24 Hours in Ambon, Indonesia

What do to?

08

June, 2018

Anastasia Pashkovetskaya

Tucked away far in the east of Indonesia, Ambon Island lies on the north side of the Banda Sea, part of a chain of volcanic islands, off the southwest coast of the larger Seram island. Today, Ambon is the Capital of the Maluku Islands (aka the Moluccas).  While avid naturists like David Attenborough travelled here in the 70s, this region isn’t particularly known to tourists. Today, Ambon serves as the gateway for those who seek to find adventure to the famous Banda Islands, Seram Island and even the Kei Islands.

Ambon Island

Interestingly, Seram, Ambon, and most of Maluku are part of Wallacea, the group of Indonesian islands that are separated by deep water from both the Asian and Australian continents and have never been linked to the continents by land. Wild areas of Ambon Island are covered by tropical rainforest. This is the birthplace of incredible wildlife, including the legendary Bird of Paradise. Once upon a time, this was also the only place on the planet where the Nutmeg and Cloves grew. Indeed, these spices, were once more valuable than gold to the ship faring nations of colonial Europe. The Spice Islands were a place sought by many captains, both under nations’ and pirate flags. But more on those later…

Unfortunately, I cannot recommend Ambon as a destination in itself. In my opinion, the benefits of civilization and city life have largely swallowed what was once Ambon Manise. However, if you are on your way to Seram or the Banda Islands and you will have a day or two to spare. Here is what I recommend you to do.

THINGS TO DO IN AMBON

 

Visit the food Market

Not far from the city center, you’ll find a huge traditional market selling everything from fruits and vegetables to meat and fish. The market is a kaleidoscope of colors, textures and smells. Watch traders carefully dusting off the dirt collected between the spikes of durian fruit, or better yet, how they use a machete the pry it open and extract the white flesh. Bargain for a piece of fresh-caught fish at the fishmonger, or try the local delicacy of sundried fish. Buy a dragon fruit, a papaya and enjoy it later with a sprinkle of lime. Tucked inside the smaller streets, you will find stalls selling clothing including pieces made from traditional batik.

“Ambon, and most of Maluku are part of Wallacea, the group of Indonesian islands that are separated by deep water from both the Asian and Australian continents and have never been linked to the continents by land”

Taste a Rujak

Rujak is a famous Indonesian dish that sits somewhere between a fruit salad and a peanut curry. It is sold in traditional marketplaces, warungs or travelling gerobak pushcart by locals. Other than referring to the dish, the term rojak also means “eclectic mix” in colloquial Malay.

The rujak buah (fruit rujak) is made by crushing peanuts with sugarcane sugar, chili pepper and mixing in a selection of tropical fruit –most of which, I have to confess, I don’t know the name of.

It’s sweet, spicy, tangy and very filling!

It is trully Enak! (read: delicious in Indonesian)

Women selling dried fish at the food market

Fresh spices

Ride a Bemos

Bemos are public transport minivans, running pre-determined routes up and down the island. It is a popular form of transport for locals and an experience in itself if you’re a foreigner. There are no fixed stops, so you just flag one down in the street.

Usually they are lime green, with electro music blaring through the open doors and windows. Look at the sign on top of the bus to make sure it’s the route you want. Get in, find a spot and enjoy the view. Let the driver know when you want to get out by saying “minggir”. Each ride costs IDR 3,000 for in-town route and you pay when you get out.

 

Go see the Ring Makers

Tucked away behind one of the main avenues in the city center is a small street where you will find artisan ring-makers who sit along side the road cutting and polishing stones to fit them into a setting of your choice. While the designs might not be everyone’s cup of tea, it’s a really interesting process to observe. To find this little street, go to the city centre where all the shopping is and ask locals for directions.

 

Go Sightseeing

History and culture buffs should head to see the World Peace Gong that was installed in the city center to commemorate the ethnic riots between Christians and Muslims that happened in Ambon between 1996 – 2002. Some say the landmark looks better at night lit up by the lights and there is a small museum under the gong displaying historical pictures. You may want to add this to your Wold Peace Gongs list, especially if you have seen the ones in China, Switzerland and Hungary.

Another famous landmark is the 8-meter tall statue of Martha Christina Tiahahu – a national heroine who fought against the Dutch colonial government. Born to a military captain, she was active in military matters from a young age. After being captured at 17, she was released on account of her age. She continued to fight, was captured again and sent off to Java to be a slave labourer.  She fell ill on the way and died on a ship in the Banda Sea. The statue is a symbol of appreciation and a legacy of this brave young woman.

Tour Ambon’s Many Beaches

This is last on my list because I found the beaches and waters in Ambon to be sub-par in comparison to the waters around Banda Islands. Due to the fact that this is very much a city, there is a lot of pollution, including rivers of plastic that float endlessly in the sea. In spite of this there are still many interesting beaches. One of my favourite is the forsaken Dutch resort next to Collin Beach on the outskirts of the city. It’s an eerie remnant of the colonial luxuries that has been worn down by the elements and lack of care.

There is also the Huluwa Beach, punctuated by natural swimming pool and Bonsai Trees. It’s said that these bonsai trees are decades, or even hundreds of years.

Point to note: Ambon is a largely Muslim island and it is customary for women to wear modest clothing and a headscarf. If you’re a woman, wear long skirts or pants when out and about in the city. Inevitably, you will attract attention because visitors are rare, but you will feel more comfortable in conservative clothes while also being respectful to local custom.

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