I went on a trip to Riau Islands recently. As most working trips, it was colored with several bizarre instances and a slight stress. However, the trip was memorable. The Islands was beautiful and very interesting.
Highly influenced by the Melayu (Malay) culture, the island is famous for its traditional poetry, rich dishes, and several historical sites such as the palace in Penyengat Island.
Raja Ali Haji, who built it, was a famous poet and writer, and the palace’s cement was reportedly partly made out of whites of eggs. Unfortunately, I didn’t go there.
I also went to a Chinese temple which was said to have 500 statues built on the slope below it. However, the construction was not finished yet.
Riau islands also has beautiful beaches. I was lucky enough to spend a night in one of those fancy Bintan resorts. The resort, which is ran by a Singapore company, is beautiful and the beach was clean. My traveling friends said that the place reminded them a lot of the resorts and hotels in Bali.
Aside from the beach, I also went on a mangrove tour, which was fascinating. I can’t help but think that the Singaporeans actually did a better job of treating the beach well. (look at what we did to Ancol!)
And then there’s the food. Most of the time, we were served seafood so I didn’t have many options, but one morning the local women decided to treat us to a banquet of traditional food, with lots of vegetables, by the seashore. Great! I discovered that the
“festive” food of these islands are of course very rich with oil and coconut milk, and often very meaty too. However, the everyday food is markedly healthier, often featuring local greens and cooked with less oil but still rich in spices.
During my stay in the resort, I got a chance to visit the mangrove tour spot, which was fun (we saw snakes!) and spent around err..10 minutes splashing on the beautiful beach (it was a bizarre schedule but I wasn’t in charge of my own itinerary ). The beach, resort and mangrove tour was almost flawless. But of course, it wasn’t run by Indonesians, and it did not cater to Indonesians (the price is in Singapore dollars), and I couldn’t help thinking, if the island had been left to the hand of Indonesian tourism, would it be the same?