Photo: Sweet destination.

Introduction

Our rating:

With its attractive wide tree-lined boulevards, colonial architecture and easy-going atmosphere, Malang, a small city in the tropical highlands of East Java some 90 kilometres south of Surabaya, feels somewhat European and more “middle-class” than many of Indonesia’s cities.



Of course that’s not entirely true, while this city does have a cultured air and a local reputation as a centre for education, the streets can get as traffic clogged as any of its larger siblings and like any city, an urban underclass prevails, although in Malang the city’s less-privileged kampungs have themselves been transformed into colourful tourist attractions.

Broad boulevards. Photo taken in or around Malang, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

Broad boulevards. Photo: Sally Arnold

Malang enjoys a coolish climate with averages in the mid-twenties (although days can be hot and evenings cooler) and rises to an elevation of around 450 metres. Established along the banks of the Brantas River, the mountain resorts of Batu and Tretes lay to the northwest on the slopes the nearby mountains of Gunung Kawi and Gunung Arjuno and the spectacular Gunung Bromo is 50 kilometres by road to the east. The southern beaches 60 kilometres from Malang are popular local weekend getaways.

An early Hindu settlement existed in the area in the eighth century as evident by a small ancient temple, Candi Badut, to the west of the city centre, East Java’s oldest surviving antiquity. Early inscriptions date the beginnings as “Jum’at Legi” (Friday) 28 November 760 AD, a date Malang celebrates as its anniversary, however there is little evidence that the area has been continuously settled since that time. In the 13th century, the Singosari Kingdom built several temples to the north and east of the town but modern day Malang was a colonial creation in the late 18th century when the Dutch moved in and established orchards, coffee and tobacco plantations and built the railway connecting to the trading port of Surabaya. Today, Malang’s small sweet green apples are famous all over Indonesia.

Truly ancient. Photo taken in or around Malang, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

Truly ancient. Photo: Sally Arnold

Most travellers visit Malang on their way to Gunung Bromo, but this charming town is enough of a destination in its own right that makes it a worthy stop on any trans-Java journey. Spend half a day wandering the Dutch colonial trading quarter of Kayutangan, and Pecinan, Malang’s Chinatown within the city centre for interesting architecture, atmosphere and some great food.

Check out Malang’s colourful villages at Kampung Jodipan also known as Kampung Wara-Wari (literally colourful village) painted in rainbow hues and across the river Kampung “Tridi” (3D) with three dimensional illusions rendered among the houses. On the other side of the bridge, “Arema Village” is entirely painted blue, the team colour of Malang’s popular Arema Football Club. The villages cling to the riverbanks near the bridge along Jalan Gatot Subroto and charge a small entry fee.

Pack sunglasses. Photo taken in or around Malang, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

Pack sunglasses. Photo: Sally Arnold

The flower market, Pasar Bunga behind Hotel Tugu Malang is worth a morning stroll, but up your pace and avoid the neighbouring bird market. Antique aficionados and lovers of curios will enjoy the tour of Tugu Hotel’s magnificent collection of Asian art and antiques. A very informative English-speaking guide is included along with refreshments. Free to Tugu’s inn-house guests or 75,000++ rupiah for visitors. Register with Dea or Handy: T: (0341) 363 891; (0913) 3491 9089; (0811) 2366 6188.

For military history enthusiasts Brawijaya Army Museum offers a dusty collection with little to none of the signage in English on the leafy western side of town on Jalan Ijen. Don’t miss the above mentioned outlaying temples, Candi Badut and the Singosari group of temples. You could combine all in a day tour that circumnavigates the city or just visit Candi Jago and Candi Kidal on the way to Bromo (although not if you are planning on leaving for sunrise). We didn’t make it to Batu during our research trip, but this popular hill retreat offers nearby waterfalls and hot springs. Overnight tours or onward travel via jeep to unmissable Gunung Bromo can be organised through any travel agent or your accommodation.

The best way to explore Malang. Photo taken in or around Malang, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

The best way to explore Malang. Photo: Sally Arnold

Malang supplies a range of accommodation options from dorm beds to high end boutique hotels. In the leafy Oro-oro Dowo area to the city’s northwest you’ll find comfortable guesthouses and midrange hotels with trendy eateries nearby but rates tend to be slightly higher than the busy downtown area. The city centre presents several colonial-era hotels, but unfortunately many of them are a little run down and not great value, but things are changing fast in this town and a swanky facelift may be just around the corner.

Locals view Malang as a culinary destination which means you’ll definitely run out of time to sample everything from terrific street food to smart Javanese restaurants and hipster cafes. As well as the famous apples, due to some clever marketing, Malang has become the home of apple strudel with ubiquitous strudel shops.




Orientation
Malang has a domestic airport, Abdul Rachman Saleh (MLG) with direct connections to Jakarta, Bandung and Denpasar, Bali and the city is well connected to other parts of Java by train and bus. Train services link Malang to Surabaya, Probolinggo, Solo, Yogyakarta and beyond from the main station in the centre of the city, and intercity buses depart from Arjosari Terminal, six kilometres north of the city centre.

The eggplant at Inggil. OMG. Photo taken in or around Malang, Indonesia by Stuart McDonald.

The eggplant at Inggil. OMG. Photo: Stuart McDonald

As with many Indonesian towns, the focal point in Malang is the alun-alun, the city square, here this vibrant area is surrounded by the grand mosque, churches, malls, hotels and numerous eating options. To the north of the alun-alun, the round alun-alun tugu is another city landmark, centred on an obelisk commemorating independence with pretty landscaped gardens and lotus ponds. Circling this attractive park is the city’s administrative zone with the Town Hall and House of Representatives as well as military buildings. Slightly east of this is Malang railway station.

Banks and ATMs are found all over the city. The main post office is on the southern side of the alu-alun and a police post is on the northwestern corner. We hope you won’t need one, but hospitals include the public hospital, RSU Dr. Saiful Anwar in the north of the city centre, and privately run Rumah Sakit Panti Nirmala south of the city. For serious cases you may need to travel to larger facilities in Surabaya, Jakarta or Singapore.

RSU Dr. Saiful Anwar: 2 Jalan Jaksa Agung Suprapto, Malang; T: (0341) 362 101; http://rsusaifulanwar.jatimprov.go.id Rumah Sakit Panti Nirmala: 2–8 Jalan Kebalen Wetan, Malang; T: (0341) 362 459; http://www.rspantinirmala.com

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