Singapore is definitely an Island

Trip Start Dec 29, 2009
Trip End May 13, 2010

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Where I stayed
Nostalgia Yasin Bungalow

Flag of Indonesia  , Riau,
Sunday, January 17, 2010

My first journey venturing off the shores of Singapore was to Indonesia! There was an organized trip for exchange kids to Trikora Beach on Bintan Island. (search Tanjung Pinang on google maps) I didn't go on this trip, because space was limited, so I organized a separate group to a location nearby. I traveled with 12 people, but there were about 30 kids from NUS there this past weekend. The owners of the hostel were extra nice and bused us around to different locations, explaining different things about the island. I think they were happy with all the business we brought them. The trip was rather simple, very relaxing, beautiful weather, but there were some interesting events along the way.

First, our ferry was delayed about an hour. It was to leave at 6:20pm, and it was recommended to be there an hour earlier. The night before (Thursday) I had gone to a show at the Esplanade, The Merchants of Bollywood.

It was a lot of fun, but it took some people over an hour to get there using public transit during rush hour. Therefore, to be safe, we left around 4:15 and took a taxi to get to the ferry terminal. We ended up having no trouble getting there, arriving around 5 and having to wait until 7:20 to leave. The ferry itself was rather small, and the waters were a little bumpy. As such, there was an excess of seasickness on the ride over. I didn’t get sick myself, but it wasn’t easy. The boat rocked a lot on the bottom and the sounds of others were nauseating in themselves.

Once we landed in Tanjung Pinang, customs were easy. It was just a simple Visa-on-Arrival fee and a walk through a metal detector. The ferry terminal was practically shut down when we arrived and everywhere was dark. It was kind of creepy walking out into a completely foreign pier and being rushed into taxis in a dark parking lot to be driven an hour to our hostel. Don’t worry here-I had arranged for us to be picked up, so there was a representative from the hostel who showed us where to go. This was very helpful, as the drivers themselves didn’t seem to speak English.

The car ride itself was another adventure. Each taxi had 6 people in it on bench seats with no seatbelts. I held onto the overhead handle the whole way. The roads here are a spectacle in themselves. They have paved roads with lines, but the drivers seem to pay little attention to them, driving in the middle of the road until a car or moped wants to pass in the opposite direction. The other spectacle is the abundance of mopeds. This is by far the preferred method of transportation on the island. You will find that the Indonesians will turn a moped into a family car, riding up to 4 people and baggage on a two-seater. The mopeds also follow the same rules as the cars, driving in and out of the lines, in between cars, and around other motorbikes. Most of the ride was uneventful, just darkness on either side of the road, but every once in a while we would run into markets that were lit up and bustling and what appeared to be a carnival with people on microphones and something being played on a portable screen.

We arrived at the hostel around 10pm and found that others from NUS had been there for almost the whole day and were having a great time. We had 3 rooms for the twelve of us. I stayed in a room by the water on the second floor of what could be considered a traditional hotel. I had my own private bathroom, bed, and balcony. To stay for two nights there was $16.50. Not a bad deal. Really, the most expensive part of this trip was the round trip ferry ticket.

Saturday morning I woke up around 7am Indonesian time, which was about the same time as the sun was coming up. It was really beautiful in the morning. I could see the water from my room, and the sea breeze was really refreshing. The day was very relaxed and consisted of traveling from the actual hostel to surrounding/ sister resorts to go wading in the water, laze around, and explore. Trikora is a fishing town and so almost everywhere we went were kelongs and boats. (

We actually met one of the locals and spent about a half hour trying to communicate through sand writing and pictionary. It was somewhat unsuccessful, but we gathered that he was the one that cut up the fish once the fishermen brought in their load from the sea. Each net catches about 30kg of fish/squid/sea creatures. This could be terribly wrong… but it’s the closest I could guess.

I wanted to go swimming out into the water, because the water felt so good, except the threat of stonefish freaked me out a bit, so I didn’t go very far. The woman who was showing us around the resorts warned us that if we stepped on a stonefish it would poison us with its stinger and we would have to go to the hospital. She said it would be better to just float if we went into the water, because they would only sting if stepped on. (They are sand-dwellers) She also said it wasn’t the season for jellyfish, but she had been stung herself the week before. I decided it would be better to just enjoy the view and wade a bit rather than risk being stung. (

When the tide started going out we went to the other resort to have lunch. The coolest thing I saw all weekend was the kite surfing. Apparently, the area we were in was very popular for these surfers because the water was shallow for a great distance and thus calm, but it was super windy. I wish I could have tried it, but they weren’t renting boards, only those people who brought their own could go out. I was very disappointed by this. They had other water sports such as snorkeling, banana boat rides, kayaking, etc… however, at the best time to go out there was a whirlpool occurring in the deeper water, so they weren’t sending any boats out until it died down. It just so happened that around 1:30pm the low tide comes, and stays until 8 or so at night. The low tide wasn’t just 10/20 feet difference, it was a good mile out, so that also meant that boats weren’t going out. It was an interesting sight. I am not complaining at all, as I ended up lying in a beach chair for a while just enjoying the view, spent some time in the pool to cool off, played some volleyball and Frisbee, and thoroughly enjoyed my day.

Sunday morning, we left to head back to Tanjung Pinang to walk around the city before our ferry left for Singapore. The ride back to the city was much more enjoyable in the daytime as we could see more of the island. I can’t say I’ve ever seen anything quite like it. The closest would be when I went to Seattle a couple summers ago via train with my father. We passed by some poorer areas in the Midwest where car bodies were just thrown about forests and there were humble dwellings. Although, it really doesn’t compare at all. There were some areas that were built up and had schools and cars and decent homes, but even there you could see the poor side come out. We passed by a construction site that with lots of brick buildings going up (maybe a new resort?), but all of the scaffolding were wooden poles. Sticks, really. There were houses that were just metal roofs held up with sticks, garbage everywhere and chickens running around. It was fascinating to just look out the window.

When we got to Tanjung Pinang, it looked much more like a city than when we arrived. The streets were narrow and most people were on mopeds, but there were definite markets, stores, hotels, restaurants, and temples everywhere. The markets were the most interesting, full of produce I had never seen before, spices I couldn’t identify, and dried fish I would never eat. They did have some dried leaves and dried bananas that were quite good, but those were the only items I was adventurous enough to try. We basically took the morning to walk around and explore the streets. The most surprising thing I found was how dirty it was. I mean, I know that a lot of places in the world don’t have the same type of regulations as the States, or say Singapore, but it was still different to see it. I thought that being an island that makes it’s living off of the sea and some tourism, they would be more inclined to keep their waters clean, but I walked by multiple areas where the ratio of water to garbage was probably 50/50. In the markets, they had fly-infested trash with old produce and coconut skins 5 feet from the fresh items they were selling. I couldn’t really understand working, much less living in such conditions. I guess I just expected them to respect the sea and their waters more than they did, because they live in such proximity to it. I was similarly appalled on the ferry ride back when this man finished his drink, put it in a bag, and just tossed the whole thing overboard without even thinking about it. The other Americans with me had similar reactions, but no one else seemed to even notice, much less care.

I know this entry was very long for a very short trip, but it was filled with a lot of new experiences for me that I thought deserved explanation. My first time on such a small ferry, first time in a place where I couldn’t drink the water, first time staying in a hostel, first time organizing such a trip, first trip out of Singapore, first time seeing a truly poor lifestyle, first time to Indonesia, etc… The only other tidbit I want to add is about the ferry ride back. It was delayed an hour again. On top of that, the ferry took an alternate path back that made the trip twice as long. Had I been on the bottom deck again, this would have been miserable, but I made the good decision of staying on the top in the open air the entire ride, and it was wonderful. We rode around/through Batam and got a more in depth look at Indonesia, riding past multiple fishing villages and beautiful landscapes. We even saw a very modern, out-of-place bridge, an angry local who didn’t like the waves the ferry was making (for a minute I thought he was flagging us down to tell us we were heading into pirate waters or something), and what looked like a refinery. It was a wonderful trip home, even if it did get us back to Singapore about 4 hours later than expected.

I hope the title of this entry makes a little more sense now. Singapore is not anything like the surrounding areas. (so far as I can tell) And I can say that I'm glad I am residing here, and only visiting everywhere else.
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Cousin Laura Ann on

What a wonderful chronicle of your trip I am truly enjoying following you and your adventures.

Gail on

Jackie, your Mom shared your latest adventures with me. She's so proud of you and loves your "cam" conversations! With winter upon us in New England, your island pics are not only beautiful but a wonderful reminder of warm, summer beach days to come. Enjoy the beauty of your travels and the culture. Glad to hear your courses are going well and look foward to reading more in future blogs.

JoEllen Oakes (Proud Mom!) on

Thanks for sharing your experiences with us. More importantly, thanks for making good decisions on your adventures, such as having the hostel person meet you at the ferry and avoiding stepping on stonefish. Like Gail, I'm enjoying the beach views. It sounded wonderful to wake up and see the blue waters.
Keep up the good work. Let us know how your classes are going too! Luv!

JoEllen Oakes on

Just had another thought about your adventures. The 1/4 mile low tide brought a vision of the pre-tsunami pictures. When going to new places, it seems like a good idea to always find out what the normal low tide is in case you have to head for the hills. The Haiti earthquake (and subsequent 6.1 tremor) are indicative of active geological shifts. I'm hoping the oceans have settled for this year.

Aunt Kathleen on

Wow! You are a wonderful writer. Get a job with Conde Nast writing for a glossy-paged travel magazine. I loved your fresh voice, candid eye, and attention to detail. Will definitely read again. Confession: This is the first time I have read a "blog." We love you and are very proud of you. XOX Auntie

Aunt Kathleen on

P.S. Your photo is a cross between Jo Ellen and Maureen O'Hara! (Yes, that's a compliment. Beautiful!) XOX Auntie

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