Batam Island, Indonesia is just an hour by ferry from ritzy Singapore. The largest city in the Riau Islands province of Indonesia offers a gateway to explore the world’s largest predominantly Muslim country. Across the Singapore Strait, the island is popular with Singaporean tourists for shopping and beach getaways.
Bell and I recently spent 3 days on Batam Island following a work trip to Singapore. So we’ll break down some highlights of visiting, as well as things to keep in mind, from hotel and restaurant recommendations to safety.
We were torn between visiting Batam and the nearby Indonesian island of Bintan. Bintan is more popular for package tourism as it overall rates better for resort travel. Batam rates better for local dishes and culture, and also has to offer quality accommodation, which is what made our decision.
Indonesian dishes, highlighted by beef rendang and soto ayam, offer a cornucopia of mouth watering flavors. When the hotel staff informed us that Indonesian dishes are more pronounced in flavor profile compared to Singapore, we took it with a grain of salt. Singapore offers a wealth of diverse Asian cuisines, particularly an assortment of Southeast Asian dishes spanning Malay, Thai, Vietnamese and Indonesian, as well as Chinese, Indian, Japanese and Korean.
But indeed, Indonesian food packs a richer depth of flavors! Spices, like chili, tend to grow better in warm climates like Indonesia. Spices also help preserve food, which is why their dishes are so well-spiced. Sambal, chili sauce in Indonesia, is prevalent and often there will be different choices.
The island’s administrative area encompasses three main islands of Batam, Galang, and Rempang, several smaller islands, as well as Bulang to the west. We only visited Batam, so this article will focus on some tips as well as some pros and cons of including it during a visit to Singapore.
How to Get to Batam Island
We caught the short (1-hour) ferry from Singapore Harbourfront each way. There are two ferry terminals in Batam, with frequent ferry service from Singapore Harbourfront serving both. The two ferry terminals are Batam Centre Point International Ferry Terminal and Harbour Bay.
Batam Centre Point International Ferry Terminal is around a 20-minute drive from the center of Nagoya. Transfers can be arranged through a hotel or upon arrival at the taxi kiosk. If you stay in Nagoya like we did, it’s better to catch the ferry from Singapore Harbourfront to Harbour Bay. Harbour Bay itself resembles Singapore Harbourfront, with lots of shopping, restaurants and a nice pedestrian boardwalk that stretches along the harbor. Most of the rest of Batam does not resemble Singapore.
Batam offers a variety of hotels from luxury to budget in the Nagoya district. There are also a variety of beach resorts along the island, away from the hustle and bustle of towns. So it depends on the type of trip you’re looking for, as to which location is most suitable. Bell and I did not want to be isolated on a resort, so we chose to stay in town.
Batam Marriott Hotel Harbour Bay
Batam Marriott Hotel Harbour Bay is a 5 star property featuring an excellent location offering exquisite views across the Singapore Strait. We enjoyed cocktails and nibbles on their rooftop bar and restaurant terrace, with a view of Singapore’s impressive skyline in the distance. This is a romantic thing to do for couples visiting Batam. Batam Marriott Hotel Harbour Bay has three on-site restaurants, including a posh rooftop restaurant and grill.
Four Points by Sheraton Batam
We stayed at the Four Points by Sheraton Batam. Their rooms are spacious, comfortable and have modern amenities like large flat-screen cable TV, plush beds and high-powered air conditioning. Their on-site restaurant, Evolution, offers a great selection of delicious Indonesian dishes. One night, it was nice to relax in our room with room service.
We especially enjoyed the longtong sayur at the breakfast buffet at Four Points by Sheraton Batam. Longtong sayur is a coconut-based soup that is sweet, spicy and salty in equal measures. Additionally, we found their staff extremely warm, smiling and always willing to assist. And importantly, we paid out of pocket for this stay and never informed them about this website.
Batam is considerably less expensive compared to Singapore. Singapore has some of the most expensive hotel prices in the world, per square meter. Our visit to Singapore for a global cancer conference coincided with the Singapore Grand Prix Formula One race, which skyrockets the city’s hotel prices. We were able to stay in a nice hotel in Batam for 20% of the cost of a comparably nice hotel in Singapore during that time!
We were fortunate to be able to redeem a complimentary Marriott stay on race night in Singapore, which saved us nearly $500 USD at Four Points by Sheraton Singapore! By comparison, it cost us the equivalent of around $80 USD per night to stay at Four Points by Sheraton Batam during the Singapore Grand Prix.
Batam Harbour Bay Ferry Terminal is an international transport hub, featuring shopping and restaurants. It is located within Nagoya, which is the epicenter of the island’s entertainment, with many shops, restaurants and nightlife. If you want to experience more authentic Indonesian culture, catch a taxi to a trusted Batam City restaurant or shopping center.
Restaurants and Indonesian Food Tips
There are some great local restaurants in Batam serving delicious dishes for inexpensive prices. But you should also be careful where you eat. Do your research and take the advice of the hotel concierge or a trusted travel professional.
We enjoyed a seafood feast at Love Seafood Nagoya. Afterward, we were able to walk to the Nagoya Hill Hypermart since it was just across the street. The hotel organized a driver to take us there, and we called him to pick us up from the mall. The hotel advised us not to walk between Four Points and the mall due to a lack of proper footpaths, therefore making it a safety concern despite being a short-ish walk.
Beef Rendang is a popular Indonesian staple on menus and one of our favorite dishes to order. Beef Rendang is a dry curry rich in spices. It blends coconut milk and is slow-cooked with a mix of ground spices that form a paste. The spices include ginger, galangal, turmeric leaves, lemongrass, garlic, shallots and chillis. The results are an explosion of flavors.
We enjoyed a plate of rendang at a Padang restaurant, which is the cuisine of West Sumatra, Indonesia. There were no menus, and none of the staff spoke English, but the situation was taken in stride with one of the staff gently guiding us to the kitchen to look in pots and take our pick! When we said, rendang? One of the staff repeated back to us warmly, rendang! Yes of course, and then it arrived – voila.
Batam offers a wide variety of shopping from independent boutique shops to larger brands found in malls and shopping centers. We recommend packing light and shopping for some great bargains as the Singaporeans do.
We enjoyed shopping at Nagoya Hill Hypermart. There are a wide variety of stores in the shopping mall selling clothes, jewelry, electronics and more. There is also a food court with restaurants serving a wide array of traditional Indonesian dishes like beef rendang and soto ayam. Spacious cafes serve a variety of coffees, teas, fresh juices as well as a menu of flavorful dishes. There was even a live stage performance of children partaking in traditional Indonesian dancing when we visited.
Bayfront Mall greets visitors at the Harbour Bay ferry terminal. Mega Mall Batam Centre is connected to the Batam Centre Point International Ferry Terminal via a pedestrian overpass across the road. Visitors have many shopping choices on the island, and while it may not be as extensive as Singapore, products are generally less expensive. For luxury goods, there are fewer choices compared to areas like Orchard Road in Singapore.
What to Wear in Indonesia
Indonesia is the world’s largest predominately Muslim country. In Batam, we didn’t see a lot of fellow people of European heritage. Locals were generally lovely and warm to us. Bell dressed in long pants, skirts and tops or shawls that covered her arms when we were outside of the hotel. We recommend that women dress respectfully for the culture they are taking part in. Don’t deviate too much from the locals.
Indonesian Tourist Visas
Singapore nationals can travel to Indonesia without a visa. Many countries, like Australia, the USA, Canada, and European Union nationals can obtain an Indonesian visa on arrival. This is paid in cash, and we were advised in Singapore to arrive with Indonesian rupiah in advance. So we exchanged Singapore dollars for Indonesian rupiah at a currency exchange at the Singapore Harbourfront ferry terminal.
The cost of an Indonesian tourist visa for USA citizens as well as many other countries is 500,000 Indonesian Rupiah (about $35). The visa on arrival is valid for up to a 30-day stay. Visitors may extend a Visa-on-Arrival once through immigration. American citizens should read the US state department website’s Indonesia section for up to date information. Citizens of other countries traveling to Indonesia should check their government’s website for the latest rules for travel to Indonesia.
Indonesia is a developing country. Visitors should not walk around Nagoya at night. And during the day, visitors should also be aware of their surroundings. Batam is not like Singapore, which is one of the safest cities and countries in the world. Singapore is generally safe to walk around at night. In Batam, you should travel with a trusted driver organized by your hotel or resort.
Batam can be a worthwhile visit from Singapore. Indonesian food is delicious, especially for fellow lovers of spicy cuisine. Staying on the island is also extremely budget friendly, especially when an event is driving up Singapore hotel prices beyond reasonable amounts. Indonesia offers some of the best value for money during a getaway.
Is Asia on your travel list? If you have questions, leave a comment below or email me at alex(at)wanderlustmarriage.com and I’ll get back to you!
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