Makassar in a Day

Having been born in this archipelago nation which counts thousands of islands as its territory, the number of which I have set foot upon can be counted by my two hands (or maybe just one…) Well, for some reason I got the chance to add one more to my list, even though for a brief stop of a night. My father will be attending a Cocoa Association meeting in Makassar or what is previously known as Ujung Pandang, a city located in the southern part of Sulawesi or Celebes Island. Celebes is one of the major producing regions of cocoa in Indonesia, and is also famous for the Toraja Coffee beans. That being said, the city has also risen to fame recently for being the hometown of Indonesia’s previous vice-president Jusuf Kalla.

Inside Makassar's Sultan Hasanuddin Airport
Inside Makassar’s Sultan Hasanuddin Airport

With its easterly location, Makassar follows the Indonesian eastern time which means it is one hour ahead of Jakarta. Having expected a small town, I was pleasantly suprised to see the urban sprawl upon the plane’s descent into Makassar, and was able to appreciate the development of the city bounded by the Jeneberang River in the South, the Makassar Strait on the west coast of the city and mountainous regions to the east. Landing at the airport in Makassar brought a second pleasant greeting which is the new and modern terminal building of the Sultan Hasanuddin International Airport.

The well lit concourse has a central area with a large banner showing a welcome by the governor and mayor of the city and province as well as a scale model of the traditional sea-faring boat of the Bugis people. Well placed signs and the neat organization of the shops selling knick-knacks also add to the ‘international’ moniker of this airport, though it has to be said that the international departure area consists only of one waiting gate and a makeshift immigration counter at the opposite end of the terminal where our plane landed. I do think there is some kind of international service to Malaysia. The airport generally feels welcoming and comfortable, even upon exiting the baggage claim area into the passenger meeting point, a stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of Soekarno-Hatta. At least we know some governments in Indonesia has done its job. Similar to Jakarta though was how the airport taxis work, operating on a flat fare for a journey into the city centre. The drive from the airport to the city took around half an hour though, passing through a highway toll. This was the third suprise for I didn’t expect a well paved highway, and it really showed the investments by the province into the area’s infrastructure. Our lodging for the night was in Clarion Hotel, which has a large conference facility and is one of the largest hotels in the city. The drawback of staying here, though is the relative distance to the downtown where most of the sights are located at. Check in was fast and efficient for such a hotel and while not spotless clean, it was adequate and good enough for 2 persons to stay in.

Clarion Hotel Twin Bed
Clarion Hotel Twin Room

Being one of the taller buildings in the area as well as its vantage location atop a mound, the views from the hotel room provided fantastic coverage of the city. Since we had an appointment for lunch, we headed out in a taxi towards the restaurant close to the waterfront of Makassar. Turns out the taxi driver didn’t really knew where the restaurant was and we had to drive around the neighbourhood up to 3 times before he found the Restaurant Bahari which is located along Jalan Yosef Latumahina. Through our numerous turns, we also passed by the entrance to the Tanjung Bunga development on Makassar’s waterfront as well as the Losari Beach, one of the points of interest in Makassar. The restaurant has distinguished itself by being one of the venues which hosted Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on his trip to Makassar, and certainly has a variety of fish and seafood on offer with different cooking styles, including grilled, fried and served with spices. One interesting fish we got to see was a boxfish, which had a slightly cubical body and had a tough skin layer with a sea-bass like texture. The meat was slightly less compared to other fishes they had on offer and did not really fill the stomach though the other fishes they served was suprisingly good! Overall a nice clean restaurant that I would recommend visitors head to for authentic Makassar seafood.

Tanjung Bunga Development
Entrance to Tanjung Bunga Development
Boxfish amongst the other seafood available in Rumah Makan Bahari

After the great lunch, the cocoa traders returned to the Association’s offices for their meeting while I went to see more of the city by heading to the top place of interest in Makassar – Fort Rotterdam. Initially built by the Kingdom of Gowa in the 15th century, the fort was taken over by the Dutch during its colonization of Indonesia. The Dutch altered the rectangular fort architecture, altering it to a slightly pentagonal fort. It is also infamous for holding Pangeran Diponegoro, a prince of Java captive. There is no entrance fee for visitors to enter the fort, though they will be requested to write their name down on a visitor guest book. Inside the fort, one can find a vast central courtyard with the Museum La Galigo housed in the buildings on the eastern and western wing. There is an entrance fee to both wings of the Museum, though there really isn’t much to explore within. Inside the museum, one can find a showcase of artifacts from India, China and Japan extracted from sea beds in the Makassar strait, indicating the prominence of the Kingdom of Gowa for the spice trade. On the upper level, there are interesting exhibits on the rooms and chambers during the Kingdom of Gowa and charts showing the kingdom hierarchy. The second wing of the Museum which lies to the right of the entrance has exhibits on the boats used by the Bugis people, showing their seafaring capability which allowed them to control much of the spice trade in the region, and thus allowing the Kingdom to flourish. In addition, there are showcases on how the people in Celebes used to mine for gold in the region, a practice which has continued to this day.

Central Courtyard of Fort Rotterdam
Central Courtyard of Fort Rotterdam or Benteng Ujung Pandang
Souvenir Stand in the Fort
Souvenir Stand inside the Fort

While I found the Museum to be lacking in noteworthy exhibits, the fort was a great visit nonetheless, as it was still well preserved allowing one to appreciate the architecture of that era. Visitors were also able to walk along the fort walls linking the guard towers. It is where I find some of the nicest views out across into the sea. It is also one of the spots where visitors can find lovers sitting down side by side and youngsters chilling out for the sea breeze in the afternoon. That is because right opposite the fort is a beach and wharf from where visitors can take a boat to Samalona Island, a tropical beach paradise with crystal clear waters suitable for snorkelling. I left the fort for the waterfront, and was frankly disappointed with the rubbish littering the beach along with an abandoned oil tanker. And along the other side of the wharf, lies the hulking container port of Makassar. Along the wharf lies a recreation spot with several restaurant outlets and cafes for people to hang out and for those on a budget, street stalls selling local snacks like Coto Makassar and fresh coconut makes up the crowd. It is easy to catch a trishaw ride from the opposite of the fort for those keen on a trip around the city.

Ruins of Fort Rotterdam
Ruins of Fort Rotterdam
Boats to Samalona
Wharf opposite the Fort Rotterdam lined with boats that will ferry visitors to Samalona Island

Around the wharf and Benteng Ujung Pandang are the main city centre of Makassar, with a vibrant Chinatown lined by gold shops along one of the streets as well as a well-organized and neat container shipt port, a rarity in Indonesia. This area is also the main commercial district in Makassar and is also home to several government buildings and institutions such as the Radio Republik Indonesia. Down the road along the waterfront are several nice tourist hotels including the Hotel Golden Makassar, one of the oldest and well maintained international hotel in the city. Vistors can peek into the waterfront promenade inside the hotel for a nice view of Makassar’s waterfront. On the way back to Clarion Hotel which is located a distance away from the waterfront, I passed by several large beautiful mosques, with magnificent minarets gracing the four corners. This shows the prosperity of this province, and made for a memorable evening!

Street Scene in Makassar
Street Scene in Makassar

It was time for a refreshing shower to end the evening after the sweaty walk and I have to say the Clarion Hotel is far from perfect in terms of accomodation, though it was clean enough for the average traveller. The hotel though provided a great skyline of the town during sunset while I ordered for my room service since Dad won’t be joining me for dinner and I wasn’t too keen on further exploration of the city. One of my favourite Indonesian cuisine is actually Soto Ayam or Yellow Chicken Soup made with Indonesian herbs and spices. In Makassar, their specialty is Coto Makassar – a near similar pronounciation. As expected both dishes have similar soup base, though Coto Makassar is made up of beef and its gizzards. I ordered one of this specialty for room service along with a platter of chicken wings and after the meal, I personally preferred the Soto Ayam which my Mum usually prepares at home.

Lion Air 737-900ER to Jakarta
Flying budget Lion Air back to Jakarta

The next morning, we still had some time to spare before our afternoon flight back to Jakarta via Lion Air. With some of the locals from the Cocoa trade association, we first visited a local coffee shop for breakfast, and this was even after our breakfast buffet in the hotel. I was definitely suprised to find that the locals in Makassar actually hangs out in the morning in Hainanese style coffee shops drinking the kind of coffees found in Ya Kun in Singapore, along with what else but Kaya Toast and half-boiled eggs. The breakfast in the coffee shop was also a chance for coffee traders to catch up with each other for news and the latest prices in town. From the coffee shop, we proceeded towards the cocoa warehouses of Makassar, and the infrastructure of the toll road leading from the city centre and the port to the warehouses were impressive by Indonesia’s standards. The tidier organization and numerous warehouses around town showed the strength of the city’s cocoa industry and showed the way forward for city development across Indonesia. We got some time for lunch at a seafood restaurant close to the warehouses and feasted on more fried and grilled fish which was delicious! Overall the trip showed me that with proper development, cities in Indonesia can attract foreign investment, boost domestic industries and provide a vibrant growing economy for its large populace.


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