“Drive through” active volcano
Published/Last edited or updated: 29th May, 2018
Gunung Tangkuban Parahu is an active volcano 30 kilometres north of Bandung and makes an ideal visit for travellers not interested in hour upon hour of hiking, as here it’s possible to drive right to the volcano’s edge to peer into the immense steaming crater below.
The negative side of this easy accessibility is that you won’t be alone—a plethora of souvenir sellers, warungs, guides touting for businesses and hordes of domestic tourists may not be everyone’s cup of molten lava, but you don’t have to venture far along the volcano rim until the crowds thin out (though you still may be shadowed by persistent guides).
Two moon-like craters at the summit of Tangkuban Parahu—Kawah Ratu and Kawah Upas—provide a stunning contrast to surrounding wildlife-filled forest. In the foreground, Kawah Ratu is the main attraction and about a kilometre of walking in an anticlockwise direction along an uneven path takes you to the other side of Kawah Ratu, where Kawah Upas becomes visible. A gated rocky track leads down into Kawah Upas and a local guide offered to accompany us there for 100,000 rupiah, but was happy to accept 50,000 rupiah for the less than 30 minute return walk. We’re not sure if this a legitimate access point, but he seemed able to open the gate, and we were blissfully alone to enjoy the striking landscape, although the wafts of sulphur here were a little strong and we regretted not having a mask.
Returning to the main path, and continuing in the same direction, the forest thickens and you’ll soon arrive at a bunker with the inscription “Aug 1937”, an enterprising local charges 3,000 rupiah to enter the short narrow darkened tunnel which leads to the remains of a disbanded building where the path continues around the volcano rim to Kawah Baru, but closed at the time of our visit due to poisonous gasses (do take heed of these signs!). Keep your eyes peeled here for black Javan langur, these shy very long tail monkeys can sometimes be seen nervously leaping around the tree tops.
In the opposite direction, back past the rabble, the path that continues around the rim is also barricaded. Down the road from Kawah Ratu towards the main entrance, another path leads to Kawah Domas. We were not permitted to enter without hiring a guide for a hefty 150,000 rupiah combined with the entry fee. A receipt was presented but not a printed ticket, so we are not convinced it’s the official price. The one kilometre path is well marked and would be easily walked without a guide, however our guide did point out some plants and offered information along the way. Once at the crater, the landscape is quite volatile with bubbling mud, steam vents and hot pools and the mandatory guide does seem like a reasonable safety requirement. Here you can soak your weary feet in the thermal waters and many locals are keen to offer massages and mud masks. While the landscape is indeed fascinating, if you are planning a trip to the south of Bandung, Kawah Rengganis is similar and a cheaper deal or for even more impressive active geothermal scenery, check out Gunung Papandayan near Garut, around 80 kilometres south of Bandung.
Tangkuban Parahu, literally “upturned boat” takes its name from the twisted Oedipal Sundanese folklore tale of Dayang Sumbi and her son Sangkuriang. Legend has it that Dayang Sumbi, a raging beauty, marries a dog who is actually a god who had been cursed (or is perhaps dyslexic), and soon their son Sangkuriang is born. The thing is, Sangkuriang’s father only takes god-form on the full moon (or perhaps just at the beginning of the story), and Sangkuriang doesn’t realise the family pet is Dad.
Out hunting, the boy spots boar, and Dad/dog recognises the boar as a cursed goddess (who happens to be Sangkuriang’s grandma) and tries to stop his son from killing her, but angered Sangkuriang kills Dad/dog/god. Not wanting to return from his hunting trip empty handed, he skins and chops up his father (in dog form), passes it off as venison, and Mum cooks and eats Dad. Eventually Sangkuriang confesses when Mum enquires about the missing pet and enraged she bangs him on the head with a rice spoon and banishes her son. Somehow as recompense for her misfortune, Dayang Sumbi is granted eternal youth and beauty.
Fastfoward to when Sangkuriang is grown up and very handsome (of course), he meets a beautiful woman, Dayang Sumbi (of course) who doesn’t recognise her grownup son and Sangkuriang’s head injury had obviously given him amnesia. They plan to marry, but then Mum sees the rice spoon scar and calls it off. He doesn’t believe the story and thinks she is just playing hard to get. So Dayang Sumbi agrees to the wedding if Sangkuriang can complete two impossible tasks, to create a massive lake and build a boat for them to travel in on their honeymoon, all to be completed by sunrise the following day.
Sangkuriang agrees to this immense challenge and summons a cast of spirits to assist. As the task is nearing completion, Dayang Sumbi becomes worried and summons some spirits of her own to trick Sangkuriang’s spirits into thinking that it is dawn already, at which time they desert Sangkuriang. Sangkuriang now has no chance of completing the boat on his own and therefore kicks it in anger and it lands upside down in the north of Bandung where it still sits today. On a clear day, it’s possible to see the upturned boat shape from central Bandung and one can see how such a tale could be so prominent in a society that saw this odd-shaped mountain every day.
The journey to Gunung Tangkuban Parahu is very scenic passing natural forests and tea plantations (once you get out of the burbs). Hundreds of roadside warungs take advantage of the views and many offer dubious menus that include horse, rabbit and monitor lizard. A number of nearby attractions can be included in a day trip to Gunung Tangkuban Parahu. Eight kilometres northeast of the volcano is the spa town of Ciater where Sari Ater Hot Springs is a hugely popular local attraction and though it is mostly artificial pools, they are naturally styled, outdoors, and make a pleasant stop for a warming soak when the weather turns cold. Note though, avoid at all costs on weekends—human soup. Entry fee is 35,000 rupiah, but you pay 50,000 rupiah initially and get the 15,000 rupiah back when you leave, a very odd system, probably betting on the fact that many will forget the deposit. Inside, several swimming pool type springs are available for an additional charge, but we think the more natural looking ones included with your ticket are fine.
Around 13 kilometres southwest of Gunung Tangkuban Parahu (17 kilometres south of Ciater) Taman Hutan Raya Ir. H. Djuanda is a beautiful National Forest with waterfalls and fascinating historical bunkers. An enjoyable two hour walk will take you from one entrance gate to the other and is well worth adding to your itinerary if you have time, as is a detour to Curug Cimahi, an impressive waterfall ten kilometres to the southwest of Gunung Tangkuban Parahu.
A “Floating Market” at Lembang, 13 kilometres south of Gunung Tangkuban Parahu is often included on tour itineraries. This is an artificial lake with food stalls emulating the floating markets in Thailand and is basically a tourist trap. The entry fee is 20,000 rupiah which allows you to buy average overpriced local food in a crowded not particularly pleasant environment. Skip this and go to Thailand instead, or at least just stop for a bite in a local warung.
For folk interested in architecture, closer to Bandung you may enjoy a quick stop at Vila Isola part of the Universitas Pendidikan Indonesia (UPI). This Art déco mansion was designed in 1932 by C. P. Wolff Schoemaker, one of Bandung’s eminent colonial architects and this is considered his master work.
Buton Backpackers: 14A Jalan Buton, Bandung; T: (0224) 238 958; (0877) 1474 2756; http://butonbackpackerlodge.com
Pinisi Backpacker: 84 Jalan Pasirkaliki, 92/6A Gang Musaen, Bandung; T: (0228) 686 8610; (0817) 502 0123; http://pinisibackpacker.com
It is best to visit Gunung Tangkuban Parahu early in the morning to avoid the crowds and the mist which both roll in around late morning. Although it’s generally not too cold, it’s advisable to at least have a jacket packed as it can turn cool when the unpredictable rain arrives.
Avoid weekends if you can, not only to dodge the 50% price increase, but the traffic from Bandung results in you wasting most of your day on the road. Discriminatory pricing here means locals (and foreigners who can pass as locals) pay only a tenth of the admission. Parking fees are additional and depend on the size of your vehicle.
To travel to Gunung Tangkuban Parahu from Bandung by public transport is reasonably straightforward, however if you have limited time, a day tour combining other local sights may be the better bet. From Bandung catch a Stasiun Hall–Lembang angkot to Lembang (10,000 rupiah), then transfer to a Lembang–Cikole angkot and ask to stop at Tangkuban Parahu entrance gate (15,000 rupiah). Shuttles are available to the crater for 7,000 rupiah. Buton Backpackers and Pinisi Backpacker both offer motorbike day trips from Bandung for 250,000 rupiah excluding entrance fees. We found travel agents pricer, but you may wish to shop around.
Address: 30 kilometres north of Bandung
Coordinates (for GPS): 107º37'7.75" E, 6º45'36.37" S
See position in Apple or Google Maps: Apple Maps | Google Maps
Admission: 200,000 rupiah for foreigners on weekdays, 300,000 rupiah on weekends. 20,000/30,000 rupiah for locals.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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