BATAM

 

Batam is 1 hour behind Singapore time

GETTING THERE FROM BANGKOK

From the airport you can take a taxi (about $SNG20) to the HARBOUR FRONT ferry terminal (previously known as the World Trade Centre). There is also an electric train connection but it takes about 50 minutes and involves tricky train changes. It is not worth the effort, particularly if you have luggage. 

From the taxi drop-off at Harbour Front walk directly into the building and turn left. You will see a Coffee Bean and a Deli France outlet. Take the escalator to the first floor and the ferry service ticketing outlets. 

You will need a ferry to BATAM CENTRE, the new and efficient ferry terminal which has replaced the decrepit Batu Ampar facilities. Do NOT take the ferry to Sekupang.

The main ferry operators are Penguin, Berlian (Wavemaster) and Widi Express. Dino offers limited services. The Penguin and Wavemaster services are both highly recommended. Most of their ferries are modern, clean, comfortable and fast with frequent services to and from Singapore. 

Buy a two-way ticket ($SNG23 plus $SNG2 terminal tax). You will need to present your passport and this will be used to electronically generate an Indonesia Immigration Entry Card for you (the same process applies when you later check in at the Indonesian end for your return journey). There are ticketing staff who speak enough English to make this process easy.

It you have large luggage which you wish to book through to Batam Centre proceed with your ticket and boarding pass to the check-in desk near the large security screening machine at the International Departures gate. Bags must not weigh more than 30kg (also the limit of luggage allowed per passenger). The first 20kg per adult is free. Excess is charged at $SNG5.20.

To reach the Singapore passenger departure area go to the REGIONAL DEPARTURES gate at the eastern end of the upstairs waiting lounge (note NOT International Departures). Pass through security screening and immigration and down the escalator to the ground floor departure lounge and gateways. Keep an ear cocked for your boarding call as the video monitors are not always reliable. You will find the departure staff very helpful.

There is also an adjacent duty free shop with keen prices for spirits and liquors (one of the few taxed items and pricey on Batam).

While waiting to board your ferry complete your Indonesian Immigration entry card by crossing the appropriate boxes and signing it off. For a holiday visit apply for a visitors/holiday visa (valid for up to 60 days) by checking the tourist/holiday box.

There is an official taxi desk just outside the exit door. Pay at the desk for a Port taxi to take you to your hotel. The standard cost is Rp35,000 for most locations in Nagoya. The officially approved terminal taxis typically are clean, comfortable and air conditioned with courteous and helpful drivers.

Another option is to pre-book your hotel to send a courtesy vehicle to meet and greet you. Most of the better hotels offer this service. The cost will be about the same as the terminal desk taxi.

VISA

Issued on arrival.  US$ 10 for 3 days               US$ 25 for 30 days     

** Bring exact change. I forgot this tip last time and had only a US $50.  I tried to pay in another currency, but only US green accepted.    I got 3 of 5 counterfeit $5 in change.  Since I make it a policy not to argue with Immigration I wrote the $15 off to being stupid.

Departure fee is Sing $3.00

CURRENCY

The local currency is the Indonesian Rupiah. Approximate exchange rates offered by local money changers (as at October 2003) were:

1 GBP = Rp 13,000 
1 $US = Rp 8,200 
1 EUR = Rp 9,800 
1 Aus$ = Rp 5,500
1 Sing$ = Rp 4,800

There are many money changer booths around the commercial districts of Batam where you can readily convert foreign currency like $SNG, $US, $AUD, EUROS or GB Pounds at fair exchange rates.

HOTELS

With more than 9,000 available hotel rooms you will have no trouble securing good value accommodation of a standard to suit your budget and needs.

If you are looking for a good four-star room in a convenient location it is hard to go past the Melia Panorama where you can expect to pay around $SNG90. The swish new Planet Holiday is a little further away from the main entertainment district but has excellent facilities and is offering an introductory rate of $SNG88 as at October 2003.

The Harmoni, also centrally located, was offering good room deals but has been closed for repairs following a fire and no re-opening date has yet been announced. The Novotel offers very good facilities and competitive rates (around $SNG80) but is on the fringes of a no-go area and a short taxi ride to the entertainment district, especially at night.

Dropping down a notch, the Island View (pictured left) offers good 3-star accommodation for around $SNG50 to $SNG60. The Puri Garden, though aging a little, is a popular option among regular travelers at from $SNG65. An old favorite for regulars has been the Sahid Rashinta, mainly because of its friendly staff and excellent pool area. This will cost you about $SNG50 a night, but it is becoming very tired and the Chinese owners seem very reluctant to spend on a refurb. An option worth trying might be the Formosa next door to Lucky Plaza at $SNG65 midweek. Its fourth floor is home to one of the better karaoke's and it offers massage facilities.

If your budget is tight there are many quite good clean and comfortable smaller local hotels to choose from, most with remote control aircon, cable TV, hot showers and Western style toilets. They may have fridges in the deluxe rooms. Rates will typically range from about $SNG25 to $SNG40. Hotels in this category would include the Lia Lai Mutiara, the Horisona, the Holiday (good rooms), the Batam Star, the Grand Palace and the Hotel 81 Mustika.

Staff often will have little English but will be very obliging and most of these hotels have attached or very adjacent karaoke's which can be rather convenient if you are feeling lazy.

The downside is that most smaller local hotels do not have elevators so you may have some stairs to climb.

DINING

Restaurant meals are cheap, particularly if you are prepared to try some of the delicious local fare. The seafood is outstanding but usually comes with plenty of spices.

The main trick is to eat away from the expensive hotel restaurants apart from breakfast (usually complimentary as part of your room rate). When you need a fix of Western style food try the Steps Restaurant in the entertainment strip (upstairs from the bar via a separate entrance) or one of the Bule bars like Lucy's Oarhouse, the Red Cock , the Bistro or Wallabies. All good and relatively inexpensive. (Having said that the Melia Hotel ground floor restaurant offers a very good value luncheon menu).

You can get really cheap eats in a mainly Western style at the Steakhouse, a modest locally owned restaurant near the Harmoni Hotel. Not much English spoken but they are accustomed to Buleís speaking do-it-yourself sign. The drinks are cheap too.

The major international fast food chains are here -- MacDonald's, KFC and Pizza Hut plus a few local franchises like Do and Me (don't ask me where the name comes from, but the tucker is OK).

Most major shopping malls have quite good food courts on the upper floor or off to one side and usually one or two of the stalls (warungs) offer cheap localized versions of Western food (small steaks, chops, chicken etc). Expect baked beans and tomato with everything.

For a true Batam cheap eat experience you should try the pujaseras or food markets. These mainly come to life in the evenings and are popular with locals and visitors. Vendors sell a range of delicious local and Chinese style foods with an emphasis on seafood and they are great value. If you aren't hungry you are welcome to sit and drink beer, soft drinks or juices at about supermarket prices.

Some pujaseras offer live entertainment. They all have beer promotion girls, many of whom will come and sit at your table (especially if you have no female company) and will happily come to meet you at your hotel after they finish work (do not give money in advance for taxis or anything else).

Pujaseras worth trying include OKI and A1 near the Lucky Plaza and Centrepoint shopping centers, Nagoya Baru not far from the Melia Hotel and Robinsons Shopping Mall or the new Happy Day just up the hill and opposite the Puri Garden Hotel.

There also are many smaller local restaurants around the Nagoya business district where you buy superb regional and Indonesian-Chinese food for very little ñ steamboats, barbecued fish or chicken with local sauces and sambals, stir fries, soups, sates, curries and the spicy Padang and West Java style meat, fish and vegetable dishes. Make yourself try a serve of fish head soup (sop ikan kepala) with steamed rice on the side ñ delicious and about $US2.50.

Do not be put off by untidy surroundings and very basic facilities. Food preparation usually is scrupulously hygienic and your chances of a case of Delhi Belly are very remote.

At some stage during your visit you also should try one of Batamís traditional "Kelong"restaurants. These are built over the water on stilts and specialize in seafood's -- choose your fish, shrimp, shellfish, crabs or whatever from the pond in which they are swimming and decide which way you would like them prepared (all good). Ten minutes later the dishes begin arriving at your table beautifully presented and delicious.

One of the most popular of these restaurants is the Golden Prawn (pictured below) close to Nagoya at Bengkong. It is excellent but prices are a little up on other places.

A little further a field is a Kelong in a great setting at the KTM resort near Sekupung (about RP35,000 by taxi from Nagoya).

For a true island beach bar experience try the Kelong at Sei Nongsa to the north of the island. Good cheap food, cheap drinks and a wonderful setting for a long, lazy lunch watching the ships sail by. About Rp120,000 to hire a car for four hours to take you there, wait and bring you back with a nice half hour scenic drive to get there (ask the driver to show you the Turi Beach, Nongsa Point Marina and Batam View resorts along the way).

Take your gal(s) with you to dine out at any of these places and she'll be yours forever. Your immediate reward will probably be one of the most enthusiastic nights of your life.

GETTING AROUND

Taxis are your best means of getting around on Batam. They generally are clean, air-conditioned and cheap. Most journeys in and around Batam should cost no more than Rp20,000 and you can hire taxis by the hour for Rp35,000 to Rp45,000 (usually three hour minimum).

The drivers, though few speak much, if any, English, are courteous and helpful.

There are no taxi meters and you must establish the price before you enter the cab, and be prepared to bargain. A Bule typically will be asked to pay twice as much as the fare normally paid by local ñ 75% is a reasonable compromise.

Make sure also that you have small denomination notes with which to pay. It is remarkable how many taxi drivers suddenly find they have no change if proffered a Rp50,000 note. When they do that I make a point of having them wait while I go to a nearby shop and get change.

You will never have trouble finding a taxi in Nagoya - they are everywhere! Step out your hotel door, exit any shop or walk down any street and you will be offered taxis, taxis and more taxis. Stand by any thoroughfare and you will have cars gliding up, perhaps beeping the horn and flashing their lights with the driver asking where you would like to go.

Many visitors find taxis honking and touting for business to be one of the most irksome aspects of Batam but this intense competition also means that prices are very competitive. 

There are three broad categories of Taxi

Hotel and Port taxis -- authorized to operate out of the major hotels, ferry terminals and airport. These are usually clean, air conditioned good quality cars with drivers who speak some English. Book through the hotel taxi desk, the concierge or door staff or the taxi desk at the transport terminal. The hotel or terminal concession holder receives a commission on the business the taxi generates and this is reflected in higher prices than are available from outside taxis. Typically there is a standard set of charges for most destinations and an hourly rate for open-ended bookings or taxi tours. The benefit of using hotel taxis, apart from the standard of vehicles and the language skills of drivers, is that they are safe and secure.

Fleet taxis -- there are a number of taxi fleets operating in and around Nagoya, some privately owned and others as co-operatives. A few have radio communications. Fleets include Pinkie, Barelang, Surya Timur, Trans, Sarana Melayu, Orange and others. Cars are painted in common livery, typically clean and well maintained and usually air-conditioned. Drivers vary greatly in foreign language skills but usually are courteous and helpful. Generally quite safe to engage and cheaper than hotel taxis.

Privateers -- These possibly represent the bulk of the taxis cruising the streets of Nagoya and surrounding suburbs. Cars range from clean, near new, well maintained and air conditioned vehicles to beaten up wrecks that elsewhere would be in the graveyard. Use at your own risk and BE CAREFUL, particularly at night. Make a judgment based on the condition of the vehicle and the demeanor of the driver. Prices are similar to fleet taxis.

If you find a responsible, helpful fleet taxi driver or privateer make a note of his name, hand phone number and regular location. If you keep two or three of these numbers on hand and call one when you need a car they will be delighted and you will know what you are getting.

Ojeks are a popular form of transport for the locals. These are motor cycles which you can hire to take you to your destination as a pillion passenger typically for about Rp5,000 in and around Nagoya.

Many of those delightful and attractive young ladies you see on the back of motor cycles are not out for a run with a boyfriend -- that's just an Ojek driver they are paying to take them from Point A to Point B. The demure side-saddle seating is often out of modesty. It's not so easy to straddle a motor cycle in a tightly cut dress or skirt!

Many ex-pats use Ojeks regularly as a convenient, quick and cheap mode of transport in and around Nagoya Central or their immediate neighborhood. Others refuse to take the risk of riding unprotected on the back of a motor cycle in heavy, though slow moving, traffic.

Mini buses or vans are probably the main mode of transport for the local people. They are exceedingly cheap, very convenient and very plentiful. Against this they are quite likely to be somewhat dilapidated, crowded and possibly hot and uncomfortable and are rarely used by Bules. Regular mini bus services to distant areas like the Nongsa beach resorts, Sekupung and Waterfront City will often be of a better standard. Unlike the majority of mini buses on the road they also will show the destination on the bus exterior.

Drivers are generally courteous and helpful though very few speak any English. On the longer journeys the driver often has an assistant who looks out for and assists passengers and provides another pair of eyes in working through the traffic.

Fares are likely to be in the range of Rp3,000 to a location like Batam Centre or a mere Rp5,000 to Nongsa some 30 or 40 minutes from Nagoya to the north of the island.

Not a recommended transport option for the short-term visitor, but quite an experience and a great way to meet the locals if you want to try something different. The people will perhaps be shy but quite welcoming, especially if you try to speak a little Indonesian. Most of the places you are likely to want to visit in and around Nagoya can be reached by walking. But the street layout can be quite confusing and itís a good idea to know how to ask for and understand directions in Indonesian.

Many of the pavements are in poor condition and sometimes traders use the footpaths as trading or storage areas meaning you may need to walk in the streets.

There are some areas where it is better not to walk at all. As in many Western cities muggings are a part (though infrequently) of the Batam scene with knives the preferred weapon. Ask your hotel staff, ex-pat friends or trusted locals about the area before venturing forth.

You should AVOID walking around Nagoya alone at night. As a group of two or more you will be fine in most areas but venture out alone and you are needlessly inviting risk.

Take care at traffic lights and pedestrian crossings ñ they do not mean the same in Batam as in Western cities. Vehicles turning left may drive through a red light (and this is loosely interpreted to include streets curving left). Drivers do not feel any compulsion to stop for a pedestrian. The vehicles turning right also are disinclined to stop for pedestrians.

In short NEVER assume that you, as a pedestrian have right of way it could be very bad for your health. 

Driving yourself -The general rule for short term visitors is Don't. Many ex-pats who have spent some time on the Island and know the layout and traffic systems own vehicles and drive regularly and safely. 

But for the newcomer who does not know the geography or the system it can be a frightening, dangerous and very expensive nightmare. You are much better off hiring a car and a capable driver as taxis and hire cars are so cheap.

If you really have to test your nerve by driving yourself then remember that despite what the issuing authority in your home country may have told you your International License will not be recognized here. You must have a license issued in Batam or run the risk of being sued and locked up in the event that you have an accident.

If you do obtain a local license and are stopped for an infringement you are likely to be offered the alternative of going to court or an on the spot  fine (described by the locals as lunch, coffee or cigarette money). Do not argue. Take the on-the-spot option. The going rate for a Westerner is up to Rp 200,000.

Even if you can find one, do NOT consider hiring a motorcycle unless you hire a full-time security guard with it or have it house and bar trained. An unattended motorcycle is quite likely to vaporize in seconds, never to be seen again. You will be left with a sizeable bill (yep ñ for practical purposes no insurance).

 

OTHER

INTERNET
DEPARTURE FEE:  Sing $3.00
SHOPPING:   Good prices on used cellular phones.  On my last trip I was checking out a phone a girl I met on my first trip had.   She said she had paid only R750,000 (about $80).  She said she could easily get another and would sell me that one for the same.  I checked it and it was as good as new. Later I checked that model in Changai Airport Duty Free and it was $S 380.00.  Probably HOT like all the new cars in Batam, but for that price, who cares.
ELECTRICITY: The electricity supply in Batam is 240 volts with bulky three-pin power plugs in the British style. You will need a transformer if you wish to operate 120 volt appliances. For connections most hotels have adaptors available or you can readily purchase them very cheaply at Batam electrical or department stores.

TOURIST ACTIVITIES

For most casual Western visitors Batam is very much about the girls and the great pay for play scene. But if you do come up for air and want to do something else to break the routine of full-on mongering there is another side to this mini-Thailand.

It is well worth taking a run up to have a look around Turi Beach, Nongsa Point Marina, the Batam View and the other nearby resorts. All are quite beautiful with excellent facilities. Take a girl to show you around and join you in a long lunch and she will love you for it (all night).

Often facilities at Batam's resorts are available to the public (including gyms, spas and massage, jet skis, sailing, sail boarding etc) as well as to resort guests but it would be wise to phone and check on availability and cost first.

Golf and SCUBA diving are two particularly popular pursuits in Batam.

Another place for a daytime visit is Waterfront City south-west of Nagoya. Activities available include cable skiing, go-karting, parasailing, jet skis, sail boarding and tennis at locations in and around the Harris Resort

For those interested in temples and monuments a Batam MUST SEE is the massive and beautiful Maha Vihara Duta Maitreya Buddhist temple at Batam Centre. The building opened only in 1999 and is still under development but ranks as one of the biggest Buddhist temples in South Asia. It is all the more remarkable for being located in the midst of a largely Muslim population.

The temple is the outcome of heroic efforts mainly by members of the Batam Chinese community inspired in turn by one of their leaders who says the concept was revealed to him in a series of visions after seeing the temple ruins of Borabodur near Jogjakarta. Thousands of Buhddists from all over Indonesia and the region now flock to Batam and the temple to visit, pray and study. The temple is open daily and visitors are welcome at any time.

Batamís most strikingly beautiful place of worship is the Mosque that takes pride of place by the waterfront at Batam Centre. Non-Muslim visitors are welcome.

If you enjoy exploring history and culture then a ferry trip to nearby Bintan Island may be well worthwhile. This island was home to the Sultan rulers of the the Riau Islands and you can visit the Grand Mosque of the Sultan, interesting gravesites and historical monuments and a 200-year-old Buddhist temple. 

Perhaps the best way to explore Batam or Bintan is with an organized one-day sightseeing tour, particularly for first time visitors.