Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Blue Mountain Kelong, Indonesia: A refreshing holiday destination

This travel post is written by Pamela who blogs at Tan Family Chronicles. She travelled to the Blue Mountain Kelong in Indonesia with her husband and her petite travellers, Shawna (3 years), Asher (3 years) and Isaac (6 years) in August 2013.

This holiday is suitable for families who love the peace and quiet of offshore living.

Our trip to the Blue Mountain Kelong was fun and enjoyable!

My husband saw some pictures on Facebook of a friend who brought his son on a father-son bonding kelong trip. He was inspired by that and decided to source for a kelong for us to go on a short trip. He googled and found the Blue Mountain Kelong. He was so excited he went ahead to book and make a deposit. I was a bit skeptical as there wasn't much information on it at that time. There was only one review on TripAdvisor, which I thought could very well be a planted review.

After the trip, however, I realised my worries were quite unfounded, and we had a pretty good experience at the kelong. (Though I'm still wondering why it's called Blue Mountain Kelong, for I don't see any mountains, blue or not, anywhere nearby.)

The Journey

So where is this kelong? It's actually in Indonesian waters near Bintan. To get there from Singapore...
  1. We took a ferry from HarbourFront Centre in Singapore, to Batam, Indonesia. (Approx 1 hour)
  2. From Batam Centre, we took a 1 hour ride via chartered bus and Barelang Highway to Mongak Dam.
  3. From the Mongak Dam, we transferred to a small boat which sped us to the Blue Mountain Kelong in about half an hour.
Map taken off the bluemountainkelong.com website

Our petite travellers held up pretty well during the journey there. As we stay in the far west of Singapore, we liked that the ferry departed from Harbour Front instead of the Tanah Merah jetty. The kids enjoyed the ferry ride though it was rather uneventful as they were still in air conditioned comfort. The bus ride was rather cramped though as we had a full bus load of about 20 people in all, but it was thankfully a short ride. Since the bus passed by the Indonesian countryside, I took the chance to point out things in the surroundings to the kids, to highlight how different (or similar) the place was compared to Singapore. Thankfully these discussions entertained them all the way to our destination - the Mongak Dam, which looked like just another jetty. From there, we took a relatively small speedboat out to the kelong.

Accommodation & Facilities

I was anxious to see the place where we would be spending the next three days and two nights. I've done more than my fair share of camping and roughing it out on travels when I was younger. But now, with three young kids in tow, I was definitely not keen on roughing it out with them. (Little steps, you know.) Thus, I was quite relieved to see that the kelong, spartan as it is, was actually very clean and adequate. It's no 5-star hotel, but our basic needs of semi-modern sanitation and cleanliness, were met.

The accommodations were spartan but clean and adequate

As you can see from the photos above, the room was huge. (It seems like most of the rooms in this kelong were approximately this size.) Took our family of five with no problem at all. Spacious to the max. It comes with an adjoining toilet, and a back balcony which came in handy for hanging clothes, swim wear or towels to dry.

I said the toilet was semi modern because there is running water in the tap, and shower...But no hot water. I took to bathing myself and the kids in the late afternoon, at a time when we're hot and welcome the cool water. The kids didn't seem to mind at all. The toilet bowl had a flush, but the waste empties out into the sea beneath us. The thought of it is a little disgusting, but try as I might, in my few days there, I never did catch sight of any solid waste (aka poo!) nor tissue paper floating anywhere. Believe me, I was looking out for them! It's so bizarre, I wonder where the stuff goes. The wonders of nature, perhaps.

The beds were made up of pieces of wood held together. The mattresses were thin and some were very worn and flattened; some were new and still in their plastic. Guess it's your luck which mattress you end up with. It is nice to see new mattresses though - it means that the kelong's management team DOES upgrade their stuff from time to time.

However, the sheets and blankets were clean and none of us had any problems sleeping at alll those two nights. There was even a revolving fan on the ceiling, though it was quite cool at night as we opened the balcony door to let more cool air in. Ventilation was excellent as the walls didn't reach up to the top, however, that means that you can hear the neighbours snoring at night and the kids chattering in the morning. Erm...not a good honeymoon destination, perhaps? ;p

The kids enjoyed sitting outside our room at the kelong and just observe the waters to see if they could see any fishes.

Just about everything in the kelong was made out of wood. We could see the water beneath the floorboards and hear the swishing of the waves at night. Perhaps that's why we slept so well.

When friends heard that we went to a kelong, they were intrigued and wanted to experience it too, but were also worried if it was safe for young kids. Well, the twins were only 3.5 years old when we went, and it was perfectly safe for them. The floorboards had gaps between them, but the gaps were pretty narrow.

You still have to tell the kids to be careful of where they were stepping though. Shawna was drinking milk from her bottle and not paying attention when she stepped into that hole in the bottom left pic of the above collage - and she lost one of her sandals that way, although she wasn't hurt at all. At around the same time when she lost her sandal, there was someone fixing a new board just metres away - again, comforting to me, as it was obvious that the kelong was actively being maintained. Though I must include this caveat - my kids do not have the tendency to jump into any body of water they see, so I felt safe for them to walk on their own.

Activities On Board

Kids had a great time at the kelong.

Because the kelong environment is so different from the one we live in, it was very refreshing for us. We just enjoyed walking around, looking at stuff, and breathing in the fresh sea breeze.

The kids even tried their hands at fishing using a fishing line - although not with much success. They also tried 'fishing' with a net. I actually think they had more fun throwing the tiny fish that they caught back into the water again! And we all enjoyed watching the staff haul up the clams and other seafood that were to be cooked for lunch.

The kelong is situated quite near to the shore, and connected to it via a long walkway. Upon request, a short jungle trek was organised for us on land. We went along with the other guests staying on board the kelong as well. The trek was short, challenging but manageable for the kids. Lots of mosquitoes though, so we were glad we sprayed the kids with tons of mosquito repellant before embarking on the trip. The guided trek led us to another beach on the flip side of the island. The 'sand' was pebble-like, not something you could build sandcastles with. But we had fun throwing the pebbles back into the sea and tried skipping rocks. Hot and sweaty from our trek, the kids cajoled us into allowing them to "go swimming" at the kelong. The waves were quite strong so we didn't exactly swim at all, and rather, just had a dip in the cool waters. There was surprisingly no smell of human waste, and  I didn't see anything floating by at all. But you can understand why I wasn't so keen on being in the water. The kids enjoyed it though. We basically just clung on to the kelong to prevent the waves from washing us away. Guess it was the novelty of it all!

Hot and sweaty after our jungle trek, we took a dip at the kelong waters!

The kelong doesn't have electricity in the day, but the generator is switched on at 6.30pm to 11pm at night to provide power for lighting, the electric revolving fan, and for you to charge your phone/laptop batteries at night if you wish.

Expecting a quiet a time at the kelong, we brought books, doodling materials, and card games for the kids. We were also very blessed to have made friends with the other kelong guests who also travelled, like us, from Singapore. They were all very nice folks and enjoyed playing with the kids and talking to us. Blessed with good company, the time at the kelong passed very quickly indeed!

I think what we really liked was the peace and serenity of the place. It was like another world. The air was refreshing, the sights were simple yet breathtaking. The conversations were unhurried and carefree. Talking to our new friends, we found out that some of them had been there before. It was their second time for some, and even a third visit for a few. They had apparently gotten to know the place from friends and had come, liked it, and came back again. It was simple publicity via word of mouth.

Good company makes for fun times at the kelong!

There was another family with two sons of approximately 7 - 9 years old that had come to the kelong on the same ferry trip as us. They originally intended to stay 3 days and 2 nights as well, but they cut short their stay and left the very next day. I managed to speak to the mum on the morning before they left. Apparently, they also heard from friends about the Blue Mountain Kelong. Their friends told them that they caught a ton of fish, and that there were many activities organised by the kelong, like coconut tree climbing, playing on the beach and trekking. When this family came, they hardly caught any fish and there didn't seem to be any activities organised at all. They felt thoroughly cheated and immediately demanded to leave the very next morning.

I guess it was a case of mismatched expectations. We didn't expect anything but a quiet time at the kelong, and so we prepared for it by bringing books and games. So I would say, if you and your family prefer to have a constant stream of entertainment and activities, then a kelong stay might not be suitable for you. But if you like a quiet and relaxing getaway, then there you would have it...

Asher enjoying his morning milk while looking out... and Shawna having her milk with a view too - courtesy of her Daddy's strong arms! Bottom right - the kids having their afternoon nap on my lap, out on the deck!

F&B

The kelong is a working kelong to the extent that it harvests fish and some other seafood for cooking for its guests. Blue Mountain's website says that the vegetables are from their organic garden. Meals are invariably rice and dishes. Freshly cooked, the portions are generally more than adequate. But as the food is pretty good, the dishes are usually wiped clean.

The kids ate pretty alright. Isaac's pretty easy to feed as all he needs is some meat and vegetables with his rice. Shawna was very pleased as there usually is a fried dish (veg fritters, calamari, fried chicken etc) at the table. It was quite a treat for her as we usually don't cook fried dishes at home. Even Asher, who has always been a picky eater, was happy with rice and soup. (I guess the activities helped to work up a hearty appetite for everyone.)

My only complaint about the food was the spicy food. I am not a fan of spicy food, so thankfully there was usually a mix of spicy and non-spicy food. My husband enjoyed it very much though - the seafood and spicy food options were right up his alley.

However, I did enjoy the free flow fresh coconut water/meat that they had all day on the first day. Yums! Now if only their organic garden had durian trees - that would be perfect!

Fresh seafood at the kelong which seafood lovers would relish!

My only other gripe - the flies. There were huge flies everywhere! It was odd because the place was maintained very well and kept very clean. So we're not sure why there were so many many flies. The kelong staff laid out many fly traps (sticky paper) in the kitchen to catch them. The dining area (top right hand corner of the above collage) was cordoned off with mesh so as to keep the flies out. That helped to keep the flies off the food. The flies were in the rooms as well and annoyed us and the kids on the first day. We got used to them from the second day onwards though. Thankfully, the flies disappeared at night and didn't bother us while we slept. If you plan to visit, do bring along some battery-operated fly zappers!

Harapan Bangsa Secondary School @ Blue Mountain Kelong

Would we visit the Blue Mountain Kelong again? Yes, I think we would! For one, we realised that the Blue Mountain Kelong actually houses a secondary school for villagers who have completed their elementary school education but whose families do not have the resources to send them to larger communities in Indonesia to attend secondary school. The kelong's school also sends teachers to three nearby islands to teach English to the elementary school students there. The hope is that education will help edge the villagers out of their poverty cycle. In fact, the name of the school means "Hope of the Nation". Thus by patronising this kelong, we would lend support to this noble cause, since proceeds from the kelong goes toward the school expenses.

Secondly, it is apparently possible to arrange for a trip to the neighbouring villages. We were told that we can bring used clothing and/or stationery supplies to give to the villagers, as they welcome and need these items. It would be an eye opener for the kids to be able to see what living in a kampung looks like.

That said, we are also interested to try out other kelongs. We're on the lookout for more such getaways. Do you know of any other good kelongs we could go? Or if you have gone to the Blue Mountain Kelong before, what was your experience like? Do tell us!

2 comments:

  1. Very well shared experience. We just came back fr Blue mountain. It's 3rd trip for many of us and would go back again. I guess when comes to the fishing, it depends on the weather. The big fishes like todak, telapia came in on last day of our visit when the water is less choppy. There were sea turtle too. Every visit gave different surprises, I guess that is nature.

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  2. How interesting! Thanks for sharing. Very keen to bring my boys though I think my husband will need a lot of convincing!!!

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