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MALANG - Jewel of Indonesia's Eastern Highlands

Beautiful Idjen Boulevard, Malang, flanked by graceful palms and colonial mansions – photo from

Exploring Indonesia

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Welcome to the place rated as Indonesia’s most relaxed and charming city

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.

Today 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.

It retains much of its stately 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.

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 and about two hours west through mountains and gardens from Mount Bromo and about 90km south of Surabaya.

From the 8th century, or earlier, Malang served as the seat of the ancient Hindu Kanjuruhan kingdom and later, from the 13th century the 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 the 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? Check out the Manhattan Transfer’s version of Java Jive (it’s absolute worth 2 minutes and 50 seconds of your life!).  

The Java Dancer Café offers Indonesian and international foods along with a 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.

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 neighbourhood

We stay at the Atria Hotel, highly rated for its modern facilities and excellent service, along with a touch of Javanese culture and batik art.

Our visit to Malang is mainly to allow our much-travelled tour group to rest and recover from our Mt Bromo exertions.

But those with the energy who would rather explore a little of this beautiful city should consider a becak (pedicab) tour of Idjen Boulevard (a street of 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.

There are excellent restaurants within a few hundred metres of the hotel with a wide choice of cuisines from Javanese to other Indonesian, Chinese and international, including a pizza hut.

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 squatter township that became a rainbow attraction

After a FREE and 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 and proceeded, with the help of Air Force troops, 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.

On the other side of the river, Kampung Arema has followed suit with a large section of homes painted blue, the team color of Malang’s popular Arema Football Club.

The residents are gracious and welcome visitors, so we take a short stroll through the area for a closer look at this unusual social experiment and to seek some great picture opportunities.

We probably need to take some pictures, because this community is beyond imagining and family and friends at home are unlikely to believe us without evidence!

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

It’s unlikely you would to expect to see museum exhibits like those pictured above in the Eastern Highlands of Java. But this is just a tiny glimpse of a vast collection of transportation nostalgia on show at the Museum Angkut (transport musueum) at Batu, twin city to Malang. Many exhibits like the “Gangster Town” setting show vehicles from various countries and eras in movie set displays.

From color to brash and slightly wacky nostalgia, along with a dash of whimsy and serendipity

It’s about 30 minutes to Malang’s sister resort city of Batu to see a whimsical, wacky cross between a museum and a theme park.

You may well find it to be one of those “you have to see it to believe it” moments.

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

And it comes with a twist – more nostalgia than history and more playful than serious with a serendipitous approach to collecting, curating and presentation.

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.

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

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.

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.

Cars, cars and more classic and vintage cars from Model T Fords to Rollers, including some shiny Aussie icons

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

Apart from all the interesting stuff and the fun of the place, Museum Angkut, opened only in 2014, may well be significant and, in a sense, symbolic.

Indonesia has experienced only some 70 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.

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More useful and interesting information

Malang is just one of the remarkable places worth visiting in Java. Our commitment is to choose destinations and arrange packages to suit discerning travelers. For descriptions and images of more places and experiences included in our Real North Sumatra and Java tour programs click the links below.

More to explore on the island of Java

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