When in Singapore, the closest international getaway for most people is to Johor Bahru, in Malaysia, where Singaporeans tend to settle down to the cheap food and shopping. All you had to do was cross the border from Singapore, and there are even public buses that you could take, costing just 1 SGD.
Johor will have to be another blog post, but for now, am going to talk about another international getaway. Just 40 minutes by ferry, lies the Indonesian island of Batam, which for long was considered as a sex-tourism getaway for Singaporeans. Thankfully, not anymore. According to news reports, the governor of the island province has shut down all the casinos, and has put a dead-end to prostitution in the area.
Batam is a very industrial island, and enjoys a sort of SEZ (Special Economic Zone) status in Indonesia. There are 4 main port-of-entry to Batam, namely Batam city centre, Nongsapura, Sekupang and Waterfront, all of which have visa-on-arrival facilities.
The VOA costs 10 USD for a 7-day stay, and 25 USD for a 30-day stay. I did not have time to exchange my currency, so ended up paying 16 SGD, which if you consider the exchange rates, is a loss of over 2 US Dollar. So, if possible, carry some US dollars with you for the Visa. In Batam, Singapore dollars are accepted everywhere, even in small shops. But the exchange rate is a rip-off. So, if possible, also exchange some SGD to Indonesian Rupiah.
I had booked my stay in a resort called Harris Batam, which was very close to the waterfront port. So, from Harbourfront ferry terminal in Singapore, we took a ferry, through a ferry company called Sindoferry, to take us to Waterfront in Batam. It’s good to book a return ticket also in advance, which will be an open ticket for the next day, and you just have to confirm your departure time once you reach the resort. Total cost for a 2-way ferry would be 48 SGD. Note that the ferries are always sold out, so it would not be a bad idea to book it online. Well, I got to harbourfront by 11 AM for the 11.30 ferry, but it was sold out already, and had to go for the 2 pm ferry, resulting in me killing my time with the stupidest movie ever made, called ‘legend of hercules’. Well, shit happens!
All ferries travelling to waterfront will make a stop in Sekupang, after 30 minutes. And another 10 minutes later, you will be in Waterfront. After the VOA, the immigration is a fairly standard procedure with no hassles.
Harris waterfront resort also had a free shuttle service from the waterfront ferry terminal to the resort, departing every 10 minutes or so. Given that the ride took exactly 2 minutes and 30 seconds, this is not needed. But hey, who turns down a free ride?
Point to note when you are in Batam. Despite the fact that you are only 40 minutes away from Singapore, you are in a different timezone. The clock sets an hour back. So, while I thought I was checking in late at 3 pm, turns out I was in-time for the check-in by 2 PM!
The room, which was described as standard, turned out to be good value for money. And not much money actually, since I paid 70SGD for 2 people. And given the free shuttle, and the proximity to the beach, and the availability of a pool, 35 SGD per person is a miraculous deal when you are travelling from Singapore.
Another point to note. If you are living in Singapore, and wish to travel to Batam, keep a look out for groupon deals. There are some amazing deals there for Batam getaways, as low as 60 SGD, and including the ferry ride, resort stay, a free massage and a free game of bowling! The only downside is that these deals have to be bought atleast 7 days before the day of travel. But, since Batam was a last-minute idea for me, groupon never happened in my case.
I was hungry for lunch by then, but the hotel menu did not look very Indonesian. I mean, the food was Indonesian, but the prices were very Singaporean! So, I took a 2-minute stroll outside the resort, came across some cheap roadside eats. The cost of a good nasi padang meal for 2 people with 4 sides, and 2 drinks, cost less than 5 SGD. If you did the same in Singapore, that is easily 15 dollars or more. The food was much more authentic than any other Indonesian food court in Singapore. And you get cheap Bintang beer too!
If you are the adventurous and sporty type, check out the cable-ski park right opposite to the Harris resort. I wasn’t feeling that adventurous today, and definitely not sporty. So, after the sumptuous lunch, I headed to the hotel pool to swim a little, play some handball, and get a nap. Nap at a pool? Why not, given the many lounges that were splattered around the pool!
Well, as luck would have it, I saw a poster by the pool which said that there was a free sunset cycling tour at 5PM during the weekend. This was the one time that the resort screwed up pretty badly, in my opinion. So, I asked the pool staff for the free tour, only to be told that the bicycles would be 4 dollars each. I told them about the poster. The pool staff took a look at this poster, which for some reason they have never seen before. They consulted with the reception, who informed them that they have to go ahead with the offer since it is already promised on a poster. And so, at 5 PM, I got on my free sunset cycling tour! Only to realize after 30 minutes that the sunset cycling tour was going through the same 1 km radius around the hotel, simply waiting for the sun to set! I got off the bikes, and proceeded to see the sunset on my primeval legs.
Turns out that there was a decent indoor space in the resort. This was welcoming! There was a whole recreational area, comprising karaoke areas, squash courts, paintball areas, a Spa, a free jacuzzi, a basketball court, snooker/ping-pong tables, and even a whole bowling alley! Well, that was the good news. The bad news was that the jacuzzi was under renovation, no one could find the basketball to play basketball, the guy who handled the squash court was missing, the snooker table had torn tapete, and the paintball turned out to be as expensive as Singapore. So, I went bowling for a while. I wasn’t so unhappy about it, because the machine kept giving me free pins!
This was supposed to be a relaxed weekend getaway, but I ended up cycling, swimming, playing handball, cycling and even bowling! Relaxation just jumped out of the building. So, I caught an early bed, ready to board my ferry back to Singapore the next day morning. In the future, I will stick to Bintan instead.