The colonial city in West Java retains old-world charm even as it welcomes the modern age
DUBBED “THE Paris of Java”, Bandung has long been a popular holiday destination for Indonesian families with its year-round cool breezes and wonderful colonial-era architecture.
There are several ways to get there from Jakarta, but a favoured option is riding the elegantly equipped first-class train, which certainly adds luxury to the excursion.
The train trip is three hours, which are filled with onboard leisure activities and breathtaking views of terraced rice paddies along the sides. There’s also the chance for a catnap to recharge the batteries before arriving in Bandung in the late afternoon.
The leisurely and luxurious threehour train ride from Jakarta to Bandung affords beautiful views of terraced rice fields.
The somewhat chilly weather is ideal for sightseeing in the capital of West Java. There are posh chain hotels all around, modern boutique resorts, shopping malls, chic cafes and fancy restaurants, making this a perfect weekend getaway.
“Bandung is a good place to escape the summer heat, much cooler than Jakarta,” says Kenny Dewi Kaniasari, chief of the city’s cultural and tourism department.
“We have nearly 200 hotels and all the heritage of the colonial era, of which the charming architecture is the highlight. Last year we had six million visitors, both local and foreign, and we’re now boosting that number with direct flights between Bandung and Bangkok.”
Kaniasari says Bandung is also Indonesia’s educational hub, home to 50 universities, so there are a lot of students about too. “The cost of living is cheaper than in Jakarta, Bali and Surabaya.”
Bandung reached official city proportions in 1926. The colonial Dutch East Indies government planned to move the capital here from Batavia since its encircling range of volcanic mountains formed a natural barrier against invaders. The Japanese occupation and World War II put an end to that idea.
Spasial occupies a string of old warehouses, giving local artists and designers a place to show their work.
East still meets West in this lovely city, which is a prime model for how to combine venerable tradition with modern life. The Cathedral of St Peter (Katedral Santo Petrus) is still standing, as is the original 1920 headquarters of the Dutch colonial government, a building now known as the Gedung Sate.
Old warehouses have been converted into a creative space known as Spasial, where local artists and designers show their work. Tucked away in a narrow alley, Spasial was set up in 2015 by artists including Ardo Ardhana and also features a factory making leather shoes, boutiques selling street fashion, handicraft studios and a vintage barbershop.
“We wanted to build a collective, a community hosting events in the arts, music and design, as well as several classes for the public,” says Ardo.
“We started out by making a proposal to the landlord to build a stage where start-ups and artists and designers could present their wares. We renovated three adjoining warehouses that were covered with graffiti and actual murals. There are both indoor and outdoor spaces that are perfect for discussions and workshops.”
The Brother Wood community will coach visitors in carpentry.
Ardo’s “community” has burgeoned, with more than 200 local and foreign members participating in activities there. “We want to set a higher standard for the arts in Java,” he says.
Another community is nearby, called Brother Wood, this one devoted to fine carpentry. It’s operated by an entrepreneur who uses the single name Fariz, as is common in Indonesia. Located in JL Gudang Ultra No 4, the relatively new studio hosts creative workshops for anyone interested.
“The goal is to share our knowledge and passion with other people,” Fariz says. “We show people how to choose and use specific kinds of wood for specific functions. We use mainly sustainable materials, including ‘elastic wood’ from Germany, to help with environmental conservation.”
Workshop participants might learn the basics of building a bookcase, coffee table, staircase lined with shelves or wardrobes with ladders.
Mount Tangkuban Perahu in Lembang district is topped with three volcano craters (kawah) – Ratu (Queen), Domas and Upas. You can even descend into the Kawah Domas and the guide will give you an egg to boil in a hot geyser.
Mount Tangkuban Perahu is great for hiking with its three photogenic craters.
The mountain’s name refers to its shape, which resembles an upside-down boat. A Dutch explorer named Riebek “discovered” the peak in 1713 – although surely some local folks had noticed it by then.
There was an eruption in 1826 and lava is still bubbling in places. It’s cooled into wondrous rock formations – some dangling over waterfalls. Ringing the craters as much as volcanic sediment, though, are shops selling handicrafts and other souvenirs.
The Floating Market in Lembang is a relatively new landmark in this mountainous area. The Price Big Cut Group set up this place, which boasts a beautiful Japanese-style garden, another growing edible flowers, an imitation “old city”, and a swimming pool for women in their traditional Muslim garb. The boats floating about are jammed to the gunwales with tempting food.
The Floating Market in Lembang is as picturesque as it gets.
A 10-minute drive away, the same company has just opened a Dutch-style farm village that’s quite charming in its European design and filled with cultural artefacts. There are animals to gently pet, a lovely lookout for panoramic views and scores of shops selling pastries, chocolate, crepes and handicrafts.
The writer travelled courtesy of the Ministry of Tourism Indonesia and Air Asia.
IF YOU GO
>> Learn more about the Mount Tangkuban Perahu at www.Indonesia-Tourism.com.
>> Check out the latest carpentry workshops on the BrotherWoodBDG Instagram feed.
>> Find out more about art events at Spasial on its Instagram.