Surabaya is the dark horse on this Grand Tour. It’s not a city frequented by history and heritage buffs; and because it’s actually rather large, sprawling and run-down, it is not for the faint-hearted. But I heartily recommend it precisely because it is so off the beaten track – that you will often find yourself perhaps the only visitor wandering around in the Old Town, experiencing life in the city as the city-dwellers experience it.
Other than Penang, it is also the city that most resembles Singapore – with its old town divided into Arab and Chinese quarters, and with those thousands of traditional shophouses lining its streets.
Here are 5 essential things to do:
✑ A random wander through the Old Town of Surabaya, including the banks of the Mas River, Chinatown, Ampel (the Arab Quarter), the Jembatan Merah (Red Bridge) area and Willemskade. Willemskade contains the most impressive instances of Dutch-colonial architecture in the city.
✑The House of Sampoerna, to revel in the old-world atmosphere. Have lunch at the excellent adjoining restaurant.
✑ Take a taxi to the ancient port of Kalimas, and if possible, get one of the seahands to allow you onboard one of the pnisis. Just don’t accidentally get transported to Madura Island
✑ An evening stroll in the Tunjungan area, to admire the art deco architecture and discover the Dutch Indies-style colonial bungalows dotting the area. Stay, or stop off at the magnificent Hotel Majapahit – formally known as the Hotel Oranje. Just be forewarned, that the hotel is incredibly haunted!! (But I enjoyed it).
✑ Pay a visit to the Heroes Monument, if only to acknowledge the thousands of native Javanese who died for their nation’s independence.
Surabaya has a rather vibrant street art/graffiti scene. As you walk around the Old Town and Tunjungan, look out for the many vibrant works of art that line the sides of buildings.