Belitung Kaolin Lake Me

The Belitung travel guide for those tired of Bali

In FAM Trip, Indonesia by Jaclynn Seah14 Comments

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

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). 

Belitung Airport Garuda Plane

TheBombardier CRJ-1000 plane to Belitung seats 96 economy seats in a 2×2 configuration and a max of 7kg carry on luggage

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.

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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. 

I was taken around on an organised media trip, in case anyone is interested in the tour agency that planned this itinerary, it is called Bella Wisata Tours & Travel. Check out their website (it’s www.bellawisatatours.com but Google keeps giving me an unsafe warning so I’m not hyperlinking it directly for now, or email them at bellawisatatur [at] yahoo [dot] com or tour [at] bellawisatatours [dot] com

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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.

Belitung Tanjung Tinggi Beach

Quiet morning at Tanjung Tinggi beach

Belitung Tanjung Tinggi Batu Papaya Me

I wanted to give you a sense of how large these Belitung granite rocks are – this particular one is known as Batu Papaya and just towers over me. Plenty of these scattered along the coastline

Belitung Tanjung Tinggi Trees

I was pretty enamoured by these giant trees as we climbed between the giant rocks along the coastline

Belitung Tanjung Tinggi Coast Rocks Me

Gotta take that instaworthy shot with Tanjung Tinggi beach in the background. Look how clear and blue the water is!

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.

Belitung Tanjung Kelayang Boat

Hopping onto our boat for the tour!

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.

Belitung Batu Garuda Rock

The Garuda Rock – can you see its beak?

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.

Belitung Lengkuas Island Lighthouse

Approaching Lengkuas Island

Belitung Lengkuas Island Lighthouse Sign

Lengkuas, Langkoas… it’s all the same thing!

Belitung Lengkuas Island Stalls

Some little shops on the island – we had keropok and coconuts while waiting out the sudden downpour

Belitung Lengkuas Island Rocks Beach

More rocks for exploring and a pretty beach. The sand was so soft I kept sinking into it while walking

Belitung Lengkuas Island Rock Cave Me

Yes I like taking random rock pix – I can’t get over how huge these boulders are

Belitung Lengkuas Island Snorkelling

After visiting the island, we went for a little snorkelling nearby – it was pretty cloudy so visibility wasn’t the highest, but it was nice to check out the water. I had fun following around 3 cuttlefish in that area

Belitung Lengkuas Island Snorkelling Cuttlefish

3 cuttlefish swimming under me! They changed to a dark colour, partly to look like the rocks and also because I think I was making them a bit nervous swimming overhead

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. 

Belitung Kelayang Island Sign

Yet another beautiful beach

Belitung Kelayang Island Rocks Trail

Climbing down to the cove. It gets quite narrow at points.

Belitung Kelayang Island Cove

Inpromptu photoshoot happening in the cove

Belitung Kelayang Island Cove Swim

Our guide hopping into the water for a swim. I stayed on the rocks and let the waves lap my ankles

Kepayang Island

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.

Belitung Kepayang Island Sign

Welcome to Kepayang

Belitung Kepayang Island Restaurant

Lots of groups gather here as a rest/lunch stop

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.

Check out Eco Beach Tent by Billiton on booking.com [affiliate link] or visit their website for more information.

Belitung EcoBeachTent Billiton Beach Boat

We had overcast skies, so no blazing orange sunsets unfortunately! The sun actually sets to the west of this beach, but they showed us some pix where the sky reflects some amazing colours

Belitung EcoBeachTent Billiton Hut

One of the eco beach tents facing the beach. There are mosquito nets and in some rooms, glass panes and air-conditioning!

Belitung EcoBeachTent Billiton Room

Here’s a closer look at the room

Belitung EcoBeachTent Swing Me

One of my favourite things – this swing above the water. Now just imagine the sky was glowing orange…

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Leebong 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.

Belitung Sandbar Island Mangrove

Just a fisherman going about his day

Belitung Sandbar Island Boat Me Triston

Shout out to my bud Triston Yeo for this pretty shot of me pretending to be a boatman

Belitung Sandbar Island

Here’s the island when we first landed – the tide was high and absolutely no one was around on a weekday

Belitung Sandbar Island Hammock Me Photogs

I just thought this shot of me being a model was kinda hilarious, thanks T an D for indulging me lol. There are hammocks and swings installed for you to take that perfect Instagrammy shot

Belitung Sandbar Island Jumpshot

Of course we can’t leave without an epic jumpshot. I wanted to show you just how shallow the water was

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.

Belitung Leebong Island Sign

Welcome to Leebong Island

Belitung Leebong Island Deckchairs

Deckchairs on fine white sand just waiting for you… can you see those huts in the distance?

Belitung Leebong Island Hut Sea

Wading out thigh deep to the huts in the water.

Belitung Leebong Island Treehouse

If I return, I’d love to stay in this cool treehouse!


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.

Belitung Peramun Hills Boulders

The first viewpoint has these giant boulders

Belitung Peramun Hills Viewpoint

The second viewpoint has this photo point below, and another one higher up that has a rather precarious platform with no barriers

Belitung Peramun Hills Selfie

Selfie from up high

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. 

Belitung Peramun Hills Tarsier

It’s very small, perhaps the size of an adult’s closed fist

Belitung East Tourism Office Tarsier

This tarsier was rescued by the tourism office and currently lives in their compound, which is how I managed a daytime close up shot. Look at its odd fingers!

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.

Belitung Kaolin Lake Me

Doing it for the ‘gram – if you’re wondering how I managed this shot, I was standing on the fence!

Belitung Kaolin Lake Selfie

Here’s a better view of what it really looks like

Belitung Kaolin Lake Excavator

Miners at work

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.

Belitung Mie Atep Shopfront

Welcome!

Belitung Mie Atep Interior

It gets busy on weekends – check out the wall of fame

Belitung Mie Atep Mee

Belitung Mie up close

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.

Belitung Kong Djie Coffee Entrance

Kong Djie is housed in an old building, don’t expect anything too fancy here

Belitung Kong Djie Coffee Interior

It’s not very big!

Belitung Kong Djie Coffee Kettles

The coffee is brewed and filtered using socks in these tall jugs

Belitung Kong Djie Coffee Tray

who’s thirsty?

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.

Fairfield by Marriott Belitung Exterior

Pic of the entrance from the Fairfield by Marriott website

Belitung Fairfield by Marriott Room

Deluxe Pool Terrace Room – attached toilet with shower to my left, cupboards are on my right. There’s a little balcony that opens to the pool but is all fenced up so you can’t jump right in.

Belitung Fairfield by Marriott Pool Night

View from the balcony – those deckchairs were great for hanging out with some of the other media folk at night

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East Belitung

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.

Belitung Andrea Hirata Museum Wall

Indonesia’s first literary museum

Belitung Andrea Hirata Museum Display

Laskar Pelangi translated into many languages. Hirata wrote 3 sequels to Laskar Pelangi.

Belitung Andrea Hirata Museum Colourful Me

IGers will love the various colourful facades

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)

Belitung Laskar Pelangi School Sign

Just so you know exactly what you are looking at

Belitung Laskar Pelangi School Exterior

The story was set in the 1970s and based on the author’s own school days

Belitung Laskar Pelangi School Classroom

Old school, humble classroom

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. 

Belitung Galeri Simpur Batik

Batik cloth and products as well as other random souvenirs sold here

Belitung Galeri Simpur Batik Printing

Can you see the Tarsier?

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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.

Check out all my Indonesia posts for more.

Comments

  1. Awesome post there. Heard about this island but have not been there before. In your opinion, is this suitable for family? Maybe with children in Pri school? By the way, how did you move from place to place? Did you based yourself at marriott and move around or you stayed at different areas of the island?

    1. Author

      Hi Chuen Buan, I think it’s quite family friendly if your kids like being outdoors. Easiest way to get around is to hire a car/driver. I was based at the Fairfield Marriott and took daytrips to visit all these other places :)

  2. Wow great post and full of awesome tips! I have never heard of Belitung before and now I want to go :)

  3. The reason why I love reading travel blog posts is that I learn so much about our amazing planet from regular people. I have never heard of Belitung until now. Our family love to discover off-the-beaten path places and Belitung sounds like a great addition to our bucket list. Thanks for the inspiration!

  4. Such a great alternative to Bali and I love the fact that it is easy to reach with a direct flight (though I wouldn’t recommend for just a weekend purely because of the carbon footprint flying brings) – not something you can take for granted with a lot of the Indonesian island.
    Also, loved that beach accommodation – looks amazing!

    Do you know from which Indonesian destinations Garuda offers flights there?

    1. Author

      Well sometimes with limited days off, weekend trips are all we can manage unfortunately! But I think 4D3N would be an ideal start to exploring Belitung.

      You can fly to Belitung from Jakarta as well :)

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