Sunday, June 6, 2021

Escape to Idylic Belitung Island

FIRST gaining popularity after hitting the big screen in 2008’s award-winning ‘The Rainbow Troop’, Belitung island in Bangka-Belitung province is recognized for tis white sandy beaches, Stonehenge-like granite rocks formations and lush environs.
In the past five years, the island’s popularity has increased, as it became known as the birthplace of former Jakarta governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama.
I had high expectation of Belitung after seeing thousands of pictures on my Instagram feed. I foolishly assumed that the island would be similar to Bali or Lombok. Imagine my surprise when I was greeted by empty asphalt roads and a quiet ambience.
Evry, my local guide-slash-driver, told me that there was only one department store on the island, illustrating how different the island was from my imagination.
During my visit, I discovered that many tourists come to Belitung to see Laskar Pelangi’s shooting locations, Ahok’s childhood home and for island hoping. After spending three days on the island, I had to admit that Belitung’s different envirionment was perfect for the much-needed break I was longing for.
The peaceful morning
 I spent the first day exploring East Belitung regency, which is where Laskar Pelangi was filmed and the Andrea Hirata Literary Museum and Ahok’s childhood home are located.
The next day, I woke up at 7 a.m. As I opened the curtain, I was greeted by sunshine and fresh sea breeze coming through my window. Although, I was staying ner the town center, the BW Suite Belitung hotel in Tanjung pandan had the luxury of ocean view rooms.
I quickly got myself ready and headed down to the loby to fin Evry. He suggested we make a quick stop at Kong Jie Coffee for breakfast.
The coffee shop was packe with people eating traditional breakfast meals, such as nasi gemok (rice and fried fish wrapped in simpur leaves) and banana fritters while enoying a cup of java. Despite being crowded, time seemed to move slower. The cutomers were not in a hurry. They slowly sipped their coffee while chating with friends or playing with their mobile phones.
The atmosphere was so laid-back and it was relaxing to experience it, especially for someone who lives in th city like my self.
I wished I could have spent longer time enjoying the coffee shop. But I had to move on to Tanjung kelayang Beach to rent a boat to island hopping.
Away from reality
I spent almost two hours inside the car. The jorney was smooth, as the asphalt road was empty. Prior to arriving at our destination, I saw housed that had similar architecture and were surrounded by huge yards. I rarely sawa people in front of the houses. Some houses had their doors left wide open ,showing how safe the area was.
Travel tips
1.       Paying by credit or debit card could be considered safer and more convenient than carrying cash.
2.       Save time and money; when traveling out of country, paying by card in local currency can offer a competitive exchange rate.
3.       Make two copiex of important travel documents, including your passport, in case of emergency.
4.       Notify your band card issuer about your travel plans to help monitor for fraud.
5.       Set alerts so you can keep track of spending on your phone.
6.       Data roaming charges can skyrocket while abroad so set up your cellphone to avoid international dat roaming or ensure you have an international plan.
7.       Keep a list of important contacts in case your phone is lost or stolen.
8.       Check out fun local events such as festivals and concerts in the city you’re visiting.
As I arrived at Tanjung Kelayang Beach, I could again smell the fresh air. After paying Rp 400.000 to rent a boat, I changed my clothes and climbed into the speedboat.
The first five minutes were heavenly. The warm sea breeze touched my face and the wind blew through my hair. I could hear the sound of crashing waves while enjoying the sight of the celar blue sky and crystal-clear water.
“This is Batu Garuda,” said Evy, waking me from my daydream. He pointed to a giant rock formation and said, “You can see the shape resembles the Garuda bird.”
“You cannot go on the rocks,” said Evry, asking me to take a picture from the boat.
I started to recognize the shape and took some pictures.
We then move to Batu Berlayar Island. The small island is filled with Stonehenge like rock formations that are icons of Belitung. Here, I finally saw how popular Belitung has become as a tourist destination. The ilse was filled with visitors trying to take nice pictures. It took me a while to find a quiet spot. I got carried away and began posing like an Instagram influencer.
 After feeling satisfied, we went to our next destination, Lengkuas Island. The island is known for its lighthouse, which was built in 1882. Visitors can climbup to third level to take in the view of the turquoise below.
I felt disappointed because I could not go to the top to see a bird’s eye view of the island. But the good news was, Evry said, I could go snorkeling off the eastern and western shores of Lengkuas Island.
“We should buy biscuits,” Evry said, explaining that we could feed the fish while snorkeling.
Although the corals were not as colorful as the ones in Komodo Island or Raja Ampat, snorkeling in Belitung was not a disappointment. Once I entered the water, holding the biscuits, I was instantly surrounded by fish.
I spent around 20 minutes feeding the fish and enjoying the underwater scenery. Then I decided it was time to move on to the next stop.
The boat brought me to Pasir Island. Although it is called an island, Pasir Island is actually a sandbar that is onely visible during low tide. If you lucky, you might see large pnkish starfish. I felt like I was staying in the middle of the ocean.
As I climbed back on the boat, Every said that our next stop would be special, as it was quieter than Lengkuas and Batu Layar Islands.
He was not llying. There were only a few people on Kelayang Island. It was clearly the perfect beach for sunbathing.

It was so peaceful and I felt like I was on a private beach. However, the weather started getting warmer, so it was time for Gede Kepayang Island comes with changing rooms, a restaurant and power stations. However, visitors need to pay Rp 20.000 per person to enjoy the facililities.
The restaurant serves freshly caught fish grilled with local spices along with free-flow of coffee and tea. As I enjoyed the udang saus Padang (prawns in spicy sauce), I grabbed my mobile phone and discovered that I had been busy exploring the islands for around for hours.
It was the first time I had checked WhatsApp that day. I felt so happy to be able to escape from my normal routine for a while [Source : The Jakarta Post magazine |Edittion Jul 2017 | by : Jessica Valentina]