Discover Malang’s colonial zone and Chinatown
Published/Last edited or updated: 1st May, 2018
One of the best ways to explore any city is on foot, and Malang’s city centre holds numerous fascinating stories if you take the time and look around.
With the help of local guides from Malang’s “pay-as-you-wish” tour company, A Day to Walk, we discovered many of her secrets. We opted for a combined walk that included Kayutangan and Pecinan. Historically Kayutangan was the Dutch colonial trading area of the city, now recognised as the somewhat crumbling Jalan Jenderal Basuki Rahmat together with the tightly packed kampung (village) that hugs the old canal behind this vibrant street. Pecinan is Malang’s Chinatown, but don’t expect as many red lanterns and dancing dragons you may see in other Chinatowns around the globe.
Walks usually start with a coffee at historic Toko Oen (although ours didn’t for some reason), this Dutch style ice-cream parlour and bakery has been a local landmark since the 1930s and is worth checking out. Begin walking by heading north along Jalan Jenderal Basuki Rahmat, and almost immediately duck into one of the small lanes to the left entering Kampung Kauman.
Weaving though the labyrinth a little north of Gang No. Four, you enter Pasar Talun, a small traditional market that has been operating since the 1900s. Try some of the colourful local sticky rice sweets covered in fresh shaved coconut and gooey caramely palm sugar syrup, or for a healthier approach, ask the jamu (traditional herbal tonics) seller to whip you up a special restorative (we asked for one to make us more beautiful). You could spend a good hour wandering along the old Dutch-built canal observing village life and the interesting hybrid “Jengki” houses—a post independence style of architecture largely influenced by Dutch Modernism.
Continue north along the canal to the low colonial-built tunnel and nearby system of water locks or turn south and near a lane leading off Gang No. Two, where large sacred banyan trees shade a handful of ancient graves, believed to be descendants of Majapahit royals. Head back onto busy Jalan Jenderal Basuki Rahmat, and as you venture north look out for the numerous Art Deco style buildings although many are hidden behind modern facades or simple left to deteriorate. Note the yellow Deco building at number 31 near the entrance to Gang No. Two, this was a photo studio and camera shop in the past and you can still make out the old Agfa signage and just along at Taman Tembakau at number 37 is a tobacconist that is still in operation since the 1940s.
The ship-shaped blue and white Optik Surya building at 45 was originally a print business and the interesting black and white grid-like facade of Toko VOS at 51 is now abandoned and covered in graffiti, but this building built in 1924 sold bicycles in its day. Toko Ria next to the modern Nobu National Bank is also graffiti covered, but was once a pharmacy and later used during the Japanese occupation to distribute staple goods in exchange for coupons. Look up to see its interesting geometric roofline.
Walk towards the corner where you’ll see the Commonwealth Bank built in the mid 1930s and its mirror image on the opposite corner. These two buildings must have made a great impression in their traffic-free day aligned with the distant Gunung Kawi between them. A little further along the street near the entrance to McDonalds drive thru, behind a green and yellow fence, stop in for some succulent beef satay at Warung Sate Gebug who have been fanning the coals here since 1920. If beef satay is not for you, pop inside to look at the interesting stone building within a building anyway—an old electrical substation.
Continue to the corner, noting the time on the combined clock-signpost that dates from 1930, built to complement the rounded Toko Avia on the opposite corner. Cross over to the PLN building, established in 1930 for the Dutch electricity company, and continuing its same function under the Indonesian government.
Now we will head south retracing our route on the opposite side of the road. If you’re feeing peckish, you may want to pick up a cake at the traditional bakery, Toko Roti Hawaii at number 80B. As you wander down the street, typography lovers should look out for some of the lovely old signage, like that at abandoned Toko Lido on the corner. Folks who fancy a tipple may want to take note of the address of Houtenhand, a small funky bar, open later in the evening.
Just past the neighbouring modern hotel, take a peek in Megaria, an old clock shop with the original floor tiles and wood and glass cabinets or if you are in the market for a new pair of shoes, Toko Modern has been making hand crafted quality leather footwear since the 1930s. Passing CIMB Niaga Bank, our guide mentioned that it was a new building, but they have made an effort to blend into the heritage streetscape.
Toko Riang opened in 1958 but today is a rather odd shop selling kitsch artwork and house dresses (daster) combined with a cafe. Their menu is no less odd—we tried the speciality, es tomat, slices of tomato sprinkled with sugar on a bed of ice, interesting to say the least. Continuing to the pedestrian bridge, the brick tower you see behind is the ruins of the Bioskop Merdeka (Freedom Cinema), renamed from the original Roxy after independence.
Be careful crossing the busy road and head towards the Catholic church on the corner, Gereja Hati Kudus Yesus Kayutangan (Church of the Sacred Heart) built in 1905. The monument in the traffic island is of Chairil Anwar a famed Indonesian poet. “Aku” is his most famous poem and is worth a read to gain an insight into the Indonesian pre-independence psyche.
As you pass Sarinah Mall, look for the plaque showing the old Concordia building the mall has replaced. Continue to the Alun-Alun (city square) over the pedestrian bridge, but first take a quick peek below, where tucked underneath you’ll find the city’s zero kilometre marker, the official centre of town.
As you walk though the lively park look right to the church on the corner, Gereja GPBI Immanuel Protestant, the oldest in Malang established in 1861, although the original building was destroyed and what you see is from 1912. A few doors down, Masjid Agung Jami’ Malang, the Great Mosque was a Javanese style tiered-roof mosque when it was constructed in 1890, but a renovation in the 1960 has made it distinctively Arabic in style.
From the park, continue south to Jalan Pasar Besar and you are now in Malang’s Chinatown. This is another area you could happily get lost in for hours with interesting shops selling traditional goods and some excellent culinary delights to try (see our food listings). As you wander around the side streets and take in the sights (and smells), note the beautiful original signage on Toko Madjoe biscuit store at 30B Jalan Pasar Besar and the fabulous old style Jamu shops, particularly Jamu Iboe on Jalan Zainul Arifin.
Jalan Kyai Haji Ahmad Dahlan offers appealing examples of Art Deco architecture and on this street, at number ten, stop for some delicious (and vegetarian) lumpia (spring rolls) or noodles sitting in the screened booths at the charming Hok Lay, operating since 1946. Try their es lidah buaya (iced aloe vera drink) for a refreshing pick-me-up.
Once you’ve had a good explore of this quarter, continue to the end of Jalan Pasar Besar to Kelenteng Eng An Kiong, the colourful Chinese temple on the corner of Jalan Martadinata dating from the early 19th century, although much of what you see is modern embellishments. The temple caters to Malang’s Confucian, Taoist and Buddhist communities so is often busy with worshipers and visitors are asked not to take photographs. Our guide led us though “Chiam Si”, Chinese fortunetelling that involves tossing red wooden blocks and shanking a cup of bamboo sticks to answer life’s questions. Ours is good apparently.
The next stop is the Museum Bentoel on Jalan Wiromargo. Here is an excellent example of what can become of the beautiful colonial architecture if you throw a bit of money at it, however the museum is filled with cigarette company propaganda—Bentoel is one of the largest tobacco companies in Indonesia owned by British American Tobacco. It’s free to enter and the old cigarette packaging is of interest, but don’t believe the hype (cough, cough).
Finally if you’re still up for more exploring, retrace your steps to the beginning of Jalan Pasar Besar and head into the large local market for which the street is named. A Day to Walk operate guided walks in English or Indonesian by appointment excluding Tuesdays and Thursdays.
T: (0856) 4956 3898;
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.