We didn't originally plan to go to Bandung; however we discovered that all trains and buses from Jakarta to Jogjakarta were booked up and didn't really want to stay any longer in Jakarta so made a quick decision to head to Bandung instead, and subsequently move from there to Jogjakarta.
There really isn't much to say about Bandung itself – it's a quiet, slightly grim mid-sized city with nothing of real interest in it apart from a mall with a food court (which included a Texas Chicken restaurant which we both enjoyed for different reasons). Our guidebook had informed us however, that only 40 minutes away from Bandung was a volcano that we could visit and that from the volcano there was a lovely scenic walk back towards the city via a tea house. It sounded like a nice day-trip, but unfortunately it wasn't quite as straightforward as it sounded.
The journey to the Tangkuban Prahu volcano took nearer 4 hours than 30 minutes. We were expecting to take two buses, however each bus we took dropped us off earlier than we had asked and paid to be dropped off meaning that it actually took us 3 buses and a short walk to get to the entrance. Each time we were told to disembark it took us some time to establish exactly where we were and then to negotiate a new fare with other bus drivers who seemed well aware that we were stuck in Nowheresville and therefore had very little leverage to negotiate a decent price.
When we finally arrived at the entrance to the park we passed a long line of cars queuing to enter and some hawkers selling face masks, paid the relatively high entrance fee and, in the absence of any buses willing to take us began the walk up to the first crater (we had agreed with our final bus driver that he would take us to the top of the volcano but he subsequently changed his mind which resulted in an argument and a partial refund). The walk up the road was extremely unpleasant; the weather was hot, the road was steep and had no sidewalk, we were constantly being passed by traffic and it quickly became apparent that the reason for people wearing face masks was not due to the fumes from the craters but the fumes from the hundreds of vehicles driving up to the top of the volcano. It appeared to us that the park was run with little regard for protecting the local environment using funds raised from visitors.
We were extremely relieved when we arrived at the entrance to the first crater, the Domas Crater, however our experience was about to get worse. As we attempted to start the walk to the crater a security guard stopped us and informed us that we had to employ a guide to visit the crater and that the fee for a guide was 3 times the price we had each already paid for entering the park. This was clearly not right. We had been informed when purchasing our ticket that we could visit both craters and either we had been mislead about what our ticket entitled us to see or, more likely, the security guard was in cahoots with the local guides and seeking to extort money from us. We informed the security guard as much, however he became aggressive and prevented us from passing, referring us to a piece of paper on the wall which supported what he was telling us (as if by printing out a typed statement it somehow made their extortion legitimate) and refusing to adopt any form of logical reasoning. We had been messed around too much on this trip already to let this lie and so we marched (it was either a march or a stomp, and possibly a combination of the two) back down to the park entrance, identified who was in charge and insisted that either we were given a full refund or we were accompanied back to the crater entrance. After some discussion we were driven back up to the crater and allowed to enter without paying a further fee; frustratingly both the security guard and the park manager refused to acknowledge that we had been lied to despite accepting that it was not, in fact, necessary for us to instruct a guide. Grrrrrrrr! It was an unpleasant flashback to the corruption with which we had become familiar in India (Monique hypothesised that it might be something to do with the common “Ind” in the names. Perhaps a future trip to Indiana will prove or disprove her theory).
With half of the day already gone we accepted that we were not going to have time to do the scenic tea house walk described in our guidebook, and therefore should try to make the most out of the volcano. The short walk to the first crater was straightforward (presumably had we instructed a guide he would have said helpful things like “continue along the path” followed by “this is the crater” that would inevitably have enhanced the experience) and we cheered ourselves up by purchasing a fantastic wooden tiger carved by a local man. The crater itself was pretty cool – it wasn't particularly pretty to look at, however we had completely free-reign to explore the various steaming pools of bubbling water. The sulfurous fumes made the experience a little smelly, however I really enjoyed exploring the strange rock formations and getting really close to the bubbling pools. It was actually possible to buy an egg and use a net to lower it into the hottest pool to boil it, however the pervasive smell of egg from the fumes put us off the idea.
Monique even sat with her feet in one of the cooler (although still pretty hot) pools and made friends with some Indonesian tourists.
We then made our way up a steep path to the main crater. The area immediately around the main crater seemed to be a popular hangout for the local people as it was crowded and full of stalls and not particularly pleasant, however the crater itself was great. I find physical geography really interesting and had always wanted to see a volcano up close, and we were able to stand right at the edge of the crater and look down into it. Again, it wasn't the prettiest of sights, but certainly impressive in terms of scale and what it was we were witnessing. Tangkuban Perahu is classed as dormant, however it last erupted as recently as 1983 and the steady stream of smoke from the crater suggested that there was plenty of activity still going on not far from the surface.
By the time we had made our way around the accessible part of the crater in search of the best views (and stopped to eat some amazing strawberries) the park was due to close so we headed out. Thankfully the journey back was far more straightforward as we paid a couple of young guys to take us on their motorbikes to the town where we knew we could take one bus straight back to Bandung.
It had been an extremely long and frustrating day, however what we had seen made it worthwhile. Knowing what I know now (i.e. that Indonesia has far more impressive volcanoes that can be visited in a far more pleasant manner) I wouldn't recommend a visit to Bandung and the Tangkuban Perahu volcano, however the stop had served its purpose – we had gotten out of Jakarta, were a few hours closer to Jogjakarta where we hoped our time in Indonesia would become much more enjoyable, and we had seen some pretty interesting stuff in the process.