My flight to Yogyakarta was delayed. I was supposed to reach Yogyakarta by 11:30 am. Instead, I reached Kuala Lumpur at 11:30 am and missed the connection to Yogyakarta. The new connection that I was given by the airline was at 3:30 pm, which ended up arriving at yogyakarta at 5 pm.
Indian citizens do not require an Indonesian visa for upto 30 days. If you plan to stay for longer, you need to apply for a visa or get an extension once your 30 days are about to exhaust. The fine for overstaying is some ridiculous sum of money.
The taxi from the airport to the city should have been about 70000 IDR (1 USD = 14000 IDR) but it cost me 120000 IDR. The international flights arrive at terminal B and you can get a metered taxi from terminal A (which is a 100m walk away). I chose not to get one because there was a huge queue for the metered taxis. My first money exchange was at an exchange rate of 13500 IDR for 1 USD, which was low. If you look around a little bit, you can easily get something over 14000 IDR for a US dollar.
I stayed at Ostic House which was a brilliant hostel. They have two properties which are at walking distance from each other. The place has a really chill vibe, a great common area, decent beds/washrooms and great staff. I was staying at their Suryodiningratan property for one night. I had not prebooked for longer so that I had some flexibility. I stayed in the four bed mixed dorm. I met some friends from my hostel and we went for dinner to Warung Bu Ageng restaurant which was close to the hostel. I ordered an Ayam Bumbu Rujak, which was a spicy curry with chicken and a Bintang Beer. The meal was reasonably priced and cost me 60000 IDR.
The two must see things in Yogyakarta are the temple complexes of Borbudur and Prambanan. One of the guys that I met for dinner was already going on a tour to the Borbudur and Prambanan temples and they also had an empty space in their car. So I decided to tag along with them.
We left early at 3:30 am for Borbudur because we opted for the sunrise tour. We took a minibus with six people in total for 120000 IDR per person. The student ticket cost for the temple was 400000 IDR and non student cost was 475000 IDR, both with breakfast included. The drive from Yogyakarta to Borbudur took about 1.5 hours.
Borbudur is a Buddhist temple which was built in the 9th century by the Sailendra dynasty.
It is the largest Buddhist temple in the world and one of the three main archeological sites of Southeast Asia. As part of the sunrise tour, you are part of a small group of people who get to experience the sunrise from the top of the temple, with a backdrop of the rainforest and two Volcanos. It is a wonderful experience. I have visited other world heritage sites like Angkor Wat and the Pyramids of Giza. Amongst all of those, I found the Borbudur and Prambanan temples to be the most well maintained. The Indonesian government has gone a long way to protect its heritage.
It is important to mention that Indonesia has over 200 highly active volcanoes. There are quite a few volcano treks that you can do whilst in the region. Yogyakarta is on the lap of two such volcanos, Mt Merapi and Mt Merbabu, which are both highly active. The last Mount Merapi eruption was as recent as 2018. Earlier, the Indonesian government allowed treking to the summit of both volcanoes, but due to some recent incidents involving tourists, this trek is no longer open.
We got done with the Borbudur tour and breakfast by 8:30 am. The onwards journey to Prambanan was another 1.5 hours. The entry ticket for Prambanan was 350000 IDR for non students and 210000 IDR for students. There was a combined ticket for both Borbudur and Prambanan which was considerably cheaper but unfortunately it does not include the sunrise at Borbudur.
The Prambanan complex consists of 9th century Hindu temples which were built by the Sanjaya dynasty and their construction marked the return of Hinduism to Central Java. The main temple complex originally consisted of a total of 240 temples. Out of these, the three main temples include the Trimurti temples which were dedicated to the holy trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. The other three important temples were the Vahana temples and these were dedicated to the animal that each of the three gods were associated with (Hamsa, Garuda and Nandi). The other smaller temples lie mostly in ruins. Along with the main temple complex, you can also access smaller buddhist temples in the area. These incude: Lumbung, Candi Bubrah , Sewu temples.
It was a wonderful experience. Especially being Hindu myself, it really made you understand everything. The architecture seemed like it was influenced from South Indian hindu temples, like the ones at Hampi. The walls of the temples also depicted scenes from the Ramayana.
We returned to the hostel by 2 pm. I had to change hostels since they did not have beds available for tonight. The hostel staff was kind enough to book me into their sister hostel which was called Otu by Ostic house. Overall, this was an even better hostel with a chill pool. The beds and toilets were clean and the staff was helpful. They had no in-house restaurant but that was not a problem because there were plenty of food options nearby.
Getting a sim card in Indonesia is a bit complicated. The sims that you get locally, are only operational in the city where you get them. Eventually, I found a special sim which was a data only sim card. The company was Smartfren. It gave me 1 GB 4g data per day plus an additional one time 2 GB data and it worked everywhere I went, except Labuan Bajo. The cost of this sim was 180000 IDR. This might not be the best option but I just went by what people told me. I am sure there are other options for sim cards available.
A few friends and I got dinner at this place called House of Raminten. It was the best Indonesian local food that I ate in all of Indonesia. I went with a couple of friends from my hostel, with whom I was also planning on going to a nearby waterfall tomorrow. This restaurant was recommended by a local and it was completely worth the 10 minute cab ride. The restaurant was perpetually packed and we had to wait for 45 minutes to get a table. I got a local version of a chicken porridge and it was amazing.
As far as cabs are concerned, the best way to go about it is to download the Grab or Ojek app on your smartphone.
Today, I was planning to visiting one of the waterfalls in the area followed by a visit to the sunset point. The waterfall was called Srigudeg and sunset point was called pinnus pengger.
I went with a few friends from my hostel, the ones with whom I had dined the previous day. We left the hostel by 11:20 pm. The hostel staff helped us book a cab for 6 hours which we split amongst us. The cost of the cab ended up being about 150000 IDR per person. It took us 1.5 hours (with traffic) to reach the waterfall. There was quite a lot of traffic because it was a local holiday.
The entrance fee to waterfall was 25000 IDR. The waterfall was a 500 meter walk down from the parking area. You could either walk it or tale a zip line, which cost an additional 20000 IDR. The zip line was a lot of fun. The waterfall was also fun and refreshing. It was a little crowded due to the holiday but we were still able to find a nice secluded spot to chill at. Given the tropical climate, sitting under the fresh cold water was blissful.
We left by 4pm in order to make it in time for the sunset. Just for information sake, Java is a Muslim island, so I would suggest being a little respectful with what you are wearing at public places.
Pinnus Pengger literally translates into the pine forest. The sunset point is atop a hill. To get there, you have to walk through the pine forest. There are numerous Instagram worthy spots to click pictures along the way. The entrance fee was 5000 IDR. The sunset point itself was beautiful but it was super crowded and very touristy. We left post the sunset by about 6 pm.
We got dinner at a restaurant called Warung Bu Ageng. It was close to the hostel. I did not like the food much. Literally half of the stuff in the menu was sold out. I ordered the Indonesian curry, which I thought would be like a Thai curry but it was anything but that. It was a super dry dish which certainly did not suit my palette. In general, I did not savour Indonesian food much, except for my namesake: the trademark Nasi GORENG.
Since the earlier food was not that great, I ended up getting another dinner at a restaurant closeby. Guess what I got this time? Burgers, pizzas, beers and a live band playing. Also, a quick disclaimer, draft beer in Java is not beer on tap. It is a bottled beer which is called draft beer. Very Weird!!
I had booked a night train to Baniyuwangi at 1:35 am. There are direct trains to Baniyuwangi but they were all sold out. So the one I got was via Surabaya meaning I had to switch trains at Surabaya.
Did not try but highly recommend: Mediterranea restaurant. It was located close to the hostel. They were always packed and served French cuisine.
Did not go but highly recommend: Close to Yogyakarta is a museum called Sangiran which is one of the two places in the world where early homonid fossils are found (homo erectus/Java man). Sangiran is kind of hard to get to because it is located in Surakarta which is the nearby city. I was not able to make it since I was short on time.
I left for the train station at 12:30 am. I would advise that you to leave a little early, even though the station is just 10 minutes away. It generally takes some time to figure stuff out in a foreign country. The station experience itself, was seamless. You need to take a print out of your online ticket and then go to a checkin kiosk (which is located at every station), scan the barcode and then print your boarding pass over there. This has to be done 10 minutes before departure. The trains come in three categories: Executive, Business and Economy. The Executive being the best and most expensive with reclining seats/plenty of legroom and economy being the cheapest. Even though economy was the cheapest and supposedly the worst of the lot, I found it pretty good when compared to our Indian railway chair cars. My train to Baniyuwangi went via Surabaya. I left yogyakarta at 1:35 am and arrived at Surabaya (Surabaya Gubeng station) at 6:15 am. My first train was executive class with reclining seats and cost me 300000 IDR. My train from Surabaya to Baniyuwangi was scheduled at 9 am. This was economy class and cost me 180000 IDR. The closest station to Baniyuwangi was Karangasem station and the scheduled arrival there was at 3 pm.
You can book train tickets at any hostel or online through www.m.ticket.com. The hostel charges a fee of 14000 IDR for economy tickets and 22000 IDR for business or executive tickets. This is on top of the fare prices which I have already mentioned. Another website to research about trains in Java is www.seat61.com/Indonesia. They have detailed information with pictures on their website.
Overall the train experience was fantastic. The train stations and the train itself were super comfortable and clean. They always departed on time and there were hardly any delays.
At Baniyuwangi, I stayed at Quinn homestay which was located at walking distance from the train station. It was a house converted to a hostel and was cheap and basic. The hostess, Anna, was amazing and helped out with everything. Baniyuwangi is a small town towards the southern end of Java. It is the point from where you can take the ferry to Bali. So, until recently, people usually did not stay here for long. They would travel to Baniyuwangi and then immediately get a ferry to Bali. Nowadays, there is the famous Ijen trek which has started attracting more and more tourists to stay in Baniyuwangi. Apart from Ijen, there is not much to do around here. There are a few beaches in town but they are not that great. The good stuff is all 2+ hours away, so it is not easily accessible.
There arent a lot of food options close to the hostel. I was recommended by the hostel staff to check out Palm Sugar cafe which was 2 minutes away. I got some Indonesian curry again. I was in the entire "eat local" mode. I chilled in the hostel pretty much all day otherwise. The hostel was empty and I was the only one.
I had booked the Ijen Crater tour through Quinn homestay. The cost of the tour was 275000 IDR on weekdays and 325000 IDR on weekends which included masks, a tour guide and also a stop at a nearby waterfall. The tour left at 12:15 am and was usually back by 9am.
Ijen crater is an active volcanic crater which is also a natural Sulphur mine. It also consists of the world's most acidic lake and the famous blue fire. This place was made famous by Nature documentaries. At least I saw it on one of the BBC/Nat Geo documentaries. The other famous volcano trek that you can do in Java is the Mount Bromo, which is accessible from a town called Probolinggo. I did not end up doing Mount Bromo because of time constraints.
The jeep picked me up from my hostel at 12:40 am. I was part of a group which included 15 more people. We proceeded to the starting point for the trek which was an hour or so away. Here we were given masks, head torches and eyewear to protect us from the Sulphur fumes. The hike to the crater was a total of 3 kilometres: 2 kilometres uphill at a steep gradient, followed by 1 kilometre in flat terrain. After this we descended to the crater floor, which was a 200 meter steep descent. We reached the bottom of the crater under the cover of darkness. Here we saw the blue fire produced by the burning sulphur gases. The phenomenon was only visible at night. We also saw how Sulphur was mined in this natural mine. The workers earned about 1000 IDR for every kilogram that they could mine and carry to the valley below. These miners were exposed to the poisonous Sulphur dioxide gas for prolonged periods, as they would usually work without masks. They carried the mined sulphur in baskets which often weighed equal to or more than their body weight. As a result of the recent tourism, to increase their incomes, the miners also made snall toys out of sulphur which they sold to tourists for 20000 IDR.
Another site to witness here, was a turquoise lake that had formed inside the crater. This lake was higly acidic due to sulphuric acid generated from the mining and was allegedly the world's most acidic lake with a PH of 0.5.
The views from inside the crater at sunrise were surreal. Post sunrise we began our ascent to the mouth of the crater. This was followed by our descent to the vehicles. We were back to the vehicles by 7 am. After this, we were supposed to go see a waterfall as part of the tour but we all opted against it because of tiredness. I was dropped of at the hostel by 9 am.
I took the 12:30 pm bus and ferry to bali. The cost of the bus and ferry combined was 125000 IDR. This included the ferry ticket and a bus ride to Kuta in Bali. The way it worked was that the bus would drive onto the ferry and then disembark at Bali. The ferry ride was an hour or so long. The ferry runs from Ketapang port in Java to Gilimanuk port in Bali. The ride from the port in Bali to Mengwi bus terminal in Kuta was about 4 hours. The total journey took about 6 hours.
From the Mengwi bus station, I had to get a Taxi to Canggu, where I had booked my hostel. I was staying at the Tipsy Gypsy hostel which I had booked last minute. There are plenty of hostel/hotel options available in Bali. The hostel I booked was 100000 IDR per night which was reasonable.
For dinner, I was supposed to meet a college friend who was coincidentally also in Bali. We went to dine at this restaurant called Masons which was also in Canggu. The restaurant was towards the expensive side and our meal was 260000 IDR per person. Though the food was very good. We then headed to a few bars in the area. First we went to Luigi's (techno music), then to the beach bar. Old mans is another famous club in the area.
Bali is a hardcore party island. Canggu, Seminyak, Kuta are all areas with plenty of nightlife options. Also, Bali is completely different from the rest of Indonesia. It did not feel, for one bit, like I was in Indonesia. It felt more like I was in Miami or something.
Another important thing to note: Indonesian plug points are a pain. They are usually roundish in shape with a depth. So a normal indian charger which is squarish never fits into it.
I had come to Bali primarily to attend a wedding. The wedding hotel was the Intercontinental hotel at Jimbaran Bay.
I took the 4:10pm flight to Labuan Bajo. The flight was an hour long. There are plenty of carriers that fly to Labuan Bajo which include Air Asia and Garuda Indonesia. The flight was 4800 INR for the round trip which was very reasonable. The Taxi from the airport to the Blue Marlin dive shop cost me 50000 IDR. I booked one from airport itself and over paid.
I also had to get a new sim here because my old sim which supposedly should have been working in Komodo, gave up on me. So I had to get a local sim which I got one for 150000 IDR (8 GB data). Lot of shops were not willing to give sim cards to foreigners. In the end, I ended up finding one that was willing to do so.
Labuan Bajo is a town on the island of Flores. In a way, it is the gateway to the the Komodo National Park. I was visiting this area mainly for the pristine diving here. The area is known for its strong currents, great visibility and amazing micro and macro diving. Apart from the Komodo Dragons and the diving, there is not much else to do here.
I checked into the Blue Marlin dorm room for 2 nights which cost me 120000 IDR per night and booked diving for them for three days (17th-19th). The diving included 3 dives per day in their 600 HP speed boat.
Since I had an early day tomorrow, I got dinner at the dive shop restaurant and called it a night early.
I had an early start to the day. I left the diveshop at 8am post breakfast to head out to sea. The jetty from which our boat departed was 100 meters from the dive shop. The speed boat itself was very comfortable with a sun deck on the roof and personal dive stations. They had coffee/tea, fruits and lunch on-board.
The first dive site that we went to today was called Police Corner. Apparently, it was named after one of the two things, a police boat had crashed here or a policeman had discovered this dive site. The maximum depth was 33 meters and visibility was 25-30 meters. We saw a lot of Nudibranches, Coral Bandid shrimps, Snappers, Batfish, Oriental sweet lips, et cetra. The dive lasted 50 minutes, after which we went to the next dive site.
The second dive site was called Mawan (Manta Point). The maximum depth was 16 meters. Here we got some strong currents. The Komodo area is famous for its strong currents which are often unpredictable. This was my first dive in strong currents. On top of that, we had to swim against the current for most of the dive, which was super tiring. This dive site was one of the Manta cleaning stations in Komodo National Park. Here we saw schools of Manta rays, which was a mind boggling experience. We also saw black tip sharks, Octopuses, scorpion fish, lion fish, crabs, et cetra.
We ate lunch after our second dive site which was a pre-packed meal. It included rice and a chicken gravy dish.
The third and final dive site for the day was Waililu. The maximum depth was 16 meters and the visibility was just 6-8 meters. The dive site was just off of the mangroves of Rinca island. This was a muck dive, which meant that we had to search for the small stuff like shrimps, Nudibranches and worms.
We were back in Labuan Bajo by 3 pm. This was the entire advantage of having a speed boat. I went and saw sunset at this place called Bacarita cafe, which was a cute cafe located in a mall (literally the newest building in town). It was not too expensive (30000 IDR for a coffee) and had a beautiful view of the sunset.
I went for dinner with some of my dive boat buddies to this place called Mediterranio. It was an Italian restaurant and towards the expensive side. A meal here with alcohol cost about 200000 IDR. That being said, the food was great, especially the pizzas.
I took the Air Asia flight from New Delhi to Yogyakarta at 11:15 pm. The flight was via Kuala Lumpur. There are very limited connections to Indonesia, especially Yogyakarta. Until November 2019, there were no direct connections to Yogyakarta or Bali for that matter of fact.
After an early breakfast at the dive shop restaurant, we departed in the speedboat by 8 am. Today we were going to the north side of Komodo National Park. This is apparently where the best dive sites are. I was super excited and nervous about today.
The first dive site we did was called Castle Rock. The depth was about 21 meters and the visibility was a good 30 meters. The dive site was basically an underwater mountain and we entered the non current facing side of it. This was probably the best single dive site that I have ever been to. The first 10 minutes of the dive were pure bliss and I was just awestruck. There was so much happening. We saw white tip reef sharks, schools of giant Travellis, Barracudas, Napoleon Wrasses. There were so many fish, I had never seen so many at one time. It was incredible. After those first 10 minutes, the current picked up and we drifted around the mountain. Eventually we came back to the same spot later and all the fish had disappeared. Thats how lucky we were.
The second dive site was called Golden Passage. This was a strong current drift dive. The maximum depth was 35 meters and the dive time ended up being just 20 minutes because of the strong currents. This was a struggle of a dive. Never have I felt current this strong. We literally had to hold on the the reef in order to not be swept away with the current. Here we saw a big school of Barracudas swimming against the current. Apart from that, I was just too busy swimming and holding on to dear life :p
Post lunch, our third dive site was called Crystal Rock. This was a challenging dive site due to the currents. The maximum depth was 23 meters and the visibility was about 20 meters. This dive site was also a mountain but unlike castle rock, the mountain broke the surface of the water. The current hit the mountain from one side and split into two and we were diving in-between that split. We had to be careful to remain in that split, otherwise we could be in some serious trouble. It was a very challenging but fun experience. We saw plenty of stuff like baby white tip sharks, pygmy sea horses and schools of fish.
We returned by about 3:30Pm. I had to switch hostels today and had booked this place called Seaesta. This is one of the best hostels that I have stayed at in all of South East Asia. They had amazing dorms, a great rooftop with a pool and a bar, clean bathrooms and a great overall vibe. The hostel cost about 210000 IDR per night. I would highly recommend staying here.
I left for diving post breakfast. The new hostel was a 12 minute walk from Blue Marlin dive shop.
The three dive sites today were Tatwa Bisar, Batu Balong and Karang Makassar. The third one was the other manta point in the Komodo National Park. We ended up seeing eagle rays and schools of manta rays. It was an amazing experience. The mantas literally came out of the blue and glided right over you. At one of the other dive sites, I saw a huge school of fourteen grey reef sharks.
One dive site that I really wanted to do was the Cauldron. This was again a drift dive in strong current. Apparently the current here was stronger than the one at Golden Passage.
The diving in total cost me 510USD over three days (9 dives in total). This included everything: the full gear rental, dive computer, park fees and taxes. The park fee to enter Komodo National park is 275000 IDR on weekdays and 325000 IDR on weekends.
I explored the different places in the evening and went to a coffee shop called the Flores coffee shop (La Bajo). It was nice.
I went for dinner to a restaurant called La Cucina. It was an Italian restaurant which was always packed. The food was really nice and the ambience was great. The pricing was about 130000 IDR per person without alcohol.
For today, I had booked a tour in a local boat for the Komodo dragons. This tour included snorkeling at two spots (manta point and one more), visit to padar island and a visit to komodo island to see the Komodo dragons. The local boats were slower than the speed boats but much cheaper. The local boat tour cost me 450000 IDR plus 350000 IDR for the park fee. The speed boats, on the other hand, were faster and included an additional two attractions, but the pricing was considerably more at 1200000 IDR plus the park fee.
It was an early start, the boat left at 6 am from the harbour. I had to report to the booking agency office, from there a guy took me to the harbour where I boarded the boat. My boat had 9 other people who had booked through different agencies. The local boat was a wooden boat which ran at relatively slow speeds compared to the speed boats.
The first place we went to was Kanawa Padar island. Here we had to trek up a hill to get the beautiful view of the surrounding islands. It took us 3 hours to reach the island. It was a 1.5 Km trek to the top of the hill and it took us an hour to accomplish. The top of the hill had a beautiful view of the surrounding islands. It was one of those picture perfect spots that you see on post cards.
After that we went for snorkeling which was a nice experience. Since I had already done SCUBA, the snorkelling wasnt as exciting to me. It took us an hour to reach the spot, where we ended up snorkelling for another hour.
After the snorkelling, we went to Komodo island to see the dragons. It took us an hour and a half to get there. We had to trek for an hour or so inside the park to see the dragons. There were different trekking routes available, but since we were short on time we could only do the one hour one. Along the way, we saw two Komodo dragons which were just lazing in the shade. It was not as exciting as I thought it would be. Nevertheless, you cannot come to Komodo and not see the dragons. It was one of those tick off the bucket list moments.
If you have time, the better way to see the Komodo dragons is through an over night tour. Some people told me that you get to see the dragons more closely and in action whilst on those tours. I did not research much into these tours since I was always short on time.
Next, we went to a spot where we could swim with Mantas. We saw a couple of Mantas here. Again, since I had seen Mantas in my dives, it was not as exciting for me. The thing about snorkelling is that you only get a top down view of stuff. Whilst in diving, you are right in the thick of the action. Anyhow seeing an animal like a Manta ray is always special. No matter how many times you have seen it before. Prior to this Indonesia trip, I had never seen a Manta ray or a shark in my life and now I couldn't get enough of it.
The boat returned to the harbour by 5:30 pm. It was a super long and tiring day. We had gotten some coffee/tea and a packed lunch on the boat. I was also carrying some emergency snacks of my own which was a good idea.
Upon disembarking, the first thing I did was to go to La Crepiere. This was a crepe place close to the harbour. I had been planning on going there for the past two days. I tried the Nutella and Banana crepe and it was pretty good.
I got an early dinner at the Italian place, Mediterraneo. I had a long day tomorrow because I had to get three flights in a row to reach New Delhi.