Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Semarang - Exploration of Kota Lama and Chinatown

This is one heck of a long post. Be warned!

Semarang, by itself, has nothing much to offer other than its rustic charms and untouched feelings for the presence of foreigners are barely felt in this quaint little city. Even if you saw one or two of them, chances are they are on their ways to Karimun Jawa, the scenic archipelago located north of the city. In short, all gave Semarang a pass and it is their loss. Read on to know why you should not do that.

The road heading to Kota Lama
The best mode to explore this city is by far through walking. I always enjoy spending some time walking around aimlessly, observing locals’ daily activities and taking in the unique architectures whenever I am on vacation. I would wake up early in the morning to catch the early risers begin their days, have some local delights when hungry, greeting the locals with a smile or two and in return, receiving some. I did the same thing when I was in Semarang, walking around Kota Lama and its Chinatown on my last two days in Indonesia.

Right on the junction along Jalan Plampitan is a clothing 'shop'

Reminds me of Malacca River with the lively Jonker Street as background

Walking from the hotel to Kota Lama (also known as Ous Stad or "Little Netherlands") was nothing much of a stretch. The distance was rather accommodative (I would come to know that not all places is within walking distance later that day as well as the following day) and the weather was quite sunny, perfect to explore the city (sunburn comes with the package).

Our first pit stop was the Pasar Johar (Johar Market). We didn't spend much time in the market for there was nothing much left to see, unless you are interested in buying vegetables or fruits, which we weren't. Plus, we began the journey quite late in the morning (about 10am I believed) and most of the locals were either finished buying groceries or the stalls were about to close. In short, a quickie visit.

Interior of Pasar Johar, a signature look on the market

This Pasar Johar is rather famous in Semarang for its historic Dutch architectures. However, when you lay your eyes on it, all you see is that the building is in a state of despair. Apparently, due to the exposure of sea water over the years, the foundation of the building has been extensively corroded and in urgent need of saving. I read somewhere online that there are plans of reconstruction but what the status of the plan and the progress of it, I do not know. Anyhow, such cultural and heritage building should be preserved for future generations.

Then, we proceeded along the road, coming across a number of old buildings bearing unique and clearly colonial architectures. Most of these beautiful creations are in the same dilapidated conditions, left in oblivion. What a shame that these buildings do not get to have a new lease of lives.

Majestic structure crumbling down as years go by

Inhabited colonial buildings are aplenty here

A waste, really...

However, not all colonial leftovers are in such unkempt condition. One example is the pristine white Gereja Blenduk (Blenduk Church). This is one beautiful structure with its white walls and copper dome. Built in 1753, it is said to be the oldest Protestant church in the province. According to Wikipedia, there is a nonfunctional Baroque pipe organ from the 1700s inside it and the interior is quite on its own. We didn't get to witness it as the church was not open during our visit.

Gereja Blenduk

We also stumbled upon an art gallery just a stone throw away from Gereja Blenduk. Known as the Semarang Contemporary Art Gallery, the building that houses it used to be a lemonade factory. Just opposite the church is an Indonesian restaurant that occupied what used to be courtroom. We did tried it out but to me, it paled in comparison to the delicious cuisine served in warong along the roads. I actually found out about these information after coming back from the trip when I came across an article on the colonial buildings in Semarang. After the lunch at the aforementioned restaurant, we sought shelter from the blazing heat and only continued the adventure in late afternoon with a visit to Lawang Sewu which will be further talked about in the next post. Lawang Sewu deserved an entry on its own.

The Indonesian restaurant

Our lunch

The following day, I embarked another journey early in the morning, taking a different route which eventually led me to Chinatown. That's the beauty of traveling. I have never intended to visit this section of the city and had I not went for an exploration, I would have missed out completely. Rows and rows of shophouses selling almost the same items clustered along the street. Here, you can find some buildings with Chinese influences on it. I saw a clan house with attached temple with few elderly Indonesians practicing tai chi.

Funny shop names...you don't have to guess what they are selling

Welcome to Chinatown

Chinese influenced houses

Not too sure if it's a clan house or a temple (maybe both)

I have no idea why there's a boat there too

By the time the clock stroke around 8 to 9am local time, people were beginning with their daily routines and many people were rushing off to start their jobs. Some were finishing up their hearty breakfasts in the warong  before starting the day. I too had a delicious meal before I proceeded with my last stop on my last day, the Masjid Agong, which I will continue in another post.

Way delicious to eat Indonesian cuisines in a warong


Sharing is caring. A word of advice and a piece of information.

As I did a lot of walking every times I went travelling, I would advice you to bring along a pair of comfortable sneakers to protect your feet. Of course, if walking is not really your thing, you can always rely on beca (tricycles) or taxi which there are many and rather cheap. A short distance that takes about 10 to 15 minutes would be around Rp 15,000 (about RM5) for one tricycle. You can haggle down the price to agreeable level.


  1. I like walking! So this type of holiday trip is not a problem for me : )

  2. me too! I totally prefer walking...