A small island situated across Tanjung Pinang, capital of the Riau Islands Province, the island of Penyengat in the 18th century was the twin-seat of the Sultan of the Johor-Riau Kingdom. Today, the Sultan’s palace is being restored. It is an interesting blend of Javanese and Dutch architecture, still imbued with an air of dignity, even though it has been abandoned for more than 80 years. Here are tombs and crypts, and a restored fort.
The pride of the island is the Sultan’s Mosque (shown on the left), the Mesjid Raya Sultan Riau Penyengat. Peeping through the palm trees like a fairy tale castle, it is still in use today. Rumour has it that a large part of the mosque was made of eggs, gifts from the Sultan’s loyal subjects on the occasion of his wedding. The egg-white proved to be a strong bonding agent. The mosque has excellent acoustics and even a whisper can carry right across the auditorium. Here is also the beautifully preserved handwritten and illustrated Quran of over 150 years old.
Nearby is the tomb of Raja Ali Haji (shown on the right), author of the dictionary, grammar and history of the Riau Malay language, which became the base for Bahasa Indonesia, the present national language of the country.
Further down is the tomb of Engku Puteri Permaisuri, queen of Sultan Mahmud. She was a Bugis Princess who received the island of Penyengat as her dowry. She took power and reigned here until her death in 1844.
Around the island, descendants of the Riau royalty still live here in modest stilt houses. Even today there is hardly any transport on the island, and life goes on very much as it has for centuries. There are good walkways on the island. A new cultural center holds performances of Malay and local dances including Malay wedding ceremonies, the joget dance, and demonstrations of pencak silat, the Indonesian martial art.
The island’s just a 1.5 km from Tanjung Pinang. Speed boats are available to carry you to Penyengat from Tanjung Pinang jetty, about US$1 per person. Or you can rent one for about US$7 to take a small group of people for a roundtrip.
If you depart from Singapore, there are three ferry operators between Singapore’s Tanah Merah ferry terminal and Tanjung Pinang. The trip will take about two hours and a one-way ticket cost around 35 Singaporean dollars. Make sure you already have a visa or ask the ferry companies whether you can get a visa-on-arrival.