Where: Java, the main island of Indonesia.
This page includes information about:
- Travelling from Bali to Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park
- Yogyakarta, including information on visiting Prambanan and Borobudur.
- Yogyakarta to Jepara and our unsuccessful attempts to get to the Karimunjawa Islands
When: July 2014
Why: We visited Java on our 2014 adventure when we also visited Australia, East Timor and Vietnam. We stopped in Java after Bali and before flying into Vietnam. Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, is on Java, but I will give it its own page as there’s quite a lot for me to write about Jakarta.
This page is a little different to normal, and a little longer, as I’ve grouped Java together rather than writing about each place individually. This is because there are a few places that deserve mention, but which we just travelled through or ended up going to for no purpose.
Java is the main island of the Indonesian archipelago. At the far east is the island of Bali; at the far west is Krakatoa and Sumatra. (The movie Krakatoa: East of Java got their geography totally wrong).
We visited Java as part of our 2014 adventure when we travelled through Australia, East Timor, Indonesia and Vietnam. I’m not sure how I feel about Java as a whole, as we saw some truly wonderful places and things here, but it was also a complete pain in the bum to navigate and we spent quite a bit of time wandering aimlessly across the island, not sure what to do. I gave up on Indonesia half way through our trip after an amalgamation of individual irritations that just made everything so hard and frustrating to do.
We found Java quite hard to navigate, though the reasons for this could be easily rectified and I think this is starting to change. There is a comprehensive transport network in Java, but information about the services available was hard to come by. Most information wasn’t on the internet, the information services didn’t seem to be able to help (even the tourist information offices couldn’t answer basic questions) and people weren’t that helpful. There were lots of touts, scams and corruption – and this made journeys needlessly frustrating. I spent a lot of time being really angry and just wanting people to leave me alone.
I think we would have had a much better, less-frustrating trip if we had been there on a guided tour and we might have appreciated this island more than we did. Many of the systems in place here were quite complicated, and it seemed that you needed local help to navigate them. Our friend who lives in Java has explored it extensively, but mostly with the support of his local friends. Navigating as foreigners, on our own, we found to be quite hard. Having some local help could have greatly improved our trip.
The reality of travel is that it is often frustrating and you can end up feeling very lost. I’m glad we went to Java, but I wish we’d cut and run and gone somewhere that we would have enjoyed more, rather than sticking it out and trying to make the best of it.
We visited Java at a time of huge change for Indonesia, just as Jokowi was voted in as President. Jokowi seems to represent a break from the old, corrupt, autocratic leaders of the past, connected to the old-regime; and there are high-hopes that he can help Indonesia to become a more modern, democratic nation. I really hope he succeeds because there is so much potential here and the people of Java deserve good, corruption free services.
Java is certainly a beautiful place: it’s lush, volcanic, interesting and pretty. There are good things about Java: Mount Bromo, Borubadur and Parambatam are world-class tourist attractions; hotels are preposterously good-value (we stayed in the Crowne Plaza for £20), so I would still recommend a trip here but you will probably appreciate it much more if you come here on a guided tour, with locals who can help you navigate. Hopefully in the next few years the things that frustrated us will be addressed and Java will become a much more accessible tourist destination for independent travellers too.
What we did on our holiday
Mount Bromo, Cemoro Lawang
Mount Bromo is a really cool, active volcano that you can climb and go look inside. It’s also pretty easy to get to and to visit.
Mount Bromo is set in a stunningly beautiful, high-altitude national park, that is almost Alpine like. As we entered Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park we drove up and up and up and up: we got seriously high, seriously fast. It was strange being at cold high-altitude, so quickly after being in the sultry heat of sea-level.
The area around Cemoro Lawang (the village on the rim of the Tenggar Caldera) was made up of misty mountains, pine forests and agriculture (see below); it was a lush landscape that made me feel glad to be alive and in the world, and all of this was before we even got to the live volcano in its midst.
We travelled to Cemoro Lawang from Kuta, Bali. We booked a direct bus with Perama and it cost us 275,000 rupia (about £14 each) (350,000 rupia in Aug 2021). It was a loooooong journey. We left at 10 a.m., it took us four hours to reach the ferry port at Gili Manuk, an hour to cross over to Java (the ferry was really run down and they played very loud karaoke) and then it was another five hours driving across Java. We were very lucky as we only had three people in our mini-bus, so we got to spread out and sleep. We swapped buses with some people going the other way about half way along and their bus was packed. We felt very sorry for them.
Although it was a long, ten-hour trip, it was an interesting journey. We saw volcanoes and monkeys and the sea in many places. I much preferred Java to Bali as it was less crowded, the tarmac was good and we nearly crashed only twice (Indonesian driving is awful; nearly as bad as Indian driving).
We stopped off about mid-way on the Java section of the trip, at a cafe which served basic food, cold drinks and had toilets. We were finally dropped off at our hotel at about eight at night.
Where we stayed
We booked Hotel Sion View, even though it had terrible reviews, as we didn’t want to arrive with nowhere booked. It cost us £30 (an exorbitant price for Java) and was very basic. In fact it was probably the worst place we stayed on our entire trip. However, because we had read the bad reviews online we were prepared for a lot of the issues: we’d bought toilet paper because we were told there was none; we’d bought food as we’d read it was terrible; we were prepared for the teenagers running the hotel, their loud kareoke and that they would try to wake us up for sun-rise trips at five a.m.
The room we had was okay: it had a bathroom with shower over the toilet, and a TV (in the room, not the bathroom).
The thing that was really bad though was the duvet had no cover and we’re pretty sure they don’t wash the duvets every day. God knows how many people had slept under those blankets and when they’d last been washed. There wasn’t even an under sheet – just the duvets. So we slept on top of the duvet, in our sheet sleeping bags, but being high up in the mountains it was freezing! We put on every item of clothes we had with us; but even though we were freezing, we still couldn’t bring ourselves to go under that duvet.
I’ve heard that all the accommodation at Cemoro Lawang is bad, but that some is less bad than others. This gets booked up though, so it’s worth pre-booking somewhere to stay as soon as you know you’re going to be visiting there (we faffed and lost a lot of options). Although our hotel was bad, we were glad to have somewhere to head to at the end of our journey and we’ve both previously stayed in worse. The girl who was in the bus with us didn’t have anywhere booked, so had to find somewhere when she arrived. We arrived in the dark at eight at night and although our place wasn’t great, we were glad we had somewhere booked.
As a top tip, if you’re not that bothered about seeing Bromo at sunrise, you could visit on a long day trip from Surabaya. This would open up a lot more travel and hotel options and may be a better way to see this magical landscape. Although Bromo is so amazing that it’s worth staying somewhere not so great for the opportunity to see this brilliant place.
The Hotel Sion View was actually located about three miles downhill from Cemoro Lawang and so we had to get transport between the hotel and Mount Bromo.
What we did on our holiday
So most people who visit Mount Bromo go to watch the sun rise over the volcano and they do a jeep tour over the ash field. When we were there, there were lots of jeeps driving up and down the road offering this trip, and the hotel tried to wake us up at 5 a.m. to get us to go on this trip – even though we’d already told them we didn’t want to. I’m sure going to watch the sunrise over the volcanoes is amazing, but I have heard that it can be cloudy at times, the viewing spot can get busy and there are scams associated with these jeep tours. We could have booked a sunrise jeep tour with Perama (who we travelled to Bromo with) and this cost about 200,000 rupia (£10). We didn’t want to have to get up at sunrise though, so we decided to just make our own way to the volcano.
We got up early as it had been so cold, and we decided to head up to Cemoro Lawang so that we could have breakfast overlooking the crater and then we would make our own way down to the volcano.
We tried to get a jeep or a bike to run us the 5km up to Cemoro Lawang, but they wanted to charge us 100,000 rupia (£5), a preposterous price; so we walked the first 2km (all up hill) and then got two bike taxis to take us up the last 3km (50,000 rupia (£2.50) for the two of us).
We had a little walk around Cemoro Lawang, didn’t find anywhere for breakfast, then we made our way to the crater rim to admire this fantastic landscape. Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park really is stunning as it’s not just one volcano, but a series of them. Down in the Tengger Caldera, the huge crater rimmed by high cliffs and mountains, there is the Sea of Sand, and on this black sea of ash there are two volcanoes: Batok and Bromo. Batok is bright green, dormant and covered in vegetation; Bromo is live and smoking! Apparently from certain points of the rim (Mount Penanjaken) you can see a third volcano, Gunung Semeru, at the same time.
All around the rim there were radio masts and equipment, which I think are used to monitor this live volcano to alert the authorities of any imminent eruptions. It’s needed as Bromo last erupted in 2015 and the caldera was closed for a few months. This is after we visited. You can get up to date eruption info from the Global Volcanism Programme.
We walked into the national park (the entrance is way back in the village, so if stopped you could just pretend you were staying at a hotel past the barrier to get through for free). We weren’t stopped and so we were not charged the 220,000 rupia (£10) entrance fee. We think there’s a scam going on there with the jeeps, and that it’s only people who go in by jeep who get charged. We also heard such a range of prices, that we think there’s some creaming off the top going on here (the highest price I heard was 375,000 rupia).
We initially planned to walk to Bromo, down the caldera rim and across the sea of sand, which apparently takes 45 minutes; but I don’t think we realised quite how far it was. Luckily, at the start of the road down into the crater we met some bike taxis and they offered to run us to Mt Bromo for 50,000 rupia each, return (£2.50 each).We said yes and I’m so glad we did as it was so cool! Zooming across the Sea of Sand, clinging onto the bikes with our knees, no helmets, with the volcano puffing away in front, clouds spilling over the edge of the Tengger caldera we were in the middle of. It was one of the most fun, exhilarating things I’ve ever done. Even now just thinking about it makes me want to woop (Wa-hoo!).
At the base of Batok and Bromo there is a Hindu temple (we didn’t go in here), then there is a path and a stairway up the side of Mount Bromo. I was followed by a man and a horse at the start of the climb (he followed me most of the way up offering me a lift, by which point I didn’t need a lift), but it was actually quite a good distraction to the tough climb; then I clumped up the 255 steps to the rim.
The volcano was cool (hot) and stinky. From the rim we could look down into the cloudy caldera, with sulphorous steam drifting up around us. I couldn’t see any lava; it looked like there was water at the bottom.
Mount Bromo is the site of an interesting annual festival, Upacara Kasada, where local men climb into the caldera and try to catch offerings that are thrown down by people on the rim. It’s very dangerous, and apparently every few years someone falls in, becoming the latest offering to the mountain god.
We spent about ten minutes at the mountain rim before the sulphurous steam got too much for us.
Surabaya is the second major city in Java and in Indonesia. It is a modern city of shopping malls and exhibition centres, located to the east of Java. It’s a big, buzzy city that seems to be very busy, working hard and being all developed. I really liked Surabaya, which I didn’t expect to. It has lovely, wide, tree-lined streets, a nice river and it seemed like quite a modern, go-getting city. I’m glad we went there.
Sometimes when I’m sat in meetings I think, I bet there’s a Jenny equivalent sitting in a meeting room right now, like me, but in Surabaya. I don’t know why I felt this connection to this city, but it felt very familiar, even though it’s on the other side of the world and even though we were only there for one night and only saw a small bit of it.
We travelled to Surabaya from Cemoro Lawang, Mount Bromo. We got a bemo (private mini-bus) from Cemoro Lawang to Probolinggo bus station. We found the bemo just parked up outside a hotel and we asked if we could jump in. We had to wait about an hour for them to fill up the bemo before they left, but they did stop at our hotel so that we could grab our bags. They were nice and it cost 30,000 rupia each (£1.50). It took about 40 minutes to get from Cemoro Lawang to Probolinggo.
They dropped us off on the road by Probolingo bus station, where I had a complete melt down and decided I had had enough and wanted to go home. It was the touts that got to me. As someone who likes her personal space, I hate, hate, hate when someone won’t leave me alone, especially if they try to touch me too. On our way into the bus station, one tout had tried to grab me, and that got me annoyed; then inside the bus station people would not leave us alone and every time we tried to work out which bus to get or who to pay, touts would come and try to interfere and get in our way. I felt really claustrophobic and got really angry, because all I needed was some time and space to work things out rather than being pushed around. I had a bit of a melt down, so we went for a sit down whilst we tried to navigate the system without interference. (Obviously, there was no one official for us to ask and very little information about bus services etc.).
Eventually, we worked out that we just had to get on the right bus and wait on the right bus, and that the conductor would come along, once we had set off, to collect the money for our tickets at the right price. All of the people who tried to stop us at the bus side to ask for money for tickets were just touts, trying to overcharge us.
Whilst waiting to depart there was a constant flow of sellers and beggars on the bus; and it was when a busker got on with his guitar that I just started giggling, as it was all so preposterous. Incidentally, Lonely Planet in their guide book do make a note that Probolinggo bus station is particularly bad for touts.
In the end, we got on a nice bus and this bought us to Surabaya for 27,000 rupia (about £1.50). The journey took about an hour and a half.
On the bus, we came up with a plan: we would get bus P1 from the bus station to the centre of Surabaya, we would get a hotel by the station and then we would go buy train tickets for the train to Solo the next day. At Surabaya bus station, we got a lot of hassle again (I started telling these men to F off) and the bus didn’t turn up, so we finally got a taxi who charged us a fair fare of 55,000 rupia (£2.70) to go to the centre.
Where we stayed
We were following Lonely Planet here and the first place we headed to, which we directed the taxi to, was Orchid Guesthouse. When we go there though, we decided the hotel was a little dark and dingy and so instead we checked in to Hotel 88, a nice business hotel across the street. It was so wonderful to be in a nice, clean hotel with TV, free drinks and internet. We cleaned our clothes, watched TV and called our families back home.
A double room at Hotel 88 for one night cost us 325,000 rupia (£17).
What we did on our holiday
We went to Surabaya to use it as an interchange. All we did there was clean up, enjoyed using the internet in the hotel and we went to Pizza Hut in the shopping mall.
I think we just went to Solo because of the name: we were together in Solo. Also it’s a really cool imperial city, Jokowi used to be the mayor here, it’s lovely and lush and green, and was en-route to our next destination of Yogyakarta.
We caught the train from Surabaya to Solo. We had been to the station the night before to buy our tickets, to make sure we had reservations for the right train. Getting the train at Surabaya was fun, as we went on a little adventure here. We went to the wrong, neighbouring station, so to get us to the right place a guard walked us over to the right station, over the tracks, up and in and through trains, past moving engines. It was so dangerous, but very exciting.
The station in Surabaya was lovely. It had coffee shops, was made of white marble and there was a band playing as we waited. The train was good and we had nice, comfy seats in an air conditioned carriage. Surabaya to Solo in an Executive seat cost 175,000 rupia each (£9.30). Indonesian trains are good, if you can navigate them.
At Solo, an over-excited porter pushed me over and didn’t say sorry. We then walked to our hotel, the Novotel.
You can find info about getting the train in Indonesia on the Man at Seat 61 website’s Indonesian page. According to this page you can now find train times and routes, plus book tickets online (yay), in English, at tiket.com.
Where we stayed
One of the things we enjoyed about Indonesia was that we could afford to stay in some really nice hotel chains, as they were really cheap. The Novotel in Solo cost us £23 for the room, so just over £10 each! You couldn’t even get a hostel bed in London for £10, let alone a luxury room overlooking Solo, with enormous bed, gorgeous bathroom, widescreen TV, access to a business centre and a pool.
It was so nice that unfortunately we didn’t see a lot of Solo, as we were too busy playing with the hotel amenities and watching great films on the TV.
What we did in Solo
The first thing I did was head to Solo Grand Mall, as I needed a new bag as my old one had died. We went to the food hall here for our lunch, and we had fun investigating all of the Indonesian fast-food options. The mall was pretty modern, but had less chain shops than most Western malls, which I liked.
After chilling out at the hotel, we headed into downtown Solo in the evening, as we wanted to see some of the nightly entertainment and to try some street food. We headed to the traffic free Galabo area, at the other side of the town. Here there were lots of interesting street-food stalls, and Jeff tried nasi gudeg – unripe jackfruit with rice, chicken and spices. Unfortunately, the one that he got wasn’t very nice and just seemed to be a gelatinous mess. I’m afraid that I didn’t fancy anything and the only other place we could find to eat a full meal (kind of) was MacDonalds. So really, all we did in Solo was frequent international chains. Sorry Solo; you deserve better than this and we will have to come back to make it up to you.
We never really did find the centre of Solo. By the time we ventured out it was too late to visit the Kraton (the palace), though this mostly burnt down in 1985, so I’m not sure how much remains. We missed the museums, including the world’s best batik museum (Danar Hadi), and we also missed the Jaladara steam train, which I really wanted to go on.
So (lo) we didn’t see much of the city, it was more if a stepping stone to Yogya for us; but what we did see I liked. I liked the wide streets, the low rise buildings, the pretty houses and that the roads are closed on Sunday’s for pedestrians. I’d like to go back to visit Solo properly.
We liked Yogya: it was very chilled and relaxed, we had little hassle, people were friendly and helpful and it was an easy place to be. The city seemed to be quite cosmopolitan and very used to tourists. There was lots to see and do, some lovely restaurants and hotel options, and it was pretty easy to navigate.
We took the train from Solo to Yogya. We got a walk up, business class ticket which cost 15,000 rupia (75p)! Business class was basic but fine. I slept most of the way to Yogya. The journey took us about an hour.
Yogyakarta train station is at the end of Malioboro Road, the centre and the heart of the city. We stayed at a hotel about ten minutes walk in the other direction.
What we did on our holiday
Once we checked in, we wandered down Malioboro Road, went to the mall, I bought a big, blue bag, then we wandered down to the palace and back, though it was too late to go in.
Malioboro Road is the heart of the city, and there’s lots of restaurants and hotels in the surrounding streets. At one end is the station, at the other the palace. Malioboro was big, busy and exciting and there was a constant traffic jam of beeping bikes, buses and horses (bring bring beep beep neigh) colonial style buildings on either side, street food stalls, an old market on one side and a big modern shopping mall on the other. At the end of the road was the palace grounds, with huge parks and imperial buildings, but we sadly didn’t have time to visit this.
Most tourists come to Yogyakarta to visit the ancient Buddhist temple of Borubadur, but what many people don’t know is that there is an almost equally impressive temple on the other side of the city, called Prambanan.
Prambanan is a Hindu temple complex set in a huge park on the edge of Yogya. It’s an amazing place with gorgeous stupas and friezes, temples covered in statues and carvings – all set in this peaceful, gorgeous, green space. We had a lovely few hours wandering around the park, climbing in and out of temples, looking at all of the wonderful artwork.
The complex of temples here were built in the 9th century. The site lay in ruins for centuries, and it was only in 1937 that they started to rebuild and clear the site. The site contains the ruins of 244 temples, and though some have been reconstructed, many still lie in ruins. Apparently they were also damaged quite badly in the 2006 earthquake, though a lot of restoration work has taken place since then too.
There seemed to be two main sections to the complex: the main temples and then a large collection of temples at the back of the site. The main temple section included the largest of the temples: Candi Shiva Mahadeva, dedicated to Shiva. You can go in this one and have a look see inside. What I really remember about this section was the wonderful carvings: elephants, gods, monkeys, flowers, lions, animals, kings, lovers, priests, avatars. I could have spent days reading all of the stories in the pictures and personifying all of the characters.
After the main section, we visited the cafe, we went to the small museum to see some more of the carvings, then we went to the second area of temples at the back of the complex. This was much quieter and we pretty much had it to ourselves. These temples were more ruined; it was fascinating to see the before and after of reconstruction.
We spent a good few hours at Prambanan and we could have stayed longer, though we were getting tired in the humidity and the weather wasn’t great. You could spend a full day here, not just enjoying the temples but also enjoying the park. They have little trains and group bikes for hire, and a huge theatre complex where they perform the Ramayana Ballet.
There are other temples which are part of the complex, but these are more outlying and so need to be visited individually.
Entrance to the city for non-Indonesians, including a camera ticket, was 206,000 rupia (£13), which is petty steep for Indonesia, but great if these funds are being used to preserve this wonderful place. We both had to wear a funny sarong things around our waist as this is a Hindu shrine. J looked quite fetching in his.
We caught bus 1a from Malioboro Road (on the mall side). The bus system was really good in Yogyakarta, as there were raised boarding platforms and we bought our tickets from the kiosk when we entered the platforms.
(Incidentally, I wrote down that it was bus 3000 to get to Prambanan, but both wiki and my husband say it was 1a,. This sounds right as I remember it went in a loop, and 1a went one way round the loop, and 1b the other way. )
Bus 1a ran past the airport and then Prambanan was the final stop. To get to Prambanan we had to cross the road and then turn right. The entrance was about five minutes up the road.
We got caught in a tropical downpour on the way back to the bus and we got soaked! I loved it! It was all part of the adventure.
Borubadur is possibly the most famous site in Indonesia. This Buddhist temple, built around 800AD, was lost in the forest for centuries, before being discovered by Sir Thomas Raffles in 1815. It has faced volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, dranage problems and terrorist bombs, but it’s still magnificent and one of the wonders of the world.
I’ve heard a lot about Borubodur and seen it on TV many times before, but I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I didn’t know if it was a complex of temples or temples on a mountain.
Borubodur temple is the mountain. The temple is build like a ziggurat, an ancient stepped pyramid; and you are supposed to walk up each layer, reading the carvings, until you reach enlightenment at the top.
The carvings are amazing! These wonderful characters are so full of life, and I could have spent years making up stories about them and giving them personalities.
Apparently, the temple can get extremely busy, but it wasn’t too bad when we were there. Apart from one couple blocking the way with a photo shoot, we pretty much had the temple to ourselves.
Borubodur is located in a huge park, and there’s lots of other things in the park, including a museum, some cafes etc. It’s a nice spot and a good place to spend half a day or so.
Getting to Borubodur from Yogya was quite easy. We caught bus 2B to Jambor Bus Station, then we jumped on a dodgy local bus to get to Borubodur (20,000 rupia, £1). We just got the bus which said Borubodur on the front. It took about an hour for us to get there. The bus dropped us off at the bus station in Borubodur town, and then it was a ten minute walk to the site. From the bus station we took the road to the left (we got there by walking through some ice cream shops), then we walked ten minutes down the road, through the town, and Borubodur was on the right.
Shopped and ate
We spent a lot of time in Yogya just enjoying being in Yogya, a unique, exciting, vibrant city and a lovely place to be. I think it was my favourite place in Java, after Bromo. There were some great cafes, restaurants and galleries, especially around the back of the station. We found a nice place here that allowed us to have a few beers, even though it was Ramadan. We also enjoyed eating ice-cream in the air-conditioned mall, watching the kids´ entertainment and we enjoyed pottering around the T-Shirt stalls on Malioboro Road. Yogya felt cosmopolitan and cultural, and they seemed to be used to tourists.
Where we stayed
Hotel Arjuna, Yogyakarta was good, business style hotel, which we booked as it had a pool. It was nice to be able to return from the heat of the day to this cool water, though the pool was right next to the restaurant and I felt a little exposed swimming next to very covered Muslim ladies eating their Ramadan buffets.
Breakfast was included and it was a lovely buffet.
The room was basic, clean and good and though the hotel wasn’t totally central, it was still only ten minutes walk from the centre.
I wish we’d been able to stay in the Phoenix Hotel, which looked amazing, like a yellow colonial palace. It wasn’t that expensive either for the standard room (£40 per night), but it was a little over our budget. Next time.
We had our Java trip pretty much planned out as far as Yogya. If we hadn’t been on such a loose schedule, I would have liked to have headed to Jakarta straight from Yogya to meet our friend. However, our flights out of Indonesia weren’t for a week, and so we needed something to do in the interim. From Yogya, it seemed that we had two choices: head to the beaches on the south coast or visit the Karimunjawa Islands. Both looked a little tricky to get to, but we did some research, looked at the options and we chose to try to reach the Karimunjawa.
The Karimunjawa Islands are often featured in those 10 tropical islands you must visit lists. These isolated, empty, white sand islands, have some of the best reefs around Indonesia. They looked like a wonderful place to go drop off the radar for a few days, whilst we waited to move on to Vietnam.
Looking online, we found that we could get a ferry from Semarang or Jepara. The Semerag service was limited (only weekends), so we looked at Jepara. There were two boat companies that ran services from Jepara: a private one and the pubic ferry. We found out form the travel agent across from our hotel that we could get a direct bus from our hotel to Jepara. We hadn’t been able to confirm the boat service, but it all looked good and seemed to be running, from what we could tell…
The journey to Jepara was great. The mini-bus picked us up from our hotel and it took us about five hours to drive to Jepara, on Java’s north coast. The journey was interesting, as we passed through communities preparing for the upcoming election (people were building and decorating and cleaning up etc.).
Jepara seemed like a spread out, flat, dusty city of carpentry shops (it’s famous for its furniture apparently); and it has an Irish pub in the middle. We needed a place to stay and the pub had gorgeous rooms, wifi and a great menu, so we booked to stay at the Gecho Inn for the night.
Once checked in, we made our way to the private ferry company office on the edge of town. When we got there it seemed to be just a house, but they had lots of life-jackets stacked outside, so we thought it must be the right place. We spent ages trying to find out if this was the right place, and to find someone to speak to. We tried calling their phone line, but no luck. Eventually, someone appeared and told us that the service wasn’t running as the boat was being mended. We later heard that it had been being mended for a few months. I wish we could have found this out before we left Yogya.
The second option to get to the islands was the public ferry, which left very early in the morning and went twice a week. We were a bit reticent about taking this service as we didn’t want to get stuck on the islands. There was no guarantee that we would be able to get back, and we had a flight to catch.
Luckily, the public ferry was cancelled too because of bad weather – which we found out when we overheard a conversation in Gechos. Oh well, at least we didn’t get up early and then find that out.
So Karimunjawa was a no no for us.
Some travellers who were in town at the same time as us clubbed together to hire a local fishing boat to take them to the islands – which sounds like craziness to me. It’s quite way to the islands and these boats aren’t the safest at the best of times, never mind in the middle of the night with storms brewing.
So, according to the internet today (August 2021), there is an express boat from Jepara to the Karimunjawa. This is run by Express Bahari. The ferry costs 192,000 rupiah each way (about £10) and the journey takes just under 2 hours. The boat from Jepara to the islands departs on Mondays and Fridays. The boat from the islands to Jepara departs on Wednesday and Sunday. The website is only in Indonesian, and it doesn´t look as if you can book online.
Finally, the slow boat is the main car ferry from Jepara to the Karimunjawa. This is run by ASDP. According to their website, the ferry departs Jepara on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays at 7 a.m, and Fridays at 6 a.m. It departs Karimunjawa on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays at 7 a.m. It takes four to six hours and a ticket costs 72,000 rupiah (about £3.50). Website in English at www.indonesiaferry.co.id. You cannot book tickets online.
Whether this information is correct, I don’t know. It’s similar information to what we found when we went there, but we didn’t make it to the islands. Probably the best thing to do is to try to find a local to call the companies for you, to see if the boats are running. I just tried to book a ticket for the Express Boat on a ferry booking site and it came up saying it´s not running, and their Twitter and Facebook pages haven´t been updated since 2018 – so … yeah. Pretty much as we found it to be.
Where we stayed
The Gecho Inn, Jepara had gorgeous, spacey, air-conditioned rooms at the back of the pub. The rooms had a fridge, drinks facilities and a wide-screen tele with international channels. The pub had a pool table and served great food and drinks. The room cost 425,000 rupia for the night (£22.75).
Useful links for Jepara and Karimunjawa
So after discovering that we couldn’t get to the Karimunjawa Islands we were at a bit of a loss. We had a flight booked out of Jakarta about a week hence, and we knew we wanted to visit our friend in Jakarta, but we weren’t sure what to do in the mean time, where to go, or how to get there.
We had lots of ideas about visiting Krakatoa, or some of the beaches on the south, but they just seemed to be too far away and we couldn’t work out how to get there.
I personally had had enough: I wanted to find a hotel with a pool where I could relax in the sun, reading books, waiting out my time in Indonesia. Jeff still had hope and energy though and investigated many options including budget flights to other parts of Indonesia or south-east Asia; but nothing seemed feasible.
It was at this point that we lost our travel mojo and we were a bit lost; so we decided to start with a small step, just to get us out of Jepara. Jeff found that he could book the Crowne-Plaza in Semarang, a much bigger city with more transport options, so we headed here for a bit of low-cost luxury, where we could decide our next steps.
There were two mini-buses a day from Jepara to Semarang (30,000 rupia/ £1.60), and the wonderful Jeff managed to get us tickets for the second bus at 1 p.m. He bought the tickets from the travel agent next to Hotel Segoro, which is also where the bus collected us from.
It was a tiny, packed mini-bus with no air-con and the people in front refused to open the windows, the roads were really bad and the driving terrible; so it was a pretty hot, sickening, bouncy two hours of travel – but it was good to be on the move again and it was nice to have a luxury hotel waiting for us.
Where we stayed
We ended up in the Crowne Plaza (yeah baby!), for $38 (£26), including breakfast. Jski gets the hotel points here because he found this deal; but I used my membership card to get us upgraded to a nicer room, with views over the city (see above).
The Crowne Plaza was swanky! We had soft drinks delivered in the evening, a mahoosive bathroom, great room with huge TV. There was a pool on the roof, which was wonderful and fun to use, though full of splashy families. The restaurant was also next to the pool, so I felt a bit strange swimming up and down next to people eating their posh evening meal. It was so wonderfully refreshing though, after the dusty, hot ride from Jepara.
The food in the restaurant was gorgeous! We had the buffet dinner and breakfast. During Ramadan many hotels in Indonesia offer special Ramadan buffets, which are really good value. Here it was 80,000 rupia for the all you can eat buffet (£4.25).
The hotel was located in the same building as a modern mall, and we also popped for a look in here.
I feel really bad that we didn’t explore Semerang, but being outside was such a hassle and we found everywhere so hard to navigate, that we tended to hide away in the hotel instead.
We went to Cirebon because it was in the Lonely Planet and it sounded like an interesting place, and also because it looked like a step towards Jakarta. We wanted a stopping off point on the way to the capital, so we stopped off here – and that is all. We got off the train, found a hotel, stayed overnight and then got another train to the capital the next day. I think by this point we’d just given up.
We could have rushed to see the kraton (Sultan’s house) the next morning, but we just couldn’t be bothered with trying to navigate and find it. Instead we hid away and watched TV whilst we waited for our train (Sorry – this really is the worst travel guide ever). It’s a shame we didn’t venture in Cirebon as according to Lonely Planet, the kraton contains the wildest carriage we will ever see! We’ll just have to go back.
We travelled to Cirebon from Semarang. It was navigating this journey that made me reach the end of my patience with Indonesia and this is when I just gave up on this country. First of all, we were ripped off by our taxi to the station in Semarag: the driver tried to scam us and then got grumpy at us when we questioned the extra payment. He even asked us if we spoke Indonesian first, which we think is so he could scam us.
We got to the station to book our train. You had to get a number to queue up, but they only called the number in Indonesian, which meant that there was no way we could know when our number was called. (Other stations had display boards, but Semerang didn’t). We were supposed to fill in a form for the trains we wanted to book; but again, we couldn’t do this as it was all in Indonesian. I went to customer services who were really helpful, but they told us the train would cost 420,000 rupia each (£23) as all the cheaper fares were sold out. It’s not that big a fare, but for Indonesia that was really steep and much more than we thought it would be.
I went to try the computers to see if there was a cheaper option, but a guard led me back to the ticket office and the price was still 420,000 rupia.
I saw a poster listing all of the trains. I won’t call it a timetable as it was just a random poster. The trains weren’t listed by times or destination though, but by the name of the train; but by going through it I was able to work out that we could get local trains from Semerang to Cirebon, changing at Tegal.
I went to buy the tickets (filling in my form again) only to find that the local trains departed from the other station in Semarang, and at this point I just had enough, sat down and had a sulk. It’s not the bad things individually that are overwhelming, it’s the amalgamation of small annoyances that make Indonesia so hard to get around.
And the to consolidate it all, we got a taxi to the other station and he tried to rip us off too! He tried to drive us in completely the wrong direction, and when I called him on it he said he was going to go via the garage to refuel. We were like “no! You have loads of fuel and we are not paying for you to go to the fuel pump!”
Anyhow, once we got to the other station, got our tickets and got onto the actual trains, the journey went well and we got some miles under our belt. Java is pretty and the transport that is there is good, so long as you can navigate it.
Tegal, where we changed trains, was funny, as they obviously didn’t see tourists very often and they applauded us!
Nowadays, none of this would happen because you can now find train times and routes, plus book tickets online (yay), in English, at tiket.com. If you do use Tiket to buy tikets, I highly recommend having a look at the Man at Seat 61 website’s Indonesian page which explains how to naviage the Tiket site and how to pay. It also has lots of useful information about travelling by train in Indonesia.
What we did in Cirebon
Nothing. We spent an hour looking for hotels and by the time we found somewhere to stay we were just too tired to explore – and then the next morning we were eager to get to Jakarta, so we just waited for our train in the hotel before heading off.
Where we stayed
First we did our old trick of following the neon, which is how we used to find places to stay in South Korea. We had a look at the Bentani Hotel and Residence, which was nice and snazzy (it had a pool), but was too expensive and pretty fully booked anyhow. www.bentanihotel.id.
So we then followed Lonely Planet over to Hotel Sidodadi, a basic motel next to the station, with rooms around the car park. It was cheap and okay. It wasn’t great, but it was clean and there when we needed it. They also had a basic restaurant attached which served chips and sarnies. hotel-sidodadi-cirebon.hotelmix.co.uk.
I wished we’d stayed next door at Amaris Hotel Cirebon, because I think that they would have been a bit nicer, but about the same price. We were following Lonely Planet here though, and the modern place wasn’t featured. amarishotel.com/amaris-cirebon.
Useful links – Java
Please note, some, if not much of this information may not be correct, or may be out of date. All these articles show is how we found these places when we visited and what we personally thought of each place. Where possible I will include links to site which will contain more up-to-date info. All of this is my own work and any opinion expressed is that of the author only.
If you think I’ve missed something important or have got something wrong, please let me know in the comments section below.
All photos copyright of J Clemo-Halpenny. If you would like to copy or reproduce any of these images, please email me to ask permission.