Finally, a place that shopaholics, nature lovers and culture enthusiasts find agreeable.
SEAFOOD is hard to come by in Bandung. Situated on a plateau in the magnificent Parahayangan Mountains, 700m above sea level, the city is four hours’ drive from the closest beach.
However, what Bandung lacks, it makes up for in character: lovely art deco architecture, wide tree-lined boulevards and friendly faces, all set against the backdrop of mist-cloaked mountains and shockingly green paddy fields.
Don’t get me wrong. The food — usually hearty, home-style Sundanese fare like nasi timbel (steamed rice in a banana leaf roll), sayur asam (sour vegetable soup) and lalapan (raw vegetables) — isn’t too bad. Just be sure to have a glass of ice-cold water at hand, lest your eyes start to water and your ears start to smoke from all the sambal dadak.
Less talk, more shop
Perhaps the most remarkable feature of Bandung is its impressive number of colonial buildings. They were built by the Dutch, who founded the city in 1810 and intended to turn it into Indonesia’s capital. For a moment, the city was dubbed Paris Van Java (or “Paris in Java”) because of its excellent infrastructure and resort-town atmosphere.
Those who were wealthy enough travelled to Bandung to shop, eat and relax. Unfortunate ly, everything came to a halt during the Japan ese Occupation in 1952.
The Dutch left Bandung in droves and, as a result, the buildings became ghostly spectres of the past. Bandung might have remained a ghost town but for the recent Asian-African Conference. The city was picked to host its 50th anniversary there in 2005, so to prepare for the large-scale festivities that would ensue, the government constructed highways, restored old buildings and dusted off the streets.
“Everything changed,” said Budi. “Tourism spiked, and we now receive plenty of local and foreign tourists who come here mainly to shop. Malaysians, especially, love shopping so much that they hardly do anything else when they’re here, except sleep and eat.”
Yes, this once-quiet town has found its niche in fashion, of all things.
However, the look the city has embraced is more high street than high fashion and more capricious than classic. The best thing? Prices are cheap.
There are factory outlet stores, international boutiques and even a whole road dedicated to jeans. There are discount shoe stores, street wear shops and a one-stop shopping mall that stocks all manner of textiles. As I passed my third roadside vendor — this one with the phrase Jual Jaket Kulit scrawled onto its cheap, zinc roof — I began to panic, as a kid would in a super-sized candy store.