For many Singaporeans who love visiting Batam, the island is a shopping and eating paradise. It’s only an hour’s boat ride from Singapore, and the cost of living there is cheap.
Because my team and I had a pretty successful EOY last year, we got to enjoy an all expenses paid retreat to Batam as a reward.
On 2 March, our party of 10 adults and 3 children gathered at the Harbourfront Centre Ferry Terminal to await our ride via Horizon Fast Ferry. It’s $48 for a round trip but costs cheaper if purchased via wholesalers such as moneylenders. I haven’t been to Batam in like a decade and was surprised to find that the pre-boarding process is similar to that of boarding the plane, where passengers and their carry-on luggage are subject to a security scan. Aside from a little hiccup where the boys were not allowed to bring their long boards onboard as carry-on luggage with no proper reasoning given, everything went smoothly.
The journey to Batam took about an hour. After getting through customs, we boarded a pre-booked mini bus that would be our transport on Batam for the whole trip. It’s not quite possible to get around without a car, or a motorbike, the most common form of transport I saw on the road. I guess taxis or rental cars for those who drive are the next best options, but upon googling “Batam taxis”… let’s just say I’m grateful for having the mini bus.
Kelong Restaurant 188 Citra Utama
Our first stop was Kelong Restaurant 188 Citra Utama, where we pigged out on freshly caught seafood and coconuts. Various sea food are kept in a holding area and to place the order, one simply points to the sea food of choice and tell the required amount (weight) to the restaurant staff, and they will catch it for cooking. I said “simply” but if left to my own devices, I wouldn’t know what are the best eats or appropriate weight to go for, so thank goodness Leni’s there to sort it out. It’s my first time on a kelong and I really love the rustic environment and relaxing sea breeze which naturally sets one at ease.
I wanted to visit Barelang Bridge because it’s a popular scenic spot. The bridge itself isn’t much, but upon walking further in the direction of the sea, we found a super-instagrammable spot on a flight of stairs leading towards turquoise blue sea waters.
Batam is home to a number of dragonfruit farms. I was looking forward to the tour, but the farm is also inhabited by a number of mozzies, so we just settled for dessert and freshly-squeezed fruit juice. The dessert was sweet, refreshing and well-received by all. The fruit juice was sour and some claimed there was a grassy taste, but a few others like myself really liked it. I guess it’s one of those hit-or-miss types of drinks.
Aston Batam Hotel & Residences
Aston Batam Hotel & Residences was our home for the night. After dessert, we checked in our luggage. We marveled at the large rooms and fluffy beds in our service apartment. We laughed at one disproportionately small bedroom that had a single bed and no wardrobe. I think it’s a fine room (it’s the kind of private room one would see in a Japanese budget hostel) but it paled in comparison against the luxurious masterbed room toilet. (Yes, the toilet)
Our package comes with free buffet breakfast, which we had for the next morning. It offered a wide variety of dishes. Nothing really stood out, but it wasn’t bad either. We flocked to the egg station which offered eggs in various forms (poached, hard boiled, scrambled, sunny-side-up). The chef would take your order make it on the spot.
Opposite the hotel, there’s Indomaret, a popular chain of convenience stores in Indonesia. Getting there was quite the challenge as traffic was heavy and there were no traffic signs. We felt like we were in a computer game with the risky mission of crossing the road, except that there’s no replay button so we had to be cautious. We waited for when the traffic got lighter, then ran across the road. Apparently, drivers would stop for passengers to cross the road, but looking at the speed they went at, I don’t think I can be faulted for being doubtful.
Was it worth risking our lives to get across the road and back? Probably. Their Magnum ice-cream costs less than 1.50 SGD. That’s almost half of what they cost in Singapore! I also found spicy chicken muruku there, which was absolutely delicious and I brought 2 bags of it home.
After second dessert and snacks, we headed to BCS Mall in Batam, where there was tonnes of cheap groceries and fashion items, but too little time to shop. We went nuts at the hypermart, purchasing, among other things, 2 cartons of salted egg flavoured Indomie (that’s 40 packets) which we split among 5 of us.
Ikan Bakar Citra
Dinner was at Ikan Bakar Citra, an out-of-the-way restaurant which locals enjoyed but few foreigners knew of. It’s a small but cute and cozy with a bright yellow design. My friends made a reservation, and we were the only customers there. The restaurant owner makes his own chilli sauce. It’s spicy, but very “shiok” indeed, and it complements the fresh taste of the seafood dishes.
We’ve been doing pretty much nothing except eat for the entire day. I was on the verge of a food coma. There goes all the work I put in for the zumba sessions since the year started. And to make our holiday even more sinful, the night was spent playing drinking games with Stout (nasty), Heineken (meh) and Radler (good). My luck was so bad that the games ended prematurely after I was dealt with 2 and half glasses of beer within 2 consecutive rounds. My wonderful room mates made us drunkards some Indomie as a pick-me-up and I drank plenty of water to flush the alcohol out of my system. I didn’t get a hangover the next morning, but I had a pretty restless night running to the toilet every 2 hours!
Right after our hearty hotel buffet breakfast, we headed to Singalor Lau for lunch. They serve excellent roasted pork but by then I was in a food coma so alas I couldn’t properly savour my meal.
Nagoya Hill is a Batam classic. It is Batam’s largest mall and has everything under one roof from the cinema to massage parlours to fast food, clothing stores and more. While some of my party went for a massage, I went to buy a tonne of snacks. My favourite purchases are the rainbow kueh lapis and cheese kueh lapis from Cake Butik. They’re priced at 130,000 for a 10cm x 20cm box, and they’re easily the best kueh lapis I’ve ever had!
Our vacation ended with a delicious Nasi Padang dinner at at Restoran Serderhana. Rice was served with a wide variety of ayam dishes. The rendang gravy was creamy and flavourful, and the potatoes were a real treat. Unfortunately I still had not recovered from food coma so…
I was told that restaurants like these are more often frequented by “rich” Singaporean tourists and Indonesian Chinese, who would have the privilege of enjoying a spread. The average Batam resident tends to just have rice with one or two ingredients. As someone who would definitely not be considered rich in my own country in terms of income bracket, this reminded me to be grateful for what I have and can afford. Unlike some others, we have an affordable alternative for a feast, even if we can’t feast like this in Singapore, and we should be thankful. I will be more mindful to moderate my food intake so I don’t leave leftovers behind!