Horror Hotel

by Will Sanders on June 7th, 2009

check into horror hotel
This place is creepy and it’s somber too
And a little vampira wrapped on my neck, said
Say something, say something
You wanna start something with me
Well, take it up to room 21
Where all the creatures gonna have their fun
And underworld dangers and underworld scum
Take it up to room 21
And down the hall with my vampire girlfriend
Say something, say something
You wanna start something with me, here at
Horror hotel, horror hotel
Horror hotel, horror hotel
It’s up t
o me



Here is what happened this weekend.  I warn you that it will be a let down from the tittle and the song lyrics I put up above, but the fact remains that I did stay in a haunted hotel last night.  I will get there though, lots of cool stuff happened, I, we had a great time.  My best weekend here so far easy.

I had already taught my class yesterday, my last Saturday class.  It had been uneventful and was over.  No more early  Saturday morning classes.  My big thing now was my throat.  A couple of weeks ago I missed a day, I promised myself I wasn’t going to do that but I was sick sick.  I spent days in bed with a sore throat.  So now a couple of weeks later it was getting worse.  It had been hurting me to eat all week, come Friday it was so bad I was having trouble speaking.  So my plan was to lay low this weekend, after class I would go to see a doctor and the rest of the time, I don’t know, maybe dvd’s.  Lucky for me Anna from Australia wouldn’t hear of it, she wanted me to go out of town with her and her friends, go out of town Saturday and go to see the doctor Sunday, the sore throat was screaming, but hell, of coarse I went, wouldn’t you?

So After my class I went to find her, my roommate Suchett and his non English speaking girlfriend Emily wanted to come too.  I was hazy on where we were going, I told him the wrong city, then corrected myself with another wrong city, by the time he was onboard to go the poor guy was told a third city and that we would be spending the night, not coming back the same day.  He had asked me how long we would stay and I said tonight, meaning we stay there tonight, he heard we would come back tonight so he and his girl had no change of clothes.  I told him that was why I never became a travel agent.

So let’s pick the story up later that afternoon, ages later.  We had waited for a number of reasons at their house to go.  I got sick of waiting and hiked up the way for lunch, and was now waiting at a nearby restaurant.  I was trying to nurse by throat with cold coca cola out of a glass bottle, the cold fizz had a nice numbing.  It was a nice joint, closed door and air con, I didn’t see any flies.  The lunch had been really good, yellow rice and chicken and some furry stuff that was weird along with those potato fritter things they have here, what the hell are those called?  I could live off just those.  Now I was killing time with a painting they had.  It depicted a middle aged modern looking woman in the center walking through an Asian street market.  What got me was the honest detail, nothing was glorified, a lot of the vegetables and fish were in plastic egg crate cartons laying on the ground, the people didn’t look overly happy or sad to be climbing over one another in the rabble of the market, it was a strange place to find something with such honest realism, every inch of the painting was like so many markets I have seen first hand, and have photographed but never captured the way this did.  Next to the painting was another painting of a rooster, and next to that a poster of Alex Van Halen next to his mammoth drum kit, holding his sticks and smirking.  Finally, after a day of false starts a big yellow bemo pulled up and everyone came pouring out.  They had actually gone out and flagged down a bemo to hire for the day.

For those of you playing along at home who may have missed the last few chapters here at the Indonesian Adventure, a bemo is a mini van with the seats taken out and replaced with long benches running along the inside.  different colored bemos take different routes and it is the closet thing Surabaya has to a mass transit system.  It is also the way I get to work when to lazy to bicycle.


Party bemo

Out of the bemo came the party people: Anna from Australia, Rowan from Alaska, Lauren from Missouri or someplace, Megan from South Africa, roommate Suchett from England by way of Tuscany, and his little lady Emily who was Indonesian through and through.


Lauren wanted beer but Rowan didn’t want to stop.  It was a two hour drive to, oh yeah, we were going to be staying in the town of Lawang, not Malang like I had told Suchett.  In my defense they are close together and they do rhyme.  In Lawang we would be staying in the very haunted hotel Niagara.  They actually have a little trouble renting out rooms these days at the Niagara, Indonesians won’t go near the place.  Indonesian culture is very steeped in fear of ghosts.  A few weeks ago in a conversation class I asked my students to tell me about famous ghosts of Indonesia and the list just went on and on.  And it’s not Johnny Appleseed hook from the mirror folklore kind of jive, no man that shit is serious to them.  So an actuall haunted hotel to them is some bad ju ju.

Most of that day was spent trying to piece together the night before.  At some point Anna lost her wallet, and everyone had a different unique story about where they had vomited, and every so often a new piece of the evening would be presented to the group via someones brief flash of memory bringing everyone that much closer to understanding the nature of their hangovers, and if they had smoked or not, and what ever happened with that boy so and so was making out with and what was his name and how did we ever make it home and what time was it and so on.  Sounded night a great night, I was genuinely sorry to have missed out.

The road to Lawang goes past Trettes, I got to see my big blue friend again, this time way too overcast to see really, but I did get to glimpse parts of him.  We were cramed in that bemo and when the traffic jam started we just didn’t care.  I started reaching my arm out the window trying to give high fives to truckers, one guy driving a load of dirt reached across and slapped my hand to grand hoots in both vehicles.  We started waving at every car, which delighted everyone.  One woman in a van proudly held her baby by the window and had it wave back at us.  One guy in another car passed us pastries, a guy hanging out of the door of a bus passed a lighter to Laurah, who lit her smoke, waited for the bus to catch up and passed the guys lighter back.  Oh, but the best was the family who were directly behind us, we hollered back and forth at them for a while, when Anna had the idea to write a note with her number they called us and past that phone to every member of the family.  They wanted to know our names, where we were from, and wouldn’t we rather go to Malang instead so they could fix us diner.  That was a very tempting offer but we were on a mission and had to keep on rolling.  Over the next hour, Laurah asked the driver to stop so she could pee at least five times and for some reason the guy wouldn’t do it.  Finally he pulled over to a gas station and announced that the pit stop would cost us extra, I never heard how much.  When we got to the place we put a wad of money in his hand, the exact amount he had told us earlier and walked in with him standing in the parking lot looking pissed off.  Deals a deal.

The Niagara in Lawang was built by the Dutch in the 1900’s, and I couldn’t find anything in a quick google search on the subject, Rowan told me some story about a Dutch woman who was horrifically murdered by Japanese soldiers on the fifth floor, and that someone else jumped from the top balcony to their death.  Rowan has been here before and this whole trip was her idea.  Good idea, Rawan, good idea!

After check in and routine haggling session at the front desk, we went in search of sate and beer.  Oh man, here is a cool thing about Asia, most places have their own take on meat on a stick.  In Indonesia it is sate,  which is meat roasted on a stick with a sort of peanut sauce.  Good good.  Maybe the best food in Indonesia I have found.  Next to the hotel is a huge street market,  Rowan had a place she had gone last time with which she had connected, so we found it again.  The same lady was there and was delighted to see Rowan’s return.  We were looking at the menu and Megan commented that in all her time in Indonesia she had never tried one dish, she is moving on next week which is a shame, she seems like good people.   I asked her why she hadn’t tried the dish in question, she said it was cow’s nose, someone said she had to try it before she left and me being me I offered to have some if she did and next thing you know we are ordering a dish of cow nose.  The food comes, and one whiff of the cow nose and Megan chickens instantly.  I had to, it is a deep set rule of mine now that I have absolutely got to be brave and eat the strange food when it presents itself to me.  Here is my list in order of strangeness:



sheeps eyes roasted on a stick (like yummy sate)

grass hoppers fried with green onions (all fried bugs are pretty much the same as far as I can tell, so that is about as strange as scorpian)

snake skinned in front of my eyes and roasted on a stick still slythering

congealed ducks blood

duck face

duck/chicken/pig  feet

bacon prepared by Jordon Folley (do you know Jordan Folly?  Please send her my love if you do.)

pork rines

zots candy (not bad strange, good strange)

and now, cow’s nose

People, take it from me, don’t eat cow nose.

That shit is gross you guys.  It smells like a wet dirty mangy dog and it is gewey and chewy and I almost threw up a couple of times trying to get it down and everyone else almost threw up a couple of times watching me do it.  It took a whole beer to try to wash it down and the second taste wasn’t much of an improvement.  What has happened to me?  How have I fallen this far?  Am I the kid in highschool who will eat anything for a nickle?  I guess so, but I have a rep to maintain at this point, and now I have this whole list going, so I do these things and hell you all know I ain’t proud of it, but who the hell knows.  I guess I just confuse having an open mind with straight up stupidity at times.  Anyway, don’t eat cow nose because it’s gross.

And for the record I would do it again, but only if I had never tried it before.  I am now good on cow nose for ever.

So then we started just eating the sate and the smell of the cow nose dish started to get to us.  I said we should try to eat some of the vegetables and pineapple that wasn’t cow nose to try to not offend the lady.  Megan said she couldn’t take the smell and wanted to take it to the kitchen, and my reply was

“well, I really think if we send it back it would be really rude and, oh Jesus Christ get this thing out of here I can’t take it either.”  And it was gone.  That was the single grossest thing I have ever tasted.  Lucky I had sate and beer to rid my poor mouth of the flavor.

We sat there for a while chewing sate and then the gado gado came, salad with egg and peanut sauce and vegetables.  We all took turns drawing signs for the ladies wall, her request.  She rated them, mine was dead last.  I had writen “Your gado gado makes me glado glado” and I had drawn a ninja and a dinosaur.

Back to the Niagara.  The place is opulent.  It was all laid out in the first place for Dutch aristocracy rich enough to travel to Indonesia in the 1800’s, an entire floor would have been one master sweet and was now cut into single rooms, ceilings towering and rafters with ornate carvings and tile designs.  We had three rooms, all joined by a common sitting area, each room with a huge balcony overlooking the city and the grounds.  In the common room, behind a potted plant is the old elevator shaft.  I moved the plant and to my surprise the oak door to the elevator shaft opened right up, I could see all the way down, and I could see up one floor, I could see the fifth floor.  Aside from the outside of the building, this was one of two places I found where I could see any part of the fifth floor.  We were on the fourth floor in the big sweets.  The stair way went up to the next level had a large board at the top of the landing reading DO NOT ENTER in both languages.  I guess the fifth floor is where the ghosts are, and I guess where the poor Dutch woman was killed by the Japanese soldiers.

Luarah and I went up the stairs past the DO NOT ENTER sign first chance we got.  The bottom of the next flight of stairs was blocked off by a big steel gate with steel bars going up the banister to the ceiling.  They were serious about us not going in there.  We stood and we looked through the gate up the stairs.  It was dark up there, the paint was peeling.  And you know what?  Something was not ok up there.  It was slightly colder there than the floor below, and you know, it just felt different.  I would just say not ok.  I really didn’t like standing there, and I don’t know why.  Laurah didn’t either and we both agreed to get the hell away.  We sat downstairs talking about it, her contention was that it is clearly a pyschosematic thing, of coarse it feels creepy, we know that floor is said to be haunted.  Rowan went up there and came down covered in goose bumps that you could see.  It was a really creepy place.

Certain places have energy, memory almost.  A stain which never washes or fades, just lingers.  It is something we all know but never acknowledge to each other, or even to ourselves, and so it all goes by felt but unsaid.

For example:  I was in a killing field in Cambodia once, didn’t know it was a killing field, my guide didn’t speak a lot of English so I thought I was climbing a mountain to over look a field where Khmer Rouge killed loads of people.  In the center of the mountain was a cave, and when I walked in I knew immediatly that horror had happened there, not in a nearby field but right there in that cave.  The air all around was pregnant with the linger of something aweful.  On one side of the cave was a wooden platform which I didn’t walk up.  I later found out that if I had I would have seen into a pit of human skulls.  I later found out that the hole, a couple of hundred yards up in the top of the cave was where they were dropping people to their deaths because they had run out of ammo.  The point of this grizzly story is that I fucking knew, I knew standing there that some bad shit had happened, and I knew it had to have been right there.  I felt it.  You feel it in a hospital and you feel it at a funeral home the same way, death stays as part of the surroundings.  I felt something standing at those stairs, and it was creepy as shit.  I think we all felt it.

That’s the best I got with the haunted hotel.  I didn’t see any ghosts, I didn’t hear phantom steps, I didn’t get slimed.  I had some strange dreams, I did dream my arms were being held to the matress and someone was screaming in my face, but it really was just a creepy dream inspired by being in a creepy place.

Megan had wine, real red wine, and we had a very nice relaxing several drinks in the common room that night.  I raised a glass and toasted:

“New friends I hope in time will become old friends, and to the ghosts upstairs, may you find piece” we all drank.  It was nice.

In the morning I took Anna’s camera and took a video of the bottom of the stairs up into floor five.  It wasn’t nearly as creepy in the morning light.  I hope to study the video in hopes of seeing small blips I hadn’t seen before or hearing weird noises which later prove to be someone yelling “get out” in Dutch.

My throat was killing me.

So that’s part one of last weekend.  Mainly just Saturday, Sunday is coming soon.  Meanwhile, I tried to do some research on the hotel, I posted a question about it to the good people on lonely planet thorn tree, I thought I would share the question I posted and the responses I got.

Who you gonna call?

My friends and I stayed in the Niagara in Lawang last weekend. I know they say it’s haunted, we didn’t see any ghosts, but laugh if you want I am a sucker for this kind of thing. I just wanted to know if anyone has done any research into the story behind this place and why it’s said to be haunted aside from being a totally creepy place. And while we’re at it, does anyone have any good Indonesian ghost stories or dirt on Indonesian ghost folk lore. And for those of you just looking here for travel advice the Niagara is a really cool hotel next to a really cool market street.
Thanks guys


If you can read Indonesian, you have a nice summary of these things in this book.
I found it fun to read.
Of course there are many, many more local stories of ghosts and other similar beings throughout Indonesia.
Yet to actually see one myself – though according to my local friends I have heard them at least twice in North Maluku! :-)


some Indonesian bloggers have wrote abous this hotel. Like this one
it’s in bahasa Indonesia. One of that blog’s visitor (garing) said, he was born in Lawang and yes he knew Niagara hotel got some misterious rumors. In the third floor, there was one room who never open to public. Some said that’s because this was the room where japanese soldiers kill dutch girl.
this hotel also known as hotel of three beautiful ghost. Garing used to be a guide to tourist from netherland. the initial plan of his clients was to stay 5 days at the hotel, but only 2 days and they had asked to move to other place. it happened at 1987.
they said saw ‘keranda’ ( a muslim bier) at the living room but then its dissappeared.

but most of this blog’s visitor said they were more interested about the unique architecture of the hotel rather than its spookines.

If you go to an Indonesian bookshop and ask for Roman Ilmu Ghaib, they will sell you several novels involving black magic.

These novels will of course be in Bahasa Indonesia.

Thanks as always to the good people at lonely planet for taking the time to reply.

11 Responses to “Horror Hotel”

  1. I love the part where all the white people in the Bemo are high fivin’ everyone in the town. I’m thinking it would be worth capturing this event in the early 90’s HipHop Music Video format.

    Wha? DON’T eat cows nose? … I guess I’ll take your word for it.

    I wish you had taken a picture of everyone’s drawings at the restaurant.

  2. amy bugg burke says:

    Sorry it took me so long (two whole days!) to read this one Will…in my defense, I must have checked in right before you posted this, and I have been back at work this week for “boot camp.” I’m all caught up now though!

    I don’t think I’ve even seen Andrew Zimmern eating cow’s nose, so kudos on that one. The haunted hotel sounds creepy, but not so bad with a group of people. What I really want to know is…did you get to a doctor? I guess it’s the maternal instinct in me, but a sore throat that bad needs to be checked out! =)

    • Will Sanders says:

      you know, I think I may have Andrew Zimmern on weird food, or at least we are contemporaries. I think he would beat me hands down in a Frank Black look-alike contest though, but yeah, I have had bovine proboscis and I got that going for me, which is nice.

  3. Carson says:

    jeez, I fly all the way to Indonesia, get the skinny from your friends about where you’re going to be staying, wait for you to pass out, then hold your arms down and scream in your face, only to have to high-tail it back out of there and get back to US in time for work, and you think it’s just some bad dream brought on by some creepy hotel. Man, did that prank ever fail.

  4. marianne says:

    You made my day. I had allmost forgotten about this hotel. I was here some 10 years ago. Simply loved your description

  5. elenore says:

    Back away from the cow’s nose… no don’T do it Will … awhhhhh.. Will

  6. yoto says:

    Cow nose is for special cuisine in East Java, called rujak cingur, mix with some vegetables……a bit better than fish and chip i guess…by the way the Hotel is very nice ,GBP 400 should be reasonable rate if this hotel located in Birmingham is’n it? I stay there yesterday, FRIDAY NIGHT…..


  7. I like this article. This is called a great article. I am new here. I like your site too. This is pretty awesome. i found some useful info here. anyways thanks for sharing with us. I am looking foreword your next post. Thanks. I’m just going to shear this site all my friend’s and i hope they live this site.

  8. dessy says:

    actually not every Indonesian would eat Cow nose. some find it delicious but there are a lot more Indonesian who don’t even dare to try it after knowing what it is :D

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