Bandung: The Paris of Java
Bandung, Indonesia, street scene (Fred Adler/BBC)
Bandung’s appeal begins with its geography and cooler climate. The capital of Indonesia’s West Java province, approximately 150km from Jakarta, is in a river basin, surrounded by mountains. The hills provide a natural defence for the city, one of the reasons it is believed Indonesia’s colonial rulers, the Dutch, planned to move the capital here.
The city never won that privilege, but it did turn into a colonial resort centre for the Dutch in the early 1900s, with European style cafes, restaurants and hotels cropping up in some parts of the city. The architectural style those early tourists created is why Bandung has been dubbed the Paris of Java, a bit of Europe in the east. Some of the buildings have retained that old world charm, and you can still catch a glimpse of Art Deco structures around the city.
Bandung has a quaint atmosphere, quite different from nearby Jakarta, with all of its hustle and bustle. And its sustained popularity among Indonesians has brought rapid development, slowly transforming the character of the city. Its population has grown exponentially, attracting people from all over Indonesia’s archipelago seeking work.
One major job source is the local garment industry. Millions of Indonesians have come to Bandung to make jeans. At the height of the jeans boom, the city was known as Indonesia’s denim capital.
Cihampelas street, lined with popular factory outlets (known locally as FOs), is a bargain epicentre. Shop owners sell everything from jeans, shoes and other clothes, to stuffed toys. Inexplicably, storefront are adorned with larger than life sculptures of Hollywood heroes, each one crazier than the last, in an attempt to lure customers
Many of the FOs have modernized and gone upmarket to appeal to a new generation of customers, though no one seems to mind that the garments have defects or flaws that make them unsuitable for sale abroad. The price, they say, more than makes up for quality issues.
Rock ‘n’ roll
Bandung is also known for being home to some of the best known indie rock bands in the country. On any given weekend, it is not unusual to find yourself walking into a gig at a mall or shopping centre featuring some of the city’s young performers. One of the most popular venues is the city’s main mall Paris Van Java. Residents of Bandung take their music seriously. It’s often said that if you can make it big in this city, you have a shot at making it big nationally.
To get to Bandung from Jakarta travellers can take a train, bus or drive. The city has a small airport that is connected to Singapore and Malaysia by budget airlines. Most visitors reach Bandung by car, which inevitably leads to hour-long traffic jams and packed streets. From Jakarta it can take only two hours by car thanks to a new highway, but if you choose the more scenic route, and decide to go via the hill resort Puncak, it can take twice as long.
For many of Jakarta’s busy residents, Bandung provides the perfect weekend getaway. The proximity, pleasant weather and the cheap shopping bring them back to the Paris of Java.
Karishma Vaswani is the Indonesia Correspondent for BBC News.