Batam Nightlife & Relationships
Depite perceptions of a strongly Muslim-dominated culture and a public face of prudery and conservatism (for example, public displays of affection like kissing or holding hands may be frowned upon), Indonesians living in major urban centers like Batam seem to privately hold very pragmatic, moderate and relaxed ideas about social interaction, sexuality and relationships with less of the puritanical "baggage" of many Western societies.
These relaxed social norms together with Batam's proximity to Singapore, convenient ferry connections, low prices, cheap golf courses and a lively nightlife have made the island a weekend playground for visitors from Singapore and Malaysia (despite some official disapproval from puritanical Singaporean authorities)
Loads of food and fun
Batam has more than 10,000 hotel rooms (with more coming on stream), several major resorts, more than 60 karaoke bars and massage parlors, several nightclubs and several large, loud, dark and very popular discos. Most are located in and around the Nagoya area, Batam's main commercial and retail district.
A growing number of Western-style bars with cheap beer and international fare cater to the large expatriate population and there are many restaurants and outdoor food markets offering good and inexpensive international and local foods for locals and visitors.
The Singaporean and Malaysian visitors (mainly men) visit Batam to get away to an anonymous place and have a good time for a fraction of what they would pay at home.
Gambling was a major attraction until February 2005 when the newly elected Indonesian government enforced anti-gambling laws and closed down flourishing, but illegal, casinos.
Now the weekend influx of people come to let their hair down in the karaoke bars, eat at the outdoor food courts, strut their stuff at the discos or indulge in cheap sex with Batam's attractive working girls.
A visitor to Batam can "book" a girl from a karaoke or bar, or pick up a "freelance" girl from a disco or bar and typically pay around US$35 to $40 for her to spend the night with him at his hotel. Or he can have an hour or two of indulgence at a massage parlor or hotel karaoke establishment for little more than half that amount.
The freelancers are girls who often hold down low-paying day jobs and look for some adventure and some extra cash to supplement their income by making themselves available. Often they are divorced or unmarried mothers with a child to support.
Many Singaporean and Malaysian regulars take up with Indonesian girls and maintain them as "second wives" in Batam, coming for visits every other weekend. Some proceed to formal (and often enduring) marriages.
Steamy but low-key
Until relatively recently, Batam and its nightlife were unknown to most Westerners other than those who traveled there for work or business. It is now becoming more widely recognized as an easy, safe and affordable option for Western men who are keen for that scene.
Most of the nightlife action is largely confined to a small area of Nagoya known as NED (Nagoya Entertainment District) - See NEDbatam.com - where it operates openly but with a very low and subdued profile compared with the nightlife scenes of the Philippines, Thailand and locations in Central and South America or the Caribbean.
It would be easy to spend extended time in much of Batam and barely be aware this steamier side exists.