Introduction

Steamy Semarang, bustling and strange, with bosomy hills, a somewhat restored historic core and rapidly developing, affluent outskirts is home to a huge middle class, Chinese population and a massive north-coast port. Taken with a wide angle, this sprawling, schizophrenic city can feel charmless, but zoom in on its best pockets and there is life. Especially in the old city, a gentrifying few blocks blooming with new cafes and restaurants and a wonderful art gallery, not to mention atmospheric colonial architecture. In contrast, the commercial area around Simpang Lima (Five Ways), with its malls, clogged freeways and business hotels, is emblematic of Java’s sudden and dramatic shift into the 21st century. Like it or not, business is booming here.

Though Semarang is the provincial capital of Central Java, it lacks the magnetism of Solo and Yogyakarta. It does, however, have good transport connections (including international flights) so you may well pass through.