Natuna Islands

Natuna Islands

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The Natuna Islands archipelago (272 islands) is located in the South China Sea in the larger Tudjuh Archipelago, off the northwest coast of Borneo. The islands administratively form (including the nearby Bunguran Islands) a regency within the Riau Islands Province of Indonesia and are the northernmost non-disputed island group of Indonesia. The Natuna Islands themselves are divided into three groups: North Natuna, which includes Laut Island (Pulau Laut); Middle Natuna, which includes Bunguran (or Natuna Besar); and South Natuna, which includes Subi Besar.

Dumai

Dumai

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Like most of Pekanbaru’s oil, travellers enter and exit Dumai through its busy port. Airfares between Malaysia and Sumatra are usually more competitive, but a ferry also links Dumai to Melaka. Buses also link Bukittinggi to Dumai if you’re hell-bent on transiting between Sumatra and Malaysia without flying.

Dumai has loads of accommodation, but if you time it right, it’s relatively straighforward to link to or from Bukittinggi without overnighting in Dumai.

The Dumai Express ferry from Melaka (around two to three hours) arrives in Dumai around 8am. The port area is a bit of a scrum, so keep an eye out for BMW2002 Tours & Travel, which runs shared minibuses (per person 100,000Rp) direct to Bukittinggi. There are also frequent buses from Dumai to Padang (100,000Rp, 12 hours) if you’re visiting the Mentawai Islands.

From Dumai the ferry to Melaka (per person 240,000Rp, around two to three hours) departs at 11am daily. If you’re travelling from Bukittinggi, BMW2002 has a nightly minibus (around 10 hours) linking with the ferry’s morning departure.

Lagoi

Lagoi

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Bintan’s resort area stretches along the northern coastline of the island along Pasir Lagoi, with hectares of wilderness buffering the hotels from commoners to the south. Security is in full effect, with checkpoints at access roads and at hotel entrances. The beaches are sandy and swimmable, the resorts have polished four- and five-star service and there are water-sports activities and entertainment for all ages.

There are also three golf courses in Lagoi designed by champion golfers. See www.bintan-resorts.com/discover/golf for more information.

Nagoya

Nagoya

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This is the original boom town, showing a lot more skin than you’ll find in the rest of Sumatra. The heart of town is the Nagoya Entertainment District, dotted with beer bars and massage parlours. Other attractions include Nagoya’s shopping centres – Nagoya Hill Mall is the most popular – which are often packed with Malaysian and Singaporean weekend visitors.

Like Singapore, Nagoya is divided up into main avenues and tributary blocks and exhibits a certain Chinese industriousness similar to the city-state.

It ain’t pretty, but Nagoya is ultimately functional, and an interesting enough overnight stay it you’re hell-bent on arriving in Sumatra by boat via Singapore and Pulau Bintan.

http://www.lonelyplanet.com/indonesia/nagoya

Pulau Batam

Pulau Batam

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With the island’s proximity to Singapore, Batam is the labour-intensive production leg of the Singapore–Johor Baru–Batam industrial triangle. Many electronics companies have established production plants in the industrial park of Mukakuning. Factory workers are predominantly young women from impoverished areas of Indonesia.

Higher up the economic food chain are the executives who oversee the factories and the engineers who work on the offshore oil rigs and pipelines. More recent investment is flowing in from China with the establishment of steel manufacturing plants and shipbuilding.

Other initiatives across recent years have included developing golf resorts and casinos targetting Asian tourists, and gated retirement communities for East Asians, Singaporeans and Jakarta-based Chinese.

http://www.lonelyplanet.com/indonesia/sumatra/pulau-batam

Tanjung Pinang

Tanjung Pinang

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The main port town on the island is a bustling mercantile centre with more ethnic diversity than most Sumatran towns. There is a lot of provincial-style shopping and nibbling on Chinese and Indonesian specialities. Located nearby are several traditional-style villages and temple attractions.

http://www.lonelyplanet.com/indonesia/tanjung-pinang

Pulau Bintan

Pulau Bintan

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Just across the water from Batam, Pulau Bintan is trying to market itself as a high-end playground for well-heeled visitors from East Asia. Top-end resorts huddle around the Lagoi area on the island’s northern coast – in close proximity to Singapore – and the east coast around Pantai Trikora is a more affordable and laid-back option for Bintan beach bums.

Check out www.welcometobintan.com and www.bintan-resorts.com.

http://www.lonelyplanet.com/indonesia/sumatra/pulau-bintan

Pekanbaru

Pekanbaru

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Before the Americans struck oil, Pekanbaru was little more than a sleepy river port on Sungai Siak. Today it’s Indonesia’s oil capital, with all the hustle and bustle of modern cities.

Pekanbaru’s primary purpose for tourists used to be as a transit point for ferry passengers from Singapore, but the increased affordability of air travel has curtailed the sea passage. If you’ve still got your heart set on an old-school journey by boat from Singapore to Sumatra, it is still possible – just – and if you do wash up in this oil boomtown, expect a warm welcome from the friendly locals.

The best place to base yourself is around the intersection of Jl Sudirman and Jl Teuku Umar with ATMs, good food and accommodation options.

http://www.lonelyplanet.com/indonesia/sumatra/pekanbaru

– Riau

Riau

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The landscape and character of Riau province is distinct from the northern and western rind of Sumatra. Rather than mountains and volcanoes, Riau’s character was carved by rivers and narrow ocean passages. Trading towns sprang up along the important navigation route of the Strait of Melaka, across which Riau claims cultural cousins.

For the port towns, such as Pekanbaru, and the Riau Islands, proximity to Singapore and Kuala Lumpur has ensured greater access to the outside world than the towns of the interior Sumatran jungle. The discovery of oil and gas reserves has also built an educated and middle-class population within a relatively impoverished island.

The interior of the province more closely resembles Sumatra as a whole: sparse population, dense jungle, surviving pockets of nomadic peoples (including the Sakai, Kubu and Jambisal) and endangered species, such as the Sumatran rhinoceros and tiger.

The Riau Islands are scattered like confetti across the South China Sea. The locals say there are as many islands as there are grains in a cup of pepper. That would be about 3214 islands in all, more than 700 of them uninhabited and many of them unnamed.

Pulau Batam and Pulau Bintam are practically suburbs of Singapore, with the attendant industry and recreation. In fact, the islands prefer to think of themselves as distinct from mainland Sumatra. Further away in the archipelago are the remote islands of Anambas, Natuna and Tambelan.

http://www.lonelyplanet.com/indonesia/riau