MALANG – Jewel of the Eastern Highlands and rated Indonesia’s most charming and relaxing city

Drone aerial shot of Iscenic Idjen Boulevard in Malang
Prized by the Dutch of the colonial era for its mild highland climate, leafy, historic Malang is consistently said to be Java’s most relaxed and charming city.

Which makes even more shocking the tragedy of Malang’s October 2022 soccer crowd stampede in which more than 130 football fans died..

The people of Malang will need time to heal, but life in  this beautiful and stately city goes on.

Malang has a population of around a million (more than 2.3m in the wider metropolitan area), making it East Java’s second largest city, after Surabaya.

It retains much of its historic colonial architecture and grand mansions line its main boulevards.

The surrounding hills and valleys are a rich agricultural area with dairy farms, orchards (especially apples), and tobacco, tea and coffee plantations.even more shockin

Majestic Catholic church in the heart of downtown Malang – look closely and you will see there are convenient McDonalds and KFC outlets 😊

Malang is a little over 50km (but about two hours) west through mountains and gardens from Mount Bromo and about 90km south of Surabaya.

The seat of powerful ancient kingdoms

From the 8th century, or earlier, Malang served as the seat of the ancient Hindu Kanjuruhan kingdom and later, from the 13th century the Hindu Singhasari kingdom. From the 17th century it was absorbed into the Javanese Mataram Kingdom.

Hindu relics from those great and very early kingdoms can be seen throughout the region, reminders of times before the arrival of Islam and Dutch colonial rule.

The Great Mosque of Malang overlooks the fountain and parkland of Alun Alun Malang, the city’s attractively landscaped main square

A pause for a cup or three of Malang's genuine Java

The Malang region is famous for the quality of its coffees and one of our first stops is for lunch at the Java Dancer Café and Coffee Roaster.

The motto of his very Javanese style restaurant is that every sip of Java Dancer coffee must reflect “our passion for providing Indonesia’s best.”

It’s an appropriate stop because back in the day the coffee from this region was so popular that a “cup of Java” became a world-wide generic term for a cup of coffee.

Too young to remember? Sneak a moment to check out the Manhattan Transfer’s version of Java Jive (this audio blast from the past is absolutely worth 2 minutes and 50 seconds of your life!).  

The Java Dancer Café also offers Indonesian and international foods along with its wide selection of coffees brewed in your choice of three different methods. True to its motto, the brews live up to the reputation that made “java” that international synonym for coffee.

Saignonsan Vietnamese Restaurant Hotel Tugu Malang

Expect surprises at the Tugu Hotel – this waiter is setting up table in the hotel’s rooftop Saigonsan Vietnamese restaurant

Living and dining among the treasures in Malang's 5-star museum-hotel

You will most likely be ready for a rest following our early morning exertions and our travel from Mt Bromo – preferably somewhere with a dash of luxury and tender care.

Malang has hotels with long experience in providing both Our special accommodation first choice is the boutique five-star Hotel Tugu, (the word Tugu means monument).

It is as much a five-star living museum as a hotel.

L’Officiel Voyage, a French luxury travel magazine with a focus on hidden gems, has included the Tugu in its top 100 of the best and most unique hotels in the world. 

Hotel Tugu is said to have hosted all Presidents of Indonesia who have held office since its opening in 1989, along with international political and entertainment celebrities.

It is located in the heart of the city The hotel overlooking Alun Alun Tugu, a square of greenery opposite Malang’s Town Hall with lotus pond, fountain, and independence monument.

Section of the Melita Restaurant in Hotel Tugu

At the Tugu’s international fine dining Melati restaurant you can enjoy your meal surrounded by beautiful original art, antique objects and historic pictures.

Tourist in Becak seeing Ijen Boulevard in Malang
A pedicab tour is a great way to experience the beauty and colonial heritage of Malang – Pic

Here’s a relaxed and novel way to check out the Malang neighborhood

Our visit to Malang is intended to allow you, as member of our much-travelled tour group, to rest and recover from our Mt Bromo exertions.

But if you still have some energy reserves and would like to explore a little of this beautiful city should consider a leisurely becak (pedicab) tour of Idjen Boulevard .

It is an avenue of, palms, immaculate gardens, bougainvillea and historic colonial architecture, including mansions and iconic churches, museums, civic buildings and other landmarks in the historic City Square area).

It takes about three hours and hiring a pedicab driver/tour guide is very inexpensive. We or the hotel desk staff can help you get organized.

Color, color everywhere – it’s easy to see why Jodipan is now known as Kampung Warna Warni (the colorful or village). Note the murals – great backdrops for photos.

The Malang squatter township that became a rainbow attraction

After a restful night and a leisurely breakfast our tour takes us through some of the city’s leafy boulevards and areas of colonial architecture.

Then we drive on for a look at some squatter or slum areas.

WHAT! We hear you cry …. Have you gone NUTS!

Bear with us.

At one time Malang’s city leaders talked of clearing Kampung Jodipan, a riverbank area of shacks and very basic housing occupied by the poor.

But students from the Muhammadiyah University in Malang had different ideas. With the help of Air Force troops, they proceeded to change the face of the community by painting more than 100 houses in bright multi-colors (greens, blues, yellows, pinks, and purples) and adding street-art murals.

The transformation has created a vibrant and unusual visitor attraction, raising a little extra income for residents through donations, and raising community pride in the area.

It’s now known as Kampung Warna Warni (the colorful village) or the Rainbow Village.

Next door a whole village painted in football color

Across a waterway, the neighboring Kampung Arema has followed suit with a large section of homes painted blue, the team color of Malang’s popular Arema Football Club. (Followers of this club were those who died in October 2022, no doubt many from here>)

The residents of these  communities are gracious and welcoming.  Time permitting we may pause for a short stroll and a closer look at this unusual social experiment. And take advantage of some great picture opportunities.

You will probably need pictures to explain these places because this community is beyond imagining. Family and friends at home are unlikely to believe us without evidence.

Some of the murals are 3D art – great backdrops for shutterbugs.


A vintage Roller, a royal coach and an old Chicago street scene …

Bold, brash and slightly wacky nostalgia plus a dash of whimsy and serendipity

Located right here in the highlands of East Java is Museum Angkut, a world class transport museum covering almost 4 hectares!

And as you might suspect from the pictures above, it comes with a twist – more nostalgia than history and more playful than serious with a serendipitous approach to collecting, curating and presentation.

It’s located  about 30 minutes away in Malang’s sister resort city of Batu and is a whimsical, wacky cross between a museum and a theme park.

One of those “you have to see it to believe it” moments.

The museum houses a collection of more than 300 old and recent vehicles of all kinds from bicycles, mopeds and motorbikes to London double decker buses, fire engines, military tanks, vintage and classic cars and lorries, a Batmobile replica, Rolls Royce and Humvee limousines and a Land Rover that transported Queen Elizabeth during her 1954 visit to Australia.

The collection even extends to an airline flight simulator and the Bell helicopter the US gave to foundation president Soekarno in return for releasing an alleged US spy.

This shiny red package of power is one of only 1,900 ALLARDS ever to put rubber to the pavement

The vehicles are displayed in Asian, European, and American zones in indoor and outdoor themed areas set up like Hollywood movie sets, way more fun than traditional museum displays.

And it all comes with Disney style entertainment along the way.

Museum Angkut is a knockout for car enthusiasts yet enjoyable and interesting for non-enthusiasts – there is much to see, and we probably will have to drag you away after our allotted couple of hours.

Vintage cars in Museum Angkut, Malang

Nostalgia on wheels – a collection of veteran and vintage cars dating back to the Model T Ford. There some shiny Aussie Holdens in amongst them somewhere.

A fun museum but perhaps also symbolic of a vibrant and youthful national outlook

Museum Angkut, opened only in 2014 – it’s recent and still becoming widely known.

Apart from all the interesting stuff and the fun of this place, it may well have greater significance and, in a sense, be symbolic.

Indonesia has experienced only some 75 years as an independent nation after more than 300 years of colonial domination, and barely two decades as an embryonic modern democracy.

Today’s Indonesia is characterized by a young, exuberant and optimistic population (52% are aged under 30) and an air of excitement. Change and development are happening FAST in this country.

It is a society kicking over the traces and leaping into the wider world, but still remembering a proud heritage of the rich history and cultural traditions we have been exploring during our travels.

Museum Angkut and other places like it in Indonesia, reflect the vibrancy, freshness, confidence and good humor of this still youthful and rapidly emerging nation.

We lunch at Museum Angkat (there are excellent food outlets in and around) and after we manage to drag ourselves away from the interesting displays we depart for Surabaya, a run of a little over two hours.

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Head and should Douglas Cole - founder
Douglas Cole

Doug is a former journalist and broadcaster who lived and travelled in Indonesia and Southeast Asia from 2002 to 2018. He returned to Indonesia in mid-2022 after being stranded in Australia by COVID border closures. He is completing a book under the working title ‘INDONESIA – Safely, Easily, and in Comfort.’

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