Insider’s guide to Tanjung Pinang
Bintan is not all about the white sand, South China Sea waves and well-manicured resorts.
Two hours drive south from the well-advertised northern strip of Bintan -- an island almost three and a half times the size of Singapore -- is the Indonesian island’s capital, Tanjung Pinang.
In this town of approximately 200,000 people, the air is dusty from the throngs of motorcycles (ojek), hawkers of all sorts line the streets, water might still comes from wells, and electricity trips are a common occurrence.
Stepping onto this island is like stepping into Singapore of the 1970s. For a city dweller, there is much nostalgia to be experienced.
What to see
Tanjung Pinang is not a place to go to if you're hunting down historic monuments.
But on the way in, the view from the ferry looks onto the Raja Haji Fisabilillah monument.
This 28-meter concrete structure standing in the middle of a roundabout commemorates the Malayan king of the same name who died in a battle against the Dutch in 1784.
On the other side of the ferry ride, passengers can spot a small island known as Pulau Penyengat. On this walkable offshoot sits a mosque, legend has it that it was built using a mortar foundation of eggs.
These days, this dusty-yellow-colored mosque serves as the house of a rare 150-year-old handwritten Koran. Only those with formal dress codes may enter this house of worship.
Further inland at Senggarang is the oldest Buddhist temple in the region known as the Banyan Temple or “Kelenteng Senggarang.” The name also reflects the majestic Banyan tree that has grown around the structure.
A 40-armed statue and several animal deities are the main draws at this cluster of temples. Take a bumpy boat ride across to this inland huddle of worship.
Where to play
The Bintan Triathlon has taken place every year in Bintan from 2005 (the next one is on May 26 & 27, 2012), although not everything pleasurable has to be as hardcore as this swim-bike-run event in the vicinity of Nirwana Gardens (Jalan Panglima Pantar, Bintan Resorts, Lagoi; +62 21 9876 5432; www.nirwanagardens.com).
Starting with the one that expends the least energy. A couple of hours at the Ladies Spa (Jalan Brigjend Katamso, No. 8; +62 771 701 2060) -- suitable for both men and women -- will resuscitate your tired muscles. Pick from Balinese, Swedish and general massage techniques, with add-ons like a body mask, milk bath and traditional body scrub (lulur) for less than US$30-US$50 (S$38-S$64).
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The surest way to experience the islander’s way of life is at a pujasera -- an open-air karaoke with a stage -- or hit up the karaoke microphones as a family.
Find both entertainment options just five minutes walk away from the ferry terminal -- the island’s biggest pujasera Pinang Marina sits on the same compound as the conceptual ten-karaoke-room Rimba Café (133 Jalan Gudang Minyak, Komplek Rimba Jaya; +62 7719 905 117).
Belt out, in public or private, Hokkien, Teochew, Bahasa Indonesia and English songs. To sing at the pujasera, ask for a number when you place your drink order.
If the town life isn’t what you’re looking for, hire a car to take you an hour out east to where the kelongs (floating fishing villages) reside.
The waters here are clear, and rooms surrounding fish in enclosures can be rented at Elly’s Kelong (Jalan Pantai Trikora Km.39, Bintan Utara; +62 771 700 9399) next to fishing enclosures. Alternatively, ask Elly if you can rent the house on stilts to go further out in the open sea.
A three day/two night all-inclusive fishing package at Elly's Kelong can also be booked from www.welcometobintan.com for S$155 per person.
Where to eat
Once off the ferry, the famished can head to Restoran Sederhana Masakan Padang (Jalan Hang Tuah no. 11; +62 771 231 83) for the spread of curries, sambal (chunky chilli sauce) and meats. The chicken rendang and boiled chicken are especially tasty.
A variation on Singapore’s wonton noodles is the mie pangsit (S$1.30-S$1.50) at the coffeeshop at the entrance of Bintang Mall (Jalan Pos).
The young-ish hawker pulls up medium-thick yellow noodles into an old motif-ed porcelain bowl. The noodles are topped with coin-sized chicken pieces doused with sweet sauce; meat with fried shallots and fresh scallions; and served with a side of slippery and peppery dumplings in soup.
For an even more authentic meal, head to Akau Potong Lembu (Potong Lembu) for a reasonable hawker-priced dinner.
This former abbatoir spot is now a parking lot in the day, but at night, hawker stalls fill up this shophouse-surrounded space.
Guided by naked bulbs hanging on wires, pick up a lor mee (noodles in gravy), a crisp and fluffy o luak (oyster omelette) and bowls of cheng teng (literally translated as “light soup.” A sweet, clear, cold dessert soup filled with all sorts of jelly and agar.
A fitting end to a tiring day exploring Tanjung Pinang.
Getting there: From Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal (50 Tanah Merah Ferry Road), both regular Penguin (www.penguin.com.sg) or Indofalcon (www.indofalcon.com.sg) fast ferries sail to Tanjung Pinang. Travel time is 90 minutes, and round trip fare is S$50.