Indonesia (Java and Bali), July-August 2015

Indonesia (Java and Bali), July-August 2015
route: [by Air Asia from Kuala Lumpur] Yogyakarta – Dieng Plateau – Solo – Gunung Lawu – Solo – Malang – Bromo-Tengger-Semeru NP – Malang – Jember – Banyuwangi – Kawah Ijen – Lovina – Munduk – Sidemen – Ubud – Ngurah Rai Airport [by Air Asia to Kuala Lumpur]

Very useful resource for travel around Indonesia: http://www.travelfish.org/country/indonesia Somewhat out of date but anyway much better than the current edition of the LP guide, especially for finding budget accomodation.

Whenever possible, we travelled by train on Java and our experiences were very positive, much better than when travelling by bus. The train stations are well-organized and much less crowded than bus stations, staff at ticket windows usually spoke some English and were very willing to advise the best option. There are large screens showing ticket availability at each big station. Usually it is enough to book a ticket 1 or 2 days in advance, sometimes there are available tickets right before departure. Tickets can also be bought online on http://en.tiket.com/ (quite user-friendly, in English, accepts international credit cards) but in such case they need to be printed from a special kiosks at any station (booking code needed), no later than 1 hour before departure.

Map: we used the Maps.me application on a GPS-enabled smartphone and it was very useful, showing even small paths in the hills and indicating exact position.

Yogyakarta

Yogyakarta airport does not offer visa-free entry and exit (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visa_policy_of_Indonesia for a list of eligible airports and seaports), so we had to buy visas on arrival for $35.
The airport is linked with central Yogya (Malioboro) by Transyogya bus 1a, 3600 Rp (the same bus goes to Prambanan). Transyogya bus routes go in loops, the same bus stop (“halte”) on Malioboro serves both directions.
Accomodation: Losmen Lotus, in Sosrowijayan, in a small lane between Gang 2 and 3, enter the lane opp. Tiffa Losmen. Price 180k Rp, ac, ensuite bathroom, small balcony, basic breakfast included. Nice place.

There are good reliable moneychangers with very good rates in Yogya – Baruman and Mulia in Inna Garuda hotel in Malioboro. Their rates are comparable to best rates obtainable on Bali (see http://www.balibestrate.com/).
Borobudur and Prambanan can be visited on a combined ticket for 375k Rp (listed price is $30, so it is better to pay in Rp). The ticket is valid for visits on two consecutive days (it would be too overwhelming on the same day). This ticket is valid for daytime visits, sunrise is much more expensive (see http://borobudurpark.co.id/ticket-price).
In Prambanan we also visited the Plaosan temples a few kilometers from the main complex. We paid 50k Rp for the becak ride from the entrance to the main complex to Plaosan temples incl. waiting time and back to the bus stop.
For Borobudur we took Transyogya bus 2b from near Tugu station to Jombor bus station (alternatively a taxi would be 40k Rp). It was much easier to come back from Jombor station with bus 2a going directly to Malioboro.
From Jombor to Borobudur the cost was 25/30k Rp by a local bus (overcharged by the conductor, as a comparable distance to Magelang was only 12k Rp). After visiting the main temple we also took a long walk to two other minor temples Candi Pawon and Candi Mendut (the second one has also an an active modern Buddhist monastery nearby). We stayed in Borobudur until ca. 5.30 pm. At that time the Borobudur bus station looked already quite deserted, so we took probably the last bus back to Yogya.

Dieng Plateau

We went to Dieng Plateau by a combination of local buses. The departures were very frequent on the way, we never waited for more than ca. 15 minutes for the next bus. On the downside, the buses were sometimes crowded, always very slow (picking up and dropping passengers every 1km or so) and unreliable – when they decide that they don’t have enough passengers to continue, they would just drop you off, charging only a part of the fare, and you’d need to take another bus going in the same direction.

Yogya: taxi from the Tugu station to Jombor terminal: 40k Rp
Yogya (Jombor) – Magelang: local bus, 1 hr, 12k Rp
Magelang – Wonosobo: local bus, 2,5 hr, 25k Rp, very scenic route
Wonosobo – Dieng: local bus, 15k Rp, 1 hr

In Dieng we stayed in Bu Djono hotel right near the main intersection, 150k Rp for a large but basic double room with bathroom (reliable hot water). The manager gives reliable advice on trekking in the area.
From Dieng we hiked to Gunung Prahu (2565 m). A very nice and easy hike, 2hrs up from Dieng, starting from a side road going sharply up at the end of the village at the exit to Wonosobo. Shortly after the trail passes a school and a cemetery above the village (well recognizable by tall trees). The trail is very well marked by “puncak” signposts. Once on the top it is worthwhile walking along the wide ridge for another 30 minutes or so. Great views of the neighbouring 3000+ volcanoes! Total incl. descent 5 hrs. Before the hike we needed to register and buy entry tickets for 10k Rp in a booth a few steps from Bu Djono (apparently some insurance was included). The tickets were not checked anywhere on the trail. See also: http://www.gunungbagging.com/dieng/
We also did some walks around Dieng, including Kawah Sikidang and Arjuna temples (combined ticket for 25k Rp) and Telaga Warna (no ticket, as we went there in the late afternoon and there was nobody to charge entry fees).

From Dieng we went to Solo, which was possible in 1 day but exhausting. Buses via Wonosobo and Magelang (slow, unreliable, with an additonal change on the way) to Yogya, then a Transyogya bus to the Tugu station and a train to Solo. We wanted to catch a local Prameks or Madiun Jaya train (schedules: http://www.prameks.com/) but finally went with a long distance train for 40k Rp as Prameks was only in 3 hrs and Madiun Jaya was sold out.

Solo
We stayed in Cakra Homestay, an incredibly atmospheric place, a large compound full of artefacts, with a nice inside garden, looking like straight out of a nostalgic film set in a tropical outpost in 1920s. They also have a nice pool which was a life-saver after an exhausting hike to Gunung Lawu. Price 200k Rp for a basic AC room (ensuite bathroom, seating area with a nice view at front) with symbolic breakfast. On the downside, the staff was not reliable – we asked them to book a taxi in order to reach a morning train and finally they told us that there were no taxis available. Luckily we planned enough spare time to reach the station by becak.

Gunung Lawu (3260 m)

We used Solo as a base for a 2-day hike to Gunung Lawu, staying overnight near the summit.
First we went from Solo (Tirtonadi Terminal) to Tawangmangu by local bus: 1,5 hr, 15k Rp. From Tawangmanggu we went to the trailhead in Cemoro Sewu by chartered minibus for 80k Rp. Started from the Cakra Homestay in Solo at 8.30 a.m. and started hiking at 11.30 a.m.
The steep hike from Cemoro Sewu (ca. 1900 m) to the warung Mbok Yem (ca. 3150 m) in Argo Dalem area near the top took 5 hrs. Very well defined path, paved with stones. There is another warung some 300 meters before Mbok Yem on almost the same altitude, when the trail reaches the summit area. Both offer very basic accommodation (just a place on the floor with sleeping mats, free of charge) and simple meals and drinks. The place was not heated and it was very cold at night – the temperature was just a few degrees above freezing. There are also a few bigger buildings in Argo Dalem but they were either locked or totally deserted, so they are presumably only used for major pilgrimages.

In the morning we went up to the top (3260 m) for the sunrise, then returned to the warung for coffee and started the descent via an alternative trail, first crossing the northern side of the summit area westwards and then turning south-west and down to Cemoro Kandang. This trail had much better views than the ascent trail from Cemoro Sewu. It was well-defined but very dusty (a face mask would be a good idea) and must be extremely slippery in wet weather. The descent to the road at Cemoro Kandang took 5 hrs. After a lunch at a roadside warung we hitched a ride from local guys on motorbikes back to Tawangmangu, then took a bus back to Solo.

See also: http://www.gunungbagging.com/lawu/

Solo to Malang – 7 hrs by Malioboro Ekspres train, ticket bought 3 days in advance via http://en.tiket.com/  (we needed then to print it out from a kiosk at the station). Price 210k Rp for eksekutif class.
Malang

We found Malang to be a very nice city to spend some time – walkable and peaceful, very pleasant climate, with some nice places to explore including a pet market and a large Chinese temple complex. We stayed in two places:

Hotel Emma, on the main street opposite the train station, some 200 m northwards. Price 175k Rp for a double room, ensuite bathroom, no AC. Quite average.

Hotel Helios, on Jln Pattimura, some 10 min walk from the train station. Very nice room for 250k Rp, AC, breakfast included. On the roof there is a hostel and a bar – nice for beers, average for food.

Bromo – Tengger – Semeru area

We wanted to skip the typical Bromo tour experience including access from Probolinggo (famous for bus station scams), short sleep at an overpriced hotel in Cemoro Lawang and a very crowded sunrise from Penanjakan. After some reading we decided to spend 3 days in the area and access it from Malang via Ngadas on the south western slope of the Tengger caldera. Our plan was successful, albeit with some adventures. The Maps.me application was excellent for navigating the area by ourselves.

Day 1: In order to save time in the morning we decided to catch a taxi from Malang to Ngadas and ask the driver to go by the meter (the cost is 3600 Rp per 1 km). That was an error, as no taxi would go beyond  Gubukklakah – the road is simply too steep for sedan cars. To make matters worse, the taxi driver lost his way and dropped us in Poncokusumo in result, a village on a road parallel to Gubugklakah (we duly paid 110k Rp according to the meter). In Poncokusumo we negotiated with local ojek drivers who agreed to take us to Ngadas for 150k Rp for two ojeks (75k for one). They first took a nice back road between Poncokusumo and Gubukklakah and then continued along a spectacular steep road to Ngadas. The road was so steep that we needed to walk along the motorbike for a few steepest parts.  All this odyssey took us almost 3 hrs – started from Malang at 8.30 am, started walking from Ngadas at 11.10 am.

Alternatively, there are angkots (minibuses) to Tumpang and then onwards to Gubukklakah, but most probably no public transport to Ngadas.
Some 3-4 kms below Ngadas there is a ticket booth on the main road. Entry ticket to the Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park for foreigners was a steep 217.500 Rp on weekdays, 317.500 Rp during weekend. The ticket said it was valid for one day only but according to some reports on the internet its validity is 3 days. Just in case we managed to avoid ticket booths on subsequent days.

[A warning to visitors visiting the Bromo area from the main access point in Cemoro Lawang – there were many reports that local guides in Cemoro Lawang were issuing some bogus slips of paper or fake receipts instead of real tickets, pocketing the money. This happened especially to people taking jeep rides to Mt Penanjakan for the sunrise. A genuine ticket has a series and a sequential number and is printed, not written by hand. Just refuse to pay as long as you don’t get a real ticket. It also seemed that in Cemoro Lawang nobody seemed too interested in selling or checking tickets of daytime visitors, concentrating on the sunrise crowd. There are also many paths into the Tengger crater and towards Bromo which avoid the ticket booth located just at the main road in upper part of Cemoro Lawang.]

From Ngadas (alt. 2100 m) we hiked to Jemplang (2350 m) on the rim of the large Tengger caldera in 45 min, some 2.5 kms on an asphalt road with some traffic. In Jemplang the road branches off – right to Ranu Pani, starting point of the hike to Gunung Semeru, left and down into the Tengger caldera and across the “Savannah” and then the Pasir Laut (Sea of Sands) to Bromo and Cemoro Lawang. [WARNING: there were big signs that the road between Jemplang and Bromo would be closed for reconstruction from mid-August to December 2015]
From Jemplang it took us 4 hrs to reach Cemoro Lawang (2200 m), hiking via the bottom of the Tengger caldera, named first “Savannah”, then Pasir Laut (alt. ca. 2100 m), including a visit to the Poten (Hindu temple under Bromo) but leaving Bromo crater for the next day. The walk was extremely dusty, face masks were very useful. Most parts of it were sand tracks rather than a proper road, passable to motorbikes and jeeps.
In Cemoro Lawang there were plenty of homestays of varying price and quality. After seeing a few places (easy to walk around, the village is small) we found a nice clean place for 150k Rp (large room, hot water, bathroom inside). There is definitely no need to stay at the overpriced Cafe Lava, no matter what the LP guidebook says. There are also a few places to eat with reasonable prices and acceptable food – we had a good dinner at a warung in the large building on the main road short distance up from Cafe Lava.

Day 2: We decided to skip the crowded sunrise jeep ride, slept until 7 am, had breakfast in the village and started hiking towards the Penanjakan viewpoint at 8 am. From Cemoro Lawang first we took a gently ascending village road going broadly parallel to the crater rim which eventually turned into a steep path. It took 2 hrs to reach the viewpoint near the summit (some 2700 m). Our plan was to continue descending to the other (western) side of Penanjakan and descend into the Tengger caldera from there,  crossing Pasir Laut towards Bromo.  We hiked only as far as the junction with the Wonokitiri road (ca. 2400 m). Seeing strong wind whipping up clouds of dust in Pasir Laut, we decided to take an ojek from the junction to Poten (Hindu temple under Bromo), paid 75k Rp per motorbike. We visited Bromo (a climb of ca 150-200 m up along stairs, up to ca. 2300 m) and then took another ojek ride across the Pasir Laut to Savannah for 50k.

From Savannah we wanted to check out an old path up to the Tengger crater rim, joining the road from Jemplang to Ranu Pani at the top. The path is shown on maps.me but it is overgrown and barely recognizable in the lower part. It starts near a visible group of trees, becomes very visible in the steeper part where the path is carved into the slope. Anyway, it is overgrown with tall grass all the time, so it may be unsafe if there are poisonous snakes in the area. Starts at ca. 2150 m, goes up to ca. 2500 m on the crater rim.

From the crater rim there were some 3-4 kms down along the road to Ranu Pani. The upper part of the village has no accommodation. The lower part located at the lake (ca. 2100 m) has Pak Tasrip homestay (170k Rp for a basic dbl room, shared bathroom, hot water, nasi goreng for breakfast included) and all tourist infrastructure at the Semeru trailhead. There are some shops with trekking gear, “base camp”, places for renting tents and sleeping bags. A guide to Semeru can be hired for 500k Rp according to Tasrip.

Day 3: We hiked to Ranu Kumbolo, the first part of the trail to Gunung Semeru. Took us 3hrs 15 min there and 2 hr 30 back. It was a very nice hike across a primordial-looking forest, with some spectacular views of the puffing Mount Semeru. No steep ascents, from ca. 2100 m to a pass on 2500 m and down to Ranu Kumbolo lake at ca. 2400 m, with a distance of 10,5 km or 13 km (according to various signs).

After the hike we managed to get to Malang in the same day. From Ranu Pani we took ojek to Tumpang (150k Rp per motorcycle, 1hr 10 min ride). From Tumpang we took angkot to Arjosari bus station and another angkot from Arjosari to central Malang. Altogether we started the Ranu Kumbolo hike at 8 am and arrived to Helios hotel in Malang at 5.30 pm, with some hurry (skipped lunch) and a dose of luck, as we did not wait for transport.

Malang to Banyuwangi

From Malang we first went to Jember by train (Tawang Alun 210, 65k Rp for ekonomi class ticket, dep. 15.45, arr. 20.32). The same train goes on to Banyuwangi (arr. 23.30).
In Jember we stayed a night in hotel Ria near Matahari Department Store. The choice was between 198k Rp “executive room” which was acceptable, and somewhat cheaper but much worse run-down “deluxe” and “superior” rooms.

Jember – Banyuwangi: Mutiara Siang train, 65k Rp for bisnis class, dep. 13.00, arr. 15.30. A very scenic ride, taking a daytime train was a good choice.

Kawah Ijen
In Banyuwangi we stayed in Permata Indah Permai hotel (77k Rp for a basic but clean room, bathroom, no AC). The hotel is located on the main road between Banyuwangi and B. Baru train station, literally in the middle of nowhere. It was extremely noisy during the night as traffic noise resonates all around the building. Taxi from the station was 25k Rp. There is a simple restaurant and a shop on the hotel premises. We went for a short walk along the main road and soon found a simple roadside warung some 100 m in the direction of Banyuwangi, on the opposite side of the road, serving delicious crab (40k for a big serving).
We chose Permata Indah Permai just because the owner arranges shared car trips to Kawah Ijen for 150k per person. Add 100k Rp for entry ticket (150k on weekends and holiday) and that’s the total cost of Ijen visit.
The jeep left the hotel at 1 a.m., allowing us to see the famous “blue fires” in the crater while still in the dark. The way from Paltuding (where the car stops) to the crater rim and down to the crater is very obvious. Then we had plenty of time for seeing the crater after sunrise or seeing the sunrise from the crater rim. On the way back short visits to a coffee and rubber plantation and a waterfall were included. We were back at the hotel before 10 a.m., allowing us to take a shower and short nap before checking out at 12 noon and proceeding to Bali by ferry.
There are a couple of other places to stay nearby (within walking distance) which may be of a better standard. Visitors staying in other hotels can still use Permata Indah Permai for the Kawah Ijen trip – one person in our jeep stayed in a more upmarket hotel in a city center.

To Bali

We took a bemo from the hotel to the Ketapang ferry terminal for 15 k for 2 persons. Ferries to Bali are very frequent. Cost 7500 Rp, 1 hr.
On the Bali side the bus station in Gilimanuk is located right next to the exit from the ferry terminal. Unfortunately the Gilimanuk bus station was infested by annoying scammers. When we entered the bus to Singaraja (for Lovina), two of them went straight to us and demanded 55k, then 50k per person. We refused to pay, as the scam was obvious – they did not ask any local passengers to pay. They insisted that we leave the bus but we simply ignored them. I asked a local passenger for the correct price in broken Indonesian and he told me that it would be 30k. Finally we paid to the conductor once the bus was underway and he collected fares from all passengers. The conductor demanded 40k per person, probably also overcharging us.

Lovina
In Lovina we stayed in the central Kalibukbuk area in Puri Bali hotel (http://www.puribalilovina.com/), a very nice place located in a large compound with a beautiful garden, with a small swimming pool. The rack rate of 350k Rp for AC room with balcony (breakfast included) was very easily discounted to 800k Rp for 3 nights. The place was maybe 5 minutes walk to the beach but the beach was not so great – the water was a bit murky and some places in shallow water were muddy.

The best place to eat by all accounts was Warung Ayu, on the street between Puri Bali hotel and the beach. Great local food, fresh grilled fish and cold beers for very reasonable price. The place is small, so it can get full. In such case it is worth waiting for a free table!

We had to change money in Lovina. All moneychangers there are small places operating in shops or hotels, not inspiring much confidence. After asking on Tripadvisor forum, we used Tip Top, a shop on the main street near the ATMs – the rate was decent and the transaction was honest.

Lovina to Munduk

We hired a car with a driver for a full day to combine getting to Munduk, our next destination, with some sightseeing. We booked it for 600k Rp in an office near the dolphin statue.

Entry fees:
Pura Beji in Sangsit: 10k Rp
Pura Ulu Bratan: 30k Rp
Pura Batukaru: 20k Rp
Jatiluweh village: 20k Rp per person, 5k for car
Parking at temples was usually 5k
In Jatiluweh we found a dish definitely worth trying for carnivores: babi guling, assorted pork meat.

Munduk

Contrary to what can be found on the internet, there is plenty of inexpensive accommodation in Munduk. The central area of the village is quite compact, so it is easy to walk around and look. We stayed in Taman Ayu homestay, paid 200k Rp for a very nice room with balcony with a spectacular view (breakfast included). They also have a good warung with inexpensive dishes, on a terrace upstairs with views. The location is very good for hiking, as it is right on the starting point of the trail to the waterfalls, overlooking nice coffee and cloves plantation. The owner gave us a hand-drawn map of the trails. They were also shown in detail on maps.me, so the hike was perfectly possible without a guide.

After Munduk we went straight to Sidemen, hiring the same driver for the day for 600k Rp.

Sidemen

Sidemen is a more upmarket destination, as there is virtually no cheap accommodation in the village. From what we have seen there might be just one or two basic places in the centre of the village. All other places charge at least 350k Rp for a double room.

We stayed in Embang Homestay, paying 350k Rp for a very nice bamboo cottage with almost de-luxe facilities and breakfast.
We took a round walk to the temple on the top of the hill opposite Sidemen, than along the hill to the southern side and down back to Sidemen. A full loop took 7 hrs. Jero from Embang Homestay gave us a basic hand-drawn map. Together with maps.me it was enough for orientation.

From Sidemen we went to Ubud by a shuttle minibus for 95k Rp per person.

Ubud
We stayed in Ubud Tude Family Homestay located in Gang Menda off Jalan Sugriwa. Price 200k Rp with breakfast, no AC (but not needed).

Ubud has some reliable places to change money with very good rates. We used Dirgahayu Valuta Prima (http://www.balibestrate.com/).

We can recommend two places with excellent food: Warung Dicarik in the ricefields, some 20 minutes walk from the Ubud palace (follow the signpost to the ricefields from the main road ca. 200 meters to the east from the Ubud palace) and Warung Laba Laba on Jalan Hanoman.

We made several walks nearby Ubud in nice landscapes of rice paddies and villages.

One walk that I have to warn against is the Penestanan and Sayan walk, described in the LP Bali & Lombok guidebook. Some seedy would-be-guides started harassing us as soon as we started descending to Sungai Ayung valley from near the Sayan Terrace hotel. They demanded 100k Rp per person. After some time we got rid of them, refusing to pay anything but then we realised that the path along Sungai Ayung has been obstructed in several places by locals putting up improvised gates and extorting money for letting us pass through them. They all started from 50k Rp per person but each time they finally settled for 10k after some unfriendly negotiation. They all had large sickles or machetes – maybe local farming tools but they definitely used them for the threatening effect. It all looked quite uneasy and I wonder whether they would soon resort to mugging tourists passing along the path. Furthermore, the path was very narrow and slippery in places, with several places where falling several meters into the river was quite possible.

Ubud was our last place in Indonesia. From Ubud we took a taxi to the Ngurah Rai International Airport for 300.000 Rp. Took 2 hrs in heavy traffic even though we skipped the worst part of it by giving the driver additional 10.000 Rp and asking him to take the toll road to avoid the most congested part near Kuta. Alternatively, there is also an airport shuttle from Ubud for 60.000 Rp per person. Plan at least 3 hrs, possibly even more, if it does not take the toll road.

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