Posted by: Mark | April 2, 2008

Chinatown 2

One of the main reasons I went to Semarang was to be in day trip distance from Gedung Songo. Recommended to me by both Cak Udin, who owns my favourite warung, and Steve, who is yet to own any warungs at all, Gedung Songo is a complex of nine temples built on different levels of volcano Gunung Ungaran.

Getting there was a frustrating experience to be sure. After leaving the main road at head up to Bandungan, the climb got steeper and steeper. With 150 kilograms being propelled by a engine that makes lawn mowers look dangerously overpowered, it was a slow ride, though not as rhythmic as the Foghat song, with lots of thrashing gears and over-revving to the point of explosion. At one point, the bike just gave up, and Ibeth had to walk while I trundled up in first.

Eventually we got there, and started making our way along the 3km path that loops all the temples.


The temples are not that impressive, but the scenery is great, if you can see it.


The volcano actually has a vent very close to the temples. Here’s hoping it doesn’t blow it’s top any time soon, could destroy some temples that have been sitting there for over 1200 years. Oh, and kill all the people, of course.


It makes me happy that people can still farm tourist sites. All the more scenic.


Have to get there early, before the clouds settle in. In order to do this, you need a bike that can ascend hills at better than walking speed.

After making our way, very quickly in this case, down the hill, we made a quick ziarah to Gua Maria, a cave in the middle of a gorgeous garden and jalan salib location.


Wow, don’t see many of these around; grass, trees, space, and breathable air are all at a premium here in Javanese cities.


The afforementioned cave. Apparently mass here attracts hundreds of people.


Next, the Ambarawa train museum, in a largely unused Dutch station from 1873. Lots of trains, probably very interesting to enthusiasts, but much of a muchness to me. Accidently climbed in on two high school kids bermesraan in one of the carriages. They looked scared out of their minds. Goal!


On account of the rain, we stopped in for lunch at this lesehan fish joint in the middle of some fields. The roasted gurami was delicious, but boney.


As the rain lessened, we headed off to Bukit Cinta, or Love Hill, which was actually a slightly raised piece of earth on the edge of Lake Rawa Pening. Wet? Check. Muddy? Check. Romantic? Not so much.


I actually saw people walking around in motorcycle helmets to avoid getting their hair wet. Hilarious! Also, Ibeth was eaten by a dragon, but that’s by the by.


The view from a church parking lot on the way back to Semarang. Jawa Tengah really is beautiful… sometimes. Not so much on the way home.

After dinner at a Korean restaurant and some busking action at the Chinese markets, I got a good night’s sleep and spent the next morning buying souvenirs and having breakfast. I left at about 12:30, a horrible, horrible mistake.

An hour outside of Semarang, the rain started. Knowing that if I stopped, the rain would continue, and I would end up driving home in the dark with a weak, 80’s Commodore-style headlight, that was a recipe for disaster. I put on my rain coat, basically a rectangular piece of plastic and continued on. My arms and legs were getting soaked, and the seams of the jacket were ripped apart, blowing behind me like a cape. Cars continued on, and trucks ascending the steep roads at 10kph held up traffic in both directions. I was overtaking on the left past dozens of cars, sliding between potholes and holding on for dear life. Eventually, the back half of the jacket ripped off, leaving my back and bag exposed.

I pushed on, praying that I would recognise something, but I still wasnt even in my own province. Eventually I got to Magelang again, after another two hours. It was nice having traffic lights and being able to overtake without fear, but seeing the “Welcome to Yogyakarta” really made all the difference. As I saw more and more recognisable places, I knew I was getting close, and by 4pm I was there. Soaked through and feeling terrible, but home. My shoes took three days to dry, and that was while I was wearing them. At least there weren’t too many bikes on the road; everyone sensible had stopped driving. The next day, the paper reported that the area I was driving through, Sleman, had been flooded, and that many bikes were rendered unusable. Got lucky?

All in all, good trip!



  1. Hi, long time listener, first time caller.

    This whole thing is an awesome read and the photos are amazing. Sounds pretty damn cool.

  2. If I saw a white guy climbing into my train I would also freak out.

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