SINGAPORE: Looking for something less crowded than Bali, but can’t afford the price tag of a luxury island resort?
Look no further than Belitung island, now a mere 1.5-hour flight from Singapore since Garuda Indonesia launched four weekly direct flights from Changi Airport to Belitung’s airport in Tanjung Pandan.
Located halfway between Singapore and Jakarta, the island that has been nicknamed the “Maldives of Indonesia” is an ideal getaway spot away from the hubbub of city life. Here are five reasons why.
1. PRISTINE BEACH
No doubt the most popular beach on the island, Tanjung Tinggi is tucked neatly in a cove and lined with rock formations which break the waves coming on to the beach.
A shooting location for award-winning local film The Rainbow Troops, it is perfect for a relaxing bathe under the sun.
The beach that boasts crystal-clear water and smooth granite rocks - estimated to be 65 million to 200 million years old - is located northwest of the island, about 40 minutes’ drive from the Belitung airport.
A 10-minute drive from Tanjung Tinggi will take you to another beach, Tanjung Kelayang, where you are in for more than just a dip in the turquoise-blue water.
Tanjung Kelayang has a more open seascape which means slightly stronger waves. Local fishermen park their boats here and offer to take visitors on island-hopping trips.
For about 500,000 rupiah (S$50), you can rent a boat for up to 10 people.
Top of the island-hopping list is a visit to Pulau Lengkuas, a secluded island with an iconic lighthouse.
Built by the Dutch in 1882, the 12-storey tall lighthouse still functions as a guide for ships sailing through Belitung. Visitors can climb up the lighthouse and enjoy the breathtaking 360-degree view from on top.
Hop back on the boat and the captain will take you towards slightly deeper waters where you will be in for an underwater treat.
With snorkeling gear provided by the boat crew for a fee, you can watch various species of colourful fish and pristine coral reefs.
Another unique feature in Belitung waters is Pulau Pasir, a patch of sand in the middle of the sea that disappears into the water in the afternoon. Starfish are often found lying on the sand at low tide - a novelty that is definitely worth a snap.
3. PICTURESQUE LAKE
Seaside attractions are not the only ones you can enjoy in Belitung. Not far from the airport is Danau Kaolin, an artificial lake that was formed by accident after the kaolin clay miners abandoned the area.
It was ironically the destruction from the mining activities that gave Danau Kaolin its unique patchy terrain, which has all the makings of a picturesque scene.
Being near to the airport, you can catch a glimpse of the lake even before you land on Belitung.
4. COFFEE CULTURE
At the eastern end of the island is Manggar, a small town that has been nicknamed “the city of 1,001 coffee shops”. Visitors from the western beaches can get there with less than two hours’ drive on well-paved roads.
The town, where Jakarta’s former governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama grew up, truly lives up to its name as every street corner here has a warung kopi where visitors can rest up and get their caffeine fix.
For the literary-minded visitors, Manggar is also home to novel-turned film The Rainbow Troops by the best-selling Indonesian writer of all time, Andrea Hirata. The book has been translated into 21 languages and is available in 87 countries.
5. THIS QUAINT RESTAURANT
No vacation is ever complete without a good old culinary delight. Belitong Timpo Duluk (“Old-School Belitung”) serves up local delicacies in a quaint setting.
Hanging on the wall is an old roadster bicycle and rattan-made farmer’s hats and baskets, as well as fishing tools. On the very table your food is served is an old-school charcoal iron, now a mere fandangle.
Food here comes in a tray meant to be shared by four diners. Fish satay, fish soup, coriander chicken and mixed vegetables are among the dishes served.
Return flights from Singapore to Belitung start from S$165 on Garuda.