Anambas Islands are named Asia’s Best Tropical Island Paradise by CNN in 2012. It is located 150 nautical miles northeast of Batam Island in the North Natuna Sea between Peninsular Malaysia and Borneo.
If we talk about holidaying in Indonesia, the first destination on the checklist is most likely Bali island. But did you know within the Riau Islands province of Indonesia is a lesser known island regency boasting 255 equally fascinating island gems?
“If the picture perfect sapphire waters, pristine beaches with pearly white sands and rainbow corals remind tourists of Maldives, then Anambas Islands are the Maldives of Indonesia,” says Zainul Idris Yunus, the Executive Economic Affairs Consulate General of Republic of Indonesia in Johor Bahru.
The islands regency has only 26 occupied islands while 229 islands are still untouched, waiting to be discovered. And I was fortunate to be invited by the Indonesian Government for a 5-day trip to explore these island gems.
Built above the sea, Anambas Resort Water Villa has a private balcony where I can feed the fishes in the waters. It is located in Tanjung Tebu, Terempa town of Siantan Island which is part of Anambas Islands. The view from the villa are truly captivating with a clear sight of corals, little fishes and at times, turtles teeming on the sea.
Coincidentally, I arrived in Anambas Islands at the time when the local community were celebrating its 10th anniversary of Anambas Islands as a regency in the Riau Islands Province under the Law No. 33 (2008).
Count myself lucky. I witnessed the festival concert, showcasing traditional song, dance and the best of all, a parade of dancers in colourful costumes akin to the cosplay of Japanese anime–from fishes to octopuses and seahorses.
Apart from enjoying a taste of local culture, the best thing to do in Anambas Islands is certainly island hopping. It let me experience more than just sun, sea and sand but the differences of the islands. Whether it is Bawah Island, Jemaja Island, Siantan Island, Matak Island or Penjalin Island, these islands are unique in their own way.
My favourite island is definitely Penjalin Island. This island is blessed with white sandy beaches with sand as soft and delicate as flour. There are granite rocks piling up on the beach, providing a perfect panoramic view of this pristine island. I had a splashing time taking selfie, carving my name on the carpet of sand, dipping into the crystal clear water and letting the little fishes surround my feet.
My next island hopping adventure is Bawah Island. This is the most popular island of Anambas which offers 3 naturally protected lagoons, 5 primeval forests and best of all, 13 beaches which you don’t have to share with the crowd. The alluring landscape still remains as in 10,000 years ago although there is currently a luxury resort–Bawah Reserve–with rooms priced as high as USD1,780 and above per night.
For me, Bawah Island is a perfect natural, idyllic island getaway. In fact, it is Bawah Island that lends it’s charms for Anambas Islands to be named as Asia’s Best Tropical Island Paradise by CNN.
Another enchanting stop is Jemaja Island. I made a quick visit to Padang Melang Beach, renowned for having the longest coastline, as long as 8km in the province of Riau Islands. I was told that the annual Padang Melang Festival was held here with 3-day of merry-making like folk games, music, dances, boat races and culinary fair.
Anambas Islands are every diver’s dream. For diving instructor, Mark Rahman who was with me in this trip, Anambas Islands have lots of soft corals and this makes it unique compared to other islands in Malaysia. Some of the marine life found are angelfish, turtle, barracudas batfish, nudibranchs, crocodile fish, blue-spotted stingray, moray eels and more.
With many soft corals surrounding the islands, divers love to go snorkelling or deep sea diving and play in the sapphire blue sea. The best dive sites are Tokong Berlayar and Malang Biru which have steep slopes, the Katoaka reef, Igara and Seven Skies Wreck which is considered as the diver’s playground. As Anambas Islands are still relatively untouched, one can easily get lost in the paradise with sheer delight.
Back in Terempa, the capital town of Anambas Islands, I was awe-struck by the sights of the port dotting the coastal line of the town. This panoramic view looks similar to the Mediterranean coastal villages in Europe. Seeing the local children trying to catch fishes at the edge of the deck brought back good memories of my youth.
A trip to Anambas Islands will not be complete without a feast on the famous Nasi Padangwhich is also known as Rijsttafel from the Dutch for rice table. Nasi Padangconsists of fish, beef, mutton, vegetables and spicy grinded chillies. To me, Dara Manis Café & Restaurant in Matak Island serves the best and most authentic Nasi Padang.
I also sampled sotong masak hitam(fried spicy black squid) but the best pampering of culinary delight was the exotic Napolean Fish which costs over USD250 per kilogram. This is the most expensive fish I have ever eaten in my life! In addition, I treated myself with Luti Gendang, a traditional local bread and Keropok Atom, crispy round-shaped fries.
On the final day home, I passed by Penyengat Island, just minutes off the coast of Tanjung Pinang. This island is famed as the cultural and royal throne of Malay Riau-Lingga Sultanate in the 19th century.
At the Balai Adat Indera Perkasa, I had a great time cosplaying. With gold sequinned yellow costumes, a tengkolok(headgear) and a kris (dagger) in hand, I could be easily mistaken as a Riau Sultan.
With so much to do but so little time, I left nothing but footprints and took nothing but pictures in Anambas Islands. And I totally agree with Pak Zainul that the islands regency is truly the Maldives of Indonesia.
Total of 4-5 hours by these routes:
• 3 hours by ferry from Stulang Jetty, Johor Bahru to Tanjung Pinang, Bintan Island
• 1 hour by flightfrom Tanjung Pinang Airport (Bintan Island) to Matak Airport (Matak Island)
• 15 minutes by boatfrom Matak Island to Anambas Resort Water Villa
Text and photos by Francis Yip