It was about nine in the morning, but Bandung’s Pasar Baru market was already bustling. Kiosks were open, tended by vendors busily bargaining with customers. Amid the steady buzz of voices, Malay words could be heard punctuating the flow of conversation.
Since direct flights were opened between Kuala Lumpur and Bandung in 2010, the capital of West Java has experienced an influx of Malaysian tourists seeking a budget weekend getaway — and Pasar Baru has become their shopping destination of choice.
“I’d heard from friends that you can bargain for quality goods here,” said 21-year-old Ahmad Syahmi Ramli, who was visiting with his sister from Terengganu, in Malaysia’s northwest. “Things are much cheaper here compared to the markets in Malaysia.”
Ahmad and his sister, Rosnadhirah, 24, were traveling on a package tour that was also taking them to Tangkuban Perahu, a dormant volcano north of the city, and other tourist attractions in and around Bandung.
"We’re still looking around,” Rosnadhirah said. “I’m trying to find some embroidered cloth. Some friends of mine bought beautiful fabrics in Bandung.”
Ahmad said the clothes at Pasar Baru were not really his style, but that he had found a wholesale factory outlet in the Kosambi area where he had bought a couple pairs of jeans.
“Bandung has so many FOs [factory outlets] lined up on one street,” he said. “I went to the UK and to Turkey and I thought they were quite fascinating, but Bandung has so many more FOs. The prices are really, really cheap here.”
Since colonial times, Bandung has been a favored destination for weekend escapes. Dubbed the “Paris of Java” by Dutch colonialists, the city has long been a popular getaway for people living in Jakarta, especially during the holidays.
The number of people from Jakarta making the trip has increased since a toll road connecting the two cities was opened by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in 2005.
While it used to take three to four hours to commute between the cities, now the trip can be made in under two hours, depending on traffic conditions. Most weekends, cars bearing Jakarta number plates can be seen clogging the streets of Bandung.
But now it is the Malaysians who are descending on the city, and Bandung traders couldn’t be happier. To make transactions more convenient, some shop owners now accept Malaysian ringgits, saving their customers the hassle of having to change their currency.
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