A former Dutch colony, Semarang is situated smack-dab in the middle of Java's northern coast and is a mainstay on Indonesian cruise circuits for its gateway access to the superlative UNESCO-protected Buddhist site at Borobudur. A bustling city of more than 1.5 million people, this steamy Indonesian port has an atmospheric Dutch-colonial historic quarter, a traditional Chinatown, and a fast-developing cityscape of mega-malls and high rises — all serving its large Javanese and ethnic Chinese population.
What We Love
Sam Poo Kong Temple: Also known as Gedung Batu, this massive, pagoda-roofed temple complex in Chinatown, with roots dating back to the 15th century, attracts multidenominational practitioners and visitors who come to admire its many shrines, carvings, and statues.
Gereja Blenduk: This mid-18th-century Dutch domed church — notable for its large cupola, baroque organ, and unique wooden pulpit — is well worth a look.
Best Known For
Borobudur: One of the standout architectural heritage sites in all of Southeast Asia, this behemoth Buddhist temple complex — the largest Buddhist monument in the world — is 60 miles inland from Semarang. The craftsmanship of its bell-shaped spires, dating back to around 800 A.D., is mesmerizing, as is its transporting setting amid palm trees, rice paddies, and soaring volcanic peaks.
Lawang Sewu: This elegant early-20th-century colonial landmark has a long and fascinating history: It served as headquarters of the Dutch East Indies Railway Company, and later as a Japanese interrogation camp and prison (it's even said to be haunted).
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Who It's Best For
Culture Lovers and History Buffs: With noteworthy historical landmarks and multiculturalism aplenty, Semarang is an enriching and educational port.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
Don't Miss All-Aboard: A trip to Borobudur — the one must-see attraction in this port — can take up to three hours one-way, when factoring in traffic jams. Do yourself a favor and stick to the cruise line-led excursion to avoid the stress of worrying about not making it back to port on time.
Elissa Garay is a Brooklyn-based contributor to ShermansCruise who also writes for Condé Nast Traveler and Travel + Leisure.