Superb Beach in Belitung Island

Are you looking for the perfect, exotic getaway destination on a limited budget? If Bali is out of reach, you may want to consider Belitung.

It takes 1 hour by plane to get to this Sumatran island, which has a population of 135,000, most of whom live in Belitung district according to provincial government website. The dominant ethnic groups on the island are Malays and Chinese, who speak Indonesian with a Belitung accent.

Pristine beaches

Welcome to the island of pristine beaches! While my idea of a pristine beach is clear water and white sand, experiencing Belitung myself allowed me to see that such beauty really exists. Almost all of the beaches there are superb.

The first one I visited was Bilik in the Tanjung Tinggi region. The beach is almost surrounded by huge granites, thus there are no big waves. Visitors can play around the shore without fear of drowning and washed away to the sea. The granite rocks come with various sizes, and you can walk in between them. You may also want to climb them, but please be careful as some are slippery since damp mosses grow on it.

The beach is indeed safe and beautiful, but it has also become famous for another reason. Bilik was the location for the shooting of Laskar Pelangi (The Rainbow Warriors), Indonesia's most viewed movie, inspired by local children who pursued their dreams. The Belitung community has enjoyed this film on DVD and at open-air cinemas, because there are no permanent cinemas on the island.

Another thing that attracts tourists to Bilik is its seafood. While waiting for your order to be served, which can take some time, you may feel tempted to go to the beach, taking pictures, dip your feet in the clear water, or even go for a swim and make yourself even hungrier in the process.

Lengkuas Island is another famous tourist attraction on Belitung. It takes around half and hour to reach this island (but somehow it felt like only 15 minutes) from Tanjung Kelayang Beach on the mainland, from where I rented a traditional wooden speed boat. The boat could carry five people and cost Rp 400,000 for a whole day.

En route to Lengkuas, there are several unique islands and colorful water. One of the islands is called Bird Island because it looks like a bird's beak made from rocks. There were also some granite islands which look like floating icebergs. As I looked down into the water, the surface changed colors from aqua, to blue and dark teal. The darker colors come from reefs below the surface.

Lengkuas beach was rocky. You should mind your step as the rocks may hurt your feet. Slippers might protect your feet, but you will not be able to walk quickly once the muddy sands start to stick to them. Here is also a granite area, similar to Bilik. While the rocks on Lengkuas are not as big as those at Bilik, it is still fascinating to trek around the area which has an abundance of fish, snails and other sea life.

Finally we reached my favorite beach, Tanjung Kelayang. This beach was not rocky; and I could feel the smooth sand between my toes. This is definitely the pristine beach I have been dreaming about with its white sand, clear water, and only a few other tourists around. I saw several traditional boats moored there, and there was also a small beach bar nearby, where tourists could get something to eat.

Seafood attack

If you are a seafood lover, this island is heaven. Conversely, if you do not like seafood, you may suffer in Belitung. There were not too many other choices of food on Belitung besides fish, prawns, squid or crab. In fact, they have super-fresh seafood everywhere. One local favorite is Gangan, a fish head soup with tasty yellow tamarind sauce. You can try this at one of the beachside food stalls in Bilik.

Another famous local cuisine is Mie Belitong (Belitung noodles). The noodles are thick, and it is served with clear sweet and salty soup. They also put little shrimp and fish into the mix, and it is served with melinjo crackers on top.

Locals like to wrap food in the leaves of the simpur, a local plant. These leaves are wide and smooth, and serve the same function as the banana leaves that are widely used in Java. I saw locals use these leaves to wrap Mie Belitong and grilled fish.

In Manggar, East Belitung, is a large restaurant with a beautiful creek view, called Figa. Figa owns a hut in the middle of the creek, which is also used for dining. My favourite dish there was prawn sate. This was the best grilled prawn I have had in my life. The prawns were big, fresh, and skinless. Manggar is also known for its coffee, so I also ordered one of these at Figa. I could smell the aroma from a long way off, and could not resist but to try it straight after my meal. The coffee was strong and bitter. Even though I added sugar to it, double the amount normally have in a Jakarta cappuccino, I could still taste the bitterness.

The lost statue

Manggar is not only known for being the hometown of former Indonesian state secretary Yusril Ihza Mahendra, it also has some places worthy of note, and Burung Mandi Beach is one of these. Burung Mandi is a typical Belitung beach with an addition of traditional market that sells food and goods. However, I did not really enjoy this place because it was quite crowded - like Ancol with a cleaner beach. About five minutes drive from the beach, a Buddhist Temple stands tall on a hill. According to a local guide the temple has a magical story. Once upon a time, a cargo ship carrying statues ran aground at a Belitung beach. All cargos was found, except for one Guan Yin Statue. The lost statue was then found on the hill. Locals believe the goddess chosen this place, and so they built a temple at the site. Right behind the temple is a huge rock that looks like Buddha's palm. Locals say that visitors can have their wishes granted by knocking on this rock.

Fuel scarcity issue

Transportation costs a lot of money in Belitung (locally known as Belitong). Since it is not a big city like Jakarta, fuel supplies are limited and there are generally long queues at petrol stations. These petrol stations were usually closed in the afternoons because they had run out of fuel. Petrol was sold for Rp 4,500 per liter at the petrol stations, but then resold by roadside vendors at prices ranging from Rp 5,500 to Rp 7,000 per liter.

Mass transportation is hardly available in Belitung, so I rented a car to get around. Renting a Toyota Avanza costs about Rp 350,000 a day; not including petrol. This does include a driver-cum-tour guide who can show you nice spots around the island.

Getting there

The Indonesian government has declared this year as the year to visit Bangka-Belitung, with the "Visit Babel (Bangka-Belitung) Archipelago 2010" program, but there are only two airlines with direct flights to Belitung from Jakarta - namely Sriwijaya and Batavia. A ticket on Sriwijaya cost me about Rp 300,000 one way.

I stayed in Lor'in Resort in Tanjung Tinggi, which has cottages facing the beach. A deluxe cottage has a couple of twin beds, a TV and a small fridge. However, my favorite spot in the cottage was a semi-outdoor bathroom. I could see the sky and birds above while took a shower, and there was also a small garden inside which enhanced the showering-in-nature sensation. Staying at the Lor'in cost me around Rp 600,000 a night, breakfast for two included.

According to the hotel manager, the perfect period to visit Belitung is between April and October when the seas are calm. Three days after Christmas is a family vacation period, and we had no idea that December was not the best time to visit, with heavy rains and high tides during this time. Fortunately we had at least one perfect sunny day to enjoy Belitung. The island was wet and windy during rainy days, but dry and even hotter than Jakarta on sunny days. This was a perfect getaway for me. Could it be yours too?

Florence Nathania

Postgraduate student in communication studies The London School of Public Relations, Jakarta

Courtesy photo by Hanif
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