Superstar Gemini berthed at the Ferry Terminal
In all the years of living in Singapore, I’ve never even considered Batam which is just an hour’s ferry ride from Singapore as a possible holiday destination. In fact, newspaper articles I’ve read over the years about old men having second wives on the island, made the whole place seem sleazy in my eyes. Even S, who has lived his whole life in Singapore has never been there.
Then when we decided on a holiday this June, S could only take a few days because of his schedule and because of his and children’s schedules, this was the only few days we could go on a holiday. Since we didn’t have a lot of time, we decided to go to either Malaysia or Indonesia and didn’t want to spend a lot of time travelling. We considered Melaka or Kuala Lumpur but we’ve been there before and so it didn’t enthuse anyone. So we decided to try the Bintan or Batam islands in Indonesia’s Riau province, which are an hour’s ferry ride away. Bintan is mostly a resort island and since we’re not beach people with interests in watersports, we decided to give Bintan a miss this time and zoomed into Batam.
I wanted a holiday where I can just chill and not rush from one tourist site to another. Usually, I am the opposite, wanting to maximise our holiday and I meticulously research places to see and do. I did the same here too, but there was really nothing much to see, so we decided to have a lazy holiday.
I had decided on the Harris Hotel near the Ferry Terminal as the reviews were quite good for the hotel. But just as I was about to confirm the hotel, I had a thought to check out places to eat near the hotel, when I found that there was nothing which was a walkable distance. We would have to take taxis everywhere and this was something I was not too keen on since taxis are not metered in Batam and we didn’t have a local cell phone or data to call for any metered taxi or even Uber. So I decided against Harris and checked out other areas. I looked at the Nagoya Hill area which had the biggest mall in Batam and so we could definitely find something to eat. I found an Indian place at a walking distance from the mall and so started looking at hotels close to the mall. There are many hotels there, and I chose based on reviews and price and decided on Harmoni Suites hotel which was a 5-7 minute walk from the mall and a 10-minute walk to the eating place.
I booked the hotel through Agoda and we got the room for around S$50 per night, which was a decent rate for a space we would hardly use. The location is great though and except for two occasions, (to and from the Ferry Centre), we didn’t use any taxi at all.
Another Sindo Ferry vessel which came in just as we left the ferry berth
I also booked our ferry tickets online and used Sindo Ferry. There are a few ferry operators who ply between Singapore and Batam and most have similar reviews and safety records. I just chose one which had the times we wanted. The tickets cost us around S$50 for a return ticket for one person and since we booked online, our boarding passes were issued along with the ticket. If you already have the boarding pass, you need to be at the terminal only 30 minutes before time, otherwise, you may have to be there almost 60-70 minutes earlier. This is because the ferries do not have assigned seating and if you are travelling as a family and get there late, you may not be able to sit together.
We reached the ferry terminal around 40 minutes before departure time because of traffic and roadworks on the way. But our taxi driver was very nice and dropped us off very close to the escalator leading to the departure area. Since we went on a weekday morning, immigration was a breeze and even in the departure lounge, we realised that there were not many people travelling that day. We saw some people lining up around 10 minutes to departure and I did too, over S’ objections not to waste time standing!
Sentosa and Resorts World Sentosa as we left the Ferry Terminal
There were less than half the seats taken up in the ferry and the one we went in was a double-decker one. Initially, we were sitting on the lower deck, but S went up and saw that the upper deck was better, so we moved there too. Luggage has to be stored on the bottom deck. If you are travelling with small bags (think cabin baggage size), then you can carry it with you on board, but larger and odd-sized luggage need to be checked in.
The ferry even had in-flight instructions, just like an airline. We left with Sentosa on our left and the Singapore skyline on our right. The ferry name was Queen Star 5. At some point, S and I went to the open deck (probably meant for smokers) and took pictures of the receding Singapore skyline with the froth the ferry left behind. It was so windy and thrilling but both the children didn’t want to do it. At most points of the trip, we could still see the Singapore skyline, though it looked slightly as if it is shrouded in haze.
Our first view of Batam with the ferry terminal and immigration building in the foreground
Immigration at Batam was a breeze since the ferry hardly had any passengers. I had heard stories about Batam immigration deporting people back to Singapore for being noisy, so had prepped BB & GG to be quiet and not use their headphones while queueing, but perhaps because it was so fast, we didn’t have anyone asking anyone in the line to shut up. We came out and took a taxi from the counter who told us it will be IDR 70,000.
Outside of immigration, we took a taxi from the counter who told us it will be IDR 70,000 to our hotel. It’s probably more expensive, but since we don’t know any better, we let it slide. On the way to the hotel, my first thoughts about Batam reminded me of Malaysia, maybe Singapore some 30 years back? Roads are like those in India, slightly pot-holed. Lots of hotels and inns here, probably a bustling Singapore holidaying population.
We stayed at the Harmoni Suites which was a 7-10 minute walk to the Nagoya Hill Shopping Mall. We’d asked for early check-in and we go it when we reached the hotel around 11:30 am. We’d asked for a room away from the road since there’s a mosque opposite the hotel and since this was the Ramadan period, we didn’t want the prayers being broadcast disturb us. What we got were adjoining rooms which faced the breakfast buffet area. After settling in, we decided to walk to the mall to grab some lunch.
This is part one, more to come on Friday….