Granite rocks line the shores of Belitung, inspiring many scenes in the novel-turned-movie, Laskar Pelangi by Andrea Hirata.
“Hiduplah untuk memberi yang sebanyak-banyaknya, bukan untuk menerima yang sebanyak-banyaknya.” – an excerpt from Laskar Pelangi by Andrea Hirata
“Live to give the most, not to receive the most” is an iconic quote from Indonesian writer, Andrea Hirata’s famous book-turned-movie, Laskar Pelangi (The Rainbow Troops). Hirata not only authored a book so famous it has been translated into English, Chinese, Malay, Vietnamese and Korean. He put the beautiful island of Belitung, Indonesia on the radars of beach-loving travellers everywhere, thanks to his novel that was inspired by his childhood experiences on the island.
Belitung is part of the Bangka-Belitung sister islands, located in the Java sea between Sumatra and Borneo. The island, which has remained mostly unknown and therefore untouched, started gaining domestic interest when Hirata’s book hit the silver screen in 2008. It is said to be the most-viewed Indonesian movie of all time.
Fans of the movie will instantly recognise the granite rock clusters all around the island that was the ultimate playground for the story’s children. It’s these very rocks, the white sandy beaches and the surrounding crystal-clear waters that have inspired international travellers to choose Belitung over more popular Indonesian islands – move over Bali.
Exploring Belitung’s beaches
Belitung truly has some of the most gorgeous beaches around. Don’t believe us? Just look at the photos.
Tanjung Tinggi Beach is said to be the best beach in town, and travellers are often spotted sunbathing on the rocks. (Or chalking up posts for their social feeds.) Tanjung Tinggi was also the main location of Laskar Pelangi. The book is set in 1970s Indonesia, and in a way Belitung today harks back to simpler times, where you can truly kick back from the hectic pace of city life as we know it.
Away from the Instagram crowd is Teluk Gembira Beach in Membalong. It is an up-and-coming, rather charming area in the southern part of Belitung. Here you can walk along the dock, and even watch the locals in action as they return from their fishing trips. If you’re a bit of an angler, you could even rent a fishing boat. There’s marine life aplenty for the fishing sportsman or woman, and that also makes it a great spot for snorkeling.
Another popular spot for dipping into the azure waters is around Lengkuas Lighthouse. This icon of Belitung is located just off the northern point of the island on Lengkuas island, facing the Karimata Strait. It is 30-minutes by boat from Tanjung Kelayang. Fun fact: It was built by the Dutch in 1882 and still functions as a lighthouse today, guiding ships in and out of Belitung.
Visitors usually enjoy heading up to the top of the 12-storey lighthouse for panoramic views of the seascape. However the landmark is temporarily closed for upgrading. You could still walk up to the third level for some photo opportunities, but why look at the ocean from up top when you can swim in it?
The waters here are calm and shallow, and the coral reefs pristine and full of marine life. Snorkelling, or just swimming, is a must. Lengkuas is also a hotspot for local hawksbill turtles. Get those underwater cameras ready!
Culture, coffee and local eats
If Laskar Pelangi was your inspiration for this trip, then you must visit Museum Kata Andrea Hirata (The Andrea Hirata Words Museum). It is Indonesia’s first and only literature museum. It is also Hirata’s promise to Belitung – to build an educational space with the profits he received from the novel.
The museum is situated in Gantung, which isn’t too far from Manggar town. If you haven’t heard, coffee houses are big in Belitung, especially in Manggar. It is the place where locals converge for spirited discussion. It reflects its tin mining past when workers would gather to fuel up for the day. Among the many coffee shops in Manggar, Warung Kopi Kong Djie remains a favourite among locals and tourists alike.
As you wander the streets of Belitung and peer into the local restaurants, you’ll notice the popular Bedulang family-style of eating. It’s a communal experience where small plates of food are served on the table or floor making it easy for diners to share. Rumah Makan Belitong Timpo Duluk gets our vote. It is small and crowded, and you’ll be squeezing for space to feast on authentic Bedulang fare. Its specialty: the Gangan fish head soup served in coconut husk.
Belitung cuisine is similar to Sumatran food, heavily spiced and often laden with coconut milk. But you can definitely find lighter fare, like Mie Belitung (noodles with a broth) at Atep, which you can wash down with a refreshing Jeruk Kunci (calamansi and salted plum drink). The local snack worth trying: Ketam Isi (crab cakes cooked in shell).
Another treat would be to buy fresh seafood directly from local fishermen when they dock at the beach. What’s better than enjoying a fresh crab-boil on the sand? The catch: you need to know Bahasa. There are local guides who could take you on small-group tours, so make sure you ask your hotel concierge for some recommendations.
Real island living
A full day of island hopping may be a popular choice for travellers, but the islands off Belitung deserve a little more time than an hour’s pit-stop.
You could spend an afternoon caving in Kelayang. The rocks here are said to change their hues with the tides. And then spend the night under the stars at the Billiton Eco-Beach Tent – a must for the avid glampers (glamour campers).
While Lengkuas is a popular snorkelling destination, diving enthusiasts will want to explore Batu Malang Penyu – named because it resembles a penyu or turtle. Penyu sits between Lengkuas and Kepayang islands. This is a place for advanced divers. There is a shipwreck to dive into and the currents can be strong here so make sure you go with the right dive guides. Snorkelling can be an option, but closer to shore, as the large granite rock formations are surrounded by colourful corals.
If you’re looking to spend the night off Belitung, Kepayang is another option. Here you can enjoy some local grub and sip on fresh coconut juice as the sun dips, before retreating to the Kepayang Island Eco Lodge and Conversation Center – they foster turtles here before they head out to sea.
But if you’d like to fulfil a childhood dream of staying in a treehouse, or have ambitions to be the next Andrea Hirata, then the Zarra Tree House on Leebong is for you. This private island is the perfect place to find inspiration and pen the next big novel. Leebong is west of Belitung by boat or direct from Jakarta by plane.
Somewhere beyond the sea
Belitung isn’t just sun, sand and sea. While on land, you can experience a different kind of blue – at the Kaolin Lake in Tanjung Pandan. It is also known as the blue lake, for obvious reasons. It formed after kaolin mining operations ceased. With its bright blue waters and rugged stone cradle, this is definitely a spot for the ’gram. The lake gets its brilliant blue hue when water mixes with the rich minerals of the kaolinite powder. Anyone would be tempted to swim here. However, the soft clay makes it unsafe for anyone to wander into.
You could hike Belitung too. Kubing Mountain in Membalong (southwest Belitung) is difficiult to access, but for that reason you will encounter unspoiled wilderness and a gorgeous spring that you can soak in amid nature. Tajam Mountain is the highest in Belitung at 515m. It is a trekker’s haven, and is home to the beautiful Gurok Beraye Waterfall. Tajam is easily accessible from Air Pengantungan Village. But to enter the heart of Belitung, drive to Batu Baginda. Not only is it a place for rock climbing enthusiasts – it is sacred and some even call it the origins of Belitung.
An escape from reality
Belitung is the island we wish we could keep to ourselves, but because we “live to give the most”, we have to share the wonders of this paradise. If you’re looking for that next beach getaway, and maybe some time away from emails and furious whatsapp group texts, then it’s time to book your flights to Belitung.
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Best Time to Visit
Dry season in Belitung is April to September. It’s best to avoid December to January, especially because the waves are strong and can be dangerous.
Arrange for a local tour guide to guide you around the island.
The local currency is the Indonesian Rupiah, and cash is predominantly used here.
Fly from Singapore to Belitung on Garuda Indonesia! Search for airfare deals and book your tickets here.