Singkawang, City Of A Thousand Chinese Temples

Located 145 km north of Pontianak, capital of  West Kalimantan, Singkawang is the second largest city in the province, bordering the State of Sarawak, Malaysia. Unlike other towns in Indonesia, Singkawang has a distinct oriental atmosphere with hundreds of Chinese temples found around almost every corner of town. This is because over 70% of Singkawang’s population is of Chinese descent, predominantly of the Hakka tribe with some Teochew. Others are Malays, Dayaks and other Indonesian ethnic groups.

In the 18th century, West Borneo lured many from mainland China to the gold mines at Monterado (today called the Bengkayang district). The Chinese came by the thousands, and on their way there they used to overnight in Singkawang. Most settled here and their descendents today form the majority population of Singkawang.

The town of Singkawang, West Kalimantan
The town of Singkawang, West Kalimantan (Source : thejakartapost.com)

One of the oldest temples here is the Tri Dharma Bumi Raya temple, established in 1878 dedicated to the god of the forest, or Tua Peh Kong.

Normally a quiet city, Singkawang comes alive each Chinese New Year, reaching its climax at Cap Goh Meh, or the fifteenth day of Chinese New Year, closing the celebrations. For this event, Chinese from around the region, including those from Java and Sumatra but also from Singapore and Malaysia flock to Singkawang to celebrate the event with family and friends.

During these celebrations, the Tatung or Chinese shamans will perform their supernatural prowess to the thousands gathered along the streets, while remaining totally unharmed. However, before performing their feats they first pray for blessing at the temple of Toa Peh Kong. (Tatungs are people endowed with supernatural powers performing during the Cap Go Meh Festival in Singkawang, ‘the city of a thousand shrines’in West Kalimantan. Two of the tatungs are seen bending a sharp sword with their abdomen, remaining completely unharmed.)

Toa Pek Kong, the oldest temple in Singkawang
Toa Pek Kong, the oldest temple in Singkawang (Source : panoramio.com)

Singkawang is also famous for its Chinese ceramics, still produced in the old style with “antique” designs. Center for ceramics is at Sa Kok, some 7 km. from Singkawang. Ceramics made in Singkawang is very popular on Java and can be bought in many parts of Jakarta and Surabaya.

ACTIVITIES

Singkawang has few hotels, most are in the non-star category.

Besides visiting the many temples, especially the main temple at Tri Dharma Bumi Raya, Singkawang is famous for its food centres which come alive at night.

Most popular is the Pasar Hongkong, where you can find a large variety of food, including porridge, nasi lemak, Rujak Ju Hie (hot fruit salad with dried squid) a specialty of Singkawang, and tofu Singkawang. The city also has many coffee shops known as Kopi Tiam.

For recreation, locals go to Pasir Panjang Beach, (or Long Beach) 17 km from the center of the city. Besides enjoying the beautiful tranquil scenery, the beach also offers beach activities including boat rental, water bikes, go-karts, souvenir shops and plenty of food stalls.

GET THERE

Since Singkawang has no airport, you must first fly to Pontianak then continue to Singkawang by private car, taxi or public bus.

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