Pulau Berhala

There are Risks Involved with Going There!

Beach on the west side of Pulau Berhala.

We recently returned from a trip to the island known as Pulau Berhala. We’ll write several more posts/articles about this trip in the coming weeks. Though the island is a much talked about tourist location, relatively few people go there.

This post is about the travel options to the island, and some of the difficulties we faced while going and coming from there.

Dangers You May Experience

Three sizes of speedboats. We initially took the center, smallest of the three, but when we got on the open seas we had to return. We then took the largest one. The one in the picture closest to the dock.
This picture was taken at ANCOL, also known as Tanggo Rajo.

This trip is not recommended for children, women who are pregnant, and especially people with back problems.

For the first leg of the trip (3 hours) we took a speedboat from the City of Jambi to the town of Nipah Panjang. When we left Nipah Panjang for Pulau Berhala, we got ½ the way there and the speedboat driver turned around and went back. He said the seas were too rough for that small speedboat. Upon our return to Nipah Panjang we transferred everything over to a larger speedboat and departed again for Pulau Berhala. On this larger speedboat we made it all the way to Pulau Berhala, but the trip was especially miserable and hazardous.

Speedboat on the Batanghari River.

These speedboats are designed for smooth river waters, not the open seas. Their bottoms are flat. They are not “V” shaped.  This means they don’t “cut through the water,” they hammer across the top of it. Even on the rivers the ride on these boats can become quite rough, especially when they go over the wakes of passing boats. Some other things about these speedboats:

  • While traveling on the open sea your body takes a brutal pounding.
  • You very quickly learn to keep your tongue in your mouth and your teeth together.
  •  You will experience a few bruises and maybe a cut or two on your head from hitting the roof from time to time.
  • Your arms will become tired from holding yourself from being thrown around.
  • The hard crashing down in between the swells jams your spine with each drop—it’s quite brutal! It could be likened to repeatedly doing “belly-flops” for over 1 hour (smack-smack-smack…).
  • There are no life-jackets or other types of safety equipment aboard, like flares, radios, GPS, etc., etc.
  • Those accustomed to car sickness may want to take motion sickness pills before and during the trip. The total trip can take 5-6 hours. One person “lost their cookies” on the trip, and others were noticeably nauseated. The fumes from the gasoline and exhaust fumes also heightens the nauseating sensation.
  • The noise of the boat creaking and squeaking makes you wonder if it will hold together.


Small fishing village on the S.E. side of Pulau Berhala.

On our way back from Pulau Berhala the hull on the speedboat developed a crack and we were taking on water. There were 5 guys bailing. The driver kept going, trying to get to calmer waters so the leak could be fixed. When we finally arrived at the mouth of the Batanghari River, where the waters weren’t so rough, the driver and “first mate” inserted sponges into the cracks and nailed a board on top of them. It did the job and we were able to continue on.

On the trip out to the island the sky was clear and you could see the shorelines, which enabled the driver to navigate accurately. On the return trip it was very hazy, and it took a lot longer because of the meandering that took place—no GPS, or any other navigational equipment—not even a simple compass. In heavy fog you could spend a very long time out there and never find your way back till it clears up.

POMPONG—an alternative boat

This type of boat gets its name from the sound the engine makes…. pom, pom, pom, pom, pom, pom.

If you want to go on a more seaworthy boat, a pompong could be used. Though not specifically designed for sea use (nor is the speedboat mentioned above), it may provide a smoother ride, since the hull does have a “V” shape.

The Benefits of a Pompong

  • These boats are more adapted to rough waters.
  • The leisurely trip will give more opportunity to view other passing boats.
  • You will be able to learn more about life on the river as you interact with the boat’s driver and the other 1-2 “deckhands.”

Negative Aspects of a Pompong

  • They are much slower. Instead of a 1 – 1 ½ hour trip, it will take you 3 hours to get to Pulau Berhala from Nipah Panjang.
  • The exhaust noise from the engine is very loud.
  • The fumes from the exhaust is black and you will breath it from time to time as the winds change, enhancing any nausea  you may be experiencing.
  • If not equipped with a roof and tarps, you and your gear will be exposed to occasional sea spray.


Small boat resting on the beach of the southern shore of Pulau Berhala.

Take a helicopter : ^ )    Although there are no helicopters available to be rented, I’ll just bet that if the price was right a helicopter could be acquisitioned!


We’ve written several articles about Pulau Berhala and Datuk Pulau Berhala. They can be accessed by clicking the below links.