There was a mandarin song singing in front of the Tay Kak Sie temple when I arrived, then I saw the lanterns hanging. I think I feel like I’m in China there, even though I’m actually in Semarang.

Tay Kak Sie is an old pagoda, supposedly the oldest in Semarang. Previously it was not in its current location but was in Upper Semarang. Because it was too far away, in the early 1800’s it was moved to its current location, Gang Lombok.


This pagoda became the side of Gang Lombok. This alley is so named because before the temple was built, this area was a large Lombok/Cabe garden. The relocation of the pagoda made the chili garden turn into a temple and settlement, but the name did not change, remembering the chili that was once a regional marker.

Located in the center of Chinatown, Tay Kak Sie is indeed a center of activity. There is a sports hall right next to the pagoda where Chinatown youths practice wushu. Not kidding, this sports building was also used as a training ground for the Central Java PON contingent. Actually, apart from Tay Kak Sie, there are nine other pagodas in the Chinatown area. Only, Tay Kak Sie is the biggest and has the highest guardian deity.

Chinese Drama
Chinese Drama

In addition, traditional Chinese arts are also thriving. When I arrived at Tay Kak Sie, I was treated to a Chinese comedy drama about Mother and Child. The story is about a child who wants to get married and brings his future bride to his mother’s presence. The drama is played without subtitles, only accompanied by the strains of mandarin music and narration delivered by a guide.

How to easily identify the Chinatown area? For me there are two, from the facade of the building and the second from the dominant red color. The facade of the Chinese building is very distinctive, curved with intricate ornaments, as seen on the roof of the Tay Kak Sie Temple. The second characteristic is that there is a round shape on the roof ridge of the house, usually for residential areas.

Ornaments on the Roof of the Temple
Ornaments on the Roof of the Temple
Shophouse Ornaments
Shophouse Ornaments

While red is indeed the dominant color of the Chinese people, the color is typical of Chinatown. The pagodas everywhere are dominant in red. Indeed, red is a color loved by people of Chinese descent. It is said that this color is the color of blessing, the color of luck.

There are 2 interesting things next to Tay Kak Sie, the first is the Kuncup Melati school which is managed by the Khong Kauw Hwee Foundation. This school is a very plural school, owned by the Chinese People’s Foundation, but many of the teachers are Muslim and wear headscarves.

This school is indeed an example of how fluid relations between people in Semarang are. Even though it’s a Chinese school, the students are diverse. Amazingly, this school frees all costs for its students and this school is specifically for children from poor families.

Kuncup Melati school students playing Lion Dance
Kuncup Melati school students playing Lion Dance

This diversity reflects how Semarang was formed. As a port city, Semarang combines many cultures, including Chinese, Arabic, Gujarati, Javanese, Bugis and so on. A city that is very fluid in its culture and social life.

The second interesting thing next to Tay Kak Sie is Loenpia Gang Lombok. The smell of loenpia has actually been permeating since entering the Tay Kak Sie temple area, you know that Loenpia’s location is right next to the temple complex.


The queues are very long, one customer can have to wait an hour or two for Loenpia. People are also very patient waiting. Legendary culinary is worth the wait, worth sacrificing time.

Currently Loenpia Gang Lombok has been managed by the third generation. It is said that Loenpia was also the first to popularize this typical Chinese culinary in Semarang, until now Semarang is synonymous with the nickname Lumpia City.


Talking about culinary, in Semarang Chinatown there is Semawis. A night market that serves a variety of culinary offerings. Not only Chinese cuisine, a variety of Indonesian cuisines to Japanese or Korean specialties are also available in Semawis.

The market is open at night, the tents are full of colorful lights and lively visitors who want a culinary tour fill the streets. I had time to taste the Chicken Rice. The chicken rice is a little different from the chicken rice at Simpang Lima, the chicken rice is Chinese style with a slightly similar seasoning to Hainam Chicken.


The bustle of Semawis reflects that Chinatown is destined to be one of the economic centers of a city. Traditional to modern trade grew from the Chinatown area.

Semarang’s Chinatown has been the same since ancient times, in the colonial era it was privileged as an economic center. Now the picture of Chinatown as the economic center in Semarang is depicted in a very simple way, almost all banks have branches or units in Chinatown, from state-owned banks, private sector banks to regional banks.

A bank certainly will not open a branch in an area where the economic flow is not strong. The existence of banks in between the ancient facades and the ruins of buildings in Chinatown shows the economic establishment in Semarang’s Chinatown.

Chinatown for me is not just a place, not just a marker. In the alleys of Chinatown there is a story, there is a long history of a city. If you go to Semarang, remember the Chinatown, walk and be immersed in history, every eye can see the facade of the building.