The landscape and character of Riau province is distinct from northern and western Sumatra. Rather than being shaped by mountains and volcanoes, Riau’s character was carved by rivers and narrow ocean passages. Trading towns sprang up along the important navigation route of the Strait of Melaka, across which Riau claims cultural cousins.
For the port towns, such as Pekanbaru, and the Riau Islands, proximity to Singapore and Kuala Lumpur has ensured greater access to the outside world than the towns of the interior Sumatran jungle. The discovery of oil and gas reserves has also built an educated and middle-class population in Pekanbaru.
The interior of the province more closely resembles Sumatra as a whole: sparse population, dense jungle, Buddhist temple ruins, surviving pockets of nomadic peoples (including the Sakai, Kubu and Jambisal) and endangered species, such as the Sumatran rhinoceros and tiger.