Being relatively new to Indonesia, I hadn’t heard of the tropical island of Belitung until I read the book, Laskar Pelagi (The Rainbow Troops) a few years ago. Written by Belitung born Andrea Hirata, the story is set on the Island at the height of its tin mining prosperity. It follows a group of ten school children and their two inspirational teachers as they struggle with poverty and inequality whilst daring to dream of a future of hope and certainty.
Upon finishing the book I remember feeling overwhelmed by the strength and resilience of the characters. I also recall thinking that my list of ‘places to visit in the Indonesian archipelago’ had just grown by one. And so this prompted my family’s recent trip to Belitung Island – a place I can’t wait to return. Today I share with you our adventures and recommendations for this excellent island getaway.
(Note: Laskar Pelangi has been translated into more than 20 languages and has become Indonesia’s most popular novel ever. It’s a book for all ages. If you haven’t read it already – you must! In 2008 it was also made into a feature film – a most beautiful movie that you should also watch 🙂 )
About Belitung Island
Lying off the south-eastern coast of the island of Sumatra are the Bangka-Belitung Islands. Bangka and Belitung Islands are separated by the Gaspar Strait, and have a combined population of 1,372,812 (2016). The provincial capital of Bangka-Belitung is Pangkalpinang and the capital of Belitung Island is Tanjung Pandan.
Bangka and Belitung together form the 31st province of Indonesia.
Situated on the north-west coast of mainland Belitung is the famous Tanjung Tinggi Beach (which translates as ‘high cape’) With an area of 80 hectares, Tanjung Tinggi is characterised by white sandy beaches with hundreds of large granite rocks scattered both inland and on the beachfront. Here scenes for the movie, Laskar Pelangi were filmed, hence this beach is often referred to as Pantai Laskar Pelangi.
Tanjung Kelayang (‘headland’) sits at the north-western tip of Belitung Island and although it is picturesque with white sandy beaches and outcrops of huge granite boulders, it’s here that you depart for the outer islands. Hire one of the many fishing boats moored along the beach and travel across the clear water to the nearby islands with many spots ideal for snorkelling and scuba diving.
We chartered a fishing boat from a friendly local fisherman at Tanjung Kelayang beach and headed out to beautiful Lengkuas Island stopping to explore rocky outcrops on the way. Arriving at Lengkuas Island we checked out the spectacular Dutch colonial lighthouse, built in the 19th Century.
We recommend Belitung Island if you are…
Keen to relax and unwind
Adventurous and curious
A nature lover (But you may feel confronted by the lack of conservation in certain areas)
A seafood lover (We ate seafood – and a lot of it – at every meal!)
Prepared to eat local
Looking for a holiday mostly void of touristy experiences
Comfortable staying in more simple accommodation (- although according to reports, there will be quite a few higher-end hotels built over the next few years).
Getting to Belitung Island
We flew with Garuda Indonesia to Belitung departing Soekarno-Hatta Airport, Jakarta. The easy flight was approximately 50 minutes duration.
Jo’s top dining out recommendations in Belitung
We had a most amazing 4 days on Belitung Island. We stayed at BW Suites, which is a serviceable hotel, and although it was more than adequate, ideally a bungalow-style villa would have been more compatible with the laid-back nature of our getaway.
Not being familiar with Belitung, and booking last minute, I was unable to secure the type of accommodation we desired – but I’m sure it must exist (anyone have any recommendations to share with us? 🙂 )
Having read many reviews and after speaking to friends who have already visited Belitung Island, these are the most popular accommodation options:
Some interesting facts about Belitung Island
The name ‘Bangka’ is derived from the Sanskrit word meaning ‘tin’.
The name ‘Belitung’ is derived from the term ‘Batu Satam’ – the black meteorite commonly found on Belitung Island and often taken home as a souvenir.
Bangka-Belitung’s population is diverse including the major ethnic groups of Malay, Chinese and Javanese. There is also a small population of Orang Bugis (from South Sulawesi) who mostly work in the fishing industry as fishermen and boat builders.
Religious diversity exists throughout the Bangka-Belitung province with approximately 60 percent Muslim, 20% Buddhist, 8% Confucianism.
Although Bahasa Indonesia is the official language, different pronunciations exist. Also other Lingua Franca include Malay dialect as well as Hakka.
Industry in Belitung mostly comes from the Primary and Secondary sectors, specifically tin and kaolin mining, agriculture and manufacturing.
As Indonesia’s largest producer of white pepper, Belitung’s product is considered as some of the world’s best. Each year around 30,000 tonnes of the crop are produced.
Agricultural palm oil and rubber plantations have also developed as important sectors in more recent years. You will see evidence of this as you fly over the Island.
A couple of last pointers
Remember, Belitung Island is not Bali – which is why I loved it!. It’s refreshing to visit somewhere so close to Jakarta and yet so void of other tourists.
Don’t come here to go shopping. Just come here to catch your breath, enjoy the beaches, meet the locals and to relax. Pack some books to read. Maybe some crosswords or just lose yourself in doing nothing at all!
Although the beaches were pretty clean, on our last day we did do an ‘emu bob’ at Tanjung Tinggi beach before we swam as quite a bit of rubbish had washed into the shallow water and onto the beach. We took 10 minutes to clean the beach before we swam.
And one final thing.. We barely saw any mosquitoes whilst we were visiting, but we still took our usual precautions and sprayed ourselves with mosquito repellent before going out in the morning and before heading out for dinner each evening.
A Short History of Belitung Island
Throughout its history, Belitung has been colonised by both the Dutch and the British, being returned to the Dutch in 1824. Although local people generally resented the Dutch rule, the province remained mostly peaceful until it was captured by the Japanese on the eve of World War II. When the Japanese surrendered in August 1945, Belitung was finally handed back to the Indonesian Government. Until 2000, the Bangka-Belitung Islands were part of South Sumatra. Nowadays, Bangka-Belitung is the 31st province of Indonesia.
We LOVED BELITUNG! and I can’t wait to return. AJB Friends, have you visited Belitung? If so, we’d love to hear from you. Where do you recommend we stay next time? What other sites must we see? What foods must we try? Please share 🙂
In the meantime, here’s a little more reading for you!
Words: Jo Stevens Photography: a Journey Bespoke