Don't be fooled by the name — Waterfront City is no city, it's a purpose-built tourist development home to two large hotels and not much else. Construction started in the 1990s with great hopes, but like many of Suharto's big projects, it never took off the way it was supposed and multiple failed developments still litter the area: the first thing you'll see as you exit the ferry terminal is the rotting carcass of Snow World, which lay uncompleted for years before burning down in 2006.
All that said, if you ratchet down your expectations very low, Waterfront City still makes a reasonably pleasant weekend getaway: the hotels are high-quality and affordable, there's just enough to keep you entertained for a day or two, and at night you can dig into cheap seafood and sample the nightlife. Batam as a whole is still growing fast and with Harris's recent expansion and the refurbished cable ski operation, there's even faint hope of a belated renaissance.
Waterfront City Ferry Terminal, a striking Minangkabau-style construction with sharped pointed eaves, is a visa-on-arrival entry point for Indonesia. BatamFast runs three ferries a day from Singapore's HarbourFront ferry terminal via Sekupang to Waterfront, taking about 70 minutes including the Sekupang stop. If you miss these, there are many more to Sekupang, from where it's a 15-km trip to Waterfront City.
Hotel shuttle buses meet incoming ferries and offer sightseeing and shopping trips around the rest of the island. Within Waterfront City itself, most sites are within walking distance. If you'd like to go further out, there are usually taxis lurking in front of the cable ski park, but you'll need to haggle. Cabbies will ask for S$20 for the half-hour haul to Nagoya, but locals can negotiate that down to around Rp. 75,000.
The beach at Waterfront City isn't much to look at: the water is murky and the views across the bay consist of oil industry installations. The Harris Resort has its own tiny slice, but the rest is within the Waterfront City Marina and an entry fee of Rp. 6000 is charged. Sea sports like banana boats and jetskis are available.
- Batam CableSki Park. Popular cable-pulled wakeboarding outfit. Has a pleasant little attached bar/cafe and offers day and overnight packages which include express immigration and your ferry tickets from Singapore. 1 hour S$25, half-day S$55 and full-day S$65, overnight from Singapore 100$, overnight from Singapore spectator 60$.
- Tea Tree Spa, Holiday Inn, ☎ . Well-regarded Balinese-style spa offering Javanese lulur scrubs, hot stone massage etc, set in a faux-Balinese temple courtyard. It's not cheap at S$60++/hour, but there is a 20% discount before 3 PM and quite a few packages for couples, hotel guests, etc. No hanky-panky!
Other entertainment options include the ramshackle Step 1 Go Kart Circuit near the Harris (S$12/10 min), sit-on-top-kayak inside the Harris (S$7/30 min officially, but there's no real time limit and you don't need to be a guest) and Taman Pancing Fishing Pond. The Batam Flying Club closed down years ago.
80% of the commercial shophouse block next to the ferry terminal is permanently closed, but some of the remaining shops sell drinks and snacks. For anything else, you'll need to head over to Nagoya.
The shophouse block next to the ferry terminal has half a dozen low-key eateries, but only one has food that draws anything approximating a crowd:
- Delima Seafood Restaurant. Easily spotted, Delima is the only restaurant here with a breezy kelong (platform on stilts) set up over the rocky beach, and they do a roaring trade on weekends. Everybody orders the chili crab (from Rp. 88,000) and with reason, but the rest of the menu is pretty good as well: try the kailan tahu jepung (Rp. 15000), Chinese broccoli with Japanese egg tofu.
There are also a couple of very basic warung next to the cable ski park.
The restaurants at both the Harris and the Holiday Inn offer air-conditioned comfort and charge Singaporean prices for the privilege.
- Arirang, Harris Resort. Korean and Japanese food.
- Dragon Inn, Holiday Inn. Within the Holiday Inn complex, this slick, upmarket Chinese seafood restaurant caters to both holidaymakers and demanding gourmets with dishes ranging from fried rice to abalone. Dim sum for lunch is popular.
The normally comatose waterfront shophouse strip livens up after sundown, with half a dozen nightlife joints ranging from Western-style pubs to Chinese-style dodgy karaoke lounges.
- Queen's Restaurant & Café. Catering squarely to oil industry expats, Queen's has beer, pub grub and ladies of negotiable virtue.
- Aussie Bar, 126 Waterfront City, Batam (on the main Waterfront road), ☎ . 2PM to late. New bar opened by long term resident. 150m from ferry terminal has become the most popular watering hole in Waterfront. Cold beer, pizzas delivered, projector TV, free internet, pool table, good music, full range of drinks, friendly staff welcome many of the expats as well as weekend tourists. Has become the second office of several large company bosses.
Waterfront City has two large resort hotels. Both offer free shuttle service to the ferry terminal.
- Harris Resort Batam, 5 min from ferry terminal, ☎ , fax: +62 778-381142. Check-in: 21/06/11, check-out: 23/06/11. A cheap but cheerful family holiday resort with a predilection for an eyeball-blistering shade of orange, renovated and expanded in 2009. Large pool, bowling alley, a scattering of restaurants and a fairly pathetic beach where swimming is explicitly forbidden. Try to get a room in the new wing. From S$81.
- Holiday Inn Resort Batam, across road from ferry terminal, ☎ , fax: +62 778-381332. Probably Batam's best branded hotel, aging gracefully but solidly maintained under Western management. Weekend-tripping Singaporeans come for the large pool with an extensive kids' area, four restaurants and a well-regarded spa (see Do), while oil industry business visitors are seduced by the promise of broadband internet. From S$120.
Some of the shophouse pubs also offer lodging in their upstairs rooms, mostly on a short-time basis.