Semarang is the capital of Central Java in Indonesia. The city's name derives from the Javanese words "asem" and "arang" which literary translate to "scarce tamarind." It was founded by Ki Pandan Arang who is said have also named Salatiga and Boyolali. The city is a wonderful example of the "melting pot" concept, with representatives from Javanese, Chinese, Indian and Arabian cultures.
Semarang lies in the northern part of Central Java. The city weather is hot and humid. Wear cotton clothes. You do not need long sleeves shirt, instead a T-shirt and knee-long trousers are comfortable. Some places like mosques (masjid) and temples require polite dress such as long trousers/skirts. Hot pants/mini skirts will attract people attention and might considered in-polite.
Currency used is Rupiah (Rp). You can find money changer in the downtown area, or simply get into banks and you will get fair exchange rate. Please note that in practice, money changer and banks are not accepting US$ bank notes with issuance year 1999 backwards because of the experience in Indonesia mostly found US$ with issuance year 1999 backward had been forged.
Banks are open between 8.30 a.m to 3.00 p.m. Post offices are easy to find. DHL, TNT, Fedex and other international courier also available. Local courier company (also serving international courier) is TIKI. Ask your hotel staff to help you dealing with these courier companies.
Indonesia does not have tap water (ready to drink water)in the house or in hotels. So do not drink your hotel tap water unless you boil it first. Bottled water is very popular and not expensive, popular brand is AQUA, ADES, 2 Tang etc. You can find them in department stores and mini mart such as Indomart, Alfa Mart and even in small street stalls (usually in the corner of street intersection).
Fuel for your car (if you rent a car) are "Premium", "Pertamax" and "Pertamax Plus" for gasoline fueled car and "Solar" for diesel engined car. It is not self service, you cannot fill in the gasoline yourself. The gas station has their employees who will help you and you have to pay to them for the fuel according to the fuel meter reading.
Semarang's Airport is Ahmad Yani International Airport, quite nearby from the city centre. Daily flight are available to many major cities in Indonesia. Garuda Indonesia, Merpati Nusantara, Mandala Air, Adam Air, Batavia Air, Sriwijaya Air, Jatayu Air flies to Jakarta daily. Merpati also has daily flight to Surabaya. Deraya flies to Pangkalanbun and Bandung. There is also flight service to Yogyakarta by Kalstar. The airport's only international flight is to Singapore four times a week by Garuda Indonesia
Semarang is connected to Jakarta, Bandung and Surabaya by trains. Interestingly, there is no comparable railway service to Yogyakarta, although a railway line exists. The Argo Muria express connects Semarang to Jakarta, and with its relatively new equipment (2002), is very comfortable. The downside is the very early departure (5.00 AM!) to Jakarta. Overnight trains are also available. The fastest train between Semarang and Jakarta takes around 6 hours.
Bandung and Surabaya are also connected to Semarang with air-conditioned eksekutif class trains.
On the northern main line, between Semarang and Pekalongan, the railway line follows the coast line, providing passengers with beautiful views of the Java Sea.
Semarang can be reached by car from Jakarta. It takes around 10 to 12 hours depending on the road traffic. You can choose to leave early in the morning from Jakarta and can expect to arrive in Semarang the next 12 hours. Over night drive is faster yet more challenging and even dangerous for "Pantura" non familiar driver. Pantura derives from "Pantai" means Beach "Utara" means North.
From Jakarta you can take the route eastward via Cikampek toll road. Go along the toll road until your reach Cikampek toll gate, take left and you are in "Pantura Road". In Pantura road you have to follow the direction sign "Cirebon", "Pekalongan", "Kendal", "Semarang" or "Surabaya" as those cities are eastward from Jakarta.
You will pass small towns like Patrol, Jatibarang, a bigger city like Cirebon. Before entering Cirebon, you can take the toll road instead of taking into Cirebon traffic if you do not want to drop by in Cirebon. After exit from the Cirebon toll road, you will drive eastward along Losari and then you will pass Tegal, Pemalang, Pekalongan and Kendal before you arrive in Semarang.
Gas station are abundant, you can see them almost every 5 or 10 kilometers along the road. They have toilet facilities. Pay Rp1,000 (US$ 10 cents). Beware of small or old gas station, they have poor lighting and terrible toilet. Choose a newer and bigger gas station with good lighting parking space and clean toilets. Please make sure that you have locked your car and do not leave your valuable unattended.
Many bus services from Jakarta to Semarang. You can choose to go in the day time with air conditioned (A/C) from Pasar Rebo Bus Terminal in East Jakarta, Kalideres Bus Terminal in West Jakarta or from Lebak Bulus Bus Terminal in South Jakarta. The overnight bus with A/C are also available with good services. You can choose bus names such as: "Rosalia Indah", "Raya", "Kramat Jati" as the good reputed bus serving Jakarta to Semarang. Sometimes the bus route is Jakarta to Solo via Semarang, you can choose them too, but please remind the bus driver's assistant (usually male, a person who check your ticket onboard the bus) to wake you up in Semarang.
Jakarta - Semarang (vice versa) tradisionally travelled via railway, north beach (pantura) road or by plane. A trip by a sea vessel is seldom due to its rare schedule and lenght of journey that is considered too long compared with train (approx 6 hours) and over night bus (9 hours).
Travellers can visit Sampokong temple which was built to respect the Muslim Chinese commander named Cheng Ho of Ming Dinasty who visited Semarang approx. 400 years ago.
You can also see the old Dutch Indie's buildings in the northern part of Semarang. They have old railway station, churh, offices and many others with architecture back to early years of 20th century and even late 19th century. You can see a lot of old buildings (many of them are still in good shape while some of them are not well maintained, even in poor condition).
Simpang Lima (means "five intersection") is the heart of Semarang nightlife. You can eat, drink or just bring yourself wandering around Simpang Lima. There are plenty of food stalls offering variety of Indonesian and Javanese food. The price is cheap, sometimes very cheap, you can eat 1 piece of leg or thigh of fried chicken plus 1 plate of steamed rice for as little as Rp 10,000 (equivalent to US$ 1). The famous food stall is "Ayam Goreng Kalasan" or "Kalasan Fried Chicken"). The food is good, the place is clean and the services from the owner (two Semarang Chinese ladies) is friendly. Do not forget to ask for "sambal terasi" or "Balacan Relish" to for those who loves hot meals.
You can also get into other tents to try other meals, some of them offering "lesehan" or "sit down on a carpet" during your meal time. Beef or chicken satay (grilled beef of chicken) is mouth watering with peanut sauce and hot chilli while "fried rice" or nasi goreng babat situated in "Air Mancur" or fountain southward off Simpang Lima and in front of Diponegoro University campus is delicious.
Tugu Muda is one of Semarang's landmark. It is situated westward off Simpang Lima, one of the 5 streets crossing Simpang Lima named Jalan Pandanaran. The buildings around Tugu Muda are some from the old Ducth buildings, the famous one is "Lawang Sewu" or "Thousand Windows" derives from its many windows.
Semarang has a very good landscape, some says best landscape thanks to its coastal area in the northern part of the city with Tanjung Mas as its international harbour and hilly area in the southern part streching from Candi area to Bukit Sari with picturesque Mount Ungaran at the background. Before you get into hilly area named Bukit Sari, you will see on your left "Taman Tabanas" where you can stop by, drink tea and see Semarang's view from the hill. It's view is really beautiful and romantic during the night time.
Gunung Ungaran with its tea and jasmine plantation, Gua Kreo/Kreo Cave with its interesting stalagtit and stalagmit and of course Marina at Tanjung Mas are the alternatives for those who has more than 2 free days in Semarang.
Semarang is the major hub city in Central Java. From Semarang you can go to "Dieng Plateau" situated north off small town namd "Wonosobo" for one day tour seeing ancient hindus temple/candi in a former ancient city lies in the misty plateau; Alternatively, within one and a half hours you can go to Borobudur temple in Muntilan and then to Prambanan temple in Klaten and buy some antiques and batik in Yogyakarta. It take less than 2 hours drive from Semarang to Yogyakarta. Solo is also only one and half hour drive from Semarang. Many places to see in Solo and Yogyakarta from old Kraton/Sultanate Palace, old Sultanate mosques, old Dutch fort, batik stores, handycraft/antiques shops etc. for you to see.
Semarang is the hosts of some universities/colleges. Diponegoro University is the state university. It is the biggest and the oldest university with good reputed faculty of law, economics, medicine, architecture, engineering, fisheries etc. It hosts more than 10 thousand students in its two campus, Pleburan (in the downtown) and Tembalang in the southern hilly part of Semarang. Islamic University of Sultan Agung and Catholic University of Soegijapranata are major private universities in Semarang.
For business travellers, Semarang is a transit city where you only have a chance to see Semarang's bustling activities from the taxi or hotel's window.
Semarang is also an industrial city. Many companies open their manufacture sites in eastern, western and southern part of Semarang. For foreigner who wants to work in Semarang, this place is a good place because of its landscape. You can live in the hilly and considerably cooler housing area in Candi or Bukit Sari while you work in the downtown area. Traffic jam is considered fewer than Bandung or Surabaya. For visitor from Jakarta, driving car in Semarang is "heaven" for its much fewer traffic jam compared with Jakarta.
Semarang is the home of the biggest "Jamu" (means "javanese traditional herbal") industry such as Jamu Jago, Nyonya Meneer and others.
Most of Jakarta's major banks and companies open their branches in Semarang. For its relatively close vicinity with Jakarta (only 40 minutes by plane) and 6 hours by train, Semarang receives many branches of companies and enjoys its status as the major hub in Java island.
You can visit some malls available in Semarang such as Sri Ratu (the first mall in Semarang from the 80's), Matahari Plaza, Ciputra Mall and the Java Mall.
No special souvenirs can be bought in Semarang. Most travellers will buy Bandeng Presto ('Bandeng' fish with soft thorn), Lumpia Semarang (a kind of spring rolls with bamboo shoots filling), Roti Sanitas (famous bakery)
You can buy batik (Javanese handwritten cloth), antiques and the traditional items in "Johar Market" or in Bahasa Indonesia called "Pasar Johar" (spell "Pa Saar Jouw Har). They have plenty of choices. Ask if you can get assistance from hotel staff or a travel agent staff to take you around Pasar Johar.
(Note: Unless stated otherwise), these foodstalls only open after sunset everyday). "Kalasan Fried Chicken" in Simpang Lima offers good food with cheap price; Fried Tofu and Tempe of Prasodjo is also famous for their hot and fried tofu and tempe (soybean cake), eat them while it's hot with green chilli named "rawit"; Lumpia Gang Lombok at Lombok Street (open from the morning); "Juwana" in Jalan Pandanaran is the place for your to buy and bring home tradisional Semarang's traditional food (open from the morning). It ranges from "Juwana Bandeng Presto" or "Cooked, well packed & Soft Thorn Fish" to wet or dried "lumpia. "Soto Bangkong" (or Chicken Soup Bangkong) is well known for its delicious soto, Satay "Pak Kempleng" in Banyumanik area is delicious and known for years for its big cut satay portion (open for lunch). Along Jalan Pahlawan, south off Simpang Lima, you will face many food stalls under tents, they sell variety of foods from "Gudeg" (Javanese steam sweet sour vegetables), Bubur ayam (Chicken porridge), Jagung bakar (grilled corn) and many others. Pamper yourself with plenty of good foods yet very cheap.
There are few bars and cafe around 'Simpang Lima' location (right in the downtown).After sunset, please avoid small tents selling homemade tea (teh poci) as lots of hookers looking for targets, especially rich looking travellers.
Ask for STMJ or Wedhang Jahe for a hot soothing drink. You can get them in Simpang Lima, hotels or restaurant in Semarang.
Budget Hotels are "Gajah Mada Hotel" in Jalan Gajah Mada. (Note: Jalan means Street); Grasia Hotel in Jalan Gajahmungkur, Candi area; Santika Hotel in Jalan Ahmad Yani
Mid range hotels are Graha Santika in Jalan Pandanaran, Ciputra Hotel in Simpang Lima (it has the view off to southern part of Semarang with Ungaran Mountain as the background); Novotel in Jalan Pemuda. If you stay in Graha Santika or Ciputra Hotel, you are right in the heart of Semarang and can save money for taxi if you wanna see or eat at Simpang Lima.
Grand Candi Hotel in Candi Area is expensive, not for backpackers or for those who only need to sleep during night time and does not have time (and money) to waste in the hotel. Patra Jasa is also considered expensive but the view of these two hotels is really beautiful. Choose the view off the north for coastal view or to the south for Ungaran Mountain view.
Semarang is neither a small city nor huge like Jakarta. Everyone is urged to take account universal rules such as "only walk in the light-bright area"; do not attempt to deal with hookers or trans-sexual hookers which usually done under secluded and dark area; lady traveller is urged not to travel alone after 11 p.m especially in the unknown dark neighborhood. Only take moderate amount of money in an open air ATM.
Semarang's safety is considered moderate. The people are nice, especially to stranger (western tourist especially); People are helpful and friendly. Try to speak some basic Bahasa Indonesia and you will be praised by people. Older men is politely called "Pak" or "Bapak" means "Sir" and older women is called "Bu" or "Ibu". Try to always say "Ma'af" (spell: "maa - aaf") means sorry anytime you ask any help and you will get friendly and smiling face ready to assist you. English is understood, especially by younger people, older people used to speak Ducth and Bahasa Indonesia only.
Never touch anyone's head (especially teenagers and older men) as it is considered as "insult" and might invite troubles. In the crowded bus/train/small car used as public transportation, "un-intended touch" is tolerated. Never look at someone (especially young men) straight to the eyes more than 3 times as it might be considered as "challenging them to fight" (this is apply especially in bigger town/city - as the villagers are more friendly to strangers).
You can also go further southward to some small towns like Ungaran, Salatiga, Ambarawa, Kopeng and Bandungan. It will take at least one day tour but really worth it. You will see beautiful scenery on the way between Semarang, Salatiga and the adjacent cities like Solo and Yogyakarta. You can reach Solo (sometimes called Surakarta) or Yogyakarta only less than 2 hours drive from Semarang.