Belakang Padang Island rises from the waters of the Singapore strait. (JP/Fadli)
A myth says that those who go to Belakang Padang Island will have their yearnings met. Thus, a romantic nickname was born: “Penawar Rindu“, the island that soothes longing hearts.
Riau province, which is close to Singapore, consists of 108 islands. Only 43 of them are inhabited. Situated six nautical miles from Singapore, the people of Belakang Padang Island can easily see the skyscrapers of the city-state, such as Marina Bay Sands. Going to Singapore from Belakang Padang takes about 15 to 20 minutes on a speed boat. Boats for hire are available for Rp 100,000 (US$7.09) one way.
Many residents of Belakang Padang work in Batam, located about 24 kilometers from the island. Most work as traders and employees. Likewise, a majority of government officials who work in the Immigration Office or district offices in Belakang Padang live in Batam.
Washono, head of the Belakang Padang Immigration Office, said that he spends more time in Batam than in Belakang Padang, though he owns an official residence on the island.
“My activity is mostly centered in Batam. And going to Belakang Padang is no hassle, I can go there with ease,” he said.
He also said that the Immigration Office in Belakang Padang was built earlier than the one in Batam. The building has been preserved for its history.
“The office in Belakang Padang is tasked with issuing passports and monitoring foreign ships and boats that pass by,” Washono said.
The 70-square-kilometer island is considered reluctant to develop, even though its natural potential is considered promising.
A ‘becak’ (three-wheeled pedicab) can carry travelers around Belakang Padang Island.
Another myth of the island is “Batu Berhenti” (Stopping Stone), an area familiar to captains of ships, tankers and boats alike.
People say there is an area in the middle of the sea that has invisible rocks. Passing ships and boats that break certain unwritten rules will get stuck. After a certain amount of time, though, they will usually break free on their own.
Before Batam was a favorite getaway for Singaporeans and Malaysians, Belakang Padang had a reputation as a red light district. Mat Belanda Island, part of Belakang Padang, was known to offer sex workers in humble booths.
The island is now considered a culinary haven that offers Melayunese dishes. The favorites are hot and sour fish, squid with black sauce and martabak (traditional pancake).
According to residents, the dishes are best savored while enjoying the sweet breeze of the ocean.
A savory ‘Martabak’ (traditional pancake)