Eat, Shop, Play Pool

Shopping frenzy on Batam Island
Shopping frenzy on Batam Island

Big day out on Batam

Batam Island, Indonesia, is a quick ferry ride from Johor Bahru, Malaysia (or Singapore, Singapore. I’ve done it both ways. Read on and I’ll explain).

When my friends Helen, Tiya and Tina suggested a ladies only day trip to Batam Island I said yes in less than a nanosecond, cashed a few ringgits in for rupiah and slipped my passport into my backpack.

Eat, shop, spa

Of course the first thing we did when the ferry landed was eat scrumptious Indonesian food. As you do.

Tina, a native Indonesian, and Helen who comes from Sarawak, Malaysia were our expert menu guides, vastly expanding Tyia’s and my EQ (Eating Intelligence).

Then we jumped into a taxi and hightailed our way to a spa for a tough love $20 two hour massage. As my masseur settled me in to my cubicle she made a point of showing me the sign saying turn your phone off and keep quiet. Yep I was ready to relax.

Another customer arrived with a young kid who spent the whole time sharing the sound of cartoons in Mandarin at peak volume. Maybe her mum’s masseur forgot to point the silence rules out to her.

Feeling suitably relaxed and rejuvenated we began the real business of the day: shopping.

Designer handbags cost about $20 on Batam Island but you're encouraged to bargain
Designer handbags cost about $20 on Batam but that’s the starting price. You’re encouraged to bargain.

Shopping lessons

Shopping is the number one most popular activity on Batam Island. Designer handbags are the number one most popular shopping item. I learned a lot about the arcane art of buying fake designer goods.

I learned a lot about the arcane art of buying fake designer goods on Batam. Click To Tweet

Did you know there are different grades of elite brand ripoffs? By holding up their real deal designer purses next to the fakes, my friends taught me how to look for dodgy stitching and recognise the special texture of quality leather. An enlightening show and tell.

Have you seen my horn?

Batam’s got traffic.

The motorbikes carrying families with newborns, kids with (designer?) sunglasses but no helmets, chickens and televisions compete with the speeding cars to get to just go crazy fast. At times I needed to close my eyes there were so many near misses.

One of our taxi drivers had a secret weapon – a police siren. Whenever we seemed to be slowing down because of the traffic ahead he’d press the button and whelp whelp the cars all round would make way for us. Our taxi was filled with constant laughter.

Our driver explained he’d borrowed the horn from his brother, a policemen.  When his bro asked if he’d seen his horn, he just feigned innocence. More rounds of mirth.

We saw cops riding two to a motorbike, impeccably groomed in their flak jackets with huge guns visible.

Three countries in one day

After shopping until almost dropping we headed back to the ferry terminal to catch the last ferry back to JB. Which had just left the harbour. Oopsie. The ticket seller at Stulang Laut, JB had given us a bum steer.

So we took the next ferry to Singapore and a taxi from there to JB, Malaysia, arriving home in Senibong Cove close to midnight, just before our carriage turned into a pumpkin.  I’d never been to three countries in one day before.

I'd never been to three countries in one day before. Click To Tweet

Stay a little bit longer

When the other captain returned from a three and a half month sentence working in Australia he was little bit jealous of the new stamp in my passport. Easily fixed. We headed off to Batam Island for a few days together with me as the newly ordained expert tour guide.

The first thing we did after eating delicious Indo street food, watching a few cooking shows and slothing around in our room for a bit was head out in search of the famous raucous Batam Island night life in the Nagoya Entertainment District (NED) .

How to have more fun on Batam Island

Foreplay Bar, Batam Island. Batam's Got Talent?
Foreplay Bar. Batam’s Got Talent?

Living in Permas Jaya, in JB Malaysia is all good but you don’t get to see live bands too often. Having fun in Permas Jaya means staying up late and going to karaoke bars for the buckets of beer specials after 11pm. Pass.

Of course we got lost on the way to the NED. I swear we walked past hundreds of fake designer handbag shops. I guess there are only dozens and we were walking in circles.

Eventually we stumbled on the NED. Working girls on the streets and bars called Lusy’s Oarhouse, Chillis, Secrets and Foreplay were dead giveaways.

I admit I am perennially cynical about SE Asian cover bands. My long held belief they all play bad Rolling Stones covers wasn’t shattered.


Didn’t stop me having fun though, not even slightly.

Freeball Rules

I hadn’t played pool in years. I was rusty as hell. And the working girls spend a lot of time polishing their skills. The bar girls I played against were incredibly generous players, coaching me on my tactics and shots and only winning half the games.

Freeball rules were new to me. If your opponent sinks the white ball, you get to place it (strategically) wherever you want. That kind of behaviour in an Australian pub would lead to an instant brawl.

Meanwhile another of the scantily dressed ladies in high heels was chatting the other captain up, offering to buy him a beer and trying to race him off. It didn’t phase her when the other captain told her he was out on the town with his wife of 29 years.

Olfactory tourist attractions

Stinky drains on Batam Island.
We crossed this stinky open drain walking to breakfast. I almost lost my appetite.

We spent lots of time just wandering. The smells were occasionally overwhelming, from the fantastic outdoor food market wok fry ups to the award winningly stinky drains snaking through the backstreets.

When we stopped for a bite to eat with some friendly locals,  I found I was the tourist attraction. Our new friend said he wished he had a big nose like mine. I have always thought my snozz was was normal sized. And my blue eyes. My eyes are brown. He said he’d only ever seen people like me on TV, never actually spoken with one. Is this real life Reality TV or what?

Is my nose really big? Selfie from the Formosa Hotel, Batam Island with the window open. It was less smelly but more noisy.
Is my nose really big? Selfie from the Formosa Hotel. It was less smelly inside with the window open but the construction noise was deafening.
View from my room at the Formosa Hotel, Batam Island.
View from my room at the Formosa Hotel. I imagine the joint was pretty swank in it’s glory days. Now it’s ponky and noisy. But comfortable.

One hotel where we stayed had a choking mouldy smell, especially when we turned on the air con. It was stinking hot. And our room overlooked a construction site so if the window was open we couldn’t hear ourselves think with the overpowering sounds of construction. Great location though, right in the NED.


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