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Indonesia: From island to island


May 2014

Indonesia consists of almost 18.000 islands. Most of them are of course small and uninhabited but it´s still quite a big number. In a lifetime it is impossible to visit all of these islands. My plan is, however, to get to Sumatra first, one of the larger islands.


My first island Tanjung Balai Karimun is not far from the Malaysian mainland. From there I want to take a boat to Sumatra, as far to the southeast as possible, because the distances are huge in Indonesia. The archipelago stretches from west to east over 5000 kilometers and the island of Timor, where I want to go, is still 2500 km away from the center of Sumatra, linear distance of course.

At the port it is chaotic: There are several docks and numerous ticket sellers who want to lure every newcomer in their office to sell their tickets. I ask for a boat to Kuala Tungkal, a small town on the coast of Sumatra. I am sent from seller to seller, from office to office and get a wide variety of information. “The port doesn´t exist.”, “The boat doesn´t leave until tomorrow or maybe in two days”, “The boat is just broken and doesn´t leave until next week.”

Finally I give up and buy a ticket to Battam. That island near Singapore should have more ferry connections.


With so many islands, transportation on waterways is very important. Here a huge long distance PELNI- ferry.

Having arrived in Battam (Island No. 2), after searching for a long time I finally find a ticket to a place called Muara Sabak. None of the ticket sellers can show me on my map where it is exactly, only that it is located in Sumatra and not far from the city of Jambi, which is located in the center of Sumatra.

With the ticket for the next day in my pocket I explore the island and get to know the three things that make cycling in Indonesia exhausting: heat, hills and heavy traffic.

A few hours and an unsuccessful search for a cheap hotel later, I’ve given up and decide to sleep in the harbor. But then a motorcycle stops next to me and a man offers me a water bottle. Not a minute later I follow my new and first Indonesian friend Pandi to his house. He invited me to stay with him.


Pandi and his family, my first indonesian friends.
I get some delicoius soto (soup) to eat

The next morning, back at the harbor: From far away the people at the ticket office wave and shout at me. “Sorry, no boat today. It has an engine failure. Maybe tomorrow … ”

I get my money back and have to wait until tomorrow. I call Pandi. Fortunatly he gave me a indonesian SIM-Card the day before. There is no problem to spend another night with him. It is Sunday and we do a boat trip to another island (no. 3) to visit some of his family.

waiting at the harbour


Pandi wants to accompany me to the port the next morning. He wants to make sure that I end up on the right boat and pay the right price. And indeed, today there is a boat to Muara Sabak.

that´s the boat to sumatra

It is a small, old boat, maybe 10 meters long. There is space for 30 passengers in the cabin and for lots of luggage and my bike on the roof. After 8 hours and numerous stops on small islands I arrive on Sumatra (Island no. 4).