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Places to Visit in Semarang: Central Java

I can still recall the very first time I visited Semarang, the northern coastal in Central Java. It was in the middle of the hot season, the winds blew even hotter and the dust was annoying to the eyes. But, I loved it. It was refreshing to visit and experience a city of such historical importance and culture. Semarang is a divided city – the cooler new part of the city called Bukit Sari where most of the flash hotels and residences are located, and, the old part of the city known as Kota Lama. It is here in the old part of the city that I would recommend anybody to stay when they are visiting the city and much more interesting and fascinating to explore. Kota Lama has a lot of old Dutch colonial buildings and you can still see the old building remains of what was once a walled city. Staying anywhere in the old city will give you the opportunity to be near just about everything you could want to see and that includes the maze of markets and side streets where very turn of a corner is a pleasant surprise. Try the losmens and budget hotels nearer to Pasar Johar. I would suggest getting around by foot to see most of the historical places, but if you are not into wearing your feet to the bone, then there are plenty of becaks or taxis available.

There is a large Chinese population in Semarang and subsequently there are some beautiful temples to see:

Sam Po Kong (Gedung Batu)

This was built in honour of the Muslim Chinese Great Admiral Zheng He who visited the area in 1405 who visited Semarang in the early 15th century. It is located on Jl. Simongan No. 129 and was extensively renovated in 2006 to celebrate the 600th anniversary of Cheng Ho’s voyage to Semarang.

Tay Kak Sie Temple

This beautiful temple is one of the oldest and largest Chinese temples in Semarang and was built in 1771. I actually spent a half day here mesmerised by the heavily incense-filled room. You can find it on Gang Lombok, a small alley that runs off Jl Pekojan near the river. It is often known as a ‘living temple’ for reasons unknown to me and I really should have asked the monks there. Interestingly this temple is used not only by Bhuddists but Taoists and Confucianists as well.

Semarang is also famous for numerous other outstanding attractions. Here are just a few:

Gereja Blenduk

Located on Jalan Letjen Suprapto 32, the name means ‘domed church’. This is a beautiful old Dutch Protestant church that was built in 1753 and is the oldest church in Semarang. It has a baroque organ, something that is a rarity in Indonesia. Services are still held in the church and it is not far from the old port where you will find architectural traces of the colonisation in Indonesia by the Dutch.

Tanjung Mas

This was a busy and important port during Dutch occupation from 17th century to 1945.

Tugu Muda (Tugu Monument)

This is one of Semarang’s landmark. Located to the west off Simpang Lima, one of the 5 streets crossing Simpang Lima named Jalan Pandanaran. This is an interesting and historical monument that commemorated the 5 days of fierce battle (October 14-19, 1945) between Indonesian freedom fighters and Japanese soldiers who refused to surrender their weapons.

Lawang Sewu (A Thousand Doors)

Located on Jl Pemuda it was originally built as the headquarters of the local railway company During World War II, the building was used as the Japanese army’s headquarter. The building has a U-shaped design from which numerous doors open. When I visited the place it was barracked by Indonesian soldiers, however, he building is now empty and in a dilapidated state, Lawang Sewu is considered to be one of Semarang’s most prominent landmark and, as rumour has it, haunted.

Stasiun Tawang (Tawang Railway Station)

The oldest major railway station in Java completed in 1870. This is a magnificent structure fully restored and still functioning.

Mesjid Baiturrakhman

This is Central Java’s largest mosque and quite amazing in its structure and elegance. Located just north of Simpang Lima, a visit here is highly recommended if only to sit in the cool areas around the grounds. Unfortunately, those that are not of the Muslim faith are not allowed to enter the mosque.

Chinatown

This is one of my favourite places. It is a maze of gangs (alleyways) that intertwine, run parallel and go each other way to confuse you pleasantly. You could spend hours here exploring the markets, seeing the smaller temples or enjoying some genuine Chinese cuisine at one of the many warungs.

Jamu Factories:

There are a couple of these Jamu (traditional Javanese medicine) factories in Semarang and the most famous of all being Nyonya Meneer located on Jl. Kaligawe near the bus terminal. There is a museum there also and is open from Monday to Friday at 10am–3pm.

The other is Jamu Jago located around 5 klms south of the city on Jl Ambawara. It also has a museum and the same opening hours.

Museums

Museum Ronggowarsito

A nice museum that has a good collection of Javanese culture and art.
Located on Jl. Abdurrahman Saleh No. 1, it is open from 8am-2pm except on Monday.

Mandala Bhakti Military Museum

Situated on Jl. Mgr.Sugiyopranoto It houses a fine collection of military exhibits from the Dutch era as well as those of freedom fighters.

Of course there are many more attractions in Semarang besides those I have mentioned. The above are just a few prominent places. Semarang is a city that never seems to sleep and if you are up for a bit of interacting with the locals then head down to Simpang Lima (five-way intersection) where all the nightly action is. Here you will find the bustling heart of the city and a plethora of food vendors that are open from early evening till morning.

Semarang is a city that has something for everyone and a visit to this beautiful and interesting city is a must to put on your itinerary for Central Java.