Cigarettes and Submarines. What to see in Surabaya


Surabaya, the largest city in East Java (with a population of 2.5 Million) is a stop off point on the way to and from Bali. It is worth hanging around for day or two to explore. Here are my top things to do in Surabaya.

* Crawl through the tiny passages in an old Russian submarine. Commissioned in 1962 the submarine Pasopati (known as Monkasel to the locals) has not been made tourist friendly, which means you have to manoeuvre yourself through tight circular hatches to wander through it and marvel at the vertigo inducing spaces. At least you never had to sail in it. Great fun and well worth the 7000 Rupiah admission.

* See the workers hand roll cigarettes at astonishing speed in the cigarette factory at the house of Sampoerna. A bit voyeuristic watching hundreds of women working hard beneath you as you sip on a drink from the viewing platform. Here they make the aromatic, or foul smelling (dependant on your point of view), Kretek clove cigarettes. Admission free.

* Watch the rusty old ferries and commercial boats being loaded at the Kalimas harbour and wonder how they ever get to their destinations.

* Fill yourself with tasty Sate Ayam (Chicken Sate) from a Wayung (street food stall) for 10, 000 Rupiah per ten sticks. It is hard to stop at ten.

* Take a trip to Sidoarjo (approximately 90 minutes away) to see the environmental disaster of a mud volcano caused by a blowout while drilling for oil. See this blog entry for more information.

* Wander through the Arab quarter and markets by the Mesjod Ampel Mosque. Be asked if you "like Muslims" by a stall holder, baffle the aforesaid stall holder by replying that you think Muslims "are lovely".

* Go the old part of the city, by Kalimas harbour, and see the beautiful but decaying colonial Dutch buildings. Most have boarded up windows, and urgently need painting, but close your ears (and nose) and you could be in Rotterdam.

* Stay at the Japanese high command for Java in World War II, the Majapahit. A beautiful old Dutch building, now the most upmarket hotel in Surabaya, a bit like Raffles in Singapore. Or pop in for a cup of tea, and stay at the myriad of cheap hotels nearby.