Sitting in the Toko Oen ice-cream parlour, drinking a strawberry milkshake, and listening to the bells of the Catholic Church chime at noon is not a typical East Java experience. But, Malang's past and present as a "hill station" for Europeans, and, now, wealthy Indonesians, continues to endow it with Western "comforts".

Toko Oen

On weekends, the road from the nearby industrial mega-city of Surabaya is packed with refugees heading to the (relatively) cooler, greener, more open Malang. There they can leave the traffic jams and overpowering crowds behind and relax in a city with a village-like feel. Like every Indonesian city, the centre of Malang is its "alun alun", or communal open space, with the impressive mosque anchoring one end. The mosque incongrously faces the Ramayana department store and shopping centre at the other end, with well-known Western fast food outlets in very close proximity. Ramayana begins several blocks of shops, markets and shopping centres almost anything is available, from fashion clothing and household electrical goods, through to pirate CD's and made-to-order false teeth.

The mosque at the end of the Alun-alun

Getting around the city is easy. There are a number of good hotels within walking distance of the city centre. Several are arranged around a circular park, called Tugu. The Tugu Hotel, offers good, four-star rooms, and has two excellent restaurants. The other nice hotel that we've stayed at is the Graha Chakra. From Tugu, the walk to the city centre ambles through the plant and flower markets, and the bird market. The former is a delight for gardeners, while the latter is, at best, interesting for anyone with a modicum of concern about animal welfare - the caged hedgehogs, in particular, are distressing.

L'Amour Fou restaurant, Hotel Tugu

The hotels within a kilometre, or so, radius of the city centre are serviced by bemos (small, public mini buses), taxis or becaks (bicycle "rickshaws"), so it is very easy and cheap to get around. From Malang, the hill station of Batu is easily accessible, and worth a drive. Nearby Selekta has a park that is a bit like those built pre-World War II in Australia. Just before Malang is Singosari, once the site of one of East Java's great Hindu kingdoms. There is an interesting temple, and the two remaining palace guardians which are worth a look. Singosari also boasts a beautiful golf course, where the caddies are almost professional coaches.

Singosari palace guardian

The appeal of Malang is that it is a bit coller than Surabaya, and it is a nice place to relax. Sundays are becoming less and less attractive as the number of day trippers from Surabaya continues to increase.

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