Jatim Parks: East Java’s very own Walt Disney World

Has anyone heard of Jatim Parks before? I hadn’t until very recently. The first time the name came up was someone telling me about Museum Angkut (literally transportation museum, but not what you expect at all!), then I realized they operate 8 parks and 2 hotels in East Java (near Surabaya). So I decided to go see for myself.

Like many theme parks in Asia, access is not that easy. There is no direct train, bus or shuttle to get there. So I took a taxi from Surabaya airport. The 2-hour journey to Malang is beautiful, filled with rice paddy fields and volcano mountains at the back (Malang is the starting point for Mt Bromo expeditions). I took a hotel in Malang so I could get to Batu (another 30-min drive) at night and the following day. Batu is slightly higher up and famous for its cool climate and apple trees. People from Surabaya and Malang go there a lot for a break like Jakarta people would go to Bogor; and this is where Jatim Parks started.

The first night I wanted to check Batu Night Spectacular (BTS) out. So I “ojek” my way there and here I am on my motorcycle going up the hill and getting all chilly! I had my first shock when I got there; the place was buzzing. BTS is a huge night carnival with lots of games, small rides, go-kart, food court and a small night market. Lots of families having good fun, music pumping and lights everywhere. Here is the video.

After a good night sleep I headed out again the next day for 3 more parks: Jatim Park II (Museum Satwa & Batu Secret Zoo), Eco Green Park and Museum Angkut. I decided I didn’t have time to see Jatim Park I but when I drove past I saw the human body museum (strangely inspired by CORPUS in the Netherlands) under construction and that is be something I would want to see next time. All parks are fairly near to each other and they have shuttles running between them.

Jatim Park II is home of Museum Satwa and Batu Secret Zoo as well as Pohon Inn hotel overlooking the park.

Museum Satwa is a natural history museum with a lot of displays showing all sorts of stuffed animal. They like a good staging so you can see lions eating prays, etc. There’s also a nice insect area. Education displays are fairly well done and in general people seemed to enjoy their visit.

Batu Secret Zoo is a mix of zoo and amusement park (you have to get used to it in Indonesia!). The zoo has a nice flow with good theming and generally healthy animals. The indoor area with reptiles, nocturnals and some aquariums is nicely done. I wish they could have done without some of the cages, where people can feed monkeys and other small animals. Also, I would argue they have too many animals and one loses sense of priority; it’s a bit overwhelming. Then it suddenly stops (before resuming towards the end) and you enter Fantasy Land filled with games, rides, etc. Here is the video.

Next to Jatim Park II is the new Eco Green Park. An interesting mix of cultural park (traditional music, reproduction of Borobudur temple, traditional village houses), bird park and eco park together with some entertainment (a trademark at Jatim Parks) such as an upside-down house, zipline, dark ride, water splash, etc. I had a quick walk around and it’s very pleasant; I could feel the passion from the owner to “educate” although it can come across a bit strange from my educated Western perspective. For example I went onto this Eco Journey dark ride where I was taken through the history of development in Indonesia and the need to look after our environment with very “simple” messages (but maybe it works and it is a good start).

And now one more to go: Museum Angkut. By the time I got there in the late morning there was a long queue at ticketing. The crowd was slightly different, more teenagers and young adults. It’s no surprise when you see what’s waiting for them inside. Museum Angkut is the strangest mix of car museum, Hollywood studios and folk museum. Essentially it is built as a giant photo opportunity! It starts with the car/transportation museum then a series of themed zones with cars and after going through a sleeper train wagon ends up in a traditional floating market adjacent to a folk museum. You have to see this!

It’s time to share some of thoughts after this amazing visit.

First I have to say I am very impressed with the vision, the hard work and the generosity of the people behind Jatim Parks. They provide quality, diverse and affordable entertainment for the huge population of East Java.

Also I could finally experience what I read about in Asia Sentinel about “hybrid parks”. Whilst it is a bit upsetting in the beginning (coming from a Western perspective) I have to say I got used to it and quite enjoyed the variety of entertainment. Whether you agree with Asia Sentinel or not on the “folklorization” of Indonesian culture is another thing; I guess it is something we are all guilty of in the theme park industry.

And this leads me to the “king” of theme parks, Mr Walt Disney himself. When I visited Jatim Parks in Batu I couldn’t help but draw some parallels with Walt Disney World in Florida.

  • Eco Green Park is a bit like EPCOT with Disney’s idea of creating a better city
  • Museum Angkut reminds me of Hollywood Studios
  • Batu Secret Zoo is like Animal Kingdom with a mix of animals and rides
  • BNS serves the same purpose as Downtown Disney

Of course Jatim Parks are very far from Disney quality but I guess they serve the same purpose. However Jatim Parks does not have IP and that is strongly missing. So much so that they have had to use (probably illegally) some popular IP’s such as Angry Bird, Sponge Bob, Winnie the Poo for their theming. That means there’s a home for the future Indonesian Walt Disney Studios!

Bukit Gambang Safari Park: probably the worst zoo / safari park in the world

I have been visiting various zoos and safari parks in the region for a project I am working on and this took me to Bukit Gambang Resort City (BGRC) over the long Chines New Year weekend to check out their safari park, which recently opened. BGRC is the vision of local Malaysian developer Sentoria to build an “integrated” resort city on the East Coast Highway. Mostly based around real estate for sale, it offers a water park, small adventure park and a safari park to create the sense of a destination (there is not much around!).

Access is made very easy from the highway, which puts BGRC within less than 3-hour drive from Kuala Lumpur and within 1-hour drive of popular Cherating beach on the East Coast. BGRC was very busy because of the public holiday. In terms of crowd it’s quite mixed half Malay half Malaysian Chinese from a mid to low income bracket.

BGRC car park

Car park FULL!

The two ticketing counters for the water park and the safari park are in the main building on 2 separate floors. The queue was much longer for the water park; maybe because of the high price of the safari park. I paid RM68 (USD20), which is as much as I would pay for the Singapore Zoo!

The safari park is essentially a zoo with a small safari ride at the end. By the title of this post you would have guessed I was less than impressed and actually very upset by the very poor quality. In a nutshell is is very poorly designed (long walks, bad indications, etc), animals look miserable, no theming, concrete everywhere, fences in your face, etc.

Here are a few pictures I took of the zoo part, where they seem to have gone opposite directions from all the new zoo trends (no cage, playful enclosures, etc). I personally did not feel safe at all and could barely see any animal (either missing or just not visible).

So far so good

So far so good

Going through a banquet hall overlooking lion enclosure as we start. Really!?

You make me go through a banquet hall overlooking a lion enclosure first. Really!?

Animal enclosures around a snail atrium

This is it. Basically a huge concrete block with animal enclosures around

An example of very sad enclosure

One of many very sad enclosures

Probably some of the saddest bears I ever saw

Probably the saddest bears I ever saw

Food anyone? Not for me, thanks

Food anyone? Not for me, thanks

Sorry we're not quite finished

Sorry we’re not quite finished

That tops it off. Sleeping (dying) bears and attendants feeding a tiny monkey held in leash

That tops it all. Sleeping (or dying?) bears and attendants feeding a tiny monkey held in leash

After walking quite a bit in the heat I finally get to the safari ride. The queue was quite long but I have to give credit to the staff who managed it quite well given the very poor planning of the loading area. The 30-min ride is done in AC trucks with a staff commenting on the different animals (mine – Ain – was very nice, smiling and accommodating). But there is nothing safari about it! All the enclosures are very bear, full of concrete and again quite sad looking.

Quite a long queue to wait for the safari ride

Quite a long queue to wait for the safari ride

In the truck

In the truck

Underwater hippo

Underwater hippo

Elephants with no grass

Elephants with no grass

All I can see is a fence!

All I can see is a fence!

By now I think you get it too. I can’t describe how upset I am. If one has the money to build such a big facility why go for such low quality, ignore all the learning from zoos around the world and show animals in such conditions? This is what mid to low income families in Malaysia get to see on a holiday? Wait till you see what Indonesian families see on a holiday when I write about Taman Safari; there’s a world of difference. I say, wake up Malaysia!