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crellston Jun 30th, 2015 03:05 PM

A train ride through Java
Firstly, a big thank you to all who contributed to the planning process for our time in Java, especially to marmot whose advice, as always proved invaluable. I will provide a full trip report on our blog eventually. In the meantime, a few thoughts and observations which may assist others planning a visit to Java


Travelling by train in Indonesia is a breeze. Easy to book tickets online from outside the country, , as always proved a great source of info. We travelled from Jakarta to Bandung (3 hours) and Bandung to Yogyakarta (8 hours) and finally Yogyakarta to Malang (8 hours). Trains departed and arrived on time ( a refreshing change from my years of commuting by trainin the UK!).

The first two journeys we booked online (at a premium). In reality we could have easily got seats just by turning up at the station on the day. With online bookings you just tap your email res. no. Into one of the machines in the station and out pops your ticket with seat assignment.

For two of the three journeys we experienced arctic like air-con - take something warm! The last, the air-con wasn't working so it was like sitting in an oven! We booked Executif class! are old but carriages spacious and reasonably comfortable seats. Decent food is available at seat which can be ordered as soon as you get on the train.

JAKARTA is a city that I wouldn't want to visit for a second time. We probably chose the wrong area but it was dirty, run down and had the worst traffic of anywhere I have visited in Asia. To be fair, my impressions of the place were not enhanced by the fact that I managed to trip whilst dodging a motorbike when crossing a very busy road and injure my knee!

BANDUNG is a pleasant enough town but there isn't a whole lot going on. Most people seem to visit for the outlet shopping ( don't bother!!) and a the volcano close by (more of that later). We were lucky enough to get invited to a cultural evening by the Bandung tourism authority and so enjoyed an open top bus tour of the city ( through its choking traffic!) follow by music, dance and local food at avenue on the outskirts of the city. Great fun. They a re clearly very keen to attract foreign tourist to their city.

YOGYAKARTA was a lot different from what I expected. Very busy, although we did hit it at a weekend and during Ramadan. Maliboro is the main drag and is overrun with souvenir and batik shops. We spent a couple of night here either side of our trip to Borbodur. One of the few places where a bottle of Bintang was readily accessible.

Beer, wine and spirits is hard to find in many places and impossible in some following a crack down on its sale. Simply not available in any supermarket or 711. Hotels general stock it - at a price. A couple of areas in Yogyakarta and Bandung have bars and restaurants where it is sold as normal. When visiting a couple of 7-11s for some water I did get old ladies sidling up to me and whispering " you want beer". When I replied "yes, desperately" she pulled out a couple of cold ones hidden behind the diets coke!

BOROBODUR was simply breathtaking, if a lot smaller than I had envisaged. Watching the dawn break over the volcanoes accross the valley was very special.

We stayed at the Manohara hotel in the grounds of Borobodur which afforded all day access to the temple ( or so we thought). We visited in the late afternoon hoping to see the sunset but the guards tried to kick us out saying that we didn't have the right ticket for sunset. We just took our time leaving and managed to see the sun set.

We had to buy additional tickets for dawn ( 220k INR - more for non residents ) but it was well worth it as the sunrise was spectacular. Before , during and after dawn we were treated to the songs of the muzzenin calling the faithful to prayer at high volume through the loudspeaker towers surrounding the temple. It did detract from the experience somewhat. Entrance tickets for dawn are only available from the hotel an numbers are limited to 100. I would guest 50-6 we're there with us. Definitely the best time to visit.

We spent a couple more nights in Borobodur at Cempaka Villas, a nice place, decent rooms laid out around a central courtyard. It was new so staff, though friendly, did there best but we're pretty hopeless. Breakfast was a shambles but they seemed great a arranging tours! Main problem is that it was smack bang in the middle of 4 mosques all competing for the loudest praying/singing/ music at 3. 4 and 5 am.

It is a nice town in which to spend a few days, some great bike trips out into the countryside and the people are so very friendly and welcoming. We were stopping every 5 mins to chat with someone or other. Not sure whether it was because of Ramadan but the hotels and restaurants seemed to be empty most of the time we were there.

By our last day we were suffering the effects of sleep deprivation - and I am a very early riser. This is an issue which would continue to dog our travels in Java during Ramadan.

We got a taxi from Yogyakarta to Boroabodur for a couple of hundred and returned by local bus which was easy, quick, cheap and fun and 20k INR - the bus system in Yogyakarta seems remarkably efficinet and easy to use.

All for now but will return with the next instalment re Malang, Bromo and Ijen soon.

CaliNurse Jun 30th, 2015 03:16 PM

Thank you! Bon "continued" voyage! Dd you catch up on sleep yet?

tripplanner001 Jun 30th, 2015 03:23 PM

Thanks for sharing your experience so far with us. Hope you're doing better with your knee and that it is not hampering your trip.

progol Jun 30th, 2015 03:43 PM

Many thanks for the report so far -- looking forward to your blog and seeing photos of Borobodur; it sounds as if getting up for the sunrise is worth it.

Hope your knee is better!

mareeS55 Jul 1st, 2015 05:33 AM

Crellston, Bintang travails are a small sign that Indonesia is a little more problematic for the western tourist than it was prior to Jokowi/ Megawati election in 2014.

Today Indonesia has introduced internal currency rules, so rupiah is the only internal currency, meaning USD and AUD supposedly have to be converted to rupiah before transactions take place. (Viet dong, anyone? Can't see it happening, somehow).

We recently returned from Bali after our son's marriage, and found the 7-11/ circleK placesno longer sell beer but the good deli outlets are fine. the locals are really angry about this arbitrary bit of sharia doing them out of sales, and have alternative (back door) arrangements for cash if you ask (USD/AUD) of course).

We will be returning to Bali and Manado to visit our in-law family next month. It will be interesting to see how the currency thing plays out.

Kathie Jul 1st, 2015 07:03 AM

As always, I enjoy reading about your adventures, crellston. Sorry to hear of your knee mishap, especially since this is a trip that requires a lot of walking.

So true that restaurants are empty during Ramadan... We were in KL once during Ramadan and many restaurants were simply closed.

In 2012 we had no difficulty getting beer at our hotel or at small local restaurants. We didn't look for it in supermarkets or 7-11s. Interesting to hear how things are changing...

I look forward to your next installment.

marmot Jul 2nd, 2015 12:56 AM

Sounds like a great trip! Everyone gets a little edgy as Ramadhan wears on. They'll be celebrating the half way point this week.

This year in mid-July the Islamic holidays at the end of Ramadhan will overlap with the major Balinese/Hindu holidays. There won't be anyone left to work at the resorts!

Funny story about the bootleg beer acquisition. We worry when the conservative trend that we're seeing in Java crosses over to intolerance.

crellston Jul 2nd, 2015 01:29 AM

Firstly, my knee and I that you all for your concern. Much appreciated! As Kathie rightly points out any trip to Java requires a lot of walking. Unfortunately, much of it seem to have been up and down volcanoes! Probably should rest it awhile but time for that when we get to Bali from where I am now posting this.

Incidentally, coming from a Bintang drought in Java, we are falling over the stuff here ( or should that be because of the stuff?). All the 7-11 stock it as do the bars and restaurants.

marees55 - not heard anything re internal fx controls here but then I always use ATMs to withdraw cash and debit cards for everything else so probably wouldn't have noticed anyway.


On our final day in Yogyakarta we jumped on a bus to the Prambanan Temples on the outskirts of the city. 8k rupiah and 40 minutes later we arrive at the bus terminus from where it is an 800m walk to the entrance. Once again we get stiffed with the "foreigner price" to enter. Once inside it is quite and impressive and well kept park but very, very busy even in the late afternoon. It is a complex of a handful of Hindu temples; the main one being in pretty good condition and very impressive, the others, not so great. In fact one is little more than a pile of rubble, a result of the earthquake which hit the area a few years ago.


AT 07.30 we board the "Maliboro Express" train direct to Malang. We had purchased tickets the day before but really needn't have bothered as at least two of the Executif carriages were virtually empty. On our two previous train journeys we arrived half frozen due to the Arctic like aircon. This time it wasn't working and it was well, pretty hot? Unsurprising really as the outside temperature was around 35c. Even the Indonesians were complaining.

8 hours and at least a couple of kilos lighter we arrive. We have booked a hotel near the town square. At least we thought we had. It turns out that it is near the town square MALL, about 4kms out of the centre near the university!! Not a great location but at least it is a nice modern hotel and we are now more than ready for some icy cold aircon. Not going to happen! We check in to our room and of all the 200 rooms available they give us the one with aircon that doesn't work! 30 mins later it is working. A quick shower and a cold beer in the bar - yes they do have beer but could we come back in a couple of hours after they have put them in the refrigerator to cool? No! Finally admit defeat and decide abstinence is the best policy.

Malang is a pleasant city, some nice colonial architecture and an "interesting" bird market - probably not the place to visit if you are fond of animals! Probably the most interesting place we came across whilst wandering the streets was not so much a hotel as a museum. No doubt a terrific place to stay but worth a visit just to look around at the wealth of antiques packed into its public spaces.

A lot of our time was spent meeting with tour operators to sort out our onward travels to Gilimanuk and the ferry to Bali. My wife favoured a DIY approach, I thought it would be less hassle to use an agency. She was right, I was wrong, but more of that in the next instalment.

thursdaysd Jul 2nd, 2015 05:35 AM

Following along and looking forward to the pix.

Sorry about the knee! I've traveled with foot problems, so know what it's like.

I didn't care for Jakarta either, sounds like it hasn't improved. I've avoided traveling in Muslim countries during Ramadan as I'm worried about missing lunch. Wonder if the alcohol situation would be better after the month is over.

Kathie Jul 2nd, 2015 07:14 AM

We had the fabulous experience of staying at the Tugu Malang. It was rather like staying in a museum. It is well worth the stop to see it.

We also had a Maliboro Express train car with malfunctioning air conditioning between Yogya and Malang. We were all prepared for the ice-cold air conditioning and got none! The train we took was completely full leaving Yogya. I wonder if the train was so empty because of Ramadan.

Looking forward to more!

marmot Jul 3rd, 2015 01:20 AM

Just before you head for Ijen check on the status of Gunung (Mount) Raung. It's an active volcano that's been acting up in the past week; lots of flights cancelled because of ash. I doubt that it wi have up to date information when you travel in the Bromo and Ijen areas.

marmot Jul 3rd, 2015 01:21 AM

Sorry, last sentence garbled: I doubt that it will affect your plans as it's quite remote, but it's good to have up to date information when you travel in the Bromo and Ijen areas.

kja Jul 3rd, 2015 12:13 PM

Another happy reader here – thanks so much for posting! And I’ll add my voice to those wishing you a speedy recovery from your knee injury.

I am at the very earliest stages of planning a trip for 2016, and Indonesia is a place I am seriously considering – your words are adding to my interest! I’m happy to learn that train travel is so easy and look forward to hearing more about how DIY worked out for you.

May I ask how you came to be invited to a cultural evening by the Bandung tourism industry? Sounds fun!

glover Jul 3rd, 2015 01:46 PM

Enjoying reading your reports as always, Crellston. Looking forward to hearing about your time at Bromo and Ijen!

crellston Jul 7th, 2015 04:23 PM

We "interviewed" a number of tour operators in the lobby of our hotel before deciding on Sunrise Tours who were represented by a very nice young lady. After explicitly stating what we wanted to do and where we would stay, we negotiated a price and made sure that all was written down so there could be no "misunderstandings" later.

We chose to take the less travelled southern route to Bromo rather than either of the other two more "usual" routes as we preferred to travel through the countryside rather than the main road through the large city of Probolingo.

We left at 8.00am to begin our drive. Albert, our guide explained that we would be stopping at Rainbow falls along the way. We had to drive first to a guesthouse where we switched to a 4WD as our normal car would not cope with the route.
We jumped into the back of a Toyota jeep and bounced along the ever deteriorating roads for the next couple of hours. We seemed to be ascending along a very narrow ridge with sheer drops of thousands of feet on either side (OK, maybe not thousands, I I really don't like heights!).

We stopped and walked down for around 30 mins, crossed the bridge and there were the falls. Moderately impressive, but not a Rainbow in sight. Was it worth the walk down? Maybe. The walk back up? Probably not.

The road deteriorated further until it was a road no more and we were into the Savannah. Lush and green in the wet season, it was now dry, grey and sandy. Impressive, nonetheless. The area seemed to be very popular with locals who were traversing the vast space on Honda Dreams, either for pleasure or transport various cargoes to and from Bromo.

We drive on through the "Sea of Sand" before arriving at our hotel for the night, The Lava View Lodge right on the crater rim overlooking Bromo. We dumped our bags and set off to explore along the rim and into the village. In the late afternoon the views of the crater were spectacular. The Lodge is clearly a cash cow for the owners who seem to have done little in terms of maintenance or upgrading etc. The restaurant which serves just adequate food is rather soulless. We did pop into the sister hotel, The Lava View Cafe which was cheaper, didn't have the views but had way more atmosphere.

We originally agreed a 03.30 start with Albert the guide, he hummed and hahed and decided to change this to 03.00 and then 02.30. We rose At the appointed hour only to spend 15 mins searching for an elusive Albert ( this was not the first time he went awol!) We found him and asked where our jeep for the crater was? On its way, he says, another 10 mins, then another and we tell him to go and hire another jeep- NOW. It was your idea to start at this time - sort it out man!

It is coming, it is coming he kept repeating. Eventually it did arrive close to the orginal departure time. Seems like Alabert had told the driver the wrong hotel! Oh well, at least we were on our way - in convoy with a mulitude of identical vehicles. Kathie had warned me of the crowds at Bromo but did I listen??

We had agreed to view the sunrise from the "second most popular" viewpoint. We arrived early despite having been held up by a fallen tree blocking the road for ages. We then settled in for the two hour wait for the sunrise - what were you thinking Albert?

As we waited we took time to admire the night sky, it was a clear night, we were close to the equator and had some pretty good views of the Milky Way, a few meteor showers, all of which served to pass the time in the freezing cold! Gradually the light increased and the crater of Bromo became just visible through the mists below. All a little other worldly. It took us a few minutes to understand the eerie white glow we could see through the clouds bellows was in fact the headlights of the armada of jeeps coming up the mountain to join us. Soon there would be us and around 200 other sharing the viewing platform. Glad we didn't go to the most popular area!

Dawn eventually brike and to be frank, the sunrise wasn't all that fantastic but the sight really of the Bromo crater gradually revealing itself through the mists below really was impressive. Having seen enough and after climbing up to a couple of other vantage points, we set off back down the mountain in thick fog. Alberts plan was for us to go directly to the sea of sand and thence to the crater rim itself but as we could barely see through the thick fog, there didn't seem to be a lot of point. Speeding along in our jeep it was a miracle that we missed the hundreds of horseman riding around in the fog looking for tourists!

We suggested to Albert that we go back to the lodge, get some breakfast and venture out later once the fog had cleared. He didn't seem to happy about it but after some persuasion and a few words with the jeep driver he acceded to our requests.

After a surprisingly good breakfast of Mee Goring, we once again had to go off in search of our guide. Where is this guy going to? Maybe he left without us? We find him, once again pointing out that we don't appreciate being kept waiting especially when we are paying for his time and it is considered very rude. Doesn't really grasp the concept but off we set. One might get the idea that we are not too impressed with Albert the guide and you would be right!

The weather is now clear and bright but quite hot as we climb the 276 steps to the crater rim. Again, not a great fan of heights, once we get to the rim to see, rickety railings, a crumbling path and a vertiginous drop into the steaming crater below, I once again wonder why I am down this! As volcano craters go, it is interesting enough, but not the mind blowing sight I was expecting. Keen to get back down and way from the precipice, I am accosted by a group of girls from the Phillipines "can we have our photo taken with you" despite being ardently "anti selfie" it seems churlish to refuse so 20 or so photos later we finally head back down. The question buzzing around my brain is why would these kids want photos of us?

We drive back to the lodge, switch back to our normal car for the drive down to Ijen. Albert, a catholic (and so not fasting for Ramadan) sleeps for most of the six hour journey much to the chagrin of our driver, who is Moslem and is getting very tetchy and kept poking him! Can't say I blame him. TBC

kja Jul 7th, 2015 04:36 PM

LOL, crellston -- you seem to have won the world's-worst-guide lottery! And I think I'll take Rainbow Falls off my wish-list....

Kathie Jul 7th, 2015 05:31 PM

I'm sorry the Bromo experience wasn't what you thought you'd signed up for - nor was Albert! Was there any "best part" to this excursion? Maybe the night sky?

I hope Ijen is better!

crellston Jul 7th, 2015 06:08 PM

Actually Kathie, you did warn previously of how crowded Bromo would be. I was hoping that, being Ramadan, it would be slightly less crowded - wrong! It was still a great experience and I am glad we did it. The night sky was fantastic ( although mp not in the same league as Bolivia. The best part for me was watching as Bromo slowly reveal itself through the clouds. Although there was a lot of cloud when we were there so we perhaps didn't get the greatest views. Ijen was MUCH better. In fact I would rate it as one of our top five Asian travel experiences

Kja - your are correct re winning the guide lottery. Albert did not improve over the next couple of days. Although to be fair to him it was hard to tell as he was asleep for much of the time. In fact the tour operator related problems continued to increase.

kja Jul 7th, 2015 06:39 PM

Oh dear! In that case, may I please ask for the list of questions you used when interviewing tour operators -- just so I NEVER EVER use those questions? ;-) BYH, crellston!

marmot Jul 7th, 2015 07:26 PM

What were you thinking Albert? seems to apply to so many Indonesian experiences. :)

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