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.
01 of 06
Experience #1: 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.
02 of 06
Experience #2: 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".
03 of 06
Experience #3: 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.
04 of 06
Experience #4: 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.Continue to 5 of 6 below.
05 of 06
Experience #5: 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.
"This mother of all... factory outlets gets super jammed up on weekends and holidays so be well prepared for this," warns MalaysiaAsia's David Hogan. "Seems like half of Jakarta are there shopping on weekends." (His list of top Bandung factory outlets is a must-read for would-be shoppers.)
06 of 06
Experience #6: 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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