Another getaway for the weekend to our other neighbour, Indonesia. A ferry can take you to Batam island or Bintan in 45 minutes. I went to buy tickets on Friday evening at Harbourfront Mall downtown. A short train ride takes you there fast enough.
Once near the terminal you have access to many companies that provide ferry service to few destinations. I stopped at the counter of Penguin International (www.penguin.com.sg/ferryservices.htm ) which provided me with two round trip tickets to Batam Centre in Indonesia for $ 76 Sing dollars all included. It’s supposed to be $ 64, but there must be tax and hidden fees added. The two other companies offering the service are BBatam Fast Ferry and Wavemaster
The next day, we arrived at the counter of Penguin at 9:10 to finalize details. The guy at the counter was new and told us that if the smart card that enables us to gain entry to the ferry didn’t work, we would have to go back to the counter. We went to join the long boarding queue. Time flew; I hoped the card works because if it didn’t , we would never have the time to get on this boat. Once we were near the checkpoint a voice on the intercom announced that people who are bound for the next boat were to hurry to the customs inspection. Basically what’s fair queuing, just wait for the last call? Our smart card worked well, one problem solved. The customs inspection was done at lightning speed. Thanks to my wonderful Singaporean job card no problem anymore. Be sure to keep all the papers they give you at customs when entering and do not exceed your residence permit because they are tough on wrongdoers, $ 50 per day hurts.
The boat has one hundred air-conditioned seats; comfort comparable to budget aircraft carriers. The impressive architecture of ever-changing Singapore was interesting to observe from the sea. A little less than an hour later we arrived at the Batam Island Marine Terminal in Indonesia.
I have to pass the Customs counter to pay my visa fees before passing control. U.S. $ 25 for thirty days, I have no choice but to take a full month.
The history of Batam begins long ago, a Chinese colony occupied Batam islands and some other around 231 years before our era. Batam overlooking the trade shipping route east-west has seen many invaders, including English and Dutch. Batam during the War II was occupied by the Japanese, who gave the name of Nagoya to its main city.
In the 70s, the Indonesian government has undertaken a major transformation. They have largely exploited the forests for building a major port and industrial area housing a regional free trade. Located near Singapore and having a cheap labor market several Singaporean companies have established their factory on Batam island. Shipbuilding and electronics manufacturing are the major industries on the island, but there are several resort hotels and tourist attraction.
The biggest attraction are the beaches that many people say naturally preserved. The industrial and port activity on the island still has an impact on water quality and on its resort areas. There is some attraction of average importance as the old Vietnamese refugee camp and famous mosques, but nothing exceptional.
Shopping mall opposite the port terminal offers a first shelter to find a taxi, eating and of course shopping. We do not understand but there’s a reptile show, dozens of snake and lizard are exposed in fish tank. We took the opportunity to take some photos while hoping than we will not see these species in our hotel room.
We will exchange our money for local currency. Several small currency-exchange counters trying to get our attention as an agricultural fair. One Singapore dollar is equivalent to 6800 rupiah or 8500 rupiah per U.S. dollar. Not bad, the same ratio found in countries with bad economies like Laos.
We had to find a taxi to our hotel located in the centre of town, something I was not too sure about. It’s been a little scary after reading the story of Jakarta ninja by my Irish buddy. 50 000 rupiah or about $ 6 U.S. for a little less than 30 minutes of taxi. The Batam Hills Hotel …We had booked this supposedly luxury hotel online. When we arrived I noticed that the photos on the NET does not really reflect the reality. The hotel has no land, no pool or outdoor facility only parking in front of a mega shopping centre.
The hotel interior is rather dark, even in the day light. We tried to check in, but it was way too early as it was just noon. We took our light luggage (one bag each) and went exploring the surroundings. The streets are dusty; people stopped us every 5 meters to offer us a taxi or any crap possible. Kids stationed at traffic lights trying to get a few pennies from passer-bys.
We went into the mall that was packed with hundreds of handbags, perfumes of counterfeit brands. A local dude who looked very suspicious came to speak to me in his language. He then put a fruit peeler in my hand. “No no I do not want that, I got no fruit or vegetable to be peeled”, he could at least find something more practical!
I was starting to overheat, the mall, harassing taxi drivers, dusty streets under the blazing sun and dark hotel triggered in me the instinct of survival. I still forget the rule, when there was no time then you go to a place where the main attraction is the sea. You take a hotel on the beach with all facilities, you fix the transport with their shuttle who take you to the airport or terminal to the hotel, no time to lose … especially for a short weekend.
Just when we were leaving the mall, my girlfriend had the genius idea to intercept the driver of the shuttle a popular resort named Harris. Can we get into the van to go to the hotel … yes of course, no sleeping in a dark hotel. We had to get a more spacious one near the beach.
After a thirty minute drive through the island industrial countryside, we finally arrived at Harris . The hotel lobby was packed with people, some family and many groups of friends. A true atmosphere of spring break but we still try it our hotel is always a last resort.
Unfortunately for us, it was full. We took a taxi to try our luck elsewhere, the taxi driver was a bit chatty and he kept asking questions like what we liked, where would we go for dinner, what were we going to do after dinner…. “We don’t know, let’s just begin with the hotel” I told him. He made several phone calls and finally, he found us a hotel near the beach. Almost an hour later, we arrived at a large resort surrounded by golf and hotel in construction. We paid 150,000 rupiah (about $ 20 U.S.) for the ride.
The Batam View Beach Spring seemed more welcoming.
We went to the counter fingers crossed and we wonder if they have a room available .We managed to get a room for $ 160 sing. We really had no choice, it’s either this or a long taxi ride back to the city.
The hotel has a large sunny lobby. The chamber passed the test. I walked around a bit, the pool checked, the bar checked, the beach not very clean and beautiful, but CHECK anyway ….
There are many water activities available at reasonable prices and all prices are in Sing dollar, everything is based on Singaporeans tourists. The bar on the edge of the beach offers Calsberg, Tiger and Heineken for 42 000 rupiah about Sing $ 7 or $ 5 US not too bad for a Muslim resort… he he
The staffs are friendly and smiley. As I was at the beach, one of the workers climbed like a monkey up a coconut tree to harvest the fruit. He cut the fresh coconut and served it to me on my table. We had seafood in a restaurant overlooking the sea. The view of the sunset and the sound of waves offer a very pleasant atmosphere. We ordered chilli crabs and delicious fresh fish for $ 100 sing which was a little expensive, but we must live and there was no other restaurants in the area.
- -The bungalows are beautiful in front of seas with its small streets surrounded by exotic trees.
- The spa offers Balinese massage service $ 35 sing dollars for 70 minutes nice way to relax.
- I enjoyed the pool an hour before leaving for the city.
- We did some shopping. We found cell phone stores just like the ones in Laos offering Chinese mobiles called “strawberry” …. not sure of the quality …
- Store clerks followed us like vultures.
- I took the opportunity to buy a pair of BMW jeans for 149 000 rupiah, less than U.S. $ 20, LOL yes sir it’s not counterfeit 🙂
- You can find some good buys especially clothes; the rest are just a wee bit cheaper than in Singapore.
In summary, a great weekend, it’s nice to see a new country, but Batam Island offers nothing extraordinary, unless you have a great deal on a resort booked in advance. I still prefer to Desaru in Malaysia. This part of the country is poor, the value of its currency low and Muslim culture can sometimes seem unwelcoming for tourists. White = money …! Probably there are some wonderful places in Indonesia, but this island is not exceptional.