‘Kota Ambon, Ibu Negeri Tanah Maluku, Di pinggir laut tempat kita berteduh..
Dari jauh.. terlihat gunung Salahutu, beta ingat dahulu beta disitu..’
-Intro lyrics of Kota Ambon song-
This post marks another memorable trip that I had planned. Why? Because despite short planning and zero knowledge about the city, we still could make the best journey ever! I am very grateful to get this opportunity, to witness another beauty of East Indonesia.
Ambon had been in my ‘must-visit-city-before-i-die’ list since long time ago, but whenever I wanted to go, I was always doubtful on going there alone due to safety concerns.
I had distinctively heard from many Ambonese whom I met in Jakarta, or even from a few foreigner friends who had been to Ambon, most of them said that this city had so many things to offer. Ambon doesn’t just offer its natural beauty but cultural diversity. Moreover, they said that Ambon and largely the greater Moluccas archipelago have numerous diving spots for experienced divers and snorkeling lovers around the world.
I am not a diver but from many pictures I saw, and based on the testimonies I heard, the group of Saparua island, especially Nusa Laut island is known for its underwater richness, they said Nusa Laut’s underwater contains richer marine biota than in Raja Ampat.
In fact, Moluccas is also popular as a region where high quality Indonesian singers come from. The Moluccans are blessed with colorful voices, let’s look at our brilliant singers such as Ruth Sahanaya, Utha Likumahua, and Glenn Fredly.
Having people singing is not a rare thing in Ambon. They like to sing and their voices are worth to be listened 🙂
Getting very excited for the first time..
I traveled with 2 companions who also had no idea what to see and what to do in Ambon. Both of them are my best friends where we shared a lot of things in common, especially having similar ways of traveling style. We sometimes picked random dates and getaway destinations, but this time I had succeeded to entice them to come with me to Ambon.
Apparently, one of my travel mates knew someone from her parent’s relative, and they have been very helpful with our city tour arrangements starting lunch treats, transportation and visiting the best tourism sites in Ambon.
We departed without fixed itinerary, and we just wait until we arrived in Ambon. As for the flight, we took Garuda Indonesia’s first flight (departed at 00:30 hrs) with 20 minutes stopover in Makassar. Garuda Indonesia actually flies two times daily to Ambon, you can pick either the red-eye flight departing at 00:30 hrs (GA 640) with one stop over or 08:30 hrs (GA 646) direct. Since we preferred to spend more time in Ambon, so we chose the first flight.
Regardless my concession tickets but my two other friends paid IDR 2.600.000,- (USD 240) each for economy class (promo fare) return flight. The fare is quiet reasonable compared to Jakarta – Lombok flights that have reached more than IDR 3.000.000,- (USD 260) return during that period.
The flight was a red-eye flight, and our first leg was to Sultan Hassanudin International Airport in Makassar for 2 hours flight and we transited for only 30 minutes refueling. I met some of my dad’s colleagues who were in-charge as the captain and flight purser, during the crew change and they wondered to know what I would do in Ambon. I simply told them besides its natural beauty, I was inspired by those great singers and would love to hear how Ambonese sing live. Besides, I was also inspired by the beauty of the Moluccas that previously I only had seen them from pictures.
Once the crew change finished, we immediately took off at 0430 AM LT (GMT+8). The flight to Ambon from Makassar only took 1 hour and 45 minutes, just 40 minutes after take off, the sky was changing colors, indicating the breaking dawn.
Watching sunrise from East Indonesia airspace is the most favorite moment to me! I remembered when I flew to Biak and Jayapura a few years ago, I was very excited to see that breathtaking view, especially when you look outside your window and seeing the sky’s orange-purplish reflection towards the islands beneath, it’s just so perfect!
Time flew fast when you’re flying, at 7 o’clock am we started our descent and the Captain made pre-landing notice for the cabin crew. The plane banked into runway 04 approach. The orange sky had turned into light blue while the sunlight had begun to appear despite a few thunderstorm clouds were seen in distance. The sea was seen in a calm current, from the distance I could also see Salahutu Mt., Nona Mt., Amahusu bay, and Latuhalat before we finally touched down at Pattimura Airport, Ambon at 07.30 AM LT (GMT+9).
Flying to East Indonesia could be tricky, the flying hours for some indirect routes (or with 1 stop over in Makassar) could disrupt your sleeping pattern. When I flew to Jayapura with 2 stopovers via Makassar and Biak, I had a very bad jetlag upon arrival due to short sleep for 2 landings within 1.5 hours. This time, I flew with only one stop over, and I slept during Jakarta – Makassar flight not between Makassar – Ambon had made me pretty exhausted post flight.
After taking our checked-in luggage, we met our private guide Pak Parjan and Pak Ismet who had been waiting for us at the arrival hall, and we headed directly to our hotel, Natsepa Resort and Conference.
“Selamat Pagi, Selamat Datang di Natsepa Resort, Bapak Danang,” said one of Natsepa Resort and Conference’s concierge staffs who greeted us at the lobby upon our arrival after 40 minute drive from the airport.
“Selamat Pagi! Thank you,” I cheered a smile. Natsepa Resort and Conference used to be managed by Aston with a previous name of Aston Natsepa. Natsepa Resort and Conference is known as one of the best accommodation in Ambon situated in Natsepa beach area. I booked this hotel directly from Booking.com for a deluxe twin bed that can be occupied by 3 persons maximum. The price per room and per night is quiet reasonable which is around Rp. 830.000,- nett (USD 73) including breakfast for 2 persons.
The hotel ambiance was indeed relaxing, clean and provides generous room space. The hotel also has swimming pool where hotel guests can practice diving or if you have more budget you can pay Lagoon room that has its own pool. The hotel area is also far from the traffic and public crowd, besides each room of this hotel is indulged with breathtaking views, Natsepa beach and Salahutu Mountain.
Once check-in done, we were directly guided to our room which was located on the third floor overlooking to Natsepa bay and the swimming pool. I must say that that was one of the best view hotels that I’d ever had.
The weather suddenly changed where clouds were seen above the horizon, giving signal to rain anytime soon, we decided to go out after 40 minutes rest, and we were heading to our first destination: Liang Beach. Liang Beach is located about 20 kms from Natsepa. And the best way to reach this preserved and pristine beach by car. You can ask the hotel to arrange a taxi for you that cost approximatley IDR 150,000,- one way or alternatively you can rent private car (Toyota Avanza) for IDR 600,000,- (USD 53) for one day (excluding gasoline and driver tips). You should not worry about who would take you around because the car must be ready with a driver who could also be your guide.
After prepared my duffel bag with sufficient sunbathing and swimming amenities, we were set to go! However it was a bit unfortunate that the weather seemed wasn’t friendly enough, because the moment we left the hotel, the rain began to falling and even became worse. Apparently, early April is a transformation season in the Mollucas from dry to wet season.
The rain unfortunately getting worse when we arrived at the Liang Beach, we decided to wait until the rain went over with a few refreshments such as coffee, rujak and Indomie. Despite the thuderstorm clouds, what amazed me was the still capability of seeing the blue gradation of the sea water – indicated how clean the water is. Finally after almost nearly one hour waiting, the rain finally over. We immediately ran to the famous Liang Beach wooden pier which firmly stands near the shoreline.
This view made me think of Maldives, or Seychelles, or wherever I could think of. I was just standing there being thankful for everything I could see.
Liang Beach is one of the most favorit spots for local fellows to hang out, followed by Natsepa shoreline where you can enjoy the famous Rujak ‘traditional fruit salad’ and the sweet sagu bakar (roast sago). However, you can still enjoy those foods at Liang Beach. The locals love the beach so much, especially the kids, where they expressed their freedom by jumping off from the pier to the water. If you’re lucky, you could see a group of dolphins swimming near you, like I did last time – or else a ship passing nearby.
Liang Beach is not wavy unlike most of beaches in Bali. The water is very calm with less waves but the current could be a bit strong.
After one hour, the sun lastly appeared from the breaking overcast clouds and we were excited to feel the heat. As a man who is a bit paranoid of swimming in the sea, better to stay nearby the shore, because I rather not to think of seeing a shark down there.
After swimming, I went for fast rinse at the public bathroom (thank god for this). I’m a type of person who could not leave my body with dried salt water for too long thus I took a bath with fresh water jugs I bought earlier.
For all of you who cannot bare with salt water then you should bring your toiletteries, because you can use the public bathroom where they also sell fresh water (IDR 3.000,- per jug (USD 0.30). The bathroom is rather clean and thank god not stinky, so you should not worry about it.
Ambon’s Francis Xavier Cathedral
We only spent 2 hours in Liang Beach. Once we’re done we headed straight to Ambon city for our first day city tour. It is quiet exciting though, because we were pretty curious about what this city looked like and what life were like in the capital of Moluccas archipelago. Ambon city is located 36 kms from Pattimura International Airport, and situated near Ambon bay.
It took for almost an hour for us to reach the city. Since it was nearly lunch time, Pak Parjan invited us to have lunch at his home as his wife had cooked us traditional dish. We were so delighted to accept his invitation.
Ambon’s city is quiet colorful, from the distance you can see the city center from the hilly road. The city looks vibrant and lively.
In the middle of our journey, Pak Ismet stopped us in front of Ambon city’s Francis Xavier Cathedral (Roman catholic church) which is dubbed as one of the most remarkable historical sites in Ambon. The cathedral was built to commemorate St. Francis Xavier, a spanish roman catholic missionary who arrived in Ambon in 1546.
The cathedral was unfortunately locked hence we were not able to see the interior. After taking a few pictures of the church, we headed directly to Pak Parjan’s house for lunch. The house is located not far from the city center, situated on a hilly road. We were welcomed with genuine hospitality from the whole family. It was definitely pleasant to catch up with the locals and learning new things from them.
Apparently, Pak Parjan and family had prepared a totally delicious home made lunch for three of us that suit our tastebuds. Chicken, fish, vegetables and fruits were taken from their own poultry and farm.
The home is newly renovated, this house offers a great view on the top floor. Bayview and seaside home is very common here in Ambon, something that we rarely find in Jakarta.
Latuhalat & Lelisa Beach
After spending nearly an hour for lunch, Pak Parjan guided us to get ready as we were going to continue our trip to Latuhalat. I actually had no idea where he would’ve taken us, what he said was only “We’re going up to the hill, to see one of the best scenic view in town.” Then, we would’ve imagined a place similar to Bali’s Karma Kandara or Bali Cliff – only maybe there won’t be any alcohol beverage sold.
Latuhalat is located in the outskirt area of Ambon city where the road track was quiet hilly though the place was worth seeing. It was nearly sunset around 17.00 PM local time when we alighted from our car. We could feel the fresh air, and we hear the sound of the waves which triggered our curiousity to look beneath, we were apparently about 20 meters above the sea level.
Pak Parjan later invited us to walk down to see the Ambon’s front door. We were actually curious about what door he’d been talking about. He told us just walk down the steps and see, and yet to enjoy every step down we made. We were stunned to see more than 50 steep steps leading us to the rocky shore. I frequently reminded my friends to watch their steps. Once we got down, we saw the Ambon’s entrance door, and I can say this place is quiet magnificent. How could I not be amazed to see a giant natural rock with half round hole that made it look like as if an entrance to the beach. The overlooking sea is Banda Sea, and the locals said this place was one of highly recommended places to enjoy the sunrise.
We climbed up back to where our car was parked, stepping up approximately 50 stairs that caused severe exhaustion. “We shouldn’t have done this place today, I think I got to exhausted” I babbled to one of my mates, and she could not reply anything as she was gasping while we’re climbing the stairs. When we reached the top, we decided to sit down at a small open-air café to enjoy fresh coconut water and chatting with the café owners who apparently was a mixed Ambonese – Sundanese couple. They had figured out whereabout we were from, and there the man started conversation by revealing that he used to live in Jakarta for 20 years and still flying back and forth to Jakarta a lot these days. He was sharing his life experience and Jakarta and how he met the wife there until they decided to start a family business there in Latuhalat. The man told us that Ambon and specifically Latuhalat should’ve been potential for domestic or even foreign visitors, however, he could see that not so many local tourist comes to Ambon as many of them were brainwashed about visiting the islands known for conflict.
Not far from Latuhalat, there is Lelisa Beach, situated in southern part of Ambon and managed by Collin Beach Resort. The beach itself is mostly surrounded by corals and rocks therefore is not comfortable for beach swimmers, but we spotted many foreigners stay in this resort. The resort may not look as fancy as Natsepa Resort and Conference however, this place has a perfect beach ambiance with many coconut trees, hammock, and lazy chairs.
Once we’re done with the sight seeing around Ambon, we wrapped our itinerary for that day as we all fell asleep directly when we reached the hotel and hit the bed.
Fort Amsterdam (Blokhuis Amsterdam), Immanuel Church, Wapauwe Mosque
On the second day in our itinerary, we woke up early at 07.00 AM, awakened by a beautiful sunrise in Ambon. I spent a little time sitting at my balcony to enjoy the morning sun’s heat, sipping Nescafe decaf and starring at the magnificent view of Natsepa bay.
We immediately packed up our amenities, each of us took a quick bath and ran for a short breakfast. Pak Parjan unfortunately unable to accompany us that day, he asked his son, Mas Hafni to guide us instead. Mas Hafni and Pak Ismet had been waiting for us at the lobby, they told us to be ready before 07.30 AM as we would travel a bit far to Hila Village in Leihitu to visit the famous Dutch fort in Ambon, Blokhuis Amsterdam and the surrounding sites.
In Dutch, Blokhuis means Fort or a block house. It is built in a three floor structure, functioned as gunpowder warehouse and prisons. The 4.57 m x 5.3 m building has 2 windows on each side where you can spot scenic views from each side, beach and mountains. The Fort was abandoned by the Dutch colony in the early of the 20th century and restored by Indonesian Government in 1991.
We felt very lucky to have the best weather of the season. The sky was completely clear decorated with thin layered clouds stretching above. I was completely ready with my iPhone 5S to capture the beautiful sight seeings that I would never forget.
Not far from Fort Amsterdam, there is another historic site of Immanuel Kerk (Immanuel Church). The church was built in 1780 and it was known as one of the oldest protestant church in Ambon. The church was nearly burnt down during Ambon’s 1999 civil war, but now they had recovered the church and rebuilt it almost in the exact copy of the original church.
After a short stop at the church, Pak Parjan and Pak Ismet drove us to Wapauwe mosque which is known as the oldest mosque in Ambon. The mosque was built in 1414 and still firmly standing until now. The exterior look is somewhat attractive and rustic, combined with the sophisticated interior that is filled with teakwood, which is still used these days.
The mosque is located near a green yard where the cow shepherds feed their cows. The view getting even more interesting to me as I rarely see any green yard with a clear blue sky in Jakarta.
Pasir Panjang Beach
To all of you who followed my Instagram or Path, you might’ve seen my post which mentioned about a private beach that I wouldn’t tell you, and you might wonder where that white sand beach was located. It’s called Pasir Panjang Beach!
After visiting historical places, we decided to chill out for a bit on the beach. We asked Hafni and Pak Ismet to find a good beach for us to hang out, if possible the quiet one. They were discussing to which suitable place for us, and we ended up at Pasir Panjang Beach. Firstly we were not sure to where they brought us since the direction was nearly the same that brought us to Liang beach the previous day. “The beach has the same shoreline of Liang Beach, only this beach is much farther,” Ismet said. The car stopped at the curb of a small road, and Ismet told us just to follow Hafni who guided us to the beach. The beach location is similar to Padang – Padang beach in Bali whereby the visitors had to walk down a few steps to reach the sandy area.
According to what Hafni and Pak Ismet told us, the beach was unoccupied and we were just too excited for this. Despite 11 am, but the sun was high and glaring bright, we got ready with our sunscreen, towels and sun glasses. Pasir Panjang is situated in Tial village where many fishermen live. Here you can spot their vessels, nets and if you’re lucky – their catches. You may smell fresh Tuna fish from here, and you can buy the fish with a very good deal directly from them!
We enjoyed this beach so much until we’re not knowing that we’re competely tanned but we didn’t care because swimming here felt so good!
Where else could we enjoy the calm waves, quiet environment, soft sands, and great breeze, this is such a sanctuary for us.
Pasir Panjang doesn’t have public bathroom neither there has any change room, therefore whenever you come here – make sure you bring your towels, wet shirt bags, spare shirts and shorts unless you want to stay longer drying your swim suit under the sun.
Before we left the beach, I asked Hafni to walk with me to visit the fishermen village. I wanted to see their homes and hoping to see one of the Tuna’s heads. We walked slowly passing each home and greeted each home owner that I met. They smiled and said “Hello!” I felt welcomed here. Some of the home owner offered me her outdoor bathroom to rinse my feet and sandals which were covered by sands.
At the next door of the house, I heard there was a Tuna transaction – which I believed from the morning’s catch. I stopped by and asked how big the Tuna was, and to me it was really big. Around 9-10 kgs or so.
“Oh this fish is considered small compared to what we usually get on the sea,” an Ambonese lady said.
I approached my head near the bucket, attempted to look the Tuna closer. Fishy smell.
“How much is the whole fish?” I asked, pinching the Tuna’s belly – it was indeed chubby.
“This one is Rp. 100.000,” she said.
The moment I thought I had misheard the price, and I reassured “Really? That can’t be true?”
The lady thought I attempted to bargain. “It’s fixed price Pak”
“No, what I meant was Rp. 100.000,- is pretty cheap for this size,”
The lady smiled, “Do you want to bring this with you to Jakarta?”
I told her that I would have another two nights in Ambon, yet we would’ve gone out of the island the following day. The wise way is to buy one night before my leaving or on the same day of my departure back to Jakarta as I’d prefer to have fresh fish.
I asked her permission to hold and lift the whole Tuna, as I would love to take picture with the fish. My mind had flown to Jakarta where I could buy a plate of Tuna sashimi from Sushi-tei.
Hafni had instructed me to walk a bit faster to the car as we still had so many things to see and visit. I started to feel uncomfortable with the wet swim shorts that I still wore behind my short pants so did my friends, so we decided to return to the hotel for a while to take short bath (another short baths – so much a real adventurer isn’t it? haha) I noticed that Hafni and Pak Ismet were totally amazed with how we kept our hygiene.
The clock had shown 13.00 PM, means we were one hour late for lunch. We definitely got ready again to Ambon city to have lunch. “It’s Sunday and hopefully there are some places open,” Hafni said.
“I think we should go and try the fish place that my cousin mentioned earlier,” one of my travel mates said. We all agreed to wherever we should eat, as it was too late and our tummies couldn’t compromise. We initially wanted to eat at that famous grilled seafood restaurants suggested, however the place was closed and Pak Ismet took us to another restaurant called Dede’s. The place looks decent, and fully air-conditioned. Before we sat down at our table they asked us to choose the fish from the cool box at the kitchen. We picked three kind of fish: Silver Pomfret (Bawal), Spotted Rabbitfish (Baronang), and Groper fish (Kerapu), Prawns, and Squids, all items were grilled and cooked spicy.
‘No Kangkung, No Sayur Asem’
When we’re choosing what vegetables to go along with the main course, one of a friend mine were craving about Kangkung. As we all know that Kangkung was supposed to be best companion for any seafood dishes, and it was available on the menu. However, with full regret, the waitress had to apologise that Kangkung was not available at that time, neither was Sayur Asem.
We were completely confused how could both side dishes not available. Hafni told us, “No, you better not expect Sayur Asem here because it’s a rare dish.” That another learning point for us. I asked the waiter, to keep it short, “Can you just bring us whatever vegetables is available?”
“Okay, one serve please.” I said without hesitation.
The foods arrived not long after we order. A quiet fast service I must admit, and the taste was also pretty good for a seafood resto. We enjoyed every bite, and yet the fish tasted very nice, soft meats and crunchy skin. The bill was not as suprising as I’d thought, we paid IDR 275.000 for the whole meal and beverages for 5 pax. Quiet cheap I must say.
After having happy tummy, we headed straight to Petak 10 souvenir shop. This shop is the best souvenir shop in town that sells not only sago crackers or cookies, but next door is a souvenir shop that sells Pearl accessories (salt water and fresh water), print tshirts, caps, bracelets, and local tenun fabrics.
Tips when shopping in Ambon: Here (not just at this shop) you cannot bargain any price, as most of the sellers will claim it as a fixed price. It is hard to bargain with the local people, yet many Ambonese are well educated and they understand every tourist especially from Jakarta.
Commonwealth War Grave Cemetery (Australian War Cemetery)
Once we’re done with shopping, Pak Ismet drove us back to the hotel as we need to get early for dinner. However, I told him would it be possible for us to stop at the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery on our way back home. Hafni said it was possible and we needed to get permission from the cemetery keeper.
I browsed little information about this cemetery before my departure to Ambon, and I thought this cemetery is a worth seeing place. The cemetery is located 5 kms northeast Ambon on the main road to Galala district, the cemetery was designed by Ralph Hobday.
There are around 2.000 died soldiers (whereby nearly half were Australians, while the remaining numbers consisted of British soldiers, American Air Man, Dutch soldiers laid down in this cemetery, many of those buried here died in the defense of Ambonia in the early months of the war against Japan and others were killed in the Allied assault on Japanese air bases established on Ambonia and Sulawesi.
“The cemetery contains Australian soldiers who died during the Japanese invasion of Ambon and Timor, plus those who died in captivity in one of the many camps constructed by the Japanese on the Moluccas Islands, including many British prisoners who were transferred from Java to the islands in April 1943. Soon after the war, the remains of prisoners of war from Haruku island and other camps on the island were removed to Ambon and in 1961, at the request of the Indonesian Government, the remains of 503 graves in Makassar War Cemetery on the island of Celebes were added to the cemetery.” ( Source: CWGC.org)
The afternoon sun was still delighting when we arrived at the cemetery. We’re still able to spot the sunlight broke between the trees, creating beautiful shadows. This cemetery’s atmosphere brought us to Melbourne or Perth. It’s very beautiful indeed, the scenic view also reminded me to the famous American serial in 2000s “Six Feet Under”. You can also sit anywhere under the trees and search for inspirations.
We kept taking pictures, and wandered around the cemetery until sunset. We could see the names of the dead soldiers who were buried here, as well as reading the history plaque about this cemetery at the commemoration hall. After satisfied with hundred beautiful pictures, the time shown nearly 17.00 hrs and we had to end our visit. We returned to the hotel before dark to get enough rest as we had to wake up early to catch morning boat to Saparua the following day.
Please stay tune for Part 2: Only 19 hours in Saparua Island.
To be continued..