Java | Advice for Indonesian Paradise

My travel partner, Nate, and I spent a month in Java and Bali, the maximum they would allow us to stay with our on-arrival visas. We flew into Jakarta from Singapore and found it really easy to catch a bus into the city center…

There are (much more expensive) cabs all over the place, but we asked around and found a bus for a few cents. I think it was around the Jalan Sultan and Jalan Padang area. Everything is crazy cheap, and there are guesthouses everywhere, so you won’t have a hard time finding anything. However, the mosquitoes in Jakarta were possibly worse than anywhere else we went to in all of SE Asia; so bad that we couldn’t sleep for two straight nights. I would highly, highly recommend buying some really good spray with a ton of Deet in it before leaving, as it can be strangely hard to find in some places and crazy expensive if you do. (This will save your sanity on many occasions.) We ended up only spending two days in Jakarta because of the mosquitoes and because we found it to be a rather ugly city with incredibly busy streets that made it impossible to cross or hear conversations. Normally, this is actually one of the great things about Asia (the crazy traffic), but for some reason we weren’t charmed by it in Jakarta. All we did was walk all over the city, see some cool buildings and eat some good food. Then we left because we didn’t want to waste any of our 30 days in a place we weren’t really stoked on. The trains going out of Jakarta were really nice and really cheap, but it was the only comfortable travel we had in all of Indonesia, so get ready for that. After Jakarta, we went to Bandung, a city I would recommend you skip all together. There’s a pretty cool community area near a huge Mosque, and one really kitchy road with western themed bars, but not much else to offer.

From there, we went to Pangandaran, a sleepy (at least in the slow season) fishing village right on the ocean with these great guesthouses/bungalows that will more than likely be occupied by very cool looking and very loud geckos. We spent a while here, as the room was cheap and the ocean was a lot of fun to swim in. It has these crazy cross currents that are rather dangerous in certain areas. Also, the single most beautiful sunset I’ve seen in my entire life. We stayed at the Bamboo House in this spacious room made out of bamboo with a great indoor/outdoor shower. Cool courtyard, big bamboo chairs to sit in and read, close to the ocean and free breakfast every morning at their restaurant just up the road. It’s on the west side of the city, just ask any becak driver where it is at the bus station, and they can take you there, which is a pretty good idea since the station is a little bit out of town. You also have to go to this restaurant run by this little old sweet lady, who speaks no English, that we called mama. I don’t know what it was called, but it’s at the intersection of the main road into town and the road that runs along the beach on the Northeast corner. It’s really cheap, really personal (you watch her make it), and you get a ton of food.

From there I traveled alone for a while as Nate stayed back to learn how to surf. I went on to one of my favorite cities in Asia, Yogyakarta. In the area, Borobudur is a must see, I would highly recommend you go as early as you can because that place is crazy busy in the afternoon. If you’re going to Borobudur you have to go to Prambanan as well, which I actually found more interesting than Borobudur, a much larger space and much more to see. You can take a local bus from the heart of Yogyakarta out to Prambanan for next to nothing – just ask anyone in town, as long as they are not selling tour packages, which are way overpriced. As for Borobodur, it’s farther away and the tour is pretty cheap, so it’s not an awful idea, but you can also rent motorbikes and head out there yourself or negotiate a rate with a becak driver who will take you out there, wait, then take you back; it will still be cheaper than the tours.

When you get to Yogya, there’s a main drag called Malioboro that you can’t miss, a huge street with all kinds of western stores right by the train station. There are places to stay along this street, but I would recommend heading to Sosrowijayan, which runs perpendicular to Malioboro, really close to the train station. Ask around, as anyone can tell you how to get there. There are a ton of really cool little guesthouses in this area, so you should take a look at more than one and you can definitely barter. I ended up staying with this family that gave me this giant room in the upstairs of their house and cooked me breakfast every day for about three bucks a night. There’s also a great place called Bedhot Resto that doubles as a tattoo parlor. It was brand new when I was there, a little more expensive (still, like $5-$7 a person), but really nice. The tattoo artist, Bedhot, is a really nice dude, and he painted every room with these crazy murals that gave it a nice laid back feel. Everyone in town will want to take you to a batik shop, and they’ll tell you about how the government sponsors their store, or how the best university students make their batik, or how they’re the cheapest in town, but everybody is essentially selling the exact same paintings made in a factory somewhere. However, it’s kind of fun being led around, and most of the shops will give you free tea or coffee and snacks. I actually made a really good friend at one of the shops when I called him on this behavior, and he seemed to respect it in some weird way. From then on, every time I would see him around town, we would sit and chat and have a drink together, so it’s not a total waste. However, if you want to buy, know that almost all of the batik in Yogya isn’t handmade, though very pretty. You also have to go to the Kraton, the gigantic palace where the royal family lives. They have different music, dance, and theater performances most days of the week; they are very worth your time. Also, the Wayang Kulit (shadow puppet) performances are cool – it’s even cooler to find the dudes that make them and get the lowdown on the process. If you’re ever walking down Malioboro and you see a bunch of kids playing music, looking pretty raggedy, and possibly drinking whiskey from the bottle in the daytime, you should befriend them because they will show you a very good time. In particular, Eru, a short dude with dreadlocks who drives this old motorcycle with a cow skull on it that looks like it’s straight out of Mad Max. If you meet him, you need to tell him I say hello. (Or Pasker, or Kalop, or Eru’s girlfriend, whose name I couldn’t pronounce.) I spent most of my time in Yogya with those guys, and they drove me all over the place on the back of a motorbike, all the way out to the beach where we drank too much and stayed in this weird hut right near the ocean with no one else around. In the morning, I woke up and saw a horse drawn carriage plying it’s way across the beach, right near the water, and I could not for the life of me figure out where I was and what was happening. Then, I ate shark for the first and only time. That’s what I remember about Yogya, a really great city filled with great people and you should definitely go there.

As for the rest of Java, I don’t know if you’ll be going any further east, but if you have time, I would highly recommend going to see Gunung Bromo at dawn and then heading a little further east and going to the Ijen Crater, an experience that will completely baffle and awe you at the same time. I don’t want to overstate this, but of all the things I did in Asia involving natural beauty, this was by far the most impressive – on the top of my list of things I would tell a fellow traveler to see. It’s insane; really good looking. Also, there are these people up there doing amazing things that I don’t want to tell you about, because you need to be surprised by it. If you do go, you have to go down into the crater. It’s totally kosher, but most people just sit at the rim and look down. Nope. You have to go inside to really see what’s happening. It really is easiest to book a tour out of Yogya. You can get there by yourself, but it’s complicated and will take a lot of maneuvering. I booked a pretty cheap tour that took me to Bromo and Ijen in like two or three days, and I loved every second of it.

As far as leaving Java, we found it strangely difficult to get from Singapore to anywhere in Indonesia by any means other than a flight. There were ferries that ran on very sporadic schedules to Dumai in Sumatra and Jakarta, but they all seemed to take a long time and were about the same price as a flight. Also, from what I’ve heard, Sumatra is really, really difficult to get around. There are no train lines and the roads are very shady and get flooded in rainy season easily and often. You’d have a lot of ground to cover heading north from the southern tip, but if you have plenty of time and aren’t on a strict schedule, you’ll be fine. We really wanted to go to Sumatra initially, but ran into so many travelers that warned us against it that we changed our plans.

– B.

One Response to “Java | Advice for Indonesian Paradise”
  1. Bali says:

    The pictures, the pictures, the pictures,… :)

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