Sunday, April 5, 2009

Malang - A Gem in the East of Java

I cannot really decide what I love most about this charming little town. Unless you are a mall-rat, or someone who sees shopping is a must do in all your travels, Malang has lots to offer: charming places populated with lovely colonial buildings, a variety of local food – from those in restaurants to those sold by street food hawkers, beautiful little parks, shady boulevard and little streets, and lots of nature oriented tourist destinations. We did not go to all those places, and certainly did not go to Bromo. But each place that we visited, we just loved it.

My highlights of our 4 days visit to this town are not long. Let's start with food.

Inggil. I knew nothing of a society called Inggil Heritage Society. Came to know about it when we went to this restaurant for dinner. A lovely restaurant – with lots of antique, including fossils, around the main dining area which is also a place of a stage where on certain nights they hold performances like wayang or Javanese gamelan. You can almost trace back the history of Java in this place alone – with lots of artefacts as the restaurant’s decoration. Food is nice, too. We loved its variety of sambal, or ground chili mixed with other spices.

The main dining room

Some of their antique collection

Toko Oen. A famous old restaurant. This pattiserie, ice cream parlor, and restaurant has been standing on the corner where it still stands now since 1930s. It has a nice olden days ambience. They still keep everything intact – its furniture is the same ones as those used in the old days. Its ice cream is superb, and I tried its oxtongue steak which was splendidly cooked, melted on my tongue. And the ice cream was great. My husband tried Corn Ice Cream – which will give you a different taste experience.

The corn ice cream - really tasty and different

Toko Oen

Melati Restaurant, in Tugu Hotel. If you are familiar with Shanghai Blue, Dapoer Babah or Loro Djonggrang, three of the renowned restaurants in Jakarta owned by the group that owns all Tugu Hotels in Indonesia, you will perhaps be more fascinated with the quality of food at Melati. I actually almost always got disappointed when going to all those three restaurants – they are so overpriced, and the taste, to me, has been tamed too much to the likes of a local food lover. But Melati was different. It has the same exquisite service that this group of hotels and restaurants has, lovely ambience, and the food was just excellent. I chose a very simple dish for a purpose, to see how far they have gone to 'tame' its taste. I chose Pecel Pincuk Madiun (Indonesian’s style of salad with peanut sauce), and the taste was just the same with the one I tried in one of the small restaurant off Gondangdia street in Jakarta. Still had the same level of spiciness – no ‘tameness’ at all though this restaurant is visited by foreigners. And, the price was still reasonable, Rp 25,000 (or around US$ 2), for a restaurant under the wing of Tugu Group, is excellent to me. I do not think I have seen such price in Shanghai Blue, Dapoer Babah or Loro Djonggrang – I guess being in Malang or Jakarta makes that huge difference.

Pecel pincuk Madiun - still retains its really spicy and tasty feel, albeit in a restaurant frequented by foreigners. Thumbs up for Melati!

And with the restaurant located in Tugu Hotel – which for some people is known to be spooky, you may as well go around. I guess the existence of so many antique stuff in this hotel does give it a rather spooky feel. And the ‘spookiest’ of them all is the painting of a princess – which my husband said there was a great sadness in her expression. I still get goosebumps when I look at it.

The spooky photograph - do you feel it? I do!

Bakso Gun – you can find them almost at every corner in Malang. It is the kind of ‘bakso’ or meatball, that is so loved by most Indonesians. My husband went there and according to him, “It is worth to export those bakso to Jakarta, they are excellent!”. I tried the fried one and it was really tasty – not one of those bakso that seemed to ‘fight back’ when you bite into it as it gets cold. It was still soft, and very tasty, not too oily.

After food - then let's go sightseeing. We only went to very few places...but they all left an impression to us.

Candi (or temples). Unfortunately we could not visit all temples in Malang – it is always tricky to do these types of things when you have a little child. We visited 2 of the most important ones: Candi Singosari and Candi Jawi.

Candi Singosari is actually one of the most important site - one of the very important kingdom of Java in ancient times. The location itself is actually scattered - there are two huge statues which seem to 'guard' the way into the area, which is now very much a residential area.

Candi Singosari

One of the statue

Candi Jawi is actually the tallest temple in the Eastern part of Java – and it is one beautiful temple, very ‘feminine’ to some extent. And I must say the backdrop is even more stunning – Mount Penanggungan is there at the back of this temple and in clear weather, I bet the view is really stunning. It was raining when we got there and still, it looked just as lovely, very serene, and peaceful though located right by the road.

Candi Jawi - feminine beauty

The main stairs of Candi Jawi

Niagara Hotel – on the road towards Pandaan. This was the first high rise building in Indonesia!. A very well-preserved building with art nouveau details, with all the panels still intact. Unfortunately the old elevator that they had no longer functioned, it would be such a great treat to get on it!. We only stopped and ate at its restaurants so we could have a look around. Service and food were not great, their food list was rather sad, but not far from it within walking distance you could find a nice restaurant – Mungil (or petite, as one would say in French). A renowned chain of restaurants in Malang known for good food with good price. You can also find local chips and crackers to bring back with you, if you’d like.

So, staying at this hotel will not give you any trouble in terms of food. Not sure in terms of a peaceful sleep – heard from friends that it is haunted. But I guess, every old building will have its own story, which makes it fascinating if we could have stayed there for a night. We fell in love with the fa├žade, all the glass windows, wood and ceramic panels, its stairs, its balconies. Each floor has its own charming looking living room, though unfortunately the furniture is lacking in taste but still the ambience is really nice.

The facade and balconies of Niagara Hotel

The well preserved art nouveau tiles

The well preserved glass windows with its artistic art nouveau details

Sendang Biru. About 2 hours from Malang, Sendang Biru is a fishing village. The journey to this place is quite interesting – the trees around are still pretty thick, and you must go through hills and winding roads which can be pretty sickening if you are prone to motion sickness (Tara actually vomitted half way through), but the view is really stunning at some places. Unfortunately there is no place to stop and take pictures as roads are pretty narrow. Right in front of the beach where there are colourful fishing boats, there is an island, called Sempu. This island is a nature conservancy – it is said that there are still tigers in its thick forest. In the middle of the island there is a lake – that is believed by the locals the water is sacred. One can go to the island by getting on one of the many boats from the beach, it only takes about 5 – 10 minutes to get on the island, a hundred thousand rupiah per boat (or approximately US$ 9). And within a 2 hours walk, you can reach the lake in the middle of the island. The sea is very calm – because it is actually a strait.

We got on a boat – to go closer to the island not to try getting off and going to see the lake (with much difficulty as Tara just would not get on the boat, until, mommy found the power of bribery that she knew would work all the time: get on the boat and you’ll get an ice cream. Did wonders…not good to do, but well, we were desperate!). It was very refreshing to see the beautiful beaches on this island from the boat – the sand was very soft, and creamy in colour. The water was also very clear. It looked really tempting to get off one of the open beaches of the island and played in the water. Unfortunately our daughter just would not hear of the idea.

Sendang Biru

Fishing boats at one of Sempu island's beach

Tamban Indah is another beach around forty five minutes drive from Sendang Biru. This is where one can play with the sand, which is also soft and creamy coloured, but, no swimming because there is a very strong under current. It actually looked like a desolated beach – we only saw fishermen getting ready to go off to the sea, no visitors. But thanks to no visitors, the beach was very, very, clean!. Really worth a visit to this place though maybe, after sometime, it can get pretty boring to see the sea in front of you without being able to plunge into it. Nevertheless, a peaceful place where you can just watch life goes by.

A lone child playing on the beach :-)

A stretch of clean, soft sand to play with. But do not get fooled by the calm sea - its under current can easily take you off somewhere else!

So…not a very long list as we only had a short time there – only four days and three nights, but as I said, every place we visited has spoken for itself. Right now we just forget about Bali – the next destination will be Malang, again, especially Mount Bromo. Then off to Madura…..I think I have this one for over a year now!.

Anyway….there is a lot to see outside Bali (not that I have anything against Bali) – so why must we always think of that one when wanting to have a holiday?. Explore more! – and Malang is definitely worth your exploring time, believe me.


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