Don’t believe it when they tell you there’s nothing to do in Surabaya. There’s at least four, yes, FOUR things to do in Surabaya with the kids other than the malls. I know, it doesn’t sound like much but at least despite our 2 week-long trip we managed to entertain the boys and I didn’t die trying to come up with a new version of twinkle-twinkle little star. The rap version was hard enough.
Our 4 Favorite Places to Visit in Surabaya
1. Monumen Kapal Selam (Monkasel) /Submarine Museum
This is a submarine museum similar to those you would find in most ports in the US. The original Russian submarine was purchased by Indonesia in 1962 and it was used during the campaign to force the Dutch out of the Irian Jaya. The submarine is kept in surprisingly good condition and it even has working AC. For 5,000 rupiahs per adult you have access to the submarine itself, a small museum and a short film about the history of the submarine. The submarine is quite large compared to others we’ve been in and Evan loved looking at the hatches and lying in the beds. The place was empty when we got there so we were able to stay in each of the areas of the submarine for as long as we wanted. We didn’t really go inside the museum or watch the film but I think Evan was really impressed by the size of the submarine and he kept yelling “big boat” as he was pointing at it. The tour took about half an hour at the most, since we were looking at every switch and room, but you could probably check it out in less than 10 minutes. In any case, I do think it’s worth visiting and for less than 1 USD, why not?
2. House of Sampoerna
This old Dutch building used to house an Orphanage in the early 1860’s. After it was purchased in the 1930’s by the founder of the Sampoerna cigarette company it became the biggest cigarette factory in Surabaya. One of the biggest attractions is to watch a thousand ladies hand-roll cigarettes at amazing speeds. You will also find a small museum and a very good café and art gallery. Evan was especially piqued by the old bikes, motorcycles and carts and we all enjoyed a very good and very reasonably priced lunch at their café.
The House of Sampoerna is the headquarter of the Surabaya Heritage Track. This is a free sightseeing tour around Old Surabaya in a very nice tram. A tour guide points out and describes the most important historical buildings in the city in very decent English and we get to enjoy a nice ride around the city for free! It makes two stops: one in the Surabaya Tourist Information Office and the second at the Cultural Center where you will occasionally be able to see music and dance performances. Both Evan and Josh loved riding on the tram and were very attentively looking out the window. They both made very good friends in the tram and it seemed like everyone wanted to hold them and take pictures of them. Although the tour is free, you need to make a reservation beforehand for any of the three departure times 9:00 AM, 1:00PM or 3:00PM.
This is a very lively street full of food stalls and bazaars. Although this is not an attraction itself it is a very nice place to visit and walk around in. You can find descent food and in general and very nice ambiance. We went there in the early evening so it was not too crowded. We heard that this is a very popular place later at night and that its bars and restaurants are always packed. We found a small coffee shop were we had dinner and we really enjoyed sitting down and looking out the street at the people walking by. It was nice to finally find a place where you can actually walk outdoors. G-Walk is located between Pakuwon Super Mall and Ciputra Golf.
4. Surabaya Zoo
You’ve probably read about the giraffe that died at a zoo in Indonesia because it ate a plastic bag, well this is the zoo where it happened. Granted, this is not the best zoo and it is definitely not kept in top condition but it was still something nice to do and a good break from hotel life. The entrance fee is only 5,000 rupiahs per person. I truly wish they charged more so the animals could be kept in more decent conditions.
Evan especially enjoyed feeding the birds with peanuts we bought at the zoo entrance for 10,000 rupiahs and he loved riding a carriage pulled by a camel (5,000 per person). He later rode a horse with a very nice zoo keeper who wouldn’t charge for the ride but was glad to accept a tip of 10, 000 rupiahs for giving Evan small tour around the food court area.
We watched an animal show where a bear rode a bicycle, and pelicans danced around. Both Evan and Joshua were scared to see the animals so close to them so we left shortly after the show started. Again, the main attraction was my kids. Everybody wanted to touch them and take pictures of them. A pregnant lady started touching Joshua’s chubby cheeks and then rubbing her belly, as to pass on his chubbiness and “health” to the baby in her belly. Once the animal show was over a group of about 40 school kids swarmed around Evan and Josh and started staring at them and trying to play with them. I thought it was funny, but the boys got a little bit overwhelmed so we left the zoo without finishing the tour of the whole place. I don’t think we missed much but it was still interesting to see so many animals and watch the kids react to them.
Of course, being in Indonesia, we ended up going to the mall about half of the time but thankfully I was able to find two nice indoor playgrounds for Evan to run around and me to sit down and force encourage Josh to do some tummy time.
The mall we visited the most was Tunjungan Plaza since the hotel had a shuttle service that took us there. It is very close to the Marriot and on a couple of occasions we walked there. We spent most of our time at Stingers, a game area with an indoor playground on the 5th floor and at the play area in the basement of the mall.
Surabaya was a nice and calm city to visit and I wouldn’t hesitate to visit it again since I know we missed looking at several museums and visiting the big water park in west Surabaya. Although it’s not the most dynamic city, it is a nice place to take a break from the hustle and bustle of the Big Durian.