Backpacking Indonesia – between temples and volcanos

Backpacking Indonesia – between temples and volcanos

There are so many things to do and see when backpacking Indonesia, it’s really hard to decide where to go. I tried to explore it as much as possible in my two weeks trip in late 2014 and I was very lucky to have an experienced traveller helping me with the planning. My route was Jakarta – Yogyakarta – Bromo Volcano – Ijen Volcano – Bali – Gili Trawangan.

Missing my flight for the first time

I arrived, after a long time and stops, to Jakarta. Now, I had another short flight to Yogyakarta, but for the first time, I missed my flight. I thought being in the same airport it won’t take long to transfer, but the terminals in Jakarta airport are separated, not in the same “courtyard”. So traffic counts, and I didn’t think about it. It was evening, there were no more flights to Yogya, most of the shops were closed and I really needed a shower and a bed. I bought a flight for the next day. The cheaper option would have been to stay in the airport, but I decided not to.

I had one hostel address and I went to that one. It took some time and when I got there and asked, they had nothing available. I asked if I can stay there for a bit longer and use the internet, as I had no idea where to go, but they refused. The lady was not friendly, quite a bit annoyed I kept asking questions. I left the hostel and stopped in front of it, I was thinking my only option was to just walk any direction until a see a hotel. I was tired and hungry, no internet, and it was almost midnight. And my card was not working, so I was short on cash.

Then I thought I should have stayed in the airport, I was imagining it being so comfy. While I was having these thoughts, another lady from the same hostel came running to me, telling me that in fact they do have an available bed, as someone cancelled last minute, but they didn’t update the records. It was great news! I went back in, and now the grumpy lady put on her smile and she was “pleased” to answer all my questions. It was a very long day.

Jakarta
View over Jakarta

Gorgeous temples with a star feel

The next day I finally got to Yogyakarta. It was nice to walk around. Here I learned the word I would use very often “nasi goreng” (fried rice). I booked a tour to the temples, which was starting at 7 am. I planned to wake up at 6:45 am. At 5:45 am someone from the hostel staff knocks heavily, reminding me of the trip. I checked the time, too early. Then I thought, “What if my phone time has not correctly updated and it’s actually one hour later?” I jumped off bed and hurry.

In a few minutes, I was down at the reception. I told the staff I’m ready for the trip. He looked at me confused, then he said it’s still 6 am. I was confused as well, “Why would they wake me up so long in advance?” I noticed throughout the trip they want to make sure you don’t miss your trip. You do miss 1h of sleep though. Unlike the early start, the tour was really great. I visited Borobudur and Prambanan temples, which are both amazing. We didn’t take a tour guide at Borobudur, just wondered around. But I overheard a guided tour for a bit and it was very interesting, I wish I had done that.

If you like temples in S-E Asia, I recommend discovering Cambodia as well.

Borobudur
Borobudur temple

If you want to feel like a superstar, there you get very close to it. Indonesians love foreigners and technology, which results in loooots of photos taken. Especially when you go to a touristy place like Borobudur, they will ask to take photos with you. Indonesians all ages, even family pictures. In the beginning is a bit weird, then funny, but gets tiring at some point. Some teens take it even further, and ask questions about you and to add your signature in a notebook. They all say it’s a school project, but I think it’s like a game they have, who “catches” more foreigners like you catch pokemons. Still something fun I haven’t experienced elsewhere.

Prambanan
Prambanan temple

Up and down volcanos

Since I lost my initial flight, I had one day less to explore Yogya, so early next morning I went to Bromo volcano. I booked a tour with a local agency to both volcanos. That day was all on the road, but next morning we went to see the sunrise on Mt Bromo from a viewpoint. It was cold and overcrowded, and while it’s very touristy and the view is nice, the atmosphere is not great. Afterward we got to Bromo and it was my first time seeing a volcano and walk in volcano ash. It was a cool experience.

Bromo volcano
Bromo volcano

Then we went back on the road, it was tiring, but the volcanos are totally worth. We woke up during the night and started the hike to Mt Ijen. We got there while it was still night in order to see the blue flames. But the hike was quite scary. I didn’t check anything before, so I went there “like a flower”. It was a long hike, while I am was not in a good shape, not that I usually am, but adding little sleep and jetlag didn’t help. We started by walking in the dark (jungle) for a while. We got to the edge of the volcano and started descending inside.

I knew there is a large pit on my right, but could see only dark, the “road” was very steep, partially moving rocks, and I could barely breathe because of the smoke of the sulfur mine. One of the local guides grabbed my hand during this part so I felt safer. He found funny my struggle, I did not. But I appreciated the help. Soon we got to the bottom of it and I felt better, I could see the cool blue flames, the sun was rising, the views were all amazing. It’s an incredible experience. On the way back it was already light, so everything was way better.

Ijen volcano
Ijen volcano

A long ride to paradise

If I was tired before, but after this trip, I was exhausted. I jumped into the coach to Denpasar (Bali). It was a short ride to Banyuwangi, then taking a ferry, then on the coach again. In my mind, we had to change coaches, so I was planning to stay awake till we get to Bali. I don’t think I lasted more than 5 min after I sat on that chair. When I woke up sometime later, it was quite dark, the coach was empty. It was very weird, I panicked as I thought I missed the ferry.

I went outside the coach (looked like a deposit) and recognized one traveller so I went to him and said I fell asleep and now I don’t know how to get the ferry to Bali from there, and what to do. He tried to remain serious and said “You are on it”, but I didn’t listen, I started to explain again when he started laughing and I stopped. Then I realized, “I’m ON the ferry!” I started laughing as well, and we went upstairs, where everybody was. Such a relief, I didn’t think that the same coach would get on the ferry. It was nice music, I bought a cold drink and enjoyed the views and sun. When we got to Bali, we went back in the coach and I slept for the rest of the ride.

From Denpasar, I shared a taxi to Kuta. I spent two days in Kuta, but I was not impressed. Crowded, more expensive and not necessarily better, the beach is better for surfers. I didn’t explore more of Bali island. As I didn’t have much time, I had to choose between tiny Gili T Island or Bali. And I chose the first one.

Gili Trawangan
Gili Trawangan

Finally there

From Kuta, I took a ferry to Gili Trawangan. If you look it up, the island is really tiny on the map, but the biggest of the three Gili Islands. It’s very cosy, people are walking barefoot, there are no cars or paved roads on the island. Locals are very relaxed and welcoming. There is one night market, where everybody eats and one big bar/disco where everybody drinks, you can’t miss it. And it’s impossible not to make friends. I loved the atmosphere there. The beach and snorkelling are great as well, it’s one of the best islands I’ve been to.

It was hard to leave, but after a few days, I took the ferry back to Bali, then flew back to Jakarta. I spent the last day exploring busy Jakarta then took my flight home. I didn’t realize until I started writing it, that I have so many stories from this trip, and it was so exciting and new. Most of the time I was…. lost, but not in a bad way 🙂 I loved the views, the people, the food, everything. I will definitively go there again to explore other islands.

Have you been to Indonesia? How about Thailand?

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