Category Archives: Surabaya

The One With Symphony Surabaya – A Journey Into Nature Concluded

There, I have done it. After much procrastination, I have completed all my blog posts from my nature trip to Surabaya, Indonesia back in February. Though this might not have seemed much, this has been a monumental – as well as meaningful – effort for me.

Surabaya 2013

I remember vividly that I had to wake up early every day to catch an hour or two of blogging, lest I will never do it, and I might forget details. Thank God I made the effort. What you can read below – a travelog made into five parts – was mainly written during the trip itself. Without these little notes I studiously made daily, these blog posts would have never been possible:

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Re-reading my notes and writing these blog posts made me realised how much I did enjoy the trip. Perhaps, during the days I was there, I was too tired to properly appreciate the natural beauty I immersed myself in in Surabaya, as well as some truly local experiences. I also hold on to working on these blog posts since my Facebook sharing of the photos led to an opportunity to write for South China Morning Post’s spring edition of Encounters, their flagship regional travel magazine. Which was in itself an achievement, since it was the first time my travel writing was published in print – even if I was writing it from a culinary point of view.

I thought that would be a challenge. In truth, it was much easier done than said.

Surabaya 2013

I would also take this opportunity to thank Chris, my travel buddy to Surabaya. Had it not been for his incessant pestering to join him for the trip, repeated reminders about buying air tickets, (and during the trip) selective deafness to my complaints, brutish encouragement when my knees were screaming in pain, etc etc etc (you get the idea)… I would have never done this.

I would have never appreciated the beauty of a fogged marshland. I would have never seen an active volcano right in the eye. I would never have braved my way up to a sunrise view point in the dead of the night.

This diehard city boy may just see more of such nature in his near future. And I (half-heartedly) blame Chris!

The One With Tasting The High Life in Surabaya

You might have heard that recently I got published in print for the first time – a story of my culinary adventure in Surabaya, in South China Morning Post’s Spring 2013 edition of Encounters. Well, technically it is not the first time my writing is published; however this piece is written entirely in my style – instead of a structured review form – and hence is something very dear to my heart. Posted below is the full, unedited and uncondensed version of my original submission to the editor. Click here to read the published version online.

Symphony Surabaya Day 5

When you had your fill of volcanoes and waterfalls, refuel your body with some truly local and delicious Indonesian fare

It was five in the morning. White, fluffy clouds appeared to roll away from my feet, stretching across the plains towards the distant volcano. Even as the sun rose in the east, I can look skyward and still see thousands of sparkling stars.

It was the closest to heaven I have ever been, and yet all I could think of was, “God, that was a decent amount of calories I burned climbing up here”.

Symphony Surabaya Day 5

Welcome to Seruni Point, one of the few viewing points in Probolinggo in Jawa, Indonesia, where you hike up the mountain in the dead of the night armed with little more than a jacket and an energy bar. I was told that during peak seasons, from June to August each year, the view point is packed with hundreds of visitors hoping to catch the stunning sunrise, as well as the iconic postcard-view of active volcanoes Mount Bromo and Mount Semeru.

Even as I took in the incredible sight of the fogged up savanna and smoking craters, part of me was dreading the eventual (second) hike up Mount Bromo to look at the volcano in the eye. That would be another thousand calories, I told myself, and soon I will be able to enjoy a proper breakfast.

Surabaya 2013

Already the thoughts of famous Indonesian food like gado-gado (vegetable salad served with a peanut sauce dressing), ayam penyet (lightly mashed fried chicken) and rujak cingur (a mix of cow snouts, young raw mango, pineapple, cucumber, rice cake and tofu, all served in a black sauce made from fermented shrimp paste) spurred me on to complete the nature itinerary of the day.

And I did.

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The One With Symphony Surabaya, Part 5

The eye of the crater was smoking, bellowing smoke serenely into the air with a calm belying the fierce burning lava that was boiling underneath. The cliff of the caldera was steep, smoking sand, its lips at most one metre wide. One misstep will send us tumbling down into its fiery jaw with nothing in our path to offer any chance of salvation.

It was a situation too surreal for words. And here I am thinking I am being dramatic – trust me, I am not.

Symphony Surabaya Day 5

The scene was one Mount Bromo, an active volcano three hours drive from Surabaya which last erupted in 2010. To reach the rim of the caldera, one has to cross a marshland of almost mystic proportion. It was dawn, the sun has just risen, and the entire plain was shrouded with fog. I can’t see more than five metres in front of me, and wherever I look up I saw tall, dark walls looming in the distant.

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The One With Symphony Surabaya, Part 4

For the second half of our trip, we were lucky to have a very efficient and knowledgeable tour guide.

For one, thought we made a mistake with the pickup time, we were still able to make it packing our stuff that very morning and have a somewhat leisurely breakfast while the guide waited patiently at the hotel lobby, perusing the local newspaper like he had all the time in the world.

For second, he had the foresight to make us to make the trip to Madakaripura – one of the more dramatic waterfalls in Java – today instead of tomorrow, since the weather was relatively good (and that we would be probably too tired after our Bromo hike tomorrow).

Symphony Surabaya Day 4

The plan was simple enough – we will leave the hotel to Lava View Lodge where we will be spending the night, and on the way we will make a pitstop at Madakaripura. I had no idea what was in store for me, but the guide told me I would need an umbrella, I had my first red flag.

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The One With Symphony Surabaya, Part 3

It was one humid, hot afternoon in Surabaya, and I found myself in the land of too much onions.

Surabaya 2013

It would have been an awesome sight if you are in that kind of thing. There were onions everywhere. Baskets after hundreds of baskets of all sizes, hanging in sacks overhead, on the head of passing women, or just strewn on the floor. Even cats got into the action (I will leave that to your imagination).

Symphony Surabaya Day 3

Pasar Pabean is one of those darkly lit market designed to invoke anxiety attack for those who suffer from claustrophobia. We were walking around in Chinatown when we accidentally stumbled upon this market which sold everything imaginable under the sun.

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The One With Symphony Surabaya, Part 2

There was an irritating bee buzzing around my head. I was standing in the middle of some dark caves, with water dripping onto my head. The light from my phone was hopeless trying penetrate the dense darkness. The only thought that I had in mind was…

… what the fuck am I doing here?

Some context, if you please. Chris and I ended up at some caves the Japanese used to hide in during the war (which one, I don’t know, the Indonesians have had way too many wars) as we wanted to get away from the hot spring. Let me tell you know, my readers, that an Indonesian hot spring is very, very different from the one in Taipei.

Symphony Surabaya Day 2

Although the Cangar Hot Spring is located at the top of a mountain which took us some two hours plus to get to, the weather was far from being pleasantly cold. It alternated between acceptably breezy and scathingly hot. The place was packed with locals – nary a foreigner in sight so Chris and I stood out like two sore thumbs – and every men, women and children were crammed into very few pools. Nobody seems to pay heed to the many signs around the place – they smoked and ate away merrily. In the water.

All Chris and I dared to do was to soak our feet into the suspiciously murky-looking water. Ah, the joy of a true Indonesia experience. Not.

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The One With Symphony Surabaya, Part 1

Did you know in Chinese, Surabaya is called “Four Water”? As in 泗水 (pronounced “Sìshuǐ”)

I learned that from the very pixelated, very old screen of the inflight entertainment of my Cathay Pacific flight to Surabaya. The four hour flight was uneventful, except some Indonesians (maids) who seem to have no reservation to chat right across me. So I did the polite thing and held up my magazine higher and higher in a fruitless attempt to block out their line of sight.

And oh, this is the closest I ever get to the equator. It might come as a surprise to you (as it was to me) that Surabaya is actually located in Java, not Sumatra, and that it is located between Jakarta and Bali.

And that it is rather close to Australia!

First impression of Surabaya. It was a rustic town, kinda like my own hometown of Menglembu, with instances of “modernity” and “urbanisation” here and there. It is quite disconcerting to see a towering new hotel built right next to a slow flowing river where thatched huts and abandoned old buildings hugged the riverbanks.

Symphony Surabaya Day 1

We got in to Surabaya rather late in the day, and checked in directly at the hotel. Garden Palace Hotel is a large, clean and unpretentious accommodation of choice by my travel buddy, Chris, located within a large compound with at least one bar and one club (which for some reason thumped our some real loud music from 6 a.m. onwards one day. Goodness knows what the youngsters were up to. This old chap needs his sleep!). The hotel is well equipped with restaurants – Indonesian, Chinese, Japanese, Western – and throughout we sample some of them. Some were okay, others were not worth mentioning.

Thank God for the nearby shopping mall.

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The One With Symphony Surabaya

For the past couple of days I have been way too preoccupied with work to even think about my upcoming trip Surabaya. During those rare minutes between office and home when my brain was free to disengage itself from normal operation, the only thought I had (on loop, I might add) was…

… what should I name my blog posts?

A definite blogger job hazard if there’s one. But hey at least I got an answer. Hence Symphony Surabaya.


(Image Credit)

It would be too much detail for me to go into why I am heading to Indonesia for Chinese New Year. If you know me as well as I think some of you do, a holiday in the tropics leaving behind a winter in Hong Kong (okay, in reality that’s all relative) would be entirely out of character for me.

Give me cold, chilly holiday. Snow? Oh yes please!

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