Like I always advise fellow travelers, a day or two in Jakarta would be sufficient—to see its sights, shop in its malls and markets, and savor its food. That said, with popular places like Yogyakarta and Bali hundreds of miles away from the capital, I’m often asked where to go on a side trip from Jakarta—my answer has always been Bandung. I had visited the city in 2015, and luckily, the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism had taken me back to Bandung as part of Trip of Wonders with Southeast Asia’s bloggers and influencers.
Bandung was once known as Parij van Java (Paris van Java)—a moniker bestowed upon by Indonesia’s former Dutch colonizers. It was named such, for, in one point in its history, it was an exclusive resort town and a haven of art deco architecture. The affluent, some of whom owned the plantations nearby, would frolic in its streets lined with stylish cafes, restaurants, boutiques, and hotels.
The city’s popularity even back then was catapulted by its pleasant year-round climate, which it owed to its high elevation and the volcanic mountains that surrounded it. For the Dutch, it was an escape, a contrast from the hot and humid capital of Batavia (now Jakarta) located about 150 kilometers away.
Fast forward to this century, Bandung has grown into the fourth most populous city in Indonesia, a boomtown with traffic jams and concrete being laid everywhere. Aside from being a default weekend destination for those living in Jakarta and nearby cities, Bandung hosts thriving industries that have been attracting jobseekers and new city transplants.
Despite its boom, however, some of its quaint, old world charm has been retained, thanks to the art deco and neoclassical structures still in existence.
So what are some of the highlights of this vibrant city?
Jalan Asia Afrika in Braga has a concentration of art deco buildings that date back to the early 1900’s. Among the notable ones are Gedung Merdeka, a 1921 building that used to host the Sociëteit Concordia; and the still-operational Savoy Homann Hotel, regarded as one of the grandest and best art deco structures in Bandung.
The Dutch also built some neoclassical structures, most of which served government functions. The most prominent example is Gedung Sate, nicknamed such because of its spire that resembles a stick of satay. Used to be the office of the Dutch East Indies’ department of transport, public works, and water management, it now serves as the seat of power for the governor of West Java.
Beloved Javanese and Indonesian dishes are aplenty in Bandung, especially in humble hawker carts and warungs (small restaurants). On the top of the list of must-tries are batagor (short for bakso tahu goreng), composed of fried fish dumplings, tofu, beansprouts, and lontong (rice cakes) slathered with a thick peanut sauce; and bakso, a hearty noodle soup topped with meatballs and other meats.
Chic and unique cafes and restaurants that serve mostly Western and fusion cuisine are also aplenty in Bandung. Among them is Vanilla Kitchen in Jalan Cimanuk, which specializes in breakfast, pizza, and pasta, as well as handcrafted beverages.
Bandung has a vibrant art scene that visitors often overlook. In the city, indie fashion, music, and multimedia art thrive, thanks in part to schools like the Bandung Institute of Technology. It is where art collectives like Bandung Sketchwalk converge to draw the city’s art deco structures.
Creative juices flow well in Bandung, it seems, that it has inspired artists like prominent sculptor I Nyoman Nuarta. Mr. Nuarta has devoted most of his life honing his craft and creating some of the most monumental art projects in Indonesia, such as the Garuda Wisnu Kencana in Bali and the Proclamation Monument in Jakarta. And so more people could partake in his art, he developed Nu Art Gallery, which houses many of his masterpieces and likewise serves as a workshop.
Despite its dense population and development, Bandung leaves room for nature. As a matter of fact, within it is the 600-hectare Juanda Forest Park in Cimenyan, which is home to a great variety of flora and fauna, as well as waterfalls and artificial caves. After a walk across the park amid the cool weather, a hot cup of kopi luwak (civet coffee) from Armor Kopi would prove to be lovely.
Meanwhile, situated at the foot of Mount Burangrang is Dusun Bambu Family Leisure Park, an eco-tourism zone that allows visitors to commune with nature and enjoy activities like camping and picnics.
An ethnic bamboo instrument with four tubes attached to a frame, the angklung has been played for centuries by the Sundanese of West Java, where Bandung is located. And so this integral piece of Sundanese culture and tradition would be preserved, the late Udjo Nalagena established the Saung Angklung Udjo (Udjo’s House of Angklung). There, visitors can witness impressive ethnic performances featuring the angklung, and in one portion of the program, everyone is lent an angklung to form an orchestra.
The local garment industry of Bandung has been thriving that, during its peak, it was known as Indonesia’s denim capital. Clothing factories in the city gave rise to factory outlets (also known as FOs) that market overruns—branded garments that have minor flaws or defects and are therefore unsuitable for export—at a fraction of their retail prices. Burberry, Armani, Zara, and Ben Sherman are only some of the finds at FOs like Rumah Mode and Heritage.
The Asian Financial Crisis of 1997 may have ground Bandung’s garment industry to a halt, but it nonetheless allowed a local industry called Distro to fill in the void it created. Distro refers to the youth-oriented fashion movement in Bandung, an industry led by indie fashion designers and garment-makers. Many trendy Distro shops are scattered around the city, such as Pop Shop in Jalan Cimanuk.
How to get there and around: Jakarta and Bandung are about 150 kilometers apart. Both have international airports, though only the former offer direct flights to and from Manila. From Jakarta’s Gambir Station, the more comfortable means of getting to Bandung is the train, which takes three hours approximately. Meanwhile, to get to and from specific portions of Jakarta directly, vans are better to take, though travel time largely varies between three and five hours depending on the traffic.
To get around, Uber and GrabCar are the best options. Taxis are aplenty too. But to get to spots that are quite outside the city center, it’d be better to coordinate with a local travel agent.
Where to stay: Sheraton Bandung offers resort-style, family-friendly accommodations in a quieter portion of the city called Dago. It has expansive gardens, impressive swimming pools, splendid views from its Sheraton Club, and a pleasant mountain breeze. Each room is furnished with the luxurious Sheraton Signature Bed, too. For more details, check out www.sheratonbandung.com. (Full review coming soon on the blog.)