Thursday, October 4, 2012


After having spent almost 7 weeks on holiday already, I felt that I deserved a holiday. So, on Tuesday (being otherwise free of engagements) I had booked a ferry to the nearby Indonesian island of Bintan, for what I hoped to be some casual watersports and maybe motorcycling and even a few minutes sitting on a warm beach.

It turned out that the ferry terminal was at the far Eastern end of Singapore so I caught a taxi with another chap I met in the hostel (who was going to the airport). The significance of the voyage became apparent when I had to go through passport control and customs. But luckily I had no illicit substances with me, so this was easy enough.

I have no idea how long the journey actually was, since I slept, but I think it took about negative 5 minutes on the watch (we crossed a time zone). We had then arrived at Bintan Resorts, the very commercial North end of the island populated with expensive western-style resorts which accept the Singapore Dollar (and are even more expensive than Singapore itself), for this is a common holiday destination for Singaporean locals and visitors alike.

But this wasn't for me! After queueing, paying my $16 for a visa on arrival, queueing again and finally entering Indonesia, I was bombarded by all sorts of people offering me tours, car hire, etc etc. I politely declined but was caught by surprise by a genuine security guard at the exit of the ferry terminal who asked me if I wanted a motorbike. Well I couldn't say no, could I, and I guess this is how business is done here. So  he led me over to where the staff bikes were parked and tried to rent me one for $10 an hour! I said I wanted to pay $50 for hire until 6pm (which was 8 hours) and I wanted a helmet. So he called up his mate who brought another bike over (and helmet) and persuaded me to hop on the back.

About a minute's ride later we arrived in a large bike park with quite a few people - clearly this was a proper bike rental place, and the chap hopped off the bike and presented it to me for hire for the day! I handed over my $50 and was given the key and also a note for some 50,000 Rp in order to get out of the guarded entrance. So off I went!

Here's the beauty - yes it's a Yamaha!

I didn't ask about insurance, deposit or driving licence, I thought it best not to inquire! But I was the one with the upper hand here anyway, since I had his bike and he just had a $50 note. The bike was in fine condition, the front brake worked very well and the rear brake less so. Tyres were in good condition and quite narrow, which made it much nicer to handle. I reckon it was about 70cc 4-stroke, twist and go (even though I gesticulated that I was fine with manual transmission), unrestricted but I never sought to find the top speed! Everything worked including the lights and horn - so no complaints at all.

So off I went, assisted by the best map of the island that I could find:

But there was no scale so, setting off towards Trikora beach (which the chap said was an hour's drive), I quickly ended up somewhere very different! But in the absence of any road signs, and with lots more roads than shown on my McMap, I resorted to the technique of slowing down and shouting my destination to locals, who in return smiled and pointed.

My first surprise was just how good the roads were on Bintan. They seemed at most 5 years old, and for the most part were very clear and solid with white lines etc. They were also really good fun - lots of curves, some gradients, a bit of camber and normally quite good visability, so I could really have a bit of fun and enjoy being on a bike again! So I originally limited myself to 50kph but soon upped this to 60kph as long as I could see the road ahead was good, and as I gained confidence in the machine.

Once I left the Resorts area, I was in proper Indonesia. Every now and again there would be a small village with families sitting round outside doing, as far as I could tell, nothing at all. Some of these places were food establishments, and others had 2l plastic bottles in a rack outside with a straw-coloured fluid outside which was obviously petrol. So at least I knew I could find lots of fuel on my journey.

This is what some of the more developed parts of Indonesia look like:

On the whole, the roads were very quiet, and probably 80% of the traffic was motorbikes between 50 and 150cc capacity - of the scooter (like mine), underbone ( and motorbike variety. Most people wore helmets. Some were being used as MPVs and others as trucks, and all of them going faster than me! But that's OK - I had an entire day to explore the island, right? The rest of the traffic was a mixture of really modern silver Toyotas (nothing else!) presumably running people from the resorts down to the main town of Tanjung Pinang, and also incredibly smoky old trucks transporting those items too large for the fleet of bikers.

Eventually, after taking a huge detour over mountains and via Gesek, I motored through the amazing little fishing village of Kawal with its bustling high street, schools and fish market. It's hard to take photos while riding though, and I was hungry so I absorbed the view while moving through.

I then found somewhere looking reasonably reputable to have lunch and, to my surprise, there was a British couple there, part-way through cycling around the island in preparation for an excursion later in the month. I can see why it would be a good place for cycling, with the interesting roads of good quality. They gave me some advice about where to head next, and how to head back to the ferry at the end of the day, which was appreciated. We also took each others' photos. Here is mine, as I ate my garlic chicken with rice:

It had just about started to rain but I was lucky to have found shade just in time. In fact I encountered wet roads for a while, so maybe my 2.5 hour detour took me round the shower! I'm not sure if I got ripped off for lunch or if it was just expensive, but as far as I could tell they had done the conversion correctly (1000 Rp = 7 $). Never mind - I was on Holiday^2!

Next I headed South, trying to go back to Kawal to get those photos of it, but then I got distracted by a resort which looked like it had a good beach (and maybe a kayak so I could explore the coast), so I went in to explore. Inside I found a few guys sitting round, who turned out to be the owners and were a couple of Dutch guys and a Brit. It would seem like they had come over from Bali to set up this resort - seemingly a very relaxing way to make a living, if you can put up with poor internet and the more relaxed time ethos on the island. And, apparently, the sound of the waves which some guests tend to complain about!

But alas, they did now have kayaks but suggested I travelled up the coast a bit to find the Agro resort, which might have what I was looking for. An hour of riding later, I still had not found it - and I was starting to run out of day!

(some of the roads weren't quite so good).

But I had passed a number of turnings which could or could not lead to the ferry terminal. So, riding South again to a beach I had spotted earlier, I gave up on the watersports idea and stopped off for a quick swim and a relax on the beach. When I say quick, I was concerned about the security of my rucksack (which contained all my important valuables and passport), so I spent about 10 minutes swimming around and another 10 minutes reading my book - just to say that I had done it! I also tried to take some self-portraits, but this is the only one which turned out OK, emphasising my lobster-arms (I had neglected to suncream in the morning but definitely made up for this at lunchtime) and travel-belly (the reasons for which are self-evident). I have a bizarre pose because I had just nearly stepped on a very large crab about 1 second before the timer went off!

I also managed a self-portrait of Bike and me:

But, now with only an hour left to ride about 50km to return the bike and get back to the ferry terminal (and about the same amount of daylight left), I really had to push the speed a bit to get across the island in time. Luckily I found the beautiful road, newly constructed through the jungle and the pineapple plantations, that linked my side of the island to the other and so off I went!

Suddenly, 80kph was not an issue in my shorts and t-shirt. But don't tell Mum.

Just as the sun was setting, the bike started coughing! This was only 5km from the bike rental place, but still quite concerning, though I just reduced the throttle a bit and it was fine. Thankfully.

I returned the bike 10 minutes before time was up and had another lift back to the ferry terminal. The guy was very grateful for my custom (and I imagine so, $50 is still quite a bit of money out here!) and we both parted happily. He could not quite believe, however, that I had gone through 4 tanks and covered (by Google Earth estimation) about 180km!

So I had dinner in the ferry terminal, trying in vain to spend the last of my Rupiah, I then slept on the ferry and sleepily made my wait back to the Hostel. What a good day out - and an excellent example of how Singapore is a great location for exploring new and interesting places in SE Asia!

Edit - turns out my scooter was a Yamaha Mio, boasting the exciting power of a 113.7cc engine and a top speed (if I had pushed it) of about 110kph! The ONLY complaint I had with it was that the wingmirrors were in a poor location and wouldn't stay where I adjusted them to.

 But arguably, I had more fun zipping around at relatively high speed on this thing, than I might have on my very fast and capable Fazer with 10x the power...


  1. Wow - what an action-packed day out Colin. Well done for your adventurousness (that can't be a word, surely?) - how about adventurosity - nah - whatever.

    Reminds me of my day on Madeira when I hired a 125cc and realised that the island was bigger than I thought, the mountains in the middle higher than I anticipated, where it was colder than I expected started raining too. But that another story :-)

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