I found myself in Braga Street quite by accident. It was all because I had to go on a business trip to Jakarta one last time, before my resignation. I had hoped for it to be the case, because the Jakarta-Bandung high speed rail was finally operational. And while I really wanted to check it out, it seemed silly to travel all the way to Indonesia just to take a high speed train. But on the side of a trip I had to make anyway? That’s a lot more reasonable.

And besides, Bandung is supposed to be interesting. Not that I knew very much about it, and then only vaguely. But I knew at least one thing that I wanted to see in Bandung. I knew that there is a museum there, for the city was where the Asia Africa Conference was held, also known as the ‘Bandung Conference’. It was there that the Non-Aligned Movement, which Malaysia also belongs to, began.

I could only spare a weekend in Bandung, so having only one must-see place seemed sensible. So I didn’t do a lot more research. After all, it wasn’t like I had the time to see everything anyway. And since I didn’t have particular preferences for my accommodations, I used Agoda’s ‘sustainable properties’ filter and chose a hotel that’s fairly close to the train station.

The hotel happened to be along Braga Street. But it was inside the Braga Citywalk shopping mall, and the taxi incorrectly dropped me off inside the mall underground car park. So I only realised that Braga is a cool street, after walking out of the mall to look for dinner!

Where is Bandung?

Bandung is a highland city and capital of Indonesia’s West Java province. Its altitude gives it a cooler climate, which makes it a popular retreat, which can cause enormous traffic jams on weekends all the way to Jakarta.

Malaysians primarily know Bandung for great shopping deals. There was a time when people would literally travel to Bandung just to go shopping for textiles. However, not being particularly keen on shopping, I never got around to going.

Instead, my first trips to Bandung were work trips. So I knew it more from the perspective of my Indonesian colleagues, for whom the city had the prestige for hosting the respected Bandung Institute of Technology, and its fame as a city of flowers.

Giant letters display spelling out BRAGA at one end of Braga street
BRAGA display at one end of the street

Bandung: The “Paris of Java”

Bandung as a whole is a great and accessible tourist destination, for culture and nature tourism. However, I was only there for a couple of nights. Since I intended to see the Asia Africa Conference Museum, I focused my visit on Bandung’s old town, and only those parts that were walkable from Braga street.

Developed by the Dutch during its colonial period, the old town of Bandung still has many Dutch era buildings, maybe more than Jakarta. Its cooler climate and plantations made it a fashionable retreat for Europeans, similar to hill stations in British colonies. The luxury shopping streets and hotels led to the city’s nickname ‘Parijs van Java‘.

Wahrenhuis de Vries, an old colonial era shophouse at the intersection between Jalan Braga and Jalan Asia Afrika.
Wahrenhuis de Vries building, which used to be a shop during the Dutch period of Bandung

Why you should stay close to Braga Street

I have a knack for lucking out and accidentally staying in the interesting places of a city, even when I didn’t plan to. I didn’t even ask my Indonesian colleagues about Braga Street. But in hindsight, if I had known its significance beforehand, I would still purposely choose to stay there, or perhaps nearby. (Which one it is, depends on how close you want to be to the nightlife.)

Braga street is lively at night, and I don’t just mean the never-ending flow of traffic. In fact, I think the businesses along the street would probably benefit if it were turned into a walking street. There are many restaurants and shops, a mixture between upscale and common, though the cuisine is mostly Indonesian. Some have live music, others are art-themed.

Blur of traffic along Braga street. Across the road, the shop walls are covered by art paintings for sale.
Paintings for sale along Braga street

I wandered into Restoe Boemi for dinner, a restaurant that seemed bedecked by plants. The restaurant turned out to be owned by Dewa 19, an Indonesian band that was popular during my university days. Not that I would know, since I wasn’t cool in university. But my friends were cooler than me, and they enlightened my oblivious self on how famous the band was, even in Malaysia.

The next day, I wandered into another cafe for lunch, purely because its name was Filosofi Kopi (“Coffee Philosophy”). It was appropriately hipster, and I only realised that the name refers to an Indonesian movie after seeing the movie poster inside!

Movie poster for Filosofi Kopi hung against a rough brick wall inside a cafe of the same name along Braga street
One of Braga street’s many cool cafes

Snapshots of Braga Street

Aside from the art and cool cafes, Braga street is also interesting for the colonial architecture. It still has its old Dutch buildings from the art deco period, though they could use some restoration. Sadly, the perpetual traffic made it nearly impossible to capture good photos of the street itself. But if you walk along the street, some of the buildings have plaques that tell you about what they used to be, and when they were built.

View down Braga Street towards the Dutch era shop building Wahrenhuis de Vries at the intersection with Asiia Afrika street. A row of flagpoles line the road on the right, with part of the Asia Africa Conference Museum visible behind them.
There’s less traffic at the southern part of Braga Street, so it was possible to take a photo without getting run over.

Braga street still had continual traffic the following morning, even on a Sunday. But it was flowing traffic, and didn’t seem as heavy as the previous evening. Despite that, there were joggers and recreational cyclists. Vintage art deco buses passed along the street, taking tour groups. The ‘Bandung Tour on Bus‘ looks like a neat way to explore the city.

There had clearly been an attempt to uplift the street. The signages and orientation maps had an art deco inspired aesthetic. The Braga street signs were in Roman letters as well as Sundanese. And there were tiger motifs on top of street lights and at a couple of road intersections. Presumably it is a symbol of Bandung.

A trio of young European men passed by, most likely Dutch by their lanky height, with military haircuts and civilian clothing which I recognised as ‘Planter’s Orders‘. They were accompanied by a pair of young Indonesian army servicemen in uniform. Perhaps there is a military academy in Bandung somewhere.

Walk along Jalan Asia Afrika

Of course, the whole reason I chose Braga Street in the first place, was because I wanted to be within walking distance to Asia Afrika Street. This Asia Afrika street is not the first street of the name that I know of in Indonesia. The first one was actually the one in Jakarta, which was near my hotel when I began my series of work trips there.

As a young Malaysian who didn’t know very much about Indonesian history at the time, I was intrigued by the unusual street name. After all, even if I didn’t know who the various people that Jakarta’s streets were named after, you could make an educated guess that they were probably important national figures. But what’s Asia-Africa got to do with Jakarta?

It took me way longer than it should – years, in fact – to figure out that the street name commemorates the Bandung Conference, whose formal name is the Asia-Africa Conference. And it took me some additional time after that, to think of whether there is a monument to the conference in Bandung itself. Of course, there is.

Signage on the outer facade of the Asia-Africa Conference Museum in Bandung
The Asia-Africa Conference museum

On that note, it isn’t unusual for Indonesia to engage in street-naming diplomacy. There is a major street in Jakarta named Casablanca, and a colleague told me it was reciprocal, for Morocco named a street in Rabat after President Sukarno. Actually, a surprising number of Global South countries have streets named after him. A visit to the Asia-Africa Conference museum and Bandung’s other national landmarks, can help you appreciate why.

Bandung Conference Museum

In April of 1955, a group of newly independent countries met in Bandung to pledge a refusal to join bloc politics, which had driven voracious colonialism and precipitated two World Wars. Refusing to align with neither the Capitalist bloc nor the Communist bloc, these “Third World” countries sought a third and better way for the diverse nations of the world to relate to one another. Thus began the Non-Aligned Movement, which was established in 1961 in Yugoslavia.

Commemoration of the 29 pioneer countries who chose a world without bloc politics, which nowadays we call “multilateral”.

As they were developing economies and therefore not rich, the “Third World” countries came to be derided by the richer Western countries as being ‘not about anything’ and too poor to be influential in any way. The term became a pejorative term to describe a poor country. And yet, as time went by, more and more countries joined the Non-Aligned Movement. Today, 120 countries (the majority of UN members) belong to this movement. On the Bandung Conference’s Golden Jubilee, 43 Asian and African countries came to Indonesia to honour the ‘Bandung Spirit’.

Delegates to the 50th anniversary of the Asian African Conference
Bandung Conference Golden Jubilee Peace Gong, with country flags along the circumference. (Note that Palestine is represented as a recognised country.)

The vision of Bandung that is ‘not about anything’

As I wandered through the museum and read the oratory of Sukarno, I could tell why he was so inspirational in his time.

The goals of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) must seem incomprehensible to binary thinkers. It is not about joining Bloc A, nor is it about joining Bloc B, and it’s not even about creating a Bloc C either. For indeed, the NAM forum doesn’t collaborate to ‘achieve’ goals that confer advantage to its members against non-members, nor prevent non-members from gaining advantage over them. It doesn’t even have a bureaucracy, and tenured officials. To a bloc worldview, what is the point of having a group, if it’s about none of these competitive things? How could it achieve its aims, without having permanent dedicated staff?

But villages hold events together, and no one asks who they’re competing with, or who are the permanent secretariat.

The Non-Aligned Movement begins
Some of the issues that worried the Third World countries then are still around, yet others are gradually easing.
The Ten Principles of Bandung in the languages of its initial countries.

Some of the most interesting insights were about how many problems today actually date all the way back from the 1940s and 50s. And how some countries’ positions have actually been consistent since then, even though they are depicted as ‘recent developments’ by media in our generation. And also, how some relationships have changed. Like how, in the 50s, if you needed to clarify China’s positions, you asked India to ask them!

Excerpt of Sukarno’s speech in Bandung
Even more insightful excerpt of Sukarno’s speech in Bandung. Technically, nothing prevents colonialist attitudes from being applied in the colonial’s own countries…

Why you should read the boring minutes of meetings

There were screens in the museum where you could digitally flip through minutes of meetings related to the Bandung Conference. I randomly picked one and began reading. It was the minutes for the first meeting between India, Pakistan, Burma, Indonesia, and Ceylon, when the idea of the conference came up in the first place. They turned out to be so enlightening, that I flipped back to take pictures of the pages. Unfortunately, the museum was closing for lunch, and I couldn’t finish. I debated returning after lunch, but as I only had the one day in Bandung, I thought I should see some other things instead.

But I did learn the objective of the conference. It was to enlarge the area of peace, and to understand one another.

It doesn’t seem like much, particularly when wars still happened since then. And countries don’t always live up to their vision of peace. But you don’t measure this kind of objective against its full and complete success. Instead, you can see its influence in how sometimes, even after millions are spent to provoke war between countries, or exploit fault lines in their border disputes, countries still refuse to break out into war. And even when they do, they still mutually refrain from using maximum force.

The truth is, we live in such an unsustainable world from a global peace perspective, that we don’t even know what peacemaking – the persistent, banal, boring peacemaking – looks like. But as Sukarno observed, conflict arises not from the variety in our skins, nor in our religions, but in the variety of desires (and I would add, a gluttonous attitude for them). But if we unite on the most important things (which nowadays is encapsulated by the Sustainable Development Goals), we can overcome it.

The English version of the Ten Principles of Bandung is one of the original language versions, because of Liberia.

Bandung Grand Mosque

There are other landmarks related to the Bandung Conference along Asia Afrika street. If I had the time, I probably would have explored the street more closely. Even the concrete balls that line the sidewalks are inscribed with country names.

Not only that, the street also has colonial era landmarks throughout its length. There is a hotel not far from the Asia Africa Conference Museum with an art deco style, the Vasaka Maison Bandung. If I’d been in a more heritage-inspired mood when I did my hotel booking, I might have chosen it.

I did intend to visit the Bandung Grand Mosque though, which is also located along this street. It was a spontaneous decision, because its minaret was tall and very obvious, and had what is presumably the local pagoda-like roof. But I was on the wrong side of the road. And while there was a pedestrian crossing, and the wait light depicted a dancer, which was amusing, the red light went on for a very, very long time. So I finally gave up and went to explore other streets instead.

The minaret of Bandung Grand Mosque at sunset
Photo by Fasyah Halim on Unsplash

National independence monuments around Braga Street

It was only when I was already in Bandung that I looked up things to see near Braga street. I figured, if the street is that old and still that interesting, there must be historical attractions around it. After all, it intersects with Asia Afrika street on one end.

I felt that, as a Malaysian, even though I’m not really the shopping type, I should do homage to my people and go to Pasar Baru (haha). But I decided to traverse the inner roads rather than turn in at the end of Asia Afrika street, because that way I would pass by Bancuey Prison Monument. From the heritage market, I would return to Braga street the long way around through Suniaraja street and the interestingly named “Independence Pioneers” walk (Jalan Perintis Kemerdekaan).

That was when I realised that a lot of the landmarks within walking distance from Braga street have something to do with Indonesia’s independence. Apparently, important things went down in Bandung at the time!

LASWI statue: Indonesia’s women independence fighters

I stumbled on the LASWI statue by accident. It had been a long, hot walk from Pasar Baru. I hadn’t reached Braga street yet, and there was nowhere to sit down. And I still had to cross the river, amidst the web of intersecting roads. A pedestrian way led me to an island of greenery, and it seemed like there was a kind of ledge where I could sit down. Rounding the path, I came up to a statue of a woman in infantry uniform, bearing a rifle.

This statue commemorates the women who enlisted to LASWI, the Laskar Wanita Indonesia – or Women Soldiers of Indonesia. It was 1945, and Sukarno had just declared the independence of Indonesia. The nationalist government was disarming the Japanese occupiers, when – fresh from their Second World War victory over the Nazis – the British arrived on behalf of the Netherlands to re-assert domination of the Dutch colonies, including in the important city of Bandung.

The men mobilised immediately to resist, fighting both the Japanese and the British. Immediately after, the women also mobilised to support their men, forming combat units as well as playing logistical and intelligence roles. Called LASWI, this mobilisation began in Bandung.

Rust coloured monument in Bandung honouring the women soldiers who fought for Indonesia's independence. The statue depicts a young woman with braided hair, wearing infantry uniform and holding up a rifle.
Monument for LASWI, the women independence fighters of Indonesia

The Student’s Army statue

Across the railroad tracks, I came upon another statue. It depicted a boy, with a rifle slung over his shoulder. At the time, I assumed that they were the same monument, since the style was similar. I figured, perhaps they represented the young men and women who fought in Indonesia’s War of Independence.

But actually, they commemorated different resistance units. The Student’s Army statue commemorates the youth brigades that sprang up around the same time comprising of teenaged boys keen to contribute to the fight for independence. Initially playing support roles such as first aid and soup kitchens, they were eventually absorbed into combat units to fight on the front lines.

When the war was over, the independent country of Indonesia honoured their service by offering to absorb them into the National Army of Indonesia, or absorb the expense if they chose to return to school to complete their education.

History plaques about the Student's Army who joined the fight for Indonesia's independence. In the background is a rust coloured statue on a pedestal depicting a young teenage boy in a scout's uniform. He slings a rifle over his left shoulder and holds a book to his side with his right hand.
Monument for the Student’s Army

Gedung Indonesia Menggugat

I passed by one last historical landmark on my walk back to Braga street. This site was along Jalan Perintis Kemerdekaan, called Gedung Indonesia Menggugat. This building was the Bandung courthouse where the Dutch accused Sukarno of insurrection against the colonial government. During his trial in 1930, Sukarno gave a speech in his defence, which was a counter-accusal against colonialism and imperialism, thus the speech became known as ‘Indonesia Menggugat’, or Indonesia Accuses.

Today, the courthouse is an archive dedicated to this event. Unfortunately, it is closed on weekends.

The old courthouse of Bandung where Sukarno was tried by the Dutch for insurrection. The bungalow now houses a collection related to the landmark speech he gave in his defence, called Indonesia Accuses, as it counter-charged the colonial government of the crime of colonialism.
The courthouse where Sukarno delivered his landmark defence, arguing against colonialism.

Banceuy Prison

Which brings me to the first landmark I came to while walking this route. I wasn’t sure why Bancuey Prison is a landmark, since the Google Maps pin wasn’t as informative then. But it was evident why when I arrived, even though the monument was closed. (Probably for lunch, the same reason that I had to depart the Asia-Africa Conference Museum.)

The site was once the Bandung prison complex. Sukarno was imprisoned here when he was tried by the Dutch for insurrection. Through the bars of the gate I could see a statue of a man sitting with his leg crossed. Presumably it was Sukarno. The monument reminded me strongly of the Jose Rizal shrine in Manila.

A stone lay near the gate, embossed with a Sukarno quote (my translation):

Greater than the great men are the ideas enthroned in their chest. Ideas cannot be confined in a prison. A mortal leader may be imprisoned, but the great ideas enthroned within his chest, cannot be imprisoned.

Statue of a sitting Sukarno in the old Bancuey Prison in Bandung, marking his imprisonment by the Dutch for attempting to overthrow the colonial government.
Imprisoned

Other things to see in Bandung old town

Aside from Braga street and Asia Afrika street, and the independence landmarks, I did also manage to see a few other things. Once I reached the northern end of Braga street on my walk, I decided to walk around the adjacent City Hall area. This was primarily motivated by the nearby restaurant, which lured me with the promise of air conditioning and cool drinks. And of course, I began the walk aiming to check out Pasar Baru.

Bandung City Hall area

The northern end of Braga street adjoins the City Hall complex, across Jalan Perintis Kemerdekaan. The area around is nice. To the north were outdoor exhibits of Bandung history, and the Bandung City Museum. Whereas to the south was a pleasant garden, the tamed Cikapayang river flowing around it with koi fish swimming within. There was a mosque across the road to the west, which had an interesting staggered architecture. And there were many colonial buildings around this area, especially along Merdeka Street on the east, where the churches are.

Shopping in Pasar Baru

I admit that I wasn’t expecting a perfectly normal mall at Pasar Baru. Despite its name (which means New Market), it is the oldest market in Bandung. However, I can’t dispute that inside, there are shops upon shops upon shops. You can get lost in the labyrinthine layout, even more than in Kuala Lumpur’s Sungei Wang Plaza. And the latter is pretty labyrinthine, for during his expat stint my Guatemalan colleague once quipped that there were people roaming there who have been trapped for years, searching for the way out.

You can get clothes, and certainly Indonesian batik, but also all manner of fine textiles as well. There are entire sections just for embroidery and lace, with some of the most beautifully adorned prayer clothes (telekung) I’ve ever seen. On other floors, you can also get all kinds of local confectionery and snacks. Bargain well to get the best deals (I’m rubbish at it). There is also a money changer if you can manage to find him. He seemed surprised at having someone actually arrive to change currency.

Looking across the road to the entrance facade of Pasar Baru in Bandung.
The oldest market in Bandung

Gedung Sate

Having only one day in Bandung, there were places even within the old town that I had to forgo. The most iconic landmark in Bandung is probably Gedung Sate. Indeed, from the pictures it looks incredibly grand. And I was curious to see a colonial administrative building that is called… “Satay Building”?

But it just wasn’t walkable from Braga street. Or it is, but then I wouldn’t also be able to go to the other landmarks too. If I had two days in Bandung instead of one, I would probably spend the second day in the Gedung Sate area. I have the impression that while Braga street was the cool part of old Bandung, Gedung Sate is the posh part.

Photo by Arfan Husni Hasibuan on Unsplash

What is the best way to get to Bandung?

If Bandung is your only destination, you could take a direct flight to Bandung. However, if you also want to go to Jakarta, or have to transit at Jakarta airport anyway, I advise you to take the new Jakarta-Bandung High Speed Rail (HSR). It is much faster than the regular train. While it’s not more convenient than a connecting flight, it is more convenient than coming back to the airport if you wanted to do a layover in Jakarta anyway. For more on how to take the HSR, and what the experience was like, check out my article on GoNOMAD.

HSR train arriving in Bandung Padalarang station

Carbon offset information to Bandung

A return flight between Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta produces carbon emissions of approximately 906 lbs CO2e. The return train journey to Bandung only adds about 50 lbs. It costs about $5 to offset this.


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13 Responses

  1. Kelly says:

    I love that vintage tour bus. I have pinned this post as we hope to ride through Indo soon. We have only ever been to Surabaya on Java and look forward to exploring more.

  2. Hannah says:

    The buildings around Braga Street look beautiful! The tour on the vintage bus looks wonderful too. Thanks for the great guide!

    • Teja says:

      You’re welcome! Bandung is worth visiting (and very doable now with the HSR) even as a weekend trip from Jakarta. But I suspect there’s probably enough to explore for a few days at least.

  3. Sharyn says:

    Finding yourself by accident in a place can often lead to the best time. Don’t you think?

  4. Terri says:

    I would love to do an architectural walking tour in the city. Do you know if it is available? I love the Old Town. I’d want to learn more about the different building styles.

    • Teja says:

      I don’t, I’m afraid. Unless it’s covered in the Bandung Tour on Bus. And aside from that tour, I didn’t see any other tours around. I think Bandung is underrated and should really think about promoting niche small tours like that.

  5. Lisa says:

    So much to see, but I totally agree with needing to read things! While information in museums might initially seem boring it is usually some of the most interesting and intriguing part of the visit.

  6. I’m sorry we did not get to Java when we visited Indonesia. But I expect we will be there again so saving this! Beautiful place.

  7. Sonia says:

    The mix of architecture in Bandung looks particularly appealing. I hadn’t had this on my travel list, but I’ll need to consider it after reading this.

    • Teja says:

      Actually that’s a very good observation! It does have colonial era buildings, some of which are pretty European but others are a kind of colonial fusion with Sundanese architecture, there’s some native Sundanese architecture, but also brutalist styles from Indonesia’s communist period, then the no-frills frugal architecture after that, and then more recent lovely buildings as well.

      I suppose if you know what you’re looking at, Bandung is quite interesting architecturally.

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