To get the most out of a visit to Surabaya, take the seven hour walking tour arranged by Surabaya Johnny Walker Tour. The local guides are trained to show places and introduce street snacks that tourists would not be able to find on their own.
The ferry departs from Tanjung Perak which was the busiest port in the Dutch East Indies during colonial times. It is still busy today with many cargo ships moored offshore.
The tour starts with a ferry ride to the nearby island of Madura, then visits to the historically European, Chinese and Arab quarters of Surabaya.
Surabaya is a naval base and home to Indonesia’s Eastern Fleet. A dozen or more frigates can be glimpsed here. The ferry was the only way for vehicles to reach Madura Island until the 5km long Suramadu Bridge was opened in 2009.
On arrival at Madura visitors can take an angkot (mini van taxi) and see the colourful food stalls at the local Kamal Market.
Try the fermented cassava (tape), a snack with an alcoholic taste that is said to be good for stomach problems and to ease menstrual pains.
After returning by ferry to Surabaya, take a bus to the Governor of East Java’s office, built by the Dutch in 1931 in the colonial art-deco style that is quite common here.
This historic building was built in 1911 for a Dutch trading concern called Lindeteves-Stokvis. The Japanese army took over the building during the war for use as a vehicle and weapons workshop.
Surabaya’s main post office previously functioned as Hogere Burgerschool where the first Indonesian President, Soekarno received his education.
Work on the Gothic styled catholic church, Santa Perawan Maria Kepanjen, began in 1899. It was completely gutted by a fire during the Independence disturbances in 1945 before being restored.
The police museum, Museum Aktif Kepolisian, is quite interesting and housed in a lovely old building.
The old De Javasche Bank is now a museum. They display specimens of banknote designs over the decades. Interestingly the Japanese WW2 banknotes retained the Dutch language and currency.
Another bank museum, the Bank Mandiri Surabaya Kembang Jepun Museum, is another Dutch design built in 1928. The stairwell is decorated with the flags and motifs of various Dutch and Indonesian cities.
Kembang Jepun translates to ‘Japanese flower’ and was a euphemism for the red light district. Do visit Shin Hua, a traditional barber shop that has been around for 75 years and still has vintage razors, scissors and ear-cleaning sets from those early days.
Next is to go to the colourful covered market selling everything from red onions to lemon grass to chillies.
Kampung Arab residents are descendants from earlier generations of seafaring Yemenis from Hadhramaut. They married local women and visitors will encounter faces here that range from looking quite Arabic to completely Indonesian. Many of them do speak some Arabic.
A must try here is their version of coffee. Unlike the Middle Eastern Gahwa Arabiya, which is a watery black coffee enhanced with cardamom, this version is stronger, sweeter and laced with ginger and cloves.
Lastly visit the covered souk leading to the Ampel Mosque which sells perfumes, prayer beads, and Islamic style clothing. The mosque has five gateways, representing the Five Pillars of Islam.
Nearby is the fish, perfume and spice market which together fill the nostrils with a heady aroma.
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