EAST BELITONG is a part of Belitong island, off the eastern coast of Sumatera, Indonesia. This regency is also known as Beltim, the land of a million rainbows. Belitong island is located quite close to Jakarta, it takes less than an hour to get to the island by plane. For the slow eaters, you won’t even finish your snack on board when the pilot announces that the plane is about to go landing.
Beltim has its own uniqueness especially when it comes to literary & cultural tourism. The novel ‘Laskar Pelangi’ (The Rainbow Troops) written by a native Billitonian, Andrea Hirata, has become a national hit and internationally acclaimed. It’s so popular that the term ‘rainbow’ seems to be the new culture here. Even the government adopt the rainbow colors as Beltim’s identity. Meanwhile, coffee culture also seems to be in the blood of local people. The capital of Beltim regency, Manggar, has long been known as the city of 1,001 coffeehouses. It’s fascinating for me to be around with locals and experience the culture first-hand.
From my personal point of view & experience during Tour de Beltim 2014, there are at least 10 ultimate reasons for you to visit East Belitong.
It’s really easy to please my happy tummy. Belitong never fails me especially for its seafood dishes. My favorites are gangan soup (fish soup with pineapple), otak-otak (fishcake), and of course mie Belitong (Belitung noodles with prawn & melinjo crackers). Mie Belitong ala Manlie resto in Kelapa Kampit is really recommended. While Fega restaurant in Manggar serves you the best calamari & fish meatballs in town.
The journey never stops. Also not to forget: bedulang (a feast consisting of a selection dishes), berego (somekind of rolled flat rice noodle with fish curry sauce), rice dishes wrapped in simpor leaves, jajak (variety of snack), and many more.
A visit to SD Laskar Pelangi
Like it or not, Laskar Pelangi (The Rainbow Troops) has become a nationwide commercial hype, as it has driven tourists to flock this island ever since. What you visit actually is the school replica of SD Muhammadiyah built for TV sets. The original one has now been transformed into a modern school building located not far.
But I like this replica as it’s located on top of the white sandy hill, and the building was made of white-blue painted wood and rusty tin roof. It looks almost derelict and condemned, but it’s quite iconic for some photo lovers. Be aware that this is a touristy spot, you might find it’s hard to capture the gloomy atmosphere with a bunch of noisy people are busy taking selfies or group shots around the school replica. Better come early in the morning, or maybe in the late afternoon.
Museum Kata Andrea Hirata (Indonesia’s First Literary Museum)
Museum Kata (Literary Museum) is all about reading, founded by Andrea Hirata in the early 2010. It’s an old Belitong house that’s been transformed into the museum. It’s like visiting grandpa’s living room with antique furnitures, only with more hanging wall frames (anything related to literary, but mostly about Laskar Pelangi).
Go inside the traditional kitchen and you can have some kupi kuli (black coffee ala Belitong) freshly served for you. There are also some additional colorful building in the backyard used for workshop or small gathering.
Sanggar Batik de Simpor
Belitong didn’t invent any original batik but some cual clothes influenced by Bangka, its sister island. It was up until 2011 when Beltim government has taken initiatives by establishing Sanggar Batik de Simpor in Gantung village, where neighboring housewives were recruited to produce Belitong’s own batik with localized decorative motifs such as blembang leaves, simpor leaves, coffee cups, cempedik fish, rainbows, sea waves, and sea creatures. All come in brave & bright colors like red, orange, and blue.
Creativity gives rise to the limited out of the unlimited, to the valuable out of the priceless, to abundance out of nothingness. I’ve got my hat off to Beltim government for this.
Kwan Im Temple Burong Mandi
Located on top of the hill overlooking the beach of Burong Mandi, this Confucian temple was built some 250 years ago and has become the biggest one on the island. Dedicated to Kwan Im the goddess of mercy, this huge complex is dominated with bright red colors and green ornaments.
Actually I don’t think it’s a real fun thing when it comes to the place where people come & pray. Just consider it as serious-fun, where you need to be focused and keep silence. And most of all, don’t block the access where the pilgrims are supposed to do their rituals.
Join the class & get the crafts
There are many cultural programs to join such as cooking class, traditional bridal make-up, batik workshop, to Belitong language class. Belitong language is a branch of the Malay language cluster, so basically people who speak Bahasa Indonesia won’t have any difficulties in learning it.
In Bangek village, craftsmen are waiting for you while making handicrafts such as tikar lais (traditional mat made of woven lais leaves), terindak (wide hat made of woven mengkuang leaves), and also many small decorative items made of buah pinang (areca nuts). In Gallery KUMKM in Manggar, visitors can also find the famous satam stone in various forms. Satam stones were believed to come from some asteroid that fell on the island a long time ago, only in Belitong.
Get adventure to the plantation
Agritourism in East Belitong includes a wide variety of activities, including buying produce direct from a farm stand such as gula kirik (palm sugar), picking fruit or spice in a pepper laden plantation, or having brunch in a durian monthong farm. Belitong’s durian has thicker whiter flesh and smaller seeds compared to Thai’s.
We once visited a pepper plantation in Dendang district and it was adventurously fun because we went there by a pickup truck through the jungle of palm plantation. No fear but fun. You don’t have to worry about some cobras that have been released in the plantation to kill pests, perhaps it’s just rumors.
Have fun by the beach
Almost all the beaches in East Belitong are facing the east. To name a few: Serdang beach, Nyiur Melambai beach, and Burong Mandi beach. It’s only in Punai beach where you can have sunset on your own.
Swimming is not the only option here. You can also see Buyan people (originally came from Bawean island in East Java) and their activity in making traditional katir boats. These bright colorful boats will take you on a short boat trip by the seashore. Or do you care for some traditional games? Let’s play patok lele, find one piece of long cylindrical wood and also a shorter one, setup the team, and go catch & return the small stick to the opponent. Have fun!
Stay close with locals & nature
Although some dedicated homestay for tourists have already been established, but Beltim government is planning to have some centralized traditional villages where tourists are able to stay and get around with locals. Experience their daily life, explore the morning market, have some quality time with them.
It will be such a rare moment to get close with nature, you may have local wild fruits such as nam nam and keremuntingan. Hungry? Go to the backyard and pick some red pucok iding-iding to cook. Wrap them with simpor leaves and tali purun. Go have a picnic in the forest, you might be lucky to see the tarsius bancanus saltator, the only tarsius family found in the western part of Indonesia.
End the day with warkop madness
Warkop is an abbreviation of warung kopi alias coffee houses. If you happen to be in Manggar, the city of 1,001 coffee houses, then you won’t resist the temptation of ending the day with a sip of coffee and have a chit chat in one of the coffee houses in town.
For those who don’t drink coffee, you should try some teh tarik (tea with milk). Fried casava & banana fritters are always served on the table. Friendly atmosphere and big laughs. Suddenly you’ll find yourself singing and dancing and even taking the stage with all friends. Life is good.