In the Past and In the Present of the Province of Riau Island

Riau Island Province is located on the south of Singapore and stretched afar to Lingga Island, parallel to the Sumatran coast, consisting of the Riau Archipelago, the Tudjuh Archipelago, and the Lingga Islands. Riau Islands are known for its heritage and historical background since the fall of Malay Sultanate of Malacca to the reign of Johor-Riau Sultanate. It had also been known as the centre of knowledge and culture dissemination.


Batam - Hang Nadim Airport
Batam – Hang Nadim Airport

When we arrived at Hang Nadim Batam Airport, we were welcomed with the warmest greetings by the representatives of Tourism Indonesia. I should say that I was quite surprised that they spoke the language with an accent the way I speak back home in Kuala Lumpur. Then, I remembered how we got our modern Malay language back then.

We were taken around the city of Batam. Briefly we could see that Batam is a small city rising up to claim its position as one of the most developed city in Indonesia. Its location has attracted many Singaporean tourists for its spa, golf and shopping heaven. Thus, contributing to the major factor of its development in infrastructure and economic.

We had our lunch at Golden Prawn 555, a restaurant built on a lake filled with salt water from the sea. The highlights of the menu have to be the dog conch and chilli crab. Dog conch, a species of edible sea snail, has become a trademark of Batam and Bintan. Not only in its cuisine, but mostly everything.

After a super delicious lunch, we took an express boat to Bintan Island. We arrived about 40 minutes later at Tanjung Pinang jetty. Tanjung Pinang is the capital city of Riau Island Province, therefore most of the government and administration building are on this small town.

We stopped by the old market to change some cash into Indonesian Rupiah and of course we did not miss the opportunity to shop. This old market is very busy almost every day but subsides after 3 or 4 in the afternoon. Many of the shops here sell numerous types of dried seafood and varieties of snacks and crackers. Many tourists did not leave this place unless they bought something like the dried anchovies that came in many kinds. However, what amazed us were the many turtle eggs sold here at a very cheap price!

We were also had the chance to drop by Dapoer Melayoe, the famous shop that sells handmade traditional Malay’s food like snacks and cookies. This shop is very famous and you have got to come to this place if you were in Bintan.

Before checking in our hotel, we were taken to Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva Temple, to witness a vast temple on the hill where it stands 500 statues featuring Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva in different expression and pose. This temple is very new and has become the latest addition to the attractions in Bintan Island.

On the very next day, we went to the historical island of Penyengat Island. This very small island has a list of major heritage ruins and building. Coming to this island is like walking down back into history. The first thing you will see once you stepped down on the jetty is Masjid Raya Sultan Riau (the Grand Mosque of Sultan Riau). According to legend, Engku Puteri Raja Hamidah, the queen of Johor-Riau Sultanate, a wife of Sultan Mahmudsyah, the king who reigns on the throne of Johor-Riau Sultanate had even used her own hand to build the mosque. According to legend too, the mosque had been built using egg yolks mixed with lime water and cement, making it a very strong build and the reason why the building is yellow in colour. Here in this mosque, you can find a very old Al Quran, written by Yang Dipertuan Muda Raja Abdurrahman in 1867. He is a prince who studied in Istanbul, Turkey and he had written the Al Quran when he was teaching Islam on Penyengat Island.

Some of the heritage ruins on the islands are the tombs of royalties, leaders and noblemen, whom played major roles in the history of Malays. Among others and very important to note is Raja Ali Haji, the Malay intellectuals who had written a book of Malay Dictionaries, later has been accepted by Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Brunei as the base of the their own dictionaries. Other literature works and cultural materials worth mentioning with major impact into the development of Malay language and Malay history was Gurindam Dua Belas, Salasilah Melayu dan Bugis and Tuhfat Al Nafis ( The Precious Gift).

Other than the tomb and mosque, we explored more of the ruins of old building, fortress, traditional houses and also some building that still stand tall and strong. Before we were leaving back to Batam, we had a chance to visit Balai Adat Melayu Indera Perkasa. It is no longer used for administration like it had been used for but now it is used as a mini museum to display historical items and traditional materials that shaped the culture of Malays including the wedding costume, the wedding couch, old arts and old decorations.

Before we end our trip, we spent a few hours on the last day to experience what Batam has been popular all these time, shopping! We agree! Everything seems to be much cheaper. You can find various types of items from clothing to accessories, fabrics to arts and souvenir to foods! You will love to buy Batam made layer cakes and dragon fruit cakes. They are very popular here. Branded imported items can be very cheap too due to the status of the island as a duty free zone. We are going to come here again!


This article was first published in Gaya Travel Magazine.
Photo by Ed Junaidi & Nurul Husna Mat Rus