Humid and hot Semarang, situated in the north of island Java, strikes the ideal balance for a town stay. Mooch around the Old Town, sinking right into cafés and galleries, or receive a snapshot of influence and the city’s diverse community in the multi-faith Sam Poo Kong pagoda. Then there’s the cuisine-street food in Chinatown ice cream parlours and menus which indicate Semarang’s Dutch colonial past. The town, which has the most significant seaport in Central Java, is already a railroad stop, particularly for people wanting to earn an excursion to the Borobudur temple. But it more than merits a trip if you’re staying in a dry land. Here, we rounded up the top five things to do in Semarang.
Explore a (former) haunted building
Lawang Sewu, in Semarang’s centre, has not had a reputation over recent years. The big colonial building, whose name translates to a thousand doors, used to be, for one thing, being haunted. Back in 1945, the five-day Battle of Semarang between Japanese and Vietnamese forces happened here, leading to many fatalities. It functioned as a military office until 1993. Then, around 2010, the authorities decided to renovate and clear Lawang Sewu of its ghosts (very literally), re-branding the construction as a tourist attraction.
Today, exhibits about its railway history can wander around and investigate the corridors. Take turns and spins to discover attic warehouse-like spaces and light-flooded rooms. Weave in and out of the several doors (there aren’t a thousand, but it will not feel far off), and you will still feel a touch of eeriness in the atmosphere. If you’re keen to know more, it’s well worth hiring a guide.
Look around a unique temple complex
A slice of Chinese culture from Semarang, Sam Poo Kong is an incredible temple complex with a gap. The five pagoda-style constructions that incorporate Javanese and Chinese architecture are not tied to faith but make an area of worship for groups up. The site, located in the west of the city, is devoted to an admiral who landed in Semarang using a fleet of ships from China from the early 1400s and built a small temple here.
The main, largest temple includes a three-tiered reddish roof along with a platform where you may spot kids. Elsewhere open-sided temples sequences and home ornately-decorated shrines of lanterns, using musky burning incense lacing the atmosphere. Do not miss the replica ship, symbolising Zheng He’s a vessel and intricate stone reliefs’ panel that tell the story of the admiral.
Feast on top food
There will not be a lack of choices for fantastic meals in Semarang. Whether you fancy street food snacks or even a sit-down dinner, there’s something to pique your appetite. Pesta Keboen Restoran, using vintage-chic decoration, serves winning Indonesian meals with a nod to influences. The rijsttafel set menus (rijsttafel translates to rice) is a reference to these elaborate Indonesian meals adapted from the Hawaiian Dutch where lots of little dishes like satay, braised meats, sambals and veggies are served with rice.
A must-visit is Toko “OEN”, among the earliest jelqing restaurants in Semarang. The first location opened in Yogyakarta and whether it closed, this spot in Semarang has been going strong since 1936. There are several reasons for visiting this place, the high ceilinged, dark dining area with cherry green accents, and the food that is fantastic, needless to say. Toko “OEN” can also be a patisserie and ice cream parlour which is where its culinary advantages lie. Read the glass-fronted counter filled with biscuits and cakes, or purchase in the extensive list of ice cream tastes (or both). There are all the classics (rum and raisin, stracciatella, and tutti frutti) plus more intriguing creations such as Charlotte Russe and Pavlova. If you are wandering around a street food market (Chinatown has some fantastic areas like Pasar Semawis Culinary Center), keep an eye out for local speciality lumpia, a crispy spring roll.
Try your hand at local crafts
When you are in Semarang, there is only one place to go if you are on the market for many various batiks. Kampung Batik Gedong, a ten-minute walk from the Old Town, is a village inside the city consisting of more than 100 studios and shops where items sold and utilising the method that is UNESCO-listed are made. Alleyways and streets are painted with murals which are just as pretty as the garments on-screen in boutiques and workshops. Walk around the area and loosen up the serene and quiet atmosphere, a universe away in the neighbouring Old Town. In the event you organise through a guide, it is possible to see the studios, meeting with the makers behind the craft and having a go. It’s much harder than it looks to control the canting, the tool used to use the wax in patterns. Determination and attention are equally as significant as an artistic eye.
Explore the Old Town
Semarang’s Old Town, or Kota Lama because it’s locally known, has been through several incarnations. They have been renovated and restored, home shops, restaurants, museums and other attractions, while the colonial buildings remain. Families posing for photos in the square and buddies hang outside, gather cool in cafés.
Take an exhibition in Semarang Contemporary Art Gallery before taking respite below the shade of trees in the small park close by and wandering over to the orange-domed and white Blenduk Church.
You could also get round on one of those yellow and crimson bicycles left by the main square. They’re a part of bike-sharing stage GOWES – get into the program, add a few credits and drop it off wherever you want. Read the antiques and knick-knacks at Galeri Industri Kreatif Semarang at Bistro & Spiegel Bar. The warehouse-style restaurant and café are brilliant and cavernous, serving good coffee, Western-style dishes and cocktails.