Rail Jerker’s Diary – – The province of Riau, in the center of Sumatra island, is one of the richest among the 33 provinces of Indonesia. Its wealth comes from its natural resources – palm oil, petroleum and timber pulp; the enterprising Chinese community; and the communal harmony between the Malays, Chinese and other smaller communities. Riau produces 75% of the oil and 25% of the palm oil of Indonesia. Besides mainland Riau, the province extends to over 3000 islands spread over more than 1000 kms. Pekanbaru is the provincial capital and the oil capital of Indonesia; its prosperity showing in the new airport terminal nearing completion; the three fly-overs also in the same stage; numerous luxury hotels and resorts, and about half a dozen more due to be completed by September 2012 for the Pan-Indo Games; the luxury cars on the road and in the show-rooms; the over-flowing coffee shops and restaurants, the golf clubs, the night clubs, etc. With a population of 900,000 it is rated among the cleanest cities in the country. There are twenty daily flights to and from Jakarta and more flights to other domestic and international destinations.
Batam is one of the largest islands in the Riau archipelago, and not long ago it was just another poor island with coastal villages and unspoiled nature. The declaration of the Batam free trade zone in 1989 has turned the island upside down, after just a few years of rapid construction it now has a modern airport, tourist and business centers and a still growing infrastructure that has changed the island completely.
Due to it’s strategic location and size Bintan has a rich history. Riau has for centuries been the home of Malay and the Orang Laut people (sea nomads). Later migrants came from south China and Indochina, today people from a large region of Asia has settled here. Bintan was located aside the China-India maritime trading route, and was early in the 14th century, together with Temasek (Singapore), recorded in Chinese maritime records as one of the islands of the Riau archipelago that was inhabited by Malay pirates.
Natuna is not among the most visited tourist destinations in Indonesia, and the access to these remote islands are not so straightforward. Natuna can however offer unspoiled beaches and a landscape and a culture that is absolutely worth a visit. The islands are known for lovely woven textiles and their traditional dance. The Natuna islands are spread over a wide area, located in the South China Sea between east and west Malaysia, Kalimantan and Singapore.
The main groups of islands are Anambas to the west, Natuna, south Natuna and Tambelan. None of the islands has much facilities for travelers, but this is an excellent destination if you like to explore areas outside the main “tourist highway”. One of the largest natural gas fields in the world has been found here, The Natuna gas field in the North and South Natuna archipelago is believed to have 222 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in reserve, 46 trillion of this can be recovered. In the future the Natuna Natural Gas Project will be very important for Indonesia’s economy. We can only hope that the oil and gas industry will not have too negative consequences for the environment here.
Bintan is the largest island in the Riau province, area 1.140 sq. km, with a coastline of about 105 km. The island has a population of about 200.000, and like the rest of Riau this is a true mix of cultures like Malay, Bugis, Chinese and the Orang Laut (sea people). Bintan is very close to the equator and have a tropical climate throughout the year, with temperatures ranging from 21° to 32°.
The average temperature is 26° Celsius, humidity ranges from 61 to 96 percent. The period between October to March is characterized as the north monsoon season with more rainfall and stronger winds, but the weather is generally sunny all year around. Time is GMT +7 hours, one hour behind Singapore time. The major income on Bintan and the other islands in this area are fishing, agriculture, export of rubber and bauxite.
The province of Riau include parts of central east Sumatra and the Riau islands south to the Berhala strait, north to the Singapore strait and east including the Natuna islands. The provincial capital is Pekanbaru on mainland Sumatra. Population is about 2.7 million, of which a third lives on the islands. Riau is the largest province on the island of Sumatra.