West Java in an Indonesian province covers 46,229 square kilometers and stretches from the Sundai Strait in the west to the central part of the island. The province is home to about 47 million people, more than most countries in the world, and is primarily mountainous, with rich green valleys hugging lofty volcanic peaks, many of which surround the capital of the province, Bandung. A mountain range of smoldering volcanoes runs from east to west. Upon the misty foothills of this range lovely tea plantations and ancient kingdoms can be found. Along the coast are unspoiled beaches and wildlife preserves. The area receives quite a bit if rain and is very green and lush.

West Java is also called Sunda and the people here are called the Sudanese (See Below). The are regarded as friendly folks who value tradition. In some big cities, like Bandung, the capital of West Java, other ethnic groups begin to dominate as well. About 50 million people make their home in West Java. Islam is very strong here.

The history of West Java is a story of trade, spices, and the rise and fall of powerful kingdoms. In the late 1500s the region was ruled from mighty Cirebon, which still survives as a sultanate today, although a shadow of its former glory. West Java was one of the first contact points in Indonesia for Indian traders and their cultural influences. It was here that the Dutch and British first set foot in the archipelago.

The main city in West Java in Bandung. Domestic airlines connect Bandung with daily flights to Jakarta and elsewhere. Buses from Central Java and Jakarta arrived in Leuwi Panjang. Several trains operate from Jakarta, Yogyakarta and Surabaya to Bandung. Alternatively you can use rental service from neighboring cities to visit Bandung. Tourism Office: West Java Provincial Tourist Office, Jl. R.E. Martadinata No. 209, Bandung 40114, Phone (62-22) 7271385, 7273209 Fax. (62-22) 7271385 Website : tourismwestjava.com


Java is the world's most populous island and the center of Indonesia culture, politics and economic life. Historical events that took place here shaped Indonesia as a whole. Outsiders still seek it out as the place to make one’s name and seek fame and fortune in the archipelago. It is an incredibly rich place, with a rich cultural traditions and places of extraordinary beauty that are not marred by island’s dense masses, noise and traffic. It is about a third the size of California but has more than three times the people.

Long and narrow and about the size of Alabama, Java covers 132,107 square kilometers (50,229 square miles) and extends about 1,100 kilometers (700 miles) from east to west and 30 to 200 kilometers (20 to 130 miles) from north to south. It is located between 6̊and 9̊south of the Equator, divided in East Java, Central Java and West Java and encompasses thin, fertile, densely populated coast plains and mountains and volcanos. They are a few remaining tracts of rain forest left but most of the land is cultivated, primarily for rice.. The climate is tropical. The wet season lasts from September to March and the dry season is from March to September. The mountains and plateaus are somewhat cooler than the lowlands.

Java is also one most geologically active places on earth. Of the 60 volcanos in Indonesia designated as dangerous enough to warrant having observation posts 30 are in Java. Smoke still emanates from 17 active volcanos on the island and Anuk Krakatau (son of Krakatau) about 80 kilometers (50 miles) west of Java. Some 20 peaks on Java rise above 10,000 feet, the highest being 12,060-foot Mount Semeru.

The volcanos have enriched Java with volcanic ash soil, which with the abundant rain found in most Java yields a wide variety of plant life and crops such as cloves, pepper, figs, jasmine and rattan palms. Wild animals found on Java include crocodiles, hornbills, eagles, cobras, pythons, leopards and wild pigs. Loss of habitat has led to the extinction of tigers and other animals on Java. Only a handful of Javanese rhinos remain.

Java’s productive soil has helped make it one of the densely populated places on earth. Over 60 percent of Indonesia's 270 million people live on Java, which occupies an area smaller than New York State and occupies only 6.9 percent of Indonesia (Java, Bali and Madura are home to nearly two thirds of the people). Some areas of Java have the highest rural densities in the world, with an average density of 1,600 people per square mile. Some areas it is much higher. Around the rural area of Modjokuto densities of 6,000 to 8,000 people per square miles have been recorded.

Because Java is so densely populated the rural areas have a urban quality to them.. Villages are often only a few hundred meters apart and usually no more than eight kilometers separates towns. The only cities with a true urban and industrial character are Jakarta, Surubaja and Semarang. Population growth combined with small and fragmented land holdings produce severe problems such as overcrowding and poverty.

The Javanese, Indonesia's largest ethnic group, make up 45 percent of the population of Indonesia. Five major languages are spoken in Java: 1 Javanese around Jakarta; 2) Indonesian in northwest and central Java; 3) Sundanese in southwest Java; 4) Madurese in northeast Java and nearby Madura island; and 5) Balinese in eastern Java and Bali. Each group has their culture and is regarded as an ethnic group.

Indonesia has traditionally been rule from Jakarta, which is located on Java. The Dutch had their headquarters there from 1611 to 1949. It also has become the center of Indonesia's industrial and economic boom. [Source: Kenneth MacLeish, National Geographic, January 1971]


The Sundanese hail from western Java but are found throughout Indonesia. Also known as the Ornang Sunda, Orang Prijangan, Urang Sunda., they are culturally similar to the Javanese but regard themselves as less formal, more soft spoken and lighter hearted than Javanese. Sundanese make up 15.5 percent of the population of Indonesia, meaning there are about 34 million of them. They have their own distinct culture and speak their own language, which requires speaker to adjust their speech and vocabulary to accommodate the status and intimacy of the person they talk to. Nearly all are Muslims. The Sundanese homeland is the Priangan Highlands of West Java, an area they call parahyangan (“paradise”). [Source: Encyclopedia of World Cultures, East and Southeast Asia edited by Paul Hockings (G.K. Hall & Company, 1993) ~]

The Sundanese had their own state—the kingdom of Pajajaran (1333-1579)—but mostly they have been dominated by Javanese kingdoms while remaining somewhat isolated and keeping alive their own traditions. Islam was introduced by Indian traders in the 15th century and spread inland from the ports, where Indians traded. The nobility was forced to convert to Islam in1579 after the existing royal family was killed by the sultan of Bantem. The Dutch introduced coffee plantation agriculture. The Sundanese both cooperated with and resisted the Dutch. Some Sundanese pursued a Western education and became civil servants. Others fought two holy wars against the Dutch: one in the 1880s and another after World War II.

The 1990 census found that West Java had the greatest population of any province in Indonesia with 35.3 million people. In addition, the urban population stood at 34.51 percent. Despite their large numbers, the Sundanese are one of the least known people groups in the world. They are often confused with the Sudanese of Africa and their name has even been misspelled in encyclopedias. Some spell checks on computer programs also change it to Sudanese. [Source: Sunda.org ***]

What stands out in the history of the Sundanese is their association with other groups. The Sundanese have little characteristic history of their own. Ayip Rosidi outlines five barriers which make it difficult to define the character of the Sundanese. Among these, he gives the Javanese as an example of a people group who have a clear identity in contrast to the Sundanese who lack one. Historically, the Sundanese have not played any major role in national affairs. Some very important events have transpired in West Java but usually they were not characteristic Sundanese events. Few Sundanese have been leaders either in conception or implementation of nationalistic activities. There are a lot of Sundanese and they have been involved in many events in the twentieth century but, statistically speaking, they have not been significant. In this century, the history of the Sundanese is essentially the history of the Javanese. Understanding the Sundanese today is a great challenge to historians, anthropologists, and religious scholars. Even the leading Sundanese scholars are loath to try to delineate the character and contributions of the people. Perhaps, in many ways, Sundanese have been absorbed into the new Indonesian culture of the past 50 years.” Perhaps “we will soon observe an ethnic renewal among the Sundanese accompanied by a new definition of what it means to be Sundanese.” **

History of West Java

The oldest archaeological evidence of human habitation in West Java — remains of bronze and iron metallurgical culture dated back to the A.D. first millennium — were unearthed in Anyer (the western coast of Java). Remains of prehistoric Buni (present-day Bekasi) clay pottery has been found from Anyer to Cirebon. Some artifacts (dated from 400 B.C. — A.D. 100) such as food and drink containers have been found mostly as burial gifts. There is also archeological evidence in Batujaya Archaeological Site dating from the A.D. 2nd century. According to Dr Tony Djubiantono, the head of Bandung Archeology Agency, Jiwa Temple in Batujaya, Karawang, West Java was built around this time. [Source: Wikipedia]

Recorded history of West Java administration was started from the fourth century with the existence of Tarumanagara kingdom. Seven inscribed stones written in Wengi letters (used in the Indian Pallava period) and in Sanskrit language describe most of the kings of Tarumanagara. Records of Tarumanegara's administration lasted until the sixth century, which coincides with the attack of Sriwijaya as stated in the Kota Kapur inscription (AD 686). The Sunda kingdom then came into the ruling power of the region, the reference to which were found in the Kebon Kopi II inscription (AD 932).

An ulama (holy man in Islam) known today as Sunan Gunung Jati settled in Banten Girang, with the intention of spreading the world of Islam in this still pagan town. In the meantime, the Sultanate of Demak from central Java grew into an immediate threat to Sunda kingdom. To defend against the threat, Prabu Surawisesa Jayaperkosa signed a treaty (known as the Luso Sundanese Treaty) with the Portuguese in 1512. In return, the Portuguese was granted an accession to build fortresses and warehouses in the area, as well as trading agreement with the kingdom. This first international treaty of West Java with the Europeans was commemorated by the placement of the Padrao stone monument at the riverbank of the Ciliwung River in 1522.

Although the treaty with Portuguese had been established, it could nptSunda Kalapa harbour fell under the alliance of the Sultanate of Demak and the Sultanate of Cirebon (former vassal state of Sunda kingdom) in 1524 after their troops under Paletehan alias Fadillah Khan had conquered the city. In 1524/1525, their troops under Sunan Gunung Jati also seized the port of Banten and established the Sultanate of Banten which was affiliating with the Sultanate of Demak. The war between the Sunda kingdom with Demak and Cirebon sultanates then continued for five years until a peace treaty were made in 1531 between King Surawisesa and Sunan Gunung Jati. From 1567 to 1579, under the last king Raja Mulya, alias Prabu Surya Kencana, Sunda kingdom declined essentially under the pressure from the Sultanate of Banten. After 1576, the kingdom could not maintain its capital at Pakuan Pajajaran (the present-day Bogor) and gradually the Sultanate of Banten took over the former Sunda kingdom's region. The Mataram Sultanate from central Java also seized the Priangan region, the southeastern part of the kingdom.

In the sixteenth century, the Dutch and the British trading companies established their trading ships in West Java after the falldown of Sultanate of Banten. For the next three hundred years, West Java fell under the Dutch East Indies' administration. West Java was officially declared as a province of Indonesia in 1950, referring to a statement from Staatblad number 378. On October 17, 2000, as part of nationwide political decentralization, Banten was separated from West Java and made into a new province.

Sundanese Cuisine and Food in West Java

Sundanese food tends to be bland yet tasty unless you add sambal dadak (chili and other ingredients grinded together). If you're looking for a spicy snack add sambal dadak with nasi timbel (steamed rice formed into a roll inside a banana leaf). Usually sour vegetables soup (sayur asam) is accompanied by nasi timbel.

Sundanese people eat a lot of vegetables. Sometimes they even eat raw vegetables (called lalap or lalapan) like cucumbers, tomatoes, coriander leaves, eggplants, cabbages, lettuces,and so on. Lalapan is usually accompanied by sambal dadak.

One of the most well known Sundanese dishes, timbel, consists of nasi timbel, lalapan, sambal dadak, a piece of chicken (fried or roasted Sundanese style), fried tofu, fried tempeh, and a slice of jambal (salted fish). Other tasty dishes and hand food include gepuk (slices of beef, mixed in traditional herbs, then fried), pepes (fish, chicken of mushrooms mixed with crushed and blended herbs, folded into a banana leaf, then steamed) and sauteed greens. Batagor baso tahu goreng (fried meatballs and tofu) is one of the most sought-after specialties. It is sometimes made with fish and served with a special peanut sauce.

Among the popular Sundanese sweets are pisang molen (a traditional pastry filled with banana and cheese), brownies kukus (steamed brownies) and cakue (fried dough). Es cendol, made of blended/grinded rice, palm sugar, and coconut milk, is a treat on a hot day. Bandrek or bajigur when the weather is cooler. Bandung is known for milk products and yoghurt. Basically there are two kinds of yoghurt in Bandung: the thin one, and the thick one (French style). Hot snacks are widely sold throughout Bandung. Among them are gehu-toge tahu- (tofu with beansprouts and vegetables filling), pisang goreng (fried banana), cireng-aci goreng (fried tapioca), and many more. You might be interested in trying snacks such as, nangka goreng (fried jackfruit), peuyeum goreng (fermented cassava, fried), nanas goreng (fried pineapple), Ketan bakar (roasted sticky rice) and jagung bakar/rebus (roasted/boiled corns).

Nasi goreng (fried rice), although not originally from Bandung, is a favorite. The ingredients vary, according to people's preference. Sometimes the rice is mixed with seafood (usually shrimps, pieces of cuttlefish or crab meat), chicken, vegetables, mutton and/or salted fish.

Bandung has restaurants serving various kinds of food: Padangese (food from West Sumatra, very spicy), Javanese (sweeter), Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Western and Indian.

Near Bandung

Near Bandung you can visit the Japanese cave in Dago; amuse yourself and douse yourself in a hot spring the in Lembang area, north of Bandung, and visit Tangkuban Prahu also in Lembang. Just a 30 minute drive from Bandung and you’ll be greeted by the natural beauty of lush green hills and valleys. On the way, to Lembang stop at Pom Tahu, famous for Tahu Lembang (Lembang tofu) and fresh milk in various flavors. Around this area, you can pick your own strawberries and kids can have fun with outdoor activities such a mini flying fox, pool rafting, and balloon walking. Also near Bandung are Patenggang Lake which is surrounded by misty tea plantations; the 590 hectare Juanda Forest Park where a number of tunnels built by the Japanese in World War II can be found; and Maribaya, known for its hot springs and flower covered hills. Mt. Ciremei is a 3,080-meter-high volcano in West Java. It was thought to be dormant. In October 2003, it showed some signs of life. It last erupted in 1937.

Lembang (16 kilometers north of Bandung) is a mountain resort with access to hot springs and volcanos and hot springs. Maribay Hot Springs boasts landscaped gardens and thundering waterfalls. A pleasant four walk bring you to the town of Dago, the site of the Japanese cave. At Imah Seniman, Lembang, thrillseekers can explore jungle tracks in the hills in ATVs (All Terrain Vehicles), fly through the sky on a Flying Fox, or enjoy the many fishing spots in the area. Further alomg you can the night sky and stars at the giant telescopes of Bosscha Observatory. Driving futher you arrive at Tangkuban Perahu Volcano, where you can hike around three famous craters (Kawah Ratu, Kawah Upas, and Kawah Domas). About eight kilometers away are Ciater Hot Springs, large clove plantations and tea estates.

Garut (60 kilometers miles from Bandung) is a typical picturesque Sudanese highland town. It is surrounded by scenic tea plantations and volcanic mountains. Many visitors come to visit the lovely lakes and hot springs that are said to help purify people's skin. Also nearby one can climb Mount Papandayan, one of the most active volcanos in Indonesia, and visit the crater at the top. Papandayan came into existence in 1772 when the mountains exploded sideways, killing more than 3,000 people. It erupted violently in 2002, sending ash and smokes kilometers into the sky, and forcing the evacuation of thousands of people. Often times lava is visible in the crater. Nearby is bubbling green. sulfurous lake. Geysers in the area stopped spouting when a geothermal plant was built in the area.

Cirebon (northwest of Bandung) is a steamy, seaport to the along the Indian Ocean that receives few visitors. Once an important trading center, it is home to three kratons used by sultans and a royal cemetery where a holy sultans were buried. Pilgrims from all over Java come to make offerings at the site. The ancient palaces of Kasepuhan and Kanoman now serve as a museum. The most interesting thing found in the museum are the royal carriages, one of them is a gilded coach in the form of a winged elephant.

Tangkuban Perahu: a Volcanic Crater Reached by Car

Tangkuban Perahu (30 kilometers north of Bandung) is the only volcanic crater in Indonesia that can be reached by car. It is an amazing sight. The smell of sulphur fumes is everywhere. Descents into the crater without a guide are not advised because of the presence of deadly, suffocating fumes in some areas. Because the crater can reached by car the area has been developed into a kind of tourist trap.

Mount Tangkuban Perahu has a distinctive shape. Local say it looks like an “overturned boat”. It takes about two hours to walk around the three famous craters (Kawah Ratu, Kawah Upas, and Kawah Domas) on the volcano. There are many places that emit by sulfur fumes though it is said the volcano is not active.

Like so many of Java’s unusual geographical features, there is an interesting legend behind this volcano: the local Oedipus-like legend of Sangkuriang. Sangkuriang was a strong young man, who had been separated from his mother, Dayang Sumbi since childhood. Yet, through God’s he came to meet her again. On the way home, he stopped by a small village where he met and fell in love with a beautiful girl, without realizing that the girl he loved was in fact his own mother, who had remained youthful through the years.

When Dayang Sumbi discovered the terrible truth of her lover’s real identity, she was horrified and knew that she could never marry her own son. She, therefore, challenged him to build a dam and a huge boat during one single night before she would agree to marry him. Seeing that her son was about to complete this impossible wish, she called on God to bring up the sun early. With a wave of her magic shawl, Dayang Sumbi lit up the eastern horizon with flashes of light. Deceived by what looked like dawn, the cocks crowed and farmers rose for a new day. When Sangkuriang realized that his endeavor was lost, in a rage he kicked the boat that he had built, turning it upside down. The boat was transformed into Tangkuban Perahu. The name in the local Sundanese dialect translates roughly to "overturned boat".

Tangkuban Perahu has definitely played a significant role especially in the development of the surrounding Parahyangan (land of God) Highlands. Its eruption contributed immensely to the formation and fertility of the hills north of Bandung. Lava flows brought lava and large boulders into the valleys, and these formed huge cliffs over which waterfalls fall and blocked a river, creating the lake that today covers the Bandung plain.

Huge Kawah Ratu (‘Queen Crater’) is located at the top of Tangkuban Perahu. It’s the only one crater that can be reached easily by car. Here you can admire the spectacular panoramic view of this large and deep crater. This wheezing sound you here comes from the underground sulfur steam that comes out in some places from deep inside the Earth. Walk around the rim of the main Kawah Ratu crater and in around 20 minutes you will come to the second crater, called Kawah Upas. The trail here is steep and slippery in some parts but the rewards include shade trees with breathtaking views on either side of the muddy volcanic landscape. From the second crater can also head off to the third crater, the Kawah Domas. Around the main crater, you’ll see a parade of peddlers hustling postcards, and many vendors sell souvenirs, and unique wooden crafts for souvenirs and trinkets.

Tips: 1) Not everyone can stand the smell of the sulfur fumes; handkerchiefs are suggested to cover your nose and mouth. 2) Never walk into the crater without care, it’s better to hire trusted guide. 3) Do not hesitate to resist peddlers if you are not interested. 4) Bring a jacket/sweater to protect yourself from the cold temperature. 5) Bring an umbrella for sun protection or possible heavy downpours. 6) Try to reach the crater as early as possible because around noon the mist starts to roll in through the trees, obscuring the view. 7) Do not hesitate to say ‘No’ to the vexing local guides who follow you around and ask for money at the end of the trip.

Accommodation, Restaurants and Getting to Tangkuban Perahu

There are numerous hotels around Bandung covering every budget. But if you wish to stay longer near Tangkuban Perahu, there are plenty of hotels in Lembang (North of Bandung) where you can enjoy the ambience of this lush country side while inhaling its clean, fresh air.

Restaurants and warungs are scattered around Tangkuban Perahu. But if you want to experience a different vibe there are various eateries around Lembang. One thing that you should not miss is the satay kelinci (rabbit skewer) which is available at street vendors along the way in Lembang. The smells from sizzling satay on red hot glowing charcoal braziers will make your mouth water.

Tangkuban Perahu is a 90 minutes drive from Bandung on weekdays. The easiest way to get there is by joining a tour or renting a car. However, if you’re up to take an adventurous journey, you may take a Subang Colt via Lembang from Bandung’s minibus terminal in front of the train station to the park entrance of Tangkuban Perahu. The entry fee is 20,000IDR per person. There are minibuses, which can take you to the top. They officially cost 10,000IDR per person. Alternatively, you can walk from the gate at the main road. It’s 4.5 kilometers hike along the road or you can take the more interesting side trail that goes via Kawah Domas. It’s a very steep one-hour walk through the jungle and better tackled from the top down. It starts just behind the information center and is easy to follow.

Kampung Naga: Where You Can do a Homestay in an Electricity-Free Village Life

Kampung Naga (accessible from Bandung) is a good place to enjoy the beauty and laid back lifestyle of kampong (small village) life, where many old customs and traditions remain alive. Kampung Naga means. “Dragon village” or “Snake Village.” It is located within Neglasari village, Salawu sub-district, Tasikmalaya, West Java. About 300 people live in the village, which is spread out a half kilometer area. In the area are hundreds of high ebony trees, large green paddy fields and the long Ciwulang river. The air is often and often the only sound is the flowing river.

The houses at Kampung Naga are made of various bamboos and woods and feature bamboo or wooden raised floors. The roofs are made of Nipah leafs, palm leafs or reeds. Among the old customs that are kept alive in this Muslim village is the tradition of homes having to face the north or south, and the mosques, community hall (bale patemon) and paddy granaries having to must face the east or west. For many years number of buildings in the village has remained the same: 111. Ttraditional leaders have refused government electricity and prohibit their residents from using electronic appliances. All daily activities are performed manually.

The inhabitants of Dragon Village are famous for their simple and harmonious life. They are also known for their friendliness. In addition to farming and raising livestock, they also produce handicrafts for souvenirs. The inhabitants still maintain the Hajat Sasih ceremony during Islamic holidays in which they ask for blessings and safety from their ancestors, Eyang Singaparna, and express gratitude to Almighty God for what they have. On Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday they perform special rituals. During these days, tourists are not allowed to visit the village.

Homestays in village huts are available. Baths are in the cool Ciwulan river. Light is provided by a gas lamp or candles. You are not allowed to listen to your iPod of smart phone. Instead you will have to be content listening to bird song, flowing water, blowing winds, and noises from insects and frogs in the trees and paddies To stay overnight, you have to ask for permission from local officials a few days in advance. To reach Kampung Naga Village from Bandung you can rent a car or take public transportation to Tasikmalaya or Garut.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Indonesia Tourism website ( indonesia.travel ), Indonesia government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Japan News, Yomiuri Shimbun, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Updated in August 2020

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