Bengkalis is actually located on Bengkalis island (of Riau province), which is situated along the Straits of Melaka very near to Sumatra. The other side of the straits would be Malaysia, the nearest coastal towns being Muar and Melaka. In fact, there are regular ferry services from Bengkalis to Muar, as well as nearby Indonesia island towns such as Selatpanjang, Dumai, Tanjung Balai as well as Batam Island.
There is a Chinese residential area near to the Istiqpmah Mosque which is worth a visit because most of the houses are very colourful, and this is a cozy little laid back neighbourhood. There is also a nice Chinese temple nearby.
The nest of the swallow bird is made from the solidified saliva of the bird, and this is a very expensive tonic delicacy in South East Asia, as well as other places such as China and Hong Kong. There are some swallow birds at Karimun Island, the some local people use the upper storeys of their houses as a place for the swallows to lay their nests so that these can be harvested and sold. The birds enter the house by a hole in the top floor (see photo) and they always return to the same house every evening. This is a very big business in Bengkalis as well as nearby places such as Karimun Island, Selatpanjang and even on Sumatra.
The main street of Bengkalis is Jalan Sudirman, which is the first road when you leave the ferry terminal. Basically, Bengkalis is a small town and it is easy to walk around. Furthermore, this is a rather safe place and the locals are friendly. Best time to walk is early in the morning and late afternoon when the sun is not so hot. Please go to my VT travelogue places to have a glimpse of what you expect to see in the town.
The ferry terminal at Bengkalis is newly built and is quite impressive considering that this is a small place. I was told that Bengkalis is the regional administrative headquarters, which may explain the new and modern architecture. Next to the ferry terminal is a nice stretch of beach which you can walk around. Just outside the ferry terminal along the main road, you will see some beautiful administrative buildings.
The Istiqmah Mosque is a very beautiful and big mosque located along the main road, Jalan Sudirman of Bengkalis. Frankly, I did not expect to see such an impressive mosque here but was later told that Bengkalis is the regional administrative headquarters (which might explain). In order to get here, when you depart from the Bengkalis ferry terminal, turn left and walk along the main road Jalan Sudirman and head into town (will take you about 15 minutes walk). You will see the mosque as it is very big.
There are no big shopping malls at Bengkalis, but the town has many roadside shops which sell cheap clothings and other daily stuff, especially along the main street of Jalan Sudirman.
As you go out of the ferry terminal at Bengkalis, you will be able to observe a few impressive administrative buildings, as Bengkalis is the regency town of this area.