We just came back from a week long tour of Central Vietnam last month and we had a great time. In Da Nang, a lady front desk staff while escorting us to our room told us she visited Singapore and loved the country. Unfortunately, food was too costly. She complained that a plate of chicken rice cost her more than 10 USD, around 200,000 VND, so she survived on bread most of the time. We were deeply saddened by her revelation that she did go hungry at times while visiting our beautiful city state.
We didn’t know where she had her chicken rice but she could have visited some coffee shops or hawker centres near neighbourhood markets including that touristy one in Chinatown where a plate of delicious chicken rice would cost only S$3, which is less than 50,000 VND, or she could even purchase a packet of chicken rice at a café at any MRT station for S$2 about 35,000 VND.
It is true Singapore is an expensive city to visit but Singapore is not meant just for the well heeled and affluent. There are cheaper eating places as well as budget accommodations for the budget conscious so they may also enjoy this beautiful and amazing city state which is clean and safe for one and all to have a piece of this youthful and vibrant city in a garden nation.
Besides visiting Singapore and finding it too costly to stay longer, there are also cheap getaways nearby where visitors may also venture out and explore our neighbouring countries for a short visit while holidaying here. One inexpensive getaway from Singapore is to hop over to Batam Island in Indonesia which is only 45 minutes to an hour ferry ride south of Singapore for a day trip or even for a 2 Days 1 Night break.
Before going there, purchasing a Batam City deal either from Groupon or Deals.com.sg website is recommended because the package would cover a night hotel stay inclusive of breakfast as well as an Indonesian buffet or seafood lunch plus a host of activities including shopping. This would take care of the tour for the day and you could still go out for more shopping or other activity in the evening as well as the morning before the ferry ride back to Singapore in the early afternoon.
Day 1 – Singapore to Batam
So here is our account of one such visit we had in 2013. We purchase a deal at S$55 per person for a “Relaxing Batam: 2D1N Stay at International 4-Star Novotel Hotel at $55 per pax”.
- 2-way ferry ticket (Singapore – Batam 0845hrs / Batam – Singapore default 1340hrs) 2-way land transfer
- Local guide/driver
- 1 night hotel accommodation at 4-star Novotel Hotel
- 60-minutes traditional Balinese body massage
- Hotel Breakfast
- Seafood lunch
- A bowl of bird nest
- Guided city & shopping tour
- Polo Outlet
- Yong Heng Dry Market
- 50,000 IDR Shopping voucher (for use at First outlet & Batik outlet with minimum purchase of 250,000 IDR)
- Brand new air-conditioned coach
We contacted the travel agent with our deal vouchers and also requested for a non-smoking room. We then received our booking confirmation for the dates we requested together with the E-vouchers. Instructions for use of vouchers and ferry timings as well as contacts with partners in Batam were also given. On top of the $55 per person, there was another $29 of taxes and tips for the guide and driver so all in the cost for the whole trip was only S$84 per person which was pretty affordable for a very short oversea weekend break.
Finally, the day came for our departure and we took a train ride to Harbourfront Station arriving before 7 am as we were required to collect our boarding passes 90 minutes before departure. So we went to the Harbour Front Centre and approached the Wavemaster counter at level 3 with our E-voucher to collect our ferry tickets and boarding passes. Once the administrative matters were settled, we had breakfast at the McDonalds before heading for immigration clearance.
Soon it was time to clear immigration at level 2 Habour Front Centre. It was quite an efficient process and in no time we were through and headed to level 1 to wait for boarding of our ferry to Batam. Ferries were coming and going to different destinations from Singapore so it was a pretty busy place to be, especially during weekends where crowds were expected. Our ferry came and boarding of ferry was trouble free. It was free seating arrangement and we took our seat next to a window so we could enjoy the view departing from Singapore.
It was a nice morning as we left the ferry terminal at Habour Front. We watched the scenic tourist island of Sentosa slowly getting smaller from our view as we cruised along and the beautiful skylines of Singapore also gradually diminished as well as we approached closer to Batam. An hour quickly passed and our ferry berthed along the jetty of Batam Centre Ferry Terminal upon arrival.
So we disembarked and approached the custom and immigration office for clearance. Here we ought to be careful to observe their strict rules of no talking and not to use our mobile phones. Tourists had been sent back for violating such rules.
Read the news here: Visitors sent back for talking and using phone
We got through immigration without any incident and soon found ourselves looking for our guide like many other tourists gathering in groups in the terminal building. Not long after, a young man turned up armed with documents and a name list looking for his tourists. We recognized him from the name tag he was wearing as we were already informed of the company from Batam taking us for the tour. Soon everyone who was supposed to go with him for this tour was found and gathered and we left the building to board an awaiting coach. Included in our deal was supposed to be a brand new coach but this coach had seen better days. Anyway, it wasn’t a big issue as we left the car park with our guide introducing himself again and briefed us on our itineraries for the day.
Our first stop was a factory outlet store. Everyone left the bus and some were quite excited about this first shopping stop. This outlet was selling expensive branded clothes, bags, wallets, belts and items where tourists might have intention to purchase. Products sold here might be copies so better check with them first if you are looking for genuine stuff. We left after spending less than an hour here and went to town.
Our next stop was a chocolate shop where we may sample many different kinds of chocolate in that shop. There was an interesting chart on the wall showing chocolate consumption by countries. We had a go at some samples and didn’t buy anything. Having been to Switzerland and other countries in Europe, our taste for chocolate has somewhat geared to a different flavour. So we left while others were still busy shopping.
The town was rather quiet and a bit quaint with one building having a windmill on its roof. It turned out that this shop was a bakery called Holland Bakery. With nothing to do, we went back to the coach to wait for others to finish their chocolate shopping. After a short while, everyone was back in the coach and some were apparently quite happy with the chocolates they had purchased.
Next we were driven to a place that looked like a residential area. We alighted and walked to a shop house. We were actually approaching a famous bakery where we were all served with samples of the layer cakes in either the original or the prune flavour. The name of this cake is known as kuey lapis which is very popular in Indonesia. We could watch how the cakes were made with the workers busy working in the bakery. The cakes were very tasty and delicious.
Although such cakes were easily available in shops and supermarket around here and even in Singapore, the quality of such cakes sold here was a league of its own. They were simply very good and as such, came with a price. A box of the cake cost S$25 and for the prune flavour cake, the cost was S$29. You could buy a half box size at half the price as well. Like a few others, we bought one box since it was so good. Not everyone bought the cake though because it was quite expensive in comparison with the cost of living here in Batam.
The sampling of the layer cakes after the chocolate tasting session filled us up quite a bit. After the cake stop, we went to another area where we could take a break at a massage place. Those whose tour package didn’t come with the massage session could spend some time visiting a small mall nearby while we had our massage. Some chose the body massage but we took the foot massage instead. We found the massage quite good but be prepared to tip the masseurs though as their income seemed to depend on tips. An hour soon passed and we were all back on our coach on our way for lunch.
We arrived at a secluded place where the compound was rather big. This was where the restaurant was located where we were going to have our seafood lunch. The name of this restaurant was Golden Prawn Restaurant which was quite well known to be catered to tourists visiting Batam Island. The restaurant was very busy when we arrived. We were ushered into the restaurant and seated at a table of ten persons.
A bowl of bird nest was served to those of us whose tour package came with this item. Others may opt to pay for this as well. In fact, there was a bird nest shop at the entrance of the restaurant selling bird nest products to tourists. We were invited in for a look but we declined.
Food eventually came and the whole table was full of seafood dishes. Unfortunately for us, seafood was not our cup of tea. We ended up eating rice with vegetables and some fish balls in soup while others were enjoying themselves to the prawns, crabs, squids, fish and other seafood dishes. We also had some fresh fruits after lunch. What we enjoyed most was the huge fresh coconut juice and its flesh as well. Good thing we had sampling of chocolates and layer cakes otherwise we would go hungry with this pathetic lunch. Next time we would get a package that would come with Indonesia buffet lunch instead of seafood lunch.
Lunch was over and everyone was back in the coach again. It seemed everyone was extremely satisfied with the lunch except my wife and myself. We were then on our way to another place for shopping and go-karting. We reached the venue and went into another factory outlet shop. Happy shoppers quickly got down the coach and entered the shop.
This shop seemed to be doing brisk business with visitors looking at clothes and trying them on in fitting rooms. Perhaps most purchased the package that came with a 50,000 IDR voucher to be used with a minimum purchase of 250,000 IDR, so they were eager to make use of this further discount. The quality of the products here looked pretty decent but again some products may be copies though.
The Go-Kart facility was just next door so some went over to have a go at go-karting. It was quite a hot and sunny day so we didn’t wish to sweat it out on the circuit and then go back into the air-conditioned coach to catch a chill. Some tour package may come with a round of go-karting as well so be prepared to sweat it out and burn some rubber on the track on a hot day after lunch for go-karting enthusiasts.
When everyone was happy with their shopping and go-karting sports activity, we left to go for more shopping. This time, it was shopping for local products at a dry market. We went to a shop offering honeycomb cakes for sampling and purchase. There were many other snacks as well.
We watched our group of excited and happy shoppers enjoying themselves thoroughly going through another round to empty their pockets to help the economy of Batam. Comparing with prices of stuff back in Singapore, everything sold here would seem be exceedingly affordable which explained the happy feelings of visitors coming to Batam.
Soon we were on our way again. No prize for guessing – shopping again. We were sent to another outlet store, the Batik Outlet store. Well, another happy time for most people to look at clothes and spend more money in Batam. The tour guide mentioned that the famous curry puffs sold across the street was very good and cheap. So after a quick round inspecting the Batik Outlet store, we left and went to buy these curry puffs. It was just a street vendor and seemed to have his own loyal followers. We had to wait while he deep fried the curry puffs.
Some Chinese tourists in our group couldn’t speak English or Bahasa and were frustrated while trying to buy some curry puffs with the equally frustrated vendor trying to figure out what they were trying to tell him. So I stepped up and became their translator for a short moment. In the end they got their curry puffs and we got ours and all were happy including the vendor.
We found out they were from China and were spending time in Singapore so hopped over to Batam to see the place. So we conversed for some time and we asked them about places in China and the best time to visit as well. It was a good chat and we then went on our way back up the coach. By the way, the curry puffs were really good. Wished we had bought more.
Some of us were getting a little tired and asked the guide when we could check into our hotel. He told us there was one last place he had to bring us to visit according to the itinerary. So off we went and this time we were brought to a big shopping mall, the BCS Mall.
This was quite a popular shopping mall with some hotels nearby as well. There is a supermarket inside, a few restaurants and shops that sell clothes, computers accessories and mobile phones as well as home appliances. There is an arcade on the top level too. You could easily spend a few hours here but we had less than 2 hours as most of us preferred to go to our hotels sooner than later. We all went our own way to do some shopping and then assembled at the pick up point.
Soon our coach pulled up and we went up and went on our way to be dropped off at our respective hotels. We arrived Novotel Batam Hotel slightly after 5 pm and our guide went in with us for the check in process. After that he left us to enjoy ourselves for the evening.
We had requested to return to Singapore at a later time in the afternoon the next day so we would not see him again for the free land transfer back to the ferry terminal. This return timing must be prearranged with the guide otherwise we would be picked up from the hotel according to the default transfer timing to be sent back to the ferry terminal. So we tipped our guide a little more and bid him good bye.
The hotel looked a bit old on the outside but once inside, the lobby was quite grand and big with many seats for waiting guests. We were served welcome drinks without being asked. We were given a room on the fourth floor and there was a sitting area with a mini library outside the lift lobby.
So all was well and we had a nice room which was recently renovated back then. The room was typical Novotel standard. Everything we needed was there and we were pleased. Wifi worked and TV with plenty of channels to watch including channels from Singapore, HBO and Star Movies channels and so we relaxed in our room for a short while before dinner.
Another couple from our group also stayed in this hotel. They planned to go out again in the evening for more shopping and dinner at Nogoya Hill Mall. There are many more shops and restaurants over there and is also surrounded with shop houses with more massage outlets. Matahari Departmental Store is also one of the anchor tenants in the mall in addition to a hypermart selling everything at very reasonable price. This is a typical plan for most visitors to Batam on packaged tour where they also looked forward to have their own free time to visit Nagoya Hill to spend their evening.
For us being Accor members, we would rather stay behind and enjoy our hotel. As we didn’t have a good lunch so we went to the restaurant for an early dinner. We ordered western meals and the food was great. It was very delicious indeed and moreover, we had our usual 50% discount dining for two. The restaurant staff were friendly and helpful as well. After dinner, we explored the hotel. It was rather empty without many guests when we were there.
Finally, we went to the café before returning to rest in our room. There was a 50% discount for slices of cake and a 30% discount for a whole cake after 7 pm. So we bought a nice cheese cake and had it kept overnight by the café where we would collect before we leave the hotel the next morning. We had already bought a box of layer cake at the famous Diana Bakery in the morning so we would have two boxes of cake to bring home the next day. After hanging around the café for a little longer, we decided to return to our nice room.
Having had a city tour the whole day, getting in and out of the coach in a hot day proved to be quite a lot of work for us. Retiring in our room earlier was a great idea. As the wifi worked very well, we could get connected with the world outside this city that seemed not to have caught up with much development in this region. By virtue of its proximity to Singapore, Batam has been attracting visitors who would take advantage of this cheaper destination to spend time and money shopping, relaxing and enjoying other activities that might otherwise cost a lot more in Singapore.
Besides, TV programs were plenty and we didn’t feel we missed anything without going out for more activities in surrounding malls after dinner. By the way, the Habour Bay Mall and Ferry terminal were just nearby about 10 minutes walk away which could be another option instead of taking a taxi to Nagoya Hill Mall. We could have ventured out again but we had had enough of shopping for the day. So we called it a night to conclude our first day of activity in Batam.
Continue to Day 2 …