Go Back  Fodor's Travel Talk Forums > Destinations > Asia
Reload this Page >

Trip report to Indonesia (Java and South Sulawesi)

Trip report to Indonesia (Java and South Sulawesi)

Old Nov 10th, 2007, 06:54 AM
  #1  
AR
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 886
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Trip report to Indonesia (Java and South Sulawesi)

I had the great pleasure in being invited to give three presentations at a laboratory medicine conference in Makassar. As it was quite a distance from the UK, I took extra time out to visit the country and my hosts were very generous with their hospitality. The invitation extended to my wife as well.

When the invitation was made last May, I have to confess that all I knew about Indonesia was Bali.
This was our first visit to Asia and we flew from London to Jakarta via Hong Kong.

JAKARTA

I found Jakarta a little overwhelming to say the least. The traffic is completely crazy and the heat was quite difficult as we had just left 8 degrees C behind in the UK. We stayed at the Borobudur Hotel which was an excellent choice. The hotel seems to glow in a faded glory but the lobby is impressive, the Chinese restaurant very good and the rooms large.

Our first planned visit was to the National Museum which we were disappointed to find was closed on Mondays. Never mind, we were escorted to Taman Mini Indonesia Indah. I expected a kind of Legoland meets Disney but found a rich ethnic and cultural diversity that was very well made. Each area of Indonesia was represented with full sized houses. I especially enjoyed the Komodo area where we were invited in to touch and stroke the Komodo Dragon and they put a python around my neck. Not everyday sights in the UK! After lunch we wanted to buy local handicrafts and visited a local store before we had our first experience of the afternoon heavy rain of the rainy season.

YOGYAKARTA

We next flew to Yogyakarta on Garuda. We knew this airline had been banned from entering European Airspace and so we were quite anxious. The flight passed without problem and we were taken to The Kraton for lunch. The restaurant was owned by the Sultan's brother and the proprietor had great delight in giving us a guided tour. We found it utterly fascinating.
The afternoon was spent visiting Borobudur temple and our hosts had arranged an English speaking guided tour. Unfortunately, a school party of around 200 students decended on the temple at the very same time, but the visit was well worth it. The surrounding area seemed very peaceful after the chaos of Jakarta and Yogyakarta. The only difficulty were the hawkers, although in the end it was quite fun as they were always good humoured if a little persistent. Still, we bought a lot of trinkets and general tat to give as gifts back home.
We got back into Yogya just as the heavens opened once again and completely flooded the roads (which didn't seem to stop anything apart from the bicycle rickshaws). Our hotel was the Plaza which again seemed very comfortable with large rooms. In fact, the bed was so large that we could have fitted in another two adults (no jokes please).
The evening was spent at the Prambanan temple - unfortunately we didn't have the time to fit in a daylight visit - to see the Ramayana ballet performance. As it was raining, this was performed indoors. We found it fascinating, if a little long as jetlag was really beginning to set in.

MAKASSAR

We next flew to Makassar via Surabaya. The flight was three hours late in leaving, and if I had any doubts about Garuda then I certainly had more as we flew Lion Air. The plane was old and the landing definately the worst I have ever had. We hit the runway with a huge thud and it was a wonder that nobody injured their spines!!
At least they held the onward flight and so we embarked immediately and saw nothing at all of Surabaya apart from smoke rising from Mount Kelud (which was above the clouds and so visible only from the air). We found out that the volcano had erupted later in the week and that there had been no warning as the top of the mountain was obscured by cloud (according to the Jakarta Post). Perhaps we should have mentioned it!

The landing in Makassar was much better and we headed straight for the Clarion Hotel, although our path was obstructed by extremely heavy traffic made by the supporters of the various political candidates for the imminent election heading for their respective meetings.

I'll continue with my Makassar visit later.

Suffice to say that I found Java hugely fascinating and the people unbelievably warm and welcoming.
AR is offline  
Old Nov 27th, 2007, 07:29 PM
  #2  
 
Join Date: May 2003
Posts: 104
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Hi AR,

Nice to read your report.

I'm just starting to research Indonesia/Thailand for a 4 week trip. Would you recommend a stop in Yogyakarta or is it just another big city? If you have any other recommendations for Indonesia, please let me know.

Thank you.
Matisse is offline  
Old Nov 27th, 2007, 10:17 PM
  #3  
 
Join Date: Jul 2005
Posts: 2,844
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Actually, it's a common misconception that Garuda was banned from EU airspace - they didn't even fly there! The ban was actually on all Indonesian carriers. As they go, Garuda is one of the better ones, and one of only two carriers that has recently passed international certifications (the other is Mandala).

How's the Clarion? I haven't tried that one yet. I've got my sights set on trying out the new Santika when I have to go back to Makassar in January.

I assume you're heading up to Toraja?
MichaelBKK is offline  
Old Nov 28th, 2007, 01:18 AM
  #4  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 16,380
Received 83 Likes on 5 Posts
Hi AR -

I'm an American living in Indonesia. Just wanted to comment that Garuda is the best Indonesian airline available and the only airline approved by our company for business OR leisure travel. You couldn't pay me to fly Lion, although I know people who do.

Glad to hear you enjoyed your visit.
Melnq8 is offline  
Old Dec 11th, 2007, 10:03 AM
  #5  
AR
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 886
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
I'm sorry that I've not updated this yet!! Life's been hectic. I will get around to Sulawesi soon.

Yogyakarta has a much better feel to it than Jakarta (also much smaller)and is near the two jewels of Java in Borobudur and Prambanan temples. I would certainly recommend a stop there - in fact I would put the place at the top of the list for a visit to Indonesia (mind you, we didn't visit Bali).

Yes, I agree in that Garuda was the best - although the planes were quite aged. The choice to fly Lion wasn't mine (never again!!).

As for the Clarion, I found it a little inferior to the hotels we stayed at in Java but was OK nonetheless. There was a nice restaurant and bar area and my wife enjoyed the spa and massage. Unfortunately, I am unable to compare it to any other hotel in Makassar.

Yes, I'll post about Toraja as I've just about got over the 14 hour return car drive and can now talk about the experience!!

AR is offline  
Old Dec 11th, 2007, 02:52 PM
  #6  
 
Join Date: Jun 2003
Posts: 96
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
OK we will wait..but don't wait too long as I want to hear all about Sulawesi! We are in the process of choosing between Sulawesi and Borneo for an April 2008 15 day trip..tough call, I know.
kewilliam is offline  
Old Dec 11th, 2007, 03:25 PM
  #7  
 
Join Date: Jun 2003
Posts: 2,779
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
AR, Have enjoyed your chronicle so far and also await hearing your impressions of Toraja. It was one of the best trips I've ever taken, and though it was a few years back I can't imagine that it's changed much.

kewilliam, yes, tough decision. I've been to both and would go back to both with equal enthusiasm. Borneo as an island is a much larger spectrum and Tanah Toraja is more concentrated. If you include other areas of Sulawesi (like one of the magnificent reefs or rain forests) then the range of activity is similar. The cultures are completely different though. Both fascinating but different focuses.
marmot is offline  
Old Dec 12th, 2007, 08:12 AM
  #8  
 
Join Date: Jun 2003
Posts: 96
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Marmot..can you elaborate on the cultural differences between the two places? I have been searching all over for relevant info without great success..any info would be greatly appreciated. Did you scuba dive at either place?

kewilliam is offline  
Old Dec 12th, 2007, 07:29 PM
  #9  
 
Join Date: Jun 2003
Posts: 2,779
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
kewilliam, I haven't been to either place for several years so I'm afraid my information may not be current. There are several recent reports on Borneo that would be more up to date (and sooner or later AR is going to end the suspense

I was in Sarawak (Malaysian Borneo) and found Kucing to be a very nice town. We took a day's excursion by canoe into the rainforest, visited a longhouse, and caught a glimpse of local culture. It was really just a glimpse, but it was fascinating and -- at that time -- mostly unspoiled by civilization. I'm sure if you can spend a few days on a proper trek you would experience a LOT, in human culture, animals and flora.

We also visited the Niah caves in Miri area which was a fabulous adventure, about an hour's walk through the forest. The caves themselves are massive and the trails very well maintained. If I were to go again I would spend the night in the area.

I didn't do any diving in Borneo.

We drove from Makassar (Ujung Padang)to the Tanah Toraja area. As I recall it was several (4? 5?) hours of extraordinarily beautiful scenery. The Toraja people live in individual mountain villages in structures that are mythic and architecturally magnificent. The main focal point of their culture is reverence for the dead. [My husband forever refers to the trip as four funerals and a wedding]At funerals which go on for days they slaughter dozens of water buffalo. It's a grisly but fascinating ritual with a lot of dancing and carrying on. The burial places are decorated with effigies of the dead.

North Sulawesi is one of the best places on the planet for SCUBA. I don't think there's any convenient way to get there from Toraja though; you may have to go back to Makassar and then fly to Manado. You can also fly non-stop between Manado and Singapore.

The Bunaken area is the best known but there are several worldclass dive resorts. My favorite is Kungkungan Bay Resort.

There are other dive options in South Sulawesi as well. Not easy to get to but from what I'm told, pristine.
marmot is offline  
Old Dec 14th, 2007, 08:39 AM
  #10  
AR
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 886
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
OK then!

As I said, we stayed at the Clarion Hotel in Makassar. I found this to be inferior to the hotels in Jakarta and Yogyakarta but that is probably a reflection of the differing standards between Java and Sulawesi. The hotel was a conference hotel but the room itself had less amenities such as lack of hair dryer, not much wardrobe space (and even less hangars) and we had to ask for the mini-bar to be filled. In fact, I didn't realise it but you had to request that the mini-bar be filled daily if you used anything. As this was where my conference was being held, I needed to iron my clothes as they were pretty travel worn by now. Unfortunately, there were no facilities in the room and reception told us that it wasn't possible to request an iron and board. We made use of the hotel laundry where my 3 shirts cost very little to iron.
My wife used the spa facilites and a massage and hair appointment cost her only £8 ($16). You would easily multiply that by 10 in a UK hotel.

Out an about, we found the city very pleasant and were taken to Old Rotterdam to see the old colonial area which was fascinating. I loved looking at the sea and watching people eating coconuts at the road-side.
We also went to the quayside to see the boats being loaded which was a bustling place.

As in Java, we ate local food which was very good (apart from frog) and my wife loves seafood and enjoyed excellent crab and local fish. Some of the hygiene left a lot to be desired and it's not particularly appertising to have cockroaches and lizzards run around your feet - but makes a good story back home!

We were taken for a trip to the Bantimurung waterfalls where, even though it was out of season, we saw some spectacular butterflies and the odd kingfishers. It was so hot there and quite a relief when the rains came. Even though it couldn't quite be described as a rainforrest, it was still close enough for me.

TANAH (or TANA) TORAJA

As time was short and our hosts weren't prepared to pay $5000 for a helicopter trip for us all, we had to do a daytrip by road to Tanah Toraja. This meant leaving at 4am (hence why the mini-bar was important as we emptied it for breakfast) for the 7 hour drive - one way!
The scenery was spectacular and we made several stops for photographs amongst the bamboo or cloves, coffee and cocoa beans drying at the roadside. They say that the climate is cooler, but to be honest, a few degrees centigrade don't make that much of a sifference when you're talking of 33 deg instead of 35! We stopped at one of the towns for lunch and were immediately taken to one of the cave graves. We had missed a funeral by about three days, and I must admit that I wouldn't have enjoyed playing tourist at a funeral. We were led down steps by our young guides, armed with burning lamps and taken to the cave where there were tens of coffins (some over a hundred years old) outside. Some had bones poking out whilst others were relatively recent. Above the cave entrance were effigies to the elder respected locals which were quite spooky. Inside the cave (mind out for the bat droppings and fluids splashing on your head), there were coffins tossed about - some had burst open to reveal ghoulish skeletons, others again recent. There were what seemed quite humerous offerings made such as a skull with sunglasses and a cigarette clutched bewteen its jaws and hundreds of other cigarettes strewn about. It was hard to reconcile the fact that they were happy for us to wander around with our cameras with the solemnity and dignity (or lack of) that should have been observed.

Outside more coffins of the more senior members of the clans were to be seen higher up in the mountain with a tropical image below of rice fields, bamboo and coffee plants. Back up at the higher ground, a buffalo was tethered - no doubt being prepared for the sacrifice at the next funeral.

We then went back through the town and into a village of traditional houses with the unique architechture. There were also burials there, but not in caves but man-made huge containers. On each of the houses were buffalo skuls and a collection of horns depicting each funeral, I presume.

Then came the time for the trip home - another 7 hour journey. I must admit that I found this difficult and would suggest that others don't attempt it as a day-trip. We felt quite nauseous hurlting around the bends on the mountain roads. We arrived back in Makassar at about midnight. I can now look back at the day as a spectacular adventure, but at the time it was quite difficult - especially as we had our journey home the next day from Makassar - Jakarta - Hong Kong - London, a 26 hour total from beginning to end (and because I'd traded down my business class ticket to bring my wife!).

I can't really comment whether Sulawesi is better than Borneo - I can only assume that each region of Indonesia is like no other. What I can say is that we were treated like Kings and I hate to think what such a holiday would cost were we to pay for the trip including all the excursions with private guides. Every detail was catered for (umbrellas would magically appear and disappear and, if we looked hot and bothered, cans of Coke would be handed to us as if by magic) and I cannot speak too highly of the wonderful people of Indonesia.

A trully fantastic adventure...........and I've been asked to give a presentation in Bangkok in March!!!

AR is offline  
Old Dec 18th, 2007, 03:29 PM
  #11  
 
Join Date: Jun 2003
Posts: 2,779
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
AR, You went from Makassar to Toraja and back in one day?! You ARE a trooper. Thanks for the report. I'm definitely going back, but for a week next time.
marmot is offline  
Old Dec 18th, 2007, 03:59 PM
  #12  
 
Join Date: Jul 2005
Posts: 2,844
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Really! I spent three days there and felt rushed.
MichaelBKK is offline  
Old Dec 18th, 2007, 08:18 PM
  #13  
AR
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 886
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
It really was too much and I certainly wouldn't recommend it. In fact, I would say categorically DON'T do it.

As I was there on business and my hosts wanted so much for me to see the region, I went along with it. Truth is, I didn't know any different.

As for being rushed - the whole trip was a whirlwind tour and an appetiser for a return one day.
AR is offline  
Related Topics
Thread
Original Poster
Forum
Replies
Last Post
opxzaw
Asia
12
Feb 7th, 2013 04:08 AM
offwego
Asia
95
Feb 21st, 2009 06:04 AM
Clifton
Asia
4
May 6th, 2007 06:29 AM
kang
Asia
9
Sep 8th, 2006 06:27 AM
redintherainbow
Asia
4
May 2nd, 2004 05:52 AM

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are On


Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy - Privacy Statement - Do Not Sell My Personal Information