Photo: Tea country.


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Fringed by volcanic peaks blanketed in tea and coffee plantations, Bandung is a hectic urban hub and the heartland of West Java’s Sundanese culture, and while, like many Indonesian cities, first impressions are less than favourable, maybe it’s the traffic (yes, it is the traffic), but this response is only fleeting if you wipe back a layer of grime and discover Bandung’s charms.

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Located approximately 150 kilometres southeast of the nation’s capital, Jakarta, Bandung is Indonesia’s third largest city (and at times it feels like it) and is the provincial capital of West Java, once dubbed “Parijs van Java” (the Paris of Java) for its charming colonial boulevards and laid back hill-town feel.

Big city, bright colours... Photo taken in or around Bandung, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

Big city, bright colours... Photo: Sally Arnold

Although Bandung has lost much of its former appeal, what remains from this colonial legacy is one of the world’s greatest concentrations of Art déco architecture (albeit much crumbling or razed by rampant haphazard development), and a manufacturing industry which has given rise to numerous factory outlets, today a huge tourism draw. The prestigious Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) establish by the Dutch is one of the oldest educational intuitions in the country and today Bandung continues to be a seat of academia, known for creative innovation and not to mention the serious, almost cult-like coffee culture springing from the Dutch initiated plantations.

The earliest written evidence of the area now known as Bandung was in connection to the 15th century Pajajaran Kingdom, but the city as we know it today was developed by the Dutch in the late 18th century. Plantations of tea, rubber, coffee and cinchona (for quinine then used in antimalarials and tonic water, essential in a G&T) were established in the surrounding highlands, and in the early 19th century a supply road running the length of Java was constructed connecting Bandung to ports in Batavia (Jakarta) Cirebon, Semarang, Surabaya and the world beyond, the Bandung section of this “Great Post Road” (De Groote Postweg) is today Jalan Asia Afrika.

... and appalling traffic. Photo taken in or around Bandung, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

... and appalling traffic. Photo: Sally Arnold

The city grew and became a playground for the wealthy planters and, due to its higher elevation, was a cool respite from stifling Batavia (Jakarta) for that city’s colonial residents. Luxurious hotels, restaurants, clubs, theatres and European-style boutiques flourished and plans were made to move the capital to this more favourable location—what is today known as Gedung Sate, Bandung’s iconic “Satay Building” was built as the administrative centre.

Manufacturing, pharmaceutical industries and educational institutions were established as the city continued to boom, only to be disrupted by World War II. Post independence rapid urbanisation transformed the once idyllic hill resort into a thumping metropolis. In 1955, Bandung earned international focus when the Asia Africa Conference (Konferensi Asia Afrika) was held in the city establishing the motions for the Non-Aligned Movement. Today you can visit a small museum dedicated to this historic event.

Stunning scenes in the surrounding countryside. Photo taken in or around Bandung, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

Stunning scenes in the surrounding countryside. Photo: Sally Arnold

For folks interested in trivia, Bandung is allegedly the home of the gin and tonic. Quinine was found to be an effective antimalarial in the mosquito infested colonies, but unfortunately quinine is extremely unpalatable, unless you mix it with sweet carbonated water (invented by Johann Jacob Schweppe and known as Tonic Water) and the taste improves ten-fold when you mix it with gin (which is also good for combatting stomach bugs), and we are assured that Bandung, a large producer of quinine at the time was the place where this quintessential tropical cocktail was first sipped (for health, of course). On another trivial note, “Hello, Hello Bandung” is the name of a popular patriotic song from the early days of post-independence, if you see a bunch of school kids, ask them to sing it for you.

Nowadays domestic and other Asian tourists flood to Bandung for the shopping and the eating, while the majority of Western tourists use the city as a base for exploring the spectacularly scenic countryside graced with volcanoes, hot springs and tea plantations. It is though also worthwhile spending a day delving into the city itself. Lovers of architecture will enjoy spotting some fading Art déco treasures along Jalan Braga and up in the hills around Dargo and a handful of museums will distract you from the drizzle on a rainy day.

Angklungs on hand. Photo taken in or around Bandung, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

Angklungs on hand. Photo: Sally Arnold

Bandung’s Chinatown south of the railway station is fascinating to wander, with its trading area Pasar Baru and not far from there, Pasar Cikapundung is a multilevel market filled with antiques—you never know what prized object d’art you may find. Check out the red and yellow Chinese mosques around town too. Bandung offers a great opportunity to discover Sundanese culture including delicious Sundanese cuisine. Saung Angklung Udjo entertains with cultural performances featuring the Sundanese traditional bamboo musical instrument the angklung.

While we didn’t get the chance, it’s possible to visit Bosscha Observatory, which was built in the 1920s, and is the oldest in South East Asia. Open to visitors on Saturdays (except holidays) and some evenings by appointment. Take a day trip to the north to visit a “drive-in” active volcano Tangkuban Parahu, the “upsidedown boat” shaped mountain that can be seen from the city, with nearby hot springs and tea plantations and if you have time on the way back, an enjoyable two hour hike can be had though the National Forest, Taman Hutan Raya Ir. H. Djuanda or skip over to Curug Cimahi, a magnificent waterfall.

Nothing quite like it. Photo taken in or around Bandung, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

Nothing quite like it. Photo: Sally Arnold

A day trip to the south could encompass the impressive crater lake, Kawah Putih as well as the natural thermal springs at Kawah Rengganis and Situ Patenggang, a scenic lake surrounded by tea plantations. Although the distances are not that great, it is unfeasible to visit both the northern and southern sights in one day due to traffic conditions.

A word or warning: try to plan your Bandung visit avoiding the weekend as the gridlock and crowds make it all but impossible to enjoy. Stay another day in Jakarta, when the weekends are relatively quite in the capital (everyone is in Bandung it seems), Jakarta really does have enough to offer an extra day. If you can’t avoid the weekend, try to keep your sightseeing around the city centre, as travelling to the scenic areas in the north or south is a congested nightmare.

Just immense. Photo taken in or around Bandung, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

Just immense. Photo: Sally Arnold

Accommodation options in Bandung are generally good value across all budgets, particularly for midweek stays. Prices rise considerably and the better rooms fill up fast on weekends and holidays, book in advance at these times. Places to stay are peppered all over town, but it’s easiest for sightseeing and transport connections in the centre of the city, unless you are planning on spending your time just shopping, when you may consider the leafier Dago area.

Bandung also serves as a good place to decide where to head to next as many of Java’s highlights such as Yogyakarta and Pangandaran are well-serviced by public transport and are thus directly accessible from the city.

Quite lovely. Photo taken in or around Bandung, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

Quite lovely. Photo: Sally Arnold

Despite its reputation as a cool hillside town, the weather in Bandung is relatively warm, with an average day time temperature of 27 degrees Celsius, occasionally rising into the low 30s. Overnight temperatures drop below 20, but it’s rarely cold enough to need a jacket, the exception being the surrounding summits.

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Jalan Asia Afrika, the former De Groote Postweg, is one of Bandung’s main thoroughfares. Along here you’ll find the city’s zero kilometre marker, alun-alun (city square), the State Mosque, main post office and many of the city’s colonial landmarks. Running perpendicular to the north, Jalan Braga was once party central for the rich and famous and today is where you’ll find many cafes and bars as well as historical buildings.

Continue north to the shopping area of Jalan Riau and the state governor’s office Gedung Sate with several museums within walking distance. Roads continue north through Dago, an upmarket area with fine dining restaurants and shopping and further to the popular weekend resort area of Lembang with market gardens, terraced rice fields and sprawling tea plantations.

Timing is everything. Photo taken in or around Bandung, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

Timing is everything. Photo: Sally Arnold

Back in the city centre you’ll find Bandung Railway Station with a handy tourist information office inside and to the west of the city centre, Husein Sastranegara International Airport.

Two main bus terminals service Bandung: Leuwi Panjang to the south for buses west and Cicaheum to the city’s east for buses south and east. A network of angkots (minibuses) service the city and online taxis and motorbike taxis such as Go-Jek and Grab as well as regular Blue Bird Taxis are ubiquitous.

Police stations, ATMs, and convenience stores are common in Bandung.

Rumah Sakit Advent (161 Jalan Cihampelas, Bandung; T: (0222) 034 386; Emergency: (0222) 038 008; comes highly recommended if you need medical attention.


What next?

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