Things to do in Pekanbaru
One of my new year’s resolutions was to unleash the inner hipster in me and travel to somewhere underrated. I searched for nearby getaways with direct flights, and found this hidden gem that few have explored before: Pekanbaru.
Located in the heart of Riau, Indonesia, Pekanbaru has almost no tourists, which is surprising considering it's brimming with epic outdoor sights like waterfalls, valleys and bat caves!
So we packed our bags and embarked on our 3D2N trip. Here, we discovered 9 off the beaten track (literally) activities you can try out in Pekanbaru:
1. Search for Pekanbaru's Rainbow Hills - pastel-coloured sand dunes
No, this photo wasn’t heavily edited for these colours - it really looks this spectacular in real life!
Expectation: A popular and easily accessible photoshoot location as seen on IG.
Reality: Sand dunes so ulu that some locals were stumped when we asked for directions.
Yep, finding this place was like searching for a needle in a haystack - we even had to get out of the car to search for it on foot at times. Thankfully, our driver, Hendrix, managed to source its location from his own friends, resulting in the beautiful photos we have today. It’s good to have a local to help you out during your road trip, especially if you aren’t the best at Bahasa.
Since it’s still a relatively undiscovered gem, you’ll literally have the entire area to prance around and take photos without having to photoshop nasty photobombers out. Even better, the empty skyline gives an illusion of the hills extending beyond the horizon.
Tip: Come in the afternoon as the sky can get foggy in the morning.
Address: Jl. Kemping, Lembah Sari, Rumbai Pesisir, Kota Pekanbaru
2. Explore Tujuh Serangkai Caves - legit batcaves that house thousands of bats
When we chose to hunt for the Tujuh Serangkai Caves, we didn’t know if we’d actually find it. It was completely off the maps and all we knew was that it was located in Rambah Village, which… also happened to be completely off the maps too.
We trudged through overgrown vegetation, crossing a river with only a makeshift plank and trekked for about an hour before we even saw sight of any caves. At some point, we questioned our mission, wondering if caves even existed to begin with.
But when we finally saw the high caves and countless bats flying around us, the journey was all worth it. No image could completely capture its beauty - you’ve got to see it in real life!
Tip: Douse yourself in mosquito repellent and stock up your bag with water bottles before heading towards SMAN 1 Kabun, which is near Jalan Gua Tujuh Serangkai, Rokan Hulu. It’s about a 4km drive towards the caves, and the helpful locals will guide you there in exchange for a small tip.
3. Stay at a villa with home cooked meals for ~S$50/night
Harau Valley: the nature-immersive getaway of my dreams. A 3-hour drive from Pekanbaru, you’ll be surrounded by lush flora and fauna that create a serene atmosphere for you to unwind and recharge.
Our Villa at Abdi Homestay
For just IDR 550,000/ ~S$52.58, we booked a 5-room villa at Abdi Homestay for a night and indulged in two delicious home cooked meals.
Located right next to a cliff, we awoke to sounds of a waterfall alongside crowing roosters, which somehow made their way to our front porch. The morning view from the top of our balcony was stunning, as we overlooked rice paddies and animals running about.
As there’s no wifi here, this is the perfect place to disconnect from the hectic city life back home. But if you’d like to spam your IG-stories with photos, pick up a SIM card before driving over.
Sharing teh tarik and kaya with Ikbal, the owner of Abdi Homestay
We shared a piece of our Singaporean culture with Ikbal, the owner of Abdi Homestay, by making him teh tarik and kaya. In return, he joked around with us, trying to matchmake us with the boys on the trip and foretelling our love lives. Who knows if his predictions might come true?
As darkness fell upon us, we gathered with other guests around a cosy bonfire. Ikbal’s brother whipped out his guitar and together, we sang both Indonesian and English songs.
The humble singing, quiet of the night and cracking of the fire filled me with an unspeakable sense of comfort. If it could’ve been any different, we’d definitely have chosen to stay longer.
4. Bathe under 3 different waterfalls - Sarasah Aia Luluih, Sarasah Boenta, Sarasah Murai
Sarasah Murai - Harau Valley’s largest waterfall
Aside from rice paddies and homestays, Harau Valley is filled with countless waterfalls that are open to visitors. Since we didn’t know our way around, we took a 3h tour from Abdi Homestay to explore.
The Becak is Indonesia’s traditional mode of transport
We hopped onto a becak - similar to a trishaw but with a motorcycle attached instead - for IDR 250,000/ ~S$23.90 and began our journey. As we travelled through different parts of the village, the friendly kampung spirit was apparent - our waves to locals were returned with smiles.
Bathing under Sarasah Aia Luluih
At our first waterfall, Sarasah Aia Luluih, we rented huge tyres for IDR 10,000 ( ~ S$1) each to float on. Right from the moment our feet touched the water, we knew we were in for a cold dip.
Thankfully, our bodies eventually got used to the shiver-inducing temperature, and we kicked our way right under the base of waterfall for what felt like a shiok massage.
The most impressive waterfall here had to be Sarasah Murai, which required a short trek to get to. From afar, we could hear the gushing sounds of the waterfall that further excited us.
We were amazed by the size of the waterfall. It was so huge that we could actually climb up! Naturally, we started snapping some Tomb Raider-worthy photos.
Note: As Harau is still a conservative area, tourists are advised to refrain from wearing bikinis.
5. Enjoy a panoramic hilltop view of uncharted Indonesian islands
Get ready to whip out the panorama function on your phone camera when you’re at Bukit Wisata Kelok Indah. Standing on the edge of this hill, you’ll have a vantage point overlooking an entire cluster of islands.
Some locals have made decorative platforms from recycled materials, such as a plane and heart shaped wreath, for photos. But if you prefer creating the illusion of hanging off the edge, just sit on the edge of one of these platforms.
Come at sunrise or sunset to watch the beautiful mirage of colours reflect across the lake. And you won’t have to worry about having to fight for the prime spot for a photo: This place is so ulu that Google Maps registers it as a piece of land, with no water body in sight!
Bukit Wisata Kelok Indah
Address: Pulau Gadang, XIII Koto Kampar, Tj. Alai, XIII Koto Kampar, Kabupaten Kampar, Riau 28554, Indonesia
Opening hours: 6AM - 7PM
Entrance fee: IDR 10,000/ ~ S$0.92
6. Explore the 1000-year old remnants of Muara Takus
Unleash your inner Indiana Jones at the Muara Takus Temple, a Buddhist temple believed to have been built in the 11th century. That’s pretty unbelievable noting how well preserved it is, with hardly any wear and tear.
While you can’t interact with the structures as they’ve been cordoned off for preservation purposes, feel free to take as many pictures of them as you wish.
Alternatively, you could simply appreciate the intricate architectural design - I was super intrigued by how they arranged straight-edged bricks to form round corners.
Candi Muara Takus
Address: Muara Takus, XIII Koto Kampar, Kampar Regency, Riau 28453, Indonesia
Opening hours: 8AM - 6PM
Entrance fee: IDR 8000/ ~S$0.73
7. Take a splash on waterslides with $5 tickets to Riau Fantasi
You’d think that being the largest waterpark in Sumatra, Riau Fantasi would have snaking long queues. But nope, it was pretty empty when we arrived and we basically had the whole park to ourselves. To top it off, tickets only cost ~S$5 (IDR 50,000) after conversion.
Low prices don’t always equal low quality. Your safety is ensured as workers will carefully guide you on how to position yourself before pushing you down the rides.
Compete with up to 3 other friends down their race slides, and see who's the first to reach the bottom. Don’t be deceived by what looks to be a gradual slope - you’ll find yourself sliding fast and far!
For those who love the feeling of a drop, hop right onto their vertical slide. It’s an almost-90 degrees plunge at a 3-storey (15m) height and sent my heart to my throat as I slid down. It’s definitely not for the faint-hearted, but worth the adrenaline rush.
End the day off by lepaking in a float around their Lazy River and soaking in the sun for a warm golden tan. Since you’ll have the entire river to yourselves, you can simply lie back and close your eyes without having to fear that you’ll bump into random strangers.
Address: Jl. Labersa, Tanah Merah, Siak Hulu, Kabupaten Kampar, Riau 28284, Indonesia
Opening hours: 9AM - 6PM
Tel: +62 761 41555
Entrance fee: IDR 50,000/ ~ S$4.58
8. Take photos of Pekanbaru’s very own Taj Mahal
If you’re looking for a shot that’ll make your friends stop dead as they scroll down their IG feed, hop over to the Great Mosque of An Nur, which is just the backdrop for a perfect sunset shot.
The architecture of this mosque closely resembles the Taj Mahal with its perfectly symmetrical design, so you could totally fool your friends that you’re in India.
Tip: If you’re planning to head in the mosque compounds for a photo, do remember to dress respectfully. Women must be fully covered, including their hair, while men must wear long pants.
Great Mosque of An Nur
Address: Jalan Hangtuah Ujung, Sumahilang, Pekanbaru Kota, Kota Pekanbaru, Riau 28156, Indonesia
9. Indulge in local street food like egg tea and Indo-style satay
No elusive getaway is complete without trying another country’s delicacies. And while the streets of Pekanbaru are lined with roadside hawkers, the cluster across the road from the Great Mosque of An Nur stood out to us for its unique variety of stalls.
We’ve been aching to try Indonesia's signature Teh Telok (IDR 10000/ ~S$1), which directly translates as egg tea. Yup, raw egg whites are beaten till fluffy with a mixer and added into tea. Condensed milk and chocolate syrup then generously douse the drink, creating this unique concoction.
To our surprise, the drink didn’t have an overwhelming eggy flavour and instead tasted like the tea-version of a mocha - thick and chocolatey.
Next up, we ordered some of their chicken satay (IDR 13000 / ~S$1.30) with a ketupat, hoping to note the differences against our Singaporean satay. And boy did this dish stump us.
A thick sauce drenched the tender satay sticks, and unlike the Singaporean satay sauce, this version didn’t taste nutty at all. Instead it had an umami taste with a slightly spicy touch. The ketupat was hidden under all that heavenly goodness, and was extremely soft in texture.
We also couldn’t resist these mysterious fried food pieces (IDR 1000/pc / ~ S$0.10), and picked up a couple to try. Their different fillings surprised us as we bit into each piece - some were even filled with charred mee sua and prawn paste!
Fly to Pekanbaru with Scoot
Many of us think that travelling to Indonesia means relaxing in Bintan or going on adventures in Bali. But you don’t have to restrict yourself to just two options- Pekanbaru offers the solution for those seeking the perfect balance between zen and fun.
And there’s no need to worry about breaking the bank for this weekend escapade - Scoot has newly launched flights to Pekanbaru 4 times weekly starting from just $35. Plus, their planes have plush seats with plenty of legroom as well as a friendly crew, so you can rest assure that the short 35-minute flight will be a smooth experience.
With low prices and exciting activities lined up in Pekanbaru, it’s time to grab your camera and book your flight before everyone flocks there!
This post was brought to you by Scoot.