Stumble Into Indonesia's Unseen Places
Traveled Semarang in January, 2012. Mumun has been to Semarang before on the Chinese New Year, so why should I make an effort for another “report” on the city and the celebration as well? It’s simply because I had wanted to see the celebration myself and because Semarang has so much to offer! I won’t go over the same things too much, and for your convenience, I’m splitting the trip in 2 entries. We’ll start to Explore Semarang with places to visit and activities to do in this capital city of Central Java.
To the next page!
SEMAWIS NIGHT MARKET
– Barongsai Performance
Our main goal to Semarang was to dive in the festivity of Chinese New Year or popularly known as “Imlek” in Indonesia. The Chinese descendants have been around since forever but not until the year 2004 were they allowed to openly celebrate the biggest day of the year or to demonstrate almost anything that reveals their culture. The most popular attraction that’s always performed in the series of Imlek celebration is the Barongsai dance.
In the narrow aisle of Semawis night market, located on Jalan Gang Warung, barongsai (the Chinese version of lion costumes with 2 people acting as each lion) performance was held a few times in one day. We caught the last performance at 10ish PM in between the scrambling kiosks and people. Everyone made way for the barongsais and the basic percussion set (simply cymbals and a drum).
It wasn’t the first time I saw a barongsai performance, but I found it special because I got to see it as a part of Imlek celebration in one of the most prominent Chinatowns in Indonesia. I was mostly impressed with the children that took part as barongsai dancers, going acrobatic, thrown up to the partners’ shoulders to make the lions stand on their two ‘feet’. You could see their faces were rather expressionless though, maybe they’ve done this once too many times or just doing it as a routine, I’m not sure.
Giving money in envelopes, or as they call it ‘angpao’, to the energetic barongsais is a tradition for the Chinese. I wasn’t aware of that until I saw some people handing out angpaos that were received by the barongsais. I felt kinda bad cos I wasn’t prepared with any angpao.
Note: Barongsai performance was just one of the many Chinese traditional attractions held before Imlek. There was also Wayang Potehi (puppet show) which we wanted to see but didn’t have any idea of when they played, plus we got stuck at the hotel due to the cat and dog rain.
– The night market itself
During the day regular shops are open along this street, while at night it is closed for vehicles and humans made the ‘traffic jam’. Rows of commercial booths were open, you’re free to choose any kinds of food, clothes, traditional Chinese attires, jades or souvenirs along the street. You could even enter a karaoke contest or have your life told out by the fortune tellers aka mind readers. And I guess that because it was so close to Chinese New Year, you could even see people dressing up as old Chinese warriors and princesses for some commercial attraction.
As much as I like shopping, it was the various food that attracted me more. But we didn’t try anything much because we were already full from our previous meal. Traditional Chinese goods were sold at kiosks along the street, like paper lanterns and jade accessories, but I managed to keep my crave for shopping on leash. I’m so proud of myself!
Warning: My advice if you’re out in a night market like Semawis, especially during a big celebration, mind where you keep your money, wallet, mobiles and any valuable stuff. Carry your backpack at the front, avoid using your mobiles as much as you can, etc. I mean, you can never be too careful and this applies to any kind of crowde places or events. And anyways, there’s a lot to see rather than your phone.
TOKO MUKTI, tobacco store, cafe & gallery
Right before we entered the Semawis night market, we encountered this Mukti shop / gallery / café of tobacco and pipes on the Jalan KH Wahid Hasyim, Kranggan. It’s only a few steps away from the gate of Semawis night market. Here, Diyan, the only smoker in our group, found his paradise.
The owner, Mr. Agung, and his staff were gladly giving us a tour around the shop and livingroom-turned-gallery. We were invited to smell the many types and fragrances of their tobacco in the big jars, ranging from the original, vanilla, to the deluxe and royal. I forgot what my favorite fragrance was, but I remember it was one of the sweet ones, the types of fragrance that most female visitors pick as favorites. After a couple of tobacco jars, the smell got too strong, I had to stop exhaling in the jars.
Mr. Agung is apparently the 3rd generation of the family’s tobacco business as well as he is also the 3rd generation of his family that resides in Indonesia. A friendly service with a strong niche of the business I bet have helped the business to grow over the years.
Mr. Agung and his staff explained how tobacco was supposed to be planted, the tricks to not make it rot or humid, etc. Out of all the information they told, I was mostly amazed with the fact that he had a IDR 6 millions pipe in his pocket, and that the better quality ones could even cost IDR 20 millions! (giving today’s currency, that expensive crazy pipe is worth about USD 2,182! Well…that’s probably nothing compared to Paris Hilton’s left shoe, but still… )
As little as I am interested in tobacco and pipes, I found it amazing that there is someone dedicating their life to tobacco as their hobby and business. People with passion (and make it into something productive) always amaze me 🙂
What Diyan bought:
– tobacco, the Rich type: IDR 15,000 / 0.25 ounces.
– Papier wrap: IDR 3,000 / a pack.
TAY KAK SIE TEMPLE
Only 5 minutes of becak ride from Semawis Night Market you’ll get to Jalan Lombok, where you will see a typical red-roofed Chinese temple across the fenced river. On Imlek’s Eve this place was jumbled with people praying, tourists and photographers. Paper lanterns, candles in all sorts of sizes and basically everything red effortlessly drew anyone’s attention.
We at first hesitated taking photos in the temple cos we didn’t want to get in the way between the people and their gods (we could have been struck by lightning by these gods, you know?). But I remember way back in 2010 and basically anywhere I visited temples as a tourist, the temple keeper or guide said that it’s okay to take pictures as long as we don’t mess around the main praying area or standing in front of anyone who was praying. Noted. So we carefully stepped here and there and click clicked with our cameras. I hope we really didn’t bother their praying. *peace sign and wide grin*
REPLICA OF CHENG HO’S BOAT
There used to live a great admiral named Cheng Ho (or Zheng He) in the 15th century, who sailed from China down to what is now Indonesia, in search of trade and treasure. Who knew, Zheng He came to explore Semarang? Across the Tay Kak Sie temple you can see the replica of Cheng Ho’s boat ‘anchored’ in the narrow Mberok River, the replica of the boat that the Admiral used to sail through the Indian Ocean.
I got this picture taken by Vindhya the day after Diyan and I took off to Jakarta. At night we couldn’t see much of the boat. You can walk up the ladder onto the front deck but I’m not sure if you could enter the chambers or anything.
IMLEK AT SAM POO KONG TEMPLE
Details of this (once) the biggest temple in South East Asia have been told by Mumun in her 2010 exploring Semarang. Fortunately I didn’t sleep in like she did, so I got to be in the festive ambience of Imlek in the temple complex. There was probably hundred thousands of people coming in the area, may them be tourists like us or truly believers that came to pray.
Before noon, there was a Barongsai performance took place on a stage on one side of the huge field. Too bad there was no authority figure that kept the stage clear of visitors. We had to watch the dance from our camera’s LCD above people’s heads cos layers of visitors were standing in front of us, circling the performance when it was supposed to be that people watch the show from the field below. *sigh* The challenge of discipline and thoughtfulness that my people have to face.
Anyhoo. There were some objects in the temples that weren’t allowed to be photographed, like the cave where they believed was the place Cheng Ho took his naps, and of course the people who were praying. Our guide Pak Ratman warned us about this as he went along with the history of the temple .
Entrance fee to the Sam Poo Kong temple complex: IDR 3,000 / person.
Entrance fee to the temples: IDR 20,000 / person.
A guided tour of the temples: IDR 50,000 / tour / 30 minutes.
Contact of tour guide: Pak Ratman at +62 821 330 24511.
CANDI GEDONG SONGO
This was one itinerary that Diyan suggested and I’m glad we all okayed it. Yes it was touristy, but it’s so easy to see why people loved coming there. The view was all green and nice, the weather was cool as it was located in a highland of Bandungan, and the horse ride was an interesting option to reach the highest temple.
Candi Gedong Songo translates to Nine Buildings Temple. It’s said that this temple complex consisted of nine temples. We counted as we went up, and there were even sign boards counting from 1 to 9… or so it should. It confused us even until now, how we could’ve missed some as we only found..well, less than nine.
A hawker that sat by the entrance of the last temple cluster, which had a sign board that said 5th, told us that some of the temples were ruined, hence we didn’t see all of the 9 temples. But seriously, our counting and route up the hill didn’t even add up to the miniature that later we saw at the gift shop. I hate to even think that something mystical had anything to do with this miscounting cos that kinda stuff spooks the hell out of me. So let’s just say that we took a wrong turn at some point of the route and missed some, okay.
Enough with the puzzling counting, now on to the ambience.
I loved the cool weather of Bandungan, it was perhaps around 20°C (or 68°F). As we got higher up the hill, the weather felt less and less cold. Why? Simply because our bodies got warmed up, tee hee. And we obviously need to exercise more so as not to gasp out of breath when hiking up.
The view was peaceful with all the greens and bends. You can see the temples from afar vaguely, depending on how thick the fog was. With a lot of people picnicking in the area, I think they kept cleanliness quite well. Oh and there’s a camping ground in the middle of the area as well. There’s also a hot water spring streaming down from a gap of this rocky area.
At a point of the hill there was a Flying Fox sign. I don’t know whether they were trying to discourage or challenge us by this board that said “God is with the brave people”. What the heck? And to think that the ticket only cost IDR 10,000, I think people who sign up for the ride really do need God’s companion to survive and live on! Phew!
Entrance fee: IDR 6,000 / a local; IDR 25,000 / a foreigner.
A horseback ride: IDR 20,000 -50,000 / horse, depending on the length of route you’re taking.
Toilet fee: IDR 1,000 – 2,000 / usage.
My friend Fenia helped browsing for hotels in Semarang and she found this: Simpang Lima Residence, which I immediately liked. We chose the cheapest room possible (I think Indohoy should change its motto to “the cheaper the better”..haha kidding!..though it’s partly true), and you can check out their rates in the URL below.
We reserved our Standard rooms via email and we got it slightly cheaper than the published rate: IDR 300,000 / night / room for 2 pax including breakfast.
Our Standard room was in the Basement, so there was no window 🙁
It’s quite a minus quality since I’m a window person when it comes to living spaces. I like to be woken up by sunshine and this room obviously didn’t allow that. It’s great for those who like to sleep in, though.
If you’re a team of 3, you most probably would have to take 2 rooms because the Standard room is so tight, you couldn’t possibly add an extra bed.
The bathroom wall was the best part because it wasn’t a wall. It was an aquarium! Great way to work out a narrow space. You can leave the blind open or pull it down if you don’t want to be seen naked by the little fishies or your roommates.
Admit it, you can hardly pass a day without Internet connection. This hotel provides free wi-fi at the lobby/restaurant area only. In the Standard room, they provide TV with cable and the basic amenities including towels, they change your linens, and you can borrow a hairdryer from Housekeeping.
The restaurant on the outer lobby turned out to be a hip place to hangout for the Semarang youngsters. There was even a DJ booth there, if I’m not mistaken. The noise didn’t bother us because our room was in the basement, but I’m not sure how it was for the other floors.
Service is alright. The staff are helpful and quite friendly. I just wish they were more informative about payment and deposit terms.
They required IDR 700,000 deposit (for our 2 rooms for 2 nights stay), which had to make me use my credit card. And they automatically charged it to my card cos they didn’t have the system that allows them to cancel a transaction (or something like that). I personally don’t like using my credit card if I didn’t have to. So this was an inconvenience on my side 🙁
It’s in the heart of the city, the Simpang Lima area, hence the name of the hotel. It neighbors with shopping malls, bigger hotels, and a famous Hospital Tlogorejo. The busy neighborhood is actually a good thing because it only takes a few steps to find public transportations and snacks from the hotel.
Contact: http://simpanglimaresidence.com, available in English and Indonesian Language
Jakarta – Semarang by Argo Bromo Anggrek Pagi, eksekutif class, IDR 300,000 / pax. Departed from Gambir train station at 9.30 a.m., arrived at Semarang Tawang train station at 3.30 p.m.
Semarang – Jakarta by Sembrani train, eksekutif class, also IDR 295,000 / pax. Departed from Semarang Tawang at 11.15 p.m and arrived at Gambir station early in the morning.
A lot of other schedules and trains (eksekutif, bisnis, and ekonomi classes) serve the Jakarta-Semarang route, it’s pretty popular. You can also depart from other places in Java. Good thing is you have a lot of options, but beware in the weekends or holiday seasons they’re usually in high demand. Better get your tickets fast!
Check the schedule here: http://kereta-api.co.id/
They also have the prices there, but apparently it’s slightly different than what we spent. We reserved the tickets at Gambir station, Jakarta.
If you’re in Jakarta, call up +62 21 121 for schedule check, price check and reservation. They have service in English ready 🙂
Warning: if you’re not used to taking trains in Indonesia, mind you that food is not for free. Even when the steward hands out a plate of steak or whatever without asking your preference, it’s there for you to eat and pay later. Not unlike a trap, I say. And the same thing goes with cups of coffee. So beware. If you didn’t order and didn’t want to consume it, give it back politely.
– Domestic flight
Lots of options from many places in Indonesia, for instance Jakarta, Pangkalan Bun, Makassar and Medan. Airlines you can choose: Air Asia, Batavia Air, Lion Air, Sriwijaya Air, Kalstar Aviation, and perhaps more.
– International flight
We got around the city by walking, taxi, angkot, bus, becak, and borrowed motorbike.
Motorbike / ojek
Motorbike rental isn’t so common but there is one place that rents out motorbikes, IDR 50,000 / bike / day. We didn’t rent but we found the information on the net. It’s in Indonesia Language, but who knows they probably understand and speak English too.
We took ojek to take us between the point of where we hopped off the bus on the street and the entrance gate of the Candi Gedong Songo. We saved a bit by taking an ojek for 2 pax (where it’s supposed to be only for 1), IDR 15,000 / ojek / 2 pax (normally it’s IDR 10,000 / ojek /1 pax). No helmet on and 2 pax per ojek.. we were the outlaws! *please don’t tell our moms*
Nothing unusual about taxi in Semarang, at least not that we encountered. We picked random taxi and they all used the meter as they should.
From Simpang Lima Residence to Jalan Depok: IDR 15,000.
From Simpang Lima Residence to Sam Poo Kong temple: IDR 15,000.
There are the smaller and bigger ones in Semarang or to the outskirts. Fare depends on the distance. There’s also the Trans Semarang bus that operates only within the city and stops only at appointed bus stops, unlike other buses that you can hop on to almost anywhere along the streets.
Like any angkot in any town, the fare depends on the distance.
We saw a lot of them in the city, especially where we stayed at the Simpang Lima area. Becak drivers would estimate the price depending on the distance and how heavy the passengers seem. In the examples below, Diyan and I rode becak with our total weight of 110 kg or 242 lbs. *tininess is a bliss when riding becak*
From Simpang Lima Residence to Semawis Night Market: IDR 15,000.
From Mukti tobacco shop to Jalan Lombok: IDR 6,000.
From Jalan Lombok to Manggala foodcourt on Jalan Gajah Mada: IDR 15,000.
The winding route to Candi Gedong Songo:
Starting point: Simpang Lima.
Simpang Lima – Java Mall: angkot, IDR 2,500 / pax.
Java Mall – Sukun: angkot, IDR 3,000 / pax.
Sukun – Bandungan: small bus, IDR 8,000 / pax.
Bandungan Candi T-section – the Candi entrance gate: ojek, IDR 15,000 / ojek / 2 pax.