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Kathie Mar 5th, 2012 03:41 PM

Help with Java trip, please
Aloha friends, we are on our annual trip to Kauai during which we do the planning for our Asia trip each year. It's been pouring rain since late Saturday, so I've had lots of time to do research.

Our plan this year is to fly in and out of Singapore and spend most of our time in Java, We just have two weeks for this trip. I'm especially hoping that marmot and kuluk will have some info and advice for us.

Here is our plan so far:

Fly Singapore to Solo on Silk Air.

Stay 4 nights in the Yogyakarta area to visit Borobudor, Prambanam and several other temples in the area and to shop for local crafts. I've been to central Java before, but Cheryl has not. Our current thought is to stay at the Phoenix right in Yogya. We'd love to stay at the Aman, but it just isn't in our budget. I think we would prefer the Phoenix to the Hyatt. We will get a driver/guide to take us to Borobudor at dawn one day, perhaps the guide that Stan has recommended.

Then we want to go to Malang in Eastern Java. First question, how to get there?
The Garuda website will not work for me, so I can't tell if they have flights from Yogyakarta to Malang (JOG-MLG).
I know there is a train (the executive class Gajana) that originates in Jakarta and goes all the way to Malang. What is the train like? Is it non-smoking or are there non-smoking cars? How long does it take to get from Yogja to Malang?
The third option is to hire a car and driver to drive from Yogya to Malang. How are the roads and how long does it take?

In Malang, we plan to stay at the Hotel Tugu Malang for 4 nights. We'll take advantage of their Tracing the Kingdom package which includes day trips to Panataran, the temples around Malang, and one of the nearby volcanoes.

Any recommendtaions for other things to do/see here?

Then we'll hire a car and driver to take us to Surabaya. There are just a couple of things we want to see in the city, and we plan to stay at the Majapahit for one night before flying out of Surabaya to Singapore on Silk Air.

Anyone think we need a second night in Surabaya or have other recommendations for things to do/see there?

We will then have 4 nights in Singapore. We have been to Singapore many times and always enjoy our stays there. We haven't settled on a hotel yet, but several we are considering are the Ritz Carleton, the Intercontinential, and our old favorite, the Fairmont. Any comments on those or on other options in that price range will be appreciated.

Many thanks for your help!

filmwill Mar 5th, 2012 05:46 PM

Yay! Glad you're going back, Kathie. Java still ranks amongst our favorite places visited.

You will LOVE the Phoenix. I was completely surprised at how much I enjoyed staying there. It really was a wonderful hotel and David & I loved walking around Jogja aimlessly every day.

I hear you about the Aman, but do yourself a favor and plan a dinner (or at least sunset drinks) there. That's what we did. The food is *good* (not great) but nothing beats that view from the patio when the sun is setting. It's just unworldly.

Excited to hear how the planning goes!

Kathie Mar 5th, 2012 06:19 PM

Thanks! It was your recommendation for the Phoenix that made me look into it. We are looking at getting an Executive Suite there.

kuluk Mar 5th, 2012 06:24 PM

Kathie: Airfares are fairly inexpensive so I now fly whenever I can. Here is the link to the train schedule, and it appears Jakarta to Malang is about 15 hours. I haven't taken this particular one, but have taken other executive class trains and they were spacious and clean, but over-airconditioned.

I believe there is another airline that flies to Malang but I have no personal experience flying there. I have always just driven from Surabaya, but the drive is pretty easy and nice scenery. The drive from Jogja to Malang is not as nice, there are lots of speeding busses and trucks and it's harrowing for me. But then I am a very cautious person and everything worries me.

I love the Tugu, it's like staying in a small museum. Ditto the Majapahit.

There are some very nice tea plantations around the Malang/Batu area. But it's important to go there on non-weekend days, as it's a big local recreation area and traffic can get really bad on weekends. BTW, there are some small "zoos" up not look at them. It will break your heart. Do check out the Sampoerna cigarette museum

When I lived in Surabaya the only thing to do was go up to Malang haha! It's a big industrial city and very hot. but do check out the Sampoerna cigarette museum!

As far as touring up to Borobudur, Mendut is concerned, you can easily get the hotel to arrange your drive up. There are numerous official guides there who speak good english and are very knowledgeable. The same goes for Prambanan, though I would recommend doing it on a different day, possibly the day you drive from Solo to Jogja.

Speaking of Solo, a must-do is the Danar Hadi Batik Museum. He has collected hundreds if not thousands of old and wonderful batik examples from every region and style of Indonesian batik. I am a collector and dealer myself and even I was amazed at the breadth and depth of the will take you 2 hours minimum to tour. The museum is located behind the large Danar Hadi store, across the street from the Novotel Hotel. You have to go inside the store to buy a rp 30,000 ticket and wait for a guide to be available. ( At the end of the tour you will see the actual factory where they make hand waxed batik tulis and hand stamped batik cap.


marmot Mar 5th, 2012 07:20 PM

Hi Kathie, Two weeks in Java is long enough for total immersion. You'll either be enchanted or aggravated to the point of "get me out of here!" Probably a little of both. I haven't been to Central Java for a couple of years nor to East Java for more than ten so some of my experience is somewhat dated. Somethings, however, never change, for better or for worse.

What are the dates of your trip? Holidays and weather will play a part in your planning.

The Phoenix is generally well liked. I like the Hyatt because of its gardens which offer a respite from the density of Yogya, but I'd certainly give the Phoenix a try.

I'd strongly suggest a night or two in the countryside as you can't really experience the profound beauty and serenity from Yogya. It's also good to visit Borobudur more than once during different times of day. Unfortunately there aren't a lot of mid-range choices between the Aman (exorbitant) and the Manohara (seedy).

If the Lostari (now the MesaStila) doesn't appeal, I'd suggest looking at the Saraswati. Mixed reviews, and some bizarre design touches, but good, walkable location. Villa Sumbing Indah looks interesting too, but I don't have inside information.

Agree, plan on sunset-into-dinner at Amanjiwo. Also, check to see if they have any cultural events during your time in the area.

Malang isn't an easy place to get to. There are flights but they are seasonal and for the life of me I can't figure out what the season is. I believe Garuda only flies from Jakarta which isn't what you want.

[I actually think, though, that you might enjoy a day/night in Jakarta. There are some great hotels, very good restaurants and good museums and shopping. And as for exposure to a burgeoning and exasperating new-Asian city it can't be imagined.]

Back to Central/East Java: Commuter airlines that operate in the region are Sriwijaya Air, Wings Air and Lion Air. I have no information on these airlines positive or negative and their websites are a trial and error ordeal. You might want to enlist an Indonesian travel agent. I like Smailings, though "like" is relative.

You should consider flying into Surabaya and driving to Malang. If I remember properly it's only about 2-3 hours.You can fly from Yogya or Semarang to Surabaya on Wings Air. If you go to the Dieng Plateau you're halfway to Semarang.

Indonesian trains are functional, but a bit gritty and loose on scheduling. One website says that the drive from Yogya to Malang would take about 6 hours. I'm somewhat skeptical of this, but you might ask Tugu for updated information. They could probably arrange a car for you too. The northcoast road from Semarang to Surabaya an option as well.

The roads in the area are okay; it's the drivers you have to look out for. It helps to have a driver who's actually been to the destination. This is less common than you would think. And as Kuluk says the long distance buses and trucks are menaces.

Malang is a pleasant town though maybe not as charming as the Tugu website suggests. I'd strongly suggest that you plan to stay in the Bromo area for one or two nights. Like Borobudur you really can't grasp the profound beauty as a commuter. Accomodations on Bromo are also pretty grim, though Java Banana is trying to upgrade the choices.

The Majapahit in Surabaya is a definite yes, though Surabaya itself is not a big draw.

I'd consider traveling on to see the sulphur mining and lake at Mt. Ijen. Another interesting side trip would be Jepara which is between Semarang and Surabaya and the center of wood carving and furniture making. I haven't been to either one, though.

rhkkmk Mar 5th, 2012 07:33 PM

hope the rain stops for you

Kathie Mar 5th, 2012 08:22 PM

Many thanks to both kuluk and marmot for all of the great information. Let me clarify that we don't have two weeks for Java, more like 10 days (we have two weeks total for this trip, including flight time and a few days in Singapore).

Kuluk, I think we've ruled out the train from Yogya to Malang, as the executive class Gajayana leaves Yogya at 1:30 am and gets to Malang at 8:45 am. The driving time estimates I've been able to find range from 6 hours to 12 hours. Your description of the drive makes me think it isn't a good idea. My current thought is to fly JOG to SUB, then get a car and driver to Malang.

Thanks for your recommendation of the Danar Hadi Batik Museum. I'm very interested in textiles. I have great memories of visiting a batik workshop in Solo years ago that made the batik for one of the Solo kratons - gorgeous stuff! The Sampoerna cigarette museum is also recommended by the Lonely Planet. We will put it on our list.

Marmot, this trip is in November. We will fly into Solo on November 15 and we will fly back to Singapore on the 24th or 25th. I've looked into all of the hotels in the immediate area of Borobudor and other than the Amanjiwo they all sound pretty grim. I don't mind getting up really early to drive to Borobudor - I'd rather stay somewhere comfortable.

I was in Jakarta years ago and enjoyed it. I'm not sure it makes sense to fly to Jakarta in order to fly to Malang. I think it makes more sense to fly from JOG to SUB and get a car from there. My first choice for airlines is Garuda, second choice is Lion (this recommendation from someone who consults to airlines about safety - he said he wouldn't consider any other Indonesian airlines). I'm assuming Garuda flies JOG to SUB.

I'll take a look at the Bromo area and Mt. Ijen as well. Thanks for the suggestions.

I've run into one more glitch. In checking the Silk Air website, if you buy a one-way ticket to/from JOG or SUB, each leg costs over $800 per person! The website cannot do open jaw or multi-city itineraries. I'm hoping when I call Singapore Air to book, they will have reasonable prices on open jaw tickets.

And thanks, Bob, we are having quite a storm here on Kauai - wind and sheets of rain. Fortunately, we made dinner in tonight and are sitting with a good bottle of wine watching the weather drama. Cheryl says hello to you and Karen.

marmot Mar 5th, 2012 09:22 PM

November should be good for photography at Bromo.

Air Asia now flies from Singapore to Yogya. You may also want to look into flying to or from Jakarta as fares and connections to other parts of Indonesia are both good.

I prefer Garuda too, but I'm less negative on the other commuter airlines. Millions of people use them mostly because there's no other time conscious choice. I don't know that I'd identify Lion as especially better (safer) than the other domestics. They've had some recent issues with pilots on drugs.

I don't think Garuda flies non-stop from any of the cities in Central Java to East Java. You'd have to connect through Jakarta or Bali, which seems counterproductive.

Some Indonesian trains have both executive and business class. Executive is what you want.

I find Indonesia cities tiring and difficult to navigate, and it's more for the natural beauty of the Borobudur area than for convenience that I'd recommend spending a few days outside of the towns. Sunset and pre-dawn are particularly spiritural when the mosques are going and the light changes. The insects kick up a racket and the bats and swiftlets change places.

kuluk Mar 5th, 2012 11:03 PM

November might not be good enough weather for Ijen. It could be very rainy and foggy, as it's in the middle of the rainy season.

Jakarta is not that bad of an airport to fly into, especially if it will save you hundreds of dollars! Try to arrive super early in the morning or super late at night to avoid the traffic jams. Traffic has gotten incredibly worse in the past few years.

I just checked the Lion Air site and it seems they do fly between Jogja and Surabaya. A travel agent I have used for about 15 years for multi-cities is Bayu Buana. They have an office in every major city in Indonesia.

Another note, it's really not that far from Jogja city to Borobudur, (about an hour to hour and a half) and the Hyatt is about 20 minutes out of downtown so you would save a few minutes. Prambanan is about 20 minutes in the other direction, on the way from Solo to Jogja. I have never been to Kaliurang, but friends tell me it's also a lovely place to stay...but of course could depend on what Merapi volcano will be like.

Smeagol Mar 6th, 2012 12:29 AM

Reading this with interest as it's on our radar to do this either this year ( if we don't go to California) or next.

filmwill Mar 6th, 2012 12:34 AM

<GASP!> You MUST go to California. It is mandated by law. :)

Hanuman Mar 6th, 2012 12:55 AM

Nicky -

Smeagol Mar 6th, 2012 01:25 AM

FW - well then I must!! I have spoken with Virgin and I can get a VERY good deal on flights using my miles, so plan to book this week( will just check the rates for HKG though) You my friend will be the FIRST to know. Remember I am coming just so I can have G& Ts with you in LA :)
Sorry Kathie, didn't mean to detract from your thread.

Kathie Mar 6th, 2012 10:03 AM

Lots more good information, marmot and kuluk. Many thanks. I spent time last night reading about Bromo and Ijen. Given the weather issues, I think we'll look into Bromo. It's not yet clear to me how we get there from Malang and how long it will take.

And thanks for the info on flights JOG - SUB. I need to do some more research on trains.

Marmot, I will do some more research on places to stay in the countryside, and will look at the other places you mentioned.

The storm is over here on Kauai, so we are going out to enjoy some sunshine.

Good luck on getting your tickets, Smeagol.

susncrg Mar 6th, 2012 12:01 PM

Kathie - re staying overnight at Borobudur, yes, the Manohara was pretty grim, but for one night it was manageable. The good part was being able to sit outside in their restaurant and have Borobudur smack in front of you with crowds all gone. That really made us grin and bear it and the view could not be beat. The Aman sent a car down to pick us up for lunch there, too.

We also stayed at the Phoenix, before it was called the Phoenix, and thought it was quite nice, in spite of being on a busy street. It was several years ago, but at the time the massages were quite good! Have a great return trip. Are you returning to the Dieng Plateau? I think it was your TR that made me go and I was glad I did.

filmwill Mar 6th, 2012 01:38 PM

If you're considering an overnight in Borobudur (and personally I don't think you need one--commuting from Jogja is easy enough), I'd suggest the Manohara over the Saraswati. Both *are* dreadful, but I've never once before in my life left a hotel early because it was so terrible. I did that at Saraswati. Everything looks "normal" on the surface but everything on the inside (including the service) is atrocious. I couldn't get out of there soon enough.
If you are looking to do something a bit more "country" in Jogja, you might consider this place:
Looks wonderful but the downside is it could be even more isolated than Borobudur is (and at least there, you have the temple to see.)

marmot Mar 6th, 2012 01:52 PM

I believe the weather would be much the same at Bromo and Ijen, but I may be wrong here. Early November is the cusp of the rainy season. I may be overly optimistic and Kuluk overly pessimistic, but my guess is that you'd still get some clear days. It rains all year in Indonesia, even in the middle of the dry season. That's why I always suggest two tries at sunrise.

I visited Bromo from Malang in late December. We rose at 2:00 a.m. drove north in darkness to increasingly higher elevations, through thick fog. The few people we passed on the road were bundled up and looked miserable. Around 5ish we reached the entry to the Bromo viewing area, had a cup of coffee at a filthy place and bought ridiculous knit hats with BROMO on the rim. (My son still wears his.) Then we huddled with a group of equally chilled tourists and waited for the sun to rise which it didn't, really. Everything faded from black to grey. We then took the ponies across the sea of sand and looked down into the caldera. By then the sun was shining but we began the journey back to Malang, exhausted.

Despite the best intensions, I never returned. Though my son has. He says staying on the mountain and being able to see the area at various times of day in various weather conditions was a much more satisfying experience. The guides are good and will provide as much adventure as you want, though you have to be very careful of the thermal activity.

It's not just one mountain, but a group of volcanic peaks which makes for extraordinary photography. There are several entries with different vantage points and trekking venues. If you're interested I'd talk to the folks at Java Banana for logistics. Wikipedia travel is good for an overview.

AskOksena Mar 6th, 2012 03:04 PM

>>>We will then have 4 nights in Singapore. We have been to Singapore many times and always enjoy our stays there. We haven't settled on a hotel yet, but several we are considering are the Ritz Carleton, the Intercontinential, and our old favorite, the Fairmont. Any comments on those or on other options in that price range will be appreciated.<<<

Warm greetings Kathie and congratulations on another stay in our fine home of Singapore. Many thanks for your years of appreciating and supporting SIN. Special part of the world, indeed.

Regarding Singapore hotels, my first suggestion is the Four Seasons, my main business travel hotel before acquiring a property in SIN. What a special place, staff and friends, with some sweet suites, rooms and public venues.

I do have many more Singapore hotel, restaurant and recreational ideas, including a couple of gems discovered over the past several weeks and months. Will convey them to you in a few days, as a bit rushed this week with meetings in the SF Bay Area. (Flying back to Asia this weekend -- via that cherished Singaporean airline.)

Have fun on Kauai. Haven't been on that island in some time. (Over the years of UA 1K status, most of my United 'CR-1s' have been used flying SFO-KOA-SFO for all-too-short long weekends. Always fine times in Paradise.)


macintosh (robert)

... Singapore Girl, You're a Great Way to Fly ...

Kathie Mar 6th, 2012 06:47 PM

Thanks to all of you. I think we won't try to stay at Borobudor for a night, but the villa you gave the link to looks great, Filmwill.

I'm not sure if we will go to the Dieng Plateau this trip or not. And I'm still researching Bromo (and the other two volcanoes rising from the caldera of the old volcano) and Ijen. There are always choices to be made, as we can't go everywhere in our limited time.

marmot, your story about Bromo makes me wonder if it is worth taking time to try to see the sunrise there or not, given our limited time. I know it's always chancey. We need to spend more time looking into our options.

AO, I always appreciate your hotel and restaurant recomendations. We will add the Four Seasons to our list to consider.

kuluk Mar 6th, 2012 07:42 PM

One of the reasons I recommend Bromo over Ijen is that Bromo is a relatively easy trip, and the payoff is 5 steaming volcanos in a row, makes for a great photo. Although I haven't been to Ijen, just yesterday for example, a friend went all the way from Bali just to see Ijen and it was hard going and they didn't see a thing because of fog. Given your limited time, I agree you don't NEED to see either one, but Bromo as I mention is a relatively easy jaunt from Malang anyway.

The reason I try to be overly pessimistic is that Kathie is trying to maximize her time in Java and there are factors that can't be overlooked sometimes. If you have time and all works well it's great, but you do have to budget in a few days/hours extra for niggly details. Eg: This Friday in Jogja all flights departing the airport, including mine, were delayed about 4 hours due to inclement weather (wind and rain). If you are cutting it close to get to Surabaya to get to Bromo and Ijen those few hours could make a big difference. Just trying to prepare travellers for the possibilities.
I do envy everyone with their budgets for star-rated hotels, though. My (forced) style of travel is low to the ground...I am in Singapore a few times a year and my top budget is US 100.

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