Lawang Sewu


Lawang Sewu is a beautiful Dutch Colonial building in Semarang that was constructed in the early 1900’s.  It originally housed the first railway company in the Dutch East Indies. One of the two main buildings became a prison when the Japanese invaded Indonesia in 1942 and the basement was used for interrogations and executions.  We’ve actually toured here twice hoping that the basement area would be open to the public, but no such luck.  Now the complex is said to be haunted and the Indonesian government has tried to rebrand to lose that reputation.  They could easily turn it into a legit haunted house, but I think the culture here is too superstitious to enjoy that.

The name Lawang Sewu means Thousand Doors in Javanese.  There are definitely an endless amount of doors and arches up and down the many corridors, but we haven’t gone so far as to count the doors.  We’ll save that activity for our third visit.

LW-twoferLawang-Window-view600Lawang-couple-spread Door-+-hallLWThree-spread-temLawang-Doors.jpg


Joel’s Birthday Treat


We pass Wonderia a couple of times a week and Joel always comments on how spooky and abandoned it looks, which puts it at the top of the list of Joel’s must visit places.  Last week being his birthday week, it was finally time to venture behind the colorful Wonderia gates to see Semarang’s only amusement park in all its glory.   And glorious it was, if you’re into places that look like an old Scooby-Doo episode come to life.  We read online that the park was built in 2007, how it managed to fall into this severe a state of disrepair in only nine years is unbelievable and amazing.  The reviews around town are that Wonderia is old, janky and unsafe.  Every parent that we surveyed came to the same consensus that they would never bring their children here and yet somehow that fact heightened the thrill factor for us.


First up we wanted to hit the Ghost House.  We were the only people in the park so one of the employees stood by the ticket booth, asked us what we wanted to ride then walked over with us and proceeded to start getting the ride up and running.   We rode the car about two meters before we heard a pop and the car stopped… for good.  We each paid 10,000 rupiah to get in and 7,000 for the tickets (about $1.23 total per person) so dammit we were going to ride something!  We waited while the employee shut down Ghost House and then walked us over to the one spot he was sure he could get working: the bumper-cars.


The food mural wall was odd but somehow not out of place.  Shown here was one of the two headless chicken bodies with a happy garlic. The merry-go-round, like the Ghost House, was not in working order, but no one seemed to mind that I unlocked the gate and went in for some photos.


The Wonderia Monorail was functioning and it was also a horrible idea.  The calm looking selfie I took was before this crazy train started moving.  It looked about as old as Father Time and swayed back and forth with the steadiness of a drunk tight-rope walker.


All in all, Wonderia was pretty much exactly what we expected- a collapsing, technicolor dystopia.  I’m glad we had the park to ourselves for our first visit because it added to the eerie mystique.  Next time, we’re coming back on one of the weekend nights when the parking lot is packed with hundreds of scooters and you can hear the music bumping from outside the gates.  I’d be into seeing an Indonesian rock band here, however I’ll definitely be skipping the monorail.


Pigeon & Mutton

Joel lived and worked in Jakarta for two years prior to us moving to Semarang.  This week his friend David visited from Jakarta and took us out to try some fried pigeon.  I was surprised when the pigeon showed up head-on, but they were tasty nonetheless.


David’s son was visiting from Australia and wanted to hit all of his favorite hometown snack spots.  After dinner we went searching for the kaki lima (food stand) with Semarang’s best mutton soup.  The kaki lima vendor has a couple of shelves with fresh veggies and some non-refrigerated meats on sticks.  He prepares each bowl individually in his only pan over a small wood fire stove.  I had mutton with potato, tomato and garlic and it was awesome.  His broth was some of the best I’ve ever had.  I would say I’ll be back but being that this is a 3′ by 5′ cart that sits on a dark side street, I’m not sure I’d ever be able to find it again.


Finally I get to meet some monkeys


I feel like my abundant references to legends are becoming redundant but with historic sites come historical folklore.  Goa Kreo is a cave located near the Jatibarang Reservoir in Semarang.   The legend is that one of the nine Walis (founders of Islam in Indonesia), Sunan Kalidjaga came here looking for teak wood to build the Great Mosque of Demak.  He met the monkey clan and asked them to guard the cave.  Hence the name Goa Kreo- goa means cave and kreo is taken from the word mangreho which means guard.

Looking over the valley it is hard to believe that it’s located only about 30 minutes from our home in the densely populated, bustling central Semarang.  Joel had previously visited the monkey forest in Ubud, Bali and warned me that the monkeys there are expert thieves.  However these macaques were much tamer than the monkeys of Ubud, who will jump on your back and go through your purse looking for snacks.  We bought a bag of peanuts expecting to have to hide it, but these guys were pretty reserved when it came to getting close to us.  I did manage to get a couple of shots of adorable, little monkey hands reaching up to take peanuts from Joel.  The day we went the sun and heat were brutal, so we didn’t stay long.  But I think we’ll definitely find time to make it there again for another round of peanut feedings.


Furniture & Shark Forts









With our last week of holiday break we wanted to squeeze in another small trip.  With Jepara being only two hours away and touted as the furniture capital of Java, we were eager to see if it lived up to the reputation.  Our first full day we rented a scooter and went to check out the shops, some of which were more like sprawling warehouses with room after room filled with intricately carved masterpieces.


We also scooted up to an old Dutch fort called Benteng VOC.  There wasn’t much of a fort left but we did get to meet a gang of graveyard grazing goats.


Shortly after leaving the fort we crashed our scooter.  No, I didn’t take any photos of the wreck but looking back I should have gotten one of the crowd that gathered quickly to check on us. We were both a little bruised and scraped but fine for the most part.  We did have on helmets (which are very optional here) so I was glad for that.   At the time it was more embarrassing than painful- the pain came the next day in the form of sore muscles and scabbed knees.

But we still had another day in Jepara and really wanted to get to the beach so we washed our waffles down with coffee and pain pills and headed out.  We chartered one of the tourist boats to Palau Pajang.  The name translates to Long Island even though it is small and round.  We walked a trail around the island surveying the vegetation and feeding the mosquitos, then back to the beach for me to inspect the coral.


We saw these bamboo structures on Google maps when we were researching the area and we weren’t sure quite what to make of them from the satellite view.  Joel told me they were shark forts where sharks plan and map out their attacks, however I’m not 100% sure he’s correct.


My only regret from Jepara is that I wasn’t able to bring home any furniture or ceramics, but next time I’ll know to book a big bus home so I can fill it with bowls, vases and maybe a carved headboard or two.


Odds and Ends from Jogja

Mornings are the best time to explore with milder temperatures and rain usually not coming until late afternoon.  Joel and I would finish breakfast then meander the windy back roads of the neighborhood near the hotel.  Homes tend to be vibrantly colored with small porches covered in plants and birdcages.  Gates are also hugely popular with most being bright and elaborate.  Every street is an unexpected surprise as you can also find a brand, spanking new mansion next to a tin roofed shack, but it’s a pretty good bet that you’ll always see at least one loose chicken running around.



We’ve also noticed an abundance of murals- they’re everywhere!  I’ve wondered if business owners arrange to have their buildings painted or if there just aren’t graffiti laws because it seems like any spare surface is covered in art.


Another morning we checked out Pasar Satwa, which translates to animal market but we had heard it called the bird market.  They do indeed have a variety of different animals, but birds are by far the biggest business.  From what I’ve gathered, owning a bird is a status symbol of sorts and the best way to keep up with the Jones’ is to display your birds front and center on your porch.  I’ve also heard there’s a belief that when someone places a curse on you, if you own a bird the curse will transfer to the bird and you’ll be protected.


Our transportation to and from Pasar Satwa, as well as pretty much everywhere in Jogja, was bejak.   On a hot day (which is everyday) we prefer the motorbike bejaks over the pedal ones because you get a better breeze.  All the drivers call the motorized ones helicopters.  We’re still scratching our heads on that one.


Sultan’s Palace & Water Castle


The Kraton (Sultan’s Palace) and Taman Sari (Sultan’s Water Castle) are both hot tourist destinations in Jogja.  Typically Joel and I are lone explorers and politely say “Tidak terima kasih” (No thank you) when approached by the ever eager rogue guides.  But we asked directions from someone hanging out near Taman Sari and he was more than happy to give us a private tour for the next hour.  Since we didn’t really know where we were headed, we took the bait and to our surprise it turned out to be a good decision.


We had arrived early trying to beat the crowds so the Water Castle wasn’t open yet.  Our guide took us through someone’s back yard complete with their family’s drying laundry to this secret spot so we could get a view of two of the pools from overhead.  He told us the far pool was for the Sultan’s children and the other was for his forty wives. Taman-Sari-two-view

Once inside the complex you can go to the opposite side of the tower to see the Sultan’s private pool, the one below.Sultan's-poolWindow-view

You can also climb up into the tower and sit on the Sultan’s bed.  I think the guide told us some folklore about us sitting there together and it magically giving us a longer relationship or strong marriage, but his English wasn’t great so he may have just been telling me to sit down. Sultan's-bed

After Taman Sari we walked around the grounds, through some tunnels and to an underground mosque that is apparently the spot for wedding photography.  We saw two wedding parties and someone doing what looked like prom photos as well. Kraton-wallUnderground

There are lots of homes within the Kraton complex and many of the people that live there are employed by the Sultan.  We found two men sitting on a porch carving wayang kulit- Indonesian shadow puppets made from water buffalo hide. Wayang-artist

After bidding farewell to our guide we made our way to the Kraton.  It’s a large, sprawling complex of buildings that still houses the Sultan’s family, museums with artifacts from past sultans and from 9:00-1:00 each day a couple of hundred tourists.


We met a group of school girls just dying for a picture with a handsome, white American so of course Joel obliged.  Not to brag, but I had a couple of fans myself.


And after seeing this portrait, I’m now on a mission to get myself a pair of these gold, elfish ear ornaments.