Stumble Into Indonesia's Unseen Places
Submitted by viravira on 2 March 2016 • Blog
The quiet Singkawang city turns festive each year around Cap Go Meh time (if you’re wondering what Cap Go Meh is, find out here). It’s easy to figure out what to do and see in when we travel to Singkawang on the festive days. On regular days, you might need some heads up to save time looking for interesting things there. Here’s our 5 ways to travel to Singkawang City aside from the busy Cap Go Meh days.
Here are some of our suggestions on activities in Singkawang city other than the Cap Go Meh festival:
The Tionghoa (Chinese descendants in Indonesia) is known for their yummy treats, especially for those whose taste buds are more to the savory, like moi. Singkawang’s culinary delights are dominated by Tionghoa food even though Malays, Dayak and others also occupy the city. It’s one of the few places in Indonesia where you can easily get pork in everything, from noodles to porridge. But because I don’t eat pork, I only tasted some of the foods that didn’t contain pork, and they were mostly delicious, too.
My most favorite would be the Bubur Gunting – translates to Scissors Porridge. Relax. Though the city is known for the tatungs, possessed people who don’t feel pain when jabbed with iron sticks, this menu doesn’t actually make you eat scissors. It’s soybeans in caramel-like taste soup with char kway or fried bread sticks that are cut into pieces with scissors. It’s sweet, thick, mixed with a hint of crisp. You can get it on Jalan Antasari, sold in a wheeled cart under a leafy tree. Try to get there before 9 a.m. before it’s sold out.
My second favorite was the Mie Tiaw Asoh or Asuk, which is basically char kway teow or stir-fried ricecake strips. It’s a ubiquitous menu in Indonesia, really, but this Uncle (Asuk) uses “cengkok manis” leaves, a different kind of veggie to the usual mustard leaves, plus bean sprouts and sprinkles of lime. With soya sauce mixed in the stir, the menu tastes sweet, savory and soury in the right amount. Mie Tiaw Asu can be found on Jalan Yos Sudarso, in a garage turned a simple diner.
Coffee shops are abundant in Singkawang city. Not unlike modern coffee shops, they don’t only serve coffee, but also snack and meals. If you’ve been to Singapore or Malaysia, which also have strong influence of Chinese culture, you might have heard of the term ‘kopitiam’. Coffee shop or warung kopi is Indonesia’s answer to that.
The most popular warung kopi in Singkawang is Toko Kopi Nikmat, located on Jalan Sejahtera. Very near to the oldest temple in Singkawang, it gets visits from tourists as well as locals. Like many other warung kopi, it opens very early in the morning, at around 5 a.m.
Do as you would do in places like Starbucks minus the wi-fi and outlets. Just sit, sip some coffee – or tea if you’re a non-coffee drinker like me – and watch people for a few hours, you’d get that relax ambiance of the city. I enjoyed my time hanging out at Toko Kopi Nikmat a while ago, with the street musicians playing some local and Chinese songs with their guitar, violin and those small drums. Most of the time I see street musicians given money by visitors just so they shut up and leave because many of them play awfully, but not in Singkawang – at least not what I experienced. They were playing music for real and some visitors were bobbing their heads and mumbled the lyrics while enjoying their snack.
Singkawang city wouldn’t be dubbed as the city of 1000 temples if not for the massive number of temples it has. Maybe there aren’t exactly 1000 temples, but “only” about 600-700. For a city with about 200,000 souls that aren’t all Budhists/Tionghoa, I say that’s a lot of temples.
We managed to visit a few temples when we traveled to Singkawang. The most popular was the oldest one in Singkawang, officially named as Tri Dharma Bumi Raya, popular with the name Toa Pek Kong, and is said to be about 200 years old. It’s not the biggest nor the most meticulously carved, but it’s the temple of the Great Earth God (pek kong means great uncle), the ultimate guard of Singkawang city. It’s located in the city center on Jalan Sejahtera, only a short walk away from Toko Kopi Nikmat.
Kwan Im Temple also has been around for a really long time, and it was just renovated in 2015. It’s predictably the temple of Kwan Im Goddess, with a Kwan Im statue standing on the main shrine. If you ever get a chance to visit the temple, please go inside and pay attention to the details on the wall, the ceiling, the roof, everywhere. Man! Need less to say, I’ll just show you what I mean in the pictures below.
The next temple I visited has the catchiest name: the Temple of Heaven and Hell or Vihara Surga Neraka in Indonesian. It’s located about half an hour by car from Singkawang city center, at the base of Mount Passi. The complex consisted of 7 scattering temples, and the devotees are supposed to do the prayers in a certain order. If one were to pray solemnly, I think this would be a perfect place to do it, what with the vast green view and soft blowing wind.
It’s hard to find anyone under 60 who doesn’t take pictures at all when they’re traveling – not that I need to find any. I’m just saying that taking pictures has become necessary when one’s traveling nowadays. Did you know that some even choose travel destinations based on how good their pictures would look at the place? Well, Kawasan Tradisional (Traditional Area) in Singkawang can absolutely be one of those places, especially if you’re into vintage look. Your Instagram feed would thank you for taking pictures at this area, seriously.
It’s a compound of Tionghoa houses, small temple and a hall that’s been around for a little more than a century. The houses are still occupied by the owners, perhaps the 7th and 8th generation. The houses seemed to be kept clean and maintained well, I could not resist the temptation of making at least a sketch out of it. Because people are living there, it’s best that you ask for permission before taking pictures or sketching.
Although located very near from Toa Pek Kong, Kawasan Tradisional is easily missed because the entrance is kind of deep in a small road. Look for Gang Mawar (Mawar Alley) from Budi Utomo street, and the red gate that says “Kawasan Tradisional” with Chinese writing on top of it stands by the river.
Life in Singkawang starts early. Wait, actually, life in traditional markets start early, as early as 5 a.m. or maybe even earlier. I was staying at a hotel near Pasar Turi (Turi Market), so that’s where I had my breakfast once. But before I even decided where to eat, I got distracted by so many things, like the kinds of fruit I had never seen before, or some really Instagramable views. Walking around in a market does that, it distracts you from whatever you see because so much is going on.
The market sells any kinds of things, from fruits in the back of a truck to clothes on a sidewalk, from fish to pork noodles. The stalls decorate the sidewalks and spill on to the streets, so vehicles that pass by need to slow down. There is also a roofed section with mostly dry things like clothes and grocery, but there is less action, so I spent more time at the outdoor part.
Walking back from the market to the hotel, I stopped by at a temple. It’s just a small temple among simple houses, but decorated so nicely with lanterns to welcome the Cap Go Meh, just like other temples that are bigger and have more crowd.
This was my second time visiting Singkawang city. I felt more or less the same as before about the city. It’s a seemingly slow and simple life with a lot going on underneath. What you need to do to enjoy Singkawang city is to walk in its pace. No hurry, ‘cos you might just miss a lot of interesting things.