My Java Bound : Surabaya to Malang

My Java Bound : Surabaya to Malang

I love to travel to East Java, I am surprised so few people take the trip from Bali to be honest, I mean, it is easy to get to, there are trains, buses and planes, you can hire a car with or without a driver and in five days see vast changes of character and climate. Take your time and discover the wonderful East Java cities of Surabaya and Malang.

From Bali to Surabaya’s streets

I recommend the short flight to Surabaya: For one thing it is just over an hour from Bali and the view from the plane is breathtaking, the tips of the volcanoes peak through any cloud cover and you can feel almost as excited as the first colonials must have been as you touch down into a city that bares the marks of the true explorers, the Bugis, the Massakans and the Arabs. Here Surabaya’s streets beat with the ancient history of the Turks, the Moors and the Hadhramis well as the Chinese that approached from the seas to the north. While the architecture of Raffles and his conquering cohorts dominates the physical history of the city if you look further in, into the faces, the markets and the minarets of mosques, you will find true history.

There’s to me an essence of that hard core gypsy living that contradicts the efforts of big cities like Jakarta to placate history with a sophisticated facade. Here in Surabaya there is a rawness that resonates with the earlier rebelliousness of the place. To me I think it has the appeal of Liverpool or Birmingham, port cities running in ‘second place’ to a capital, yet richer and more rewarding because of it. I love the tangible hard work ethic that pervades the markets and the shops, the way that trading carries on in a similar fashion to the ways of a century ago.

Visit Pasar Bebeng, or Pasar Pabean and see for yourselves, the Maduranese women, the ‘pirates of the pasar’, are running everything in sight and see if you can get past them without comment. They gave me such a ribbing, honestly if it wasn’t for my ability to give as good as I get I would have left with my ‘tail’ tucked well between my legs.

The Hotel Majahpahit

Don’t worry too much though you can always retreat to the colonial aspects of the town and don for a moment the shield of nostalgia at The Hotel Majahpahit.

Here is the original Hotel Oranje started by Louis Sarkies of the Armenian Sarkies brothers who really were the original luxury hoteliers of South East Asia.

With the famed Strand in Yangon and Raffles in Singapore to their name, they commissioned hotels that offered dreams of colonial grandeur despite their own status as emigres and luminaries attending the Majapahit’s opening included Crown Prince Leopold III from Belgium Princess Astrid from Sweden and English actor Charlie Chaplin.

Oh yes, Surabaya was the city of the Java Jive, and from the early 20th Century until the Japanese invasion and subsequent liberation of the country, a heady and exotic mix of ethnicities including Muslim Yemeni and Buddhist Chinese, the Calvanist Dutch and the Islamic and Hindu Javanese mingled in relative peace.

This is the Surabaya to discover, the city, one time larger that Jakarta, a competitor to Hong Kong and Shanghai and the largest city in the Dutch East Indies.

In the summer the Surabaya elite retreated to the hill city of Malang where eventually Dutch colonials built their bungalows, and today golden apples still grow and small canals are traversed by arched bridges alongside pretty cottages bedecked with flowers and domestic cats in a miniature version of Dutch urbanity.

Captured by this ‘olde worlde’ charm the city of Malang is a marvellous mirage, seemingly full of budding intellectuals who are fervent and ardent in discussions that desire to shape the nation of the future.

The many cafes and warungs are bursting with a student population drawn to this hub of academia, here they feast on an excellent beef soup called Rawon and noodle dishes, Cwie Mie or Pangsit Mie and the cakes and breads that can be found everywhere but nowhere better than the Roti Tugu Bakery.

The Hotel Tugu Malang

The Tugu Group happens to be one of my favourite hotel groups precisely because they are not a group, they are a family. At the Hotel Tugu Malang you will find the history and architecture of Malang spread before you with artifacts, gallery displays and entire rooms given over to histories from the myths and legends of the Ramayana to contemporary stories of Eastern Javanese history.

Resident or not the Hotel Tugu is a must visit, from early morning coffee to afternoon teas the hotel draws you into its unique and heady atmosphere of Dutch colonial era heritage , Indonesian and Chinese cultural fusion and the humble beauty of traditional Indonesian art and craft masterpieces.

Spending a day exploring on bicycles is easily arranged through the Hotel Tugu, grab a becak – cyclo rickshaw- to visit local warungs or hire a taxi for a day to take you out to the tea and coffee plantations that adorned the surrounding hillsides.

Whatever you do and wherever you go in East Java you will feel all the richer for it.

Plan your time

Between Surabaya and Malang there is at least a week of adventure to be had and planning a tour can be a good idea. If you, like me, love adventure and bikes look no further than Infinity Mountain Biking for their nine day East Java tour that includes a trip to Mount Bromo.

Tasting tips

Malang Rawon Rampal, Jalan Panglima Sudirman – Beef stews, soups and curries. Depot Hok Lay, Jalan KH Ahmad Dahlan – Lumpia and Noodles Cwie Mie
Surabaya Try Indonesian street food like Sate Klopok and the foods of the Arabian diaspora such as Nasi Kabuli, Kuri Kambing and the Perenakan or Nyonya foods of the Chinese Malay culture. This article was written for NOW! Bali, and originally published in August 2018
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Visiting Yogyakarta: Royal Palaces and Rustic Palates

Visiting Yogyakarta: Royal Palaces and Rustic Palates

Jogyakarta is close enough to Bali that you can afford to take a few days from your island schedule to explore this intriguing part of Java, which while well known is often neglected by the Bali bound. To describe the place as rich in arts and culture is just skimming the surface, for one there is so much art, everywhere !

So much more than a pretty face…

But before I get carried away, let’s backtrack a bit, I love art but I am first and foremost a food guy, and I have a confession: The food of Jogya, was for me not so easy to understand, the flavours that make up the cuisine here are complex, sophisticated and combined with the cooking style produces food that is unfamiliar taste wise for the Western palate. The savoury tastes are quite rustic if you like, smoky flavours, dusky tones and layered textures is how I would describe it, not immediately accessible but ultimately delicious in its difference.

The food of Jogya represents a cultural cuisine heritage that unlike much of Java is created from the central elements of the land as opposed to external or impositional influences.

There is an authenticity in foods like the Gudeg, jackfruit so sweet as to be cloying yet served with a contrasting Krecek that cuts through and balances this smoky sweetness with layers of intense rustic flavour.

It’s an ancient food, there’s no frying; smoking and grilling yes, and the appearance of what we may think of as mismatched ingredients just deepen the intensity. Banana blossoms, papaya leaves, quails eggs and chicken gizzards appear in various guises in dishes served from smoky warungs that look like witches covens, full of bubbling pots, glowing coconut husks, racks of smoking catfish and dishes of minced offal and meat, Buntil, parceled up in caul.

These street cafes, like Warung Yuk Djum and Warung Mbah Marto famed for their rustic cuisine and the presence of the Keroncong singers like Mariachi bands who sing out the songs of the street while eager patrons eat..

This indigenous cuisine is a mirror of Jogya, self determined. Still with a highly regarded Sultan in the palace and self governing the Jogya city vibe is relaxed and confident.

There’s a strong sense of being in a community be it the centre of town or an outlying suburb you will feel a part of something close knit.

It’s a safe city that celebrates its diversity openly. An excellent example of this are the student street stalls of the off the main drag of Jalan Malioboro, hip and cool Angkringan Kopi Joss is full of Nasi Jinggo, Nasi Kucing and Fried Chicken Nuggets, even fried pork is sold from carts into the early morning hours.

Mats are rolled out along the pavement for young men and women, smoking or vaping who lean back and enjoy their evening snack while drinking the eponymous Kopi Joss, thick ground coffee served with a lump of burning charcoal that is meant to offset the acidity of the coffee.

Try it – it’s a real treat. And an insider tip here, get to Jalan Malioboro early in the morning for the market and at other times leave it for the touts and tourists and instead head to the Prawirotaman Market for the sheer joy of the banter between the stall holders.


If you want real insider tips and more Warwick Purser is the man to find. Now an Indonesian citizen Warwick is living in Jogyakarta and has resided for over forty years in the Archipelago.

He has spent his time supporting humanitarian causes and bringing much needed support to post disaster rebuilding from the tsunami to the earthquake of 2006 to the more recent eruption of Mt Merapi.

Warwick opened D’Omah as a Boutique Heritage Village Resort as a way to introduce his guests to the culture of “the village”, and sharing his insider knowledge on extended tours of the surrounding area. Much of what D’Omah offers inspires my own Canggu Cooking Retreat, this sense you are welcomed into a village community that is sharing its comings and goings is for me such an important aspect of any form of travel.

D’Omah Hotel is located not more than twenty minutes from the city and authentically Javanese although in a delightful contrast the grounds of the hotel are home to eclectic works of art.

A talented recent resident has been Amin Taasha, an emigree of Hazara descent, whose works are inspired by his early life and eventual escape from Afghanistan.

Jogya Kraton and Water Palace

Underlining Jogya’s appeal is this continual gracious acceptance of multiculturalism, even in the village on the way to the Water Palace we came across a multifaith Mosque that welcomes the prayers of any devotee. The Kraton or Sultan’s Palace is a living museum, home to the current, and progressive Sultan, his wife and five daughters the palace was built in the mid- eighteenth century and is located in the midst of a lovely cool forest which makes it so pleasant to walk around the exhibitions, especially the Wayang Kulit shadow puppet displays. Here you can daydream from pavillion to pavillion of times past where Java was a place of princes, princesses and evocative mystery stories.

The Water Palace used to be part of the Palace Gardens, a resting place, for meditation and romance, for reflection by the many pools and manicured gardens, these days there remains the pool complex with its tower from where past Sultans would spy on their concubines and the fantastic complex of underground tunnels that once led to private pavilions and still lead to the beach.

The Water Palace hosts a blend of architectural styles from Moor to Hindu, with a distinct Chinese influence and again it is possible to see how when cultures combine an elevation of art and beauty blossoms.

This is why I think Jogyakarta is a must visit, so much so that I have, with Warwick’s input created an incredible three day, two night street food tour of this city of cuisine, culture and creativity.

Our tour will take you deep into the Jogya culture, into the back alleys of market stalls and the daily life of the city, through temples and palaces that will transport you back in time, and to Jogya’s jewel, one of the wonders of the man-made world the Temple of Borobudur. I think it’s time to get a better look at what goes on outside Bali and discover an appreciation for this nation’s hidden treasures. This article was written for NOW! Bali, and originally published in July 2018
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