The largest city on Java's north coast, Semarang is a former Dutch colony on the north end of the Indonesian island of Java that found wealth in the exportation of sugar and other agricultural goods. From the 17th through the early 20th centuries, it was a busy seaport that saw traders from China, India, Thailand, Europe and the Middle East every day. Even in the shadow of such modern ports as Singapore and Jakarta, it remains a busy and important trade center. The architecture of the town is a compelling blend of Dutch and Chinese influences, particularly in the more historic "old town," located on the northern end of the city. In the Gedung Batu neighborhood, you can see both the ancient Sam Poo Kong temple and a recently built statue of Admiral Cheng Ho.
As with other Indonesian cities, the food in Semarang in cheap, delicious and markedly different from the dishes you'll find even an hour's drive away. Specialties include lumpia, a spring roll variant with savory and spicy fillings, and wingko babat, which might remind you of a sweeter version of a protein bar. Don't miss the bandeng: pressure-cooked milkfish with local spices.
The famous ninth-century Buddhist temple of Borobudur is approximately a two-hour drive from Semarang, making it a good home base for exploring the temple while avoiding the crowds (and higher prices) closer to the site. You can get there by train from Jakarta.
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