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The Java to Bali Jaunt

By: Will Peach Posted: June-17-2011 in
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Will Peach

Travelling overland between two of Indonesia’s best-known islands is easier than you think. But is it worth it? Will Peach traipses over 600 miles to find out.

Despite the lukewarm welcome sign of “Drug Traffickers will be Sentenced to Death,” the feeling of excitement passing the gates at Soekarno-Hatta, Jakarta’s international airport, is building to a satisfying crescendo. It’s early December and the beginning of Java’s wet season. As the bustling capital ploughs along I contemplate my travel plans – 600 miles in the space of a week. That’s how it stands between here and the famous sun-baked beaches of Bali. Here’s hoping I have time to catch the surf.

The journey begins in Jakarta, Indonesia’s largest city (with a population just short of 9 million), where Jalan Jaksa, the city’s premier backpacking area, plays host. Paling in comparison to the thriving travel hubs of Bangkok’s Khao San or Saigon’s own Bui Vien, the tiny strip of thin road running the breadth of Jalan Jaksa leaves little to see or do. One redeeming feature the district does offer is price. For US$5 a night, a basic non-air-conditioned room, courtesy of Bloemsteen Homestay, is ripe for the taking. Ignoring the drunken proprietors and sleeping through the calls-to-prayer of nearby mosques, Bloemsteen’s sweltering little bedchambers make for a decent launch pad to begin any Javanese jaunt.

Up the next day, it’s off to check out Monas, a 442ft tower that symbolises Indonesia’s long fight for independence from European powers. After a quick amble around the basement and a series of display cabinets housing Team America-style puppet recreations of pivotal events, it’s time to grab lunch at the elegant Café Batavia, situated in the corner of quaint Fatahillah Square. Though expensive, the cafe redeems itself with its grand colonial ambiance and countless photographic portraits. Stepping back outside into the grounds of Imperial Holland’s oldest fortress also reveals a certain sense of charm that the majority of Jakarta evades.

The oddly named city of Yogyakarta, or Jogja according to the locals, is the next stop. An over-night train, easily boarded at Gambir Station, a mere stones-throw from Jalan Jaksa, swallows the next 276 miles of the journey.

What the train lacks for in amenities it makes up for in helpful locals. None more so than one aging male who tells me about the pleasing aesthete of western men before settling down to enjoy some nasi goreng, a fried rice and meat staple dish. For a US$20 ticket, what more could a passenger want? Nine hours of lust-fuelled chatter later, we arrive.

Walking in Yogyakarta, Java’s cultural heart, is a lot like wandering around prominent UK-graffiti artist Banksy’s backyard. With countless murals adorning every nook and cranny of Jogja’s streets, there’s plenty to gaze at during the fresh walk down Malioboro toward the Kraton, home to Jojga’s royal sultanate. If you can avoid the incessant cries for the purchase of batik, the city also has plenty of other interesting sights. The cannons at Fort Vredeburg are worth a mention, and they also provide effective shelter from snap-happy locals.

Jogja’s two tourist areas, Prawirotamen and Sosrowijayan, provide decent eating and sleeping options, and retain a cosy laid-back vibe. Among the best of the cafes is Via Via, an excellent Belgian-owned joint that serves as an artistic hub with regular craft workshops and live music events.

Another benefit of a stop-off in Jogja is its proximity to the tourist draws of Borobudur and Prambanan. The two massive temple complexes can be visited on a one-day tour leaving daily from Jojga’s backpacker districts. Tickets are easily arranged from all booking agents and usually include a sunrise at either of the two spots. Lacking the wow-factor of Cambodia’s Angkor Wat, these huge Buddhist and Hindu monuments are still well worth a visit, but be prepared for the hawker onslaught at their base.


After a couple of days in Yogyakarta it’s time to step up the journey and head east for Bali. It’s hardly surprising when our old minibus splutters to an end en route to Bromo Tengerr Semeru National Park. But after a two-hour delay and some very interesting mechanical know-how, we make it to the foot of the 2,329m tall Gunung Bromo volcano.

Included in the ticket price is an overnight stay at mountainside hotel Bromo Permai. As our bus lurches and swings around the life-endangering roads traversing the volcano, three-hours of bed rest is much warranted before waking to the chilly sunrise the next day. After a short jeep ride to the viewing platform, Bromo greets us with grand majesty. As three of its smaller neighbours smoke and gurgle below, Bromo juts out towards the sky, a welcome view following the 236-mile backbreaking journey from Jogja.

Bali or Bust

With Bromo in our midst the journey continues. Visions of sun, sea and sand wash over with the volcanic dust on my shoes, shaking it off. It’s Bali or bust now, having travelled over 500 miles in little less than a week.

Making it to the ferry for sunset provides atmospheric views of the mountainous tip of Java. Arriving on the other side we hit Denpasar, Bali’s capital, and hitch a ride to the infamous beach resort of Kuta on Bali’s south coast. After an evening spent dodging inebriated Australians, an inexpensive haunt is found on vibrant side street Poppies II.

Spending the next day enjoying the lovely surf, there is some definite sadness at my Java Jaunt having come to an end. With only an aching behind for consolation, Kuta’s heady mix of youth and drinking make for a sudden desire to escape.

Six hundred miles for this? I’ll fly next time, I say to myself as I duck the oncoming passage of a gaggle of scantily clad teenagers.

The Route
(prices at time of printing)
Jakarta - Yogyakarta - Probolinggo - Denpasar - Kuta
Jakarta to Yogyakarta (Train RP200,000 or US$22)
Yogyakarta to Bali with Sosro Tour and Travel (RP280,000 or US$30)

Bloemsteen Homestay
Kebon Sirih Timur I No 175 Menteng.
Jl. Silang Monas
Café Batavia
Taman-Fatahillah, Jakarta-Kota
Gambir Station
Jalan Medan Merdeka.
Ticket enquiries at

Café Via Via
Jalan Prawirotaman
Borobudur and Prambanan Tours
Sosro Tour - Borobudur AM tour (5 hours) - RP50,000 (US$5) (not including entrance ticket) Borobudur & Prambanan tour (9 hours) - RP60,000 (US$6)

Republished with the kind permission of The Word HCMC


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