Off The Tourist Trail In Indonesia: 5 Underrated Destinations

semarang

Brooding Mt Bromo, blissful Bunaken, the Orangutans of Sumatra and Flores’ Komodo Dragons: it’s no wonder Indonesia entices thousands of visitors each year.

Happily, it’s still very easy to slip off the tourist trail. Here are five such examples of less-heralded places worthy of anybody’s time.

Sumenep, Madura

Street art, Sumenep

As an island, jagged Madura feels slightly shunned by the rest of the archipelago. It juts out of Java as though trying to escape its moorings and bears all the hallmarks of some ancient predator’s incisors. Symbolic, perhaps, of its historic enmity with the surrounding region(s).

Dig beneath the surface, though, and a wealth of charm awaits. Sumenep is an open, windswept town, its calm pace of life and rugged surroundings provide a distinctly Mediterranean feel. More often than not, the trundle of a passing becak rickshaw comprises the day’s traffic jam.

Masjid Jamik Sumenep

A leisurely walk from the beautiful and striking Masjid Jamik Sumenep – Madura’s most iconic mosque –  to the Royal Tombs should take no more than a few hours. Factor in a stop at the Stadion Karapan Sapi, home of the annual bull races, for a complete sweep of the town’s landmarks. Further afield, Gili Labak is the perfect setting for snorkelling and diving uninterrupted by the crowds of nearby Bali.

However, the real attraction will always be Sumenep’s warm, if slightly incredulous, welcome. Be prepared to learn a few Madurese phrases. With a friendly smile and inquisitive nature, locals will happily draw any visitors into the fold.

Semarang, Java

semarang

This lesser-known city, central Java’s provincial capital, is a curious blend of the old and the new. Dutch colonial architecture and a bustling Chinatown rub shoulders with myriad mid-rises. The initial impression is of a scattershot, aimless sprawl lacking the eye-opening heritage of close(ish) Yokyakarta.

As is the way of these things, though, a little digging will uncover great treasure. History buffs should enjoy the beautiful Sam Po Kong temple (Gedung Batu), built in honour of the Chinese commander Cheng Ho of the Ming Dinasty. Meanwhile, perhaps the most famous colonial building is the Lewang Sawu. Also known as A Thousand Doors, this opulent former railway headquarters served as the Japanese Army’s headquarters in the Second World War.

But to get a real taste of Semerang’s unexpected charm, head for Kampung Pelangai. This so-called Rainbow Village is exactly that: a multi-hued hamlet oozing with colour. Pieces of art adorn every wall in this small bubble of calm amidst the surrounding hubbub. The city is home to many vibrant pieces of street art and this is the boldest statement of them all.

semarang

Samarinda, Kalimantan

Heading to Borneo, here is a riverfront city possessing great ramshackle allure. Like the majority of Indonesian towns and cities, the primary sensation is auditory: the constant drone of traffic permeates the atmosphere.

This is never a problem, however, thanks to the sheer grandeur of the city’s Islamic Centre. Ornate and colourful, to say it dominates the skyline is an understatement. Most tourists will first see it as they approach the Mahakam River from the south. All of a sudden the canopy of trees opens up, Samarinda hoves into view and the giant mosque shines as its centrepiece. It is truly one of Indonesia’s most jaw-dropping spectacles and enjoyed by relatively few visitors.

masjid, samarinda

Don’t forget to enjoy a coffee at Stadion Gor Segiri, home of Pusamania Borneo FC. For a savoury sensation, head to Warung Padang UPIK on Jalan Danau Toba No.38 and sample Kalimantan’s finest sambal

Denpasar, Bali

Sprawling and chaotic, Denpasar is at first glance a hard city to love. Bali’s capital is loud and frenetic and intimidating, a big shock to the system with 800,000 occupants. Indeed, visitors can be forgiven for  swerving it in favour of the bucolic beaches and bars in nearby Sanur or Canggu.

denpasar

This is a pity. Beneath Denpasar’s chaotic gloss is a destination of real warmth whose residents are always happy to chat. Furthermore, it’s a hub of Balinese culture where temples and palaces line the streets. The Bali Museum offers a fascinating insight into the island’s history – via dance, ritual, textile and more – while the Bajra Sandhi monument in Puputan Park is a sufficiently grand monument to the Balinese struggle with the Dutch colonists. Lucky visitors may even be able to catch a baseball game in the nearby park,

Banda Neira, Maluku

Greenhouse, Band Neira

Without question, Indonesia’s finest destination, hidden or otherwise. The remote Bandas represent something of an unknown quantity and often fly under the radar. With all the classic idyllic getaway tropes in place – deserted beaches, a warm welcome, clear water ripe for exploration and, in Gunung Api, a resident volcano – this obscure corner of southern Maluku caters perfectly for the traveller / tourist with no real agenda.

banda neira

Dilapidated villas and museums rub shoulders in a nod to the area’s colonial past when the island was a global trade centre of mace and nutmeg. Today, however, life seems to be more laissez-faire. Transport is sporadic is best. Visitors should not be surprised to find themselves wooed into a soporific daze as the flower-filled streets and easygoing pace work their woozy charms. Soon enough, locals will be treating newcomers as old friends.

Indeed, the warm welcome and total lack of cynicism make it impossible to be stressed as explorations reveal the daily comings-and-goings of a genuine Indonesian outpost.

 

Keep in touch with Eye In The Middle
error

(Very) Rough Guide: Madura, Java’s Underrated Gem

Madura

Welcome to Madura

Even in a country as complex as Indonesia, Pulau Madura remains shrouded in mystery.

By rights the island should be a highlight of any trip through the region. It has an ideal location, perched off the east coast of Java and a stone’s throw away from Bali. Madura’s history, scenery and culture is one of the most distinct in the region.

And yet, this rugged island remains so far off the beaten track that many visitors to Indonesia are unaware of its existence.

However, therein lies Madura’s charm. With the lack of crowds comes the room to breathe. Certainly, those who make the effort will encounter sleepy towns, raging bulls, gloriously beautiful mosques, vibrant festivals and an independent streak as intense as anywhere in Indonesia.

Why go

Madura exists in its own little sphere, a corner of Indonesia unbound to the prism of tourism. Although the island is only an hour or so from Surabaya thanks to the Jembatan Suramadu – the bridge itself is a now-iconic Javan image –  this accessibility does not translate into simplicity.

English is not widely spoken, public transport is cramped and there is not much tourist infrastructure. The overriding mood is one of blunt honesty and few concessions are made to visitors. As a predominately Islamic island alcohol is not widely available.

All of which goes to make Madura such an endearing and adventurous destination. Each visit feels like a trip into the unknown. A cramped bus ride brings with it colourful characters, strangers warmly welcome passers-by and vibrant festivals showcases the island’s storied history. Locals greet tourist – a rare species – with arms wide open and just a touch of incredulity.

A warm welcome in Sampang
Visitors can expect to be warmly received in Madura

What do

The beauty of Madura lies in its remoteness. Happily, people are glad to help newcomers meaning so it’s easy to organise trips and transport.

As a general rule Madurese towns and villages are picturesque and reward exploration on foot. A peaceful jalan jalan will reveal sights, sounds, smells and characters not immediately apparent upon first arrival.

Gelora Bangkalan Stadion
Bangkalan’s Gelora Bangkalan Stadion

For many, the first major stop from Surabaya in Bangkalan, a town worthy of a night or two’s stay. Many head here for the bull racing and the town is home to the colourful Gelora Bangkalan Stadion (Jl. Raya Teuku Umar), where Madura FC play most of their home games. For anyone who’s got their own transport, the salt mines of Bukit Jaddih (5,000R entrance fee), pictured below, are worth the 25-minute journey. The beautiful white limestone cliffs combined with the views afforded by the hill’s peaks make for one of Madura’s most stirring sights.

Bukit Jaddih

Heading further central, Pamekesan is home to the Monumen Arek Lancor, pictured below, perhaps the island’s most enduring image. Standing proud in the city’s alun (square), the monument writhes in an attitude of prayer and devotion, as though inspired by the ornate Masjid Agung Asy-Syuhada behind it. Coupled with rousing Uldaul festivities – comprising floats, costumes, music and traditional songs – the town offers a kinetic, rousing celebration of Madurese culture.

Monumen Arek Lancor

Located about 12km to the city’s south-east, Jumiang Beach is a popular hang-out spot. The myriad cafes and warungs make for a congenial atmosphere as the nearby salt ponds stretch into the distance.

Jumiang Beach
Peaceful scenes at Jumiang Beach

Sedate Sumenep, to the east of Madura, is the island’s capital and one of Java’s most charming destinations. The calm pace of life, open streets and rugged surroundings give it a distinctly Mediterranean feel. It’s easy to spend an enjoyable couple of days soaking up the serene atmosphere. Since Madura is home to some of Indonesia’s most unique Batik designs there’s good reason to go shopping here. Well-made, sturdy shirts cost as little as 50,000R and while the material itself can be pricey – in some cases over 900,000R a roll  – the quality is excellent. Toko Apollo Batik Madura on Jl. Raya Sumenep is a good place to start but be sure to shop around. Most stores offer high-quality goods at competitive prices.

Masjid Jamik Sumenep
Masjid Jamik Sumenep

Sumenep is easily explorable on foot. A leisurely walk from the Masjid Jamik Sumenep – Madura’s most iconic mosque –  to and fro the Royal Tombs (Makam Raja Sumenep Asta Tinggi, below) should take no more than a few hours. Factor in a stop at the Stadion Karapan Sapi, home of the annual bull races, for a complete sweep of the town’s landmarks.

Makam Raja Sumenep Asta Tinggi

What expect

A common perception of Madura is one of stubborness, coarseness and fiery tempers. A temperament to match the island’s arid climate. Historically it has had an uneasy relationship with Java, and tensions are still evident on either side of the Suramadu Bridge.

Street art, Sumenep

Whilst visitors will most likely not experience this enmity they should notice a stark contrast nevertheless. Colourful batik clothing is everywhere and many women are resplendent in vibrant sarongs and kelambi (blouses). Madurese is spoken alongside Bahasa Indonesia as a unique culture of which the indigenous population are rightly proud reveals itself. Picturesque mosques dot the landscape and colourful street art adorns many nooks and crannies.

Mosque, Sumenep

In short, stepping onto Madura is akin to stepping through a portal to some alternate dimension which is not quite Indonesia.

This self-contained, brusque nature manifests itself in an extremely friendly welcome. There is not much in the way of shyness: An impromptu chat on a bus, an invitation for coffee or the offer of a bike ride will make strangers feel at home. It may well be tinged with curiosity – not many people visit Madura, after all – but never intrusive.

Where stay

Accommodation tends to be at the pricier end of the budget spectrum. Although prices are liable to change they are correct at the time of writing.

  1. In Bangkalan, Hotel Ningrat (Jl. KH Mohamad Kholil) is the only choice to speak of. Expect to pay 310,000IDR for an ensuite room. It’s a 5km, 20,000R angkot ride from the bus drop-off point at Tangkel. Call +62 31 3095388.
  2. Sumenep has slightly more choice. Hotel Utami Sumekar (Jl. Trunojoyo) is a good central option, with ensuite rooms from 160,000IDR including breakfast. It’s a 45-minute walk from Terminal Bus Antar on the town’s outskirts or a 20-minute ride on a becak rickshaw. Call +62 328 672221.
  3. Visitors to Pamekasan should try Ramayan Hotel (Jl. Niaga). Ensuite rooms cost 210,000R and there are plentiful food stalls and sights within easy walking distance. Call +62 324 324575.
  4. Pick of the bunch in Sampang is Hotel Trunjoyo (Jl. Rajawali). With ensuites from 150,000R, the hotel is a five-minute minute walk from Bus Terminal Sampang.

Where/what eat

For a tasty regional specialty, try rujak, a salad dish mixing vegetables with peanut sauces, cassava chips and subtle spices. Find it at roadside stalls and watch it made from scratch using the traditional flat Indonesian mortar and pestle.

Nasi goreng, bangkalan

There are many warungs around the football stadium in Bangkalan, with a bowl of mie goreng, above, typically costing 20,000R. In Sumenep Pondok Salero (Jl. Tunojoyo), pictured below, offers fine, cheap Padang-style food while the stalls down Jn. Sedulang deliver piping hot sate with thick peanut sauce for 15,000R. Those looking for bakso should visit Warung Galipat on Jl. KH Wahid Hasyim.

Amble down bustling Jl. Niaga in Pamekasan for street eats, cafes and wandering minstrels with guitars. Some tasty offerings in Sampang can be found opposite the general hospital on Jl. Rajawali.

(Bahasa Editor: If you want a takeaway, use the word ‘bungkus’. For example, to ask for fried rice to go you could say, ‘Tolong, saya ingin nasi goreng bungkus’. Don’t forget, the Bahasa word for food is ‘makan’ and drink is ‘minum’.)

Street art, Sampang

Pamekasan

Getting around

While travelling around Madura is simple in theory, in practice it can be trying. There are regular buses but oftentimes they are cramped and sweaty; our researcher spent one journey jammed in the stairwell trying to avoid a sea of vomit on the floor.

Don’t be put off though. While it can be daunting it’s also a communal scene – fellow passengers will always strike up a conversation and there are plenty of smiles going round. As with everywhere else, a few Bahasa phrases go a long way.

Terminal, Pamekasan

Take the following as a (very) rough guide for bus travel:

  • Damri bus from Surabaya airport to Terminal Purabaya/Bungurasih (Surabaya): 25,000R, 30 minutes
  • Terminal Purabaya/Bungurasih (Surabaya) to Bangkalan (Tangkel stop): 40,000R, two-three hours
  • Bangkalan to Sumenep (Terminal Arya Wirajaya): 40,000R, up to eight hours. The traffic outside Bangkalan at weekends or on market days can be heavy
  • Sumenep to Pamekasan (Terminal Ronggosukowati, pictured above,): 15,000R, one hour
  • Pamekasan to Sampang (Terminal Sampang): 15,000R, one hour
  • Sampang to Surabaya (Terminal Terminal Purabaya/Bungurasih : 40,000R, four hours

In addition there’s also an overnight bus from Bangkalan Terminal Bangkalan Ceria to Jakarta.

In terms of getting around, the ubiquitous ojek motorcycle taxis are everywhere. So too are becaks, pictured below, the cycle rickshaws offering a calmer alternative compared to their noisier bike cousins. There is no Grab or Gojek app coverage on Madura.

Becak, Madura

Useful things to know 

Capital: Sumenep

Population: 3.65 million

Language(s): Madurese, Bahasa Indonesia; Basic English understood and spoken

International dialling code: +62

Time: GMT+7

Money: Indonesian rupiah (IDR), currently around 18,360IDR to UK£1. Banks and ATMs can be found in the main towns.

Sumenep

Madurese language primer

Although Bahasa is widely spoken across Madura it would be useful to have a few indigenous words handy. Whilst this is by no means a comprehensive list, if you want to know the Madurese for ‘bald’ look no further:

Thank you – Sakalangkong

No problem – Depadeh (artinya)

Excuse me (seeking help) – Ta’ langkong/takalong (similar to ‘permisi’ in Bahasa)

Please (greeting) – Tore lenggi

I want… – Kaule terro

Ask – Atanya ah

Where is… – Edimah…

Assassination Classroom – Kelas ghebei mate e oreng*

Bald – Bhutak

Tall – Tengghi

*No, us neither

Sumenep

(Transparent Editor: This is a compendium of our previously published Madura guides. Parts one, two and three are available in bite-sized chunks. We’re still trying to work out why part two is by far the most popular section.) 

Keep in touch with Eye In The Middle
error

Introducing Madura, Part Two: More Useful Snippets of Island Life

Batik, Madura

(Pre-emptive Editor: Don’t forget to read parts one and three of our (very) rough guide to Madura)

What expect

A common perception of Madura is one of stubborness, coarseness and fiery tempers. A temperament to match the island’s arid climate. Historically it has had an uneasy relationship with Java, and tensions are still evident on either side of the Suramadu Bridge.

Street art, Sumenep

Whilst visitors will most likely not experience this enmity they should notice a stark contrast nevertheless. Colourful batik clothing is everywhere and many women are resplendent in vibrant sarongs and kelambi (blouses). Madurese is spoken alongside Bahasa Indonesia as a unique culture of which the indigenous population are rightly proud reveals itself. Picturesque mosques dot the landscape and colourful street art adorns many nooks and crannies.

Mosque, Sumenep

In short, stepping onto Madura is akin to stepping through a portal to some alternate dimension which is not quite Indonesia.

This self-contained, brusque nature manifests itself in an extremely friendly welcome. There is not much in the way of shyness: An impromptu chat on a bus, an invitation for coffee or the offer of a bike ride will make strangers feel at home. It may well be tinged with curiosity – not many people visit Madura, after all – but never intrusive.

Where stay

Accommodation tends to be at the pricier end of the budget spectrum. Although prices are liable to change they are correct at the time of writing.

  1. In Bangkalan, Hotel Ningrat (Jl. KH Mohamad Kholil) is the only choice to speak of. Expect to pay 310,000IDR for an ensuite room. It’s a 5km, 20,000R angkot ride from the bus drop-off point at Tangkel. Call +62 31 3095388.
  2. Sumenep has slightly more choice. Hotel Utami Sumekar (Jl. Trunojoyo) is a good central option, with ensuite rooms from 160,000IDR including breakfast. It’s a 45-minute walk from Terminal Bus Antar on the town’s outskirts or a 20-minute ride on a becak rickshaw. Call +62 328 672221.
  3. Visitors to Pamekasan should try Ramayan Hotel (Jl. Niaga). Ensuite rooms cost 210,000R and there are plentiful food stalls and sights within easy walking distance. Call +62 324 324575.
  4. Pick of the bunch in Sampang is Hotel Trunjoyo (Jl. Rajawali). With ensuites from 150,000R, the hotel is a five-minute minute walk from Bus Terminal Sampang.

Where/what eat

For a tasty regional specialty, try rujak, a salad dish mixing vegetables with peanut sauces, cassava chips and subtle spices. Find it at roadside stalls and watch it made from scratch using the traditional flat Indonesian mortar and pestle.

Nasi goreng, bangkalan

There are many warungs around the football stadium in Bangkalan, with a bowl of mie goreng, above, typically costing 20,000R. In Sumenep Pondok Salero (Jl. Tunojoyo), pictured below, offers fine, cheap Padang-style food while the stalls down Jn. Sedulang deliver piping hot sate with thick peanut sauce for 15,000R. Those looking for bakso should visit Warung Galipat on Jl. KH Wahid Hasyim.

Amble down bustling Jl. Niaga in Pamekasan for street eats, cafes and wandering minstrels with guitars. Some tasty offerings in Sampang can be found opposite the general hospital on Jl. Rajawali.

(Bahasa Editor: If you want a takeaway, use the word ‘bungkus’. For example, to ask for fried rice to go you could say, ‘Tolong, saya ingin nasi goreng bungkus’. Don’t forget, the Bahasa word for food is ‘makan’ and drink is ‘minum’.)

Street art, Sampang

 

Keep in touch with Eye In The Middle
error

Introducing Madura, Part One: An Underrated Corner of Indonesia

Madura

Welcome to Madura

Even in a country as complex as Indonesia, Pulau Madura remains shrouded in mystery.

By rights the island should be a highlight of any trip through the region. It has an ideal location, perched off the east coast of Java and a stone’s throw away from Bali. Madura’s history, scenery and culture is one of the most distinct in the region.

And yet, this rugged island remains so far off the beaten track that many visitors to Indonesia are unaware of its existence.

However, therein lies Madura’s charm. With the lack of crowds comes the room to breathe. Certainly, those who make the effort will encounter sleepy towns, raging bulls, gloriously beautiful mosques, vibrant festivals and an independent streak as intense as anywhere in Indonesia.

Why go

Madura exists in its own little sphere, a corner of Indonesia unbound to the prism of tourism. Although the island is only an hour or so from Surabaya thanks to the Jembatan Suramadu – the bridge itself is a now-iconic Javan image –  this accessibility does not translate into simplicity.

English is not widely spoken, public transport is cramped and there is not much tourist infrastructure. The overriding mood is one of blunt honesty and few concessions are made to visitors. As a predominately Islamic island alcohol is not widely available.

All of which goes to make Madura such an endearing and adventurous destination. Each visit feels like a trip into the unknown. A cramped bus ride brings with it colourful characters, strangers warmly welcome passers-by and vibrant festivals showcases the island’s storied history. Locals greet tourist – a rare species – with arms wide open and just a touch of incredulity.

A warm welcome in Sampang
Visitors can expect to be warmly received in Madura

What do

The beauty of Madura lies in its remoteness. Happily, people are glad to help newcomers meaning so it’s easy to organise trips and transport.

As a general rule Madurese towns and villages are picturesque and reward exploration on foot. A peaceful jalan jalan will reveal sights, sounds, smells and characters not immediately apparent upon first arrival.

Gelora Bangkalan Stadion
Bangkalan’s Gelora Bangkalan Stadion

For many, the first major stop from Surabaya in Bangkalan, a town worthy of a night or two’s stay. Many head here for the bull racing and the town is home to the colourful Gelora Bangkalan Stadion (Jl. Raya Teuku Umar), where Madura FC play most of their home games. For anyone who’s got their own transport, the salt mines of Bukit Jaddih (5,000R entrance fee), pictured below, are worth the 25-minute journey. The beautiful white limestone cliffs combined with the views afforded by the hill’s peaks make for one of Madura’s most stirring sights.

Bukit Jaddih

Heading further central, Pamekesan is home to the Monumen Arek Lancor, pictured below, perhaps the island’s most enduring image. Standing proud in the city’s alun (square), the monument writhes in an attitude of prayer and devotion, as though inspired by the ornate Masjid Agung Asy-Syuhada behind it. Coupled with rousing Uldaul festivities – comprising floats, costumes, music and traditional songs – the town offers a kinetic, rousing celebration of Madurese culture.

Monumen Arek Lancor

Located about 12km to the city’s south-east, Jumiang Beach is a popular hang-out spot. The myriad cafes and warungs make for a congenial atmosphere as the nearby salt ponds stretch into the distance.

Jumiang Beach
Peaceful scenes at Jumiang Beach

Sedate Sumenep, to the east of Madura, is the island’s capital and one of Java’s most charming destinations. The calm pace of life, open streets and rugged surroundings give it a distinctly Mediterranean feel. It’s easy to spend an enjoyable couple of days soaking up the serene atmosphere. Since Madura is home to some of Indonesia’s most unique Batik designs there’s good reason to go shopping here. Well-made, sturdy shirts cost as little as 50,000R and while the material itself can be pricey – in some cases over 900,000R a roll  – the quality is excellent. Toko Apollo Batik Madura on Jl. Raya Sumenep is a good place to start but be sure to shop around. Most stores offer high-quality goods at competitive prices.

Masjid Jamik Sumenep
Masjid Jamik Sumenep

Sumenep is easily explorable on foot. A leisurely walk from the Masjid Jamik Sumenep – Madura’s most iconic mosque –  to and fro the Royal Tombs (Makam Raja Sumenep Asta Tinggi, below) should take no more than a few hours. Factor in a stop at the Stadion Karapan Sapi, home of the annual bull races, for a complete sweep of the town’s landmarks.

Makam Raja Sumenep Asta Tinggi

(Editor: Don’t forget to read parts two and three of EITM’s Madura guide as well)

 

Keep in touch with Eye In The Middle
error
RSS
Follow by Email
Facebook
Facebook
Google+
Google+
Pinterest
Pinterest
Instagram