Stumble Into Indonesia's Unseen Places
We usually get a few questions about an alternative destination different to the usual touristy places or a getaway from Jakarta, that’s not overly crowded during the weekend. We have a few usual answers for this such as Pangandaran, Portibi or Bogor, but now we can recommend a weekend trip to Pekalongan. This trip was based on an invitation and itinerary from The Sidji Hotel in Pekalongan. We have to say kudos to Felicia Nugroho for making a nice itinerary, but still leaving space for modifications. Okay, let’s get down to it.
And for on the ground guiding, we went around with Trias or @dolanpekalongan, a local who is keen to help promote Pekalongan.
Naturally we slept in The Sidji Hotel, Pekalongan, which seemed to be the fanciest hotel in the city. It’s not a chain hotel, and it has one of a kind front façade, modern rooms with the much needed AC and white sheets that I love.
We had few of our meals within the hotel out of convenience. Hotel menus are usually pretty standard but to be honest, our group was very happy with the Indonesian menu that the hotel restaurant had. The ‘mie tektek’ or fried noodles with veggies was particularly scrumptious. It was the right amount of spices, the noodles were still the star of the dish, and it still had that street-food flavour to it, as most Indonesians would know. Not to mention the coffee, the iced caramel latte to be precise, was also worth staying for in the hotel. I had seconds.
If you’re looking for real local food, try tauto, an abbreviation of tauco (fermented beans) and soto (soup). We had tauto at Tauto Haji Rochmani, which turned out to be pretty iconic. This particular place served tauto with yummy broth and generous amount of protein inside. Not a lot of people are accustomed to the tauco taste, but I think the tauto soup here might be widely acceptable. Inside the soup was a handful of meat. The norm would be a mix of meat and inner organs, but you can request an all-meat soup.
Location: Jl. Kurinci No. 40, Pekalongan
We also made a stop at a very recommended place for es durian (also called duren) or cold durian with ice. For durian lovers, I’m told that this place is ‘da bomb’. I personally think durians are stinky bombs, but Vira definitely wouldn’t agree, with a knife in her hand. The place is called Gubug Es Merak and by 2 p.m. that day they were out of durians. My expectation to have the avocado mix, that was on the menu on the wall, also failed as they also ran out of avocado. It must be a pretty busy joint when they have stock. It’s also called ‘gubug’ for obvious reasons. ‘Gubug’ means shack and the place is no more than a humble shack with a few areas to sit.
Location: Jl. Merak, Pekalongan
When asking for a café to The Sidji Hotel staff, they recommended the spice coffee or ‘kopi rempah’ just down the street from the hotel. Apparently, they led us to a small coffee stall that served their drinks on the side of the main Pantura Road or intercity main road. The coffee wasn’t too special, just black coffee spiced with cinnamon and a few other spices. The location was more special considering a fast running bus could suddenly hit us. But seems like this spot was pretty popular as we weren’t the only ones there; even a motorcycle gang pulled up to have a cup.
Location: Jalan Cipto, about 50 meters from The Sidji Hotel.
We attended Sidji Hotel’s invitation for a special occasion, which was the indigo batik workshop, held specially for our group that day. We met Pak Zahir, the man that has a passion for Indonesian cloth, batik, and indigo coloring. He’s a lecturer on a regular basis, teaching batik, and agreed to teach a thing or two for the big-city kids.
For more of that story, you can read on our story about indigo batik here.
Another thing we did was walk around the kauman area, which is generally the old area where batiks are made. Kauman area in Pekalongan is right behind ‘Masjid Agung Kauman’, the main mosque of the city. Like most kaumans, the area consists of small alleys with dense houses. Most of them have simple facades, some looking older than others. Mostly cute and charming.
What interests me the most is what lies behind the facades. Most of the houses in ‘kauman’ has a batik production within their house. We stepped into one of the houses that seemed like any other house in the area with a batik shop in front, guided by Triaz from @dolanpekalongan. We were allowed to take a step closer to observe the process.
Stepping into a batik factory, a lot of your senses are evoked. The smell of liquid wax is definite. Following it, an exotic sight of rugged and messy factory. Workers were in stained shorts and shirts, their working uniform. On their feet were simple flip flops. Smoke from boiling wax filled the spacious stamping area. The air was mildly hot and humid for me. The open windows did help breeze come into the area. The men were keen on talking to us or about us in Javanese. I guess some of them were pretty happy with a group of women strolling round the factory. Some, didn’t seem to care.
Seemed like the hall was fully functioned for stamped batik. The men worked semi robotically, stamping on wax patterns without a visible guiding lines. Seemed like the men do much of the stamping, while women are more concentrated in hand drawings. The women might be more keen to details and have delicate hands compared to men. However, I’ve seen a few men draw batiks, so it might not be a consensus, just a common function. Roaming around the factory took up a nice hour.
There’s not much to say about batik shopping batik. It’s shopping! But a few pointers of shopping in Pekalongan’s kauman Pekalongan is that cloths are super cheap compared once they’re transported outside of the city, you can still bargain offered price, and each house/shop has different items. There are no two same items.
There you go. Have a weekend trip to Pekalongan or just make a stop at this moderately small city for a more local and authentic experience in Indonesia. Don’t forget to ride the becak!
For a weekend getaway from Jakarta, you can catch a train that heads east through the north route. In our case, we boarded the Sembrani train that departed at Friday night at 7 p.m. The train aims for Surabaya but jumped off in Pekalongan at about 12 a.m. After looking it up on the net, Sembrani tickets cost IDR 365.000 / pax. On the way back, I think we boarded the Argo Sindoro at 4 p.m. and arrived in Jakarta around 9 p.m., which cost IDR 310.000 / pax. There are business class trains for a more affordable price.