Perfect sand-white beaches exists all over Indonesia, but many are filled with tourists, fancy beachfront hotels and with rapid development. But not Belitung, Indonesia. Roughly the size of Bali and even tagged as “the new Bali”, Belitung was known by outsiders for little more than its tin industry.
I discovered how Belitung could easily be the next Lombok or Bali in the making. Although not as popular as Bali or Lombok, Belitung is blessed with some of the best beaches of the country. The sand is soft and pearl white, and some even argue that the sand here is even whiter than that in Bali. Belitung is also surrounded by more than 100 small islands. Almost all of them are decorated with white sand and granite rocks, and only a few are inhabited.
There were plenty of scenic locales that were urbanised to cash-in on the Instagrammable wave. It is clear that many of Belitung’s inhabitants wanted to capitalise on this beauty. But if you go further inland, another problem appears - the mining sector’s continued hold and the challenges of economic diversification are apparent.
I also passed many stretches of palm oil plantations, burned and scarified portions of land that makes it so distressing to see that the natural forests of Belitung are being destroyed. The pangolins in Bangka Belitung are also facing extinction. The massive land clearing is also facing a change in the weather patterns where an increase in floods seem to be the norm. In 10 years, this place will be ruined and if you can come here to minimise your footprint and see the bigger picture, this will help in creating awareness of places to open our eyes to what’s at risk.
It is a place not perfect with its problems but it is also a place to see beauty through a different lens, experience the slow island life. As someone who always prefers to go hiking and crave the cold chill air of the mountains, I wanted to experience the stillness of the beach life and seek remote spots where it is simply wonderful to talk to locals, eat in their families warung and take the island boat to experience the Indonesian true-blue islands! You'll barely find nightclubs, party resorts or any palpable signs of Western culture in Belitung.
Among the best things to do while travelling in Belitung to escape for 3 to 4 days are exploring Indonesia’s offshore islands.
Arriving At Belitung Airport, Taking The Free Bus: Indonesian Generosity At Its Finest
We took an AirAsia flight from Kuala Lumpur to Belitung and the journey was kept to a minimum - 1 hour 45 minutes. It felt like I was taking a flight back home to one of the underlying islands in Malaysia. But this was far from it! In an eye wink, we touched down this small airport filled with little tourists and a lot of Malaysians keen to explore this not-so-little island.
Everyone was rushing to get their taxi sorted and we didn’t do any of that! No one knows and maybe they’re not very good at announcing their shuttle services, but the airport has a free shuttle service that takes you to Tanjung Pandan, the largest town that has adequate facilities for a small city.
Since there was nobody in the bus and this service was introduced recently in a bid to maintain their tourism hospitality to the laidback Belitung, many people did not know about it! The driver asked us where we’re staying and we told him we’re 30 minutes away from the main town at Tanjung Kelayang Beach and without any hesitance, he offered to drop us off at the doorstep of our hotel and to even stop at Tanjung Pandan to sort our simcard services for us. Tips are encouraged but not mandatory.
Getting Whisked Off To Tanjung Kelayang Beach
I was already dreaming of coconut trees, a long stretch of beach, no crowds, a swing to just lounge around and one that was queue-free. The hotel facilities were basic but the view was incredible. So if you want empty beaches, low-key sunbathing and little in the way of development, this is your spot.
It was a sort of a no-frills stay in Tanjung Kelayang and far from the hustle and bustle of Tanjung Pandan. I always wondered why would people want to stay close to the city? Other than benefits of junk food snacking and easy-ish convenience stores, I don’t see how it does anything to your senses.
A Warung, Ayam Penyet and Teh Ais Kind of Lunch
We wandered around and decided to take a walk along the main streets to see if there were Warungs for us to grab a quick bite. It was a lazy afternoon where your Pak Cik (Uncle) was busy staring into the horizon, lying down on his springy rattan and some of them cooking up feast filled with local chilli spices, smashed chicken (Ayam Penyet) and Teh Ais botol.
The occassional “Hi” and “Bye’s” followed. Many thought we were from India and once we started speaking Bahasa Melayu, it was easy to forge a stronger connection with them.
The Sunset at Kelayang Beach was something
We took an evening detour and walked along the entire stretch of Kelayang Beach and came across multiple wrong turns, scenic points, dead-ends filled with large boulders and the still sea. The calm waters and orange light streaked towards the ocean.
We were also in the property of the Eco Beach Tent by Billiton. A floating dinner on the boat surrounding by white sheaths billowing in the wind appeared out of nowhere.
Cycling The Empty Stretches in Belitung
It’s awfully hard, though not impossible, to find a long network of decently paved roads in most island and tropical countries. There were bicycle options up for rental at our hotel for 8 hours at about 100,000 IDR. We explored the slower pace of life. We decided it would be nice to stop along the way on a slow ride with wind in our face and explore the quiet beaches and low-key hotels fringing the continuous stretch of Pantai Kelayang.
With our rusty bikes and the endless paved roads ahead of us, it was a breezy day but the scorching hot sunshine was not exactly fun sometimes. It reminded me of my bicycle touring days in Laos, with the exception of the weight and shitty bikes. Sometimes it felt like we were the only tourists on the island, lost, somewhat haphazard but gleefully happy to discover locals who acknowledged our presence.
Bukit Permanun, Interesting But Somewhat Abandoned
We decided to ditch our bicycle after few hours and book a scooter for 24 hours to visit Bukit Peramun, a geopark that was teeming with wildlife such as monkeys, birds and cicadas. For 10,000 RP, you get a guide to show you the different trails and the flaura and fauna. The best part of the trek was probably the look out point amongst giant granite boulders - the highest point was approximately 129m above sea level.
While the walk was nice but everything else from the cheesy cars and payment for certain photo spots felt like a tourist trap. I wish the locals gave importance to treasuring the wildlife and making it more educational rather than ruining spots like this with the insta and selfie-craze.
Scootering Up to Mie Belitung Atep
Journeying further in, this time we decided to head to the city towards Tanjung Pandan and try the Mie Belitung Atep and sample the infamous Mee Rebus, known as the original Belitung Atep. Served with crackers, shrimp, fish cake, fried tofu and slices of cucumber - this was a great snack to begin with!
Environmental Mishap, Blue Danau Kaolin (Kaolin Lake)
It is great that Belitung has gone far ahead to build the Belitung Coastal Community Group (BCCG) which was established in 1998 with the mission to combat the environmental threats caused by mining activities and to implement sustainable coastal ecosystem management.
But Danau Kaolin is still a disaster in its own right. Danau Kaolin is a man-made lake as result of kaolin mining activity and was abandoned without reclamation. It shows the extent of the environmental damaged caused by uncontrolled mining activity! Right now, there’s not much to do here other than take heed of this staggering place!
Tourists are strictly prohibited from entering the lake. Instagram and a few places may have pictures of past bloggers having pre-wedding shoots here which fail to convey the magnitude of the damage caused to these places!
Authentic Belitung Cuisine At Belitung Rumah Makan Belitong Timpo Duluk
We heard raved reviews about trying Belitung’s traditional cuisine at Belitong Timpo Duluk to have the authentic Dulang sets. While it was very similar to Malaysian Kelantanese cuisine, I found the food average at best. It was still a nice and engaging experience to see how Belitung was formed with their nostalgic black and white pictures, a blast from the past highlighting the essence of what makes Belitung.
A Buddhist Temple, Kelenting Sijuk
There are 6 religions in the island including Islam, Buddhism, Christian, Catholic, Hinduism and Confucious and this Buddhist Temple at the end of Sijuk offers an interesting insight into Buddhism in Belitung.
Island Hopping in The North Islands
This is one of the main reasons why we were here - to island hop, experience white powdery beaches, snorkel and do absolutely nothing as we spent time in places that were extremely serene and beautiful. We booked a boat from Tanjung Kelayang at 8.00am in the morning for IDR 450,000 for two people. We had the entire boat to ourselves! It was insane how cheap the prices were!
Dedicating an entire day to go island hopping via boat is the best way to experience undivided time in these places. It is highly recommended you pick a weekday when it is much quieter. We experienced some light rain eventhough it was October. The dry season is from April to September and in places like this where the weather is tropical, rain is common.
It is the most well-known beach in Belitung. White sand & granite rocks of all sizes alternating, may leave you wondering where all these lumps of boulders came from. You can even climb on them or enter the gaps of the giant rock.
Ultimately this beach became famous in 2008 after the movie Laskar Pelangi (Rainbow Troops), which was one of Indonesia's most watched movies, as it portrays the struggling life of some of the island's poor children in a remote school. You may watch 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.
Bird island and Garuda Rock
Known for its rock formations that is shape like a bird, this is the main draw for a lot of travellers. The Garuda is an eagle or mythical creature that is also Indonesia’s national symbol used in their coat of arms.
To preserve the island, the boat doesn’t stop over here but allows you to see it from a distance.
Snorkelling in Lengkuas Island
Lengkuas Island was another famous island known for its lighthouse that stands 12 storey tall which was built by the Dutch 100 years ago in 1992. It was pretty crowded when we went and saw a large group of Indonesians on a team-building trip.
We decided to explore the back part of Lengkuas Island where the beach was quiet and allowed us plenty of time to be on our own! It was nice to swim among nemo fish, cuttle fish and a large school of fishes which I could hardly pinpoint which school they belonged to!
It was a never-ending string of beaches but Kepayang beach was stunningly beautiful where the colour constantly changed from deep cobalt blue to a light pale turquoise colour. It is a great place to dive and be part of the marine conservation activities where baby turtles are bred until they are old enough to plunge into the open seas and where coral gardens are being restored.
There were coves with big boulders almost forming our own private pool where it was easy to hop from one to another. It was also a popular spot for a lunch break as they were famous for their BBQ and seafood dishes including their banana fried fritters (pisang goreng).
Seafood Under The Stars At RM Selera Kite
We were exhausted and absolutely beaten from the long day. It was time to head back and have our dinner at the famous RM Selera Kite. Situated at the seashore in Kelayang Beach and at the beachfront, this restaurant will serve you their fresh seafood from crab, fish, scallop, shrimp and squid in their signature sauce which is to die for!
I loved the fresh grilled fish and its stir fry kangkung and it was nice to take pictures of the night sky and enjoy the cool sea breeze amongst a blanket of stars.
If You have More Time:
Museum Kata Andrea Hirata: The author of Laskar Pelangi sequel, Andrea Hirata, erected Indonesia's literature museum here. The museum shows behind the scenes of Belitung in the year 1978 with his memorabilia, and a corner of tin mining equipments. Andrea himself does visit his hometown giving art and music lessons to the local community.
Hiking to Batu Baginde: Batu Baginde is made up of two giant granite formations that are situated next to each other. It is said that one of the rock formations represents male energy while the other represents female energy.
Gurok Beraye Waterfall: The waterfall was sourced from Belitung's highest point, Mount Tajam (510 above sea level). There are deep gorges along the way which makes it a perfect stop for a swim.
It is also worth exploring Tanjung Pandan, the main city centre due to the various Dutch Colonial buildings and shop houses. Most of the governmental buildings are maintained and kept to its original Dutch building code and the old Dutch tin mining housing compound is still kept up.
Where to Stay in Belitung?
Hotel Santika (I really loved this place and thought it was super affordable for a nice beach vacation! Although it is a bit far from the main places - it is still worth a stay for 2 days atleast)
Oyo 399 Kelayang Beach Hotel (I stayed here mainly because it was super accessible, it was right in front of the beach and there plenty of eating options plus it was easier to walk over to the jetty for island hopping! The rooms were spacious as well but the breakfast was not that great!)
Lorin Beach Resort (An in-between alternative that is beachfront and really quiet and beautiful too!)
Eco Beach Tent By Biliton (For activities and a whole range of exciting things such as Kayaking, Paddle Surfing, Outdoor BBQ but also for dining in a floating restaurant)
Biliton Hotel: (Heard great things about this place especially for couples or travellers in pairs!)
Getting Around In Belitung
As public transportation on the island is hard to find and the only practical way of moving around is by taxi, or rent a car or a motorcycle. Expect to be asked for Rp400,000 - Rp600,000 per day (all inclusive) for a good car with driver. I downloaded GoJek and seemed to work well in Tanjung Pandan but once you’re in Kelayang Beach, it is better to rent a scooter to get around.
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