Set 750m above sea level, and protected by a fortress of watchful volcanoes 190km southeast of Jakarta, Bandung is a centre of industry and traditional Sundanese arts. Sundanese culture has remained intact here since the fifth century when the first Hindu Sundanese settled in this part of West Java. Modern Bandung, although grubby, teeming with traffic and certainly far removed from its quaint colonial days, remains one of the nation’s cultural and intellectual hubs, bubbling with life in its myriad cafés, restaurants, bars, open markets and flashy new malls. Still, the top attraction for most visitors to the area is the nearby Tangkuban Prahu volcano, from where there’s a pleasant two-hour forest walk that winds down to the city.
On Jalan Asia-Afrika, northeast of the alun-alun (town square), is the Gedung Merdeka building, which hosted the first Asia-Afrika Conference in 1955 and is known as the Asia-Afrika or Liberty Building. Inside, a small museum commemorates the conference. Running north from here is Jalan Braga, the chic shopping boulevard of 1920s Bandung. There’s still one old Dutch bakery, Sumber Hidangen, that’s tried to hang on to its history, and a few of the facades maintain their stylish designs. The side streets that run off Jalan Braga were notorious for their raucous bars and brothels. The seediness remains today, as this historic district comes alive each night with its slew of lively bars and pubs.
A twenty-minute walk to the northeast takes you to the impressive 1920s Gedung Sate Building at Jl Diponegoro 22, which gets its name from the regular globules on its gold-leaf spire, resembling meat on a skewer. The excellent Geographical Museum is nearby at Jl Diponegoro 57, and displays mountains of fossils, as well as several full dinosaur skeletons, a four-metre mammoth skeleton and a replica of the skull of the famous Java Man.
About 1km west of the museum is Jalan Cihampelas, known to Westerners as Jeans Street, and lined with shops and factory outlets selling cheap T-shirts, bags, shoes and jeans. There are also good bargains to be had at the south end of Jalan Dewi Sartika just before the Kebon Kelapa bus terminal, or the huge clothes market at the south end of Jalan Otista. Shoppers may also enjoy Bandung’s scattering of flashy new malls, the largest and most lavish of which is Paris von Java, a few kilometres north of the train station on Jl Pasir Kaliki, named for the city’s colonial-era title.