Penyengat Island, otherwise locally known as Penyengat Indera Sakti, is only a short 15-minute motorised boat trip off the coast of Bintan's capital Tanjung Pinang. It’s rich in history, being the cradle of the Riau-Johor sultanate some centuries back and with remnants of the Malay Empire’s illustrious past spread throughout the island. One of the iconic landmarks, the Grand Mosque of the Riau Sultanate, or Masjid Raya Sultan Riau, stands tall near the harbour, welcoming visitors approaching on boats.
This tiny 200Ha island is also home to Kompleks Makam Raja-Raja, or the ‘tombs of the sultans’, a common stopover that follows on after a visit to Masjid Raya. The main tomb of Engku Putri Raja Hamidah, the wife of sultan Mahmud Syah of Malacca and ruler of Penyengat at the time, has walls all painted in yellow, just like the Grand Mosque. Other tombs surrounding it include that of Raja Ali Haji, a national hero who wrote the oldest publication on Malay grammar, as well as an extensive body of Malay poetry known as Gurindam Dua Belas.
The best way to go around is by motorcycle taxi, with unofficial fares anywhere between IDR 30,000-50,000 for a day trip. This is also due to the streets on the island dominated by bikes and motorcycles – they are too narrow for cars. Being a frequent stopover for many centuries by seafarers and fishermen from all over the Southeast Asian region and Indonesia alone, particularly the seafaring Bugis tribes of southern Sulawesi, you’ll encounter many Bugis fishing villages around the coasts.
Up on the hills of Penyengat Island, there are several historical forts such as Bukit Kursi, which features a vantage point over the open sea. Although the abandoned fort now sits in ruins, you can still go around and find several old cannons lying about. For the culturally inclined, head to the Balai Adat Melayu Riau where you can admire replicas of traditional stilt houses, with life-sized dioramas and other Malay-Riau related cultural objects inside. A tour to Penyengat offers great insight into the history of the region, and the best thing about touring the small island is that it usually doesn’t take a full day.
- Location: Bintan, Indonesia