Tanjung Pinang is great for backpackers and leisure travellers. It's a town stuck in an era long gone from Singapore (save some areas) and it feels humbling being in a place like that. I suppose the key to going about this town and finding it's hidden treasures is an open mind, and a place to dump your luggage so you're free to wander.
I'll be honest, TP has nothing by narrow roads filled with huge vehicles (which I don't understand), numerous alleys with stalls parked in every inch and rubbish in every drain and water catchment area. But it is amazing what me and my partner found there. The beauty about this place is that it hasn't been completely tourist-fied. There are plenty of locals living in the town so the products and food are catered for them as much as us. Hardly anything is jacked up here in terms of prices. Just a quick tip - once you head out of the ferry terminal, there will be "guides" and taxi drivers calling out to you, sometimes even latching on to you but simply shaking your head and politely declining their offer (don't tell them where you're going, just say you're walking around) will do.
Food here is amazing. It is probably one of the highlights of this town. Though they come in pretty small portions, you can order a variety of dishes and only pay less than S$10 for two people. Stay away from the fast food restaurants and indulge in the local fare. Try everything! Coffee shops that serve ayam penyet, juice alpukat (avacado juice at only S$1.40), etc and the side stalls that sell peanut pancakes, otak-otak (you could get 10 - 20 pieces for S$1.40) and sinfully delicious pisang goreng (fried bananas). Perhaps if you think the stalls look questionable, stick to the shops (which are abundant!) alongside the road that serve food on proper plates.
On a downside, I'd have to disappoint the shoppers out there because there is virtually nothing here that is (inedible) and worth buying and bringing home. They do however have 2 malls - Bintan Mall and Bestari Mall but trust me, you won't want to go there for shopping. They have a few shops selling clothes, bags, and knick-knacks but it's not too impressive. There are also no escalators, lifts (only stairs) or air-conditioning so I would say they were more of an extension of the street shops. Unless you're interested in aquiring batiks, traditional cloths and souvenirs (which this town has little of as well) I'd suggest you'd head somewhere else.
For those heading to the resorts along the beach - stock up. I'm not even kidding. The prices at resorts are quite marked up, so pack your dinner, drinks, groceries (and whatever else you think you'll want) because everything is so inexpensive you could probably afford it and still pay for that snorkeling trip.
If you're looking to take in the views, you can try going on a tour. I didn't myself, but I have read some reviews of beautiful temples and areas that are worth visiting. However, if you're just insterested in wandering, then wander on (drop by the tourist centre and ask for a map). Just don't get lost or you'll be asking for directions as the winding streets can get a little frustrating. My partner and I managed to stumble into the residential area where several wooden huts and some slightly better built concrete homes lined a narrower-than-usual-road and it was quite fascinating walking through that neighbourhood. There were built on stilts and it was very calming being in that part of town. The people there open their doors and windows so you can have a glance of their homes and lives.
If you're looking for some spa time, you're in the right place. They have several spas scattered around town and they all cost around the same price. (An hour of traditional massage will only cost you close to S$10). Do tip the masseurs because from what I've learnt they don't quite earn a lot and they do their best to make your experience comfortable.
Some final tips - if you have luggage and you'd want to explore, find somewhere you can put it at. We left our luggage with the hotel staff stationed at the ferry terminal so do that if you can, if not, it's best to find somewhere to put it at because the streets are not kind to bulky, heavy bags. (Not to mention how much it will attract them guides!) Finally, if you really want to spend some time in town, put aside a few hours. We spent a good 5 hours there and it still wasn't enough!
So just open your mind, drink in the local scene and have a good trip!
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