An offshore island from the main capital of Tanjung Pinang, Pulau Penyengat is known as the abode of the kings as it was the central seat of power during the final phase of the Malay kingdom. Home to palace ruins, royal mausoleums and other sites from a bygone Riau-Lingga sultanate era, the island possesses major Malay cultural and historical significance. Due to the inviolable sanctity of Pulau Penyengat, visitors are advised to dress conservatively.
Legend has it that sailors who stopped by looking for fresh water on the island in the past was stung by stinging insects. Thus, it was given the name of Penyengat which means ‘stinger’ in Bahasa Indonesia.
Your journey back to the past begins as you board a pompong (water taxi) at the pier from Tanjung Pinang to Penyengat Island. As you get closer to shore, it will be easy to spot the jewel of the island—Masjid Raya Sultan Riau (Sultan of Riau’s Grand Mosque) in striking royal yellow.
Upon arrival, you can hire a becak (motorised trishaw) to visit the various historical sites or simply take a breezy walk around the island mostly sheltered with greenery.
Pulau Penyengat came into historical spotlight when Sultan Mahmud III (1761-1812) gifted the island to his new wife, Engku Puteri Raja Hamidah in a political move to strengthen ties between Malays and the Bugis.
A becak tour will bring you to Raja Hamidah’s tomb for the first stop. Her family members and entourage of servants are buried around her with their headstones all draped with the royal colour of yellow. The queen’s revered father, Raja Haji Fisabilillah, has a separate tomb located on the island. He was awarded the title of National Hero of Indonesia for his resistance efforts against the Dutch; Tanjung Pinang’s international airport is named after him.
Other mausoleums of the royal bloodline are also situated on the island along with noteworthy buildings such as the Istana Kantor (Office Palace) of Raja Ali Haji. A prominent figure who was also honoured as National Hero like his grandfather, Raja Ali Haji was a scholar who was recognised as the first authoritative lexicographer of the Malay language. His other great works include the Gurindam Dua Belas and Tuhfat al-Nafis.
Visit the Custom Hall, a building modelled after a typical Malay stilt house to learn more about local culture. Some fixtures of a traditional Malay wedding setup can be found inside the structure which also serves as a venue for islanders to host special events and festivals. Look out for the small souvenirs stalls selling hand-made crafts located beside the different sites including the Custom Hall.
A short climb up will lead you to Fort Bukit Kursi, usually the last stop before you leave the island. Equipped with multiple rusty canons overlooking the vast South China Sea, the site was built to defend the kingdom against Dutch invaders and was deemed as one of the best fortress during its days. Take a moment here to revel in the picturesque views and illustrious past of the island.
With such fascinating memorabilia left on Pulau Penyengat, there is little wonder that the island has been awarded the ‘Certificate of Excellence’ by TripAdvisor and along with all its attractions, pending listing as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Board the pompong again and continue your way to Senggarang Village, the land of gods and dragons.