Marvellous Malang

Explore a city in East Java that combines a rich history with plenty of modern family-friendly attractions, from amusement parks to quirky themed villages.

Words by Vikaria Lestari

It’s mid-morning when I touch down at Abdulrachman Saleh Airport on a direct flight from Jakarta, a perfect time to arrive in Malang.

Before heading downtown, I make a quick stop at the airport cafeteria to relish a bowl of savoury bakso malang, a local favourite consisting of fried and steamed wontons, meatballs, tofu and noodles, served in broth and sprinkled with fried shallots and celery.

Suitably refreshed, I make the 15km journey from the airport to downtown, making my first stop at Alun-Alun Malang (the city square), a popular gathering place as well as an ideal base for exploring the rest of Malang.

At weekends Malang’s government provides the free-ride Macito (Malang City Tour) bus, an open-roof double-decker that will take you around a series of heritage and tourist attractions.

A perfect base for visiting Mount Bromo, Malang sits nestled between lush rolling hills of apple, tea and coffee plantations, waterfalls and tropical forests. With a rich history dating back as far as the eighth century, it is a city of many names, including ‘Parijs van Oost-Java’ (Paris of East Java), where Dutch plantation masters would retire in their grand colonial houses. Malang is also known as College Town (it’s home to 62 colleges and universities), the Arema FC Homeland (Malang’s football club Arema is based in the city), City of Flowers and City of Tourism. The latter is well earned: there are more than 100 tourist spots spread across the greater Malang area, not to mention pretty city parks and an abundance of tempting eateries.

Start your first day at Kampung Tridi, near the city square. It is an area filled with Instagram moments: the alleys are cleverly painted to resemble a fish pond, a flowing river with a bridge, and a ravine stream, making you believe for a second that a big river is ahead. The walls come alive with their 3D murals.

Test your nerves by walking across the glass-floor bridge over the Brantas River, which connects Kampung Tridi to Kampung Warna-Warni Jodipan in the Blimbing sub-district. Inside Kampung Warna-Warni is a rainbow of colour from which nothing seems to have escaped, from roofs to walls, stairs to verandahs.

Five minutes’ drive brings you to Kampung Biru, which, like Morocco’s famous Chefchaouen, is a vision of blue hues, inspired by the uniforms of the Arema football players.

If you’ve worked up an appetite by this time, consider an early dinner of Malang’s famous, ubiquitous black beef soup, known as rawon. Served with steamed rice, this special dish features black nuts (locally known as keluak or pangeum edule) as the main seasoning. I do love the savoury taste of rawon! Warm your body with Malang’s traditional beverage: angsle is a warm concoction made with bread, petulo (a sweet rice flour based snack), mung bean porridge and sago-pearl porridge, served in pandanus-cooked coconut milk sauce.

After dark, head to Malang Night Paradise, next to Hawai Waterpark Malang, a family-friendly entertainment precinct of vibrant, illuminated attractions.

Beyond the city

Bukit Paralayang Hill on Gunung Banyak (Banyak Mountain), Batu, is an hour’s drive from Malang. The fresh breeze of the mountain will fill your lungs, which is handy as the paragliding here takes your breath away! Batu is also a theme park heaven. There are so many jostling for your attention, and some of them open only at night! Among the many are Lampion Garden, Infinity World, Rumah Terbalik (Upside Down House), Dino Park,

Batu Secret Zoo, Museum Angkut (a transport museum with different theme parks inside) and the Bagong Adventure Museum Tubuh (a human anatomy museum). Fans of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit should head to Batu Flower Garden, part of Coban Rais, Batu, for some special selfies in a Hobbit village.

Every corner of Batu seems to have something going on. Alun-Alun Batu (Batu Square), with its Ferris wheel, dancing fountain and well-manicured gardens, is never quiet day or night. You can soak up the skyline views from the Ferris wheel, or taste the famous sweet sticky ketan susu (glutinous rice pudding with different toppings) from one of the evening food stalls, which are so good they attract huge queues!

Returning to Malang after a fun day out in Batu, I refuel with some local bakso while contemplating the past few days. Malang and its surrounds are certainly the whole package when it comes to a fantastic family vacation. I head to the airport with only one thought – if only I had a few more days here to pack in even more.

Getting there

Garuda Indonesia flies 14 times a week to Malang.
Flight time from Jakarta is 1 hour 10 minutes.

Bakso Gondol

$ / 8.3/10 Kav 10 Jl. S. Priyo Sudarmo 35, Malang Asian, Indonesian Bustling, simple venue famed for its pork meatballs, with a takeaway service.
www.foursquare.com

Hotel Tugu Malang

$$$ / 9.4/10 From US$165pn Where: Jl. Tugu No. 3, Malang Set in the old town, a refined hotel with an array of delicious dining options.
www.tuguhotels.com

Kertanegara Premium

Guest House $ / 8.7/10 From US$43pn (twin) / US$60 (plus king) Inviting, smoke-free B&B with spacious, stylish rooms with Javanese touches.

www. kertanegaraguesthouse.com

Saigon San

Menu range: US$2.50–$20
Where: Jl. Tugu No. 3,
Malang Asian, Thai, Vietnamese Beautifully decorated and serving Indo-Chinese street food.
www.tuguhotels.com