sign in a cave in Laos

8 June 2008

Bogor, Bandung bubble with activity - Star

Bogor, Bandung bubble with activity

Story and pictures by LIZ PRICE

THE STAR Lifestyle
Saturday, October 12, 2002

IF you are bored with the ordinary, stereotypical touristic objects, and shun “mass tourism”, then the Buena Vista Travel Club is for you.

Buena Vista, based in West Java, Indonesia, specialises in tours for the adventurous and those craving out of the ordinary activities ranging from abseiling and archaeology to bird-watching.

You can visit volcanoes, caves, tea plantations, go white water rafting, river wading and even learn about mountain survival.

Local cavers at Gua Boni Ayu, a fine river cave open to the public.

Having heard about all the options available, I decided to have a look at what was on offer. Buena Vista is in the Puncak Valley outside of Bogor, in West Java. I flew from KL to Jakarta, and took the airport bus straight to Bogor, bypassing Jakarta.

My adventures started immediately upon arrival when I was met by Dr Robby Ko, president of the Indonesian caving association and “big boss” of Buena Vista.

Not wanting to waste any time, he immediately took me to the world-famous Bogor Botanic Garden which lies smack in the centre of Bogor. Apart from the many tropical plant species, it has become well-known for research and conservation, housing probably Indonesia’s only specimen of Ficus albipila, a huge strangling fig.

There are guided walks around Bogor Garden, as well as drivable roads. The garden was established during Dutch rule, and opened in 1817. Prior to this, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles had been governor of Java from 1811-1816 and had planned the palace grounds, the palace being on the north side of the gardens. A monument to Raffles’ wife can be seen here.

Having enjoyed the splendour of the garden and orchid house, I was fed and watered, and had a quick tour of Bogor town. Bogor was an important hill station during Dutch times, standing at 290m, and indeed still is a pleasant retreat from the city of Jakarta 60km to the north.

Bogor is also known as the “City of Rain”. It lived up to its name as it poured on my first afternoon, but the skies soon cleared as we set off for the Puncak Pass.

An ancient stone with carved pictograms called 'nandi' at the Bogor Botanic Garden.

Like a Swiss summer

The Puncak Pass is a beautiful 1,500m high pass on a narrow, winding mountain road through small resort towns and tea plantations on the way to Bandung. Buena Vista has its headquarters nestled on the slopes of the pass with great views over the valley. It reminded me of Switzerland in summer, with the green mountains and cool air. Driving up the pass, I saw an amazing assortment of resorts, motels, restaurants and villas; all of these really come alive on weekends and holidays.

I was soon ensconced in my quarters, and very pleasantly surprised by the comfort of it all. There is a selection of rooms, with two or more beds, sofa, tables and chairs, attached bathrooms, and small kitchenettes. I had a tour of the place, and if it hadn’t been chilly I would have jumped straight into the swimming pool. There are conference rooms and meeting rooms, lecture halls, an exhibition of caving and other activities, and library. Buena Vista is fully equipped for all outdoor activities.

There are some good hikes in the area, waterfalls and rivers to explore. Just up the road is Cibodas, a beautiful extension of the Bogor Botanic Gardens, surrounded by thick tropical jungle on the slopes of the twin volcanoes Gunung Gede and Pangrango. The Cibodas gardens are the start of the climb to the 2,958m peak of the still active Gunung Gede. To make the climb, you must get a permit from the park office situated near the entrance. Alternatively, you can take the steeper trail to the top of Gunung Pangrango (3,019m). If you are unable to make the 10km trek to the top of the volcano, you can still visit the beautiful waterfalls along the trail.

Driving up the pass through the Gunung Mas tea plantation is particularly scenic in the early morning when the sun’s rays appear over the mountain tops. We set off early morning and the beauty of the scenery compensated for my early rise. We stopped at the Puncak Pass Hotel at the top, which is an old Dutch building. The restaurant was doing a roaring trade in breakfast.

As we headed for Bandung, we visited Bunga Raya, an astonishing vast estate of huge houses in different styles, such as Chinese, Dutch, English, Thai, Japanese, and Wild West etc. Some were nice, others were quite garish. It was something totally unexpected. The gardens and grounds were immaculate and there was a Little Venice area. Such opulence. Most houses are just weekend homes for the rich from Jakarta and Bogor.

Beyond this dream world, we drove past kilometres of nurseries and the colours were incredible –– bougainvilleas of every shade of purple and pink, row after row of plants, from shrubs to fruit bushes and bonsai.

Cool and comfortable

Bandung was bustling as it was a weekend and people flock here from Jakarta for shopping at the textile and clothes factory outlets. Bandung is the capital of West Java and Indonesia’s third largest city, but is fairly unhurried and is cool and comfortable at an altitude of 750m.

We drove around the congested streets, saw old Dutch houses and big trees, and then of course it was lunchtime. Malaysians are known for their constant ability to eat, which includes snacking in-between frequent meals and Indonesians are just the same, if not worse. My trip turned into an eating tour –– not that I was complaining.

Having filled our stomachs once again, we set off through Lembang with its planetarium and rabbit satay stalls to Tangkuban Prahu. This “overturned prahu” volcano crater stands out from the plains surrounding Bandung, and is a popular spot which can be reached by road. Tangkuban Prahu still simmers and bubbles, having last erupted in 1969. There are also hot springs in the area.

South of Bandung in the Ciwidey area are other scenic attractions which sadly aren’t mentioned in guide books, but are well worth a visit. We ate strawberry dodol and kelua jeruk (candied pickles) during the drive, and fried tofu at Lake Patengan in Rancanboli. The lake is in the centre of tea plantations. I stopped to take pictures of three red leaf plants –– poinsettia, cinnamon, and quinine (kina) common in this area.

We then went to Kawah Putih or White Crater at Gunung Patuha. We could drive all but the last couple of hundred metres to the crater. The crater is so pretty, a smallish sulphur lake of creamy-coloured water, not very smelly and gently steaming in places. It has been described as the most scenic crater lake in Java. I managed to put one foot in to feel the water temperature. When I pulled out my leg, it looked like I’d got a plaster cast. Needless to say I stank of sulphur for the rest of the day.

After a drive around the tea plantations came lunch at the delightful Sindang Restaurant in Ciwidey. This is a typical Sundanese place with little bamboo rooms over a fishpond; you sit on the floor and enjoy a feast and live traditional music.

Driving back to Bogor, we visited the man-made Lake Cirata, formed in 1984 when the Citarum River was dammed. We took a boat to the karamba, which are floating fishponds in the middle of the lake, where they rear carp catfish and other species. It was fun walking on the gangplanks which consisted of four lengths of bamboo tied together, some with handrails. A good sense of balance was required, but we nearly had a mishap when four of us got onto one length of plank and it nearly collapsed.

We watched the fish being fed with pellets which caused quite a feeding frenzy. We then had a tofu snack at the floating village shop. My friend was startled when a rat scampered past her. We were told cats also come to the karamba, as they can swim. Swimming cats, rats and fish! An amazing place. A superb fish lunch followed, back on the mainland.

Being a caving fanatic, I wanted to see some of the local caves, so we did a day trip to Gua Boni Ayu which is a fine river cave, south of Sukabumi and Sagaranthen. The Forest Department looks after this cave which is open to the public for caving tours. I was also able to see Bat Cave or Gua Lalay at Pelabuhan Rata on the southwest coast.

This coastline is very impressive with huge waves crashing onto the shore. Legend has it that the Queen of the South Seas, a malevolent goddess, takes fishermen and swimmers off to her watery kingdom, especially those wearing green. In accordance with a seldom publicised “custom” in the hospitality industry, the Samudra Hotel keeps a room unoccupied for the Queen.

We took a drive along the coast to Cisolok and I was surprised to see padi fields extending right down to the beach, the blues and greens contrasting beautifully. When we stopped to buy brown sugar at Cisolok, the car was surrounded by boys and men on motorbikes. I wondered what was happening –– they turned out to be touts for traditional penis enlargement!

Sadly, I ran out of time, and only managed to sample a few of West Java’s attractions. It is a surprisingly scenic place for those who enjoy the outdoors. Buena Vista can arrange packages to suit your every whim. My thanks to Dr Ko for being such a generous and informative host.

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