Batam is one of the largest islands in the Riau archipelago, and not long ago it was just another poor island with coastal villages and unspoiled nature. The declaration of the Batam free trade zone in 1989 has turned the island upside down, after just a few years of rapid construction it now has a modern airport, tourist and business centers and a still growing infrastructure that has changed the island completely.
It is no secret that nearby Singapore is the role model, and the goal is eventually to become one of the biggest ports of Southeast Asia and a major center of international trade, industry and commerce. The strategic location close to the Malacca Strait and Singapore will certainly help reaching this goal, but like the rest of Indonesia the economy and development here was dealt a major blow during and after the Asia economic crisis in the late 1990's.
Batam is actually one of fastest growing tourist destinations in Indonesia in terms of visitor arrivals. There are several tourist resorts here with luxurious hotels and golf courses. Many visitors however choose to use Batam only as an entry point, it is only 40 minutes from Singapore with boat, and then leave with the first available transport to other destinations in Indonesia.
Nagoya Hill The history of Batam is tightly interwoven with nearby Bintan island and the rest of the Riau archipelago. According to Chinese chronicles Batam was already inhabited as early as 231 A.D. when Singapore island was still called Pulau Ujung (Ujung Island). It came under control of the Malacca kingdom from the 13th century, and later taken over by the Sultan of Johor who ruled until the 18th century. The coastal villages that face Singapore is said to have been a hideout for pirates who hijacked ships in the strait.
In 1824 the name of the island again appear in the Treaty of London which led to the division of the region between the Dutch and the British. Batam and the surrounding islands later became part of the Riau Lingga Kingdom, a situation that lasted until 1911, when the Dutch East Indies colonial administration took over.
Close to Sekupang, a large part of the population still make their living from fishing and sea transport.The native people of Batam are of Malay origin, but with the rapid growth and development of the area various ethnic groups from all over Indonesia has come here in search for jobs and a better life. Traditionally most of the people live in coastal villages, while the "Orang Laut" (sea people) continue to live on boathouses and boats and generally fish for a living. Some of their catch are sold to Singapore. Bahasa Indonesia is the language used to communicate among the multi-ethnic population here, while many now also understand English, which is commonly used in business communication.