Bandung on my mind: the old and the new

When my friends back in Manila ask me about Bandung, I usually say: “Bandung is like our version of Tagaytay here.” Although this may not be 100% accurate and it doesn’t do justice to Bandung, I need something to anchor Bandung on so that my friends can visualize how it’s like.

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For the longer version of it though:

Bandung is the capital of West Java, roughly 140 kilometers away from southeast of Jakarta. Again, in Manila reference, the distance is like 3 times of Tagaytay, one way.  In terms of population, it;s the third largest city by population in Indonesia.

Whole year round, it has a cooler temperature compared to other parts of Indonesia (thus, my Tagaytay metaphor). The city lies on a river basin, surrounded by volcanoes and tea plantation. In the olden days, the Dutch immigrants planned to move the colonial capital from Jakarta (formerly Batavia) to Bandung (formerly Bandoeng). With this plan came the blossoming of restaurants, cafes, hotels and European-inspired shops. With this, the Dutch nicknamed Bandung as Paris Van Java (The Paris of Java).

I dare not romanticize Bandung this way, because like it or not, what used to be an idyllic place surrounded by lush greenery and flora has become a nightmare of traffic gridlock.

This is not to say though, that I have stopped loving Bandung. There is a workaround to the traffic. For me, I go to Bandung for 3 main reasons:

  1. Factory outlet shopping 
  2. Culinary exploration 
  3. Relax amidst nature and fresh air 

Last weekend’s trip to Bandung was a combination of business and pleasure. I had to do a market visit and an on-ground activation in Paris Van Java mall. I took that as an opportunity to spend the weekend there as well and check out what’s new. Since I had limited time, I mainly wanted to just do a quick R&R and check out the new restaurants. Based on this very recent visit, here are my  recommendations and new finds:

1.   Padma Hotel Bandung – consistent in their service and always reliable. If you are looking for a place that has everything because you just want to hibernate, then Padma Hotel it is. Situated right in the middle of lush greenery  and colorful flora, Padma Hotel is the perfect getaway.

 

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The Padma Hotel Bandung Lobby

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View of the playground at Padma Hotel

Complete with amenities, it has a massive gym, sprawling gardens, pools, a hiking trail, a playground for children with a small petting zoo, spa and several hidden corners where you can just sit and read a book.

They have yoga sessions by the pool side at 7am during the weekends and activities for children.

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I particularly liked that the gardens and the yards are well-maintained. Every morning, I saw gardeners cutting and watering the plants.

The restaurant’s view is spectacular. It’s located above the green valley, overlooking trees and bright flowers, giving you a whiff of open, fresh air. The buffet spread has a lof of selections, I don’t even know where to begin! I fixated on the local fare, and I liked their lontong, mie goreng and local pancake.

2. The Valley Cafe and Restaurant – has an amazing view of Bandung. I read about an Indonesian blogger rave about it so it made my list of new places to visit this time around. The place is massive in terms of seating capacity and its come-hither factor is its unobstructed view of the city.

When it comes to food, The Valley offers a wide range of cuisines: Japanese, Thai, Italian, American and Indonesian. The exhaustiveness of the menu sacrificed the authenticity, though. I ordered unagi with rice and salad and although the eel was very fresh and tasty, it didn’t taste “Japanese enough” for me. I was so hungry that time (it was 5pm) and it was my first decent meal of the day so I couldn’t care less.

The Valley made it up for its beautiful view and surprisingly – cheap wine! They also didn’t have an exhaustive list of alcoholic drinks, but Jacobs Creek (a safe choice) can be had for Rp285k! Cheap, in Indonesia standards.

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3. Sierra Cafe’ and Lounge – not far from The Valley is the Sierra Cafe’ lunch, also with an idyllic view of the Bandung hills. Again, another massive restaurant in Dago Pakar. The restaurant is massive! It can accommodate 700 clients.

The menu looks interesting but I was too full by then that I only had space for coffee and dessert. The latte and mascarpone with cream as a combination was perfect for me! I’m definitely bookmarking Sierra Cafe’ to try their mains the next time I visit the Dago Pakar area.

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Mascarpone at Sierra Cafe’

4. Yoforia Yogurt Studio – I’m a sucker for ads (What a paradox for a marketing executive, I know!)

yoforia_wmI saw Yoforia’s Coffee Meets Yogurt add inside Paris Van Java mall and I immediately hunted it down.

I ordered their Yofoccino at Rp35k a cup. It’s a delicious combination of plain yogurt + espresso + caramel. Not bad if you are looking for a cold drink with a slight caffeine kick.

5. Pop-up markets and local hipster brands – last but not least, and in fact my most favorite discovery in Bandung, is the proliferation of local, hipster brands that sell unique, beautifully crafted items. I’m a sucker for pop-up markets. They offer a lot of things that you can’t buy from the big brands in malls. Although I like designer shoes, bags and watches, I also like wearing items that can’t be had from the popular brands. In my last trip, I discovered 3 brands that hail from Bandung: Suvit.id, Chillax Friday and Fawn and Luna.

I bought a pair of Bohemian sandals from Suvit.id and some weekend book bags from Chillax Friday. I bookmarked Fawn and Luna as supplier for quality notebooks and sketch books for my artist friends because I love notebooks with great quality leather and acid-free paper where I can draw, sketch and write smoothly!

Overall, I have to say that Bandung is still very much worth the trip and the traffic. Given a 3-day weekend, I don’t mind doing a road trip to smell the fresh air, try local food and discover more local brands! That for me is a perfect Bandung weekend.

Bandung survival guide for a 2-3 day weekend

Bandung is a lot of things for everyone: a shopping depot haven, a home for bohemian local brands, the center for pop-up markets and weekend bazaars, a culinary destination and an environmental sanctuary, to name a few.

Bandung is a top-of-mind destination for a quick relaxing getaway, and for Jakartans who are 2.5-3 hours away from Bandung, it’s the best option where to spend the weekend.

And that, is where the problem begins. On weekends, it’s as if Jakartans left their traffic-riddled city only to be met with horrendous gridlock all over again as soon as you reach the Pasteur Toll in Bandung.

This is not to say that I no longer enjoy Bandung. I just wish it could be less traffic during the weekends, but since that isn’t remotely possible, the best way to deal with this is through strategy.

When in Bandung: prioritize destinations and choose a specific activity or activities for the weekend that aren’t too spread apart from each other in terms of location.

Traffic is your nemesis to a relaxing weekend and you need to work around this.

Here is a list of survival tips for an enjoyable, less stressful Bandung weekend getaway.

1. Choose the time of road trip en route to Bandung wisely. My Indonesian teammates helped me sort this out. Leaving for Bandung on a Friday afternoon or at night time will be a nightmare!  The same is true for Saturday mornings after 7am. The best time to start the road trip is around 11:30am on a Friday, since this is prayer time and most of the men will be in the mosques, so you will be good to go until 1pm. Luckily for me, this Bandung trip is actually a work trip to check my on-ground mall event, which required me to be in Paris Van Java Mall after lunch.

2. Prioritize your things to do in Bandung. Focus and be realistic. Gone are the days when you can maximize your trip and do everything all in one weekend. With the traffic and small roads, this will be difficult and frustrating. Either you want to go shopping at the depots, go to local coffee shops in between or you want to commune with nature and chill in one place.

3. Choose a specific area in Bandung where you want to be in and focus on the places  to visit there. There are tons of places to go to and things to do in Bandung. TONS.  If you choose to stay in the Lembang area, stay in the vicinity and identify the noteworthy restaurants, entertainment spots and activities there. The same is true for Cihampelas, which happens to be one of the most congested shopping area.

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photo courtesy of TripCanvas

If you want to spend the weekend to shop, the ideal places to focus on would be the heart of Bandung since the central area will have most of the shopping depot and Paris Van Java, the busiest and biggest mall in town. The central area includes Setiabudi, Riau, Dago and Cihampelas.

Personally, Cihampelas is more of a novelty for me to check out the famous Jeans Street where there are funny (sometimes ridiculous) displays and statues of superheroes in front of the stores. It’s more of a touristy spot for me but I prefer to shop in the factory outlets area.

If you are in an R&R mode and prefer the greenery and fresh air, Lembang and Ciwidey are the best places.

3. Go to places that are quite near each other. Before you head out to Bandung, plot your destinations on Google maps so you know which places to visit first and to avoid going back and forth. For factory outlet shopping, start in an area where the factory outlets are quite close to each other. Jalan Martadinata has several factory outlets that you can visit in one go: The Heritage Factory Outlet, The Secret Factory Outlet, Passion, Cascade Fashion House and Home Living, The Summit Boutique and Stamp.

 

4. For couples or families who prefer to unwind, chill, enjoy the Bandung cool weather and completely avoid the traffic, choose a hotel or resort with exhaustive amenities so you don’t have to hop from one place to another. Padma Hotel is one of the most recommended hotels in the central area. It is surrounded by lush greenery and the amenities are impressively complete: gym, spa, playground for children, pools and a hiking trail. They also have a schedule of activities for individuals, families and children for the weekend: yoga by the poolside at 7am, cake designing for kids and group hiking [more about Padma Hotel in my next post!].

Padma Hotel Bandung

Padma Hotel Bandung

In the Lembang area, there are also several hotels and resorts with complete amenities. Trizara is a glamping resort, where you can experience camping with the comfort of a nice bathroom and shower!

5. Call for reservations for dining. While there are a lot of big restaurants dotting Bandung, the famous ones and those that are popularly reviewed in blogs and food sites will always be full. It is always recommended to call ahead for reservations.

6. Go back to Jakarta before lunch time on Sunday. Jakartans will likely head back in the afternoon and you’d want to avoid this. Sometimes, the weekend traffic has no rhyme or reason. One of my friends got stuck in the highway going back to Jakarta for 8 hours on a Sunday! The highway was a huge parking lot that weekend. If you want to return to Jakarta more relaxed, leave before 12 pm on Sunday.

7. Prepare for erratic weather. In a day, it may rain or it can be sunny in Bandung. It’s always recommended to bring jackets and shawls, though, as Bandung is known for its cool weather. Some of the small streets experience flash floods when there’s heavy rain so umbrellas, boots and rain gear are also a must.

7. Patience is a virtue. “Sabar,” in local language. No matter how prepared you are, there will be some streets that will be traffic, there will be delays. As long as you have Internet connection, Google maps, Waze and you are hell-bent on making the most out of your Bandung trip, there is a way out of the inconveniences.

To me, Bandung has a lot of beautiful places to explore. Don’t let the traffic discourage you from going and exploring new restaurants, enjoying the cool weather and less-polluted air. It is worth the trip and it will be enjoyable, for as long as you remember the tips I outlined above.

More about my most recent Bandung trip in my next blog entry! I will be posting my new discoveries and recommendations.