Sunday, June 2, 2013

Bengkulu - A Small Relaxed City

Calm Jenggalu river at sunset
Last updated Feb 2nd, 2017 
   Bengkulu, a small relaxed city, is the provincial capital of the province of the same name. It is a calm city by comparison to other Indonesia cities facing the Indonesian/Indian Ocean. Bengkulu is the smallest provincial capital in Sumatra, it has only an area of 151.70 sq km (94.2 sq. miles) and a population of 308,756 inhabitants with a population density of  2,136 people per sq km, 95% are Moslems (population census 2010). 

Climate and Borders:
    Bengkulu has a tropical humid climate which is influenced by two seasons within the whole year, the rainy season and the dry season. The rainy season lasts from October to March (peaking in December - February), and the dry season from April to September. June to August are the best months to visit Bengkulu. The temperature throughout the year averages 26°C (78.8°F) to 32°C (89.6°F). With the smallest land area and population in Sumatra, Bengkulu has a diverse and simple lifestyle in each of its four corners. The city is bordered by the sunny shores of the Indian Ocean to the west, the rural and forested landscape of Central Bengkulu district to the north and east, the massive rubber and palm plantations of Seluma district to the south. Time zone: WIB (UTC+7).

Bengkulu Timeline
Fort Marlborough
    Bengkulu was the seat of the British power and influence in western parts of Indonesia from 1685 until 1825, which they called Bencoolen. The British persisted, maintaining their presence for roughly 140 years before ceding it to the Dutch as part of the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824 to focus attention on Malacca. From 1939 – 1942 Bengkulu was a home-in-domestic-exile for the Indonesian nationalist leader Soekarno who later became Indonesia’s first president during the struggles against Dutch colonial rule. Bengkulu remained part of the Dutch East Indies until the Japanese occupation in World War 2. 

Popular attractions to visit   
Panjang beach
Bengkulu still lives in the shadow of the roaring 1990s. When visiting Bengkulu for a vacation or business there are many attractions to visit from its good beaches to nearby interesting historical sites. On the edge of the old port, set on a hill overlooking the Indian Ocean fort Marlborough is a wonderful introduction for visitors to the city. The impressive Fort Marlborough stands as a reminder of the British occupation, and there are several other colonial reminders, such as the Governor’s residence, European cemetery, etc. About 2 km (1.2 miles) from the downtown, Panjang beach offers fun hanging out and relaxing spots with more restaurants, hotels, shops, which also bustles with street vendors and nightlife. If you are a surfer, don't miss some hidden good surf spots in Samudera Ujung beach. Bengkulu has a wide selection of mid-range accommodation at along Panjang beach (Jalan Pariwisata). You can get to most tourist attractions on foot.
    Although few foreign tourists visit Bengkulu, it is one of the most attractive cities in Sumatra. With much of its colonial architecture still intact, it retains a languid charm and elegance and has not been scarred by insensitive redevelopment. The shores around the city of Bengkulu are scenic and unspoilt. The city comparatively clean and lacks the frenetic traffic and noise of other cities its size, vehicles seem to be fewer and to be driven with less resource to the horn, while the locals are friendly and have time to spare for foreigners who make it here.

Getting There and Away
The city of Bengkulu is easily accessible by land and air transportation. You can catch regular buses from Palembang, Padang or Jakarta. For now, there are daily flights from Jakarta only.

Getting Around
Samudera Ujung surf
A counter at the airport offers rental cars and taxis rides for Rp. 60,000 into downtown. Alternatively, walk down to the road in front of the terminal building to the main road and turn to your right as you exit the airport and then take a white public city transport locally known as “angkot” (Rp. 3,000) to Terminal Panorama, then take another angkot either yellow or green angkot (Rp. 3,000) to the downtown. This alternative way is much cheaper than taking regular airport taxis.  

Beware and don't get ripped off! The most fun way to get around Bengkulu is by angkot (public city transport), but the angkot drivers sometimes tend to overcharge foreign travelers. To avoid this unacceptable overcharging, you should tell the driver where you’re going before get on. All rides cost Rp. 3,000 (updated Feb 2017) for one route regardless of the distance and anything the drivers may tell you. It is strongly recommended to have exact change for the fare. Give extra Rp. 5,000 - 10,000 to the driver if you bring a lot of luggage with you.

Pros and Cons
Pros: Bengkulu is a safe city, it has many fine beaches and historical sites.
Cons: The locals like to stare at bule (foreign tourist). Shopping is not that great, very few small shops that offer unique wares.
Overall: A small relaxed city with nice beaches and friendly people.

Additional sources:
  • Lonely Planet Indonesia 7th Edition

  • Related posts:
    Traces of British Colonial Presence on Bengkulu Soil 
    Bengkulu, Getting There and Away 
    Tips for Traveling on Rainy Sumatra Days
    Panjang Beach Bengkulu

    More photos from Bengkulu
    Fort Marlborough - a British reminder

    Tapak Paderi beach 
    Riding a Sumatran elephant 

    Photos by Adriansyah Putera and Jeff Doust

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