Capital of East Java
Continuing our tour across Indonesia we arrive to the second largest city in the country. Not only because of the many hundreds of gorgeous Dutch colonial buildings scattered everywhere through the city, but also because it was the perfect base and gateway to reach the incredible Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park, where the most active volcanoes of Indonesia are, while the area is worldwide known for its incredible beautiful landscapes. This was for us, no need to mention, the actual main purpose for this stopover in Surabaya.
Having always been a powerful city, and even becoming during the Dutch period the largest and most important city in the colony, it survived pretty much intact until the Japanese occupation in 1944 during World War II, when it was heavily bombed and as such, losing most of its character, charm and historic buildings legacy from the ex-colonial times. The revolution of 1945 also did not help much and claimed the loss of thousands of lives in the city. This date, 30th of October is a big celebration in the city named Hari Pahlawan, meaning Heroes’ Day.
Nevertheless and as we personally experienced, there are plenty places to see and things to do to keep you busy and enjoy a full day. This was our original plan, sparing the first day for visiting the city and the second for the excursion to the national park. This worked perfectly but unfortunately a bit rushy through the city as distances are very big between sights. Remember to have in consideration that by 18.00pm is already dark! This means the day will be even shorter.
The city has 2 different areas, one the city centre itself focused around the City Hall and the Gedung Grahadi across the river, the residence of the governor of East Java. You can see some colonial buildings though unfortunately many are in serious disrepair state or very transformed. Once was the most elegant area of the city back in the colonial times when there were even trams in the streets. The most superb building is the historic Majapahit Hotel where I strongly recommend you to stay. Farther to the north the story changes and you get to see a much bigger concentration of colonial structures. Fortunately most of them in good shape and restored, but what might seem to you near in a map to what the real distance is between the places has no sense. We’ve been walking and walking nonstop! Good maps of the city do not exist. The best I could get was in our hotel which I will try to scan for future reference.
Describing a bit on what to eat, this is quite similar to what I noted down on the guide for Jakarta and the other destinations we’ve already been past days within Indonesia. Their cuisine is heavily influenced by European, Indian, Chinese, Javanese, Sudanese, Malay… So looking for something truly traditional to Indonesia is hard nowadays.
Some traditional Indonesian dishes you should try are gado-gado (salad with peanut sauce), nasi uduk (rice boiled in coconut milk and spices and serve with a side of salad, meat or vegetables), soto betawi (beef cooked in a stew of coconut or cow milk), nasi goreng (fried rice) or kerak telor (spicy omelette) to name a few. As for truly traditional dishes from Yogyakarta you can widely find Gudeng (boiled jack fruit in palm sugar, and coconut milk generally coming with opor ayam which is chicken in coconut milk, or as a hard boiled egg stew or krecheck, which is another stew made of beef inner skin). Ayam goreng Kalasan (stew made of chicken and vegetables served with cold salad).
For more information about Yogyakarta check the Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Indonesia’s currency is the Rupiah (IDR). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Surabaya
- Port Area Although nothing special and in fact very far north from the actual city centre, there is however quite an imposing monument right in the port’s entrance.
-Jalesveva Jayamahe Monument This huge monumental statue and museum depicting Indonesian Maritime Commander Jalesveva is located in the compounds of the naval base. For this reason it is quite hard to visit as access can be restricted, but from the passenger ferry between Madura and Surabaya you can get great views of it.
-Tanjung Perak Harbor Master This beautiful harbour tower can be accessed to the top offering great views of the entire port and beyond, and the pinisi boats.
- North of the City Part of the original colonial city, here you will find most of the administrative buildings back from the era among beautiful buildings, churches and mosques.
-House of Sampoerna Located to the northern part of the city old city, is a compound of some Dutch colonial buildings dating from 1862. Now a museum and art gallery, with a live attraction, the hand rolling of the Dji Sam Soe cigarettes using traditional methods and equipment. No access fee.
-Jalan Kalimas Barat The riverside along this area is very traditional with many nice buildings from the colonial era. You can walk from the Sampoerna towards the river, then walk the riverside until you reach Jalan Cendrawasih where you will find meters beyond the PTPN XI building.
-Central Police Office Yet again another beautiful Dutch palace. The name in Dutch for police is still on the main front and so the art-deco neon letters in the garden. You will find it when walking along Jalan Kalimas Barat.
-PTPN XI Building Originally built in 1925 for the HVA (Handelsvereeniging Amsterdam), it is nowadays the PT. Plantation Nusantara XI, one of the state owned sugarcane plantation businesses. When built was the largest building in the city, and still today very impressive and beautiful.
-Gereja Kelahiran Santa Maria Is the oldest church in the city, legacy of the Dutch colonial era. Nice late 1890s brick building in neo-Gothic style. Located on Jalan Kepanjen, not far to the south of the PTPN XI.
-Kantor Pos The Central Post Office was built in 1880 and ever since has been preserved as one of the finest Dutch colonial buildings in the city. It is literally meters away from Santa Maria church in the north, and Pahlawan in the south.
-Bank Mandiri The regional office building of this bank is housed in a rather impressive colonial building, that together which the other structures occupying the entire apple forms one of the most unique corners in the city.
-Palayanan Perizinan Terpadu Another landmark colonial building used for governmental offices. It’s next door from the Bank Mandiri.
-Pahlawan Monument The main monument landmark commemorating the fallen heroes of the War of Independence 1944/1949. Located in the middle of a large green area, not far to the north of the City Hall and south of Santa Maria Church.
-Kantor Gubernur Jawa Timur Located just across the road from the Pahlawan Monument is this, the most refined and largest art-deco building in the city. It is the East Java Governor’s Office complex.
- Middle part of the city The heart of the colonial city, full with many buildings from the era beautifully preserved and restored, yet others falling in disrepair.
-Taman Balai Kota Is the central square in the city. Nicely landscaped there are nice buildings around it and on the parallel streets with some beautiful Dutch colonial.
-City Hall Occupies an entire side of the square. Dates from 1920.
-Hotel Majapahit This historic hotel was built by the Sarkies Brothers family in 1911, the same ones who opened the other Southeast Asia top hotels: Eastern & Oriental in Penang, Malaysia, the Raffles Hotel in Singapore and the Strand in Burma. Its impressive art-deco lobby was added in 1936. The hotel is beautiful on every corner and you should aim to stay overnight in here. Everything is spotless and beautiful, retaining countless of original fittings, sumptuous gardens inside the courtyards and nice pool.
-Gedung Grahadi Is the residence of the governor of East Java, housed in a beautiful Dutch colonial palace. Not possible to get in, but full view from outside.
-Taman Apsari Park Right at the front of the Grahadi. In the middle there is the statue of Suryo, the first governor of East Java.
-Gedung Balai Pemuda Was built by the Dutch in 1907 as a recreational space, nowadays a Youth Centre serving for exhibitions, workshops, academy of arts.
-Kapal Selam Monument Just east from the Gedung Grahadi following the course of Jalan Gubernur Suryo towards the river is this decommissioned Soviet-built submarine from 1962 that served in the Indonesian Navy, now a museum. IDR 10000 entrance fee.
-Matahari and Grand City Mall Shopping Centres Are the largest ones in the city centre, one across the river from the other, so very easy to reach.
- South of the city Not much to see and do and quite far from the heart of Surabaya.
-Masjid Al Akbar Surabaya Is the largest mosque in the city. From its tower, at 65 meters, you can see the entire city. The outside design is in any case very beautiful with its blue domes all around. Unfortunately it is quite far south from the city centre and a taxi here would be your best option.
Juanda Airport is the second busiest in the country after Jakarta and is located 18 kilometres to the south of the city. Unfortunately even being the second largest city in the country there is no rail connection between the airport and the city centre. The only public transport available are buses or pre-paid taxis. If you opt for the cheap option, buses, the service is provided by the same company as operates in Jakarta airport, DAMRI. A single ticket is IDR 15000 but will drop you off at the main bus station Bungurasih, and guess where it is?, only just few kilometres nearer to downtown, making no sense to do this as you will need to continue your journey on a taxi or bus and good luck trying to find the right one to the right place you need especially if you are with heavy luggage. Do not hesitate in getting a pre-paid taxi (IDR 120000 to downtown), this way you know you will arrive at your destination without hassle and without being overcharged. Avoid in this case the Blue Bird taxi counter as their quotation is Rs 220000.
Overland transport from elsewhere in Java island is possible either by train or long distance buses. Both ways will set you up to around 12 hours to Jakarta, 6 hours to Yogyakarta. Trains are comfortable especially the Executive and Business ones, with TV and air-conditioning and will be the best option rather than bus. Buses can take you to Bali in around 12 hours including the ferry crossing.
Within the city the only public transportation are buses, hence the best is to have your accommodation anywhere near the city centre in order to avoid depending on buses and rather walking anywhere you need to go as a tourist. You can also find the famous becaks everywhere (tricycles either motorised or man powered, similar to Thai tuk tuk), just negotiate beforehand the fare but mind that their quotations for tourists can easily be higher than taking a taxi.
Being a city of this size, the second in population in the entire country, and also one of the most important in culture and education, business and finance; then the choice is really vast. Searching for a good deal was not difficult, yet if for the other places we’ve been before so far in Indonesia the fare was somehow lower, in here was a bit higher. A good and reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers.
We decided, as for any of the hotels in this entire trip, to go for something really nice and unique, and we definitely did not go wrong as we selected one of the top hotel in the city. Our choice was the historic Dutch colonial Majapahit, located on Jalan Tunjungan number 65, which is one of the main roads through the middle part of the city, just few meters northwest from the Gedung Grahadi hence walking distance to the old town and most of the city’s sights. This 5* property was built by the Sarkies Brothers family, the same ones who opened the other Southeast Asia top hotels: Eastern & Oriental in Penang, Malaysia, the Raffles Hotel in Singapore and the Strand in Burma.
With all the facilities you would ever need in a splendorous colonial architecture; a great size outdoor heated pool with tropical gardens inside the many courtyards and very professional and caring staff. An enormous top quality breakfast. Large rooms very well kept and equipped up to date and standards and very clean with really comfortable big beds. We definitely enjoyed every moment we spent at the hotel not to mention how good we relaxed after such busy days sightseeing at the pool day and night.