The highlight of my long weekend in Belitung was island hopping and snorkelling off Pantai Tanjung Kelayang for the day. The weather in Belitung is very much like Singapore, hot and humid, and it is easy to get sunburnt. My friends and I lathered ourselves with sunscreen early in the morning, before enjoying a light breakfast at our beachside Santika Hotel. Although Belitung is a former Indonesian mining island, originally named after the toxic PHB Billiton company, nowadays it is trying to reinvent itself as a tourist hot spot. Sprigs of colourful yellow and red baby blooms danced in the breeze along the hotel’s perimeter as we finished our brekkie.
Pantai Tanjung Kelayang
At 9am sharp, we loaded up into the tour van and headed to Pantai Tanjung Kelayang. This is the main beach of Belitung, with a modern-day boardwalk. Pantai Tanjung Kelayang is a popular spot for Indonesian tourists to make a picnic and spend the day frolicking by the beach, due to its soft and easy waves as well as shops and amenities. It is also the main pier from which to rent a boat for island hopping.
After a few fun snaps along the boardwalk and the wise purchase of a sunhat, I got fitted for a lifevest and boarded our vessel. Island hopping here we come!
A remote island
Our motorised boat was painted bright blue with attractive red trim and was long and skinny like a frozen blue hot dog. The black-tinted roof in the middle of the boat offered some shade from the blistering heat and we had a dedicated captain to steer the way. Beautiful wavy blue waters meet our gaze as we hit the water.
Within thirty minutes of setting sail, we reached our first island. It looked so small and desolate in the middle of the vast ocean. We clambered out, keen to wet our feet. The water calmly washed the rocky-shore of the island with water so crystalline, it was hard to believe this was once a mining spot. We enjoyed paddling by the shore but we weren’t yet ready to peel off our clothes and go swimming.
Snorkelling at the deep end
Back on the boat, our captain spent a good thirty minutes searching for a private patch of water for us to go snorkelling. Even though Belitung is not famous to international tourists, it attracts a lot of Indonesian visitors and is a popular location for local company retreats. So, there were quite a lot of boats out on the water that day. We eventually found a quiet spot of blue. Whilst the rest of my crew donned chunky snorkelling masks and life vests, I chose to swim ala naturale. Like most Australians, I’m a confident swimmer thanks to years of rigorous instruction as a child.
I embraced the freedom of swimming in the seemingly middle of nowhere, with nothing to restrain me; just me and my bikini. The water was pleasantly cool and sparkled sapphire-blue under the strong beams of the sun. Our captain sprinkled breadcrumbs into the water where we swam and schools of colourful fishes surrounded us. Their brave quest for carbs tickled my limbs and waist as they swam by. Some of my fellow companions dared to dive deeper, to the ocean bed, with their underwater cameras and took photographs.
Next, we stopped off at Langkoas island to catch our breath and rehydrate. You know you have arrived at Langkoas because of the lighthouse that looms tall, white and proud near the centre of the island – you can see it from a mile away!
Langkoas island is famous for its fresh coconut juice. Coconut trees abound everywhere and there are two rustic stalls, where muscular men stand sweaty with a large knife in hand. They whack open coconut after coconut. The sight is almost scary, as their knives move so quickly and unapologetically, one wrong move and someone could easily get their finger cut off! Indonesian coconuts are larger and not as sweet as their Thai cousins. Nonetheless, we eagerly ordered a coconut each and savoured the warm and slightly acrid clear juice.
The island is a good place to enjoy some beach time too. The water here is clear and warm. Another dip in the blue was a good excuse to take a pee, as the queue for the toilet was ridiculously long. Like many other Indonesian islands, Langkoas also has the obligatory wooden swingset on its shore for Instagram selfies.
Welcome to Kepayang
We hopped back on the boat and hopped off again at Kepayang island. This is the place for food, and most of the island is taken up by a giant restaurant with row after row of wooden benches and tables. The place can seat at least 80 people at any given time. As mentioned earlier, Belitung is a popular place for company retreats. This island was chocka-full of local tour groups dressed in corporate swag. Our tour guide ordered us a set menu of crab and stir-fried green vegetables (nothing to write home about).
I made my way to the self-service coffee station where queues of people poured themselves complimentary glasses of coffee and tea. I usually prefer drinking flat white coffees with full-fat milk or soya. In Belitung, it is more common to drink coffee black or with condensed milk. There was no regular milk on offer, so I spent ten cents for a little pouch of sweet, condensed milk to take the edge off my muddy, hot drink.
Outside of the restaurant, the line of pointy boats along the sandy shore reminded me of colourful corn chips, waiting to be dipped in salsa. After our lunch we were too full to swim, so we boarded our boat for an afternoon snooze as we headed to our next destination.
Releasing the turtles
Our last stop was at an unnamed island around a 25-minute boat ride from Kepayang. We were fortunate to arrive at the precise time when a group of students were releasing baby turtles they had nurtured into the wild. We watched the ceremony in awe before the magic was broken by our guide. He informed us that in Belitung, it is somewhat of a tourist trap to pay to “release the turtles”. These poor turtles are captured, held in tanks and “released” in a regular cycle. It serves as a reliable source of income for tour operators.
We hoped our guide was merely being cynical and we shrugged off his tales by soaking up the last of the sun and sand for the day. The sand on this island was white yet coarse with little pieces of rounded broken shell. A walk around the island proved to be an excellent exfoliation treatment for my feet.
It was a relaxing day and the waters of Belitung were both warm and revitalising. Too bad I ended up with a bright-red sunburnt nose by the end! If you are visiting Belitung, island hopping and snorkelling will definitely be a highlight of your trip. I recommend organising a tour package at Pantai Tanjung Kelayang.
For more information about planning your trip to Belitung, visit my original post, Welcome to Belitung.