First time to Batam and I can’t believe how things turned out. It had been a spur-of-the-moment kinda thing…I initially wanted to go to Bali and went to ask the bros but only D and N could make it for that weekend. Cue hasty booking for a hotel room and itinerary planning even though it would be a 2d1n trip. The fact that it was my first time there also meant that I didn’t know what to expect. However I was adamant not to go on a tour as it was too boring. Fortunately, I was given a contact by a friend whose parents had hired him. Without knowing what it was like, I got in touch and we agreed on $130 for the 2 days.
Saturday dawned bright and I had felt tired due to a celebration the day before. We met for lunch and set off for Batam in Sindo Ferry.
Upon reaching Batam, I found out that the guide had been waiting for us while holding up my name. His name was Johan and he was an Indonesian Chinese, thus he could speak English, Mandarin and Bahasa. We felt a little apprehensive but he warmed us up by asking about us. He even pointed out the church that my friend’s parents were working at since he noted how I had got to know him. We checked in the hotel which was quite underwhelming but it didn’t really matter since it was for a night. Johan wondered why we had chosen this since it was quite a distance from the main area.
Along the way we described what we wanted to do: see the sunset, eat seafood, shopping, massage and the visit to Barelang bridge. Right after we were done with the hotel he drove us all the way to Tanjung Pinggir to KTM Resort. Unfortunately the sky was cloudy and we resorted to just talking about life. For some reason locals could not enter the beach area and Johan had to wait for us. For dinner he drove us to this roadside seafood restaurant-the fact that he knew this place well meant that he could bring us to good and not necessarily crowded areas. We went to Nagoya Hill shopping centre and there he brought us to a massage parlor. We were really pleased with the effects even though we felt ticklish, and the masseurs laughed at our reactions. We also knew that J. Co donuts were selling cheap and we couldn’t believe it when it was only $8 for a dozen–twice as cheap in SG! We bought a box to eat back in the hotel.
The very next day we met Johan at 7am since he mentioned it was a long drive to the bridge. Luckily it was a Sunday and traffic wasn’t heavy.
We finally reached it and sadly there was no sun again. Johan said that couples liked to go there at night and sit by the edge, and that people also committed suicide before.
It was a pretty view needless to say despite the sky.
He then brought us to his friend’s dragon fruit farm and also said about how the area would be developed. Whatever it was it looked quite run-down.
Later on we had seafood for breakfast at a kelong restaurant[ Kopak Jaya 007]-like what were we thinking?! However the food were freshly caught from the water and it was the bomb. Seeing the once-live crayfish turned into black pepper ones was surreal. We chased the food down with refreshing coconut juice.
Next we went shopping at a mall reminiscent of Bugis Street. We bought clothes which were selling cheap even though we noted the quality wasn’t that good. D became fashion adviser as we pondered what shirts looked well on us. After checking out of the hotel, Johan brought us to this nasi padang stall. Instead of the cai png style we were used to, the servers brought all the food they had to our table. We were therefore billed only on what we had eaten. There was also teh botol, a famous glass bottled tea. Need I mention that the food was sedaap?
We also wanted to bring back the famed kueh lapis and Johan actually offered to call his mother who would order for us. There was no need for him to do this but we were pleasantly surprised by it. In the end a guy delivered them to us and each box was only around $20. It wasn’t the usual Batam Layer Cake brand but a less well known one (Nusa 2 Cake and Snacks), but it still tasted heavenly. In the end we decided to tip him such that the total was $150. He dropped us off at Mega Mall [opposite Batam Centre ferry terminal] where we spent the rest of the time at the Timezone arcade. We returned very satisfied and even D agreed it was a unique trip. The fact that Johan drove us to the more obscure and less touristy places made the whole experience special-he even brought us to his friend’s phone shop where we bought phone covers on the cheap. This was certainly something not a tour group, nor anyone would be obliged to do.
A bit about traffic in Batam: it takes guts to drive well! The high volume of motorcycles meant that one had to be doubly careful of them, and the car drivers didn’t really care about traffic rules except at traffic lights. There didn’t seem to be any speed limit in the outskirts-we were hitting 100km/h on the Barelang road. For some reason motorcycles travel on the outer lane and cars go on the inner one. We did see street peddlers hawking their goods at traffic junctions, and Johan also bought a newspaper from such a person. Cars were mostly 90s Japanese cars-only once did I see a Mercedes and a Porsche. The terrain probably wasn’t kind to luxury vehicles.
What I treasured most was the times and conversations we had together. I felt inspired and though things didn’t turn out well in the end, I was grateful for the words of wisdom. The company you travel with really makes the difference.