Johor Kaki Travels for Food

Singapore based personal blog of true stories by johorkaki@gmail about best food, people & places around the world

Thursday, 2 August 2018

Padang Melang Festival. Best Time to Visit Anambas Islands in Indonesia

I had long hoped for a chance to visit the legendary pristine turquoise waters and sandy white beaches of Indonesia's Anambas Islands. The island regency consisting of 255 islands is Indonesia's northernmost frontier in the vast South China Sea.

The Anambas have been dubbed the Most Beautiful Tropical Islands of Asia. There's the beautiful sandy beaches of Jemaja Island and coral reefs around Pulau Ayam, Pulau Bawah etc.

I finally had the chance to visit the Anambas when I was invited to visit the Padang Melang Festival from 26 - 28 July 2018 on Jemaja Island. This was the third Padang Melang Festival organised by the Department of Tourism & Culture of Anambas Islands District, supported by Tourism Office of Riau Province.

The Padang Melang Festival is held at the famous crescent shape beach at Padang Melang. The white sand stretches 6.7 km, the longest on Jemaja Island (and 2nd longest in Indonesia after Bali). During the Festival, we were treated to many beach sports competitions such as canoe race, sea snail fishing, kite flying etc.

The kite flying competition thrills all ages, young and young at heart. 

The canoe race.

One of the most exciting events was the gong gong sea snail fishing competition. Some 50 participants tried to catch as much gong gong as possible off the sand bed in 30 minutes.

The best participants each caught about 3 kilos of gong gong sea snails.

There were also cultural processions, dance performances, craft exhibitions, food bazaars, durian feast, souvenirs for sale etc.

The mystical Gubang Dance was one of the highlights of the opening night of Padang Melang Festival 2018. Gubang Dance is an important cultural heritage of Jemaja islanders. 

The traditional dance performed only at night during special occasions, is believed to bring good luck and protect the islanders from evil.

A series of traditional dances followed, all beautiful and entertaining.

Visitors to the Padang Melang Festival were treated to local dishes. Particularly memorable were the sago laksa and bubur pedas.

Sago laksa is spicy curry laksa with ground fish and hot spices with thick bouncy noodles made with sago flour. I've tasted something similar in Malaysia's Kelantan and Terengganu.

Bubur pedas is porridge cooked with curry laksa (instead of water) and tasted exactly like that. Congee type porridge with hot spicy curry. I love this.

Free for all durian party - there was more than enough for everyone.

Seventy percent of the Anambas population are Malays and the rest are mainly from Java. Many of them attended the Padang Malang Festival in beautiful traditional dress.

Besides the Padang Melang Festival, we took the opportunity to enjoy the natural beauty of Jemaja Island like Neraja Waterfall and Padang Melang beach. At the moment, the Anambas is still untouched by mass tourism.

Most people on Jemaja Island live in Letung Village on the northwest section of the island.

Most Jemaja Islanders live in water villages like these in Letung.

The men are mostly engaged in fishing and farming.

The ladies are homemakers and make food at home for income. We visited a group of ladies making fish kerupuk (fish crackers) which they sell at the jetty.

Letung does not have large restaurants, just simple mom and pop type eateries, which to me is ideal 😄 I love the food as it is freshly harvested from the pristine seas around Jemaja and prepared in the traditional way.

Real kampung chicken, the type that runs around the yard outside the village home and eaten when there is an occasion. Deep fried and smothered with sambal chili. I can't help but wonder how it would taste if we poach it, the Hainanese chicken rice way.... 😄 

I fell in love with gong gong, a sea snail harvested from Jemaja's sandy beaches. The sea snail is simply boiled in water and is eaten by pulling the soft juicy body out of the spiral shell. It is perfect when eaten with a spicy sweet sourish dip. 

We were on Jemaja Island smack in the annual durian season, so we had it everyday 😃 Jemaja Island maybe have a couple of small durian plantations but most of the durians are planted in kampungs (villages).

Jemaja Island durians are good. They are not big, mostly less than 1 kilo each but they are flavour packed. The meat is generally whitish, pale yellow in colour and have a creamy texture. They mostly taste bitter sweet. The best ones resemble Peninsula Malaysia's Golden Phoenix cultivar.

The best durian we had during our visit dropped from this huge road side durian tree. It's whitish moist flesh felt like warm yogurt and it tasted robustly bitter sweet with just a bit of sweet.

Now I know what low hanging fruit means - fruit hanging lower than my armpit 😄 This was a huge cempedak tree by the roadside on our way from the waterfall back to Letung village.

Still on the way to Letung, we passed by a village house with a tree full of ripe mangosteen. We asked the house owner for permission to pluck some mangosteens and she gave us the go ahead without a moment's hesitation. Neither did she asked for anything in return.

The mangosteen was so sweet. We took away a big bag of mangosteen and offered the lady a small token of appreciation.

We stayed at Rumah Wisata in Letung, said to be the best tourist accommodation on Jemaja Island (SGD35 a night). It comprises wooden bunks set on stilts above the shallow clear coastal waters. Facilities are basic but adequate. Remember to bring your own towel, toothbrush.. etc.

It's social media cold turkey on Jemaja Island 😰 Good or bad depends on how you look at it.

Just free your mind and escape to the back-to-basics lifestyle. Get a moonlight tan. Have one or two mosquitoes for company.

🏄 How should I conclude this? For city folks, if you are ready to rough it out, get an insight into village life and see the Anambas Islands' natural beauty unspoilt by mass tourism, this is for you. If you come Jemaja Island during the annual Pedang Melang Festival, you will enjoy cultural performances, play sea sports with locals and eat unlimited durian 😄

When: Padang Melang Festival

Where: Padang Melang Beach, Kampung Letung, Palau Jemaja, Anambas Regency, Riau Province, Indonesia

How to get here: The Blue Sea Jet fast catamaran ply between Batam and Letung on Jemaja Island thrice weekly. The ride takes about 7 hours. Actual duration and conditions depend on the sea state. Our rides during July were smooth like an airplane. During the monsoon season, services may be cancelled due to high waves and strong winds.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Susi Air runs a weekly flight between Batam Airport and Letung Airport on Jemaja Island. The flight takes 45 minutes one way.

More Johor Kaki posts on my visit to Jemaja Island ➤

Making Tuna fish kerupuk in the Anambas 👈 click
Gubang dance tradition from Jemaja Island 👈 click
Eating gong gong sea snails in the Anambas 👈 click

Date visited: 26 - 29 Jul 2018

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  1. What an exciting experience!
    sobs regret not follow you guys
    The sea snails look so like "something" LOL
    the water is so pristine clear and clean, nice for swim and snorkelling
    I wonder if I take the sea jet, how could I spend 7 hours there
    BTW how much for the flight and sea jet respectively?

  2. As always, great post Tony. First time reading abotu such a place. Had to look up Google Earth to see where Anambas is. Looks nearer to Tioman than to Batam, hehe...

  3. Looks like Padang Malang was quite the blast this year. I was there last year and we helped release hundreds of baby turtles to benefit the Anambas turtle conservation scheme. A lot of fun was had. As well as makan :)

    Note to self: Make time for Padang Malang 2019.




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