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Travel & Holiday

Beautiful Bandung

Discover the charms of the Sundanese in this West Java city amid a volcanic landscape
The Straits Times - September 20, 2011
By: Tan Bah Bah
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Beautiful Bandung

TOURIST destinations are like Hollywood films. There are obvious blockbusters and sleepers (quiet films that succeed unexpectedly). Florida would be a blockbuster. So would Bali.

The regional sleeper in the next few years may turn out to be Bandung, which incidentally for the Indonesians, is their second top tourist destination after Bali — a fact that not many Singaporeans know of.

I arrived in the capital of West Java with little idea of what to expect apart from the knowledge that it hosted the 1955 AsiaAfrica Conference attended by representatives from 29 countries.

My first impression upon landing at Husein Sastranegara Airport seemed to reinforce that time warp and brought to mind Siem Reap in Cambodia.

With its Sundanese angular roofs and a village style to match, the airport is designed to blend in with its local heritage. There were only two immigration lanes but the authorities have promised to push for more as the tourism picks up.

Very quickly, however, all my preconceptions of Bandung as a somewhat  backwater place were blown away as our bus raced through wellbuilt roads to the fourstar Harris Hotel along Jalan Peta, a busy downtown  location.

I spent the next few days being pleasantly surprised by Bandung, a city  of two million Sundanese, one of two main ethnic groups in Java, the other being the Javanese.

Bandung is actually a well developed and thriving metropolis where one can enjoy an urban lifestyle with a choice of Chinese, Western and  Sundanese cuisines. Just bear in mind that it is a Muslim city.

The people of Bandung like to sit in large groups to chat and take their time during mealtimes. Dishes tend to come in small portions but they are served continuously. I tried different types of dried fish propped up fancifully with their eyes popping out at you, satay with chilli sauce and not our thick local peanut version, a variety of vegetables somewhat like the gado gado (Indonesian mixed salad) we know, and lots of fruits. Indonesians love their buah buahan (fruits).

Those who love shopping will be chuffed to know that Bandung is famous for its factory outlets. You can get almost any designer brand here at low prices. Fashion items such  as dresses, jeans, handbags and belts for adults, as well as children’s wear, are said to be authentic surplus goods. I won’t be surprised if some women go wild at some of these outlets.

As for those who just want to rest and relax, there are many spa outlets  at various hotels and fullrange natural spas to choose from, depending on your budget.

But don’t miss out on the chance to do some sightseeing at Gunung Tangkuban Perahu. The volcano last erupted in 1983 but it is still smouldering. I spent a good 45 minutes to check out the view and take  pictures of the craters. Thankfully, Bandung is refreshingly cool with the temperature ranging from 17.2 deg C to 28 deg C.

With such a cool climate — a major plus point for me — and the friendly nature of the Sundanese, Bandung makes an ideal getaway from Singapore.

This trip was arranged by Batavia Air.

TRAVELLER’S TIPS

■ Learn some basic Bahasa Indonesia. This will prove helpful as English is not that widely spoken in Bandung.

■ Chill out and adapt to a slower pace of life. It’s rude to rush people here, so go with the flow, take it easy and you will enjoy your trip more.

■ Engage a reliable guide. Somehow, it is far less problematic to just hire one guide to take care of your stay than to try and do your own thing.

 

 

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