By Tan Yi Hui
The scene is as pretty as a postcard. Clear waters line the shore of fine sand. There is not a resort in sight– just untouched, natural beauty before you. You sit and enjoy some fresh coconut juice and think that life cannot get much better.
This vision of a paradise away from civilisation is closer to home than you think.
Welcome to Melur Beach, Batam.
Yes, the unheralded island of Batam, popular with dirty old men in search of sex for sale. Unlike Bintan to the east, Batam is the sibling usually mentioned in disapproving tones.
But there is another side to Batam where opportunities for good clean fun abound: cheap shopping, sampling fresh seafood, visiting affordable spas in Nagoya town and checking out resort facilities along the Nongsa side.
Granted, Batam is not known for picturesque beaches and the best ones are owned by resorts. Still, Melur is one of the last few non-monopolised beaches pretty enough for a seaside stopover.
Yes, facilities are spartan but there are local shacks selling drinks. Pack your own picnic mat and beach stools if you are into soaking up the sun.
An hour’s ride from the major ferry terminals, the public beach is located on the southern Galang island, connected to mainland Batam by the Barelang highway bridge system.
Your best shot is to hire a full-day taxi or join a minibus group from Batam town centre. Fares range from about $70 for taxis to $200 for a bus group of 20.
It gets crowded with locals and tourists on weekends but put a group together and you can own the sun and sand if you hightail it there on a weekday.
If you are looking for other activities after that, civil servant Wendy Lee, 29, recommends pampering yourself at a spa. She went on a day trip with three friends this year and paid $52 for three hours of massage, scrubs, a steam-bath and jacuzzi.
Corporate communications manager Adrian Phuah, 35, who has holidayed at Batam twice over the last few years, adds: “Batam is a much cheaper place to visit than Bintan. You can eat, shop and get a good massage all within a day.
"You might like to plan a two-day-onenight stay just to experience it more.”
Ms Lee and friends sum it up.
“We feel that the spa itself is worth the trip there.”
TAKE TIME TO EXPLORE
Ferries from Singapore operate out of HarbourFront terminal and Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal to various jetties on Batam. Travelling time is about an hour. A return ticket costs about $50, including taxes and surcharges.
|After lazing on Melur Beach, you can spend the afternoon admiring the striking Barelang bridges
SPAS AND MASSAGE CENTRES
Tiara Mustika, Batam Centre
Body treatments from $35 (tel: +62778-472118/9, booking required)
Sport Massage Centre & Spa (Depan Seruni Hotel and Depan Harmoni Hotel)
One-hour Thai or traditional massage from $10 (tel: +62778-452625 and +62778-425889)
Nagoya Hill Shopping Mall
The biggest mall on Batam, in the Nagoya town area, where everything from clothes to electronics can be found. Local brands of shirts and shoes can go for as little as $5.
Located just across the road from Batam Centre Ferry Terminal. It is a common last stop for Singaporeans before heading home.
Vietnamese refugee camp
On Pulau Galang. A refuge for Vietnamese people who braved the seas in flimsy boats to flee the war in the 1970s. In the camp area are memorials to a tragic past – abandoned churches, make-shift hospitals and the Quan An Tu Monastery.
The structures are a spectacular contrast of modern engineering against a rural backdrop. Six bridges link Batam to southern islands such as Rempang and Galang. Locals and tourists often stop on these to catch the breeze while taking in panoramic views of the archipelago.
If you would rather leave the details to a tour agency, here are some affordable packages to check out:
2D1N free and easy, from $55
Twin share, valid till October. Stay at Sentosa Hotel, located in the town area, near shopping centres and food places. Call CTC on 6532-0532
2D1N package tour from $58
Twin share, valid till Sept 30. Stay at Golden Virgo Hotel or Planet Holiday Hotel, one-day city and shopping tour with seafood lunch and local guide. Call Chan Brothers Express on 6533-6119
2D1N free and easy from $53
Twin share, valid till Sept 30. Stay at Golden Virgo Hotel or Planet Holiday Hotel. Call Chan Brothers Express
2D1N starting from $78
Twin share, valid till October. Stay at Bintan Nirwana Beach Club, a favourite with watersports enthusiasts. The hotel offers watersports such as from banana-boating, snorkelling, diving, windsurfing, kite surfing, jet skiing, kayaking, boogie-boarding, sailing and fishing. Call CTC
2D1N from $72
Twin share, valid till Sept 30. Accommodation and daily breakfast for selected hotels. Call Chan Brothers Express
SINGAPORE ISLAND HOPPING
Go offshore for a day, yet leave your passport at home.
Cycling: A popular choice. Full-day bike rentals are available from $2 at kiosks stationed just after the jetty.
Trekking: Check out the Sensory Trail by NParks, featuring a walk through the Chek Jawa area, famous for diverse wildlife. To get the best out of your walk, go during low tide. Tidal information available at www.nparks.gov.sg or call 6542-4108 for general inquiries.
Eco tours: On every last Sunday of the month, volunteers from nature group Naked Hermit Crabs hold free tours of Chek Jawa. For details, visit www.nakedhermitcrabs.blogspot.com
Getting there: Take a bumboat from Changi Jetty at Changi Village. Rides cost $2.50 per person, one way.
|The eye-catching seven-storey Jejawi Tower on Ubin is located along the Chek Jawa Sensory Trail. If offers a view of the Island's lush canopy.
What to do: A host of activities such as fishing, inter-tidal walks, bird watching and stargazing can be done, but they are accessible to various interest groups only on approval by the National Environment Agency. For details, call 6862-0480 or visit www.nea.gov.sg
Tip: All is not lost for small groups and families. During the month of November, the agency holds an open house as part of its programme for Clean and Green Singapore (www.cgs.org.sg).
Ferry transport and tour of the island will be provided free for interested parties. Look out for announcements by the end of the month on the CGS website. Online registration is available on the agency’s website.
What to do: The island offers swimming lagoons and generally, a nice spot for a day of sun and sand. Nature-lovers can sign up for a ReefWalk with conservation group Blue Water Volunteers, during low tides once a month. The cost of the walk is $15 per participant. For details, visit www.bluewatervolunteers.org
Getting there: Take a ferry from Marina South Pier. Return tickets cost $15 for adults and $12 for children aged one to 12 years old. Ticket prices may vary slightly during the annual Kusu pilgrimage season from Sept 29 to Oct 28. For details, call 1800-SENTOSA (736-8672) or visit www.sentosa.com.sg
This article was first published in The Straits Times on August 10, 2008.