We are told by those who are supposed to know that the journey is more fulfilling than the destination. If your destination happens to be beautiful Bandung in the West Java Highlands, you will experience the exception – getting there and being there are both brilliant.
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MOST JAKARTANS take the tollways via Bekasi to Bandung. So long as it is not a holiday or the weekend, the 150km journey is easy and takes about two and a half hours.
But a more leisurely and interesting way is to take a daylight train from Gambir (Jakarta’s central rail station), traveling in ksEekutif Klas.
It’s cheap, comfortable, and magnificent as the train winds steadily up through mountains and valleys. The journey takes a little under three hours.
But soon you will be able to do it at speed on a new rail link. The high-speed line is being built by a Chinese-Indonesian consortium and is scheduled to go into service by June 2023.
It will cut the journey time to as little as 40 minutes with the sleek new trains hitting speeds of 350kph.
It remains to be seen how the experience will stack up against the magic of the present ‘slow’ train – it will be a very different adventure.
I have taken the slow train, twice. Sat on different sides each time to catch the views. Both were superb.
The regular train journey from Jakarta to Bandung takes you through stunning scenery. Pictured RIGHT is the Chinese high speed train that soon will take you there at stunning speed.
The slow road climb to the West Java Highlands that’s sure to lift your spirits
For those with time and patience one of the best ways to journey to Bandung is by road via Bogor and the Puncak Pass. The road winds through breathtakingly beautiful places with stunning viewpoints.
But you will need a day to do it – around five hours or more of travel time plus the stops you will inevitably want to make to admire and photograph the tea gardens (kebun teh) and the views.
There are regular coach and bus services from Jakarta to Bogor and on to Bandung via Puncak.
But consider taking a guided tour or hiring a good private driver/guide and vehicle for a better and more flexible experience. It’s nice to be able to pause when you want to breathe in the view or take a stunning photo.
A glimpse of the superb views you will see as you climb from Bogor to Bandung through the Puncak Pass. Pic allindonesiatourism.com.
Private Driver and Car Rental with Driver services are advertised on the Internet. I have not yet used these services in this region, but they receive excellent reviews from travelers who have.
Presidential Palace, the world famous Bogor botanic gardens and grazing spotted deer
If you travel by road and via Puncak the beauty begins at Bogor. This is one of five major satellite cities clustered around the capital and where you will exit from the Greater Jakarta Metropolis.
Here you can pause to gaze across a small lake to the elegant Presidential Palace and then swing through the adjoining Bogor Botanical Gardens.
Contemporary Presidents use the historic Bogor Palace for special State occasions. Its grounds adjoin the famous Bogor Botanic Gardens with features like the massive rainforest tree pictured below.
The gardens cover 87 hectares of trees (including rainforest giants), shrubs, flowers, lawns, lotus and lily ponds, monuments and grazing Nepalese spotted deer.
The gardens opened in 1817 and are Indonesia’s oldest and most important. They enjoy a world-wide reputation for conservation and research.
They are magnificent and they are located right in the heart of this satellite city of a million people.
The Presidential Palace began life in 1744 as a mansion retreat for the Dutch Governor and successive Dutch and British administrators, including Stamford Raffles, later to become the founder of Singapore.
An earthquake triggered by an eruption of nearby Mt Salak severely damaged the original Presidential Palace building in 1834, but it was rebuilt in its present form in 1856.
After a renovation in 1952 it served as the residence of founding President Soekarno. Now it is used regularly for official occasions by contemporary Presidents.
It is set among sweeping gardens and elegant trees.
The scenic route from Bogor to Puncak and Bandung is only about 120km. Many Jakarta residents flock to the townships and resorts in this area at weekends and on holidays to enjoy the fresh, cool air and panoramic views.
It is easy to see why.
No, it’s not PARIS but Bandung has a special charm of its own
A section of downtown Bandung (Wiki Commmons – Pic Buhdi Darma), and (BELOW) Bandung’s famous Braga Street – arts and crafts, history, food and fun (Pic whatsnewindonesia.com).
People sometimes use the hackneyed cliche ‘Paris of the East’ to describe the beautiful West Java Capital city of Bandung.
It’s not a Paris, but it is easy to understand why the reference comes to mind.
It reflects the old-world architecture and charm of its genteel colonial heritage buildings and a lively scene of cafes, restaurants, hotels, resort retreats and institutions of learning.
Established by the Dutch in 1810, it was once intended to be the new capital of the Dutch possessions in Southeast Asia.
Bandung is 768m (2,225ft) above sea level, meaning constant cool, fresh mountain air, in stark contrast to the heat and smog of Jakarta.
It is sometimes described as the ‘City of Flowers.’
With its beautiful mountain setting and lush vegetation cloaking the surrounding hills and valleys, it had obvious appeal for colonial administrators from Europe.
This beautiful old Bandung complex served as headquarters for the state-owned enterprises of the Dutch East Indies but is now the offices of the Governor of West Java Province. Locals have dubbed it the Satay Building for the unusual pinnacle on the roof – they say it looks like an upside-down imitation of the delectable Indonesian grilled meat on a skewer (but absent the peanut sauce).
Most of us are unlikely to associate Indonesia with aircraft manufactures. But this 19-seat turbo prop passenger is being produced in Bandung. The N219’s short take-off and landing capability is attracting buyers from around Indonesia, other Asian countries, and Africa. The Bandung plant also manufactures components for Airbus. Pic Wiki Commons.
Many of the Dutch administrators made homes in Bandung, leaving their families while they worked in Jakarta during the week and retreating to the cool of Bandung at weekends.
Today Bandung has a population of just over 2.5m (2021) and tussles with Medan for the title of Indonesia’s third-largest city. A further 8.5m live in the surrounding greater metropolitan area).
Bandung holds a central place in the history of Indonesian nationhood
Bandung is where Indonesia’s founding President Soekarno undertook his university studies, and he and other leaders of the Indonesian independence movement quietly gathered in the inter-world war years to plan and developed their thinking.
And it is here today that some of Indonesia’s leading and oldest higher education institutions are to be found.
There are some 25 universities and colleges (including the prestigious Bandung Institute of Technology) and more than 200,000 tertiary students. Their graduates haver played key roles in Indonesia’s development.
Today some go on to join a cluster of sophisticated engineering and tech industries in Bandung, including Indonesia’s pioneering aerospace company and military armaments manufacturers.
A 19-seater short landing and take-off turbo-prop aircraft is in production at the aerospace company’s factory next door to Bandung’s airport.
Under a forward-thinking Mayor, from around 2015 the city embraced digital technologies in its local administration.
The result was a curbing of corruption with the performance of its bureaucracy subsequently climbing to Indonesia’s number one ranking.
Former Mayor Ridwal Kamil.
Mayor Ridwan Kamil, a former architect, achieved fame throughout Indonesia and internationally, and went on to be elected Governor of West Java in 2018.
Bandung also is notable for its preservation of traditional art, crafts, music, and dance.
It is known too as a fashion hub with textile factories producing garments for leading international and domestic brands.
Visitors come from throughout Indonesia and nearby countries to shop for low-cost fashion in factory outlets.
Here’s a short video by South African couple Rhett and Claire Rogers that captures the essence of Bandung. (Click HERE to see more of their excellent travel videos about Indonesia and other places.)
Strawberry fields, rabbit saté, gardens, and Bandung's drive-up volcano
Some of your best Bandung memories are likely to come from excursions into the surrounding countryside.
Rich volcanic soils and temperate climate have made the Bandung region a fresh food bowl for metropolitan Jakarta.
If you hire a driver/guide and venture into the countryside you will encounter beautiful hillside gardens of vegetables, corn, and fruits, including fields of strawberries with passers-by urged to come pick their own.
The gardens give way to sweeping vistas of lush and oh-so-orderly tea plantations.
You will pass by roadside warungs (stalls) and small restaurants offering local foods, especially rabbit (kalinci) saté sticks with a spicy peanut dipping sauce, a local specialty.
Roadside signage advertising rabbit saté near Bandung and a delicious serving. BELOW is the smoking interior of Gunung Tangkuban Perahu, the upside down boat volcano.
About an hour’s drive will bring you to Gunung Tangkuban Perahu, a volcano where you can drive up to a paved parking area at the crater edge.
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 calderas.
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 highlands tea – you can see how it’s grown and processed near Bandung
The mild, cool climate of the Bandung region is perfect for tea gardens and less than half an hour from Tangkuban Perahu (the volcano) you can visit the Ciater Tea Plantation.
On this neat and beautiful plantation of 3,000 hectares you can learn about the history of tea in the region and about the cultivation, hand picking and processing of tea leaves.
Once picked, the tea leaves undergo withering, milling, fermentation, drying, and sorting. The Ciater plantation produces hundreds of tons of dry tea a year. You can see and hear how it is done.
A sweeping panorama of the tea gardens that decorate the hills and valleys around Bandung – Pic Wiki Commons
By the way, if you are Australian, then check you next pack of Bushells Blue Label. It may be marked as packed in Indonesia and may well have come from the plantations you are viewing.
The tea plantations of the Bandung region owe their existence to economic espionage by a Dutchman named Jacobus Isidorus Lonevijk Levien Jacobson.
Around 200 years ago he secreted seeds from China – then the world’s monopoly tea producer. He cultivated the precious plants in the newly established Bogor botanical gardens.
Lembang and the floating markets
About a half an hour away from the plantation is the Lembang Floating Market where vendors offer food and produce from boats tied up to a wharf at the edge of a man-made lake.
It is a popular attraction among Bandung city locals.
It is colorful and different, with restaurants and adjoining themed attractions for family visitors around the lake shore. A good stop for lunch and/or a coffee break.
Travel vloggers Rhett and Claire Rogers have made an excellent video about the beautiful Lembang area, including a visit to the floating market. You can view it by CLICKING HERE.
Popular Lembang floating market near Bandung – Pic expedia.com
Celebrating an historic and pivotal Bandung moment that reshaped the modern world
If you have an interest in history, politics, and international relations then you will want to visit the Museum Konferensi Asia Africa.
This is the venue of the famous 1955 Bandung Conference which gave rise to the international non-aligned movement in the 1960s.
Tens of thousands of Indonesians make pilgrimages to visit each year, but not so many Westerners because they are unaware of its significance.
Those who do are history buffs who have closely followed the twists and turns of global politics over the 75 years since the decolonization of Asia and African began.
It is a shame the significance of the conference centre and museum (pictured above) are not better known outside Indonesia and the region.
Recent generations in the West simply do not know the stories of important events following the second world war that shaped today’s world.
You will find a visit to the museum evocative, informative, and interesting. You will leave with a greater appreciation of how and why the peoples of the so-called ‘developing world’ think and act as they do.
A heart-warming and very different Sundanese music show that is true MUST-see
There is a short and unusual music show in Bandung that you absolutely MUST SEE!
Colorful traditional Sundanese costumes, traditional instruments, traditional and contemporary songs, and traditional dances …
These are what to expect in the program presented from 3.30pm to 5pm daily by Pak Udjo’s Angklung music school (Saung Angklung Udjo). There is an extra earlier show on Saturdays and Sundays.
What makes it different is that the music is mainly being performed on pieces of hollow bamboo. And the musicians are children aged from as young as 4 to late teens.
It’s surprising and fun … delightful for even for the most stubborn of tone-deaf grouches.
You will hear the playing of pop standards, Latin, jazz, snippets from the classics and Indonesian folk songs in a new and different way.
The skill, enthusiasm and energy of these kids is amazing. The first video below provides a glimpse of their virtuosity and the second is a sample of audience participation.
(If you enjoy those performances then click to check out this video of the kids tackling Mozart – the video by Bagus Travel is a little shaky here and there, but the performance is wonderful.)
If you like cultural traditions, you like kids and you like music, you will love this show.
Regardless, you will probably be sucked in anyway. Because this show is so different, such fun and so heart-warming.
Imagine a cute, wide eyed 4 or 5-year-old in traditional costume helping you sound the right notes on cue on a traditional bamboo instrument.
This as part of a mass audience performance of a Beatles tune or a Broadway hit … and you and other visitors somehow, collectively, make it all sound great, first time.
The school has a workshop for crafting the instruments and the daily shows have become an institution as one of Bandung’s most popular visitor attractions.
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.
They succeeded beyond their wildest dreams and more than half a century on 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.
This unassuming venue creates food for the soul. The studio and school, and its young players are an Indonesian treasure.
Bandung is famed for local Sundanese and international food in superb settings
Like so many of Indonesia’s cities, Bandung has wonderful local and international food options.
The Sundanese cuisine of this region of Java and South Sumatra, and excellent coffee are the specialties.
The highlands setting means restaurants with stunning views. Ask your guides or check Google for recommendations.
If convenience ranks higher than views, check out the old town atmosphere of Bandung’s Braga Street.
Located In the heart of the city and close to major hotels, this area of cafes, bars, clubs, restaurants, and coffee shops – together with a dash of arts and crafts – has echoes of old Dutch colonial architecture.
However, the traffic can be heavy, and it can be very crowded at night.
A cheap eats venue that consistently receives rave reviews is the Pascal Food Market
The popular Pascal Food Market (Pic difawisata.com), and (BELOW) a pavement art market tucked between the cafes and restaurants of Braga Street – Pic detik.com.
Village of Leaves for a dining experience
For something a little special and different you might try 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.
A Bandung dining experience – leafy Kampung Daun Culture Gallery and Cafe in the Lembang district.
Rows of warung (stalls) selling artifacts, artwork, souvenirs, and snacks line the entrance but do not intrude on the restaurant experience.
The best experience is probably dinner at night. You will need taxis or ride hailing transport – the restaurant is about half an hour out of the main part of town. Bring a light jacket or sweater.
THE BIG PICTURE
It is easy to see why the colonial Dutch thought so highly of Bandung – it is in a beautiful setting and its elevation means it has a comfortable climate.
But there is much more that makes this city special. It is one of those places that comes with an indefinable aura. You will probably feel it.
Perhaps it derives from the key roles Bandung played in the early shaping of modern Indonesia. Or perhaps it’s the arts community and its fusion of traditional arts, crafts, and music with the modern.
Or a confidence that comes from its remarkable embrace of a ‘smart city’ concept under innovative mayoral leadership.
Maybe it’s the retention of good things from the colonial era or having a celebrated food scene of the likes of Malaysia’s Penang, a Hong Kong, or a New Orleans.
Or perhaps the consciousness of being an Indonesian centre of fashion.
Maybe it is just something of all those things. Though some may be intangible, their impact is real.
Add Bandung’s creativity (in 2015 the city was named a UNESCO Creative City of Design), a welcoming and hospitable people, and those delightful options for getting there, and you have most compelling reasons for a visit.