Stumble Into Indonesia's Unseen Places
As much as I enjoy the creative and cute places in Bandung, shops and hotels pop up anywhere like there’s no city planning at all. Much of the development of the city is going to a concerning direction. Hence, knowing there’s still a forest park amongst the mess is a bliss. Taman Hutan Raya Ir. H. Djuanda is a place where you can go for a bit of natural and historical experience, and is one of the things to do in north Bandung.
It would have been easy to stay in at Sheraton Hotel, our hotel at the time, but there are fun things to do not far from the hotel itself. So why not?
Taman Hutan Raya, which translates to “the forest park”, is what it is: a forest turned park. There are many things in this park, that’s also called Tahura for short. Three things on the top of my mind: trees, caves and students.
The area is established for conservation purpose of plants, mainly the pines. Mumun the biology and ecology expert can probably explain about this better. Take it away, Mumun!
Tahura was the closest thing we had to a natural forest. Although it had paved roads and paths within it, many corners can still be categorized as natural. I truly saw how rich Tahura was during my college years as a Biology student. I had to sample and analyze heaps of species until it made my brain sore. Most of the trees are pine trees, due to the location higher up in the mountains. There is a rough chain of these trees all the way up to Tangkuban Parahu.
Its location, on the foot of a volcano, also explains the high biodiversity of organism (I’m starting to sound like my geeky self). Another thing that supports the existence of this forest are the streams flowing within it and the natural terrain of the valley.
When tracking to Maribaya, which is about a lush 10 km of forest, you’ll see and hear gushing water. I also did a lot of my bird watching exercise here (OK. I’ll stop. Looks like I’m scaring you). Bottom line, it’s such a rich environment and Bandung is blessed to have it near by. It’s also perfect introduction to trekking, especially for kids and teens.
And based on my own college experience, looks like Tahura is a Bandung’s lecturers’ favorite. I was assigned by my teacher to design a dummy leaflet about the park. That was my first time visiting the park, taking pictures (with roll films, mind you) and goofing around in the pitch-dark caves. Which brings us to the next attraction of Tahura.
Tahura is famous for the Goa Jepang (Japan Cave) and Goa Belanda (The Netherlands Cave). The Jap and the Dutch colonized Indonesia many many many years ago, and these caves were used as their military storage and radio communication.
It’s amazing how they built winding hallways and chambers deep in the mountain, complete with windows. It was an eerie feeling to imagine Indonesians were forced to make this during the colonial time. Chipping in to rock is never an easy task.
There used to be lighting system in the caves, but nowadays the lamps are gone. You can still get inside carrying flashlights. If you didn’t bring any, there are always men in casual clothes who rent out flashlights at the caves’ entrance. They can also be your guides in the caves.
Our guide told us that the lamps aren’t installed anymore to avoid young couples ‘hitting it on’ in the caves. As Asians, most of us get scared in the infinite dark because there are too many stories about ghost encounters in the dark, moreover in the forest. And rumor has it, these caves are haunted by the war victims that died there!
We were lucky to be spending a night at Sheraton Hotel, located only about 15 minutes drive from the park, without heavy traffic.
We got there by the hotel’s transport service, but the park is also reachable by public transportation. You can take any angkot to Dago Terminal, then continue with ojek for about IDR 10,000 – 15,000 / pax. If you like walking, you can just walk the 2 km distance from the terminal.
With 590 hectare (about 1,457 acres) size and gradient contour of the forest walk, Taman Hutan Raya can be a good place for light trekking. Mumun and I wanted to walk further after Goa Jepang, but unfortunately there would be no way we could make it on time for our spa appointment at the Sheraton Hotel. So we had to call it quits.
After travel time from Jakarta to Bandung after work the previous day, half an hour of swimming in the morning plus about an hour walk in Tahura, our muscles got tired enough to really indulge the 1-hour massage at the Laguna Spa. Boy, was it relaxing!
We had the massage in the spa’s Kratineung Room, which was really a standard hotel room turned massage room. The massage beds were covered with batik cloth n’ all. The masseuses were ready with their service and weren’t too chitty chatty. Just the way I like a massage: good rubbing and kneading, not too hard and not too soft, with minimum talking. I remember vaguely hearing a light snore from the other bed. *hinting to Mumun*
The spa service offers several packages. Combinations of back massage, scrubbing, face acupressure, traditional massage, milk bath and so on. Guests can choose to have the massage within their own room or, like we did, at the Spa area.
If you happen to be around Sheraton Hotel, or staying at the hotel, you don’t need to worry about having not much to do. Aside from the Taman Hutan Raya, there are also restaurants with scenic view around the Dago Pakar area (north of the hotel), the awesome Selasar Sunaryo Art Space, an amphitheater where art performances are often held called Dago Tea House, and the one and only favorite porridge of mine: Bubur Ayam Pak Zaenal that you can reach southward in less than 5 minutes drive from Sheraton Hotel.
In the weekends, the traffic jam around Dago intersection (or Simpang Dago) can be brutal. But if you move around the upper side of Dago (Dago Atas) only, you should be okay.
Tahura entrance fee per person:
IDR 8,000 for Indonesian citizen, IDR 50,000 for a foreigner.
Flashlight rental and guide service at Goa Jepang of Tahura:
There’s no written fee, but usually it’s about IDR 4,000 / flashlight plus IDR 25,000 / guide service in Indonesian language.
Sheraton Hotel’s Laguna Spa:
Treatment packages are available in various prices starting from IDR 90,000. They charge slightly more for services in your own room.
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Note: The spa was a compliment from Sheraton Bandung Hotel, but the opinion is our own.