The 3,000 Islands of the Rim province straddle the Straits of Malacca, one of the oldest and busiest trading routes in the world. For centuries the islands have provided a safe haven to traders and sailors from Europe, India and China, retaining today the flavor of an ancient 'crossroads of the world'. The romantic history of this region is rich with tales of piracy and inter-national conflict. Riau, which includes a large part of East Sumatra, is homeland to the Malays and the source of Indonesia's Malay-based natio-nal language. The first book of Malay grammar, called Bustanul Katibin, was written and published here in 1857.
Since its founding in 1402 by Parameswara, the Kingdom of Malacca played a leading role in the history of the area. With the arrival of the Portu-guese a period of wars for control of the Straits began. The situation was aggravated by the arrival of the Dutch and British in the early 17th century.
A turbulent conflict followed, which was partially resolved by the Treaty of London in 1824, giving the Dutch control of all European territories south of Singapore. This area Included Riau, and effectively severed its links with Johor and the mainland. The Dutch subjugated and dissolved the rebellious Riau Sultanate in 1911, but the province's Influence remained strong.
Pekanbaru in Sumatra became the provincial capi-tal in 1959, taking over from the former capital of Tanjungpinang on the Island of Bintan. Tanjung-pinang is, however, still the most Important town in the province. Its proximity to Singapore has made it a main business and shopping port and together with the nearby island of Batani, it is promising to become an area of major investment and development in the years ahead. The future looks bright for Riau; because of its strategic position with the rest of Asia it is rapidly being developed as a major economic zone.
About 160 kms upstream on the Siak river, Pekanbaru, Riau's provincial capital, has a number of buildings in the traditional style of the area, among them the Balai Dang Merdu, the Balai Adat and Taman Budaya Riau, or Cultural Park.
This Moorish style palace of the Sultan of Siak, 120 kms upstream from Pekanbaru on the siak river, was built in 1889 by Sultan Syarif Hasyim Abdul Jalil Syarifuddin. Now a museum, the palace contains the sultanate's royal paraphernalia and other items of historical interest. Established during the 16th century, the Siak Seri Inderapura sultanate lasted until 1946, when it became a victim of the popular upheavals following the Japanese surrender at the close of World War II.
Like many other structures of its kind in Sumatra, this Buddhist stupa near the village of Muara Takus in the Tigabelas Koto district was built with red bricks and sand. The temple is believed to have been built at around the 9th or 10th century AD when the power of the South Sumatra-based Sriwijaya empire was at its peak. Excavations are still being made to deter-mine the precise age and function of the stupa.
A busy little town on Bintan Island, visited by traders from Jakarta, Medan, Palembang and other big cities in Indonesia, Tanjung Pinang is only a two-hour boat ride from Singapore. A large section of the old part of the town was built in traditional local fashion, on stilts, over the water. Bintan is a good point of departure to other islands in the area.
This island, six kilometers from Tanjung Pinang, can be reached in 15 minutes by boat. The seat of the powerful Bugis viceroys of Riau during 18th century, Penyangat still bears the traces of its illustrations past. Ruins, abandoned for almost 70 years, were recently restored. The old ruler's palace and royal tombs are among the legacies left by the Riau sultanate. Still in use is the old vice royal mosque, the Mesjid Raya. There is also a newly built cultural center for stage performances of Malay music and dance.
Located on mainland Riau in the Kuala Kampar district, this 120,000 hectares (30.000 acres) nature reserve can be reached in 18 hours by motor boat from Pekanbaru. Journey by boat up a peaceful river into the heart of virgin forests for a unforgettable experience of Indonesia's wilderness.
Riau's thousands of islands have innumerable scenic beaches and diving spots, among them Trikora on Bintan and Pasir Panjang on Rupat Island, which also has excellent surfing. Great beaches are also found on the Islands Terkulai and Soreh, about an hour's boat ride from Tanjung Pinang. Check with local travel agents for other alternatives.
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