I certainly heard of Pekanbaru before, pretty often. My guess that time, Pekanbaru is a quite small city with not many happenings. Or maybe just a town. But I came to think about it, if that so, why would FOX HARRIS Hotel Pekanbaru open up one branch in that not so promising place? Fox Harris Pekanbaru is the latest addition to Fox HARRIS Hotel chain after their previous two –
Where is Pekanbaru
Pekanbaru is the capital of the Indonesian province of Riau, a major economic centre on the eastern part of Sumatra Island. It is about 90 minutes away by flight from Jakarta and only an hour with a direct flight from Singapore and Malaysia.
It was already late evening when we landed at Pekanbaru International Airport, Sultan Syarif Kasim II. My eyes were busy looking at the people around me while waiting for my friends to gather at the arrival hall. Glass panels, modern signboard clearly showing the directions. Although the airport is not big, it is pretty neat and clean. There are airports around Indonesia that are smaller than this.
Looking at the crowd that landed at the same time as I at the airport that just had renovated about 2 years ago, it proved that Pekanbaru may not be a big city but it’s not a simple city as I thought. Occasionally, I could hear people speaking in Melayu.
FOX HARRIS Pekanbaru
We stayed for two night at FOX HARRIS Pekanbaru Hotel to explore Pekanbaru. FOX Harris Pekanbaru is categorized as 4-stars hotel. It is located in a prime location where the business district is, in Riau Street. Only about 20 minutes from the airport. I saw many food stalls and restaurants along the way from the airport to the hotel. What I mean by many is, like a lot of them. From the street foods to urban foods. Besides that, there is Sadira Plaza which has not been fully utilized yet and only a few meters away from the FOX Harris Hotel. Then there is Seraya Ciputra Mall which is just across the street. From the location wise, FOX HARRIS Pekanbaru definitely get plus points.
Walk out from the hotel to the main road in the morning and we will see the morning rush in the city. Along the road, we will also see people start opening the main door of their shophouses, preparing the place for business. Unlike other small cities I visited before, Pekanbaru that I thought only a small town suddenly becomes alive as early as from 6 am in some area.
If traffic noise is a concern, we shall put our mind at ease for this matter. Although FOX Harris Pekanbaru Hotel is located in the prime area, however, it is not really exactly by the main road but a little hidden behind the Sadira Plaza. So, rest assured, we will have a good sleep throughout the night without getting disturbed by the traffic noises.
FOX HARRIS Pekanbaru has facilities that we all may be hoping for – a good continental breakfast, spacious room and bathroom, spa, and also gym room. I especially love the rooftop pool. It is a nice size of swimming pool for us to dip in while overlooking the city from the 15th floor. The water can be cold though but it is refreshing.
Exploring the Heritage of Pekanbaru – Pekanbaru Heritage Walk
Exploring Pekanbaru may not be in my travel wish list. However, after learning about the places we would visit during our Pekanbaru Heritage Walk, it seemed to be interesting. If you ever plan to come to Pekanbaru, below are some places that you may consider to throw into your itinerary.
1. Rumah Singgah Sultan Siak
With the background of the Siak Bridge III which is named after the Sultan, Siak, the house with blue roofing and in Melayu style keeps a lot of history. It has been standing strong since 1895. The structure of the house is still kept as it is. With a little touch up on the inside of the house, this Rumah Singgah sometimes is still used for some meeting. The traditional houses in Pekanbaru were built with an elevation few meters off the ground to protect the houses from the overflow of the Siak River that happens once every few years.
The house is named “Rumah Singgah Sultan Siak” or the rest stop of Sultan Siak because, in this house, Sultan Siak from Siak Kingdom (Kesultanan Siak Sri Inderapura) used to rest before continuing his journey to other places. There used to be a pathway that connecting the back door of this house to the pronto bridge jetty. The staircase on the other side of the house is also no longer there due to ages. Inside the house, we can find old photos that tell the story around the Siak River.
2. Rumah Tenun Kampung Bandar
Not far from the Rumah Singgah, there is this weaving house in the Bandar Village that produce the beautiful traditional fabrics with Siak motif which locally called Songket. From using colourful normal threads to the golden threads from India that usually used in making Saree. When we were there that day, all the fabrics were brought to Jakarta for an exhibition, hence, we couldn’t see many of the finished products. However, we could see the weaving process of the Songket.
All the fabric is made by request. Although it is Siak motif that usually used for the fabric but customers can request to have a particular design on the fabric as well. They can also choose whether to use the golden thread or diamond thread with the same colour effect. “Nowadays, customers prefer to use the diamond thread because it is lighter. The gold colour is brighter, too,” said Ruhaya, one of the two weavers in the Rumah Tenun Kampung Bandar.
To weave one fabric from scratch, they need at least one week to complete. And the selling price is variable depending on the complexity of the design and the threads. Sometimes, they will conduct workshops for those who are keen to learn to weave as well. So far, customers get to know about them from word of mouth. From this little weaving house, another heritage of Pekanbaru is preserved.
3. Istana Hinggap
Another heritage house that is equally important as the Rumah Singgah is the Istana Hinggap Tuan Qadhi or usually just called as Istana Hinggap. Istana Hinggap is where Sultan Siak stayed overnight at whenever he came to Pekanbaru. There were few Istana Hinggap in the past, unfortunately, this is the only one left because of the modernization. This Istana Hinggap was built in the year of 1900 with Indische architecture design and a touch of art deco.
If we come here, we will meet the son-in-law of Tuan Qadhi, Syahril, who is still living here. He will be more than happy to welcome and share the story with the guests. Inside the house, we can see the Sultan’s bedroom, the antique furniture and decorations that have been passed through generations since then.
4. Pasar Bawah
The market is called Pasar Bawah or Lower Market because of its location that is near to the Siak River which ground is lower than other areas. On the lower ground of the Pasar Bawah building, we can find any kinds of local snacks – various chips, preserved fruits, and also Bolu Kemojo and Lempuk which are unique delicacies in Riau. My friend even told me not to forget to buy MILO at Pasar Bawah. Yeap, besides local snacks we can also find imported goodies in here, too. Even our guide, Pak Iwan, said that sometimes his Malaysian customers will also stop by here to shop for snacks and goodies because the prices are better compared to their hometown.
5. Komplek Makan Marhum Pekan
Right next to the Grand Mosque, there is a complex of cemeteries where all the Sultan Siak and also the founder of Pekanbaru rested. Some people purposely come here to pay respect while visiting Pekanbaru. If we go there, don’t worry about getting to unknown. There will be a local guide who will guide us and share information with us. The place has gone through some changes due to the act of times. The tombs are no longer there and the cemeteries have been cleaned up. The soil ground is now covered using tiles as what we can see now.
6. River Cruise in Siak River
End the day by taking a river cruise along the Siak River on a traditional wooden boat and enjoy the breeze while waiting for the sunset would never be wrong. I felt like watching the life of the people living by the Siak River on a movie screen as the boatman rowing our boat. The river is calm although I heard that once every few years it will overflow. We can see the watermark on the wall by the river, marking the highest level the water ever got.
We will pass by under the Siak Bridge III, houses, including the Rumah Tenun Kampung Bandar we visited. We also see children jumping off the dock, swimming freely and happily. I tried to snap some photos. However, they seemed to be quite shy knowing people watching them or we were just too scary for them. They didn’t jump anymore and just sitting on the dock.
We made a few more stops along the way from one place to another. We stopped by at the salt warehouse, savoured the local vegetable fritter, walked along the alley with mural arts, had lunch at one Minang restaurant which foods are just so delicious, passed by the road with a lot of old shophouses that selling pre-loved stuff, and many more. This Pekanbaru Heritage Walk is all done with walking with a total distance of about 4 km.
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Falling into the deep thought about the slow pace of life in Pekanbaru, the harmony among the people without looking at the differences, somehow I feel life has become less intense in Pekanbaru. The heritage building on one side and standing tall some modern building not far on the other side, Pekanbaru is like a meeting point between new and old – the past and the present.
I remember I saw a shape of a wooden structure forming a letter “X” on the roof of some old houses and I asked Pak Iwan if there is any meaning of that symbol. He said, “That’s to symbolize that no matter what arguments we have between us, there is always a way (a meeting point) where we can come out with a solution.” Doesn’t it sound wise? Perhaps this what makes Pekanbaru special. So, have you been to Pekanbaru?