Having visited different parts of our neighbor Indonesia - such as its capital city Jakarta, the quietly lovely Bandung, and beach haven Bali, I have returned to Batam island. Batam is a large island with many differnt ports and resorts, and is reachable by ferry between 45 - 90 minutes. For the past few trips, it has always been free and easy at resorts by the beaches such as Batam View, Holiday Inn and Harris Resort. Hence for the first time, the Beau and I embarked on a day tour with some friends.
There are several ferries heading to Batam, one could shop around at the Harborfront Ferry Terminal - Pacific, BatamFast, Sindo (formerly Penguin) etc. We went with the latter. After a 40-minute ferry ride we reached our port of call - Sekupang.
Regrettably I wasnt much of a photo-taking freak in the past, preferring to remember everything by memory, hence didnt have many photos of the past beach resorts I'd stayed in.
This time round, we stayed at Harmoni One, a rather majestic hotel and I was impressed, because this was Batam, no matter what. This hotel houses a convention hall as well, hence the rather stately design. We loved the spacious vastness, polished floors, the cosy futon in place of coffee table in the room and the lovely pool area.
PLACES OF INTEREST - SHOPPING
Batam is still very much a developing and slow-paced island, though not as backward as in the past, of course. Hence, most of the recreational activities are leisurely and cultural, including shopping at various places.
We visited the Chocolate House - a shop selling many different brands of chocolates in different flavors, and there are samples available. It very much reminds me of Singapore's own Cocoa Trees - you know what I mean. I did buy some coconut chocolate, banana chocolate and jackfruit chocolate just to support.
Then we went to shop at the Hot Market area, which felt basically like grocery stores selling local produce- fried Keropok (prawn crackers), sotong crackers, peanuts, fish crackers, rice crackers and lots of other snacks, including preserved fruits.
Up next, we visited a fair bit of factory outlets where they sold clothes, bags and fashion accessories in lots of imitation brands. Needless to say, it did not intrugue us. Even the Polo Ralph Lauren - which we were told was the only authentic brand around town - the price was good, but the fabric was a lot rougher than than those in our local boutiques. Nonetheless, buyers were aplenty.
A Batik Boutique completed the merchandise shopping - after all, this was their traditional tie-dye costume. I got a cute little dress for the fun of it, since I don't like to go holiday without buying even a single object. Whether I would use or wear them or not, is another story altogether. It was only SGD$10.00 anyway, with pretty prints.
There are other huge, modern malls reachable by shuttle bus from hotels which we did not have time to visit - Nagoya Hill, BCS and Mega Mall. You can drop by there.
PLACES OF INTEREST - CULTURAL & RECREATIONAL
We visited a Buddha Temple briefly. Some of us went down the coach bus to pray and take photographs. I stayed put, since it was raining outside.
This is where one could watch the traditional local dance / show. We missed the timing, so did not get to catch the 10-minute performance, a pity. I mean, taking a vacation means infusing into the local culture, no? Lol.
Kueh Lapis (thousand layers cake) is their famous pastry and we love it, especially freshly-baked ones. The sweet cake came in many flavors - chocolate, mocha, original, pandan, prunes and raisins. This was the factory in which eveything was baked upon ordering- Layers has retail outlets around the island too, but who wouldn't prefer a cake baked specially at their beck and call? I ordered one with Prunes - only SGD$29.00 for a 1 kilogram cake.
When one thinks of Indonesia, one thnks of soothing Bali or traditional massage, which is why we agreed to go along for the massage session forming part of the day tour. We were brought to some Sawadika parlour where there was a crowd, no soothing ambience, and they did mass massage for people for merely SGD$18.00 an hour. Imagine rows of mattresses on the floors separated by curtains / blinds!
There was no aromatherapy oil (thankfully, in such a setting!), the level of hygiene was little to none, and the masseurs were burping all the way. When they insisted I place my face on the pillow without at least offering a tissue or two, I was really disgusted. The lesson learned- do not ever come for this kind of massage. I would pay the usual SGD$50.00 for a good Balinese massage in the hotel rooms - it still beats my hometown's rates. To their credit, the ginger tea they served thereafter was strong and lovely.
Finally, I tried Go-Kart for the first time, at Golden City Go-Kart. Don't laugh at the kiddish vehicle I chose - the "sporty ones" looked scary and old! It was only SGD$15.00 for 10 minutes, so while the rest were killing time in some boring factory mall looking at errrr.... unsuitable clothes, I took a spin or two, racing the others.
FOOD / DINING
Seafood feasts in Batam are known to be inexpensive, yet fresh catch from the seas. We enjoyed a 7-course seafood lunch comprising of baby lobsters, chilli crabs, fried fish, some soup with tofu and starch, KangKong (water spinach), fried calamari rings, and this shelled thingy called "gong gong" (spiral shells periwrinkles??). I also had a giant coconut for drinks as I was parched and the weather was a killer. The food was quite alright.
Dinner was rather a puzzle as it was late, so debated between the Chinese Dimsum Restaurant named Lim's, or the western restaurant Bamboe Cafe & Restaurant. We chose the latter in the end, but after placing orders we asked them to send the food up to our room instead.
This was an up-class restaurant in a 4-star hotel and the entire meal consisting of a Caesar Salad, Black Pepper Steak, Grilled Chicken Breast and slice of Blackforest Cake cost us only SDG$40.00.
Brunch in the morning was also at Bamboe Cafe & Restaurant, only it was buffet concept - some dimsum, omelet, congee, hash browns, croissants etc. Most of the food was cold, even though we came down at 9.00pm - the only items I thought were saving grace were the very crispy croissants kept warm in the oven at all times, and the cereal with milk.
Hence concludes an overview of Batam and what to do, eat, shop, stay etc here.