I am having a craze about a specific way of travel, which is road trip. I did a week road trip through Flores Island, it gave distinct experiences and joyful kinds of tiredness. So I planned for another one, with a friend of mine, we did a three-day road trip around Belitung Island (Tanjung Pandan, its capital is at -2.741007, 107.647631).
Where is it? Belitung is an island east of Sumatera and a bit north from Java. It is part of Bangka-Belitung Province; the entire island is administered under Belitung Regency. The island itself is quite small, around 60-80 km in diameter, reachable by car from one edge to another in less than two hours. Known for its granite beaches and tin mining; places of interest are in general based on those features.
Why should I go there? Belitung can be a weekend getaway destination for those living in western part of Java. It offers marine-based tourism as well as culture and inland nature attractions. Prices are affordable and tourism services varied to cater different needs. Cheaper tour agents and car rentals available throughout the island and should you need more luxurious services, you may find it too, although the choice is still limited.
This was a relatively unknown destination until Andrea Hirata launched a novel (and later being filmed) called Laskar Pelangi (translated as Rainbow Troops). The movie went on to be a massive blockbuster. The filming locations are now major tourist attractions, mostly around Gantung area, a short 30 minutes’ drive westward of Manggar in eastern part of Belitung.
What to expect and experience when visiting the island? Some important things to know before packing your bag to Belitung; ATMs are plenty and everywhere, but be aware that not many tourism agents accept card payment.
Should you decide to rent a car or motorcycle to explore the island, make sure that your tank is full as fuel station is nowhere to be opened in rural areas (only small retailers with higher prices than proper fuel stations). A full fuel tank was enough to explore the entire island in one-go, as I had done around 300 km and there was a bit of fuel left when I returned the car. Driving without accompanying driver is possible, which means we are able to drive at our paces.
Be aware that unlike doing road trip in Java, there are not so many repair shops along the way. Be prepared when having flat tire. Talking about road conditions, I would say that most of the roads are in good to superb conditions with occasional refurbishments along the way. Traffic jam is almost nonexistence, roads are well-signed, even crossing signs are available in the middle of jungle. There are three parallel lines from west to east part of the island; north line is rather narrow and close to beaches, middle line undergoes plenty of reparations in May 2015 and south line lies through villages or kampungs.
As this is an island, seafood is almost everywhere. Local cuisine includes noodles with prawn sauce and other spicy ingredients. Those who are not keen on local food can always go to fast food restaurants in Tanjung Pandan.
Hotels are available in every part of the island and can be booked online. Wi-Fi and hot water is also available in most of these hotels.
Personal amenities can be bought in markets or modern minimarket throughout the city, but you should be aware that not all of them open past 8 pm. A 24-hour minimarket, medical emergency unit and pharmacy are available near Tanjung Pandan’s central roundabout.
In the west coast of the island, you can find the touristic beaches since these are closer to the biggest city, Tanjung Pandan, as well as the airport. Diving spots are abundant here, the one that I bumped into is diving operator in Kepayang Island. They offer diving tour into shipwrecks, underwater climbing to granite rock in the middle of ocean and some usual coral sightseeing. Snorkeling is possible too and for those keen on educational tour, there are also conservatories for turtle.
In northern part of Belitung, you can find plenty of beaches too, but less crowded. Driving eastward is another big urban area called Manggar, known for its coffee shops. Manggar has beaches too; drive a little bit north from Manggar is Burung Mandi Beach, plenty of locals there and in addition you can also visit local Chinese temples.
For those keen on a little bit of adventure, Batu Mentas is a must option. This was meant to be a tarsius conservatory, although I can only see two of them. However, it was surrounded by a river that can be used as a tubing track. A tubing activity requires a man sitting on a tube (obviously, or rubber tire if you say so) that floats and flows along the river; it’s like rafting with minimal safety precautions and equipment.
Far south of Belitung Island is an undiscovered gem with very little information about this area as people tend to stay up north. Plenty of beaches, even prettier than those in northern area. Beaches were almost empty and feature more natural looks. I managed to explore the area and found interesting massive rock by the Penyabong Beach, so massive that I can see the whole beach area and surroundings from above the rock. An exclusive resort is also available nearby.
When is the best time to visit Belitung? As a tropical island, there are only wet and dry seasons. I prefer drier climate when doing outdoor activities, which is around midyear. However, usually it coincides with school’s holidays and recently coincides with post-Ramadan exodus period which can be a travel nightmare since prices are higher and instant booking can be very difficult. I would suggest April to June is the perfect time to visit Belitung.
Who to call when booking and whom to take there? Booking is necessary when hiring a car or booking a hotel, although in low peak seasons this can be ignored. Although I was traveling by my own plan, I reached some travel agents for diving and boat tours. They can be found on the internet and contacted through email and phone. Usually booking requires initial payment as high as 10 to 50%, paid through bank transfer.
Belitung offers attractions to any ranges of age and purpose. Traveling solo, with friends, with kids or the entire family are possible. Nightlives are hard to find in big urban areas, maybe there are some in nearby touristic islands.
How to get there and around? There is a commercial airport that serves the island to certain cities like Jakarta and Palembang; flights to those cities are daily and frequent. Sea travel is also possible from nearby Bangka Island and even Jakarta.
Public transport is rare and only offers taxis and motorcycles (ojek) with limited service hour. It is best to hire vehicles to get around the island. Make sure to hire an insured vehicles since the prices are rather similar to the uninsured ones.
Island hopping to nearby islands can be done using travel agents or direct hiring to local fishermen, most islands can be hopped in a day trip.
Nearby attractions outside Belitung includes South Sumatera, Krakatoa Volcano, Bangka Island and western part of Java, reachable only by planes and ferries.