Tuesday, October 30, 2012

SURABAYA: 02 - Malling Here, Malling There

I do not really know why I ended up booking a ticket to Surabaya. All I know is that I was supposed to let that ticket go to waste, because I was supposed to go back to Manila for a quick return trip, supposedly for an exam, before heading to Indonesia. The exam, however, did not push through, and instead of going back to Manila and then to Jakarta and paying the travel tax again, I just chose to save the KL-Surabaya flight instead of the Manila-Jakarta one. And so there. I ended up in Surabaya, which is the capital of East Java. I think I read how Wikitravel compared it to Paris or something. I have not been to Paris, but I do not really see anything that merits the comparison, at least from what I know about Paris. Surabaya is one of those cities that you would gladly live in, especially for Filipinos as the atmosphere of the place is pretty much similar to Metro Manila’s, not to mention that they are also addicted to malls, like there is one in every other block. However, as a touristy place, Surabaya does not have that much to offer. That probably explains why tourist attendance is kind of low.

The hostel I was able to book has a prime location near one of the malls, as well as Stasiun Gubeng, which links the city to other big cities in Java. After settling in, I asked the receptionist to suggest some places to visit, or to give me some tourism brochures recommending places to see. She was unable to give me one. After a day or two in the city, it was clear why. It is convenient to be a resident of Surabaya, but as a tourist, you do not have a lot of options.

Most of what can be seen here are several heritage buildings from the Dutch period such as government offices and old churches. Those aside, they also have a plethora of monuments dedicated to various personalities from Indonesia’s history. And that is it. As with any other cities, they have party places and nightly hangout venues for the young and the hip, which I no longer bothered to visit because I have no reason for being there. If I wanted my share of night life, I could wait until I get back to Makati, so, no thanks. There is also a water park which would have been cool to visit, in every sense of the word, as a refuge from the hellish hot weather. In any case, there is one thing that you should definitely do in Surabaya, and that is malling.

I have visited two or three and they seem to have the same layout as the malls that we have in Manila. In short, those malls lessen the homesickness you might have to endure while you are here, which is further aggravated by the lack of interesting things to do. Internationally recognized fast food chains are plenty, from KFC to A&W. For those with more adventurous palates, there are a lot of Indonesian cuisines to try either in malls or in hawker stalls, of which I only saw few, surprisingly.

If you have the time, patience, and thick skin, you could walk around the central area of the city where most of the tourist attractions are located. The distance among them would not be considered as “walking distance” by most, in which case I would recommend hailing a cab. It came as a surprise to me that taxi drivers here are not from hell. They use the meter (say ‘argo’) and the flag down rate is cheap at 5,000 rupiah, although it ticks fast once it starts doing so. I had two taxi rides which did not exceed 20,000 rupiah each. That would be less than a hundred pesos, pretty much the same fare you would pay a taxi driver in Makati, if he is not one of the many opportunistic ones.

The most popular of the tourist attractions would be the Sampoerna Museum, which is located in a rather shady neighborhood not far from Kya-Kya Chinatown. The museum has something to do with the tobacco industry, if I understood it correctly. I only checked out the architecture but no longer bothered to come in. This is, perhaps, the farthest to reach from Jalan Kayun, and I walked all the way there. But then again as I always say, I love walking! Even if the sun would not stop baking me while doing so. Back to Taman Sampoerna, it is located at a rather long road stretching north from another road leading to Chinatown, where you would also find some IBIS hotels.

To cut the long story short, I went malling during my first day here, and spent half of the day starting lunch time walking around and seeing the tourist sites indicated on a tourist map I downloaded somewhere from the web. Do I recommend Surabaya as a tourist destination then? Not really. Maybe you could use it to establish a base if you want to visit other destinations in East Java such as Mount Bromo. Otherwise, you may skip Surabaya, unless you want to reside there, in which case I would not discourage you because it is a modern city teeming with convenience. Less traffic too! But yeah, that is one of the caveats: they are big fans of one way streets, and the scarcity of traffic lights and overpasses simply means waiting forever to cross the road.

Leaving? Catch a train at Stasiun Gubeng. You might want to reserve a seat or buy a ticket a few days before your trip. Trains here are popular forms of transportation and they are cheap. Shell out some cash on executive class. The seats recline and come with a power socket just perfect for charging that laptop! No WiFi, though.

SURABAYA: 02 - Malling Here, Malling There

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