Visiting Pekanbaru, the capital city of Riau Province, is apparently not a popular choice among travelers.
Even the locals of Pekanbaru must think hard to name things and places for tourists to visit.
It is true that the city does not offer much in the way of common touristy attractions, such as traditional dance shows, forests full of monkeys or long stretches of white sandy beach.
However, it offers some things you might not find in many other cities in Indonesia. Some of them are located just a little way outside the urban area.
When Pekanbaru hosted the 18th National Sports Week (PON XVIII) in 2012, the city had a few buildings to impress all the participants, but the Provincial Government Office, also known as the Governor’s Office, on Jl. Sudirman is one of them.
Standing nine stories tall at a T-junction, with a dome on top and roofed by a hard-to-explain futuristic plank shape, this building stands out amongst shorter ones surrounding it.
However, the District Library, or Perpustakaan Daerah, next to the Governer’s Office could debatably outshine it.
The design is inspired by an open book, symbolizing the purpose of the library, which is to provide knowledge.
This six-story building simply amazes passers-by with its many pillars holding up the gigantic bookstand, which is shaped like a Koran stand.
Standing closer to the building, you will see reliefs on the façade depicting fragments of education and industrial activities, as well as the monumental structures of Riau that they seem to be proud of.
Still on the same street, which is the longest in Pekanbaru, lies a beautiful art center called Anjungan Seni Idrus Tintin.
It is built in Riau Melayu style and named after a native Riau artist of great renown, Idrus Tintin. It was originally built as the MTQ (National Koran Recital Competition) building and was afterward used for art-related events, including the Indonesian Film Festival (FFI) in 2008.
A building that kept me coming back day after day was the An Nur Mosque and I am not even that religious.
My first visit was at dusk, when the setting sun was emanating a perfect light against the blue sky over the mosque. It was a magical view.
Said to be inspired architecturally by the Taj Mahal, An Nur is a beauty on its own, as well as in daylight.
The use of shades of green and gray on the exterior is a perfect match to the vast green grass field in front of the mosque.
The whole complex is lively with diverse activities -- not only religious ones. You see people jog, play ball and practice traditional dances in the field and on the terraces.
Beautiful and controversial Zapin monument
A controversy occurred late in 2011 when a new monument was to be placed on the zero-kilometer point of Pekanbaru, right in front of the Governor’s Office.
The copper and silver monument depicting a man and a woman from a scene of the traditional Zapin dance is a creation of Indonesia’s very own internationally-known artist, I Nyoman Nuarta.
The monument created controversy because of its high cost to the provincial government, the arguably sexually provocative pose of the female dancer depicted and its apparently inaccurate depiction of the Zapin dance moves.
Controversy aside, personally I, and I’m sure many other spectators, find this monument to be very dynamic and beautiful. However, art appreciation is subjective.
Juanda Street: Coffee Shops Galore
Coffee is a major part of the culture of the Pekanbaru people.
Finding coffee shops is a very easy task in this strongly Malay-influenced city.
An area where you might even be dazzled by the uncountable coffee shop options is Jl. Juanda.
This street and the streets around it are packed with old and new coffee shops/diners. It is not only heaven for coffee lovers, but also for foodies in general.
Menu offerings range from milk-coffee and coffee with ginseng to noodles and porridge.
One of the oldest coffee shops on Jl. Juanda is Megaria, which has been famous for its wonton noodles since the 1970s.
Now the owner’s son has opened a second branch on the same street. It is also called Megaria, but is differentiated by the shop number.
The older one is at Jl. Juanda 99, while the newer one is at Jl. Juanda 60.
Another famous coffee shop on the street is called Kola Kola, which is only a few meters away from the new Megaria.
Open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., these coffee shops are packed with visitors looking for their shots of caffeine before hitting their offices.
Some of the coffee shops are closed between lunch and dinner, giving the staff some time to rest.
Like any place with a strong coffee culture, these shops are filled with all sorts of consumers who bring in various topics to discuss, from light chitchat to politics and business lobbying.
I guess you can say it is comparable to a golf course.