintan & Telaga Biru).
TO GET THERE: from Singapore by ferry (45 min-1 hr depending on the part of the island), or from any other Indonesian/Malaysian city by air (international airport).
2.BATAM ISLAND (FOR LUXURY AND BOATING)
The nearest island to Singapore with lots of resorts and fast-growing tourism (shopping malls, spas, restaurants, sightseeing, various tours), great snorkelling, scuba diving, swimming, sailing, yachting, recreation.
Major attractions are: Berelang Bridge, Pulau Abang, Vietnam Village, mosques, temples, beaches.
TO GET THERE: from Singapore by ferry (45 min), or from any other Indonesian/Malaysian city by air (international airport).
3.LINGGA & SINGKEP (FOR OUTDOORS AND UNDERWATER WORLD)
Just off the coast of Sumatra, the favourite islands for cyclists (little traffic), placid coastline, good snorkelling and diving, quiet villages, fresh seafood, less developed – more authentic, good for outdoor lovers, active people, independent travellers (rent a motorbike and explore the island independently).
Major attractions are: Dabo (the main city with nice markets and temples), Pasir Panjang Beach, fishing villages of Kedo & Kelume, Cibia Island (typical of granite boulders).
TO GET THERE: from Bintan, Batam or Singapore by ferry (3-6 hrs).
4. BERHALA ISLAND (FOR PHOTOGRAPHY AND UNDERWATER WORLD)
Visually similar to Bangka Belitung, Pulau Berhala is a pristine island off the Jambi coast with terrific scenery, known for sea turtles. Granite boulders, lush rainforest, turquoise shallows and radiant corals make it an excellent spot for photographers & scuba divers who fancy unusual destinations with no tourism development.
Major attractions are: traditional villages, boat tours, jungle trekking, sea turtles, wreck diving, snorkelling (bring your own equipment).
TO GET THERE: from Medan by bus to Sei Rampah (Serdang Bedagai port, 1 hr), hire a traditional boat to Pulau Berhala (5 hrs). Otherwise from any other nearby Riau islands (Bintan, Batam).
5. TUJUH ARCHIPELAGO (ADVENTURE/OFF THE BEATEN TRACK)
Nearest islands to Borneo, extremely remote, poor tourist infrastructure but man-untouched, tribal villages, extraordinary natural beauty, uninhabited islands, pristine beaches, corals and equatorial jungles.
Anambas, Tambelan, Badas & Natuna Islands are destinations for the independent travellers and they offer wonderful eco-tourism, snorkelling, scuba diving and extreme jungle trekking.
Anambas Islands – Air Terjun Temburun (Tarempa’s 7-stage waterfall), former Vietnamese refugee island of Pulau Kuku, Gunung Dewa Siantan Temple & Jamik Mosque (in Tarempa), Tarempa`s fishmarket.
For underwater activities, diving and snorkelling go to Pulau Penjalin, Pulau Ayam, Pulau Air Asuk, Pulau Mengkait, Pulau Temawan, Pulau Durai and Anambas’s showpiece – Pulau Bawah.
TO GET THERE: fly from Tanjung Pinang to Matak Airport in Anambas.
Natuna Islands – secluded beaches, pristine nature, independent snorkelling & scuba diving at Natuna Besar, Pulau Sedanau, Kampung Seberit and Pulau Senua (bring your own snorkelling or diving gear).
The highlight is Ranai`s Alif Stone Park – a breathtaking boulders collection along the beach, sea turtles – it is said that there are more sea turtles than people living on the islands!
TO GET THERE: fly from Tanjung Pinang & Batam to Natuna Besar Airport in Ranai.
Badas Islands & Tambelan – the furthest islands off the Indonesian coast, the most isolated and difficult to reach, equatorial location, near Borneo (West Kalimantan), great diving at its offshore islands Pulau Badas, Pulau Benua, Pulau Pejantan, Pulau Mendarik or Pulau Uwi.
TO GET THERE: from Pontianak/West Kalimantan by local Pelni Ship, 6 hrs or from Tanjung Pinang/Bintan in 16 hours.
WHEN TO TRAVEL
The dry season in the Riau Islands generally runs between June and October, depending on the island. That is a time of a year when waters are clear and skies bright.
HOW TO GET HERE
Fly to Singapore
For all international flights go to www.momondo.com or www.skyscanner.com
For all domestic flights check out Garuda Indonesia, Lion Air, Susi Air and Sriwijaya Air
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