Saturday, November 23, 2013

Where to Stay in Malang, Indonesia: Kampong Tourist

Note: This review is not sponsored. I paid my own way.

Traveling in Indonesia, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of excellent accommodations for independent travelers and backpackers I found here. In almost every city I went, I stumbled into at least one. Word-of-mouth brought me to EDU Hostel in Yogyakarta (probably the best hostel in Southeast Asia). Hostel booking sites led me to the solid, well-run Six Degrees in Jakarta. Then, there are the recommendations by good old Lonely Planet. When it's the travel guide's latest edition you're holding, it'll be hard to deny its value.

Kampong Tourist, Malang, East Java, Indonesia
Kampong Tourist, a pleasant backpacker lodge in Malang, Indonesia

I traveled to the breezy and laidback city of Malang knowing it was here where you begin the road less traveled to perhaps the most popular tourist destination in East Java, Indonesia: Mount Bromo in the Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park. Lonely Planet recommended that I stay in Kampong Tourist backpacker lodge while in Malang. So I did and I loved it. Here's why:

1. The Location and the Views

Malang, East Java, Indonesia
The views you get from Kampong Tourist's rooftop location are just superb.

Kampong Tourist is literally located on the rooftop of one of the mid-range hotels in town, Hotel Helios. This is good for two things. One, Hotel Helios is just a couple of blocks away from Malang Railway Station. Two, and this is important, the rooftop of Hotel Helios provides some of the best views you can get in town.

Because Malang is sandwiched between two volcanic systems, you get stunning views on either sides of the lodge. To the east, you get views of quaint neighborhoods in this old Dutch colonial city with the hills that are to become Mount Bromo as your stunning backdrop. To the west, meanwhile, there's the imposing face of Mount Arjuno guarding the city. I can't ask for anything more.

Malang, East Java
The views of Mount Arjuno you get from the gazebo and bar areas of Kampong Tourist are stunning, yes?

2. The Rooms and the Facilities

Kampong Tourist, Malang, East Java, Indonesia
The bar which doubles as reception desk at Kampong Tourist

Before coming to Kampong Tourist, I kept thinking surely, by "rooftop," Lonely Planet meant "top floor." Nope. The travel guide's authors actually meant rooftop. Basically, on top of Hotel Helios are wooden gazebos, bungalows, and a bar that make up Kampong Tourist. You go out of the gazebo and you realize you're on the rooftop. You go to the bar with glass panels as walls and you realize you're on the rooftop. Thus, the whole lodge is open-air and quite low-impact, which I liked.

Related Post: The Road Less Traveled to Mount Bromo from Malang

3. The Friendly and Social Atmosphere

Because of its open-air and close quarters set-up, the atmosphere of Kampong Tourist is very friendly. The staff members are responsive and accommodating, doing what they can with their sometimes limited English. The Dutch owner-manager is usually found at the restaurant-bar manning the lodge. A bulletin board provides information for things to see and do, about which you can inquire more with the staff.

Kampong Tourist, Malang, East Java, Indonesia
The restaurant-bar is a good area for working, eating, and drinking.

There is ample space for guests to lounge around. The restaurant-bar has outlets for Laptopistan citizens such as myself. Yes, there is reliable WiFi. The best part though is the open gazebo, where you can meet and have a drink with fellow travelers, who will inevitably become your travel companions for when you go to Mount Bromo from here. Precisely what happened in my case.

Kampong Tourist, Malang, East Java, Indonesia
My favorite place in Kampong Tourist (and in Malang, for that matter) is the open gazebo. Easy to see why, right?

4. The Surprisingly Good Food

Nasi Goreng, Kampong Tourist, Indonesia
Nasi goreng with fried egg and krupuk (prawn crakers). How can you beat that for breakfast?

Now this one really surprised me. Meals served in backpacker hostels and lodges, if they do serve them at all, pale in comparison with what you will find a few steps outside on the street. Kampong Tourist is an exception, though. While indeed Malang had a few great surprises food-wise, Kampong Tourist held its own.

Ayam Lalapan, Malang, East Java, Indonesia
Lalapan ayam: so tangy, so spicy, so good

The nasi goreng (fried rice) which I had a number of times for breakfast here was unbeatable. Equally good was the lalapan ayam. Lalap is a vegetable salad which uses a dressing of sambal terasi (chili sauce with shrimp paste as main ingredient). Serve lalap with chicken and you have lalapan ayam. Delicious. Price of a decent meal at Kampong Tourist is 20,000 to 30,000 IDR (2-3 USD).

Related Post: The Road Less Traveled to Mount Bromo from Malang

5. Cost

Available in Kampong Tourist are private gazebos as well as beds in the dormitory bungalow. I stayed in the gazebo a couple of nights and it was comfortable enough. It costs 110,000 IDR (11 USD) (if two persons: 125,000 IDR or 12.5 USD). Really, the views outside the gazebos alone are worth the nightly rate.

Kampong Tourist, Malang, East Java, Indonesia
Comfortable beds in the private gazebo

Kampong Tourist, Malang, East Java, Indonesia
The views from right outside the gazebo alone are worth it.

If you are staying in the dorm, like I did, too, you'll cough out 50,000 IDR (5 USD) if you want a single bed, or 90,000 IDR (9 USD) if you want a double bed. The dorm is comfortable, too, but I suggest you take one of the higher beds. The lower bunks tend to have limited head space. You also get a locker here, but you need your own padlock.

Kampong Tourist, Malang, East Java, Indonesia
The large dorm bungalow accommodates up to 19 people.

Kampong Tourist, Malang, East Java, Indonesia
One corner of the large dorm bungalow has four beds stacked on top of the other. You need to aim for the top bunk for maximum head space. Sheets and pillowcases are provided.

Some Caveats:

Kampong Tourist is an excellent lodge, but it caters to very particular types of travelers, mostly independent travelers and backpackers. If you're not either, then chances are you might not have the best of time here. There are a couple of caveats that needs to be mentioned.

One, because Kampong Tourist is on the rooftop and open-air, it can get a bit loud in the morning when the city wakes up and begins its day. The loudness of motorcycles and cars zipping by is nowhere near that of Indonesia's big cities, of course, but it can wake you up if you're a light sleeper.

Two, the showers and western toilets are housed in cubicles outside the gazebos and the dorm bungalow. They are covered and you still get some privacy, but they are open air. I don't have a problem with that, but if you do, you might want to reconsider staying here.

Kampong Tourist is easily one of the best backpacker lodges I have stayed in Indonesia and in Southeast Asia. I feel like it's an excellent mountain lodge situated in the middle of a city. I liked that it's simple but also very effective. I would definitely recommend it to anyone transiting in Malang on the way to Mount Bromo.

Kampong Tourist
37 Jalan Patimura, Malang
East Java, Indonesia

Any similar lodge you've encountered in your travels?

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