A byword for crowded poverty even in Indonesia, Madura's infertile soil has led to an estimated 10 million Madurese migrants leaving the island, with only around 4 million left to eke out a living from subsistence agriculture (corn), tobacco and cloves, salt panning, fishing and cattle farming. A larger contrast to the largely lush and fertile Java next door is hard to imagine.
Those geographic and climatic reasons, together with a lack of well known sights, make Madura as off the beaten path for travellers as it gets in this part of Indonesia.
History has not dealt the people of Madura a kind card. The island was in an almost perpetual state of conflict with different parts of the island siding with different kingdoms in various medieval Javanese conflicts. In the colonial period the rulers of the east and west Madura were often allied with the Dutch and, in return for protection, provided natural resources and troops. In World War II the Madurese suffered enormously under the Japanese.
The opening of the Suramadu Bridge in mid-2009 might just begin to change the off the beaten path nature of Madura though. There are large investment plans mooted and many of these focus on developing Madura as a tourist destination from 2010. Only time will tell but the omens look good for an island that has had little go in its favour for so long.
Tales and legends have developed around Madurese women who are famous throughout Indonesia for one thing: secretive sex techniques known as goyang Madura. These seem to involve clenching vaginal muscles in a way not unlike Kegel exercises, assisted with herbal preparations like the tongkat Madura (Madura stick) that were a minor hit in Japan a few years back.
The local language is Madurese, but standard Bahasa Indonesia is widely spoken. You will find a little bit of English spoken and understood at some of the hotels and amongst well educated younger people, but that's about it.
The Suramadu Bridge (Jembatan Suramadu) was completed in June 2009 after a rather tortured history of stop-start construction, lack of funding and industrial accidents. At 5.5 km it is Indonesia's longest. It connects connects northern Surabaya in Java to Bangkalan in Madura. The one way toll is Rp 30,000 for a car or van and Rp 3,000 for a motorbike.Cyclists are not allowed to cross and have to take the ferry. It is perfectly possible for visitors to cross to Madura independently using a car or motorbike rented in Surabaya. You should though tell the hire company that you intend to drive the vehicle to Madura.
The classic way to get to Madura involves taking a public ferry from Tanjung Perak, north Surabaya, to Kamal which is 10 km south of Bangkalan. These run every 30 min 24 hr every day. The queues at weekends and during holiday periods can be unbelievably large (remember that more than 10 million ethnic Madurese live elsewhere in Indonesia). Avoid public holidays and the Ramadan period altogether. Since the opening of the bridge, travellers are perhaps better off avoiding the ferry altogether.
For the adventurous, there is another ferry route into Madura from Jangkar in the Situbondo regency of north eastern Java. The crossing takes about 5 hours and the schedules are weather dependent and by no means certain. This ferry service arrives in Kalianget, about 10 km south east of Sumenep in eastern Madura and it makes sense if you are coming from the Baluran National Park area.
Bull Racing (Kerapan Sapi). This is the most famous attraction in Madura. Every August and September towns and villages across Madura hold races and the winners compete for the Presidential Trophy in the grand finals in Pamekasan in late September. Races take place over a 100 metre course and are over in about 10 seconds. The jockey is usually a young boy who shows great control of the large bulls whilst balanced almost impossibly on a simple wooden sled. This is a major event in Madura and it is taken very seriously indeed with all sorts of intrigue surrounding the raising of champion bulls, use of mysterious herbal tonics and the harnessing of dark magic to cripple opponents. A very exotic and colourful affair. edit
Kangean Islands. The Kangeans are an archipelago of about 30 islands 120 km to east-north-east of Madura. These are relatively little known but with far better boat transport options than used to be the case, the islands are accessible for the adventurous traveller. The largest island is Kangean itself at about 490 sqkm. Others are as small as 1,800 sqm. The key attraction here is marine life and there is good snorkelling close to shore off many of the islands. As a general rule, the western coast lines here tend to be white sand while the eastern coasts are often covered with mangrove forest. Some Bali-based dive operators offer formal dive excursions to this archipelago, and there are irregular boats servicing the Kangeans from Sangsit nr Singaraja in North Bali. The only formal accommodation option in the island group is a fairly terrible government rest house (pasanggrahan) in Arjasa on main Kangean. As an alternative, you should also be able to find lodging with a family by approaching a local head of village (kepala desa). Both public ferries (ASDP) and private boats service Batu Guluk ,which is about 12 km from Arjasa the capital of main Kangean. These leave from Kalianget just 6 km south-east of Sumenep, and the crossing takes anything from 6 to 10 hours.edit
The north coast road of Madura is very much worth driving and is quite unlike anywhere else in the region. It almost recalls dry Adriatic islands with shallow, crystal clear waters contrasting with the arid white stoned terrain. You can drive this road in either direction between Bangkalan and Sumenep. Fishing villages are scattered all along the north coast and you will see lots of attractive little outrigger boats called perahu. There are ancient royal tombs just to the north of both cities. The Ratu Ibu Tomb is just off the north coast road at the village of Arosbaya, 16 km north of Bangkalan. At the opposite end of the island the Asta Tinggi Tombs are 4 km north of Sumenep on the road to the villages of Manding and Dasok.
The hills of Madura and marvel at the skill of local farmers who find a living here. Traditional crops you will see are corn, tobacco and cloves. A good area to head for is the central road which links Pagantenan (about 15 km north of Pamekasan) and Gulukguluk (the centre of tobacco growing).
Sumenep Palace (Keraton Sumenep), Sumenep. 7AM to 2PM daily except sundays.. This is the modern day office of the Bupati (administrative head of the regency) of Sumenep and also houses the Royal Carriage House Museum. The palace was built in 1762. Very notable are the huge original teak pillars. Lots to see here including palanquins, weapons, Chinese porcelain, wooden handicrafts and beautifully carved furniture. The single best place to get a real handle on Madurese cultural history.Rp 6,000. edit
Simple warungs and street-side vendors are the go in Madura. Whether you are looking for a seated restaurant or happy with street stalls, the key is to follow the local crowds.
The Madura style satay is probably the most popular satay variants in Indonesia.Madura dishes are often saltier than other East Java foods. Other specialities include:
Soto Madura (a spicy beef soup with rice).
Sate Ayam Madura (Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce)
Satay Madura (a spicy goat satay). You may hear of dog or other substitutions being made instead of the normal goat meat.
Sumenep probably has the best selection of warungs and simple restaurants on the island.
Kaldu Kokot (A soup or broth), Sumenep (On the way to Kali Anget). 6PM-5AM. A thick beef soup with beef bones cooked together with green peanuts. It is served with "lontong", a white steamed rice wrapped by banana leaf, it is normally quite spicy.Rp 20.000. edit
A government survey in October 2009 found just 31 accommodation options (many of them informal) on an island of 4,250 sq km. There are plans to change this though as part of the general development of the island after the opening of the Suramadu Bridge. Firm expressions of interest have come from several star-rated hotel groups to build properties in Bangkalan and Sumenep.
Ningrat, Jl KHM Kholil 113, Bangkalan, Madura, ☎ +62 31 3095388. Probably the best hotel on the island but that is a relative statement(!). The air con "VIP" rooms are much nicer and decorated in traditional bright Madurese colours. From about RP 90,000 to 215,000. edit
Melati Hotel, Jl Mayor Jenderal Sungkono 48, Bangkalan, Madura, ☎ +62 31 3096457. A rather shabby place but it is cheaper than the Ningrat and used by budget travellers for that reason alone.edit
Garuda Hotel, Jl Mesigit No1, Pamekasan, Madura, ☎ +62 324 322589. A converted old colonial building and the rooms are very large. A charming property in its own way and one of the better options on the whole island.edit
Gatra Hotel, Jl Agus Salim No18, Pamekasan, Madura, ☎ +62 324 322045. A newer hotel built in the mid 1990s with a good restaurant and helpful staff.edit
Hotel Rahmat, Jl KH Agus Salim 31, Sampang, Madura, ☎ +62 323 321302. Decent, clean property with a range of room and prices all with private bathrooms. Fan coooled rooms are much cheaper than the large air con rooms.edit
PKPN Hotel, Jl Rajawali 9, Sampang, Madura, ☎ +62 323 32116. Probably the best known hotel in Sampang but it is tired. In a good convenient location and efficiently run though.edit
This is an inherently conservative island and the Madurese are pious Muslims. Many other Indonesians (unfairly) regard the Madurese as kasar (coarse or unrefined) and hot-tempered.
Madura recieves relatively few foreign visitors and you are therefore likely to be a source of some curiousity. Behaviour and dress should be appropriately conservative. If you make an effort to understand and respect the Madurese, you will find them welcoming and people with a finely developed sense of humour.
A really adventurous option is to travel 6-10 hours by boat to the Kangean Islands, with the hope of passage from there to North Bali.
This is a usable article. It has information for getting in as well as some complete entries for restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please plunge forward and help it grow!