'Sail away from the safe harbour...'

Singapore Travel Blog

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Bing's nephew Wang Yi and Bing's Mum
The view from Bing's 19th-floor apartment in Jurong East
(First of all I have to apologise to Mum for what I've done and for not telling you prior to going. I knew you'd worry too much and would try to stop me from going again but I was determined to go anyway.)
I woke up the other day and decided I needed to get off the beaten track for awhile. As much as I LOVE Singapore much of it is very Westernised and this was not what I wanted my 2 months in Asia to be like. So, I decided to head to Indonesia, to Pulau Bintan, a small island only ~1000kmsq, part of the Riau Archipelago south-east of Singapore. The northern part of the island is completely sealed off from the Indonesian people for use as resorts for rich guests and the Bintan people are no longer allowed to inhabit it. To me this seems utterly unfair as this is by far the nicer half of the island (as I later discovered). Obviously I did not stay in this part of the island, and instead took a rip-off 2 hour taxi journey down to the island capital Tanjung Pinang for S$50, as everything in the north of the island was catered to rich people and that was where the ferry had landed. I was intending to stay at Bong's Homestay, the only place listed in Lonely Planet as accomodation, but the seemed rather dodgy despite the price of approx. $AUD4/night. It was literally someone's house and the room I was to use was being slept in by Bong himself when we arrived! So instead we headed to the Wisma Riau, a 'hotel', where I paid the 'ekonomi' price of ~$15 to stay in a room infested with cockroaches, other bugs and filled with dirt...hmm. I was not game to leave anything of value in my room so I just left a towel then went out to explore. After being asked for about the 20th time by the locals 'Why you come Bintan?' I realised I may have been a little bit out of my depth. According to quite a few people I was the only foreigner (and a white, blonde, single female at that) to have stayed there for about 4 months...lol. It was definitely a culture shock. Everywhere I turned I was greeted with calls of 'Hello miss! Where you want go?' and people laughing. It was certainly an interesting experience, but one that got rapidly uncomfortable.

Old stilted part of Tanjung Pinang, Pulau Bintan

I took a boat out to Senggarang to see an old Chinese temple that was really pretty, and looked around the town.

Laughing Buddha at Senggarang

Besides that there wasn't much to do. The best way I can describe it is a bit like Sovereign Hill (except a LOT dirtier). There were saloons, old dark shops selling all kinds of weird things...stuff like that. I found a cheap Indian place to eat called Pagi Sore where I had roti for about 50c, and a supermarket selling drinks for 25c, so that was good. Another very interesting thing was the mosque near my hotel (Bintan is predominantly Muslim although there are a few Christian people). At various times throughout the day there would be prayer calls coming from the top of the mosque that could be heard all around the city. It was really nice. I had to rapidly learn quite a bit of Indo as no-one could speak much English. This was pretty fun although involved the locals laughing a lot at my poor attempts at pronunciation! Returned to Singapore last night after travelling for 7 hours...very tired.
Besides heading to Indonesia I've been having a great time in Singapore. It's been good staying at Bing's place and doing stuff with him when he gets home from work. So far I've been ocean kayaking off the east coast of Singapore (good fun but VERY tiring when the wind and waves picked up!), tried durian fruit (which according to all Westerners I've spoken to both smells and tastes like shit - I didn't mind it), been to the Singapore Zoo and night safari, been shopping in Chinatown, been on the reverse bungy (very exhilarating, shot up 60m into the air at 200km/hr and G-force 5!), been to Orchard Rd to see the Christmas lights (stunning), been to Suntec City to see the largest fountain in the world, been to the Jurong Bird Park, and last night we went to the Long Bar at Raffles Hotel to have Singapore Slings! This was REALLY fun. We had drinks while watching a 7-piece band do excellent imitations of Barry White classics, and threw our peanut shells EVERYWHERE, all over the floor, as was tradition in the bar. It was quite messy but very funny! As Bing said, 'It feels wrong but it feels GOOD!'. Hehe.

The historic Raffles Hotel

Bing with a Singapore Sling

Suppose that's all for now. Today I'm heading to Little India to have a look around, then tomorrow I will hopefully go to Pulau Ubin, an island north of Singapore which is the last really rural part. Tomorrow night is Zoukout, a dance party on Sentosa Island that 15,000 people are expected to attend, and Sunday I think I'll spend on Sentosa too before meeting my Intrepid group in the evening. Miss you all and hope you are all well. Bye for now!

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