Semarang will surprise you

Semarang, Central Java’s provincial capital, doesn’t feature on many travellers itineraries except perhaps as a transport hub to whizz past on the way to the jungles of Kalimantan or the idyllic Karimunjawa archipelago, and although it may not have the draw of the province’s royal cities of Yogyakarta or Solo, we think it’s a charming, underrated destination and fans of architecture and history should really consider adding a couple of days here—Semarang will surprise you.

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Clinging to the north coast, the city is home to over 1.6 million yet it feels more like a big town than one of Indonesia’s largest cities (except when you’re stuck in traffic heading out to the bus station, or trying to cross the road).

Lawang Sewu at night. : Sally Arnold.
Lawang Sewu at night. Photo: Sally Arnold

Semarang’s early history is sketchy, believed to have been an important harbour during the Mataram Kingdom (eighth to tenth century) and visited by Chinese Muslim Admiral Cheng Ho on his expeditions to Southeast Asia during the early 15th century—Sam Poo Kong Temple is dedicated to this adventurous seafarer. In the early days of trade throughout the archipelago, the city had important ties with Melaka in present day Malaysia and by the early 1700s Semarang was a major administrative and trading port for the Dutch. Chinese traders and immigrants were influential in the growth of the city, and today the Chinese are more visible than in many other Indonesian cities.

Within the town’s centre, Semarang’s most interesting sights focus on colonial architecture and major restorations in recent years have influenced a surge in (mostly local) tourism. The cities’s landmark, and most popular tourist destination is enigmatic Lawang Sewu, a former administrative building for the Dutch Railways (Semarang was the locale of Indonesia’s first train station), believed by locals to ... Travelfish members only (Full text is around 900 words.)

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