BANDUNG – the cool highlands city of colleges, cafes, traditions, gardens and flowers

BANDUNG was once called the ‘Paris of Java’ or, more recently, the ‘City of Flowers’. No matter what tag you choose this is a most attractive city full of interest – most visitors love it.

The descriptions reflect the old-world architecture of its colonial heritage and a lively scene of cafes, restaurants, hotels, resort retreats, and universities and colleges.

Bandung also has a central place in the history of Indonesian nationhood. Established by the Dutch in 1810, at one time it was intended to be the new capital of the Dutch possessions in Southeast Asia.

It enjoys a temperate climate, a beautiful mountain setting, and lush vegetation cloaking the surrounding hills and fertile valleys. Some of the surrounding scenery is quite simply breath-takingly beautiful.

Bandung also is 768m (2,225ft) above sea level, meaning constant cool, fresh mountain air, a stark contrast to the heat and smog of Jakarta, just 140km away. 

Jungle covered hills, swathes of manicured tea plantations and acres of gardens make for a gorgeous landscape around Bandung

Many of the Dutch colonial administrators made their homes here, leaving their families while they worked in Jakarta during the week and retreating to the cool of Bandung at weekends.

An important place in the nation’s history

It was here also that Indonesia’s founding President Soekarno undertook his university studies and joined other leaders of the Indonesian independence movement to quietly make plans and develop their thinking.

And it is here today that some of Indonesia’s leading and oldest higher education institutions are to be found, with as many as 25 universities and colleges and more than 200,000 students, including the prestigious Bandung Institute of Technology.

We stay two nights in Bandung at the Hotel Savoy Homan with its great location, elegant retro look and an absorbing history dating back to 1888.

Hotel Savoy Homan - art deco look and rich history
Spacious twin room at Hotel Savoy Homan, Bandung

The Japanese Army commandeered this hotel during World War II and afterwards it became the headquarters of the International Red Cross before eventually being returned to its owners.

Delegates attending many notable national and international meetings stayed at the Savoy Homan, including VIP delegates to the historic 1955 Bandung Conference.

This famous gathering led to the emergence of the international Non-aligned Movement of Asian and African countries.

So, if you hear strange voices in the hallways during our two nights here, don’t be too alarmed. It may just be spirits of the famous from times past reminiscing. 

A generous serving of Rabbit Sate - a Bandung specialty
Kelinci is rabbit, gulai is curry and guling is slow spit roast

Bandung scenes - rabbit sate, glorious gardens and a volcano ... up-close

Bandung has 2.5m people (plus another 8.5m in the surrounding greater metropolitan area). Our tour is designed to help us soak up some of the atmosphere of this important, historic and vibrant regional capital.                             

The city sits in a basin surrounded by rolling hills, mountains and active volcanoes and as we drive into the countryside, we quickly encounter beautiful hillside gardens of vegetables, corn and fruits, including fields of strawberries with passers-by urged to come pick their own.

The rich volcanic soils and temperate climate have made this region a fresh food bowl for metropolitan Jakarta. (The avocados are usually outstanding – and CHEAP).

We pass roadside warungs (stalls) and small restaurants offering local foods, especially rabbit satés with a spicy peanut dipping sauce, a local specialty.

Then we drive through sweeping vistas of lush and oh-so-orderly tea gardens – interest and beauty surrounding us everywhere.

So how about a visit to an active drive-up volcano?

A  journey of about an hour will brings us to Gunung Tangkuban Perahu, the only one of the many “rim of fire” volcanoes of Indonesia where you can drive up to a parking lot on the edge of the crater.

Fire and brimstone issues but not too fiercely from Tangkuban Perahu volcano and we can drive almost to the crater rim

The name translates as ‘upside down boat’ and refers to its shape as viewed on a clear day from Bandung.

There are three craters with fumeroles spouting steam and sulphur. Some bold and energetic visitors walk down into the caldera.

At an elevation of 2084m (6,837ft) it is usually chilly, so best bring a jacket.

The destination is popular and can be busy. And it wouldn’t be Indonesia without the collection of souvenir and snacks stalls clustered along the crater edge pasrking areas.

Don’t let this irk you … remember these usually are not-so-fortunate people trying make a living in a country with little social welfare support.

Enjoy viewing the volcano and enjoy the distant views over lush forests. On a clear day they can be magnificent.

Java’s famed highlands tea – we see how it’s grown, picked and processed

Processing tea leaves in Java highlands

Traditional tea processing Pengalengan Highlands Pic Colin Singer

Tea drying shed in the bBandung area with freshly harvested leaves

The beginnings of your cuppa –  fresh new leaves in the drying shed

The mild, cool climate of the Bandung region is perfect for tea gardens and less than half an hour from Tangkuban Perahu is the Ciater Tea Plantation.

We make a quick visit to learn about the history of tea in the region and about the cultivation, picking and processing of tea leaves on this neat and beautiful plantation of 3,000 hectares.

Hundreds of tons shipped every year

Once picked, the tea leaves undergo withering, milling, fermentation, drying, and sorting. The Ciater plantation produces hundreds of tons of dry tea a year.

If you are Australian and drink Bushells Tea then check the package. It may well read ‘packed in Indonesia’ and could include tender tea leaf tips from here.

From the tea gardens we travel about 25 minutes to the Lembang Floating Market. The vendors offer their wares from boats tied up to a wharf at the edge of a man-made lake.

Lembang Floating Market – color and delicious local foods make it an ideal lunch stop

It is after the style of the famous floating markets of Bangkok but tiny by comparison. None-the-less it is colorful and different with restaurants and adjoining themed attractions around the lake shore for family visitors .

We come for lunch – Lembang Floating Market is a food court on water as well as a market and has a reputation for the diversity and quality of the local foods on sale.

Parade of Flags for Asia-Africa Week 2018
Flags of 29 participating nations at Asia Africa Museum

Homage to a pivotal historic Bandung moment and a different world view

Back in town we call at Museum Konferensi Asia Africa. This is the venue of the famous Bandung Conference which gave rise to the international non-aligned movement in the 1960s.

Tens of thousands of Indonesians make pilgrimages here. The few Westerners who visit are history buffs or those who have closely followed the twists and turns of global politics over the 75 years since Asian and African de-colonization began.

This may be because the museum and its interesting and significant exhibits are not widely promoted or displayed. But it is more likely that recent Western generations simply have not heard the stories of those events from 1955 that so shaped today’s world. And that’s a shame.

You will find your visit here and the historic moments it evokes to be informative and interesting.

And you will leave with a greater appreciation of how and why the peoples of the ‘developing world’ feel and think as they do.

The Bandung show that may provide the most heartwarming memory of your Indonesian visit

Color, costumes and kids performing music and dance with traditional bamboo instruments – Bandung’s delightful Pak Udjo Angklung show

Colorful traditional costumes, classic puppets, traditional instruments, traditional and contemporary songs, and traditional dances.

This is the program presented daily by Pak Udjo’s Angklung music school (Saung Angklung Udjo) and we complete our Bandung Tour by taking in the show.

Traditional folk tunes to the Beatles and the classical

Expect to hear pop standards, Latin, jazz, snippets from the classics and Indonesian folk songs. And while you watch and listen remind yourself that all are mostly being performed on pieces of hollow bamboo.

The school has its own workshop for crafting the instruments.

The Udjo show has become an institution as one of Bandung’s most popular visitor attractions – and it is performed mainly by children aged from as young as 4 to late teens. The skill, enthusiasm, and energy of these kids is amazing. Check out these short videos –

Above – Music magic with wood, bamboo and talent and (right) a demonstration of how you can join the party.

If you like cultural traditions, you like kids and you like music and dance you will love this show! And even if you aren’t interested in any of the above you probably will be sucked in anyway. Because it’s so different, such fun and so heartwarming.

Imagine a cute, wide eyed 5 or 6-year-old in traditional costume helping you sound the right notes on cue on a traditional bamboo instrument as part of a mass audience performance of a Beatles tune or a Broadway hit …

A performance that’s ‘food for the soul’

And somehow, collectively, making it all sound great first time. Even if you are tone deaf. It’s food for the soul!

The late Bapak Udjo Ngalagena and his wife Ulum opened the school and studio in 1966 to help preserve Sundanese music, dance and artistic traditions. 

He succeeded, probably beyond his wildest dreams, and his family now run the school and the performances.

Young performers from Saung Angklung Udjo have presented their music in many international venues, including a UNESCO concert in Paris and performances at the UN headquarters in New York.

A luscious leafy garden, a gurgling stream and a taste of Bandung's Sundanese cuisine

Something special for our final night in Bandung … we dine at Kampung Daun (it means village of leaves and describes itself as a culture gallery and café).

This leafy garden restaurant serves mainly traditional Sundanese dishes but also steaks, pastas and pizzas for international visitors nervous about local dishes. The food is excellent without being brilliant, but the traditional buildings and lush garden setting around a running stream are superb.

Rows of warung (stalls) selling artifacts, artwork, souvenirs and snacks line the entrance, but our purpose is enjoying the food and the ambience – a pleasant and different interlude.

But it can be cool so best bring a light jacket or sweater.

It is easy to see why the Dutch at one time considered making Bandung the administrative headquarters for all of their East Indies possessions.

Its climate and its beautiful highlands setting make it a most attractive place to live, visit and explore. I am yet to meet a visitor who did not rate it among their favorite Indonesian destinations.

The key to a Bandung experience is head out and explore the beautiful surrounding region. There is much more than the highlights we are able to see in our brief stay.

But perhaps we make up for this by making Bandung the starting point for our ‘Eksekutif Klas’ train journey across Central and Eastern Java. 

The leisurely train trip from Bandung to Yogyakarta with its changing picture-window landscapes is magic and will probably rank as a highlight of your tour. 

You can read more about the train journey and the fascinating places awaiting us in Yogyakarta in these posts –

JAVA by train – the most rewarding and relaxing way to experience the beuty of the REAL Indonesia
BORBUDUR – From glory to abandonment, to burial, to rediscovery and world-wide wonder