Born and raised in Malang for 18 years, here’s my travel guide for you to enjoy the Paris van Java like a local.
This post originated from the travel guide I wrote last year for our wedding guests which were privately published in this blog. Now that the wedding is over, why not share the travel guide for the world to enjoy?
Malang is a city in East Java, Indonesia, where I spent most of my childhood at. The city has a perfect blend of a modern and small city vibe. The innermost part of the city has Dutch architecture features left untouched, allowing you to have a glimpse of colonial Europe.
With a quick drive, you’ll be able to set foot in one of the most lavish theme parks available in the country, or even in the region. Alternatively, have a relaxing hot spring bath while enjoying the breath-taking mountain view. You can take it to the next level by visiting one of the neighboring active volcanoes – Mount Semeru or Mount Bromo.
Go a little bit to the South, and you can experience virgin, underdeveloped beaches of Sendang Biru, Tiga Warna, or Goa Cina. Those beaches are right across a small Sempu island. Hence, the contour is not as steep as normal Pacific Ocean-facing beaches anywhere else.
For this guide, I will start with attraction in the main part of Malang City. On the following posts, we’ll hop to the neighbor Batu city, then to the mountains, and finally to the beaches.
All places mentioned here is summarized as this custom Google Maps.
Malang City: What to Eat
Right after getting off the airplane (or train, or bus), you need to eat locally. First things first – all of the places mentioned below accept cash only. So, prepare your Rupiahs!
Malang sets the standard of the country’s meatball dish, known as “bakso”. Not only you’ll get the actual ball-shaped beef-and-tapioca goodness, but also all the crispy rolls, the spicy hot chilis, and the white and yellow noodles. It’s the ultimate meal, or snack, that even locals are never getting bored of.
(That umami-drenched broth must have done some good.)
Now, when it comes to where to eat bakso, you got hundreds of options. From the authentic street cart version to the upscale restaurant version. For first-timers, I would recommend something in the middle – not too fancy but also not straight from the street either: Bakso Kota Cak Man. The unique self-serve restaurant lets you choose what you want and pay accordingly. If you’re a foreigner, don’t worry – it doesn’t require extensive Indonesian speaking ability to order.
What to put in the bowl, now? You need to try the different variety of meatballs, some of the crispy stuff, the one with tofu, and finally the transparent noodle bundle. Depending on how hungry you are, I would recommend the actual meatball to dominate the show, then the others as complementary. For drinks, iced tea is the ultimate combo of this hot, salty dish.
If you feel adventurous and can handle spiciness pretty well, then try Bakso Bakar Pak Man. A literal translation is grilled meatballs. They serve the meatballs as-is, with no soup, just a black thick sauce. And boy, they are S-P-I-C-Y. Last time I ate it was in 2012, and I still remember how spicy it is. The hotness is combined with the sweetness of the soy sauce with a hint of grilled meat smell. The bakso is truly unique. They are also a little expensive for bakso standard (15-meatball cost you apx 3 dollars USD .. normally it’s not even 2 dollars), but it’s definitely worth it.
Now, what for dessert?
As the city is pretty chilly for a tropical country standard, it’s not a surprise that a hot desert is making its way as the landmark dish to try. The hot sweet soup is called “ronde”. The soup is clear with a strong ginger smell and taste, filled with chewy tapioca balls that contains crushed peanuts. When you bite the balls, the crushed nuts just melts and blends with the sweet soup.
Sometimes, the ronde is accompanied by silk tofu that will also melt in your tongue and gives the soft touch to the chewiness of the balls. YUM.
The ultimate location to try this is in Ronde Titoni, the original ronde place established in 1948… just a sheer 3 years after Indonesia’s independence! For less than a dollar, you’ll get a bowl. While you are there, why not try the Cakwe, the elongated bread that you can dip into the ronde to add a crispy, salty dimension. Or try another dessert variant of Angsle, which is an assortment of neon-pink and neon-green tapioca bubbles and noodles served in sweet coconut milk. Be warned that this place is popular – the wait time might be a bit long, but it’s definitely worth it.
Malang City: What to Visit
Touring the city is quick. You can get it done in a day or two.
An Instagram-worthy city tour starts with visiting Alun-Alun Tugu, the city monument surrounded by a beautiful lotus garden lake. The place is what Liberty statue is to New York. Take a picture there, and you have officially visited Malang.
You can continue walking to Ijen Boulevard. The locals are proud of its status as “the most beautiful boulevard” back during the Dutch colonialism. The luxury houses, including the mayor’s official house, have Dutch architecture preserved.
Fun fact – my high school is a part of what’s called “Tugu High Schools”, situated right across the monument.
The city park, Alun-Alun Merdeka, can be underwhelming. But, the catch is the surrounding Grand Mosque of Jami (Masjid Jami) and the Grand Church of Immanuel. Both are classic, beautiful structures that you need to take some pictures of. And while you’re there, take a quick visit to the legendary OEN Ice Cream Store to get a taste of what the 1930 cold treats are like.
Today, however, the most Instagram-able part of the city belongs to the Colorful Village of Jodipan (aka “Kampung Warna Warni Jodipan). Used to be a forgettable riverbank village, the place is now vibrant with neon colors. The houses are painted with crazy colors alongside with creative, edgy graffiti arts filling in the hallways.
Malang City: What to Take Home
Being tourist-aware, you won’t be short of gift shops (“toko oleh-oleh”). There are a lot of shops dedicated to sell special snacks or delicacies that represent the city. Lancar Jaya and Anugrah shop are good choices to get the best deal and convenience. There are many types of snacks to take home depending on what your tooth tendency is.
If you have a sweet tooth, you need to try the absurd variety of fruit chips. Any fruit you can imagine. From the ones that make sense like banana, apple, or jackfruit chips… to the ones that you’d wonder how the hell they fry it and make it into crisps, like grapes, melon, or watermelon. If you need to pick one, pick the apples. The fruit is the icon of the city.
Similarly, you can also try the fruit Dodols, which is the sweet toffee-like sugar palm-based confection in your fruit of choice.
For your salty cravings, try the tempeh chips. People got crazy buying this – I often see them buy in cardboard boxes. They also have some variety from the original – the cheese-flavored, spicy, or seaweed-infused. And forget your kale chips – we got spinach chips and cassava chips here.
For next-level chips, try the chicken foot chips (“keripik ceker”) or the snail chips (“keripik siput”. Yes, you read it right.
Malang City: Getting There and Around
Malang has a small airport, Bandara Abdurrahman Saleh.
International flights normally land to Jakarta CGK airport, followed by a domestic flight to Malang for another 1,5 hours. The domestic airlines that we recommend are Garuda (the flagship national airline of Indonesia) and Citilink (Garuda’s cheaper spinoff but still very nice). Sriwijaya (reliable and friendly privately-owned airline) and Batik (luxury version of Lion air) are also a reliable option.
Domestic flights are abundant but sometimes they don’t have direct flights to Malang. The nearest large city would be Surabaya, which takes 2-3 hours road drive to the city. If you have to land to Surabaya, you can use “Travel” service, a shared-car service for 10$ or less. The agencies we recommend are Abimanyu Travel and Nahwa Travelindo. You need to call the number and inform your arrival. The driver will call your local number to pick you up.
Trains are also an option. However, if your place has a flight option direct to Malang, we recommend flying instead. The time train journey takes, the cost of food you buy there, etc can actually make flights more attractive. Nevertheless, you can book your ticket in the official channel here.
For airport transfer from Malang airport, online ride-hailing cars are banned from entering Malang airport, unfortunately. So, you either have to use the official taxi there (which cost 2x normal) or call the reliable local taxi, Citra (+62341 404040) to pick you up.
To get around the city, Grab is the easiest raid-hailing app for foreign tourists. Uber has merged with them. The solid local startup version, GO-CAR (part of GO-JEK app) is slightly cheaper when you use their GO-PAY cashless option with more abundant cars. Gojek also partners with the local taxi company, so don’t get confused when your ride is a taxi rather than a normal car.
If you prefer to rent a car or have a driver riding you around, you can also contact Abimanyu Travel that charges ~30 dollars a day with a driver (excluding meal for driver and gas).
So, are you ready to explore Malang? If you have any questions, ask below.