Indonesia is a destination of endless diversity, and that’s not just a slogan for an advertising campaign. And love at first sight awaits those who visit the charming city of Malang, in East Java. For all the mall-rats out there, or those whose only agenda on their travel itinerary is shopping, never underestimate Malang. This small city has lots to offer: fascinating places with classic colonial buildings, abundant choices of local food – from restaurants to street food hawkers, shady boulevards, beautiful parks and plenty of nature.
The best way to reach Malang is via Surabaya, the capital of East Java. Niagara Hotel in Lawang, near Malang, is a charming place to stay or just to stop by. It’s a historic hotel built around 1890’s that became at one point the tallest building in Asia. Designed by a well-known Brazilian architect, Pinedo, whose design concept for the hotel was a blend of different architectural styles of the time, the hotel reflects Brazilian, Dutch, Chinese, and Victorian influences. The 35 meter high building was erected over a period of 15 years and was completed at the end of the 19th century.
Tearing down old buildings is, sadly, very common across Indonesia. Fortunately, the Niagara Hotel has bucked this trend, and this well-preserved building with its intricate art nouveau details along with its original panels remains intact. But there are also some shortcomings to this mature beauty as well. The old elevator is no longer in operation, and its restaurant is not recommended due to a noticeable lack of service and the less than stellar food on offer. This problem, however, is easily solved since just a few steps away you can find Mungil (or petite, as one would say in French) – a nice little restaurant, and part of a renowned chain of restaurants in Malang known for good food and affordable prices.
Guests and visitors to the hotel immediately fall in love with its façade, glass windows, the wood and ceramic panels, the stairs as well as the balconies. Each floor has its very own living room, with a distinctly charming and intriguing ambience, albeit with furniture somewhat lacking in taste. Staying at this hotel may give the guest a glimpse into times past, but there’s no vouching fora peaceful night’s sleep however, as many people claim that it is haunted. But we all know that every old building has its own stories to tell (and some stories that will remain forever hidden behind its walls), and that’s what makes it all the more fascinating for the more adventurous traveler.
For those of you who are familiar with Shanghai Blue, Dapoer Babah or Loro Djonggrang, three of the more renowned Jakarta restaurants owned by the same group as the Tugu Hotel chain in Indonesia, you will be similarly satisfied eating at the Melati Restaurant inside theTugu Hotel in Malang. This particular restaurant boasts exquisite service and lovely ambience, and the food is simply excellent. The highly recommended Pecel Pincuk Madiun (an Indonesian style salad made with peanut sauce) maintains the same level of spiciness throughout – and without timidity here either, especially since Melati’s frequently patronized by foreigners. And, the price is still reasonable, around US $ 4, for a restaurant belonging to theTugu Group.
A Culinary tour through Malang is essential to getting to know the city better. The next stop on any serious foodie’s itinerary is Toko Oen, a famous old restaurant. This patisserie, ice cream parlor and restaurant has been at the same corner since the 1930s. It has a nice yet old-fashioned atmosphere. They still keep everything intact – its furniture is the same used in the good old days. The ice cream here is superb, and you can try their corn ice cream, which will leave you with a distinct experience. For a more savory option, try the splendidly cooked oxtongue steak.
Another dining experience worth a visit is Inggil. It is best to plan around dinner at this particular restaurant. It’s a lovely establishment, with lots of antiques and fossils, mainly around the main dining area, which also doubles as a stage where wayang or Javanese gamelan performances are held on certain evenings. Inggil is a true glimpse into Java’s history, with many an artifact at the core of the restaurant’s decoration. Food is quite good too, especially the variety of sambal, or ground chili mixed with various spices.
Now that you have eaten your way through Malang’s highlights, it’s time for some sightseeing. Sendang Biru is a fishing village about two hours away from Malang. And the road there is quite interesting – with many dense trees along the way, through hills and winding roads (of concern if you are prone to motion sickness). The panorama is truly breathtaking at some places along the way, a pity that there are almost no places to stop and take pictures as the roads are quite narrow. Across the beach where you can see colorful fishing boats, is Sempu Island. This island is a nature conservancy, and it is said that there are still tigers in its dense forest. In the middle of the island is a lake whose water, the locals believe, is sacred. One may sail to the island by getting on one of the many boats from the beach. It only takes about 5 – 10 minutes to get to the island and costs approximately US $ 12 one-way. Your stamina will definitely be tested with the two hours it takes to walk to the lake in the middle of the island. The sea is usually calm as it is actually a strait.
You can still get on a boat just to get closer to the island without getting off. It’s really refreshing to see the beautiful beaches on this island from the boat – the sand is very soft, and looks almost creamy. The water is also very clear. You’ll find that you may be tempted to get off the boat after all, and take the plunge into the open beach.
Candi or temples are interesting attractions to many. It is recommended that one visits two of the more important ones: Candi Singosari and Candi Jawi. Candi Singosari is actually one of the most important to the kingdom of Java in ancient times. The location itself is quite scattered – there are two large statues seemingly ‘guarding’ the way to the area, now very much a residential area.
Candi Jawi is actually the tallest temple in the eastern part of Java – and is truly a beautiful temple. In clear weather, Mount Penanggungan creates a stunning backdrop to this ethereal temple. The site is so lovely, very serene and peaceful, despite its location right along the road. Indonesia, after all, is not just Bali or Yogyakarta. Malang offers just as colorful a destination and also provides you with that romantic siesta that you have come to expect!