Batam 2013: One Day Tour

It has been close to twenty years since I last visited Batam with my secondary school friends. At that time, we went to Waterfront City and the chalet bungalows had only just been completed.

When I learn that my brother had booked us a one day trip to Batam on Labour Day, I was elated to revisit this slow-paced city again!

Early that morning, I brought my folks to meetup with my brother and his in-laws for breakfast at Habourfront where the Singapore Cruise Centre is located on the second floor.

After breakfast, we went up to check in to board the ferry but was told that the gate has already been closed even though we arrived at the stipulated time as told by the tour agency.

The personnel spoke to someone via the walkie walkie and we were given the green light to proceed as the ferry have not departed yet.

We hurried in and was just in time to hear our names being announced over the PA system.

The 50 minutes ferry ride was spent catching up on some much deprived sleep.

When we arrived at Batam, immigration was a breeze despite the holiday crowd. I would say the speed is much faster than going through the Malaysian custom.

We were picked up by our guide outside the arrival hall and we boarded the coach while waiting for the rest of the group to clear the custom.

We were among the last few to have our passports stamped hence there were not many people behind us but we waited a fairly long time for a mother and son who seemed to have some problems with their passports (which was eventually resolved) much to the dismay of the other members of the group who could not wait to start the tour.

Our first destination on the itinerary was the Polo Ralph Lauren factory outlet which was a mere five minutes drive away from the ferry terminal. We were given twenty minutes to shop which is an awfully long time as the fashion is quite outdated and nothing caught my fancy.

After that, we were brought to the Maha Vihara Duta Maitreya Temple where we were given another twenty minutes to comb the temple grounds. There are three individual chambers side by side with each one housing a different diety/buddha.

The first chamber houses Guan Di (关帝) or more commonly known as Guan Gong (关公), while the middle chamber is 大雄宝殿 housing Samantabhara, Shakyamuni, and Manjushri (普贤菩萨,释迦牟尼佛,文殊菩萨). The last chamber houses Guan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy.

To call this temple big is a gross understatement. It is humongous yet very clean and well-maintained. This is such a striking contrast compared to the streets that are lined with rubbish everywhere.

According to our guide, the chinese community here in Batam love to congregate at this temple during chinese festivals.

Next, we are at the Batam Chocolate House where all sorts of chocolates are sold. Frankly, the chocolates here are not that cheap but I still bought a giant box of Pepero nonetheless.

They do have a very cute mascot inside the shop though.

There was a roadside kiosk outside the Chocolate House selling ready-fried belinjau (Mum's favorite!) with very dark-colored oil and the guide warned us that these hawkers usually buy second-hand oil from elsewhere that have already used the oil to fry chicken (or other meats).

So... do exercise caution when buying foodstuff from unknown sources!

Now, what is a trip to Batam without having some Kueh Lapis?

We were brought to this "Batam Layer Cake" factory where we could see the staff making Kueh Lapis behind a glass window.

Making Kueh Lapis is laborious work, requiring each layer to be baked separately. After one layer is baked, the tray is removed from the oven, with the next layer of batter slathered on and returned to the oven once more.

This process is repeated until the desired layer is reached.

The Kueh Lapis are 1kg each and you could request to pack them into two boxes of 500gm each as gifts.

Kueh Lapis comes in various flavors such as Pandan, Mocha, Chocolate, Prune, Cinnamon, Cheese, etc. The Original costs $25 while the other flavors cost slightly more at $29.

Considering the time and effort taken to bake the Kueh Lapis, I would say this is a fair price to pay.

Free sampling!

As we were leaving the Kueh Lapis factory, it began to pour quite heavily.

We were brought to Yong Heng Food Trading which sells a wide variety of crackers.

There are free sampling for every type of crackers they sell and I would like to recommend the Prawn Cracker shown in the photo below (left).

Our guide got us some sample to try and after tasting it, everyone just grab the cracker in packs of twos and threes. I managed to lay my hands on the last two packs before the entire shelf was wiped clean.

The picture above (right) is the Honeycomb Cake also from Yong Heng Food Trading. It is available in Original and Honey.

The texture is quite similar to this chinese kueh which we call the 白糖糕 in Singapore. It is fluffy yet robust. I like how it is not too sweet but I did not buy any cause I feel it is a little cumbersome to carry a cake around on a tour.

Up next, lunch!

It was still raining when we reached the restaurant

Lunch was served at Golden Prawn 933 Seafood Restaurant which was built partially over the waters kelong-styled but I doubt it was a kelong at all. 

If you have been to such day tours before, you would know that you have to share a table (up to 10 person per table) with other members of the group during meal times.

It could be a rather traumatic experience if you were, like me, a hygiene freak who goes crazy at the thought of having to share food with complete strangers who do not use communal serving spoons.

However, my family and my brother's parents-in-laws managed to fill up one table all to ourselves so it was a relief for me.

Big fishes swimming underneath us

Just before we arrived at the restaurant, our guide informed us that our lunch package includes drinks and we could pick from the usual range of canned soft drinks or the coconut juice.

Obviously, everyone picked the coconut however, they were not served chilled and tastes sourish much to our disappointment.

Some of the coconuts are bigger than our heads!

Here's what we had.

Prior to this trip, I have read about other blogger's one-day trip to Batam and I discovered that everyone of them were being brought to this restaurant for lunch and the menu is exactly the same.

I feel that the food here is at best fresh but taste wise is nothing to shout about. If you have been to the seafood restaurant at Kukup, what they serve there tastes very much better then here.

However, it is just my personal opinion.

Near the exit, they have these indoor aerated pools where all their 'live' seafood were displayed. Customers come here to pick what they want and the restaurant would serve them to you on your table.

There are two seafood restaurants here namely 933 and 555 under the same roof and possibly under the same management as well. I believe 555 caters to the muslim community.

After leaving the restaurant, we passed by this Golden View Hotel and was brought to yet another factory outlet called the Golden Factory Outlet. Just outside the store, there is a Golden Go Cart circuit as well as a Taman Mini Indonesia Indah featuring miniature houses from the various Indonesian provinces.

If you have not already link two by two, all these "Golden" businesses belonged to the same towkay. We did not want to visit any of these so we simply waited in the coach for the others to return.

Our next destination is massage (own expense at $20/pax for 1 hour). Funny thing is, only my family and one other family opted for the massage.

The remaining members who do not want to go for the massage were sent to Batam City Square Mall for shopping after we alighted from the coach.

I have gone for several massages at Thailand before but this is by far the most embarrasing one. Those that I did at Thailand (eg. full body massage) are fully clothed but this one required customers to strip down to their underwear and change into the shorts they provided.

Lying on my belly (no, I don't mean the masseause), she began from my toes and started working upwards. A few minutes into the massage, she suddenly rolled down my shorts to massage my buns which totally caught me off guard!

Even after she had finished my buns and went on to work on the other areas, she did not unroll my shorts and left my buns to chill in the cold for quite a while.

You know what's weird here is that this is happening with Dad by my side going through the same thing. We were sharing the same cubicle and there is a curtain between us but because of our relationship, our masseause did not draw the curtains.

I buried my reddened face in the pillow the whole time and I thought that I could hide my embarrasement off in that position till the end of the session until she told me to turn over which really make me panic. I did not know that full body massage included the front; the ones I did in Thailand only involved the back!

What I'm worried about at that moment is did she see the bullet holes in my underwear? ROFL!

After our massage, we were sent to yet another batik factory outlet. While my Mum, brother and his in-laws went to check it out, Dad and I walked across the street and discovered this very delish Epok Epok that is fried on the spot!

He bought eight pieces for each of us which we ate happily. All that massage is making us hungry!

"It tastes so much better than Old Chang Kee!", someone exclaimed and the rest nod in unison.

Indeed, the curry potato tastes like nothing I have ever tasted before. There is something very appealing about it which I cannot put into words.

All I can say is: “好吃”。

On the other hand, Dad also bought twenty sticks of chicken satay from the stall next to the Epok Epok stall which is by the main road. You can choose between curry sauce or peanut sauce but sad to say, the chicken meat was not well-marinated and the peanut sauce forgettable.

After finishing our food, we boarded the coach to to meet up with the other members who had been shopping at Batam City Square Mall for the past one hour.  

There was nothing much to see or buy at the BCS Mall which is pretty run down and reminded me of Bukit Timah Plaza.

Fashion wise, there isn't any international brands here that I could recognise. The only familiar thing around might be Texas Chicken and KFC. They even have a BFC (pictured above, left) which really stands for "Best Fried Chicken".

I am surprise to spot a few men smoking inside the mall, but what's shocking is that they were actually smoking outside a shop selling fireworks/pyrotechnics (pictured below)!

We could not wait to get out of there as fast as our feet could carry us! LOL!

And that, was our last itinerary of the day. The guide sent us back to the ferry terminal and left after collecting her tipping.

As there were still some time left before boarding time, we decided to go shopping at the connected Megamall.

Megamall is so much better than BCS Mall. Not only is it bigger, newer and livelier, the retailers inside are more well-known and familiar to us.

But most important of all, it is because of...


Two piece spicy chicken meal

The chicken and curly fries were a little salty but all is forgiven as it still taste good!

We spent so much time reminiscing at A&W that we totally forgot about boarding time! We ran all the way to the ferry terminal but thankfully, we still made it.

Similar to the ferry terminal at Habourfront, Batam's custom was located on the second floor of the ferry terminal. After having our exits stamped on our passports, we went down the flight of stairs to the first floor where the boarding area is.

I was taken aback by the scenario in front of me as the tiny place was jam-packed with hundreds of people all eager to go home.

It was very confusing as we do not know where the queue starts or end nor even know which ferry we are actually queuing up for. The people who just came down from the second floor would just cut into any queue they could get into (like we did). 

I think you would understand what I am saying if you have ever queued for a bus from Woodlands custom going to Johor, Malaysia.

It was very disorganized with no clear instructions or even barricades to distinguish the different queues (if any at all).

It took us quite a while to figure out that a immigration personnel would shout the name of your ferry when it arrives and everybody would just swarm towards the gate in a stampede manner.

As our ferry have yet to arrive, we sat on the rows of chairs at the back and waited while the crowd who came before us disperse by the shiploads.

At this point, my brother took out the half-eaten waffle ice cream which he had hastily wrapped up earlier when we were rushing over from A&W.

I took a bite of the waffle which is still warm and moist. It tastes salty on it's own but when eaten together with the vanilla ice cream, the combustion of flavor in my mouth is  h e a v e n l y !

Our ferry came eventually and after boarding, was yet another round of catching up on precious sleep. The trip back to Habourfront took close to an hour since it was night time.

Batam is kind of boring especially with an itinerary like the one we had. In fact, I think all packaged tours to Batam will have a similar itinerary like ours (just do a search on other blogs for one day tour to Batam).

We were herded around like sheeps from point to point and with only twenty minutes allocated at each location, there was hardly any time to go explore or even to take much photos.

Despite that, I do not mind coming again simply for the A&W and perhaps squeeze in a massage as well though you can be assured that I will be wearing a new pair of underwear this time round!