Thursday, 30 January 2014

Bandung (Indonesia) part I,

Travelled down to Bandung, Indonesia for a December year-end short trip with the family. It was a rather impromptu decision, with our air plane tickets and accommodation booked barely 10 days before we flew off. And not to mention that this was done in the midst of my papers, but it was certainly a motivation for the much anticipated freedom!

As the capital of the West Java province in Indonesia, Bandung holds the third largest city population.  I've not been to other Indonesian metropolitans to make a fair comparison, but Bandung is the typical urban city - characterizing by great commercial shopping, traffic jams and glaring billboard advertisements. It is often known as the Paris of Java, owing to the number of luxurious hotels, restaurants and European styled boutiques that popped up after the city was granted municipality in the early 19th century. It's said to be a popular spot amongst Jakarta residents, who are merely 2 hours away, to spend the weekend (and indeed, we saw many Jakarta carplates on the road). 

Much to our surprise (and delight), Bandung enjoys cool temperatures all year round than other Indonesian cities because it is surrounded by volcanic mountains and lies on a lower ground amidst these highlands. The city temperatures in the day was about 28-30 deg celcius and dropped to low 20s during the night; the countryside was much cooler as it was higher up in the mountains but never did drop below 15 deg celsius even in the night. We stayed mainly in the countryside, which was about an hour's drive away from the city and a true escape from the urban jungle ♥ 

As we weren't familiar with traffic conditions, we didn't rent a car and drove out on our own. Instead, we hired a driver to bring us around (Check out Diaz Travelindo here and ask for Mr. Chipi) and it was a great experience :)

Some snippets from my travel journal: 

 "Arrived at the airport, the immigration counters are not as organized as we like them to be and a guard comes up to us and cues us to a new queue that he just created. We stare at him puzzled because we dont understand a word of Indonesian.

We exit the airport and meet our driver - he welcomes us with our names on a crisp piece of paper. We call him Mr. Chipi and he has a relatively good command of English compared to other people we have met. We rush to the toilet and buy a small bottle of water, the shopkeeper charges us 5000 which instinctively got me alarmed. But it turns out that it's really just 50 cents (thought she charged me 50 USD),....time to get used to the denominations.

Driving out of the airport, we spot a bunch of people standing on an empty patch of grass near the airport runway with their handphone cameras intently raised high up to focus on the airport taking off on the runway. 
"What are they doing?"
"They are trying to take pictures of the aeroplane taking off because they can't afford to travel but they dream to travel one day."
My heart sank."

"We proceed to our accomodation, Sari ater resort which is up in the mountains. It's a long way from the airport, about 90 mins but the traffic made it almost impossible to move an inch. We made it to the highway, but our driver makes an illegal U-turn off the traffic jam against traffic and we sidelined to having the best Ayam goreng in town."

Best Ayam goreng in town at Ayam goreng Suharti - JL. Ranggagading 10, Bandung, 40116, Indonesia. They had a menu for easy reference, but ordering was quick painful as there were clear language barriers. I settled for Nasi goreng with fried liver and some hot tea to wash down the travel fatigue.

"Back in the car, he told us that motorcycles were getting very popular with the locals as a means of transportation, they're like mosquitoes - buzzing through the veins of the heavy traffic. He spots out the best place to get married in town and tells us that the adorable road side rabbits were for sale as pets and satay. An eye opener."

Sari ater (website here) was a decent accommodation we got during our stay in the countryside, despite the passport scare (our passports got locked in their safe before our flight and they couldn't open it for hours), black outs and broken shower (from no hot water to just trickles of water for bath). The water supply was connected to the hot springs water nearby, which was probably the cause of the chain of problems.

"My shower trickled beads of cold water today and eventually ran out of water within minutes, hope it'll be back tomorrow."

Complementary to the volcanic activity in the area, Bandung is peppered with natural hot springs around. Unwinding at Kolam leuwi sari and soaking up minerals with the locals was quite an experience. The name can be loosely translated to be 'forest pool' because the origin of the natural hot springs runs through the forest. It then cascades down the waterfall and forms a pool for the locals to soak in and enjoy. This is walking distance from Sari ater and you can always ask for directions from the friendly locals around if you're unsure.

There weren't any tourists at the springs and as obvious foreigners, we seemed a little clumsy in stepping in at first but slowly warmed up to the water's embrace. A few Malay ladies gamely laughed at us and an old lady taught my mum how to face her back to a vent for a natural back massage! It definitely made the experience more heartwarming ♥

Compared to the hot springs in Japan and Taiwan, this was by far the most natural hot springs I have ever dipped in - and I loved it. Perhaps it was just the novelty of the experience but I really enjoyed the stripped down yet carefree spirit and feeling the slime and gravel on the uneven rocky ground beneath my feet. It's amazing to feel so alive and waking up your senses by feeling the natural environment around you. We returned back for a couple more times during our stay!

A word of caution: there aren't any locker rooms nearby (there was one but it was "closed") so we had to store our belongings into a giant plastic bag and take turns to guard it. It might also be advisable to dress conservatively, and to avoid getting the water in your eyes as there is a high concentration of sulphur.

In the 18th century when Bandung was still under colonial rule, the Dutch established many tea plantations on the highlands - hence, the abundance of tea leaf plantations in the countryside. Steered off the beaten path and wandered in a tea plantation one morning; loving the fresh air and picturesque sights of rolling hills in the distance that the countryside lavishes.

The main highlight of the trip was visiting Mt. Tangkuban Perahu and it's stratovolcanic crater located in the North. It's a supposedly dormant volcano, but erupted 3 times and triggered minor earthquakes in Lembang in October 2013. Prior to our visit, there was a mini eruption that took place about a week before (December 2013) so the sulphur pool was boiling and spewing out gases more than usual in aggravation. Amazing how we're all subjected to the mercy of nature's temperament!

 At the start/end, there were many local stores selling buttered corn, fried flour fritters, coconut juice and the likes. There were also rows of makeshift shophouses sheltered under galvanized zinc roofs....but as you go down by the side it was very rocky and at parts pretty slippery and uneven, hence boots are recommended (but even with boots, I strained my knee so be careful). Some locals also recommended wearing a mask so you don't inhale too much sulphur dioxide, which can be hazardous long-term and in large quantities. Nonetheless, it was perfect place for visitors to hike around the radius of the magnificent crater and explore the surroundings.

There's a nominal fee of 50,000 rupiah per person and 15,000 rupiah per car to drive up to the reserve.

Take-home bottles of sulphur or minerals anyone?

Handmade wooden angklungs for sale.

We were extremely intrigued by what a black cherry farm was and decided to pop our heads into (apparently) the only black cherry farm in Indonesia since 1972. The farm was empty so we took our bets and found a few ripe ones growing on the branches of the tree, to the approval of our driver of course so this isn't the same as us trespassing a tangerine farm in Japan previously! While the growing patterns of the fruit are said to be erratic, the fruit itself taste sweet and tangy which was quite refreshing. The insides are pulp white and greatly contrasts against its name of the Black cherry. It's often incorporated into drinks, jams, wine and even desserts.

The Floating market lembang is popular with the food concept of Bandung's culinary being in one place. The area was originally a lake called Situ Umar, which was used by the locals for fishing. Now, it has been transformed into a floating market and a recreational park, including a small zoo and sport activities. The entrance ticket of 10,000 rupiah entitles you to a free beverage at the wooden Sundanese styled lobby.

We went on a quiet weekday, hence the market was not in full operation (or so we believe). Vendors graced the sides of the lake with their boats where they prepared and served food from, while customers sat on minuscule wooden chairs and tables on the pavement. We loved the serenity and cool surroundings, but weren't really a fan of the food concept. 

Till Part II of my Bandung travelogue, ciao! ♥
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