Everything you Need to Know about Surabaya

Surabaya, the hectic capital city of East Java and home to some 3 million people, is not at the top of most people's "must-see" list but its vibrant streets do reveal some places of interest for those willing to linger and explore. Surabaya's big port has attracted a mix of cultures into the city over time, with one of Indonesia's largest Chinatowns, crumbling Dutch colonial buildings and a historic Arab quarter among the city's most appealing places to wander. Outside its 'old city' district, Surabaya is a modern metropolis with heavy traffic, modern shopping centres and a fantastic range of inexpensive local restaurants and markets. For Indonesians, Surabaya holds a place of pride as the birthplace of the country's post-World War II independence movement. Several monuments honouring the struggle are found throughout this 'City of Heroes'.

Many visitors stay in Surabaya for only a day or two, with the city serving as a transit point for travel further east to the popular island of Bali or south to Mount Bromo national park.

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Surabaya Attractions

Surabaya's Old City is the place to go for a proper exploration of the city, starting with Jalan Jembatan Merah, an atmospheric street lined with rather rundown Dutch colonial buildings. Just east of here is Chinatown, with crowded lanes chock full of shops and markets, as well as the Kong Co Kong Tik Cun Ong temple where Buddhist, Confucian and Taoist beliefs intertwine. A lively bazaar that seems to have been plucked straight out of the Middle East is found in the Arab Quarter, which is also home to Surabaya's most sacred mosque, Mesjid Ampel. One of the founders of the Muslim faith in Java, Sunan Ampel, was buried here in 1481. The colourful Kalimas Harbour offers a look at Surabaya's busy nautical life.

The House of Sampoerna kretek cigarette factory and museum is an unusual sight but well worth visiting regardless of your views on smoking. Indonesia's signature clove cigarettes are seen being rolled in rapid fashion by hundreds of women workers. The factory is housed in a lovely 19th-century Dutch building, and there's an excellent cafe here, too. Naval history buffs will want to visit Monumen Kapal Selam on Jalan Pemuda for the chance to see the 1962 Pasopati Russian submarine, once used by the Indonesian navy.

Surabaya Restaurants & Dining

Surabaya has a lively and varied dining scene with loads of choices from cheap roadside stalls to elegant dining spots to enjoy. Some local favourite dishes to try include satay klopo (beef skewers wrapped in coconut), rujak cingur (salad with slices of cooked cow snout), bebek goreng (crispy fried duck) and rawon (black beef soup). Finding a meal is as easy as stepping out onto the street, particularly along the G-Walk on the western side of the city where a mix of inexpensive Asian and Western dishes are served from busy street stalls. Pasar Genteng is a big night market with many food sellers, while the Jalan Pemuda area is another good spot for sampling local fare in the evening. Those seeking to dine in air-conditioned comfort go to Tunjungan Plaza where a good array of local and Western restaurants, cafes and sushi bars are found. Many branches of the local chain restaurant Soto Ambengan Pak Sadi Asli, which features a tasty soto ayam (chicken soup), may be found around Surabaya. For a special night out, head to Restoran Kuningan International on Jalan Kalimantan 14, an acclaimed upscale seafood restaurant in a lovely Dutch-style villa.

Surabaya Nightlife

Surabaya lacks the throbbing nightlife scene of Jakarta or Bali, but there are some decent places to enjoy a drink or a dance in the evening hours. Colors Pub is a popular hangout spot for expats especially who come to play pool and enjoy its live music and friendly atmosphere. Expats also gather at Lido's on Mayjen Sungkono, which offers live bands and good food. Lava Lounge serves up great-value beer and the local vodka-style spirit Arak Bali in a pleasant outdoor setting. The Mexican-themed pub Desperados at the Shangri-La hotel features tasty margaritas and live music. Jendela Resto Gallery, on Jalan Sonokembang, is a trendy restaurant set in a lovely colonial home that puts on regular cultural or live music performances. Modern cinema complexes screening the latest Hollywood films in English may be found all over Surabaya, with one of the best located at Tunjungan Plaza.

Surabaya Shopping

Surabaya is shopping heaven, home to some of Indonesia's largest and most modern malls. At the city centre is the popular Tunjungan Plaza, with a SOGO department store and hundreds of retail outlets jammed into the four-mall complex. Galaxy Mall is another big shopping centre, located on the city's east side, featuring a supermarket, department stores and a large food court. Other upscale shopping destinations include Surabaya Plaza and Surabaya Town Square. Mirota, at Sulawesi 24, is one of the best shops in Surabaya to find quality batik fabrics and local handicrafts.

Sensory delights abound at Surabaya's local markets including Pasar Genteng where a huge amount of fresh food is sold as well as, incongruously, a large collection of spare parts for electronics. Pasar Ampel in the Arab Quarter is full of aromatic delicacies in addition to prayer beads and a variety of religious items due to its proximity to Mesjid Ampel mosque. Those who love browsing for antiques should visit the stores along Jalan Padmosusastro or Jalan Indragiri. Specialist shop Roode Brug Soerabaia on Jalan Pucang Anom Timur sells books on Surabaya history, detailed miniature models of notable local sites and vessels and other historic souvenirs.

Surabaya Activities

Surabaya beaches at its north end are popular spots for families to enjoy swimming, sailing, surfing and fishing. Among the most attractive is Kenjeran Beach where you can book a pony ride or dine at one of its informal beachside restaurants. Another aquatic attraction is Ciputra Waterpark, which has waterslides and a wave pool. Kids will also love to visit the Surabaya Zoo, located just south of the city centre. Spread across a large park-like setting, there are tigers, elephants, hippos and monkeys to see, as well as a collection of Komodo dragons for an up-close look at Indonesia's famed giant reptile. The zoo also offers camel and donkey rides for kids and a range of family-friendly entertainment. With several golf courses in and around the city including the 18-hole Bukit Darmo course designed by Jack Nicklaus II, golf enthusiasts are sure to find a fairway to suit their fancy.

Surabaya Information

With a large port, good road links and Indonesia's third-busiest airport, getting to Surabaya is easy. Several daily flights arrive to Juanda International Airport from all major destinations in Indonesia on local carriers including Garuda and Batavia Air. Regular direct international flights are available from Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Hong Kong.

Economy and luxury bus service to Surabaya's Purabaya terminal is available from many places around Java including Malang, Probolinggo, Solo and Yogyakarta. For slightly more comfort, mini-buses may also be arranged directly at the respective bus station or at hotels and travel agencies. Transport to Bali, which includes the ferry trip, may be booked at Purabaya terminal as well. Another bus station to the west of the city, Oso Wilangunis, handles service to and from Kudus and Semarang.

Train travel is the most pleasant and scenic ways to get across Java, and many trains ply the rail lines leading to Surabaya. Trains arriving from Jakarta stop at the Pasar Turi station while the Gubeng and Koto stations connect to Yogyakarta, Malang and Banyuwangi.

Ferry boats on the Pelni line link Surabaya to Makassar in Sulawesi and Pontianak in Kalimantan. Both economy and first-class services may be booked. Ferry service to Madura has stopped since the 2009 completion of the Suramadu Bridge.

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