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Ambarawa, 28km south of Semarang, was once the site of a Japanese internment camp where up to 15,000 Europeans were held during WWII. Today it’s a market town that’s of interest to trainspotters as the site of the Ambarawa Train Station Museum, located in the premises of the old Koening Willem I station, which opened in 1873. Today’s museum has exhibits of rail memorabilia, old Morse code telegraph equipment and 21 steam locomotives built between 1891 and 1928.
Though the line has closed, groups of (up to 100) passengers can charter a train for the 18km round trip from Ambarawa to Bedono for 2,700,000Rp. Book through the Ambarawa train station as far in advance as you can. Between June and August, Dutch tourists charter a train several days a week, so it may be worth showing up and seeing if you can hitch a ride.
The museum is a couple of kilometres outside town, just off the road to Magelang. Ambarawa has hotels, but nearby Bandungan is a nicer place to stay.
Nestled in a 22-hectare coffee plantation at an altitude of 900m, the Mesa Stila Resort, formerly the Losari Coffee Plantation, is one of Indonesia’s most special (and expensive) hotels. The location, ringed by volcanoes, is sublime and commodious villas make the most of the stunning views. All sorts of themed spa packages are offered: from ‘de-stress and indulgence’ to ‘escapism’ that make the most of the outstanding spa and fitness facilities. There’s an organic garden that provides for the resort’s two restaurants, or you can sample the plantation’s organic tea and coffee in the historic Club House. It’s near Pingit village, some 12km southwest of Ambarawa. From Ambarawa, it’s best to take a taxi (40,000Rp) to the resort.
Ambarawa can be reached by public bus from Semarang (9000Rp, one hour), and Yogyakarta (32,000Rp, three hours) via Magelang.