Discovering Bandung’s hot springs
A rusted-out yellow angkot, without so much as the name of its destination tacked to the windshield, bounced over a lonely mountain road just west of Lembang.
“Do you go to Maribaya?” I had asked the driver, an old man with an unkempt tousle of black hair, just moments before I stepped inside.
“Ya, let’s go!” he said, tossing a cigarette out the window and revving the engine.
Just a few kilometers away the road became riddled with potholes. We passed small villages where squat houses rose above gardens brimming with strawberries that glittered in the morning dew. Above the rural countryside, Tangkuban Perahu, the large volcanic caldera just north of Bandung, loomed in the distance.
At last the road descended into Maribaya, a small village flanked by a rushing river. The town consisted of just several family homes, a mosque, and a wide dirt lot that young boys turn into an impromptu soccer field each afternoon, complete with goal posts made of bamboo.
“We’re here,” the driver said, pulling to a stop beside the town’s one small store.
On a late Monday morning Maribaya seemed abandoned. But seconds later, locals peered at me from their houses with wide smiles.
“Air panas?” I asked them. “Hot water?”
Scattered directions brought me just down the road to my destination: Maribaya Hot Springs.
Located in the mountains north of Bandung, the Maribaya Hot Springs are a quiet place to relax on a weekday. Landscaped gardens that have seen better days drop down a hill alongside throngs of vendors. Hot and cold pools for bathers are separated by an open waterfall that cuts through the grounds. The hot spring-fed pool contains minerals that give the water a deep russet hue. I joined several men lounging in the warm water, and then crossed over to the cold pool to cool off and swim.
For me, the highlight of the visit to Maribaya Hot Springs was the site’s location at the northern end of Taman Hutan Raya, an area of protected land that consists of a wide gorge that plummets down to the Cikapundung River. From the hot springs, I followed a path about one hundred meters downhill to a small gate where I showed my kitas and gave a park attendant the Rp 7,000 entrance fee. From there a path above the river lead back to Bandung. I made the six kilometer downhill hike to the park’s southern end in just two hours. Along the way I passed a dramatic waterfall and the occasional monkey swinging about in simian gymnastics above in the treetops.
My Monday journeys to the various hot springs north of Bandung have become a personal tradition. I work Saturdays, the dreaded day for all Bandung residents in which Jakartans descend upon the city in droves, further clogging the bustling traffic. I often feel lucky to have a weekday off to go hiking in the nearby mountains, or simply relax at one of the many hot springs outside the city that remain almost deserted on weekdays.
On an earlier trip to the mountains north of Bandung, a torrential rainstorm darkened the land. A freezing deluge poured down upon my head and dripped off my nose. But the hot pool I lay in reduced the cold mountain air to what felt like a steamy beach.
North of Lembang and the crater of Tangkuban Perahu is the lovely town of Ciater. Complete with new, freshly-painted sidewalks and a plentitude of trash cans, this resort town resembles a small French village more than most places in Java. Coming from Tangkuban Perahu, a right hand turn just before the center of Ciater leads downhill to the Sari Ater Hot Spring Resort, a sprawling complex of cafes and different hot springs. The waters here are probably the warmest of any hot springs near Bandung, and serve as an ideal retreat after a cold hiking adventure in the nearby mountains.
For an even quieter, more upscale hot springs experience, the nearby Gracia Spa is one of the best weekend retreats around Bandung. The elegant, well-manicured grounds of this small spa have a hotel and three deep blue pools of thermal, spring-fed water. An adjoining bar and restaurant serves good meals and drinks. And a shallower pool provides children with a place to splash in the pleasant waters.
On a recent Monday, at the end of a lazy weekend, a cold rain descended upon Bandung. Rather than curl up in bed with a book, I headed towards the bus station and made the trip up to Ciater. An hour later I was sweating and cleansing my pores from another work week in the city at the Gracia Spa while enjoying the clean mountain air.
- Photos by: Levi Bridges