Bali, Bandung beckon with natural wonders

Bali, Bandung beckon with natural wonders
PHOTO: Kim Nam-yong

BALI - From the crystal-coloured waters of a volcanic mountaintop in West Java to the soft sands of Bali's beaches, two Indonesian tourist destinations offer visitors a chance to escape the day-to-day hassle of urban life at lower-than-expected prices.

Stepping into the airport of Bandung, the capital of West Java, Indonesia, visitors will be greeted by swarming traffic, humid air, and streets filled with motorcycles ― the choice of transportation for many locals.

But at the city's outskirts tourists will also be greeted by unexpected views, generated by the many mountains surrounding the city of over 2.3 million inhabitants.

Kawah Putih, also known as White Crater, is a crater lake hailing light-blue colors on its surface, located 2,430 meters above sea level, just south of Bandung.

The view of the lake there resembles sights of the south Pacific with its luminous crystal colors, but signs warning visitors to refrain from swimming in the enticing water invoke a different twist to the serene and beautiful lake.

"The water's too full now," a local tour guide who gave his name as Sawal said. "But it's more beautiful when it's full," he added, saying that July was when the lake's beauty peaked.

In the surrounding grounds lie centuries-old sulfur mines that Dutch colonialists and Japanese imperialists had built to obtain the bright yellow substance. Stepping near the entrance of the old mines, visitors can get a whiff of sulfur's acrid scent.

Visitors are advised to wear masks and not go near the mines if they have any lung problems.

Masks are also recommended for visitors who come to the crater in the evening.

"According to locals, (Kawah Putih) is the oldest mountain here," Sawal said. "They call it Patuah ― which translates to old man."

The first westerner to discover the mountain was Franz Wilhelm Junghuhn, a German, in 1837, Sawal added.

A half-hour drive away from the volcano is Patengan Lake, a tropical body of water surrounded by tea and strawberry fields. The lake is a popular date location for young couples, according to locals, who also retell a legend about it.

In the middle of the lake is a heart-shaped island, where a prince secretly met his lover, a princess. The young couple was forced to split though, and locals say their tears created the lake.

But visitors wanting to enjoy the scenery should beware of clouds that occasionally block the lake's amazing views.

In downtown Bandung are all the usual modern facilities of urban life. But for city dwellers trying to distance themselves from such urban delicacies as much as possible, Cihampelas Walk Mall provides a unique shopping district that prides itself in its greenness.

Two-thirds of the mall contains local flowers and plants to provide what one local said were "a natural environment." Korean-brands can be seen in the mall alongside multinational apparel makers lining its long and mazy corridors.

The flight from Incheon International Airport to Bandung is seven hours. Garuda Indonesia, the country's biggest flag carrier, offers tickets from 590,000 won ($530) according to its website.

Bali, famous in Korea mostly for a television drama that aired in 2004 starring popular actor Jo In-sung, gives tourists the expected serenity of a tropical getaway destination.

Although downtown Bali provides sightseers eager to check off items on their bucket list, office dwellers seeking to lie down and relax can stay at the resort hotels near the beach.

Trans Resort, an Indonesian luxury resort chain, is one of those resting spots that provide tourists with luxury rooms at affordable prices.

The resort has an artificial beach with sand imported from Australia. Encompassing that beach are the resort's rooms that are full of the usual delicacies of a five-star hotel plus a veranda that offers an extra bathtub for rest-seeking vacationers.

The resort is a popular destination for Australians and Malaysians, Trans Resort officials said, with occasional tourists from East Asia. Officials are seeking to expand their market in Korea to 10 per cent, from its current 1 per cent share, a top hotel official said.

"We're eager to expand our share in the Korean market," said Alexander Jovanovic, general manager of the resort, adding that his chefs were prepared to make kimchi for visiting Korean honeymooners.

Garuda also offers flights to Bali, including overnight tickets back to Incheon.

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