(Published in the NOW! Jakarta Magazine, August 2014)



FB Bali Crime Report vigilante Miss Widji Wienberg rescues a stolen bag from a thief

Destination Tourism

Despite alarming signs that Bali Tourism in bursting at the seams, Jakartans still flock here. I keep recommending Tana Toraja or Lake Toba or even Cirebon as attractive alternatives but still they come, like the monsoon, clogging the narrow streets of the Bukit Peninsula and the footpaths outside Jogger. These hordes need to be avoided.
Many sophisticated Jakartans now have villas in Bali and arrive late at night to avoid the traffics. For the most part they stay in their villa, making forays out to find exotic local food, and then leave back for Jakarta pre-dawn in convoys of Alphards. Some politically well-connected high society types come in the private jets of political party leaders and travel down the highways at breakneck speed with police escorts to get to Ibu Megawati’s favourite grilled fish café at Kusamba before the satay lilit runs out.
Many motorcades stop at one of the burgeoning number of butik warung selling kopi luwak for a quick fix. Somehow Jakartans never get mugged at Sky Garden or short changed at Alfamart until they marry a bule and then they never stop posting reports on Bali Crime Report FB page.
In fact ‘find a bule’ is a popular blood sport for certain sectors of Jakarta society.
Gay Jakartan daddy-chasers, for example, flock to the Jalur Gazza (Jalan Dyana Pura, Seminyak) to find mates (I read this somewhere).
Half the working girls of Doli, that once famous now defunct red-light district of Surabaya, have now decamped in Bali beyond the reaches of the Sharia police.  Apparently, for $250, one can now get two girls (one does an exotic dance in a corner) and a bottle of bootleg whiskey in some of the choicer budget boutique-style hotels that have sprung up along Jalan Sunset.

Medical Tourism is all the rage: ex-pat wives from Kemang are flocking to Bali for Botox and other cosmetic procedures, to keep up with aforementioned explosion in well-educated escorts.
In a few weeks (late July to be exact) Bali will experience its annual Surud Tiang Jawi, when nearly all of Bali’s itinerant population of Javanese workers and hired help suddenly depart, leaving the streets barren and middle-class, middle-aged Balinese desperate for a massage.


Denpasar, the day after Lebaran (Surud Tiang Jawi)

For a brief period the Balinese get their island back, until, on the first day after Ramadan, wave after wave of Chinese-Indonesians arrive in their family sedans from Surabaya and Semarang, in search of domestic help. Unable to find air-conditioning switches at home they flee to Bali in search of air, cheap food and accommodation.

•    •    •

My advice to Jakartans is: please, see Bali before it dies but spare a dime for Indonesias other cultural and scenic hot spots which are still Indonesiawi (i.e. free of complaining expats).

Here’s my annual list of my top ten tourist destinations four hours or less from Jakarta, where in-room massage is still available.

  1. Tana Toraja
    With Susi Air now flying three times a week from Makasar to Toraja, it’s possible to get there in one morning. If you have to overnight, I recommend the Swiss-Belinn at Panakkukang which gives free cronuts with every in-room massage.


    Bali garden commando Dewa Yana enjoying
    Tana Toraja

    Bali garden commando Dewa Yana’s photo of a royal graveyard, Tana Toraja


  2. Cirebon
    Take one of the executive trains from Gambir or that other station and stay at the Santika (excellent Spa, excellent location near Chinatown). Visit 15th-century palace, mosque and Makam Sunan Gunung Jati.


    Masjid Agung Cipta Rasa

    Makam Sunan Gunung Jati

    Goa Sunyaragi


  3. Lombok
    Fly direct from Jakarta. Stay at Senggigi. Visit old Bali-Lombok temples and water gardens. Visit Gili isles to see wasted tourists. Alternately: Novotel Kuta beach. Amazing beach.


    Spiritual tourists from Bali at West Lombok’s
    Taman Mayura water palace

    Kuta Beach, Central Lombok


  4. Medan.
    Gastro-tourism. Stay at Swiss-Belinn Jalan Surabaya. Back of lobby door leads to Jalan Selat Panjang. Best Hokkien Medan food in town. Visit Museum and palace between meals.


    The fabulous colonial-era Tip Top Restaurant, Medan

    Café owner at Jalan Selat Panjang, Medan


  5. Lake Toba (for party of eight).
    Charter Susi Air from Medan Airport to Lake Toba (avoid hideous drive). Go straight to Samosir Island via ferry visit to amazing T.B. Silalahi Batak Culture Museum outside Balige. Rent a family villa in a hotel and tour the crater lake island. Heaven on a stick.


    Lake Toba scenery


  6. Solo
    Still north the detour. Best in room massages in Indonesia. Stay at RoemahKoe in Laweyan Batik district. Eat and shop. Danarhadi batik has great bargains. Visit kraton and Mangkunegaran and see a dance performance somehow.


    Kraton Solo


  7. Southeast Java
    Garuda now flies to Jember (ground zero in-room massage). Avoid ghastly drive from Surabaya airport. Drive on to Blitar and stay at divine Tugu Hotel. Visit Candi Penataran and other monument. Eat nasi pecel.


    The gorgeous colonial Hotel Tugu Blitar

  8. Malang
    Garuda now flies to Malang. Stay at Tugu. (THE HOTEL IS THE DESTINATION IN TODAY’S TOURISM). Visit Candi Kidal, Jago, and Singasari. Food in the hotel excellent. Visit Toko Oen. Take home local spekulaas.


    Candi Kidal

    Candi Singasari


  9. Weekend at Four Seasons Menteng
    Best of all. Avoid all airports. Pretend you’re in Hawaii. Great Spa, gym, pool, food, service. Walk to nearby Taman Lawang at night for cross-culture experience.


    Four Seasons Hotel Jakarta

26 July, 2014: To Makassar to finalize work on our Fort Rotterdam barracks-inspired Boncafe, Panakkukang café for the Boncafe group.


Clive of Kuta with local artisan at the Boncafé, Makassar

The Boncafé Makassar and an early 19th century inspiration

The first Boncafe opened near Gubeng railway station, Surabaya, in 1973. The founder’s grandson, Stephan Tanaja, is now running the chain and is committed to good East Javanese food and Indonesian flavoured décor. He has just opened one of his Le Café Gourmand at Jalan Gunawarman in South Jakarta. Lately, sweet Stephan has let me do colonial follies for his restaurants in far-flung places like Samarinda and Panakkukang, Makassar (fast-food alley).


Boncafé, Makassar

Today I have been working with Balinese artisans and Makassar’s finest tukang, putting the finishing touches on my homage to Old Makassar. Granny Toraja, the group founder is here and says, “I can’t have wall art of mountains or of phinisi boats without sailors.” It’s never easy.


Interior of Boncafé, Makassar

July 30th, 2014: Bali Aga Wedding
Back in Bali after Lebaran and everything is back to normal: long queue at immigration, long queue to leave the airport carpark, nightmare traffic, 'mugs rules' motorists......... but eh the smiles, for miles.
This afternoon I am invited to Tenganan, the ancient Bali Aga (old Bali) village near Candi Dasa. Last month I went to the annual Perang Pandan there and it was as good as it was when I first witnessed the courtyard battles in 1979. Except now there is a spotty pom ring-in battling, and more photographers than combatants.
Bali today is an incredible mix of the ancient and the modern, the sacred and the profane ......... and that's the way the Balinese like it. The wedding today is exquisite: both bride and groom wrapped in the double ikat geringsing cloth for which the village is famous.
It was Gujurati traders who first bought the magical Indian double ikat, called Patola, to Eastern Indonesia starting the 6th century C.E.
Centuries later it was the same Gujurati trades responsible for the spread of Islam — out from Gresik in East Java from the 14th century — and the incredible carved doors of Kudus, Central Java, now widely copied in Bali and de rigeur for any new bungalow-style Balinese home.
The ebb and flow of South-Asian cultures is a remarkable subject.


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