Riau Travels, Tradition and Culture

Text and Photos by Loren Xue

Riau, 15 December 2012. Having grown up in Riau during my childhood years, returning to Kepulauan Riau (Kepri for short) has brought back many memories. A little like Vietnam, the dusty-bumpy roads in the city host more motorbikes than cars.

Taxis most commonly come in the form of  motorbike taxis or vans that run along certain routes, and of course, regular taxis. Kepri consists of seven main islands: Bintan, Karimun, Natuna, Anambas, Linga and the capital of the province, Tanjung Pinang. Taking a rowboat – a sampan - out to neighbouring fishing islands or kelongs (floating rafts that farm fish for trade) is as common as taking a bicycle ride to a neighbour's  in Kepri, given the islandic nature of the region. Practically every seaside home will have a ladder that leads up from the sea to allow for travel by boat. 

The people are humble and are down-to-earth, with a genuine spark of happiness, and because their life is simple and uncomplicated, it makes for a great and economical travel destination for families looking for a get-away in the tropics – but remember to take insect repellent to enjoy the islands more fully.

Tanjung Pinang Food

Fish and lady's fingers curry stew.

Fish and lady's fingers curry stew.

The food trails in Tanjung Pinang are particularly rewarding, with open-air food markets that offer abundant seafood - barbecued with home-made sauces, grilled, stewed, fried or steamed. There are lots of soups like sop lembu and sop ikan - beef and fish soup respectively, served with rice and various accompaniments of tempeh, longbeans, tofu and deliciously spicy condiments. Of course, restaurants will often be a better choice for a bigger group but even there be prepared to accept spiciness as part of the local cuisine.

For those with a sweet tooth, there are traditional homemade cakes and desserts and drinks. An unforgettable one usually served at meal’s end is the apulkat – ice-blended avocado with a drizzle of chocolate sauce. If you chance upon a Chinese coffee shop during tea-time, one that makes its own kaya (a thick, caramelised coconut-and-egg jam), be sure to ask order yourself some kaya-and-butter toast, along with a cup of prenjak, without milk; it’s the Tanjung Pinang equivalent of Earl Grey and scones. Coffee is toe-curlingly good anywhere, but may prove to be on the sweet side for some. 

Traditional Clothes in Tanjung Pinang 

Batik scarves are good souvenirs in Tanjung Pinang.

Batik scarves are good souvenirs in Tanjung Pinang.

Batik, commonly made of cotton, is the traditional textile of Indonesia and the garment of choice for many Indonesian businesspeople. The fabric is also light and cool, which makes it a practical choice in tropical weather. You can get your own batik shirt and scarves, or even try creating your own designs at Batik Gonggong.

Traditional urut – Indonesian massage – is also readily available. This style of massage is robust and not for the weak-hearted, but there is something for those who prefer a softer touch – spas have been springing up all over Kepri and you can find very good ones with with the help of a good guide like EMKA Tours.  If you want to stay in touch, Blackberry warriors will want to tell colleagues there is only intermittent internet coverage, as some of the more remote islands are beyond the web. There will usually be free WiFi access in your hotels, like in Aston's in Tanjung Pinang, but the fastest and cheapest way to communicate with fellow travellers is often using walkie-talkies.  

Regardless of whether others are able to reach you however, rest assured that you will definitely return with a taste for local fare, lots of pictures of island living, and a golden tan. 

Ferry details: http://www.singaporecruise.com.sg

Batam resorts: http://www.batamholidays.com

Batik Gonggong (contact email: batikgonggong@gmail.com).