52 Weeks 52 Tests – Week 18 – Spending a Weekend Where No One Goes: Semarang, Indonesia

Where are you going this weekend?
– Bali!
– Thailand
How about you?
– Bali
– Phuket
Hey, for this long weekend, are you going to…
– Thailand!

Oh well, you know what, I’m not going there.

I don’t know where I am going. I just know there is an airport there and the flight is bloody cheap from Singapore. So I’m going. I won’t read Lonely planet or the Internet for that matter. I just want out of the golden cage for a while. I don’t want to find myself on the same route for once, and don’t care whether certain destination boxes remain unchecked on my expat traveler scorecard when I leave Singapore, someday.

Semarang, Java, Indonesia, here I come.


I read it used to be a dutch colony.
That’s about all I knew when I reached Changi airport with a very lightly packed backpack.

You know you are going somewhere strange when there is no queue at check in for your destination on a 3-days weekend

My first contact with Semarang was with the custom office, asking a wholesome 35$ for Visa upon arrival, which is actually 10$ more than Bali, and 20$ more than for Batam/Bintan. Of course, I had planned exactly 25$ and not more. Of course, the teller would not accept these 25$ completed with additional 10$ in Indonesian Rupiah. Either one currency, or the other. In Indonesia Rupiah at the teller’s very exact FX rate “from the system, sir”, 35$ transformed into 500,000 IDR, i.e 38$. Ok, not tooooo bad.

I just asked the taxi to take me to the city center, which seemed to be a no brainer. He dropped me at Simpang Lima (meaning 5 paths), a big carrefour (not the supermarket) centered around a huge patch of grass. I checked in at Hotel Horison after making a quick room quality check. Very comfy actually, except the access cards were constantly de-magnetising and denying me entry to my room. Spend a lot of time in the lift of that hotel that weekend, and complained increasingly vocally to the reception.

Apparently, there were a few buildings and places worth a visit in Semarang, good.

After a welcome ginger drink at the hotel, a 60′ massage, I went to check the nearby malls. It was late, by conservative Java standards, and not many eateries still seemed open, except for the Pizza Hut in the nearby mall, and this is is where I had the smallest pizza in the world

Hold on, the best part is that this pizza is mean to “serve 1-2 people”. Anyway, when you go to a gringo food chain thousands of miles of its homebase, what can you expect?

Maybe I should have eaten at Robuchon instead… They seem to be making a great fried chicken. Joel would love it, I am sure.



And what better after a good Robuchon meal than to have a nice BEEF BURGER CREPE ?
People from Brittany, France: in the name of the Indonesian people, I apologise.
Beef burger crepe. Why not a Tournedos Rossini with Vanilla Ice Cream. Crazy ah.

To round up the culinary curiosities from Semarang central mall, this salad growing system, using plastic tube was a strange encounter. Like hydroponics, but on anti-depressants.

Quite interesting though… It’s true that after 3 days there, I was quite desperate to eat some greens. Growing lettuce in a tube is a good depiction of how desperate one could be to munch on greens. Anyway, I prefer lettuce to be grown that way rather than chickens…

In several places around the city I spotted these shops / kitchens selling brown meal bags of Nasi kambing, Nasi goreng, Nasi everything (Nasi means rice in Indonesian). I wonder how they track the expiration date…

Around Simpang Lima, there were huge strips of barbecue stalls (rather empty “late at night”, i.e. 8PM…) Some of them looked appetizing, other didn’t. I wish I had known a local at that point and had been introduced to a yummy local specialty…


And, at a corner of the square, this cheesy plastic, Disneyland-without-a-budget, castle clearly stood out… I thought “Oh, cool, maybe an arcade palace!”

Nah, it was mostly a shop selling biscuits. And sculptures (don’t ask me).



After a good night sleep, a huge breakfast full of tasty but nasty carbs, I was ready to visit the few sites that the city had to offer.
First, I headed to Lawang Sewu (1000 doors), a massive 100 years old building built by the dutch and that has the reputation to be haunted…

It is a very empty place.

You can feel the pain of the curator to fill the gigantic place.


A special view from the building towards the city.


As you can see, the weather was not great that day, but I still enjoyed a leisurely Tuk Tuk stroll to the old town, legs forward in the city with my smiley driver.


I first found myself in some sort of bikers’ market.


I bought a multi-purpose bandana and posed for the brand’s Instagram account.

Then, I wandered around this old town, stuck in time, with its crumbling building.




It’s a pretty strange atmosphere, for Indonesia.
The picture can not express the heat and ambient humidity of this city. At that point, I needed a drink and found a delicately gentrified cafe.



I had to try something new, so I asked about the only drink whose name I did not recognize on the english language menu: Wedang Racik

Wedang Racik

It turned out to be a warm, pleasant herbal tea concoction…  I  had to ask for them to filter it, after some infusion time, because I had no idea how to drink this, with all the small pieces of “Secang” wood floating in the drink. I also had a lot of ginger and sugar of course (it seems like besides water, no drink comes unsweetened in Indonesia…if you know one, I’m all ears, comment below…)

And that was about it for the 2nd day. I returned to the hotel, had a sauna session, and a long massage. No beers, no drinks, no need, lah.


What the above says, in the most beautiful language in the world, is that

I was awoken at 7AM by the screams “Allah Wakbar”. As I opened the window, I was already intending to complain equally strong voice. But since these people were about a 1000, agitating black flags no dissimilar to those of IS, demanding charia law for Indonesia, and that I was only wearing a boxer and severely decaffeinated, I closed the windows and went back to bed.

A few hours later, I ate breakfast, made plans for a mixed copper / leather project for 3 hours in my hotel room, jumped in a taxi back to the airport, and flew back to Singapore.

And that was it.

Is Semarang worth visiting? Well, not really (unless you have to spend a night there to go to the Karimunjawa Islands)
Was it entertaining in Semarang? Yes, somehow, if you can look with kids eyes and be easily satisfied.
Did I have a nice weather in Semarang? Nope.


Good massage? Check.
Random curiosities? Check.
A lot of rest? Check.
Time for myself? Check.
Good Nasi Goreng Special? Check.

It is fun, to spend a weekend where no one goes.

For the comprehensive list of my weekly tests so far this year, click here

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