Five Reasons to Visit Makassar

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John and Lisa Merrill / Danita Delimont / Newscom

Anchored in history Makassar's Paotere Harbor is a center of Sulawesi's boatbuilding tradition, with distinctive pinisi schooners lining the docks

In recent years, the Indonesian city of Makassar has built an impressive international airport and gleaming new malls, and the airline Garuda Indonesia has declared it a third domestic hub after Jakarta and Bali's Denpasar. But this burgeoning gateway to the eastern part of the sprawling archipelago also strikes a deep historical chord, with well-preserved colonial structures and all of Sulawesi island's rich boatbuilding and sailing traditions to draw on. Here are five reasons to visit.

1 Lae Lae As any local will tell you, Lae Lae, tel: (62-411) 334 326, serves the best grilled fish in Makassar. In a port city famed for seafood, that's saying something. It says even more that this place is constantly thronged with happy eaters even though it lacks air-conditioning and proper crockery (food comes on plastic plates). Fresh fish wriggle on ice near the entrance — point out the one you want and watch as it's cleaned, gutted, grilled and served with fiery sambal.

2 Paotere Harbor South Sulawesi has a proud boatbuilding heritage. You'll find large-scale models of traditional pinisi schooners at Makassar's airport, but nothing beats seeing these colorful wooden boats in their natural setting, full of motley cargo and equally motley characters. Mind the holes in the wooden piers, and visit at sunrise to catch the boats — and their crews — at their most photogenic.

3 Trans Studio Got kids? Say no more. Trans Studio, tel: (62-411) 811 7000, is one of Asia's best and biggest indoor theme parks. Attached to a shiny mall and blessedly air-conditioned, it's got dozens of rides, from bumper cars to water flumes, plus a ministudio that lets kids see themselves on TV.

4 Pantai Losari Take to this boardwalk to mingle with the locals, soak up the atmosphere and graze on snacks, from grilled young bananas to spiced cashews, at seafront kiosks. Foreigners often receive a lot of friendly attention, but escaping the jovial throng is as easy as slipping away to one of the nearby rooftop restaurants to catch the sea breeze.

5 Fort Rotterdam Very little Dutch colonial architecture is well preserved in Indonesia, but this gem, in the heart of Makassar, is an exception. If you can ignore the radio towers looming in the background and conjure up images of muskets, guards and oppressed natives, you'll find the past coming horrendously to life amid these arched entrances and pitched red roofs.