The largest Indonesian island, the largest temples, most of the population, the largest cities…
We only had a week to spend on Java, in the week we had to get from the very south of the island all the way to the north, to Jakarta, the Capital city of Indonesia. Difficult task though it may have been, we made it.
Return of authenticity
We were looking forward to getting rid of tourists after leaving touristic Bali. Therefore Java was the right place to go. We didn´t meet any tourists in the firsts city – Banyuwangi – to start with. Locals couldn´t speak English, yet many of them were watching us of curiosity or even greeting us.
In Banyuwangi there is an amazing tradition of local children choirs performances taking place every night in one of the local parks. Some choirs dance, another sing… During our visit, the biggest attraction was, paradoxically, us. Not only did the viewers pay attention rather to us that to the performing children, even one of the choirs approached us to take a picture with us.
Java is the only island where you can find a railway. You can even book a ticket online. But don´t you cheer just yet. There are no more than a few trains a day and the tickets are often sold out days ahead. Because of the sold-out tickets, we ended up travelling many hundred kilometres by a crowded bus.
If you manage to buy the tickets you shall be rewarded by a train where you can be sure you will have a place to sit. Many trains are rather luxurious, having AC or sockets.
For travelling nearby a city, scooter is the best. We always rented one for a couple days in each city.
You can also use the bus service for intercity transport. Unfortunately, it is scattered, therefore hard to find.
Just like anywhere else in Indonesia, you can use Uber-like apps Grab and Gojek.
A rather small town not far away from a port with ferries to Bali. Apart from a huge mosque and the performances mentioned above, there is not much to see. There is a strangely calm mood though. There are a few interesting places in the area nevertheless. You can go see a waterfall, turtle farm and mini-shark farm or you can go snorkelling. Compared to Bali and Lombok, everything seems to be somehow smaller and more boring.
Something you wouldn´t find on any other island is Mt. Ijen and Tree Guest House hotel personal. Apart from the owner, no one could speak English there, their willingness made up for it though. First, they borrowed us a scooter for free for an entire day. Then they arranged a climb to the Mt. Iljen for us, likely with a discount. And lastly, a cool guy took us around the whole city by car because of lunch, train and bus station. We still ain´t sure we got in the right bus to Jogyakarta.
A unique mountain. A still active volcano which offers a remarkable spectacle in form of so-called blue fire – burning sulfur.
As it is the case in Indonesia, you climb the mountain before the sunrise accompanied by a guide. Here, it is more justified, than it is on Mt. Batur on Bali. First, they take you to a campsite some 200 m below the peak by a van. There you join up with other tourists, get a guide and a lantern and gas mask. You need those because of the toxic sulfur vapours which leak around the volcano peak. A walk to the crater edge follows. From the edge, you all descent into the crater to a place where sulfur is still being mined manually up until today. Along the way, you constantly need to make space for miners carrying heavy containers full of sulfur to the edge of the crater. In the crater, you can watch blue flames of burning sulfur or the miners mining sulfur ore.
Before the sunrise, we climbed the higher, eastern, edge of the crater on our own. There we enjoyed both an astonishing view of sunrise and the surrounding land. The land around the place is unique and breathtaking in itself. One of the most beautiful places we´ve ever been to, no doubts.
Travel to Yogyakarta
To get to about 800 km distant Yogyakarta is easy in theory. Buy a train ticket with a single change and you are in your destination. Not as easy in practice though. Tickets were sold out a day ahead. However, our tenant assured us there will be tickets at the counter. Other apartment owner forced us to let him take us by a car with a stop for lunch. At the station, they said what we feared they would. They told us there are no more tickets and that it is no Czech Railways so they don´t fill the train up to the toilets. Not even our guide could do anything about it, no matter how hard he tried. What now? The next train wasn´t departing until the following day and we already spent a day extra in Banyuwangi. The bus it was. Luckily enough, we had a guide with a car and there was a direct bus to Yogyakarta departing from the bus station straight away. The travel was 3 hours longer, the comfort was appalling for they didn´t bother to pack the bus up the roof. But after overnight travel did we arrive at our destination nevertheless.
Yogyakarta, perhaps the second best city on Java (second best to Surakarta). It is for the city is more or less in the middle of the island, therefore in the area, there is a number of places to go to. Even the city in itself offers a program for, maybe even a couple of days. Don´t forget to go at least to the palace and the spa.
In the evening go to the Alun Alun square. It left us breathless. I´d put a picture or a video of it here, but I don´t want to spoil you a surprise. So don´t you even google it, it really is cool!
The city is also known for batik clothing and paintings. It´s not something we appreciated though.
For a couple-day stay, renting a scooter comes in handy for the city is huge.
35 km northwest of Yogyakarta, there is one of two most famous Indonesian sights – the world biggest Buddhist temple – Borobudur. It is the most visited and also the most expensive sight on Java. For the entry, have some €26 aside. Or have €35 straight away to get a multi-ticket so you can go to Prambanan as well. Having ISIC comes in handy. I obviously didn´t have it with me for anywhere else in Indonesia there is no use of it.
The temple is beautiful indeed, but should I not travel the world to be there, I surely wouldn´t pay this much. Around the temple, you can go for a walk to a park, go to a museum, or have a snack by an elephant paddock.
The scooter was acting out on our way back for our back wheel was flat. What to do about it? On Sunday evening in a village… The first person we met and asked about a service station called for a young lad who was a counsellor on a Scout Camp in front of which we had stopped. The lad left us, went to a small house next to the campsite for a while, came back and took our scooter to the house which belonged to an older man who immediately started putting our scooter together. While we were waiting for the glue to solidify, the scout took us to the camp to meet his friends. He was telling us tales about scouting in Indonesia and about villages where Indonesians go to learn English. Going there was his dream. We told him a bit about our lives as well. Pitty that we had forgotten to pack our sing of gratitude, Spa wafers. We paid some €1 for the scooter repair and successfully arrived home.
20 km northeast of Yogyakarta, there is the biggest Hinduistic complex in Indonesia. All I wrote about Borobudur applies to this complex as well. This one is just a €4 cheaper and instead of elephants they have fallow deer and cassowary there.
Curiosity was, we met a guide who also accompanied Vaclav Klaus around the complex.
20 km north of Yogyakarta, there is a Gunung Merapi volcano. On its slopes, there are caves and waterfalls. It is therefore likely a nice place to go for a stroll. Sadly, on the weekends they ask tourists some €18 for entry to the forest. We didn´t even have this much money at the moment and even if we did, we wouldn´t pay it. We went to a comical complex Lost World Castle instead. It is nothing else, but a traditional foto place for locals where they come to take pictures with various movie dummies (Jurassic Park, the Lord of the Rings… they even have some Šemík there). More important was, on our way we, by a chance, came across a ,,museum“ of volcano explosion from 1930 or 1994. It is the remains of a village destroyed by the explosion. Therefore there are walls and other things – bikes, dishes and even a cow skeleton – that didn´t melt down. There are also pictures and labels describing the catastrophe. The entry is free, yet I wouldn´t recommend it to weak natures.
Travel to Jakarta
We were leaving Indonesia from Jakarta, 800 km away from Yogyakarta. Luckily, we managed to buy tickets for direct night train this time around. By then, we had heard the trains in Indonesia are not any bad. The quality of the train surprised us nevertheless – clean, not crowded, air-conditioned with sockets… We could use these on some lines in Czech…
In Jakarta, we visited Merdeka square, where military or police troops come jogging, the biggest mosque in Indonesia and opposite standing church.
Sadly, during the week on Java, we didn´t get to see or do more than we did. We rushed through the island like tourists, not like travellers. We visited fascinating historic sights. But maybe we will need to go there again – because of the people and nature. For those are the real treasures of the island.
Translated by Dan