Bandung is set 750 metres (2,460 feet) above sea level; surrounded by verdant, dormant volcanoes; and dotted about with art deco buildings that are a legacy of Dutch colonial times. This fascinating destination is also given a certain amount of fizz by the thousands of youngsters who come to study here.
The climate has been described as the best in Indonesia, and there is plenty of shopping, from upmarket malls to down-to-earth street markets – Jalan Cihampelas is a non-stop orgy of denim – where visitors can pick up souvenirs and hone their bargaining skills.
Given Bandung’s thriving textile industry, the city has more than a few factory outlets. One of the most popular is Rumah Mode, which is more like a park than a mall, housing familiar names such as Zara, Abercrombie & Fitch, Mango, Billabong, H&M and Gap. There is even a reflexology centre for shoppers who feel ready to drop, as well as a clutch of restaurants.
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Bandung’s other alternative shopping experience is at Lembang Floating Market; as the name suggests, some of the goods are sold from boats, but there are also souvenir shops on land. The market also offers entertainment, with canoes, rowing boats and a Flying Fox.
More traditional shopping exists at Pasar Baru Trade Center – which stocks everything from garments to gimmicks – and has been active for more than 100 years.
There is so much more to Bandung than just shopping. The NuArt Sculpture Park hosts many imaginative works by Nyoman Nuarta; and the park’s three hectares (seven acres) are a great place to take a break from the bustling city.
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The city’s Geological Museum furnishes some surprises, too, with a collection of meteorites, hominid skull fossils and the skeletons of prehistoric animals. The museum is well interpreted and housed in a graceful two-storey, pitched-roof building dating from 1928.
While many souvenir sellers, food hawkers and self-proclaimed qualified guides hover around the main viewing points, it is possible to escape them by hiking a short distance away. Gases released by the volcano can smell quite strong, and its most recent eruption was in 2015, so this is a trip to be undertaken with sufficient caution.
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One of the most authentic activities in Bandung is the regular afternoon performance at Saung Angklung Udjo, with children wearing traditional dress dancing and playing the angklung – a bamboo xylophone. The venue also acts as an academy where children can learn traditional arts that otherwise might die out.
When it comes to eating out, Bandung has long relished its reputation as a foodie destination, drawing visitors from Jakarta and further afield who might drive out to sample a dish such as batagor – fried fish dumplings doused with peanut sauce.
Tahu Lembang – silky soft tofu fried in milk which can be a snack or a complete breakfast – is another dish guaranteed to make Indonesian mouths water. There is plenty of international fare on offer, too, with Motzen Steak & Ale heading the pack in the Dago Pakar area. The servers seem to relish wearing German costumes, while – as might be expected – there is a terrific range of both meat and beer.
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For one of Bandung’s most unusual eateries, it is worth heading out to Lawangwangi Creative Space, which is a combined art gallery, cafe and designer shop. The terrace makes for a great alfresco dining space, while the owners’ passion for the arts is evident all around. Nightlife in Bandung caters to the city’s youth and embraces a wealth of bars, pubs and clubs.
A good place to start the night is the Skybar at the Luxton hotel, with views out over the city and the surrounding hills and a laid-back vibe that attracts local residents and out-of-towners. Bandung’s students tend to meet in clubs such as Mox and Amnesia, and drink and eat in the local bars known as warung. Older night owls make for hotspots such as Cloud 9, which is slightly out of town and good for a drink or a meal or both.
Getting to Bandung is part of the pleasure of the trip. By road – about 150km – takes about three hours if traffic is light. The city’s airport has links to Singapore and Kuala Lumpur and other parts of Indonesia. But perhaps the best mode of transport is the train, which chugs up through the hills from Jakarta, for a relaxing, four-hour introduction to Bandung.