Beli-where? I got a lot of confused looks when I said I was headed to Belitung. Most Singaporeans are only familiar with Bali as a holiday destination in Indonesia, and for the time-strapped ones it’s Batam or Bintan instead, but there are over 8,000 islands in the Indonesian archipelago and I’m pretty stoked to introduce Belitung, a relatively untouched treasure that was once solely known for tin-mining but is being touted as the ‘new Bali’ with its beautiful beaches and signature large granite boulders.
Thanks to Garuda Indonesia who invited me to check out this new spot on their inaugural non-stop flight from Singapore to Belitung that they launched in October 2018.
- How to get to Belitung
- How much time to spend in Belitung
- Exploring Belitung
How to get to Belitung
Belitung is a part of the Bangka-Belitung Islands, located east of Palembang in South Sumatra. Garuda Indonesia is the first airline to offer non-stop flights from Singapore to Belitung – previously you would have had to transit in Jakarta or Palembang. It takes just 50 minutes to get from Changi Airport to H.A.S. Hanandjoeddin International Airport in Tanjung Pandan (TJQ).
Here’s the Garuda Indonesia schedule as of Dec 2018:
SIN > TJQ: depart 1720 (Mon, Wed, Fri) or 1730 (Sun) – arrive in Tanjung Pandan 1750 (Mon, Wed, Fri) or 1800 (Sun)
TJQ > SIN: depart 1450 – arrive in Singapore 1620 (Mon, Wed, Fri, Sun)
Note Belitung’s time is +7 GMT (1 hour ahead of Singapore)
H.A.S. Hanandjoeddin International Airport is a tiny airport, one of those where you get to walk across the tarmac without any aerobridges or fancy duty-free shops, so don’t plan to spend too much time hanging out at the airport.
How much time to spend in Belitung?
You could technically do a quick weekend trip to Belitung if you take a half day on Friday and fly back on Sunday – that leaves you just 1 full Saturday and Sunday morning to do stuff which is pretty tight, but if that’s all the time you have, focus on the island hopping in the northwest area.
Ideally you should spend at least 4D3N in Belitung to get a taste of a variety of activities beyond the island hopping, especially if you want to check out East Belitung. Belitung is 6x the size of Singapore and it takes 1.5-2 hours to get from Tanjung Pandan across to East Belitung.
Tanjung Kelayang + North Islands
The number one thing to do in Belitung is to island hop and enjoy the beautiful beaches, and one of the best places to check out is Tanjung Kelayang in the northwestern corner of Belitung Island, about half an hour’s drive from the town centre of Tanjung Pandan.
I suggest dedicating at least one day to island hopping via boat, and to pick a weekday when it is much quieter. Dry season is from April to September – I visited in October and we did encounter some rainy days as you’ll see from the pix, but keep in mind you are in the tropics, rain happens anytime it wants to in these parts.
Tanjung Tinggi Beach
Tanjung Tinggi is the most famous beach in Belitung as it was one of the key filming locations for the 2008 movie Laskar Pelangi or the Rainbow Troops (see the trailer here), which was adapted from the award winning book by Andrea Hirata, a writer who made his mark on the international circuit with his story based on his childhood in Belitung.
The beach was pretty quiet on a weekday, but from the number of stalls set up around I’m pretty sure it gets quite crowded on weekends. The sand was really nice, fine white grains and beautiful clear blue waters. There are plenty of the large granite boulders that Belitung is known for scattered along the coast – we took a bit of a walk and clambered around them for a great sea view.
Tanjung Kelayang Beach
Most of the northern island hopping tours start from this beach a short drive away from Tanjung Tinggi. There’s a large plaza and very soft white sand and a bunch of restaurants and eateries located around here. If you rather not take a boat, this beach looks like a nice alternative to hang out at, though I’d walk a bit further down the beach to avoid boat traffic.
Burung Island + Garuda Rock
One of the photo stops on the boat tour of the north Belitung islands is this unusual rock on Burung Island that is known as the Garuda Rock or Batu Garuda because it looks very bird-like with a beak. The Garuda is an eagle or phoenix-like mythical creature that’s also Indonesia’s national symbol used in their coat of arms.
Typically the boats stop some distance out for the best photo ops because you can’t see the Garuda if you are too close, and also tourists aren’t allowed to land on the island these days to better preserve it.
Lengkuas Island + Snorkelling
Lengkuas Island is another Belitung icon because of the distinctive lighthouse that stands 12-storeys tall and was built over 100 years old by the Dutch in 1882. You can climb up to the 3rd level of the lighthouse for a panoramic view, but we encountered some pretty heavy rain while on the island so I spent more time enjoying the fine white sand and climbing around the giant boulders.
Kelayang Island + Swimming Cave
Kelayang Island didn’t seem particularly remarkable at first, until our guides took us on a little walk through the island’s vegetation. A short scramble through sometimes slippery rock pathways and jungle, we ended up in a cute little cover amidst the boulders where you can swim and explore the rocks in the water. I’d already changed into dry clothes at this point so I didn’t get in the water, but worth checking out.
More beautiful beaches (are you tired of me saying that yet) can be found on Kepayang Island, but it’s popular largely because it has a large restaurant area serving up great BBQ seafood, and showers + toilets so you can clean up after all the water and sand activities. We enjoyed chilling out with some beer after a hectic morning of activity.
Stay: Eco Beach Tent by Billiton
If you want to stay somewhere quiet with a great view, check out Eco Beach Tent by Billiton, located down the beach from Tanjung Kelayang on the main Belitung island. We spent an evening here having tea and checking out their beach, and it’s really peaceful and serene. If you are lucky, you’ll get to see a lovely orange sky as the sun sets.
There are just a handful of huts at Eco Beach Tent facing the sea, built with sustainability and eco-consciousness in mind. The rooms are individual little huts inspired by and built using local materials, and they even have a turtle conservation programme on Kepayang Island.
Leebong Island is located off the west coast of Belitung, and they offer a day tour package that lets you visit the instagrammable sand bar island, do a bit of a mangrove tour and then chill out on Leebong Island for lunch and water sports. You can stay overnight at Leebong Island as well if you want to – they have some interesting places to stay in if you want something a little different.
To get to Sand Bar and Leebong Island, head to Pegantungan Harbour to get a boat that will bring you on a little tour. More info here.
Sand Bar Island + Mangroves
This intriguing island isn’t even really an island, but a sandbar that appears and disappears depending on the tide, but some savvy folk set up some swings and hammocks transforming this random spot in the middle of the water into an Instagram paradise. Check the tides before visiting! Along the way, make sure to check out the mangrove trees as well – we passed through a pretty narrow channel with the branches brushing up against the boat and got an up close look at the mangroves.
Stay: Leebong Island
We stopped over at Leebong Island to have lunch and relax for a bit. This recreation island offers activities like kayaking, SUP, beach volleyball among other things, and also has some really nice beaches and waters worth hanging out in. I was happy enough drinking from a coconut and walking around the place.
If you have the time, I’d also check out their cool stayover options, including a 2-storey bungalow and a really cool treehouse! Check out more on their website.
Tanjung Pandan – City Centre
Tanjung Pandan on the west side of the island is the main city centre of Belitung Island (and where the airport is located. If you are short on time, this would probably be the best place to base yourself in.
Treetop views and Tarsiers at Bukit Peramun
We reached the Peramun Hills in the late afternoon as our main goal was to go hunt for the rare Tarsier monkey (more on that below), but while we were waiting for night to fall and these nocturnal creatures to emerge, we took a bit of a hike through the tree-covered hills of the Peramun Hills.
The trek is fairly short (about 30 minutes) and well marked – I suggest wearing decent shoes because there are a lot of leaves and potentially slippery rocks, and it gets a bit steep at points but otherwise the trek is quite doable for most. I wish we’d gotten there a little earlier because there were some lovely views of the forest canopy from above that I would have like to see with a little more light, but alas it was a bit cloudy that day.
As it got dark, our guides brought us back down to the starting point and went on a bit of a hunt to find the elusive tarsiers, these tiny monkeys with huge eyes that can only be found on certain islands in Malaysia, Indonesia and Philippines. They called us over when they found one – we had to shoot quickly as bright lights aren’t great for their sensitive eyes, but it was really cool being able to see them in the wild.
Kaolin Lake for that IG shot
One of the photographic highlights of Belitung is this aqua blue lake surrounded by white stone which we stopped by on our way to the airport. The lake was formed from the Kaolin mining on the island, and you can see several of these unusual blue patches when you fly over the island (get a window seat!). It was quite overcast so the blue was kinda milky, but there’s something quite surreal about the white and blue combination.
This one is still a functioning mining area, so you can’t get too close – cranes were working while we were there – there is a carpark and a fence that you should stay behind for safety.
Mie Atep – Traditional Belitung Noodles
One of the traditional local foods to eat in Belitung is Mie Belitung, and the best place to eat it in is Mie Atep. The shop looks deceivingly small from the entrance but actually has more seats hidden in the back. It’s also popular with celebrities whose photos line the walls near the entrance.
Mie Belitung is a yellow egg noodle dish soaked in a sweetish shrimp gravy topped with bean sprouts, cucumber, shrimp, potato, egg and topped with the slightly sourish keropok. I personally prefer something more savoury, but it was a pretty interesting dish. The portion isn’t very big though, wash your meal down with the citrusy Jeruk Kunci.
Grab a cuppa at Kong Djie
Belitung is known for excellent coffee, and the best place to try the local brew is at the oldest coffee shop on Belitung – Kong Djie. There are several branches in Tanjung Pandan, but this one at Jalan Siburik is the original outlet that is always crowded with locals and tourists alike. Black coffee (Kopi O) or coffee with milk (Kopi susu) are the star items here, but I decided on their iced milk chocolate (coklat susu), which was refreshing but not too sweet.
I liked the local chillax vibe of the place – it’s not a fancy cafe and there are cars/trucks rumbling by this busy junction, and you have to keep the flies from attacking your kueh snacks on the table, but you do get that local coffeeshop vibe.
Drinks cost between 8,000 – 18,000 IDR (S$1-2) depending on what you order. Open daily 6am – 11pm, more at their Facebook page.
Stay: Fairfield by Marriott
We stayed at the Fairfield by Marriott hotel, one of the newer and fancier hotels that you can find in Belitung today, though it looks like more new players will be entering the market in the coming years. I had a pool view room on the first level, which was nice but I kinda wish that the balcony wasn’t sealed up and I could access the pool directly from my deck. The rooms were definitely comfortable and service was good. I’d consider springing for an ocean-view room as it’s right by the sea – there is a beach nearby but it’s not as pretty as Belitung’s other beaches.
We had a pretty tight schedule and spent most of our days outside, only getting back to the hotel at night, so unfortunately (and also because I’m useless in the mornings) my shots are all pretty dim night shots. There aren’t that many amenities nearby – you need to catch a ride to get to the major downtown area in Tanjung Pandan.
The rooms range from around 650,000-2,100,000 IDR (S$60-$200) – My room cost about 750,000 IDR (S$70) per night. Check out Fairfield by Marriott on booking.com [affiliate link] or on their website for more.
Belitung is a lot bigger than I thought it would be – it’s about 6x the size of Singapore! But besides Tanjung Pandan and the islands, I’d recommend making the 1.5-2 hour drive across the island to East Belitung if you have the time to spare and check out Gantung and Manggar as well.
We were supposed to check out a few other sights here like the Kwan Im Goddess Temple and the Burung Mandi or Bird Bath beach, but alas we were pretty tight on time and had to skip those spots.
Learn about Belitung’s literary hero at Museum Kata Andrea Hirata
If you’ve been wondering what all the fuss about Laskar Pelangi or the Rainbow Troops is about, you can learn more about the book at this colourful little museum in the author’s hometown of Gantung. Set up in 2010, this open-air museum was set up to inspire other young people of Belitung to dream beyond their village, so the exhibits about Hirata also feature many other famous authors and literature amidst bright cheery walls. Don’t go expecting anything super fancy, and the entrance ticket includes a copy of the famous Laskar Pelangi so you can read it for yourself.
Entrance fee 50,000 IDR (S$5), open 930am – 5pm, More on the website.
Laskar Pelangi School
One of the major sets used in the 2008 Laskar Pelangi movie was the SD Muhammadiyah Gantong elementary school building set and you can visit a replica of it here in Gantung. I highly recommend checking out the movie if you can beforehand, because it won’t really make sense if you just visit it without any background knowledge – on its own it’s a rather ramshackle looking building with 2 classrooms that you can enter and pretend to be a student in, but that’s really about it if you don’t have any other context. There are some food and souvenirs shops in a mini ‘village’ at the entrance area of this tourist spot.
Entrance fee 3,000 IDR (that’s like… S$0.30)
Pick up local batik at Galeri Daun Simpor
If you are looking to pick up souvenirs, pop by the Galeri Daun Simpor in Gantung where you can see batik making demonstrations and pick up some batik pieces with local inspired prints. We arrived around lunch time and the ladies were all resting then, but it’s not a bad pit stop after a long ride over from Tanjung Pandan.
Across the road is a traditional Belitung house known as Ahok’s House – Ahok is the hakka nickname of the former Jakarta governor (2014-2017) Basuki Tjahaja Purnama and this was his childhood house.
I only spent a few days in Belitung and if I had more time, I’d like to explore the east side of Belitung and perhaps the southern bits of the island a little more, but as a first taste, I really enjoyed my short time there and think it’s definitely worth a quick getaway, especially if you want to avoid the tried and tested tourist hotspots. Read a little more about it over at the Wonderful Indonesia website.
Have you been to Belitung? Tell me what I should go back to check out.