This is also the name of the new Indonesian province which was created in 2004 which was carved out of Riau province. The province includes all the islands off the Sumatra coast which were previously part of the province, namely Karimun, Riau, Singkep-Lingga, Anambas and Natuna in the South China Sea.
An archipelago of over 3,000 islands, the province has benefited greatly from its location - just 40 minutes from Singapore. Its two main islands Batam and Bintan are some of the most developed and affluent parts of Indonesia.
While Bintan and Batam get many visitors from Singapore and Malaysia via Johor Bahru, the rest of the islands in the province are very much off the beaten track, offering endless exciting trips to the adventurous.
The islands have also become a favourite destination for cycling enthusiasts from Singapore.
Bahasa Indonesia is modeled on the version of Malay which originates from the Riau Islands. In fact, Riau Malay is regarded as the purest form of the Malay language and visitors from Malaysia will find the Malay spoken here very similar to Bahasa Malaysia, which is the version of Malay spoken back home.
The Riau Islands are a major gateway into Indonesia because of good ferry links to nearby Singapore and Malaysia. For detailed visa information, please see the Indonesia page. Many of the seaports in the Riau Islands and the main airport on Batam are visa-free and visa-on-arrival points of entry. Please see the pages for the individual islands or cities on the visa status for a particular port.
Batam's Hang Nadim Airport (BTH) is the main airport in the province and fields flights from various Indonesian cities. Riau Airlines provides connections with cities in the Sumatra "mainland" such as Pekanbaru, Palembang, Jambi and Pangkal Pinang (in Bangka-Belitung province), while other airlines like Garuda-Indonesia, Sriwijaya air, Merpati, Kartika Airlines, and Mandala Airlines fly to other cities like Medan, Jakarta, Surabaya, Makassar and Banjarmasin. See the Batam and individual city pages for details on connections.
Ferries are the main way to get to the Riau Islands. Check the individual island or city pages for details.
From Singapore: Frequent ferries connect Singapore with Batam and Bintan. See pages of the two islands for details of ports served by the ferries. Ferries also link Singapore with Tanjung Balai on Karimun Island and Tanjung Batu on Kundur Island. Note that Tanjung Batu is not listed as a visa-free or visa-on-arrival point of entry, although visa-free nationalities seem to not have any problems entering via this port.
From Malaysia: Frequent ferries link Johor Bahru with Batam and Bintan. Ferries also run between Kukup in the south western part of Johor state, and Tanjung Balai on Karimun Island. As of mid 2007, a ferry service has been planned for Batu Pahat in Johor and Tanjung Balai on Karimun but has not taken off yet.
From other parts of Indonesia: Numerous ferries link Sumatra mainland cities such as Pekanbaru, Dumai, Palembang, Kuala Tungkal in Jambi and other smaller ports with Batam, Bintan, Karimun and other islands. Ships belonging to Indonesia's passenger shipping company Pelni call at Bintan's Kijang port, Batam's Sekupang domestic ferry terminal and the Natuna Islands, linking them with Jakarta, Medan, Pontianak and other major ports.
Boats are the only practical means of traveling through the archipelago. There are very frequent ferries between Batam and Bintan. Frequent ferry links the two islands with other islands in the province like Karimun, Singkep and Lingga. The remote Natuna and Anambas islands are linked by infrequent ferries and Pelni boats from Bintan. For more details, please see the pages for the individual islands.
There are airports on Batam, Bintan and the remote Natuna Islands, where there are airstrips on Natuna and Matak. The main airline linking the various Riau islands is Riau Airlines. It also offers flights south to Singkep Island (Dabo) from Batam and that is a viable option rather than spending 3-6 hours on a ferry.
In terms of land transport, local transport in the form of taxis, buses, vans (angkut, bemo), and motorcycle taxis (ojek) are available on most islands. It cost a dollar or two, it depends how long the trip is. However, to enjoy the island even more try to rent your own motor bike ("rental moto") It starts at 50'000 Rupias (3.2 €uro)/day when there are space to bargain, but on smaller islands they know they can charge more, up to 100'000 Rupias/day.
In the capital of the Riau province Tanjung Pinang will you find many historical attractions. The famous Buddhist Temple and Penyengat Island. With the famous Mesjid Raya Mosque made by egg. Include the unique building, it's much a spiritual island.To be there you smell the glorious history of Indonesia, yoe can find the parts of the kings palace. Several mausoleum of royalties and a spirit of old religion. The mysterious of Indonesia, this is maybe the place. Good/evil, black/light, animism. The old ruler's palace and royal tombs, among them the grave of the respected Sultan Haji, who also was creator and 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.
The province is famous for it seafood restaurants, in capital you will find many first class seafood restaurants to very low price compared to the western world and Singapore.
Indonesia is famous for coffee and tea. The Avocado juice is also a must-try!
Hotels of various budgets are available in the main towns such as Tanjung Pinang on Bintan, Nagoya on Batam, Tanjung Balai on Karimun and Tanjung Batu on Kundur, although those at the lower end are often sleazy and unpleasant. Five-star beach and golf resorts, catering mostly to Singaporeans, are also popular in this part of Indonesia, mostly located in the Bintan Resorts area on the northern part of the island. There are also resorts on the other islands, eg. Nongsa on Batam. See the individual city/island pages for listings.
Bear in mind that the economic boom has made accommodation in the Riau Islands more expensive than in other parts of Indonesia.
Riau province is a safe place, with a very low crime rate. There is no terrorism in the province.
Riau doesn't have night life as the western world, but people hang out in the street in the night. So just go out and see how the locals enjoy their evening.
The island of Batam is home to many clubs and bars, catering to the large Western expat population working at the engineering companies, and the younger locals. Be aware of prices, which are quite high in the hotel bars and clubs, and of illegal drugs, which are widely available but dangerous.