Expat Living in Surakarta, Solo, Central Java
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Solo, more formally known as Surakarta, is smack bang in the middle of the island of Java. It is one of the two major centers of Javanese culture (the other being Yogyakarta). Officially the city has a population of about 570,000, but this is only the innermost part of town. Most of the outer suburbs include parts of other regencies (Sukoharjo, Klaten, Boyolali and Karanganyar), so real metro population is more like 1,500,000.
The expat community in Solo is very small compared with nearby cities such as Yogyakarta and Semarang. One estimate is about 50 westerners and a similar number of Asian expats - Japanese, Koreans, Indians and Chinese being the most prominent. Most of those working are employed in furniture or textile businesses. There are also a number of retirees living mainly in the countryside with their wives, and some foreign students studying Javanese culture, language, gamelan, etc. A high proportion of the expats living in Solo have been resident for a long time. It seems to be a place that once visited, is hard to leave.
Solo Expats Association holds monthly social gathering, trips for members and their families and programs to assist and stimulate life in Solo. There is a small but growing SEA library at Parfour Restaurant. W&M's Solo Newsletter is a weekly publication giving the latest greatest information on events in Solo, and is completely free.
Recreational opportunities are more limited than the bigger cities, but none-the-less available.
Beaches – Being stuck in the middle of the island, it’s a bit of a hike to the beaches. Nearest are the 3 triplets Baron, Kukup and Krakal, a little over 1 hour drive south. Some of us camp out on the floor of a friendly warung at Krakal for some seaside fun, there are also a couple of simple guesthouses. East a little is Dringi, but rumours say all the facilities have been wiped out by recently floods and high tides. Further east, and about 3 hours from Solo, is the little horseshoe bay of Pacitan, which has small beachside bungalows (Happy Bay Bungalows), with somewhat limited facilities. The fresh fish, body surfing, hundreds of caves and crab hunting make up for any discomforts.
Bowling – There is a good 10 pin-bowling rink in Jl Cokroaminoto, Jebres.
Croquet – Allegedly there is a place in Cepogo, Boyolali where one can indulge in this ancient sport
Dance – There are a number of classical Javanese dance schools. Hendrik, Tel. 0271 637294 or 0815-48531116 can be contacted for ballroom dance lessons and events.
Fitness – There are well appointed fitness clubs/gyms at Hotel Novotel and Hotel Lor In. A new fitness center has opened on Jl Raya Solo Baru, but with somewhat limited hours.
Football – Solo is football mad, and has a national league team Persis. When they play in the Manahan Stadium, the town erupts in red shirts, drum bands and enthusiastic youth.
Geocaching – this is a personal favorite of mine. It’s a kind of treasure hunt with the help of a GPS receiver; every smart phone with GPS can do it. So far I have hidden 3 caches in Solo and surroundings and I would be happy if other people join in the game. It’s absolutely free and everybody registered on www.geocaching.com can take part.
Golf – The Adi Sumarmo golf course along side the Solo airport is 9 holes and very cheap. There is a driving range on Jl Adisucipto on the way to the airport from Solo. Yogya is not far away, and has a beautiful 18 hole course at Merapi on the slopes of the famous volcano, as well as another near Yogya airport, and a 9 hole course at Hyatt Hotel. There are also courses in Semarang that apparently have some of the prettiest caddies in Indonesia.
Horse Riding – is available in most of the mountain tourist spots. The ponies are small, but quite strong. Tawangmangu has rides from a quick turn around the block, to a 5 hours trip to Gua Maria cave. You can even arrange a trip to the summit of Mt Lawu. A little further afield horses are available in the market towns of Kopeng on the slopes of Mt Merbabu and Bandungan on Mt Unguran.
Indoor Tennis – GOR Solo Baru has courts, as does the GOR behind Sriwedari in Jl Penumping Kidul.
Manahan Stadium – This, the largest of the stadia in Solo, is a very popular spot for sports, especially Sunday mornings. Unfortunately, most of the expats in Solo are not early risers on Sunday mornings.
Solo Car Free Day – every Sunday from 6 – 9 AM Jl. Slamet Riyadi is closed for all cars and motorbikes and becomes a giant open air sports ground. There are several aerobic groups you can join for free and it has become a major social event with hundreds of people showing up and having fun.
Movies – Solo Grand Mall has a Grand21 four cinema multiplex, and the latest movies are not long behind Jakarta. Another is located in the Matahari Singosaren building. As the newest addition Empire XXI with 5 venues just opened in Solo Square.
Swimming – There are good pools at most of the big hotels. Sunan Hotel has a half Olympic, a paddlers and a middle-sized (sometimes) heated pool. Lor In has one of the most spectacular pools, with Jacuzzi/whirlpool that is well worth a visit. Sahid Kusuma has a large pool, but sometimes over chlorinated. Paragon Hotel and Apartments has a middle sized pool with a nice view over town. Agas has the hottest (temperature-wise) pool in town, but is often very crowded. In Solo Baru the Pandawa Water Amusement park has finally been opened after a quite long building period.
Massages – A very good Japanese acupressure massage you can get a Nakamura. There are several outlets, at Solo Grand Mall, across from Pasar Legi, one at Goro Assalam and at Plasa Solo Baru.
Timezone – For those with small kids, a desire to ride motorbike simulators and a lot of money to waste, Timezone has 2 locations – Solo Grand Mall and Solo Paragon.
Walking – There are very nice walks in the 3 mountains surrounding Solo. Merapi and Merbabu to the west have various trails to their summits. Mt Lawu to the east has summit trails, as well as the popular Candi Sukuh to Tawangmangu hike (about 2-3 hours), and Candi Cetho to Candi Sukuh (4-5 hours). Cool pine forests, spectacular views and tiny mountain villages. Pity about the sore feet.
White Water Rafting – best in the wet season, otherwise there is a lot of paddling. There are 2 businesses based in Mendut near Borobudur temple, 1½ hours from Solo. They are both very professional, with experienced raft captains, proper helmets and life jackets etc. The 4 separate voyages are of varying degrees of screamingness; the easier ones are good for kids.
Canoeing - During the raining season the Gunung Canoe Club organizes canoeing trips every second Saturday, for information and booking contact Michael 0815 4841 8500 or Steve 0812 2680 749.
Solo Hash House Harriers – the local chapter has been increasingly active in the last time, organizes a hash ever second Saturday (alternating to the canoe club outings) meet at Parfour at 3.15 or look up the run location in the actual newsletter.
Solo together with Yogya is one of the two main centers of Javanese culture and tradition. Thanks to ISI - Institut Seni Indonesia, Solo’s well know art school and Taman Budaya Jawa Tengah, the local art center, there is a very rich cultural life in Solo. Mainly for dance, traditional and contemporary, Solo is leading in Indonesia.
Venues for frequent dance performances are:
Taman Budaya Jawa Tengah, Jl. Ir Sutami 75, Kentingan
Unfortunately their PR is not that professional, so sometimes it is difficult to know when performances are taking place – best is to drop in from time to time and see the posters at the black board in front of the theater at Taman Budaya.
Wayang Orang – the traditional theater form showing scenes from the Mahabharata and Ramayana using human actors instead of shadow puppets. There are performances on Monday – Saturday 08 PM at Sriwidari Park next to Jl. Slamet Riyadi.
Wayang Kulit – once a month, on malam Jumat Kliwon, according to the traditional Javanese calendar, there is a Wayang Kulit performance at the Pendopo of Taman Budaya. It starts at 9 PM and goes until around 4 AM the next morning. Note: malam Jumat Kliwon means that the event is on the evening before, as traditionally the day already starts at 6 PM in the evening!
Traditional Art Performances – on the 26th. every month, 8 PM at SMKI Surakarta – High school for Performing Arts, Jl. Sangihe, Kepatihan Wetan
Traditional Dance - every Wednesday morning from 9:30 until about mid-day the dancers of Soeryo Soemirat, the classical Javanese dance school that is part of the Mangkunegaran palace, rehearse Javanese court dances in the Pendopo accompanied by the meditative sounds of the royal gamelan orchestra. The palace is on Jalan Ronggowarsito (just hop into a becak and say Mangkunegaran!) The palace has three entrances and if you are on foot or becak you can get in from the west, east, and south. If you arrive by car, drive in through the eastern entrance. The pendopo is in the central courtyard; you cannot miss it. Watching the dance rehearsals is free and open to anyone. If you are interested in a guided tour of the palace, there are English, German, Dutch and Japanese speaking guides available who will show you around for a small fee.
Solos well loved mayor, Joko Widodo has made it his personal mission to promote Solo as a cultural and tourist center, and so he is putting a lot of energy into creating special events to support his issue. There are regular special themed, very colorful carnivals along Slamet Riyadi, like Batik Carnival, Wayang Orang Carnival etc.
Every two years there is Solo International Ethnic Music Festival and alternating Solo International Performance Art Festival, both are 3 – 4 days long art events featuring local and international programs. Information and schedules about all this events can be obtained at the Solo Tourist Office (Yes, there is actually something like this!) at Jl. Slamet Riyadi next to Radya Pustaka Museum. There you can also get all kind of brochures and city maps.
Life in Solo changed a couple of years ago with the opening of Solo Grand Mall, and a few months later Solo Square. These are both located on Jl Slamet Riyadi, the main street. The latest addition to modern shopping experience being the recently opened Paragon Mall integrated with the Paragon Apartment and Hotel Building.
It is still hard to get the following in Solo:
Clothes and shoes for people of larger size (most of us), though there are good tailors and cobblers in town.
Locally made, very competitive priced fresh cheese you can get from Keju Indrakila. They have nice Feta, Mozzarella, Mountain Cheese and some times even Camembert. Contact Novi Tel. 081329265213 for order and delivery
Locally made Bacon, Ham, Salami, South African Biltong (dried beef fillet) and smoked chicken wings you can get from Tamen Ijo Catering, Jl. Nusa Indah II Gang Asri No. 55, Perumanas Palur, contact 0271 825248 or 081329513423 for appointment and directions.
Solo Grand Mall is by most standards not so grand, but it is a mall, and as such has become the focal point and favorite haunt of every Solonese teenager. It is anchored by a Hypermart supermarket in the basement, a Matahari department store and numerous fast food stores such as KFC, Texas Chicken, Pizza Hut. Upstairs on the third floor is a reasonable food court, and the smaller fourth floor houses the Grand21 cinema complex and a large billiard hall. There is also a Breadtalk bakery on the ground floor with good cakes and reasonable bread.
Solo Square is also becoming more and more popular, although it is more upmarket then Solo Grand Mall. There is also a Hypermart supermarket and some of the best Chinese food in town according to some of the expert expats.
Solo Paragon Mall hosts a two floor Carrefour Department Store with a food and a non-food section, an ACE Hardware store, next to another, kind of overpriced, interior decoration store, the first official Apple Store in Solo and several rather glossy clothing stores.
Pasar Triwindu in Jl Diponegoro, newly renovated and relocated by Solo mayor Joko Widodo is famous for its “antiques” – bronzes, old batiks, glass jars, ceramics. Occasionally there really are some old things. Its open 10am to 3pm, 7 days a week and is a great way to spend a few hours. You are expected to bargain.
Pasar Klewer is one of the biggest batik markets in Indonesia, and therefore by extension the world. It is 2 stories of hot, crowded, cramped humanity. There are great bargains if you bargain – prices less than half of those in Jakarta and elsewhere.
Lotte, on the corner of Jl Bharangkara and Jl Veteran sells in bulk. It is less popular to a lot of Solonese because of its practice of “adding on” PPN (VAT tax) and cost of plastic bags. However, it does have some hard to get foodstuffs at reasonable prices.
Super Indo supermarket, the newest shopping addition in town features some imported food items (like Müsli) and is said to be nice and interesting for grocery shopping. Jl. Adi Sucipto No.98
Gramedia Bookstore on Jl Slamet Riyadi is a welcome new addition and by far the best source of books. They often hold art exhibitions in foyer of the old entrance building.
Solo is famous for his food, and for the fact that you can enjoy it 24 hours a day/7 days a week. There is a wide range of Indonesian and Chinese food, but western cuisine is kind of limited.
Javanese food – Rasa Mirasa on Jl Slamet Riyadi at Pabelan (on the western road in from Yogya), Resto Ramayana on Jl Imam Bonjol 49 (near Hotel Sahid Kusuma) or Pecel Solo on Jl Supomo.
Padang food – Sederhana on Jl Slamet Riyadi has nice Padang (West Sumatran) food. Minang Baru, across from the Novotel Hotel entrance. A proper restaurant with great, always fresh Padang food (although a bit more pricey than most warungs).
Chinese food – try Hi Lai, Jl Adi Sucipto on the way to the airport (expensive, but nice food and an amazing ceiling in the restaurant), Diamond on Jl Slamet Riyadi (big, medium priced), Rado on Jl Raya Solo Baru (small, but allegedly the best dimsum in Solo). My favorite, Tio Ciu, just around the corner from the Novotel on Slamet Riyadi has great food at very reasonable prices and the cheapest beer in town.
Indian Food – Manir’s Happy Restaurant, on Jl Hasanuddin has Indian food, cold beer, a computer hot spot and sports TV. On Tuesdays and Thursday nights there might be a small crowd interested in playing Backgammon.
Japanese Food – at Niagara Restaurant, 2nd floor of Solo Square. Quite good, not too expensive.
Italian food – O Solo Mio, Jl Slamet Riyadi right opposite Novotel. Look for the yellow gates, the yellow flags and the yellow becaks. Undoubtedly one of the best restaurants in Solo, with a full bar license, real wood oven pizzas, friendly and efficient staff and great food.
Seafood –a little tricky to find, Bale Padi is stuck way out in the padi fields in Baki, about 15 minutes south of Solo. Pick you fish, shrimp, squid or whatever, and the staff will grill, fry, barbeque to your taste. Ikan Bakar across Stadium Sriwedari on Slamet Riyadi has fresh grilled sea fish with a very nice sambal.
Sort of Western food – Bima Restaurant on the corner of Jl Slamet Riyadi and Jl Diponegoro has western type food and Indonesian food at very reasonable prices in smallish portions. It’s air-conditioned, fast service and a welcome respite after a hot trek through Pasar Triwindu antique market.
Western food – Parfour Restaurant & Grill on Slamet Riyadi across the street from Best Western Hotel. Especially the grilled ribs and imported meat dishes are raved about. The restaurant at Novotel Hotel has also very good western food. Their smorgasbord is good value.
Nightlife in Solo is pretty limited. Most of the expats who drink hang out at Cafe Parfour for beer and food & local pub atmosphere as well as Mama Titin’s, or Saraswati Bar at the Novotel. Check with W&M's Solo Newsletter as to what is going on. Manirs Happy Restaurant is great for chilling out and gets a good crowd for football, rugby, Formula 1 and Moto GP events, as it has nice sofas and big screen TV.
Dancing, Live Music, and Spirits
The best are The Bar at Novotel (soon to be renamed from "The Saraswati Bar") and Mushro dance club at the Sunan Hotel.
Mushro is at the Sunan Hotel. It is a small non-ventilated room so it can be a bit smoky at times. There is a party usually every Wednesday and some times on Fridays. Once in a while, there is a bigger event usually held in the ballroom. The crowd is mainly local and the bands mostly play pop and Indonesian music, DJ stuff (house music), drinks are on the expensive side.
Stardust - Located on the left side of Jl. Radjiman in between Matahari Singosaren and the first round about when you are heading east. There is live music, dancing and spirits. It has mostly a local crowd with drink prices that are a bit expensive but can be fun with a good group.
Cafe Bola - Located behind PGS at the end of Slamet Riyadi. Have live bands and DJ events with a small area for dancing, dark lighting, beer and spirits. It mostly has a local crowd and is a nice spot for listening to good music if you do not like big crowds.
Hai Lai - Is located on Jl. Adisucipto just beside Fajar Indah community. Karaoke is available here and also a bar for live music nightly (Bands or DJ's). Beer and Spirits are slightly more expensive and there is a mostly local/Chinese crowd.
Lor Inn Hotel - on Jl. Adisucipto just past the new AMPM on the south side of the street. Hosts visiting DJ's and dance parties only.
Sriwedari - Located on Slamet Riyadi nearly straight across from AMPM with a large stage in the "amusement park". Hosts bands ranging from rock, pop, classic rock to dangdut. Local crowd but a lot of space and breathing area.
Bamboo - just north east of Manahan Stadium, one large room with a stage, dance floor, and large area of tables for sitting. Local crowd and mostly plays dangdut music. Possible to meet female company
Legend - near Pasar Gede, smaller than bamboo but similar in style. Usually has a DJ. Local crowd and mostly plays dangdut music.
AMPM has two locations: Slamet Riyadi & Adisucipto - For late-nighters; opens 24 hours and have beer, food, and also live music from 9:00pm until 12:30am daily with a good mix of expats and locals.
Diamond Cafe - on Slamet Riyadi just west of Solo Grand Mall on the north side of the street. This is a Chinese restaurant/hotel open 24 hours a day; serves dim sum, juices, beer, tea, Chinese food, wine and features 2 flat screen TV's where you can watch late night football or movies. The cafe is very clean and has good service.
Rockets - on Jl Dr Rajiman on the north side of the street just after the small round about when heading west from Matahari Singosaren and is before Hotel Baron. Live music 4 days a week and have beer, food, and Shisha for a fair price with a decent choice of flavours. The beer is usually served in pitchers but bottles are available upon request at a more expensive price. It has mostly a local crowd and often shows televised sports on a projector screen.
Coffee lighter - Student hang out cafe located practically on the campus of ISI University, it is open late and if you ask for permission first and drink discretely you may bring your own alcohol and enjoy local company and televised sports.
***Note: If you like singing, you are more then welcome to make requests and also sing with the bands at all of these locations that play live music.
Happy Puppy - located on the ground floor on the east side of Solo Square (entrance is from the outside), clean with a large song list in many languages and beer available.
Inul Vista - located on the 2nd floor of Solo Square and quite similar to Happy Puppy.
Nav - located in Pasar Gede area and slightly cheaper (per hour and beer) than Happy Puppy and Inul Vista but does not have as large of a western music selection.
Balkon - located on the 3rd floor of Solo Square has nice tables, good ball service, food and beverage, beer, average ventilation and plays a variety of house, pop, and Indonesian music. There is a tournament on Sundays with a RP15, 000 entry fee with a fair amount of prize money if you make it past the 3rd round.
*There is often a waiting list here if you arrive after 7:00pm
Masse - located in the Pasar Gede area, run by the same owner as Balkon, slightly bigger than Balkon as it has 3 floors, so there is rarely a waiting list in the evening.
Special thanks to Johnny for the Nightlife section!
Housing is extremely varied, and expats are scattered widely over the city. Most expats rent, though a few of the more established residents with local wives have bought or built their own houses. Renting is comparatively much, much cheaper. At the Colomadu Sugar Mill out near the airport there are some huge and magnificent old mansions built by the Dutch a million years ago. They have enormous grounds, and are a challenge to renovate, but where else in the world could you rent almost an acre for under US$4000 per annum. Solo Baru to the south has a lot of modern one and two storied modern places for rent – usually in the US$2,000-4,000 range. Nice medium size local houses run at about US$1000-2000 per annum. Rental is usually paid in full and in advance for the whole rental period. You can get a room only for about $40 per month, but it’s very small. Solo is very cheap.
Medical facilities are quite good, with Dr Oen Hospital, one in Solo Baru and a second one at Kandung Sapi being the most popular. It has nice garden vistas, and friendly staff. There is a very good orthopedic hospital. For more serious problems, we usually go to Singapore, Bangkok or home to our own countries.
At Budi Sehat near Pasar Legi you can get a wide range of analysis and it also serves as a Policlinic with all kind of specialized doctors.
Dentistry is both good quality and a fraction of the cost of western countries. Dr Bambang, Dr Shirley and Dr Christine are three who have very modern facilities. There are a number of good optometrists around Alun Alun Lor, and glasses and contact lenses are extremely cheap.
Indonesia Airport Services can assist you and your friends, family and colleagues on their arrival at the airport in Solo. We meet them off the airplane, can pre-purchase their VOA, and will then fast-track them through immigration to a chauffeured car or their hotel rep.
Provides news and information about events in Solo, particularly those that are of interest to expats and their friends. The W&M's Solo Newsletter comes out once a week, usually on Fridays. It lists all the coming events of interest to expats in Solo, summarizes events that have just happened, and is a forum for discussion and debate.
From time to time there are advertisements or requests for help from various members. It is 100% free to anyone who is interested. At present we have a mailing list of 80+ and growing fast.
To subscribe, write to Michael at firstname.lastname@example.org
The last two month's editions of the newsletter can be view on the W&M's Solo Newsletter website.
A story from an expat family who lives in Solo
Newcomers – One Year On
We left Yogya after the earthquake in 2006, house gone, business gone, nerve all but gone, certainly very broke, not much to hang onto except a chance to earn some commissions from some friendly factory owners with whom I had worked before. Sink or swim, to stay in Indonesia or to go, that was the question.
Solo was the choice because one of us had to work in Yogya and the other had to get to Salatiga.
Finding a house wasn’t that easy, we are a bit quirky and prefer older houses with character and there are lots of these in Solo but nothing seemed to be for rent, we got pretty desperate and accepted a house which was totally wrong for us, paid for it stupidly before checking the plumbing, which turned out to be really furred up, the landlords idea of fixing it was to run ugly plastic pipes all around the place. We started to realize that properties here seem less likely to be advertised or have a ‘to rent’ sign on them, and the best policy was to just ask if a house seemed empty. The Solopos has a regular section for renting but the best way is word of mouth.
That was how we found our lovely old place out at Colomadu near the airport, a rambling Old Dutch style house belonging to the sugar factory with a huge garden. Like idiots we fell in love with it and went through the pain of renovating it to an acceptable standard. The place had nothing left inside, no door handles no toilets no light switches, it had been stripped bare! It had been empty for a good few years, and was knee deep in some pretty unspeakable stuff.
We found a local guy to do the garden and our beloved housekeeper who has been with us for 13 years started coming from Yogya 4 days a week by bus, because she refused to sleep in the house as it was too full of ghosts for her taste.
Having lived in Yogya for so long we always thought that Solo was a bit scary, during the 1998 troubles Solo had been in the news more than Yogya and seemed to have more than it’s fair share of angry extremists. More buildings had been burned and stories abounded around Yogya of how difficult it was in Solo.
We have discovered that image to be far from the truth, the people in Solo go about their religious and civic lives in a perfectly normal, reasonable way.
Additionally the very first time we went out shopping we couldn’t believe how un-molested we were, no one said ‘Hello Mister’ no one tried to get us to go and see a ‘Batik Exhibition’ and the becak drivers are totally laidback compared to Yogya. Even our first sortie into the more obviously touristy area near the Kraton was a delight, no one seemed to pay any attention, the wurungs were a delight and the local people seemed content to let whosoever wander around and do their own thing without comment. It’s more anonymous. The Antique Market at Triwindu is as near as it gets to being pushy, but after all they are there to sell, and if you think about Bali and Yogya or Surabaya Street in Jakarta it’s downright relaxed.
Compared to Yogya the traffic is a lot less hectic, mainly as there are less student on motorbikes.
The history and culture of the city has such depth that it is an endless fascination. We feel that here in Solo we are really in Old Java, tradition here seems impervious to outside influence and less self conscious. We are converted Solo-ites now, we really enjoy the city, there may be less restaurants and places designed for Ex-pats, but the places we tend to hang out in are very comfortable and easy going. The Ex-pat community that we have met are very friendly, amusing ordinary people, unpretentious and genuinely desirous of helping each other and the community. When the Solo Expats Association was first suggested it was as a means of exchanging information and welcoming new comers, supporting each other and each others families and also supporting various community projects within Solo to help the local population understand us, and to help us to understand them. We call that just being neighbourly.
Our first year in Solo has been probably one of the most enjoyable of all our years in Indonesia, even after the traumatic start we can honestly say that we’ve made more friends, had more laughs and felt more relaxed living in Solo that just about anywhere, which is amazing coming from a Brit and a Yank who find it hard enough just living with each other!
The Soviks. Colomadu, Solo
Our thanks to Michael Micklem, Mo Woodgate, Nord Sovik, Steve Beeson, and Norman Masters of Solo for providing this information on Expat Living in Solo - September 2007.
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