Saturday, December 28, 2013

Backpacking Itinerary: Indonesia in Three Weeks

I was on a minivan for the final leg of my backpacking journey in Indonesia when I started smiling uncontrollably. I just had some of the best weeks I could have ever hoped for in 2013, or in all of my travels for that matter. What I loved most about traveling in Indonesia was that I did not have any expectations from it. Traveling through Java west to east and a little bit of Bali, I was pleasantly surprised every step of the way, as I was with all the Indonesian foods I had the pleasure of eating here.

Below is the backpacking Indonesia itinerary I eventually ended up with during my few weeks in the country. It has information on getting in, things to see and do, and places to stay in. I'm hoping this will provide other backpackers and budget travelers valuable information for traveling to Indonesia.

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Backpacking Itinerary: Indonesia in Three Weeks


Cikini-Menteng Area at Night, Central Jakarta, Indonesia
The busy, chaotic streets of Central Jakarta during evening rush hour

Get In: I flew from Manila to Singapore via AirAsia and the ticket cost 29 USD. From here, I flew to the Indonesian capital Jakarta via Jetstar costing 64 USD. There are direct flights from Manila to Jakarta, but I wanted to transit in Singapore because, well, delicious food! (That's a legitimate reason.)

What to See: First things first, here are a few practical travel tips for when you arrive in the Indonesian capital. I explored Central Jakarta and got my first impressions of the busy city through its landmarks like Monumen Nasional and street food like kerak telor. I also saw Istiqlal Mosque, the largest mosque in Indonesia and Southeast Asia.

Where to Stay: I stayed in the excellent and modern Six Degress Backpackers Hostel in the Cikini-Menteng Area in Central Jakarta. It has spacious rooms, plenty of hang-out areas, and modern facilities.

Istiqlal Mosque, Central Jakarta, Indonesia
The largest mosque in Indonesia and in Southeast Asia: Istiqlal Mosque


Kawah Putih, Bandung, West Java, Indonesia
The eerie, teal-colored crater lake of Kawah Putih, located right outside Bandung

Get In: I got on one of the frequent trains from Gambir Railway Station in Central Jakarta to Bandung Railway Station. I booked it at Gambir one day and left the following day. The three-hour ride cost me 8 USD.

What to See: There isn't much to see within Bandung other than a few old art-deco Dutch buildings. There is a lot of shopping, though. Cheap clothes, shoes, and accessories. Just get your bearings right. You don't want to get stupidly lost in the Paris of Java like I did. Outside Bandung, there is the eerie but stunning teal-colored crater lake of Kawah Putih.

Where to Stay: I stayed in Hunny Hostel located within the Paskal Hyper Square commercial complex. The square is near the railway station and it has a food court. The hostel is a homey joint. Its steel spring beds can be noisy though, if you are a restless sleeper. Shower cleanliness is a bit lacking, too.

Batagor, Indonesian Food
Batagor is fish meat paste in dumpling wrapper, deep fried, and drenched in peanut sauce. It is a delicious Bandung specialty.


Borobudur, Magelang, Indonesia
Borobudur, one of the majestic temples near Yogyakarta, the cultural heartland of the Javanese

Get In: From Bandung, I took a night bus to Yogyakarta which cost me 11 USD. The bus depot in Bandung was close to my hostel. Problem was the eight-hour ride became 14 hours. The bus transited in Semarang before heading to Yogyakarta. I was not prepared for that.

What to See: A lot. You can see a lot of things in Yogyakarta. This is after all the cultural heartland of the Javanese. You have UNESCO World Heritage Sites like the ancient Buddhist temple of Borobudur and the ancient Hindu temple of Prambanan. There is also the royal palaces of the Yogyakarta sultans. Of course, you can always forgo all of that and indulge in any of the city's Masakan Padang restaurants.

Where to Stay: I stayed at the very impressive EDU Hostel near Yogyakarta city center. It is probably the best hostel in Southeast Asia I have stayed in.

Prambanan, Yogyakarta, Indonesia
The ancient Hindu temple of Prambanan


Malang, East Java, Indonesia
Arriving in Malang, I was welcomed by cool air and the sight of old colonial neighborhoods and mountains.

Get In: I got on an overnight train from Tugu Railway Station in Yogyakarta city center to Malang Railway Station. I booked it in Tugu two days before departure. The seven-hour train ride cost me 19 USD.

What to See: Malang is a great city to walk around in being relatively less chaotic than many Indonesian cities and being cool, breezy, and tree-filled. Here are a few photos I took from this pleasant city in East Java. A great daytrip from Malang is the mountain town of Batu where you can do white-water rafting and swim in the hot springs.

Where to Stay: Kampong Tourist is an awesome backpacker lodge in Malang close to the railway station. It's cheap and charming, and often has a relaxed, friendly atmosphere.

Malang, East Java
Mount Arjuno during the blue hour, viewed from Kampong Tourist in Malang

Mount Bromo

Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park, Indonesia
The vast Tengger crater which contains the otherworldly Mount Bromo volcanic complex

Get In: From our hostel in Malang, we took an angkot (minivan) to Arjosari Bus Terminal (40 cents US, 30 minutes) and another angkot to the market town of Tumpang (60 cents US, 45 minutes). In Tumpang, we hired a 4x4 jeep to Cemoro Lawang (12 USD each for four people, 3-4 hours). Cemoro Lawang is the tourist central of the Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park. It has hotels, cafes, and restaurants.

What to See: The trip itself on the road less traveled to Mount Bromo from Malang is highly recommended. It is the highlight of my trip to Indonesia. Once there, you can head to the crater of Mount Bromo to see its constantly smoldering caldera up-close, and also, to Mount Penanjakan to catch the sunrise. You can hike to either or viewpoints for free. That or you can hire a 4x4 to take you there. Ask and shop around in Cemoro Lawang for prices. Use the transport costs above as basis.

Where to Stay: We stayed in Yog Hotel in Cemoro Lawang (booked via a tour operator in Malang). Rooms were basic and only a few had hot showers. A double/twin room cost 15 USD to 25 USD. There are a number of small warungs in Cemoro Lawang serving decent food. Costs per meal hover at 2 USD to 5 USD.

Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park, Indonesia
When trekking to Mount Bromo from Malang, you will pass thru this Africa-like savannah landscape before you get to the Tengger Sand Sea.


Central mosque in Bondowoso, East Java
People spill out onto the streets outside the mosque on Eid al-Fitr (End of Ramadan) in Bondowoso, East Java.

Get In: From Malang, we took an AC tourist bus to Probolinggo (3 USD, 3 hours). In Probolinggo, we were scammed into paying 3 USD for what should only be a 2 USD bus ride. (The nerve! I can't even.) The bus from Probolinggo to Bondowoso was a local, non-AC cramped bus with peddlers and musicians along the aisles. It lasted five painful hours.

What to See: Bondowoso is an effective jump-off point for the Kawah Ijen crater lake (see below). You can head there on your own or hire tour operators from here. I was here though to experience Eid al-Fitr or End of Ramadan celebrations through a local host.

Where to Stay: Hotel Anugerah is a few blocks from the alun-alun, or town square. Rooms are basic, and the bathroom very local (read: squat toilet and Indonesian mandi). It costs around 17 USD for a single. The chicken ngoh hiang at the hotel's restaurant is divine. That's crispy fried chicken stir fried in sweet soy sauce.

Ketupat (Rice Dumplings)
Rice dumplings or Ketupat, a symbol of Eid al-Fitr (End of Ramadan)

Kawah Ijen

Kawah Ijen, East Java, Indonesia
Sulfur mines in Kawah Ijen crater lake burn bright blue at night.

Get In: We hired a tour operator in Bondowoso to take us from here to Kawah Ijen and then back down, passing by Ketapang Port for Bali (where my travel companions were going) and then back to Bondowoso (where I was spending Eid al-Fitr). It cost us 25 USD each for five people. We left Bondowoso at 3 a.m. and I returned before lunchtime.

What to See: If you are trekking up to Kawah Ijen at daytime, you will see a teal-colored crater lake, an open sulfur mine, and sulfur miners with their back-breaking work. If you trek to Kawah Ijen at night like we did, you will see the otherworldly blue flames as the miners extract the sulfur from the crater.

Where to Stay: Best to consult Lonely Planet Indonesia and other sources if you plan to stay up in the mountain.

Kawah Ijen, East Java, Indonesia
Once sulfur re-solidifies after it melts, they are taken down the mountain by the miners in large chunks, 40 to 50 kilos per batch.

South Bali

Uluwatu Beach, Bali, Indonesia
Rocky, surfing beach in Bali's Bukit Peninsula: Uluwatu

Get In: I hired a door-to-door van service in Bondowoso called Cipaganti. The 21 USD fare covered pick-up from my hotel in Bondowoso, the ferry ride, and drop-off at my hostel in Bali. I could have DIY-ed it for half the price but since it was Eid al-Fitr, a huge part of the population were on holiday.

What to See: I was only in Bali for one day so I did not get to see much. I was able, however, to motorbike around Bukit Peninsula and Uluwatu in South Bali. Beautiful place. I promise to return to see the rest of the island.

Where to Stay: I stayed in Jolie Hostel located in a quiet street jutting from the road to Uluwatu. It is isolated so will need a motorbike to get around. I didn't mind. Hostel is quiet and it has a pool and great facilities.

Babi Guling, Bali, Indonesia
The Balinese, being Hindu in religion, consumes a lot of pork. This is the pork-lover's dream: Babi Guling.

Was this backpacking Indonesia itinerary any helpful? Did you follow the same route? Are you planning to visit other noteworthy places in Java, in Bali?

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