Pulau Bangka or Bangka Island is a jewel of the Java Sea, situated off the East coast of Sumatra and nestled in next to Belitung Island. It is the largest island in the Bangka Belitung chain with a population of roughly 1.2 million. The name of the island is derived from Wangka, which means tin. Mining remains one of the main industries on the island.
Bangka is administratively divided into 4 regencies and a chartered city. The largest town and administrative capital of the region is Pangkal Pinang. Dotted around the island you’ll find the towns Sungailiat, Mentor, Toboali, Koba and Belinyu (each town has its own limited tourism attractions). English wasn’t widely spoken either from my experience so you may want to bring along a phrase book or your favourite translation app if your Bahasa Indonesia skills are lacking.
How to get to Bangka
The easiest way to get to Bangka is to fly from Jakarta. There are numerous flights available from Jakarta to Pangkal Pinang on a number of carriers like Garuda Indonesia and Lion Air. A return will cost you around US$100 (less if you snag yourself a sale fare!). There is also a limited service from Palembang to Pangkal Pinang.
Another way to reach Bangka is by ferry. There are slow overnight ferries from Palembang to Mentor, which take around 11 hours. It’s a cheap option if you’re really on a budget. A better choice is the Bahari Express hydrofoil, which runs several times a day. This is a much more manageable 3 hour trip.
Bangka is reasonably large with well maintained roads. This combined with the lack of crowds makes sightseeing easy. We’d recommend arranging a private car rental as this will give you more freedom to explore the island, though there is limited public transport available (as long as you’re prepared to wait).
Where to Stay on Bangka
The newest hotels on the island are built around the capital city of Pangkal Pinang. They were built primarily for business travelers and to host government events. A prime example is the Novotel Bangka Convention Centre. There are a few mid range hotels around the capital as well. The best is the Menumbing Heritage Hotel.
It’s fair to say Bangka doesn’t have the fanciest resorts. Closer to the beach you’ll find resorts like Tanjung Persona Beach and Grand Parai Resort. Compared to the new hotels in the capital these resorts are decidedly dated. That said the Grand Parai Resort has a good seafood menu (specialities include the tasty lempah kuning). You can find plenty of humble hotels and resorts along the beaches of the island.
Things to do on Pulau Bangka
There are a number of attractions to draw you to Pulau Bangka. It’s worth looking at both what it does have and what it doesn’t have. Beautiful beaches and crystal clear waters abound. This is despite both the onshore and off shore tin mining that takes place around the island.
It’s not just beaches on offer around the island though. If you’re looking for a change of pace you can head to Tirta Tapta Pemali and enjoy the hot springs and waterslides. Certainly it’s not the grandest water park in the world, but with an entrance fee of Rp. 15,000 it won’t break the bank either! Along with the water fun they have a range of eating options available, live entertainment on weekends and a mini-zoo that may unfortunately displease any animal lovers out there.
If you’re looking for more of a spiritual experience there’s also the opportunity to visit Jesus in the jungle amongst other Christian sights at Gua Maria, close to the town of Belinyu in the north of the island. All the stations of the cross are included along with a man-made cave housing Maria as well.
For those of more of a Buddist bent there’s intriguing temples available as well, especially in and around the main city of Pangkalpinang. The central area of Pangkalpinang has a bustling collection of shops too, though the development of new malls alongside this district may change the more traditional character of the city.
Best Restaurants on Bangka
After a busy day of sightseeing there’s nothing like grabbing a snack at a local institution, Warung Kopi Tung Tau. It first opened in 1938. They now have branches in both Pangkalpinang and Sungaliat. The restaurant offers up a local twist on toasted treats along with a range of interesting drinks.
If you’re looking for a snack or a souvenir to take with you once your holiday is done then the kerupuk (crackers) produced locally are highly recommended. Once you’ve tried it you won’t be able to go back to the bland offerings available elsewhere. The real seafood flavours shine through here!
While Bangka is less famous than Belitung you’ll find plenty of things to interest you as a tourist. The beautiful beaches and enchanting landscape make Bangka a backpacker style escape for travelers looking for something a bit different. You’ll definitely come away from your holiday with some interesting stories to tell your friends!
Have you ever been to Pulau Bangka? What did you think of the island? Share your thoughts with other travelers in the comments below.