Riau Archipelago, Republic of Indonesia

Riau Islands. The dots on the horizon are fish traps with huts

Riau archipelago is situated just south of Singapore and is part of Riau Islands Province of Indonesia which also includes islands in the South China Sea between East and West Malaysia. There are 3200 islands in the province and mostly uninhabited. Tanjung Pinang in Pulau Bintan is the capital city and the administrative office for the province but the hive of economic activities are in Pulau Batam just next to Pulau Bintan. Suffice to say that the island of Pulau Batam is where the bulk of the population resides accounting for 2/3 of it. The rest are scattered in other major islands of the province and on smaller islands in the vicinity of these major islands.

Many are uninhabited (pardon the pincushion oops barrel)

There is only one International Ferry Terminal in Pulau Bintan, at least five in Pulau Batam and one in Pulau Karimun. These ferry terminals cater for ferries that go to and from Singapore and Malaysia. They also serve as international entry points to Indonesia.

Travelling between the major islands in the Riau Archipelago are by ferries, each of which can accommodate more than a hundred passengers. The travelling time can be as long as five hours for the outlying islands like Pulau Lingga or Pulau Singkep from Pulau Bintan or Pulau Batam. Time that is worth  spent on the roof deck if the weather permits. There are also fast boat services to intermediate islands that can accommodate about thirty passengers, they are called Speed by the locals. These boats are powered by three or four high-powered huge outboard motors.

Main mode of transport between major islands

If weather permits, best to be on roof deck

Speeds at Sekupang Domestic Ferry Terminal, Batam. The one on the left have five engines. Speeds with three engines are either smaller in size or have bigger engine capacity

In this age of Internet, communication is not a problem. At the least there is one Internet Café in every major islands if not many. If one happens to be in a secluded island spot, cell phone coverage should suffice. Radio signals travel further over water than over land because land is ground, it absorbs the signals more. As for entertainment, the usual applies, local television that is. Besides the terrestrial  television coverage, there is also satellite coverage for the outlying areas in all of Indonesia.

Communication is not a problem


Only a handful of islands have mountains, the rest are mainly hilly and while others are just pieces of flat lands. The inhabitants on these scattered outlying islands mostly live by the sea in houses built on stilts. They were mostly fishermen. A few of them were boat builders, masters boat builders, they are very skilled in their craft. They travel within their vicinity by their personal sampans or small boats and if the economics is strong there are ferry services by small boats called Pompong. Life is very simple. If a kampung have a jetty or pier, the ferry will berth at it for passengers to board and alight but if there isn’t any, then they will be ferried over to and from the ferry by small boat. The manoeuvre to board and alight the ferry requires skill if not courage on the passenger part plus the ability to swim or at least to stay afloat.

Few islands with mountains

The rest are mainly hilly

Just a piece of flat land, a candidate for personal island

Colony with quite a number of inhabitants

Typical colony houses

Colony houses (secluded)

Fish traps and huts

Boats being built


Pier in a populous kampung

The need of a boat for colony with no jetty

boarding the ferry sometimes can be hazardous

If you are going for seaside resort, Pulau Batam and Pulau Bintan have lots of it. But if you are the adventurous types, then the outlying islands beckon you. No frills, just basic.