Recently we have returned from an island called Batam, which is part of Indonesia, and is just a short 40 minutes’ ferry trip away from Singapore.
We booked our tickets with BatamFast and after a short while were already approaching the coast of Batam.
Before going there we tried researching the top attraction places, but mainly saw articles about the discounted shopping opportunities that Singaporeans greatly enjoy. It wasn’t our goal, though, so we decided to just wing it.
So here are our lessons and observations about the whole trip.
Take taxi everywhere
Although there is some controversy around this, we used a taxi service app Grab for all our rides. It’s so much cheaper than regular taxi. When we just arrived to the terminal, we made a mistake by choosing to walk to our hotel. 25 minutes is not that long, right? Wrong! It was already middle of the day and the temperatures were soaring above 30 °C. So lesson number one – if it takes more than 5 minutes to walk to your chosen destination – use a taxi! For these 25 minutes from hell we would’ve paid approximately 1,5 SGD for a Grab ride. But be aware that local taxi drivers are very unhappy about the Grab drivers taking their customers.
We were relieved that we hadn’t googled more about the situation before going there. While being in Batam we had just one confrontation with an upset co-op taxi driver who told us to leave the shopping mall area and get a Grab somewhere else. By law Grab cannot pick people up from the most touristy areas, like, ferry terminal, shopping malls, supermarkets, etc., but since these “no pick-up zones” are not clearly marked out, it can get very confusing. Later we figured out that normally bus stops is a safe bet.
Other than that the locals were very chilled and welcoming, just have a look at this worker cruising home after a long day at work.
Don’t drink tap water
Although theoretically it is supposedly fine to drink water straight from the tap, there is absolutely no reason to risk. Get a bottled water from any shop, it costs pennies.
Try all sorts of food
When choosing places where to eat, check online reviews. The choices are never-ending but not all of them have the highest hygiene standards so reviews will guide you to the right choice.
One of our favourite places was Anchor Cafe & Roastery, they are rumoured to be the greatest cafe in Batam and from what we saw and tasted – spot on! Their avocado toasty was easily the tastiest toasty we have ever had! It seems very mediocre at first, but all you need is that first bite to prove you wrong.
After we found this place, we had breakfast there every morning and were devastated to discover that they are closed on Mondays. That cinnamon bun, that we were planning to order next, is still haunting us in our dreams.
The other place worth mentioning but for different reasons was Teras Cafe. We had a special occasion to celebrate – our 6 months wedding anniversary, so the focus for that particular dinner was to find a place that is nice and romantic. Also – we wanted to have Western food. Teras Cafe is all that! We had the upper floor all to ourselves, the setting was dimmed and romantic, and the waitresses were extremely accommodating. Loved it! Steaks were 7 out of 10 but we left satisfied nonetheless.
A lot of places are closed on Mondays
To our surprise, the most challenging day of our trip was Monday. A lot of places were closed for some reason. Our guess was that it’s maybe due to the fact that a lot of people are going back to Singapore on Sundays? If you know why it is so, please leave it in the comments. We would love to know the real reason behind this.
Batam is still developing its status as popular tourism location
The tourists in Batam seem to be primarily Indonesians, Malaysians, Chinese and Singaporeans. So it didn’t come as a surprise that we as Westerners attracted a bit more attention than usual. Locals were curious about us, especially when we chose to visit a beach that was off the beaten path. No one was interrupting us enjoying the view and exploring the fascinating world of tiny crab babies who were turning the beach into a Swiss cheese. Everyone was looking at us, but no-one approached. It was only when we came back to the nearby road and were waiting for a taxi, that people started coming to us and saying that they would love to have a selfie with us. Language barrier made it a bit awkward but it was clear that they meant no harm and were just curious about people who look different than what they are used to see.
Choose your holiday clothes carefully, especially if you’re a female
Islam is the main religion in the country and people are used to ladies being covered up. It took us two full days to realise that I stand out from the crowd with my various summer spaghetti strap dresses. It just shows how tolerant the locals are. I didn’t see any dirty looks or feel any abuse, but I did feel awkward and wanted to cover up.
Same goes for swimsuits. During the whole trip we didn’t see any skimpy dressed Instagram influencers flaunting everything they have in a barely-there swimsuits. People were enjoying themselves by the beach in long-sleeve tops and shorts, a lot of ladies went swimming in their Islamic clothing, like burqa or hijab.
Find less touristy beaches
Beaches on the main Batam island tend to be very crowded and loud so we wanted to go a bit further away and find a beautiful beach that most of the tourists would consider too far to go to. Vio Vio beach was exactly that!
The beach is located on Galang island and you will need to cross a couple of scenic bridges to get to it. The entrance fee is 10,000 IDR per person and 5000 IDR for parking even if you arrive in a taxi. The beach was clean and nicely maintained with public toilets and showers. The way to the beach was a bit nerve wrecking since you need to go up the hilly road, the slope there was over 45 degrees so it was thrilling and scary at the same time.
They have a small cafe there, a bar, lots of huts you can rent out for the whole day, banana boat ride, several swings, some even in the middle of the sea, heart-shaped photo places and beautiful nature surrounding it all.
Our fantastic beachy day turned sour when we tried to get back to our hotel. We initially came with a taxi and that was probably a bit reckless from our side. We soon discovered that there was no network connection on our phones so it was impossible to book a taxi, and they didn’t have any waiting around near the beach. Luckily the locals and tourists were extremely nice and in an hour or so we were on our way back towards the Batam centre.
Head over to Barelang bridge for sunset
On our way back to the centre we stopped at one of the most popular tourist locations – Barelang bridge. It is actually a chain of six bridges, but the main attraction point is the cable-stayed bridge with official name of Fisabilillah bridge but just for the ease of it everybody keeps calling it Barelang (an abbreviation of connected islands of Batam, Rempang, and Galang).
We got there at around 4.30pm and it was already swamped with people taking selfies or even having a full blown photo shoots. More clever sales people had small printers mounted on the backs of their bikes for the ease of delivering print-outs. It would’ve been nicer to be there for sunset but we were tired and just wanted to get home. If we were ever to return – just before 6pm is the time to be there.
Get a layered cake
Before we went on our mini holiday, we were advised to try this famous Indonesian delicacy – a layer cake. Soon we discovered that it can be found in every shopping mall, ferry terminal and random small shops on the streets. What’s nice is that the prices are usually the same everywhere. We had some sample bites and unanimously voted that prune cake stood out as a clear winner. It was sweet enough, moist enough… Funny enough – the company is called LaMoist. We found it to be thoroughly entertaining.
Plan, plan, plan
The country is not ready yet for tourism at a big scale therefore there are limited touristy places with interesting stuff to do. Our plan of winging it backfired so we warmly suggest doing more thorough research and booking some day-tours or attractions beforehand.
Overall we had no expectations and with that we enjoyed our short trip to Batam. We had lots of good food, explored lesser known areas and got an insight into the local culture.
Have fun and be kind!
Once you come back, let us know how was your experience :)