The territory of this rich province includes a sizable slice of the eastern Sumatran coast and more than 3,000 islands of all sizes.
Riau, although comparatively small in both size and population (about 2.5 million), is the heartland of the Malays and the cradle of Indonesia's Malay-based national language and culture. The first book of Malay grammar, the Bustanul Katibin, was written and published here in 1857. Its links with Johor on the West Malaysian mainland have been long and strong.
Sitting astride one of the world's oldest and busiest trade routes, the Strait of Malacca, the Riau islands have for many centuries provided a safe haven to ships plying the sea lanes between Europe, India and China. The rise of Malay power, however, began somewhere around the 13th century, when that of the Buddhist kingdom of Sriwijaya began to crumble. Malay kingdoms emerged on both sides of the Malacca Strait.
In 1402, Parameswara founded Malacca, a kingdom which was to play a pivotal role in the history of the area in the century that was to come. Being the first to come into contact with European and other seafarers, the language of the area, Malay was adopted by the newcomers to make themselves understood in the region. So, apparently, the spread of the language began in 1511, however, Malacca fell to the Portuguese who had come in their quest for gold, gospel and glory. Malacca's Sultan Mahmud Syah fled south, settling first in Johore, then in Bintan in the Riau archipelago.
Since then, it was a period of wars and intrigues for the Malay states around the Straits, further aggravated by the arrival of the Dutch and the British in the early 17th century. To make a long and complicated story short, peace was restored only after the signing of the Treaty of London in 1824, giving the Dutch control of all the European territories south of Singapore, and the British of all the colonies towards its north.
The link between Johor and Riau was severed. With the subjugation and dissolution of the recalcitrant Riau sultanate in 1911, the Dutch effectively established their power over the islands. Riau's cultural clout, however, endured.
The smallest islands of the Riau archipelago are no more than rocky reefs, about one hectare (2.5 acres). The larger Bintan, Lingga and Singkep islands are about 1,000 hectares in size.
About 160 km upstream on the Siak river, Pekanbaru, Riau's provincial capital, has a number of buildings in the traditional style of the area, among them the Balai Dang Merdu, the Balai Adat and Taman Budaya Riau or Riau Cultural Park.
The Siak Sultanate's Park
This Moorish style palace of the Sultan of Siak, 120 km upstream from Pekanbaru on the siak river, was built in 1889 by Sultan Syarif Hasyim Abduljalil Syarifuddin. Now a museum, the palace contains the sultanate's royal paraphernalia and other items of historical interest. Established during the 16th century, the Siak Seri Inderapura sultanate lasted until 1946, when it became victim to the popular upheavals following the Japanese surrender at the close of World War II.
Candi Muara Takus
Like many other structures of its kind in Sumatra, this Buddhist stupa near the village of Muara Takus in the Tigabelas Koto district, was built with red bricks and sand. The temple is believed to have been built at around the 9th or 10th century A.D. when the power of the South Sumatra-based Sriwijaya empire was at its peak. Excavations are still being made to determine the precise age and function of the stupa.
A busy little town on Bintan Island, visited by traders from Jakarta, Medan, Palembang and other big cities in Indonesia. Tanjung Pinang is only a two-hour boat ride away from Singapore. The town has a Museum located on jl. Katamso.
A large section of the old part of the town was built in traditional local fashion, on stilts, over the water. Bintan is a good point of departure to other islands in the area.
This island, six km away from Tanjung Pinang, can be reached in 15 minutes by sampan boat. The seat of the powerful Bugis descended viceroys of Riau during the 18th century, Penyengat still bears the traces of its illustrious past. Ruins, abandoned for almost 70 years, were recently restored. The old ruler's palace and royal tombs, among them the grave of the respected Sultan Haji, author of the first Malay Language grammar book, are among the legacies left by the Riau sultanate. Still in use is the old vice-royal mosque, the Mesjid Raya.
A newly built cultural center for stage performances of Malay music and dances can also be found.
Kerumutan Nature Reserve
Located on mainland Riau in the Kuala Kampar district, this 120,000 hectares (30,000 acres) nature reserve can be reached in 18 hours by motor boat from Pekanbaru. The boat sails up a calm river surrounded by virgin forests.
The Island of Batam
A very strategic island in Indonesia, Batam lies close to Singapore, designated as a center of not only industry, but also tourism and trade. It is one among Indonesia's key locations of industrial
The Batuampar area is called a pioneer area and is being rapidly developed. While in the region of Sekupang significant projects have been in progress.
The Nongsa region has been set aside as a recreation area. Four golf courses, hotels, motels and marina sports facilities are there as well as a forest reserve managed by the Batam Industrial Development Authority.
The Batam Center is designed for the administrative and commercial centre of Batam island.
Hotels of international standard have recently been completed on Nogsa Beach. Batam can be reached in two hours from Tanjung Pinang by ferry, and in about half an hour from Singapore.
Riau with its thousands of islands has plenty of scenic beaches and diving spots, among them Trikora on Bintan and Pasir Panjang on Rupat Island. The first is about 50 kilometers south of Tanjung Pinang on the eastern side of the island. Pasir Panjang, on the northern side of Rupat facing the Strait of Malacca, is a stretched out natural beach with waves that make it attractive for surfing. Good beaches are also found on the islands of Terkulai and Soreh, about an hour's distance by boat from Tanjung Pinang. One of the most popular beaches is Nongsa on Batam Island. From here one can see the Singapore skyline.
Sea gardens with beautiful corals and fish are found in the waters around the islands of Mapor, Abang, Pompong, Balang, and Tanjung Berkait.
Other link: The Riau Islands