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Java Cruises

About Java, Indonesia

Long a center of Hindu-Buddhist empires and an important trade center of the Dutch East India Company in the 17th and 18th centuries, the island of Java is Indonesia’s repository of history and culture. The Medang Kingdom was among the first to establish a presence on the island, building Java’s early Hindu temples on the Dieng Plateau. The Sailendra Dynasty brought Mahayana Buddhism, building the massive Borobudur temple complex in the 9th century. Later, as the economy shifted from rice- to trade-based, an Arab mullah gained control in the late 16th century. The Dutch East India Company took hold soon thereafter and the island changed hands as other competing empires rose and fell, from France and Britain to Japan, until independence in 1949.

The bustling port of Semarang, resting on a picturesque bay and traversed by narrow canals, retains some of its Dutch influence. Its railroads were built to transport tobacco, coffee, sugar, rice and other crops to the port for shipment to Europe. Kota Lama, the Old Town, was laid out in classic European fashion in the northern part of the city and boasts Dutch architecture that, though neglected, provides a fascinating glimpse of the colonial era.

Java Lifestyle and Culture

To understand Javanese culture, one need only look to the Waisak celebration that occurs here on the occasion of Buddha’s birthday. During this day of contemplation, the devout from all over the world gather among the three temples of Mendut, Pawon and Borobudur to pledge adherence to the Buddha’s sacred Five Precepts against theft, infidelity, lying, intoxication and doing harm to other living beings. This peaceful way of being permeates the island.

Compared to other Indonesian islands, Java is home to a relatively homogenous culture of indigenous Javanese and Sundanese people. Their cultures, traditions and lineages are among the purest in the world, dating back countless centuries to precolonial Islamic kingdoms. Clothing, music and folklore reflect a long heritage held dear. Some of the island’s classic arts include the percussive rhythms of gamelan music and the intricate art of wayang, or shadow puppetry. Annual festivals and fairs celebrate these rich traditions.

Java Sights and Landmarks

Sam Poo Kong is the oldest Chinese temple in the city, built by a Chinese Muslim explorer of the Ming Dynasty who visited Java in the early 15th century. Dutch colonial buildings include Gereja Blenduk, an old-world Protestant church built in 1753. Its baroque organ is one of the few in all of Indonesia. Another Dutch gem, Lawang Sewu, meaning “A Thousand Doors,” was built as the railway company’s headquarters and later used as a base by the Japanese army during World War II. Its tall stained-glass window is a stunning sight. The nearby Tugu Muda monument honors the valiant efforts of Indonesian freedom fighters to expel the Japanese during a five-day battle.

Outside the city, Borobudur, the largest Buddhist monument in the world, strikes a dramatic pose against a backdrop of four volcanoes. A popular place of pilgrimage and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the massive pyramidal temple towers to a great height. The devout walk up a clockwise path to the pinnacle, passing 2,672 reliefs and 504 Buddha statues along the way.

Java Entertainment and Activities

Explore some of Java’s history and culture at the Ronggowarsito Museum, full of antiquities, crafts and even fossils. Admire contemporary art in the Old Town when you stop by the Semarang Gallery. It occupies a striking old Dutch warehouse and features rotating exhibits of painting and other art forms. If you prefer to explore on foot and simply absorb the Javanese culture, head to Simpang Lima, the sweeping square in the heart of the city. In this popular gathering space and city hub, you’ll find shops, cafés and endless opportunities for people-watching.

Experience more of the city’s public spaces when you wander the footpaths of Taman Budaya Raden Saleh, a city park of gardens, pavilions and statues. Head out of the city to visit Gunung Ungaran, a tea and jasmine plantation, and explore the impressive stalactites and stalagmites of Gua Kreo Cave.

Java Restaurants and Shopping

Indonesia produces up to 50 million tons of rice each year. It seems that each of the nation’s 6,000 populated islands has its own special side dish to accompany the staple, each spiced with a distinctive blend of flavors that have earned the archipelago a reputation as the Spice Islands.

In Semarang, stop by Spiegel, serving tasty tapas and creative fusion dishes in an old Dutch general store. For traditional Indonesian cuisine in a stunning setting, visit Ikan Bakar Cianjur in the former courthouse, adorned with art deco chandeliers and antique tiles. More casual fare awaits at TekoDeko, a fanciful coffeehouse in yet another restored building. Sandwiches, pastas and traditional nasi goring, a fried rice dish, are all satisfying, as is the rooftop sun deck. You can also try the many food stalls scattered throughout the city, sampling local specialties such as bandang, a pressure-cooked milkfish, lumpia Semarang, a spring roll filled with bamboo shoots, or wingko babat, sticky rice with coconut.

Batik and sarongs are popular items in Java. Find them in one of the city’s most popular markets, Pasar Johar, an indoor emporium of local crafts and other wares. You might also browse the items at Andika Arts & Crafts Gallery. Or stop by La Vogue, the city’s oldest antique dealer in the heart of Semarang.