On Sumatra’s far southern tip, Bandar Lampung is the gateway to magical wildlife experiences and tranquil white, sandy beaches.
Words by Valentino Luis
Just across the water from Java and the bright lights of Jakarta, Bandar Lampung may not be well-known to international visitors, but that’s part of its attraction.
The capital of Lampung province is the perfect starting point for an exploration of Indonesia’s oldest national park, where you can meet elephants, tigers, and Sumatran rhinoceros in their natural habitat.
Bandar Lampung lies on a bay shaped like half an ellipse. The eastern part would join with Java if there was no Sunda Strait to divide the two islands. Travelling from the port of Merak (in Banten, Java) to Bakauheni port in Sumatra takes only an hour by ship, and travellers can visit the tiny white-sand islands such as Sindu and Sakepol, stopping off at the magnificent Siger Tower or at Tanjung Tua, the southernmost tip of Sumatra.
“Bandar Lampung is actually the result of two cities becoming one: Telukbetung and Tanjungkarang,” explains Salsabila Taher, a local friend who accompanies me to climb Klutum Hill, a grassy observation point from which we enjoy a panorama across the city.
With more than a million residents, the multicultural diversity of Bandar Lampung is obvious from the presence of houses of worship for various religions. In the afternoons people like to gather around Al Furqon Grand Mosque, striking with its tall tower, the mosque is a great source of civic pride among its residents.
Churches are plentiful, and there is also an attractive monastery built in 1850. The architecture of the monastery, which is called Thay Hin Bio, is still original, with distinctive detailing and ornamental work up to the ceiling. The building withstood the devastating eruption of the Krakatoa volcano in 1883 and has remained sturdy until the present.
To get a different view of the city, Salsabila takes me to the west, which is hilly and green. The area is popular with families and young people who visit to enjoy the various well-managed rides and attractions at Puncak Mas, including treehouses, hanging bicycles and hot-air balloons. Only five minutes from Puncak Mas is Alam Wawai Eco Park, a campsite that is ideal for community groups, with good facilities, including an amphitheatre with a charming view out to sea.
Bandar Lampung’s topography offers not only flat land used for urban development but also cool tropical hills offering a welcome break from the buzz of city streets.
“If I get tired of working in the city, it is easy to escape,” remarks Salsabila. I appreciate this when I see her interest in interacting with the animals at the Taman Hutan Raya deer breeding facility and introducing me to the variety of butterflies at Taman Gita Persada. That’s the way to find balance in life, I think.
Elephants and Tigers
Speaking of animals, Lampung is synonymous with the Sumatran elephant (Elephas maximus sumatranus). There are two national parks here concerned with the conservation of Indonesia’s largest mammal, Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park to the west and Way Kambas National Park to the east.
As it is nearer to Bandar Lampung, I choose to visit the Way Kambas National Park. Sulardi, one of the coordinators, explains that the park has an area of around 125,000ha and is the oldest national park in Indonesia. “Here the large animals are not only the Sumatran elephant but also the tapir (Tapirus indicus), the Sumatran tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae), the Sumatran rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) and the honey bear (Helarctos malayanus). We call them The Big Five Mammals,” Sulardi says.
The elephants cannot be seen at all times of the day; they have been released into the forest so they can live naturally and are only brought back to the Elephant Training Centre by the mahouts in the late afternoon. In order to fill the time, I am taken to Way Kanan in the national park to participate in birdwatching while walking along the mangrove-lined river. Photography enthusiasts inundate me with photos they have captured of exotic birds; it is my first such experience and really opens my eyes to the wonders of observing nature at close range and the importance of animal conservation.
As the late afternoon approaches, I return to the Elephant Training Centre and am finally able to meet these amazing animals directly. The elephants calmly emerge from the forest, like so many hermits after a satisfying meditation. How peaceful it is to gaze at the herd crossing the field as a warm orange glow heralds the evening.
The following morning, I am taken to Camp ERU Margahayu. The ERU (Elephant Response Unit) is a programme run by the national park authority to handle conflicts between people and wild elephants. Here, troubled elephants are protected and looked after by the mahouts. Visitors can help bathe the elephants the adorable babies are naturally very popular!
Returning to Bandar Lampung, Salsabila and her friends are waiting to show me some of the local beaches. “We’ll go to the south of the city. There is a row of beaches that is worth seeing,” she says enthusiastically. First, we enjoy the calm waters of Wutun Beach, from where we can see the beautiful bright white sands of Tangkil Island.
As we continue to inch along the coast, Sari Ringgung Beach and its tempting curves attract my admiration. This beach also faces an island, called Tegal Mas. With its photogenic contours, perfected by a floating resort, the beach is the perfect destination for a day of lazy snorkelling.
Salsabila says that we will find some more wonderful small islands, Pahawang Besar and Pahawang Kecil, if we travel south. “They have better grown reef. When the tide is low, we can get to those islands on foot, by walking over the sandy inlet,” she says.
Instagrammable Vintage Cafés
It would be a shame to visit Bandar Lampung without tasting the city’s speciality dishes, not just for the cuisine but also the ambience of the eating houses. There are several cafés with vintage-style interiors that draw me in.
Firstly, Encim Gendut, located on Jalan Lindu No. 6 Palapa. In a monochrome setting, the walls on the right are decorated with traditional colourful trays and basins, whilst on the left are displayed vintage photos of Bandar Lampung. Bird cages and oriental umbrellas hang from the ceiling, while wooden chairs are topped with vibrant batik cushions. Housed in an old renovated building, Encim Gendut serves an Indonesian buffet with the option of three kinds of rice: white, coconut milk and yellow.
Also well worth a visit is De Rosse Café & Resto, situated on Jalan HOS Cokroaminoto no. 78 Rawa Laut, Enggal. This two-storey restaurant looks modest from the outside, but this impression changes as soon as you enter the purple-pink interior. On the first floor, an assortment of items such as watches, a suitcase and radio are displayed on the table, while old movie posters decorate the walls. Window frames are colourfully painted. The second floor has more modern décor. The café is known for its Tuan Crab (1-3) and Cah Kailan (Chinese broccoli).
After an experience which has taken me from witnessing the grandeur of Sumatran elephants to relaxing on far-flung beaches, and enjoying the ambience of vintage cafés, I realise that Bandar Lampung has much to offer adventurous travellers. I don’t feel I have wasted a single moment, and I know that my memories will keep drawing me back to this amazing part of the world. Whether in the wild or in the city, Lampung is made for magical moments
JAKARTA TO TANJUNG
Flight Time 25 minutes
Frequency 42 flights per week
5 Senses – Taste
With its soft texture that melts quickly in the mouth, pandap is steamed fish mixed with young taro leaves, grated coconut and spices. It is served in a small box the size of a biscuit. Said to have originated from Krui in West Lampung, it has been enjoyed in Bandar Lampung since the 1800s.