Exploring the Old Town of Surabaya

I used to dislike going to the northern part of Surabaya. That area has many slums, and many buildings look old and dirty. Furthermore, it is always very crowded and has a market-like feeling – so disorganized. Ironically, as time goes by and now that I live in the other part of the hemisphere, I miss that kitschy market scene and imperfection. Therefore, when I came back to my hometown for a visit, I decided to dedicate one day to explore Surabaya’s old town.

Surabaya is known as an industrial city. It does not have the touristy vibe as Bali. Hence, many tourists often skip Surabaya in their itinerary. While I am not saying that Surabaya will ever stand in the same rank as Bali in terms of tourism, I must say that we have our own charm. It is the place where one of the largest and heaviest battles in Indonesia’s revolution history has ever occurred. It is the history that helps shape Indonesia as it is today. The incident took place precisely in Surabaya’s northern part. In this area also lie Surabaya’s most interesting neighborhoods: Kembang Jepun (our Chinatown) and Kampung Arab (Arab quarter).

We started the trip in the House of Sampoerna. The building is originated in 1862, and now one of the preserved historical sites of Surabaya. Until today, the place is still functioning as a cigarette manufacturing. It is the biggest tobacco company in Indonesia, producing kretek-type clove cigarettes.

Sigaretten fabriek means cigarette factory in (old) Dutch.
A model of stall selling traditional candies and tidbits – I’m in love with those colorful tiffin boxes!
You can pose as cigarette vendors as well!
Love the Peranakan style vanity!
Apparently, they had a Batik exhibition at that time. Pictured here are beautifully hand painted batik from Java – a national treasure.

We moved on to wander around the Chinatown area and found an old temple. Thus, we decided to come in. Apparently, it was Hong Tiek Hian temple, which is the only place in Surabaya where wayang potehi (Chinese puppet opera) is still regularly held.

Clockwise from top left: temple façade; a beautiful phoenix; altar; one of the temple guardians; an aged building opposite the temple; temple ornament

I am happy to be able to explore the area that I used to dislike but now treasure so much. It’s quite sad to say, but I have seen more of the old town now, within 1 day, than the first 20 years of my life. I guess the farther we live from our home country, the more we can appreciate things there when we go back. A place that I used to picture as a slum, noisy market with old and dirty buildings now seem to have different layers and perspectives. I see them now as a humble place where the present and the past intertwine, a place that holds lots of Surabaya’s cultural heritage and historical values. It may be weathered by age, but its secrets and charm will never fade through time.

House of Sampoerna

Jl. Taman Sampoerna no. 6

Surabaya, Indonesia

Opening hours: 09.00-18.00 everyday

Free entrance

Hong Tiek Hian Temple

Jl. Dukuh no. 23

Surabaya, Indonesia

Free entrance

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