Just off of Singapore, across the Straits of Melakka, lie a few small Indonesian Islands which are easily visited as a day trip! Whether you want to shop at the duty-free, explore some Muslim-Indonesian history, or escape to a quiet Chinese-Indonesian floating village, there is plenty to do to keep a visitor entertained during an exciting day out of Singapore.
Getting to Indonesia from Singapore
Ferries depart from Tanah Mera Ferry Terminal in Singapore several times a day. A return ticket to Pulau Bintan costs S$50. If you don't want to spend the night in Indonesia, make sure that you book your return ticket from Singapore to avoid getting stuck! The trip takes 1-1.5 hours, and the ferries are comfortable and air-conditioned.
Pulau Bintan is going to be your base from exploring a few unique and interesting Indonesian islands on your day trip.
NOTE: You should change some Singapore or US dollars into Indonesian rupiah before leaving Singapore to avoid hassle once you arrive in Pulau Bintan.
Citizens of nearly all countries can enter Indonesia visa-free or with a visa-upon-arrival. 30-day visas-on-arrival costs $35 USD. Make sure to have cash in USD, and the process is very quick and easy.
The ferry arrives at Pulau Bintan, the larger island in the area. Visitors will go through immigration at the docks. Visa secured, pick up a map at the nearby tourist office. There are some very nice resorts on the island, but for a day trip, it's advised to hop one of the local boats to either (or both) of the nearby smaller islands for a more cultural and exciting adventure.
"Wasp Island" is a lot more pleasant than its name would suggest! Take one of the many wooden local boats for 7000Rp from the docks on Pulau Bintan for the short 15-minute journey to Pulau Penyengat. Upon arrival, you'll immediately notice how different this island is! The green jungles and brightly-colored buildings make the small island feel cheerful and inviting.
Immediately upon stepping off the docks, you'll be greeted with the beautiful 19th century Masjid Raya Sultan Riau, the village mosque, painted in bright yellow. Outside sit rows of local rickshaws, known as "tricycles", which can be hired for tours around the island. Otherwise, you can get to most of the sites by foot, as the island is only 2.5 km across.
Further on, you'll come to the small colonial-style palace of the Sultan Raja Ali. Long ago, Pulau Penyengat was a royal island, and the capital of the Riau-Johor Sultanate, and the island still holds the vestiges and remains of its royal past. You can purchase a ticket to explore the palace, but most of the rooms inside are empty.
You will also come across the ruins of an old 18th century stone fort, built by the Sultan to protect the island against colonial Dutch invaders built into the jungle hills looking out to the sea. It's a quiet and peaceful place to explore.
The locals on the island are very friendly and happy to meet and speak with visitors. There are a number of good local restaurants as well! Explore for a few hours before heading back to Pulau Bintan, from where you'll either head back to Singapore, or squeeze another interesting island into your itinerary.
Hop another local boat to bring you to the nearby Senggarang, an ethnic Chinese fishing village of wooden houses built on stilts over the water.
This village is quiet and peaceful, and is the place to come to visit Buddhist temples and explore some Chinese-Indonesian culture. Just off the docks on the mainland, you'll find a few bright red Chinese temples and shrines. Some Taoist shrines are dedicated to Marco, the god of the sea, who is believed to protect the locals and bless them with safety at sea.
The main Chinese temple at Senggarang is the 300 year-old Vihara Dharma Sasana temple.
Although the majority religion in Indonesia is Islam, there is quite a lot of Chinese Buddhist influence as well. The village of Senggarang is predominantly ethnic Chinese, and the majority follow Buddhism and Taoism.
The entire village is very quiet, and the temples and shrines are no exception. Though they are photogenic and interesting, the big temple is not the main attraction at the village!
Maybe the most unique spot in Senggarang Village is the Banyan Tree Temple, the Tien Shang Miao, a Taoist shrine that has been grown over with a sacred Banyan tree. It's quite a small shrine, built into a 19th century home, but is an important sacred spot for the village.
After spending some time exploring Senggarant, head back to the docks at Bintan to board your return ferry to Singapore.
Getting Back to Singapore From Indonesia
After a full day of exploring, you might be exhausted! Take a seat at the open balcony of the ferry terminal while waiting for your boat to arrive. Order a bottle of Bintang Beer, and enjoy as the sun sets over the water.
You should have booked a return ticket when leaving Singapore. Grab a snack and a drink and wait for your boat at the ferry terminal. Exiting immigration is as quick and easy as arriving, and you'll soon be on your way back to Singapore.