Belitung through My Phone

85 comments
Asia, Indonesia, Southeast

 

Empty Boats at Tanjung Kelayang Beach

Have you ever wondered whether or not you should bring your camera before leaving the house for a trip? And when your decision is to go without it have you ever regretted it?

This happened to me on a company outing almost two years ago during the height of the rainy season in the western part of Indonesia. We were going to Belitung, an island just a one-hour-flight away from Jakarta that has become an increasingly popular holiday destination thanks to its white sand beaches and turquoise water. But being in a time of the year when torrential downpours are a daily occurrence, I was reluctant to bring my camera for I thought we would only get gloomy skies throughout the trip.

As you might have guessed, I was wrong.

We landed at the island’s sole airport, 12 kilometers to the east of Tanjung Pandan, Belitung’s main city of less than 90,000 people. From the look and smell of the airport it was evident that a recent renovation and upgrade had been carried out, proof of the island’s growing tourism industry. A little over a decade ago, however, Belitung was hardly on most Indonesians’ radar as a place for holidays as it was better known for its tin mining, an industry that was first started by the Dutch when the island was still called Billiton and much of the archipelago that is now Indonesia (including Belitung) was under their control. After Indonesian independence, Dutch tin companies operating across the country were nationalized and eventually merged into a government-owned company called Timah, literally ‘tin’ in Bahasa Indonesia.

Despite being only half as big as the island of Cyprus, and only slightly larger than Hawai’i (the big island), Belitung is one of Indonesia’s main tin-producing regions – Indonesia itself is the world’s second-largest tin producing country, trailing only China. Unsurprisingly, for many years Timah has been the largest employer of the island’s local population, from those working directly at the mining sites to the ones at the company’s office. Others on the island benefited too; thanks to the higher-than-average disposable income of Timah’s employees, local businesses thrived. Nevertheless, the mining industry has predictably had a negative impact on the environment – the island is now pockmarked with ‘lakes’ which are in fact what remain from abandoned open-pit mining sites.

About ten years ago Belitung’s economy began to shift from being heavily reliant on the tin industry to one that is more diversified, a gradual change that is largely attributed to one film: Laskar Pelangi (The Rainbow Troops) which was an adaptation of a novel by the same title. In a similar fashion with how The Lord of the Rings series put New Zealand on the global map and how The Beach did the same for Thailand’s southern beaches and islands, the 2008 Indonesian movie which follows the struggles of 10 schoolchildren and their teachers in Belitung in pursuing their dreams and hopes for a brighter future has put the island’s unspoiled beaches in the spotlight for the Indonesian public.

The once-sleepy airport on the island began to see a surge of visitors who came not for its mining, but solely for tourism. Today no less than six airlines fly directly from Jakarta to Tanjung Pandan, bringing in weary Jakartans seeking refuge from the capital’s hustle and bustle. And exactly because of this my division of the company I currently work at picked Belitung for the outing back in November 2016. As we explored one beach after another, taking a short boat ride to Lengkuas Island off the northwestern tip of the main island where a white lighthouse stands tall and offers a sweeping view of the surrounding natural beauty, catching a glimpse of a monolithic rock which reminded me of those I saw in Sri Lanka, all unfolding before my eyes under glorious blue skies, my regret for not bringing my camera only grew bigger. Fortunately I still had my mobile phone with me, albeit fitted with a low-end camera, so the memory of this beautiful island is not only stored away in my mind. I certainly learned my lesson.

Going to Lengkuas Island with Its Iconic Lighthouse (Visible on the Horizon)

Giant Boulders Abound

Almost There

This 70 Meter-Tall Lighthouse was Erected in 1882

The Southeastern Side of Lengkuas Island, as Seen From the Lighthouse

A Combination of Colors I Never Get Bored Of

The Northwestern Side of the Small Island

Batu Baginda (Baginde) on Belitung Island which Reminded Me of Sri Lanka’s Rock Monoliths

Shophouses in Downtown Tanjung Pandan

Snoozing Next to A Loudspeaker

Penyabong Beach at Belitung’s Southwestern Corner

A Rocky Promontory at Penyabong Beach

Clear Water and Soft, Glistening Sand

Danau Kaolin (Kaolinite Lake), A Relic of Belitung’s Mining Past

Waiting for Sunset at Tanjung Tinggi Beach

Sunset On A Rather Cloudy Day

Calmness Before the Night Falls

Posted by

Based in Jakarta, always curious about the world, always fascinated by ancient temples, easily pleased by food.

85 thoughts on “Belitung through My Phone”

    • Although the colors are a bit off, I’m glad I had my phone with me when I went to Belitung. This and other circumstances in the past made me think of whether I should get a mirrorless camera or not.

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  1. My God, what absolutely stunning pictures! This looks like a gorgeous place – glad you had a good time. 🙂

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    • I was also surprised to find Belitung nicer than what I had thought. Maybe one day I’ll return, with a proper camera in hand for sure.

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  2. I think your camera phone still works very well! Over time, the tech in mobile camera has been improving & especially in daylight, mostly they do well. Only in low light situation do they have some difficulties to capture sharp images. What a fantastic day in Belitung and yeah, I’d like to be there one day!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, that’s true. I remember the first time I had a camera phone more than ten years ago. Who knows ten years from now the type of camera that currently can only be found at high-end smartphones will become the standard for all mobile phones. You should go to Belitung! The beaches are quite nice there.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Some people said, camera is just a tool. What matters is you the man behind the camera. Great pictures, Bam! I wouldn’t have noticed those were from phone camera if you didn’t mention it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re too kind, Iyos. I was lucky it was mostly sunny when I was in Belitung so my camera phone could take decent shots of the beaches and other places my coworkers and I went to. However, I would love to go back with a ‘real’ camera!

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  4. Still beautiful photos, and to make you feel better, at the end of my ten days in Sarawak, I dropped my camera into the sea so I am left with only memories and not even one photo from the trip.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh no! 😦 I hope you’ll go back to Sarawak one day so you can retake some of the photos that you lost. Speaking of losing photos, there was one time when I dropped my harddrive with the photos of my travels from 2010 to 2012 in it. I tried to have it fixed and ask some technicians to retrieve the photos, but they couldn’t. Among the shots I lost were the ones from Laos and Cambodia.

      Liked by 1 person

    • We actually went snorkeling off Lengkuas Island. It was good, but it still can’t match those sites in eastern Indonesia. Thanks Trees.

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  5. Beautiful place, and to my eye, the photos are just as lovely as they might be with your “real” camera. (As the saying goes, the best camera is the one you have with you!)

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    • Thank you, Lex! Although it did rain during our trip, but I’m glad it was rather short and scattered. I was just thinking whether buying a better phone would be a good decision since I love taking photos.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Had the same experience but more stupid. I brought my whole backpack of camera and lenses to Araishiyama only to realise I hadn’t charged the camera battery and forgot to bring a spare battery. Needless to say I had to rely on my phone and a Gopro that day. Still turned out not too bad. I have blog post on that. I 😄

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ahh yes, that must have been frustrating. I guess the lesson for all of us is to always bring more than one devices for photography when we travel. They would come handy at a time we least expect. I just took a look at your post on Arashiyama; you certainly got nice shots with your phone and Gopro.

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      • Thank you. I was pleasantly surprised by the photo quality from my smartphone. I think when you are forced to use something that is ‘less capable’ than your usual tool, you have to really figure out all ways to get most out if it.

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    • Yes… despite the plethora of beautiful islands we have, all the world know about Indonesia is Bali — that is if they know that Bali is a part of Indonesia, of course. I have a friend who used to work at this organization called Not Just Bali which promoted destinations across the country beyond the most touristy ones. I have written some posts on Indonesia’s small islands, and this group of tiny islands in eastern part of the country is among the most fascinating places I’ve ever been to: https://harindabama.com/2016/11/27/the-banda-islands-land-and-sea/

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Bama, I made the very same mistake on my first full day in Bintan when I took a cruise through the mangroves – now I’ll just have to go back and do it all over again with my camera in tow! As other people have commented above me, your shots are gorgeous nonetheless. Belitung looks so idyllic; I have always had a thing for lighthouses so I would love to visit Lengkuas Island and climb all the way up to the lantern to take in those postcard-perfect views. Do you know if that is the tallest lighthouse in Indonesia?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Have you ever thought of getting a smaller camera? I’ve been thinking of that for a long time. I was glad that despite becoming increasingly popular among local tourists, Belitung was still a laid-back island with a lot of nice beaches. We only explored the northwestern and southwestern parts of the island, though; I wonder if the other side of Belitung is even more tranquil and peaceful. Speaking of the lighthouse, I tried to look for the list of Indonesia’s tallest lighthouses but I couldn’t find any.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. This place is magical, Bama. I really enjoy how you give us context of a place and how it runs outside of tourism by explaining its industries, culture, geography… the list goes on. I have never heard of this place, as often is the case when it comes to your blog, and now I must say it is a bucket list item of mine! And if your mobile phone was able to capture such beauty, then I cannot imagine how much more incredible this place is with the naked eye. ✌️

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    • It was more beautiful than what I had expected; for years I had this thought that the islands in western Indonesia can never match those in the eastern part of the country, and I’m glad that I was wrong. It’s very heartening to see how tourism provides the locals with an alternative source of income. Hopefully they will manage the industry in sustainable ways so many years from now people can still enjoy the beauty of this idyllic island.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sustainable tourism is definitely a growing area of general tourism. I read about it especially in Australia because of the “Lord of the Rings effect” that crippled pristine areas with the heavy weight of too many tourists and growing pollution. I also hope that it’s a feature of tourism globally and from here on out!

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      • I believe you’re referring to New Zealand. I also read about the same thing — that the exponential growth of foreign tourists to the country has put so much pressure on its fragile environment. The Lord of the Rings has certainly brought people’s attention to this remote corner of the world. What’s interesting is how NZ is going to manage their tourism industry so that its pristine rivers and mountains we all know about would still exist in many years to come.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. It’s not the camera that makes beautiful photos,it’s the photographer. It shows through these photos that you are a good photographer…I would love to visit one day, it looks so beautiful.

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    • Really appreciate your encouraging words, Andrea. Thank you! As a person who was born in Cabo Verde I wonder if you find small islands fascinating, hence your interest in visiting Belitung.

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      • Small island are very fascinating, the people are extremely, traditions are very vivid and the food is beyond delicious. Not to mention the purity of the beaches.

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      • That is of course when we’re talking about non-industrialized small islands.

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  10. dansontheroad says:

    Whatever phone you used shows you have great photography skills! Hopefully I can visit these islands some day, they still look very pristine.

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    • Terima kasih banyak, Dan! Belitung is not that far from Malaysia, although to get there you do have to fly through Jakarta.

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  11. Even with the cellphone’s camera, you made Belitung more breathtaking, mas Bama. Love those pics, as always… but this time no food pic 😀 😀 😀
    Tadinya saya kira pakai drone soalnya cantik banget dari ketinggian, lhaaa taunya dari lighthouse… (kebayang naiknya cape…)

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    • Makasih Mbak Riyanti. I did get some food pics but all of them turned out to be too grainy. I do recommend the local noodles, though!
      Naik ke atas mercusuarnya itu ‘mengasyikkan’ lho mbak. Di tengah padatnya orang yang mau naik dan turun, dan di tengah panasnya hari, pas sampai di atas itu rasanya mak cesss.

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  12. Despite using your phone, you could still make some great photos, Bama! They look so surreal. My most favourite one is the picture that you took from the lighthouse. At first glance, I thought it was a fly-cam photo 🙂

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    • Thanks Len! Seeing those beaches and the turquoise water from the top of the lighthouse was really worth the effort; I was sweating profusely as I climbed up the stairs with many other tourists. But as soon as I arrived at the viewing platform a cool breeze caressed my face — it was so nice up there and I could’ve spent hours!

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    • Those lakes were beautiful. But it’s always better to not damage the environment at the first place.

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  13. Bama, even without the good camera, your phone photos make me want to visit. What a gorgeous place. The photos down from the lighthouse are stunning. The cat/loudspeaker photo is fun. I know what you mean though about regretting bringing your good camera. I felt that way last year when I hiked The West Coast Trail and was worried about the rain. I probably would have been anxious the whole time. You and James are really making me want to return to Indonesia.

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    • When you get the chance to go back to Indonesia, and you happen to include Sumatra in your itinerary, it’s worth the small detour to Belitung. I had some great seafood too on the island, but unfortunately I didn’t get any decent photo of the dishes. I guess next time, raining or not, it’s probably wiser to bring our camera with us whenever we travel/go on hiking. We’ll never know if there will be a beautiful scenery or anything interesting that is worth taking pictures of.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. What a spectacular place to visit! I especially like the photos taken from atop the lighthouse – the colors of that impossibly clear water and the boats, sand, and people below – they’re just so beautiful.

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    • Yes, the view from the top of the lighthouse was spectacular! If only it wasn’t so busy I think I would have stayed longer up there. Maybe next time — with a proper camera in hand for sure.

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  15. Amazing photos Bama! I’m so impressed with how you captured all this beauty with your phone camera 😮

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  16. Chaitali Patel says:

    Beautiful place and so nicely captured. I have gone on many trips without my camera, only to regret it later. But yes, phone cameras are constantly getting better and better!

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    • Fortunately I went to Belitung many years after my mobile phone with a VGA camera had broken down. Thanks Chaitali!

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  17. theatreandlibrary says:

    Amazing pictures Bama, would love to see Belitung one day.. btw, which phone did you use to capture these amazing pics?

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  18. The photos are still amazing, Bama. To be honest, I don’t see the difference the results with the DSLR ones. Oh ya, ada elevator ngga di mercu suar itu? Aku pemalas soal panjat memanjat 😁

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  19. Hello Bama, your pictures of Belitung are amazing considering you took the pictures with your phone. I am like you, anywhere I travel always have to carry my camera with me, but I had a similar experience like yours the first time I traveled to Montana. I packed everything, but my camera. At that time, there were no digital cameras on phones like the ones we have now. I was in the middle of nowhere with only one gas station. Fortunately, that gas station sold disposable cameras and that’s the one I used to take pictures. I didn’t take a lot of pictures and the quality of them was not as good as you might imagine, but I’m really glad this happened to me for I was able to enjoy the experiences and not worry too much about taking pictures. I was able to let go and enjoy with all my senses the beauty of the place I was visiting.

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    • Taking photos can indeed take away the enjoyment of watching a spectacle or enjoying the nature. That’s exactly why I always remind myself the reason why I bring my camera at the first place: as we get old our brain may not be always able to retrieve our memories, and I think photography can help us remember some things that would otherwise be lost forever in the maze of our mind. However, we should also enjoy the present and allow our senses to fully capture the stimuli that will eventually end up as memories.

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  20. Jadi, hape mu ini merk dan jenis nya apa Bam? Kalau kaya gini hasilnya sih, gak nyesel lah gak bawa kamera. Karena hasil foto dari kamera hape ini kece-kece.Di beberapa foto memang kontras dynamic range nya lumayan jauh, tapi secara umum hasilnya bagus.

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    • Cuma LG K8 kok Bart, dulu waktu beli harganya cuma seperempat atau seperlima harga HP canggih yang ngetrend dua tahun lalu. Sebenernya ada 1 foto makanan khas sana yang aku ambil pake kamera HP ini juga, tapi sayang karena tempat makannya agak gelap jadi fotonya gak karuan buramnya. 😀

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  21. Your pictures are so great that if I haven’t read I would have never guessed are taken with your phone. This place seems so picturesque and has so much to offer, Bama!

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    • You’re too kind, Lydia. I hope the local government can manage the island’s growing tourism industry in a sustainable way, because that’s the only way to go if they want to ensure that many years from now Belitung still retains its charm.

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  22. Bama, it’s the old blogger’s delimma: to take the camera or not. We use a travel-zoom camera which fits in my pocket relatively easily, so it’s easy to carry. But what about the times when you visit a place and see something that you don’t expect? I don’t know about you, but pretty much anything is good blogging material. So when that happens, out comes the phone. There are lots of bloggers that use a phone exclusively, so why not? Your photos turned out great by the way. ~James

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    • I agree. I’ve been thinking of buying a phone with a better camera, although the idea of getting a new gadget not because the old one can no longer function is rather unusual for me. We’ll see about that. Thanks for adding more perspective to this, James. It certainly helps me decide whatever photography tool I will get in the future.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Bama, you make a valid point about new gadgets. I try to stay as updated, but as devices become more multipurpose I don’t want to fall into the trap of corporate marketers. For example, I have an iphone 6 which I love and it works perfectly fine. Iphones have moved way beyond 6,but why would I want to spend hundreds of dollars just to say that I have the latest iphone. It’s important to me that it’s MY decision, not Apple’s. ~James

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      • Those big companies will always find ways to lure people into believing that they need the latest gadgets. And these days we need to have a strong determination to resist those temptations. 🙂

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  23. Great pictures Bama! The care you put into composition always comes out, whether you’re shooting with your DSLR or smartphone.

    Hope all is all with family and friends back in Jakarta. My sister just came back from Bali, she had a bit of a scare but is fine otherwise!

    – Verne

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    • Thanks Verne, but I still have to learn a lot from you. Your photos are so sublime I can spend a long time just looking at them.

      Jakarta is quite far from Bali (and the neighboring island of Lombok which was closer to the epicenter of the earthquake) so I didn’t feel anything here. But from what I read the first and the subsequent quakes were quite terrifying; a lot of houses on Lombok were destroyed and hundreds of people were killed. I hope your sister was not traumatized.

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  24. Your shots are fantastic. Wish I could do as well with a cell phone. You’ve captured the place and told its story beautifully. I sailed to Belitung in 2016 and it was one of the top highlights of my circumnavigation. Want to go back.

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    • It’s such a beautiful island, isn’t it? I really want to go back there one day, hopefully when the small islands are quieter and this time having my camera with me. Thanks Lisa!

      Liked by 1 person

  25. Bama your photos are incredible. Would you agree that the cameras in phones have come a very long way? such a stunning spot to visit. your photography skill comes through with creative perspectives, framing and angles.

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    • For sure they have. I remember the first time I saw a phone with a camera it could only take very grainy low-res photos. But now look what high-end phones can do with their cameras. Sue, should you get the chance to go back to Southeast Asia, maybe you can consider visiting Belitung — it would be a great place to explore by bike. Thanks for your kind words, as always!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Bama I think I have come to realize that this Canadian does very poorly in the heat and humidity of SE Asia. Next time I’m coming for Bama’s walking tour. 🙂

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      • And when you do plan to come please let me know months in advance so I have enough time to train to reach your level of fitness. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • The heat and humidity can be repressive indeed. But you can always have those refreshing tropical fruits and desserts after an exhausting day! 🙂

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