Batam Island Rundown
Inordinate financial clout, a hot economy in hyperdrive and a stamp of approval by the World Bank as the best place in the world to do business have untold repercussions on a country as small as Singapore and, indeed, on every other country in the neighbourhood. To wit, the city-state’s maturation as major global financial capital has had significant echo effects in both Malaysia and Indonesia. One of the most superficial yet notable examples is Batam.
The free trade island in Riau Islands Province, Indonesia, much like Johor Bahru, Malaysia, is a de facto annex of Singapore and a quasi-holiday target some 20 km from Sentosa. In the not too distant past, Batam was largely unadulterated, with a small, subsistence population and lush, old growth forests. The events of the last three decades, however, mirror the rapid growth and development of many other islands in the South China Sea.
So while the tale of Batam is not necessarily novel, the island’s appeal to scores of weary nine-to-fivers from the Lion City is. After all, land is hard to come by in Singapore and with a population that shows no sign of regression, those that can afford it tend to look elsewhere for diversion and leisure. Batam is a convenient and obvious spot, most significantly as the low-cost labour supply in the SIJORI (Singapore, Johor Bahru, Riau Islands) Growth Triangle. The best resorts on the island are at Waterfront City and Nongsa and duly pamper weekend getaway types. Batam will never be Bali but for those keen to make a tropical dash from Singapore, the island is a decent bet.
It is important to stress, however, that what defines Batam is a role as both gateway to and from Sumatra and base for expats in the employ of multinationals. As such, the island is not rife with tourist attractions in the traditional sense. Golf, casinos and wanton nightlife form a bona fide unholy trinity of sorts on the island of 1 million people.
Batam Island History
- Tanjung Uma – The oldest fishing village on the island has traditional wooden row houses.
- Adhi Vinayakar Temple – The largest Hindu temple on Batam Island and located in the Sei Ladi Hills.
- Vietnamese Refugee Camp – Located on nearby Galang Island, this camp was in use from 1976-95 and has been preserved as a tourist attraction.
- Tua Pek Kong Temple – This famous Buddhist temple is popular with locals.
- Tumenggung Abdul Jamal’s Tomb – Resides a descendant of the Bugis family who ruled the area in the 18th century.
Batam Island Art & Culture
- Mak Yong Sampan Kolek Theater – See traditional Indonesian dancing and drama unique to Batam Island.
- Padepokan Seni Art Centre – Arts and crafts from all over Indonesia, plus many types of performances. Located in Sepukang.
- Parade Gebyar and Culture Nusantara – A parade and display of culture from all over Indonesia. Held in December.
- Desa Seni – This Indonesian art village seeks to advocate and preserve Indonesian culture.
- National Flora Flori Week – Held annually in July, this week-long event includes a flower arranging competition, bird singing contest and an ornamental horticultural parade.
Batam Island City Shopping
- Nagoya Hill Mall – Opened in 2007, this modern Batam Island mall offers three floors of specialty shops, ranging from electronics to handicrafts.
- Batam City Square – This large shopping centre has shops selling brand-name clothing and shoes, accessories and jewellery.
- Centre Point Mall – This central mall features spas, salons, a supermarket and food court, besides clothing and boutique stores.
- Mega Mall – Located opposite the Batam Centre Ferry Terminal with five floors of shops selling discounted brand-name goods.
- Top 100 – Located in Jodoh, this shopping centre sells electronics, clothes, fashion accessories and jewellery.
Gay & Lesbian Batam Island
- Noname Café – Located in the Harmoni Hotel, this venue attracts a mixed crowd with a younger male set later in the night.
- Ozon Discotheque – In the Jodoh/Batu Ampar area, this gay-friendly club is popular with locals.
- Pacific Disco – This loud, gay-friendly club is located in the Pacific Hotel of Batam Island, or the “Titanic”.
- Harris Resort Batam – A gay-friendly hotel in Waterfront City with water views, sun decks and a hot tub.
- BCA Branch – In front of this bank branch is a popular meeting spot for gays from 8 pm to 5 pm.
Batam Island Outdoor
- Senimba Bay Beach – This beach in Waterfront City offers swimming and other beach activities.
- Tengku Fisabilillah Bridge – This expansive suspension bridge connecting Batam Island to Tonton Island is a popular spot to watch the sunset.
- Batam Dragon Boat Race – This July festival features boat races with participants from many countries.
- Barelang Islands – These six tiny islands can be explored by traversing the connecting bridges.
- Ocarina Park – This complex has plenty of family attractions, including a Ferris wheel.
Batam Island Sport
- Play 18 holes at the semi-private Palm Springs Golf & Beach Resort.
- Charter a fishing boat off Galang Baru Island, the last of the Barelang Islands.
- Get towed around the lake on skis or a kneeboard at the Batam Cable Water Ski Park.
- Feel your heart race at the Go Kart Circuit in Waterfront City.
- Challenge your skills on the Greg Norman Championship course at Nongsa’s Tering Bay Golf Club.
When To Go
A tropical rainforest climate makes Batam desirable for much of the year, despite heavy humidity and rain from November to January. Temperatures waver from 75°F (24°C) to 91°F (33°C) for the year.
Hang Nadim International Airport is the only airport on Batam and serves the likes of Jakarta, Medan, Surabaya, Yogyakarta, Johor Bahru and Singapore. The small hub handles more than 3 million passengers a year.
The ferry from Singapore is the most hassle-free way in to Batam. Total journey time seldom exceeds 45 minutes.
On the island, most visitors simply rent a car or take taxis rather than rely on the small Batam public bus network.
Batam, a valuable island in the Riau Islands Province of Indonesia, is a notable free trade and special economic zone, with membership in the lucrative SIJORI Growth Triangle with Singapore and the state of Johor in Malaysia.
Home to jus under 750,000 people, the island is a vacation destination fast on the rise, with a mix of Malay, Chinese and native cultures. The coastal areas are replete with tony resorts and offer ferry access to Singapore and Malaysia. As a vital litmus test industrial hub for Indonesia, the island has a vast expat population, most of who are in the employ of the oil service and commercial trade sector.
A disproportionate faction of tourism on Batam Island hails from nearby Singapore, where people like to hop over for the weekend for the duty-free retail outlets and cheap seafood.
The island is a development in progress and as such, holds tremendous appeal for those who want to gain a foothold before Batam becomes unaffordable and mainstream. While it may never become the next Dubai, Jakarta clearly has plans for the island. New towns and construction projects now stand in the place of once virgin rainforest, as Indonesia prepares to take advantage of the island as a formidable commercial, industrial, leisure and tourism focal point.
Nongsa is the principal area of attraction on Batam. One hour from the main ferry port of Sekupang, the coastal resort town has seaside hotels, golf, wildlife preserves and restaurants galore.
Lubuk Baja, or Nagoya, is the capital of Batam by default. Nightlife, duty-free shops, and karaoke bars are the main draws in town.
Kabil is a port town in southeast Batam in the middle of an industrial boom. While not a popular tourist destination, Kabil does afford proximate access to native villages. With superb seafood available in a rustic environment, village residents still fish and live, to a large extent, via traditional means.
The great bulk of tourist-worthy events on Batam Island revolve around simple recreation, especially on the expansive strip of beachfront on the north shore.
The coastal waters are a rich source of freshwater fish. Excursions by boat to view and fish for sport have fast become popular with expats who live on the island, as well as foreign visitors.
Those in search of a rugged adventure can rent mountain bikes in Nagoya and explore the wild backcountry of Batam. Thankfully, a sizable portion of land has yet to be torn down for development and remote, traditional villages are hospitable to outsiders.
The island has a vast water supply in the 60 square km Duriankang Dam. The site is a rare attraction of interest on Batam and offers quiet shores to relax and escape the crowds in town.
Golfers will enjoy the scenery on hand at any of Batam's half a dozen 18-hole courses.
Batam Island has a tropical climate, with temperatures that hover between 25°C and 35°C throughout the year. Rainfall and intense humidity is abundant from one month to the next, although the official wet season is between October and April.
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