From Singapore it was only 16 Singapore dollars to get to Batam. I was surprised when I arrived that I had to get a $25 visa, since the last time I visited Indonesia (in early 2001) there was no fee.
The immigration officer was smiling at me in a strange way and kept asking me where I would be staying. I told him at ‘the resort’, he asked me if it was a certain one and I just said, “Yes, that’s the one.”. Then he wrote his phone number down and said “Tonight, you and me.” Frankly that was enough to make me want to leave Batam right away…C R E E P Y !
Anyway, I wasn’t totally decided on whether to stay or go. As usual, I’d come without a plan and without a clue so I figured to wander around. I thought I would be able to find a ferry from Batam to Jakarta, but it turned out that no one could really give me an answer.
I went to a nearby mall and sat down in an A & W Rootbeer where I had the first rootbeer float I’ve had in about twenty years and I looked at the web with the malls free wifi. It looked like there were ferries, but pretty much every source said they were next to impossible to get. It looked like if I wanted to go to Jakarta I would need to do it by Pelni lines but there were ferries to Bintan and Sumatra…but I wanted to go to Jakarta.
Batam actually is a little bit creepy by itself since it is known as a sexual playground for businessmen from Malaysia and Singapore who are looking for cheap Indonesian prostitutes. The island is obviously not all prostitutes, but with more than a million residents on the 45 x 25 km island, there are certainly enough. Batam has some special economic privileges which make it a kind of economic experiment for Indonesia, certainly the island seemed more prosperous than I remembered Indonesia being.
I took a look online to see how much a trip to the airport would cost me by cab. It looked like 75,000 IRP was the going rate. I found a friendly cabbie and talked him down to 50K (about $6.50). I told him I was going to buy a ticket at the airport and he informed me I was going to pay twice as much. I usually find this to be true, I don’t know why…it seems like the airport should be the cheapest place to buy a ticket….
Anyway, we dropped by his friend’s travel agency and I got a flight to Jakarta for about $25 on Srivijaya Airlines. Basic, but at least they give you a candy and some water to make you feel like you are welcome.
In a nutshell, I didn’t see much of Batam, it’s prostitutes, or it’s naughty nightlife. I’m sure Mr. Creepy Customs agent would have been happy to introduce me around…but I was pretty happy to miss the notorious sights of Batam. The taxi driver told me it was about 400,000 rupiah to get a girl for the night (in case you are wondering…). He also told me (as Indonesian cab drivers often do) that he had ten girlfriends and a wife. Despite that, he seemed like a genuinely nice guy.
On the way to the airport, he told me about the other sites I should come back to see including the Grand Mosque (Mesjid Raya) at Batam Center and the beautiful Melur Beach. Frankly, Batam looked like a fun place to hang out for a couple of days. The water around it looked like it would offer some great diving and there were plenty of small islands in the distance that would have been pretty fun to explore. There are also monkeys on Batam, which as you might guess, moves it up in my estimation.
It was very nice to be in Indonesia. Despite the similarity of Malaysia and Singapore, there is only one Indonesia and the tastes, smells, and sounds are unique. Once at the airport I settled into a Nasi Goreng stand and started drinking thick Indonesian coffee and eating some of the best food on the planet. I totally love Indonesian people because of their smiles, the way they laugh, and the way they deal with everything. In Indonesia, I was still ‘touted’ like I am in Turkey or Morocco or other parts of Asia, but no is always said and responded to with a smile. The smile really does make a difference.