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Selasa, 13 Mei 2014 23:24

Bandung.... the Forgotten City… awaits to be re-discovered

Stephen Fleay for many years a freelance correspondent for the BBC, has now moved to Bandung. Stephen had initially planned semi-retirement in Chiang Mai northern Thailand, but decided after just two years there, that in Indonesia the former “Parijs Van Java” was a far more interesting place.

Some of Stephen’s impressions follow...

A recent email in reply to mine that we’d moved to Bandung was….”So I’m not sure where Bandung is, but it must be somewhere in Thailand”…this capped off a wealth of ignorance over a city that was once destined to be the capital of the Netherlands Indies, a city which also due to its mild climate and fashionable buildings and shops was known as the “Paris of Java”, a city which is now forgotten by the west but has a wealth of touristic opportunities.

Its indeed more than well known by the locals. On weekends and public holidays, the usual population of around two million swells with an influx of visitors from Jakarta and other major Indonesian cities. They come to take advantage of the milder climate, just as the Dutch did for several hundred years during those “colonial” times.

Bandung’s usually chaotic traffic becomes further amplified with the Jakarta “B” number plates. But traffic jams, potholed roads, can add to the charm of Bandung. Getting there can take a long time, but it gives an excellent opportunity to take in those tree lined streets and still in tact Dutch designed buildings. There are some magnificent structures still in tact…..Art Deco at its grandest in the Savoy Homan and Preanger Hotels.

Charlie Chaplin liked it so much that he stayed 3 times at the Savoy Homann. Some of the rooms are still originally furnished with 20’s and 30’s fittings. The moment one steps in the door of this building, it’s a trip back in History. The old part of the Preanger is a living museum and the wood paneled parlor is almost unchanged since it was built in 1919, even a wind-up gramophone. In the “new” Preanger there’s a delicious buffet lunch Mondays to Fridays with a different Indonesian style of food each day.

Then there’s the “Braga”…..this was THE shopping street of Java back in the 20’s and 30’s. The place to see and be seen. Nowadays it’s a bit run down, but look inside the buildings and you’ll see some of the original marble floors and decorative walls tiles, even some pretty mosaics. There’s an interesting second hand shop, with lots of curiosities. I spotted a decorative old Philips radiogram, lots of old Dutch paintings (alas no Rembrandts), what the owner says are Ming Dynasty pieces, antique pistols, plenty of clocks and even reading glasses. One can spend an hour or so looking at this place alone.

In place of the fashionable boutiques, they sell some rather kitchy, but colorful paintings and hand painted post cards. You can always haggle down the price and take home and original piece of Indonesian art. I like the Braga and having been there one more than once occasion discover something new each time.

But if its modern you want, then its modern you’ll get. Bandung has four large shopping Malls and more are being built and planned. There’s the BSM or Bandung Super Mall. Its “huge” and said to be one of the largest in Asia. Not only a wide range of clothing shops, but an indoor fun fair complete with roller coaster. Istana Plaza is more middle of the road, and has an ice skating rink. The BTC or Bandung Trade centre would be the best place for clothes bargains, and its food court with scrumptious Indonesian dishes is a must for every visitor. Electronics are to be found at the BEC or Bandung Electronic’s Centre. Duty Free? Well prices here in my opinion are surely lower than your favorite international airport shopping centre…from computer hardware and software to hand phones. BEC also has a nice food court with not only Indonesian food, but also French fare, and a coffee shop. At lunch and dinner time there’s live music in the restaurant.

Bandung certainly needs to be rediscovered……with no direct International flights getting there is a challenge, but from Jakarta my suggestion is to take the train. During the last hour of the 3 hour journey the scenery is magnificent, and food is served on board Executive Class trains. Book a hotel such as the Malya or any other of a host of top class places and you’ll be picked up at the train station, given a drink of your choice and even booked in, before you even reach your temporary residence.

There are lots of interesting places to visit….nearby hot springs, volcanoes, a city zoo, or just tour the Braga and shop in the Jeans street.

You’ll not be disappointed. The smiles are genuine here.


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