By Muhammad Hasif Mohd Jelani on February 18, 2019
Located on the east coast of Sumatra, in the province of Bangka-Belitung, this charming island is surrounded by more than 100 other islands and islets. Belitung was used as the shooting location for one of Indonesia’s highest grossing films entitled Laskar Pelangi (Rainbow Troops) that was adapted from the namesake novel by Indonesia’s best-selling author, Andrea Hirata, and released back in 2008.
The film’s inspiring story revolves around the struggle in educating 10 determined students by their two teachers amidst poverty during the 1970’s when Belitung was still one of the world’s leading producers of tin. The movie was said to have put Belitung on many travellers’ map. Since then, Belitung is often regarded as the Land of Laskar Pelangi.
Follow my take on this humbling paradise that I think should be on your next travel list!
Best time to visit Belitung is from March until August when the island experiences dry season and clearer weather.
Probably the most iconic landmark related to the Laskar Pelangi phenomenon, the replica of the school where Andrea Hirata was once attended as a pupil called SD Muhammadiyah is located in the sub-district of Gantong, East Belitung. The site became famous for being the main shooting location for Laskar Pelangi. Those who has watched the movie will likely find this rustic, dilapidated structure remarkably sentimental and evocative.
Just minutes away by foot from SD Muhammadiyah, Dermaga Kirana is another popular attraction on the island. Alternatively, this place is also known as ‘Rumah Keong’ or ‘Rumah Rotan’ because this collection of shell-shaped structures are made from rattan. This is the place where travellers can unwind and enjoy the breathtaking view of the lake.
Said to be the first and only literature museum in Indonesia, this kaleidoscopic building, as its name suggests, is fully dedicated to Andrea Hirata. More than just a place where you can understand more of his previous works including Laskar Pelangi, travellers can also learn about his humble yet inspiring personal life. Andrea, himself, also set up a free school near the museum where he also shares his story with the students.
This beach is also known as Laskar Pelangi Beach since it was used as a shooting location for the said film. The distinctive feature of the beach is the giant granite stones where travellers can play hide-and-seek and enjoy the awe-inspiring view from the top of the stones. There are several shops selling food and merchandises near the beach as well.
Used to be a kaolin mining area, Danao Kaolin in Perawas is now a wasteland that has captured the attention of many due to its appealing turquoise-coloured lake and white sand. While the view is indeed stunning, swimming is not advisable.
In the southwest of Belitung, lies a hidden gem waiting to be known as another must-visit destination called Leebong Island. The water is crystal clear, even along that mangroves that I think might just be the cleanest I have ever seen. Since it is surrounded by other islands, the wave is not strong, perfect for swimming with family and loved ones.
Leebong is famous for its sand bank that is accessible by foot, equipped with swings and hammocks for travellers to frolic. There is a resort with an iconic tree house and a few shallow beaches with beautiful pagodas, making the island ideal for couples seeking privacy.
Like most island destinations, seafood is famous in Belitung and Raja Seafood Belitung is one of the more popular restaurants. Among the favourites here are rajungan rebus (steamed blue crab), kepiting asam manis (sweet sour red crab) and udang mentega (butter prawn).
It serves mainly seafood-based and traditional dishes, including ikan tenggiri bakar kecap (grilled mackerel in soy sauce), kepiting saos Padang (red crab cooked in Padang sauce), udang goreng mentega (fried butter prawn) and cumi goreng tepung (fried squid). Other than that, this restaurant is famous for its beautiful interior and setting that include a replica of a ship facing a stunning lake.
If you are craving for traditional food, this establishment might be your answer. Set in a two connecting traditional wooden houses, this restaurant teaches travellers on the basic dining etiquettes of Belitung people whereby younger diners will first serve food to the older ones before eating. The dishes here include sate ayam (chicken satay), lalapan (local salad), gangan ikan (fish soup), gangan darat (chicken or beef soup) and ayam ketumbar (coriander chicken), all served on antique dulang (tray) that is meant to be shared among four to five diners.
Coffee is a big deal in Belitung since most of its people like to have coffee while chatting with families and friends, hence the meaning of the term ‘ngopi’ (‘drinking coffee’). No wonder there is one special street in Manggar where travellers can find coffee shops along the road named Kota 1001 Warung Kopi Manggar.
Famous for its Mie Belitung (Belitung noodle), which is the signature food of the island, this establishment, which is a hotel and restaurant, is just minutes away from the airport, making it very convenient to start or end your trip in Belitung.
The brand has many branches in Belitung to the point it is often referred as ‘the Starbucks of Belitung’. If you are looking for the most unique branch of this coffeeshop, then head to its flagship and oldest branch on Jalan Serma Abdullah, also the first coffee shop in Belitung since 1943. While kopi o (black coffee) and kopi susu (coffee with milk) are the signatures here, travellers can also try their singkong goreng (fried cassava) and pisang keju (fried banana with cheese) for side dish.
This three-star hotel is located in Tanjung Pandan, approximately 30 minutes by car from the airport. With 76 cosy rooms and casual-looking The Branche Restaurant & Bar, the hotel best suits leisure travellers who seek value-for-money and comfortable accommodation.
|Other things you can experience in Belitung…
• Visit the Rumah Adat (cultural house) to learn more about Belitung’s traditional architecture.
• Do island-hopping to Garuda, Batu Belayar and Sand Island before snorkelling at the popular Lengkuas Island.
• Pay a visit to Vihara Devi Kwan Im, the oldest Buddhist temple in Belitung that stands out in colourful hues.
• Unwind at Burung Mandi Beach and take note of well-crafted boats along the soft-brown sandy beach.
• Inspect the hometown of the former governor of Jakarta, Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama at Kampoeng Ahok.
Gaya Travel Magazine expresses our heartfelt gratitude to MTN Getaways Pte. Ltd. and Naza Holdings Singapore for making the writer’s trip to Belitung possible. For more information about travel packages to Belitung, please browse www.mtngetaways.com.