In this age of availability of information everywhere through multiple means, it rarely so happens that we know not much about something, and then when we finally experience it, the surprise turns out to be as pleasant as can be! Bandung came to me as a surprise, a pleasure and a much-needed break from the drabberies (I invented this word just now!) of everyday life
When my friend told me she is from Bandung, I remember asking her – err.. where is that? I even confused the name with that of the Indonesian President (former?) Bambang! Five years later, a visit to the city infused the exact kind of freshness I am seeking in life right now.
Where is it? How to get there?
Bandung is a short drive from Jakarta. It is in the western part of the Java landmass, situated in a valley and surrounded by hills. One can drive from Jakarta, but for tourists who don’t want to do that, there are coaches leaving every 15 minutes from Jakarta airport. The name of the agency is Primajasa. Its counter is right outside the airport arrival lounge. And yes, the coach is comfortable, the highways are awesome, the route is safe.
It took us 2-3 hours to get there. If you’re traveling during daytime, make sure you have some time in hand as the highway usually has traffic jams during peak hours.
I also understand that there are several travels in Jakarta that run mini-buses to and from Bandung. Also, you could try the 3-hour train ride. It is supposed to be fantastically picturesque, passing as it does by hills, fields and lakes.
The weather can be described by just one word – NICE! Coming from a humid sea-facing equatorial island, namely Singapore, where you are dripping sweat the moment you are out in the open, the weather was probably what made the trip even more endearing. As I was telling a friend, good weather can actually beat half the struggle of life! It gives one energy to do a lot more things and generally lifts up moods of people. The weather in Bandung, being situated in the midst of hills, is cloudy and breezy. One might have to put up with light rains sometimes in the afternoons, but that’s welcome too! The drizzle just adds to the charm. Even the sun, when it is out, is mild and makes you cozy. Am I being too superlative all the way? J Check it out for yourself… and wait, don’t tire yet. There’s more coming!
Well, my friend said Bandung is a small city. Having lived in the Himalayas (Sikkim) for 4 years, my idea of a small city is a single road with houses on both sides running for 2 kilometers at the most. Bandung is nothing like that. It is spread over about 168 sq.km. The streets are well-planned and clean. The traffic could get a big cloggy during peak hours, especially during weekends when Jakartans drop by for a quick holiday. I was also told there are several one-way roads that makes driving a bit complicated.
Getting around the city is not very convenient if you don’t have your own car. We had the privilege of being driven around. All arrangements were impeccably made by my friend’s mother! Terimah-kaish, Aunty! So get yourself a local friend and you can enjoy the lavish indulgences J. But if you aren’t so lucky, it’s OK too. Cabs ply all day round, especially on the main roads. Try using BlueBird taxis. They’re the ones that follow the meter (argo in local language). Else, bargain well with the other cabs. You can also use public transportation in the form of mini-buses. We used it and it’s quite interesting. No problems at all!
In short, Bandung was clearly a hill resort for the Dutch colonialists, developed for summer escapes and quiet holidays. Today, too, Bandung is not an industrial hub and therefore, does not attract unnecessary immigration. This helps to maintain the character of the city and not open up its culture to workers from all places. It also seemed, during those 3 days, that the city boasts of a low crime-rate. We took taxis late at night, and there were no signs of things being unsafe (though, we were acting like idiots and freaking out J).
A Boutique Place
Bandung is clearly a boutique city. Not just because it is clean, planned, small and quaint, but also because of its amazing architecture. Having seen sky-scraping apartment blocks (most resembling a pile of matchboxes) in Singapore for so many years, it was quite a change to see a city full of bungalows. The best part is that nowhere did we find random constructions. Every house in the city seemed to be built out of love and genuine care by the people who live in it. Some are renovated bungalows from the Dutch era, but there is lot of modern architecture on display too. Ranging from cozy homes to startling mansions, the cornices, offsets, glass facades, sprawling gardens, extended balconies really make you want to live there. Sadly, I found out upon enquiry that a foreigner cannot buy property in Indonesia. What a shame when I just found the ideal nature retreat in an urban setting
A University Town
Bandung boasts of having the best university in Indonesia. The ITB (Institute Technology Bandung) is a huge green clean campus that reminded me of the sprawling areas that IITs have in India. The buildings with sloping roofs depict the Minang architecture. Beyond the educational blocks was the Student Center with the different clubs. On the wall of the Politics Club, I was intrigued to see a spray painting of Che Guevara! Interesting how a man with a revolutionary political career of just a few years could reach out to students across continents even decades after his death.
Also, interestingly, Ganesha (the Indian God of Wisdom) is the logo of ITB. Another sign of Indonesia’s culture being steeped in ancient Indian mythology.
Being a university town automatically affects the culture of the place. Bandung is full of young vibrant people, wearing fashionable clothes, guitars in hand, chit-chatting in coffee shops, trying to fit 10 butts in one bench, laughing out loud! Just makes the whole ambience so happy and energetic! Reminded me of my student days…
It’s sometimes disappointing how our pampered cushioned generation has missed out on knowing so many important events in the history of our nations and the world. One of the most underrated historical occurrences is probably the Asia-Africa Conference of 1955. Initiated by 5 nations in Asia and Africa and hosted by Indonesia, this Conference brought together as many as 29 newly-independent nations. These countries, at the same time proud of their fight to freedom and apprehensive of any further attempt at occupation, pledged not to be aligned to any superpower and took an oath to sovereignty and equality of all human beings, irrespective of class, color, creed or religion.
This conference was held in Bandung (as Bandung was the only place to have a hotel of international standards back then). One should, under no circumstances, miss a visit to the Asia-Africa Conference Museum on Jalan Asia-Afrika. It is clear that not many people visit this place everyday, but it is in perfect condition with a guide who knew his stuff and spoke good English. The museum hosts the hall in which the conference was held, having preserved the original furniture used at the time. It has wax models of the Heads of State of the 5 host nations (including Pt. Nehru). It also showcases the events that led to the conference, the happenings during the conference and the consequences. Life-size portraits of leaders we have only read about such as Soekarno, Nasser, Nehru and Tito were as awe-inspiring as were the recorded speeches that were delivered during the conference.
Bandung, being in West Java, belongs to the Sundanese culture. We visited a cultural workshop called Saung Angklung Udjo in the eastern part of the city. I’d seen a Javanese Ramayana ballet before and though the dance and costumes were striking, the music hadn’t really caught my ear. We were told we would leave within half-an-hour. Once the show started, however, we had no idea how time flew by!
The show is a series of performances. There are songs and dances by children as young as 3 years and (again) as young as teenagers. The show reflects the different kinds of performances of Sundanese culture. The rural wayang shadow-puppet dance, the harvest ceremony, the mask dance, the angklung orchestra (angklung being an interesting instrument made of bamboo shavings) that even performed a Beethoven symphony! The final 2 segments were the fun parts where the audience got to play the angklung. We actually played a number of known songs. In the last segment, we all went down to the arena and danced with the kids.
Apart from the fact that the instrument, the dances and the songs impressed me, I was floored by the fact that no one performer was more than 18 years of age. To get kids (almost infants, I would say) to perform in sync, to conduct an orchestra and to compere when the audience is going wild with the angklungs is no mere feat! Hats off! Don’t miss this either.
Here’s the link to the place
Regional Political Architecture
Bandung is the capital of the province of West Java. It houses a modest legislative building called the Gedung Sate. The name comes from the satay-shaped stick that adorns the dome of the building. If you smile at the guards there, they will happily give you a tour of the building. The best part is when you go up to the terrace, you can see the entire city in broad daylight and the hills in the backdrop.
Cafes and Restaurants
Asians love to eat, and this is reflected in just about any Asian city. Bandung is no different. The place abounds in spots to eat, drink, hang out, chit-chat. While that doesn’t seem like an unusual urban occurrence, I have to mention that the cafes are simply awesome. (Sorry I’m cribbing too much about Singapore here, but I have to relate the comparisons I made). In Singapore, everything is a branded chain of outlets. Big names of restaurants, coffee places, spas, clothes shops, supermarkets, so on and so forth. They all have the same things offer, same décor, same furniture, waiters in same uniform, same menu, same goods. So you can imagine how happy I felt when I walked into these personalized boutique cafes, where the décor does not just change from one café to the other, but even from one room to the other! Somewhere there are cushioned sofas, some rooms may have a large wooden table to host a big party, some rooms are meant for singles who want to read in peace. Then, of course, given the weather, there’s always the option of sitting outdoors.
I sipped through strong Javanese coffee! Ah! What a life! J. Another drink we loved is the Bandrek, a mixture of ginger and honey. Perfect for rainy afternoons! We also tried Kopi Bandrek, where the ginger and honey are blended with coffee beans. That wasn’t bad either (though for a coffee buff, there’s nothing like just coffee beans with a little skimmed milk J). Some really nice cafes one should not miss are Dakken (on Jalan R E Martadinata), Javanese Coffee Bean (in Plaza Dago mall) and Ngopi Doeloe (on Jalan Teuku Umar).
As for restaurants, they are aplenty too. I strongly recommend you take a cab up to the mountains. There are a string of restaurants on the hill Dago Pakar. We went to Sierra. What is special about these restaurants is that they offer a top view of the entire city! If you are there for dinner, well… the view is that of lights glittering from the city below coupled with a nice live band. We also had a full moon above us to complete the picture! I was asking my friends whether this is the best place to bring someone on a date. Well, they couldn’t agree more J
There are a big number of restaurants that serve Sundanese food. Again, most of them are boutique and decorated with a personal touch, as if to specially welcome you. In one of the places called D’Palms, you are seated in a stall over water with fish swimming up to you for food. It was truly marvelous!
Also, don’t miss the delicious satay at its best! Try the local stall of Maulana Yusuf on Jalan Maulana Yusuf for satays of all kinds of meat! If you are lucky, you might get to taste rabbit satay too. Street food, in the form of serabi and yoghurt syrups, are yummy too!
Finally, bakeries are famous in Bandung. Try getting brownies from Amanda and Kartika Sari mall for your friends back home. I’m sure they’re gonna go back to Bandung for more!
Now I know the secret of Tissa’s enviable wardrobe that keeps replenishing every time she goes back home J. Bandung is also the fashion capital of Indonesia. Ranging from factory outlets to designerwear in the malls, Bandung tops the charts when it comes to fashion at a decent price! Try out the Riaujunction Mall and several other boutique outlets on Jalan Sultan Agung. The other favorite shopping hotspot is Jalan Riau where there is a plethora of outlets with clothes, shoes, bag, sunglasses, just about anything you are looking for.
A Day Trip to the Outskirts
When you are in a city with hills for surroundings, could beautiful picnic spots be far enough? A day trip from Bandung would ideally consist of a drive through the hills that are dotted with myriad nurseries flashing flowers of the most extravagant colors. A clear blue sky, a natural haven and a bumpy hill road – couldn’t get better right? J. Once you drive further into the hills, you come across acre after acre of tea gardens. Stop by for some photographs, walk through the gardens and even drink some of their tea!
A volcano called Tangkuban Parahu is situated 30km from Bandung. It is an active volcano, having last erupted in 1983. Sulphur fumes still emit from the dry crater. It might not be as striking as Mt.Ijen or as vast as Mt.Bromo in the Tengger Caldera, but it surely is a beautiful site. Surrounding the volcano is a market of thatched roofs selling all types of handicrafts. Goods here are cheaper than they are in the city.
A short drive from the volcano is the Ciater hot spring. There are pools of different depths where you could dip yourself and swim around. You can also laze around by the sides and call for a leg and back massage. This was my first time in a hot spring, and I could not believe how relaxed the body becomes after a dip. All my muscles simply gave way to serenity and my body reached levels of peace it hasn’t known in a while
This is my second visit to Indonesia, and I stand by my declaration that Indonesians and Vietnamese are the friendliest and most polite people I have come across. It is a pleasure being in a place and around people who always turn back and smile at you. Also, Bandung being a non-touristy place, there are hardly any people trying to talk you into doing or buying anything. You are largely left to the luxury of a localite to walk around and not be disturbed with any proposition.
Also, trust me when I say Sundanese girls are one of the most beautiful in the world!
Last but not the least, the music. Tissa has always been very proud of the music in her country. She says they’re the strongest in South East Asia. I have no reason to disagree! Wherever we went, there were strains of local music wafting in the air. We also caught a live rock performance at a nightclub called Score. The music rocks. Don’t expect traditional stuff. It’s western pop and rock. But the tunes are peppy, the singing talent is palpable and the sheer number of bands and albums speak for themselves. Bandung is also a very musical place. There are people strumming guitars on the streets. Tissa even challenged us to ask any person anywhere to start singing, and we would find they would and could!