The secret is out. It used to be that only Jakarta locals knew about Bandung, its hilly, volcanic terrain; its cool breezes; and its improbably cheap clothing outlet stores. Now the rest of the world is in on it too.
Not that there's anything wrong with that: the hills and craters around this serene Indonesian city hold a few surprises, from a Sundanese culture show to two steaming volcanic craters to a romantic dining destination overlooking the slopes.
Travel Back in Time to the “Paris of Java”
To the Dutch colonizers, Bandung offered what cramped, stifling Jakarta could not: a cool climate and carte blanche to design a new city from scratch. As Bandung evolved from plantation town to grand capital, Jalan Braga became Bandung’s high street, its Art Deco buildings and tree-shaded sidewalks helping earn the city a new nickname: “the Paris of Java”.
Jalan Braga’s cosmopolitan vibe never really left, though the place looks grimier compared to its heyday. The luxury hotels and fashion boutiques may have mostly gone; coffee shops, souvenir shops, bookstores, and backpacker hotels have sprung up in their place.
It’s still a pleasure to explore, though: artists display their works on the sidewalk, and you can pop in to one of many creatively repurposed shop fronts to see anything from authentic Sundanese food to artisanal souvenirs.
Walk Around a Simmering Volcanic Crater
The slopes of Bandung were once part of a 13,000-foot-high megavolcano known as Mount Sunda. Scientists believe that a massive eruption about 55,000 years ago collapsed Mount Sunda's caldera - little is left of that volcano now, except for a few simmering outlets like Tangkuban Perahu, located about 15 miles north of the Bandung city center.
The biggest crater in the Tangkuban Perahu area - Kawah Ratu - appears as a massive bowl rimmed with a pathway and scrubby, undernourished vegetation. Volcanic ash has accumulated at the bottom of the crater, sometimes accompanied by a deposit of water. A sulfuric stench fills the air; the volcano is still active, having last erupted in March 2015.
Tangkuban Perahu is a major Bandung tourist draw; the pathways around Kawah Ratu's southeastern lip have a bazaar-like feel, having been taken over by market stalls selling T-shirts, Indonesian street food, and souvenirs.
For other volcanic outdoor adventures in the country, read about trekking active volcanoes in Indonesia.
See a Magnificent Building Named After Indonesian Food
The centerpiece of an aborted attempt to move the capital of Indonesia from Jakarta to Bandung, the Gedung Sate building was completed in 1920 to serve as the seat of Dutch colonial government.
Though never serving the part, the building’s design retains all the grandeur and symbolism of the role it was supposed to fulfill – combining European Art Deco with Javanese, Hindu and Islamic design elements, surrounded by spacious gardens, and crowned with a spire that gave the building its nickname (it’s literally called the “satay building”, as the spire looks like a stick of satay, or skewered meat).
Today, Gedung Sate serves as the seat of the Provincial Governor of West Java; the building is open only for official business, save the grounds and a high-tech museum on the ground floor. The latter allows visitors to take VR views of Gedung Sate and Bandung’s history.
The museum is open from 9:30am to 4pm from Tuesday to Sunday. Visit their official site: museumgedungsate.org.
Enjoy an Interactive Angklung Performance
If - like this author - you don't know your Sundanese from your Javanese - then you're in for a treat. Saung Angklung Udjo (SAU, angklung-udjo.co.id) puts on a show every afternoon that focuses on West Javan Sundanese culture, expressed most musically in the musical instrument called the angklung.
The angklung (Wikipedia) is a bamboo musical instrument that originated with the Sundanese. (The Javanese are better known for their brass gamelan music.) Do you doubt bamboo's capability as a building material for music? SAU's own version of Miles Davis will surprise you.
Children and teens wearing Sundanese and other Indonesian traditional attire lead SAU's show, performing angklung versions of pop tunes like Michael Jackson's "Heal the World" and Frankie Valli's "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You", then going on a whirlwind introduction of Indonesia's many cultures through dance.
The interactive part of the show is by itself worth the price of admission: SAU's founder's son passes out loaner angklung to the audience, then surprisingly transforms the whole mass of viewers into an impromptu bamboo orchestra! Check out this short Instagram video snippet of Mr. Udjo conducting the audience as they (I mean, we) perform "I Can't Help Falling in Love With You".
Cut the Kids Loose on a Mountain Park
The Sundanese do magical things with bamboo, and the prickly hedgehog bamboo sculpture outside Dusun Bambu Family Leisure Park (www.dusunbambu.com) only hints at the locals' masterful touch with indigenous materials.
This 15-hectare park is a sprawling playground inspired by the interplay between Sundanese and Western cultures. The gardens work with the hilly Burangrang Mountain landscape, gently descending down a slope to a man-made lake with a stage in the middle (you'll find contemporary and traditional artistes taking turns here performing their sets).
We arrived at Dusun Bambu to partake of their legendary table - while we enjoyed a selection of Sundanese culinary favorites at Café Burangrang, visitors can enjoy a more varied, fast-food-type selection at the Katulistiwa Food Court, which doubles as a souvenir shop for travelers looking to take the Dusun Bambu experience home with them.
Overnight stays can be arranged: high-end visitors can book a villa at Kampung Layung, while outdoorsy travelers can try "glamping" at the Sayang Heulang campsite.
Take In the View from a Bike on a Tightrope
The best way to see Bandung’s highlands is from even higher up – like, for instance, on a bicycle suspended on a high-wire, between Lembang’s green forest cover and the blue sky. The Lodge Maribaya (thelodgemaribaya.com) makes the most out of the forested, mountainous terrain, with sky swings and hiking trails.
The Lodge Camp onsite lets you stay in comfortable tents equipped with mattresses, with access to shared bathrooms with hot water, and inclusive of breakfast and dinner.
Admission to the Lodge Maribaya costs IDR 15,000 (US$1) per person on weekdays, and IDR 25,000 (US$1.80) on weekends. Additional ticket purchases needed for the Lodge Maribaya’s different activities.
Catch the Sunrise at Cukul Point
Sunrise-watchers used to ocean views will feel spoiled by the view from Sunrise Point Cukul: the dawn rising over Pangalengan’s gently undulating hills beat anything you’ll see over the water.
Bandung’s tea plantations have been a going concern here long before the city of Bandung became a thing. Much of the tea grown here is exported abroad; luckily they can’t take away the area’s cool breezes and gently bucolic views.
After walking to the top of the hill to catch the sun rising over the horizon, hike through the rest of the area and follow the paths between the tea bushes to attractions like a German-style villa; a lake named Situ Cukul; and a traditional village named Cikondang that preserves the old Sundanese ways.
Take a Selfie at a Sulfuric Lake
Bandung is bookended by two major crater sites - Tangkuban Perahu in the north, and Kawah Putih (White Crater) in the south.
The latter's name is a bit misleading; the ash around the shallow crater lake is hardly white, actually more of a sickly shade of blue-green. And the acidic water is hardly conducive to swimming: you're not standing on firm sand, after all, but ground that gives way to mushy green mud as you get closer to the shore.
Yet it is still a magnificent site to behold - hardly as crowded as Tangkuban Perahu, and more in-your-face, as you'll find yourself standing in the crater depression as opposed to staring at it from a distance. The smell of sulfur lingers in the air, more strongly on some days than others. Hawkers sell masks at the park entrance, ostensibly to help keep the smell at bay, but they do little to curb the aroma.
Luckily the rest of Ciwidey near Kawah Putih offers a more pleasant highland experience, with glamping, deer feeding, lake cruising and a waterpark for your enjoyment.
Get Extremely Great Deals on Branded Clothes
Billions of dollars worth of profits are made by the garments factories stationed around Bandung, but their benefits trickle down to locals and tourists alike. Bandung has become famous around Indonesia as a one-stop shop for cheap branded clothing, thanks to the outlet stores all around the city selling factory overruns.
Bandung's outlet stores can be found clustered around three major streets: Jalan Setiabudi, Jalan Riau and Jalan Juanda. You'll need to hunt through the dozens of stores in these locations for just the right deal, but you'll find in nonetheless given the massive inventory. Fakes abound, though, so caveat emptor: the 80 percent markdown on that Ralph Lauren shirt might be too good to be true.
If you don't have the patience or time to go hunting through Bandung's many outlet stores, stick to Rumah Mode on Jalan Setiabudi, the largest clothing store in all of Bandung. While their selection is massive, so is their following.
Enjoy a Romantic Dinner with a View
Don't neglect the mountain views on Bandung, particularly in the evenings. Drop by the Peak (thepeakresortdining.com), a posh restaurant that stands at the crest of a hill in Karyawangi Village near Bandung, overlooking the city and nearby mountains. The cool mountain breezes go perfectly well with the Peak's Western-inspired menu and its almost bottomless wine list (they boast of having the best wine selection in Bandung).
The Peak is located in a three-storey building, each floor given massive windows to make the most of the surrounding views. The restaurant prides itself on serving as a cultural hub, with its great food and drink often served in conjunction with modern art exhibits put on by Bandung's active arts community.
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