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Our unique new tour package for Seniors

Feel special every day on this hassle-free, Indonesian adventure for over 60s

Panoramic Train Carriage Java


Lion Air jet climbs out of Jakarta


Luxury Tourist Coach, Jakarta


Descriptive itinerary for our LAND CRUISE North Sumatra and Java Adventure

Click on the destinations and activities listed below for QUICK ACCESS to itinerary highlights

FRIDAY – Day 1


Our flights from home arriving today at Kuala Lumpur’s modern International airport, one of  Southeast Asia’s leading aviation hubs. It’s a super convenient location to assemble for our tour with excellent facilities and convenient direct flights to Medan, our first stop in Indonesia.

We spend a relaxing night at the Sama Sama Hotel before beginning our Indonesian adventure tomorrow morning. This beautifully appointed five-star hotel is connected to the International Terminal by an air bridge with a 24-hour buggy service to transport luggage (and, if necessary, tired people). It makes it easy for us to take care of getting your bags to the hotel and into your room.

The location also means we don’t have to worry about taxi or coach shuttle transfers – we can be checked in and relaxing within minutes of clearing airport arrivals. How good is that!

Usually, members of our hosting team will be on hand to greet you and make sure all goes smoothly. As you exit the Immigration and Customs Hall look out for a handsome, smiling person (guy or gal) in a Better Tours shirt, perhaps waving a whiteboard bearing your name.

Places to relax and wind down

The Sama Sama hotel receives positive reviews for its convenience, sound-proofed rooms, pool area and a choice of restaurants, cafes, and bars for winding down after your long trip.

Our pre-booking for you means smooth check-ins. The room is included in your tour cost and comes with a hearty buffet breakfast tomorrow (Saturday) morning .

We have left dinner arrangements for tonight to you – we figured that after your flight you might appreciate a quiet no-fuss meal at one of the hotel’s excellent venues or room service. 

Unfortunately, we can’t invite you to luxuriate with a long sleep-in tomorrow morning.  We need to have breakfast, be checked out, and be headed back to International Departures by around 9 am to join our flight to Medan departing at 10.45 am.

Don’t worry – members of our hosting team will be joining you and other tour guests for breakfast and will be on hand to brief you on the day ahead, answer questions, assist, and ensure all runs smoothly.

Travel Map North Sumatra and Java Tour

We have changed the starting point of our tour from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. We have found this to be better for overnight accommodation and flights to Medan, our Indonesian entry point. Our tour still ends in your choice of Singapore or Bali.

De-luxe twin room Sama Sama Hotel Kuala Lumpur International Airport

Deluxe twin room Sama Sama Hotel at Kuala Lumpur International airport – the term ‘sama-sama’ translates as ‘you are welcome’ in Malay and Indonesian.



Times given below may vary should flight timetables be adjusted.  Should this happen you will be updated prior to your departure from home.

09.00 am – We gather in the Sama Sama hotel reception area and make our way to the International Terminal for our short flight to Medan. Our hosting team will be there to escort and assist – they will have made arrangements for complimentary porterage of your luggage to our flight check-in desk.

10.45 am– Our Air Asia flight departs for Medan. Reset watches (Medan follows Jakarta time which is one hour behind Malaysian time.)

10.50 am – (Indonesian time) – Arrival at Kualanamu International Airport, Medan. Our Medan hosts meet, greet and join us for a pleasant journey by luxury coach (about an hour) to the five-star Grand City Hall Hotel in the Medan CBD.

After check-in we gather from about 1 pm in the hotel’s relaxing third-floor al fresco dining area for a ‘getting-to-know-you’ buffet luncheon of Indonesian and international food with complimentary drinks. It is an opportunity to meet other tour group members of the team who will be looking after us over the coming days.

Our team also will present a fun briefing on cultural differences and expectations designed to make your stay in Indonesia more enjoyable, and avoid embarrassment. And we will present you with your complimentary day-pack of useful goodies designed to smooth your visit (click the link and scroll down to see what’s inside).

During and after lunch a mobile phone provider representative will be on hand to help you register your cell phone for access to the Indonesian network with a low-cost SIM card. It will allow you to easily and inexpensively make and receive calls and data as we travel. (Click here to see the reason why.)

(If you do bother to click through you will know why we arrange to get this messy process sorted for you.)

A rest break after lunch – perhaps a chance to to try out your new phone link and touch base with the folks back home. (But do take into account the time zone differences. Your family and friends will need to love you a lot to not be disturbed by a call to say hello at an ungodly hour in their morning).

Around 6.30pm   we gather in the hotel foyer for a short stroll to experience the color, aromas and friendly buzz of a ‘Pujasera’ – the open-air sidewalk cafes and food courts where Indonesians love to gather to eat, laugh and chat on warm balmy evenings. It’s one of the delights of Indonesia’s tropical lifestyles and will be an appropriate first dinner to begin our Indonesian adventure.

Included Meals – BREAKFAST, LUNCH, DINNERof our

Facade Kualanamu Airport Medan
Medan's modern Kualanamu Airport terminal
Premier Deluxe room Grand City Hall Hotel Medan

Premier Deluxe room Grand City Hall Hotel in the heart of Medan

The pleasant al fresco dining area at the Grand City Hall Hotel – venue for our welcome luncheon.

Section of popular al fresco dining area Merdeka Walk, Medan

Al fresco dining in Medan’s Merdeka Walk area is great on balmy evenings

SUNDAY – Day 3


Prepare for a great day of contrasts and interest!

We board our coach at 09.00 am for a brief exploration of some highlights of Medan, Indonesia’s fourth largest city with a population around 2.5 million. It is the capital of Sumatra and steeped in history from both pre-colonial and colonial times. It also has a remarkable mix of ethnic groups and cultures,

The Palace

Our first stop is Istana Maimoon, the Palace of the Sultans of Deli. The complex covers 2,770 sq m, has some 30 rooms, and combines Indian, Islamic, Malay, Italian, Spanish and Middle Eastern architectural influences. Amazingly, the unlikely mixture works.

The present 14th Sultan, Mahmud Lamanjiji Perkasa Alum, succeeded to the title in 2005 after his father, a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Indonesian Army, died in a military plane crash. The new Sultan was a month short of his 7th birthday!

The Sultan and his family still live in the palace and it is the venue for special events like the weddings of princes or princesses and ceremonial observances.

The Mosque

Just 250 metres from the Sultan’s Palace is Masjid Raya (the Grand Mosque) or Masjid Al-Mashun, built by the 9th Sultan of Deli between 1906 and 1909.

The Sultan received funding support from a Dutch company with tobacco plantation concessions and a Chinese businessman, banker, plantation owner and philanthropist, then reputed to be Medan’s wealthiest citizen. The development budget was said to be a million Dutch guilders, a small fortune at the time.

The octagonal building is in Moorish style with materials imported from Europe, including marble from Italy. The walls and ceilings are decorated with Islamic art. 

Visitors are welcome, but we need to dress appropriately – long pants for men and modest clothes and hair coverings for women. Footwear must be left outside the entrance.

The Mansion

Next a five-minute coach trip to a venue that will delight history buffs and lovers of Asian exotica.

 A visit to the Tjong A Fie Mansion and Museum is a must for visitors to Medan. This 35-room, 2-story mansion is a registered historical landmark and cultural heritage building. But the story of the mansion and the man for whom it is named are what make it most remarkable.

Tjong A Fie was born into a poor family in 1860 in the southern coastal Province of Guangdong in China. He left school early to work in his family’s shop and then migrated to Medan to join an older brother in 1878. Through hard work, energy, and ability, the brothers built a business empire in plantations, mining, banks, real estate and railways.

Tjong A Fie became the richest man in Medan and was recognized with honors back in China and in Malaysia. He was made leader of the Medan Chinese community.

Tjong built his mansion over five years from 1895 with a mix of Indonesian, Chinese and European design influences. It underwent a major restoration in 2013, funded in part by a grant from the US Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation.

A Tip Top Lunch

Time for LUNCH, and conveniently located just across the street is the historic 90-year-old Tip Top Restaurant and Bakery. Medan is famed for its food culture and the Tip Top is a landmark eatery that has become a Medan institution.

The Jungle

After lunch, we board our coach once more to head for the jungle – the massive Gunung Leuser National Park, considered one of South East Asia’s richest ecosystems and the largest nature reserve in Southeast Asia. It’s often described as the green heart of Sumatra.

Our destination is Bukit Lawang, a sleepy village of around 1,300 people straddling a sparkling river and tucked into the edge of the jungle. It is here where tomorrow we hope to see Orangutans and other fascinating birds and animals in their natural habitat.

Our coach cruises through the Sumatra countryside and palm oil plantations for about three hours. To complete our journey we walk across the river via a pedestrian suspension bridge to a hotel tucked among the trees and appropriately called the Ecolodge.

(Don’t worry – we will have porters to take care of your luggage.)

Tonight we dine in a unique restaurant crafted from local bamboo, and we rest to the sounds of a rushing river and the night calls of jungle wildlife.


Istana Maimoon - the Sultan's 's palace
Richly patterned Interior Istana Maimoon
Medan's imposing Grand Mosque
The Tjong A Fie Mansion is a MUST
Delicious decorated cakes from Tip Top Restaurant

Cakes and novelty decorations are specialties at Tip Top bakery and restaurant. But it also serves excellent meals in great surroundings.

These drone views of  Bukit Lawang village straddling Bohorok River are an excellent visual introduction to this tiny settlement nestled into the edge of the huge Gunung Leuser National Park –  Video by Dronology.



An early start with breakfast by 7 am and gathering by 8 am to begin our jungle adventure in the cool of the morning.

Andrea, our expert jungle guide coordinator, has selected an ‘easy’ trek of about three hours. We walk tracks through beautiful primary tropical rainforest to see wildlife like Siamang (black-furred gibbons), Thomas Leaf Monkeys, long tail Macaque, and varieties of exotic Sumatran birds. Best of all, there’s a very good chance we will see Orangutans.

Bukit Lawang is the location of the internationally famous Bohorok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center, established in 1972. Here two young women conservationists from Switzerland and local rangers taught the skills needed to survive in the wild to orangutans recovered from captivity.

The rehabilitation program has now moved to another location. But while it operated it released more than 200 orangutans into the jungle and Bukit Lawang became one of the best places to see these shy and elusive primates of the Indonesian and Malaysian jungles in the wild.

We will split into groups of about eight, each led by an experienced local guide, so that we can move quietly along the tracks. After a couple of hours we will all come together again for a rest and a ‘LUNCH IN THE JUNGLE’ of fresh fruits and local foods.

Riding the river

Then, if water levels are right, we will head to the river and TUBE down the stream to the village. Riding the river on rafts built with giant truck and heavy machinery inner tubes is great fun. Yes, we will all have life jackets and our guides are strong and experienced rafters.

This is NOT shooting rapids – Sections of the river rush a little but are certainly not challenging. Buti if tubing is something you would prefer not to do, then one of our crew will walk with you back to the village.

The jungle trek will require a reasonable level of mobility. But we move slowly and pause for rest stops. Our crew is on hand to assist you as necessary.

Our founder is 81 and undertook a Bukit Lawang trek not so long after recovering from a quadruple heart bypass operation. He coped without any problems or need for assistance (and yes. we got to see orangutans and other animals).

The Becak alternative

Should you feel the trek might be too much for you, then you will have the option of a half-day cultural discovery tour by motor BECAK – a traditional pedicab powered by a motorcycle. It is the ideal mode of transport for exploring the laneways and byways of Bukit Lawang and the surrounding villages and farmlands,

As you travel through the beautiful rice fields, you will see traditional small scale farming of cacao (chocolate), rubber, bananas and maize and people making traditional foods like red palm sugar and tofu. You will also see villagers weaving bamboo walls for local houses and palm tree leaves for roof thatching.

Your guide you will tell you about the everyday life of village people and translate any questions you have for the villagers.

A lazy afternoon

Bukit Lawang is a great place for a lazy afternoon and that is what we recommend on the return from our trek exertions or Becak tour. There are very pleasant little local bars and cafes along the banks of the river upstream from the Ecolodge.

When you watch the activity along the river or gaze at the vast expanses of jungle cloaking the mountains, you will marvel that such accessible places like this exists. It can be a very relaxing pastime while sipping a coffee, a freshly blended fruit juice, or an Indonesian Bintang beer.

If you have some energy left, then you might consider a walk over one of the many interesting suspension bridges and a stroll by the village shops – you never know what you might discover.

Tonight we return to the Ecolodge’s striking Kapal Bambu Restaurant (it means bamboo ship) for dinner.


Thomas' Leaf Monkey, Bukit Lawang, North Sumatra

You could be forgiven for thinking Thomas’ Leaf Monkeys go to some trouble to turn themselves out in style – a common sight in the jungle around Bukit Lawang. 

A wonderful reason for visiting Bukit Lawang
Couple taking Becak tour Bukit Lawang

An easier alternative for those who don’t feel up to our jungle trek – a guided highlights tour of this beautiful and interesting village on the edge of the jungle.

Bamboo ship restaurant at Ecolodge, Bukit Lawang

They call it the Kapal Bumbu (Bamboo Ship) Restaurant – its bamboo construction and setting overlooking the river make it very special.



Our main destination today is the town of Berastagi in the beautiful Karo highlands and a brief stay at the Sinabung Hills Resort.

The Sinabung Hills Resort is a ‘hill station’’ style resort and a joy to behold – a hotel that captures the nostalgic look and feel of grand summer retreats from a century ago in places like colonial North India, the Catskills of Upstate New York, and the Blue Mountains of eastern Australia.

But first, we journey about three hours to visit Orangutan Haven, a unique education, recreation and conservation project under continuing development.

Conceived originally as a sanctuary for orangutans unlikely to survive if released into the wild, it is a much more ambitious successor to that first rehabilitation centre established by those young Swiss women in Bukit Lawang all those years ago.

Its founders believe Orangutan Haven is setting a new high for such conservation and educational resources anywhere in the world.

Orangutan Haven is being built on 50 hectares of mixed agroforest by the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program – a collaboration between a Swiss Foundation and the Natural Resource and Ecosystems Conservation agency of the Indonesian Government.

More than 300 Orangutans returned to wild

The organization has released more than 300 orangutans into the wild at selected reintroduction rainforest areas in Central Sumatra and Aceh since 2002.

But the project is aiming for a much wider role in conservation, education, and recreation. A quick viewing of the accompanying video will give you an idea of their vision.

Today we visit the site, view the progress so far, and learn about fascinating plans for the future. We also will have a LUNCH of local foods here.

Around 2.15 pm, we board our coach to resume our scenic journey to the cool climes of Berastagi. We climb for about an hour and a half through jungle-cloaked ridges and then through a checkerboard of highland farmlands.

A place for relaxing and a food bowl

Berastagi is 1300m (4300 ft) above sea level. Historically its resorts and volcanic hot springs are where the well-to-do of Medan spent weekends and holidays relaxing and enjoying the temperate climate away from the heat of Medan.

Its climate and rich volcanic soils have made the Karo Highlands a famous agricultural growing area. The Batak farmers ship vegetables, fruits, and cut flowers to markets throughout Sumatra and other regions of Indonesia. The area is also noted for the quality of coffee produced from its cool, highland plantations.

As we approach Berastagi, we pause at a spectacular viewing site at Gundaling Hill to view the township and a carpet of garden farmlands, plus distant twin active volcanoes. 

The volcanoes are Mt Sibayak (it means King’s Mountain) which rises to 2012m (7,250 ft) and a nearby, slightly bigger brother Mt Sinabung, rising to 2,460m (about 8,000 ft).

After lying quietly dormant for some 400 years, Mt Sinabung came back to life in 2010 and 2013. Spectacular eruptions resumed from 2014 and it remains active. One recent eruption was in 2021. But don’t worry, we will be well outside the 7km exclusion zone. 

At around 4.15 we travel about 10 minutes to the Sinabung Hills Resort, with its sweeping grounds, lovingly maintained gardens, free-form pool, and great views.

The hotel is much younger than its old-world looks suggest, but, until recently, its rooms and facilities were becoming ‘tired’. A new ownership partner and an on-going upgrade program have changed all that – it is as though they knew we were coming.

Dinner tonight in the charming surroundings of the resort.

Included Meals – BREAKFAST, LUNCH, DINNER                                  

Islands and moats for the protection of orangutans at Orangutan Haven

Islands and moats are being developed for the safety of orangutans under rehabilitation at Orangutan Haven.

Orangutan in elevated nest at Orangutan Haven

Safe and sound – an orangutan rests in an elevated nest structure at Orangutan Haven.

A short video showing some of eco-conscious work being undertaken to develop Orangutan Haven.

Sinabung Hills Resort – art deco era grandeur and beautiful gardens – our accommodation in Berastagi.

Tending the cabbages while Mt Sinabung rumbles –  we will be doing our viewing from a considerable distance.



The big day has arrived – we are on our way to magnificent Lake Toba, the world’s largest crater lake.

Lake Toba should rank up there with great natural wonders like the Grand Canyon, Uluru, the Great Barrier Reef, and the Niagara, Angel and Victoria Falls. Yet despite being so big, so beautiful, and so distinctive, it remains relatively little known.

It is about three hours by coach to the village of Parapat on the western lake shore. But we are taking it slowly with stops along the way to view other wonders.       

For instance, you would not expect to find a beautiful golden Buddhist pagoda set in stunning gardens in the middle of farmlands 30 minutes from Berastagi, North Sumatra.

But just that is what we will see at our first stop on today’s journey.

The complex is called the Lumbini Natural Park. The gilded pagoda is a scaled replica of the world famous Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar. It is complete with elephant statue and four statues of Buddha incarnations in Burmese green jade

The surrounding gardens are a tribute to the famous gardens of Lumbini in Nepal, birthplace of the Lord Buddha in 623BC.

The original Schedagon Pagoda in Yangon is said to be 2,500 years old. In contrast the Berastagi complex only opened in October 2010. More than 1,300 monks and 200 lay people from around the world attended the impressive ceremonies.

Stunning first close-up view of the lake

From the Pagoda we travel another 90 minutes for our first close-up view of the vast expanse of Danau (Lake) Toba from the Taman Simalan Resort. We will savor the views while we enjoy a buffet luncheon at the resort’s Chinese Teahouse.    

After lunch we travel a half an hour to view the Sipiso-piso Falls  The water bursts from the escarpment wall as though pumped from a big tunnel and plunges some 120 metres (360 ft) into the Lake Toba caldera. It is one of the highest waterfalls in Indonesia.

The name Sipiso-piso means “knife-like” reflecting the tall, thin, gleaming stream and the way it has cut into the face of the cliff.

From the falls it is a two-hour scenic drive along the escarpment to the lakeshore town of Parapat. From here we will take a passenger ferry for a 40-minute crossing directly to the jetty of our hotel on Samosir Island in the middle of the lake.

Our base for exploring fascinating Lake Toba over the next three days will be the newly opened 5-star Marianna Resort and Convention Centre on the edge of the Tuk Tuk Peninsular – stunning views, quiet, and convenient.

Tonight we dine at the resort, perhaps outdoors if the weather is right. And maybe some of us might consider a cocktail or a nightcap at the rooftop bar and lounge with its sweeping 365 degree outlook.


A shimmering gilded Buddhist pagoda surrounded by large landscaped gardens is not the kind of thing you would expect to find in the middle of North Sumatra farmlands. Seeing is believing. By the way, those dots in the forecourt are actually people.

Sipiso-Piso waterfall Karo Highlands

Spectacular Sipiso-Piso falls – water gushes from the cliff-face as though from an underground stream.

Lively Tuk -Tuk Peninsular – our destination on Samosir Island



We don’t exactly rest on the seventh day, but we do think it’s time for a relaxing change of pace,

And what better way to take a breather than with a leisurely cruise on the beautiful lake – complete with lunch served on board, local musicians, and complimentary drinks (beers, juices, alcoholic and non-alcoholic fruit punch).

Our chartered ferry boat will pick us up from the resort jetty at around 9.30 am. Be sure to bring your hat and your swimming trunks, and apply some of that protective sun screen from your complimentary daypack.

Toba is the largest lake in Southeast Asia. It is some 100km (62 miles) long and 30km (13 miles) wide. Samosir Island is almost as big as Singapore.

And you might be surprised to know that we are cruising along at an elevation of 2,900ft above sea level, and the water below us is up to 505 metres deep (that’s 1,657 ft).

The views of the steep escarpments formed by the walls of the caldera remind us of the immensity of the explosive volcanic eruption that brought Lake Toba into existence around 74,000 years ago.

One of the biggest blasts in world history

It ranks as one of the largest known explosive eruptions in the history of the earth – and scientists say the volcanic winter that followed almost wiped out our early forebears.

But what a legacy that event has left – we will learn much more about the wonders of Lake Toba, Samosir Island, and the local Batak people and their culture over the next couple of days.

Our cruise vessel puts in to a small traditional shoreline village only accessible by water. Residents are happy to chat with us and have us walk through the village to view their gardens and rice fields.

A little further and we will have a ringside view of Situmurun Falls, one of the beautiful waterfalls that plunge directly into the lake, also only accessible by boat.

We’ll take a break here near the falls for a delicious local lunch cooked right on board and served ashore. For the keen swimmers among us – or those looking to cool-off – we have time for a dip in the lake and the refreshing crisp waters of the falls.

Along the way today we may see floating fish farming cages – aquaculture for growing fresh water tilapia is an important local industry. One company employs around 500 people and ships products throughout Indonesia and overseas.

How about a tiny tipple of Mango Wine?

We also will call in for a visit to Silimalombu Eco Farm for a quick look at their gardens and a tasting of something a little different – namely their famous mango wine. We will hear the uplifting story of the wine and the ecovillage from Ibu Ratnauli Gultom, the inspiration behind both.

The wine  is fermented from the fruit of trees said to have been established by forebears as long as 500 years ago.

It will be time for an afternoon rest when we are returned to the Marianna Resort – in preparation for a special dinner outing.

Later we will be stepping out to sample one of the Tuk Tuk Peninsular’s most highly rated local restaurants. At the Horas restaurant, Ali and Katie have built an enviable reputation for the quality of their food and hospitality, not to mention the views.

We will have exclusive use of their neat establishment. Their food focus is vegetarian and vegan, and you might be delightfully surprised at just how delicious vegetarian dishes can taste. But don’t worry if you need your meat or fish – Ali has also agreed to prepare non-vegetarian options for us.

Included Meals – BREAKFAST, LUNCH. DINNER (cash bar) 

The Mariana Resort and Convention Centre, Samosir Island, Lake Toba.

The new Mariana Resort and Convention Centre is on the lake shore near the Tuk Tuk Peninsular on Samosir Island. It’s home for most of our Lake Toba visit.

Cruise boats below Situmurun Falls, Lake Toba

The pituresque Situmurun falls tumbling into Lake Toba can only be reached by water – not just beautiful but a great place for a dip. It’s also where we pause for lunch of seafood from the lake and vegetables from the fertile surrounding countryside.

Cruise Boat tied up near Lake Toba waterfall and guests having lunch.

Our Lake Toba cruise boat can handle from 50 to 80 passengers. We charter the vessel outright, meaning plenty of room and comfort for our limited numbers. We tie up and go ashore for lunch in the beautiful waterfall setting.

Bottle of Silimalombu mango wine from Lake Toba

Something different – mango wine from Silimalombu Eco-Village on the shores of Lake Toba. We taste the wine and see the ancient trees that bear the fruit.

FRIDAY – Day 8


Today we explore Samosir Island and the fascinating history, culture and traditional way of life of the Batak clans of this region of North Sumatra. 

As we head out, remember the word HORAS – it’s the traditional catch-all Batak word of greeting, loosely meaning “hello and welcome” and also used to say “good health” as a toast, or “goodbye” (and “bless you” after you sneeze).

Today we will hear it often.

Traditional village famous for its handcrafts

First we travel about an hour to Kampung Ulos Hutaraja, a village famous for its hand-woven ulos or shawls that are an integral part of Batak traditional costume and ceremonies. The yarn is spun and dyed by hand and women weave the fabric on hand looms in front of their traditional houses – a single shawl can take up to 10 days to complete.

Weavers will explain what they are doing and the origins of the design they are working on while creating their intricate pieces. (And yes you can purchase one of these beautiful, genuine hand-crafted and practical pieces as a souvenir for yourself or to take home as a gift.)

A row of wooden longhouses with distinctive saddle-shaped roofs provides an opportunity to see an example of traditional Toba Batak lifestyles. Originally the roofs were of sugar palm fibre (called ijuk), but now this has been replaced by more durable but much less romantic corrugated iron. If you look closely you also will see that the buildings have usually been constructed without the use of nails!

The houses are raised and supported on wooden piles around two meters high with the space below used as a work area or to pen animals. The next level is the living area for the extended family (or families).

The highest level, or the attic, is where family heirlooms and ancestral shrines are placed and, culturally, is perhaps the most important part of the building.

The interior is a long, dimly lit hall with no divisions. At night, curtains are lowered to separate the sleeping areas.

Decorations an echo of traditional beliefs

Despite the conversion of the Batak to contemporary religions from the 19th century, ancient animist and other beliefs, traditions, customs and rituals persist. Our guide will explain the significance of the colors, decorative motifs and other traditional ornamentation on some of the houses we see.

From Kampung Ulos we backtrack to Huta Siallagan where we will see more of those elegant longhouses and watch an exhibition of traditional Batak music and dancing known as Tor-Tor – we might even be invited to participate.

We see relics of less happy historical moments when we visit King Siallagan’s stone chairs in a courtyard, shaded by an Hariara tree. 

This is where clan elders deliberated and made decisions, where wrongdoers were judged, and where justice was meted out. Our guide will relate sometimes gruesome stories of how miscreants were tried, punished, and often executed … and eaten.

Back in the day, the Toba Batak had a reputation as powerful warriors, fiercely protective of their clans and lands. Sporadic fierce resistance to Dutch colonial administrations persisted in the Toba region until as late as 1905.

A lazy, longish luncheon overlooking the lake

From Huta Siallagan we travel about 10 to 15 minutes to the Tabo Cottages Restaurant for a lazy (and perhaps longish) lunch. This cool little gem overlooks gardens and lake and boasts its own German bakery and coffee roaster. It also serves excellent international and Indonesian food and has a full bar service..

Then it’s back to the Marianna for a FREE afternoon to rest or explore individually.

No group dinner for our final night on Samosir. Instead free time with some choices –

Take it easy and have dinner, and perhaps enjoy a quiet drink, at the Marianna.


Ask us to help you arrange a driver/guide and spend a little time exploring the Tuk Tuk Peninsular to check out the food and entertainment  scene.


Join a group to go to Roy’s Pub at Tuk Tuk, one of the most popular Samosir bars among locals and visitors. It’s about Bintang beer (and full bar service), Batak bands playing contemporary music , and pub grub.

Some quick heads up —

A reminder that singing and music is a way of life for the Batak people and many establishments have excellent live performers, especially at weekends. It’s worth seeking them out (our guides can help). 

A reminder too that most of Toba’s Batak people are Christian and therefore eat and really enjoy pork (babi in Indonesian).

beware of the dog sign

But they also eat dog. This will seldom be offered to Western visitors, but some local menus will list Babi Satu (pork one) or Babi Dua (pork two).  You need to know that the Babi Satu refers to dog meat!

If you are feeling really emboldened (which you should be after the great past few days) you may want to find a local bar where you can sample TUAK.

This is the local palm ‘wine’ made from lightly fermenting the milky sap of palm trees. It has a tangy taste and an alcohol content when fresh of around 4% (about the same as many beers). Not too thrilling but another experience.

It is usually enjoyed along with guitars, bamboo flutes, improvised percussion and much impromptu singing and music – a let-your-hair-down party atmosphere as the night progresses. It’s a guaranteed opportunity to get to know the locals. 

Finally, the Tuk Tuk Peninsular area is safe. The people are welcoming, and there is usually someone nearby who can speak English. (In the unlikely event that you need help, our phones are always switched on.)

Included Meals – BREAKFAST, LUNCH (cash bar)

This 10-minute video by Carly and Agung is a good introduction to life in a traditional Toba Batak village, especially the creation of intricate hand-woven ulos (shawls). The village is being developed as a tourist attraction where visitors learn about the traditional lifestyle and see the striking traditional Batak houses. By the way, Carly and Agung are part of our North Sumatra team.

Traditional Batak dance group Lake Toba

Traditional dance groups perform for visitors at at some of the traditional Batak villages – we see a performance at Huta Siallagan – Pic disocoveryourindonesia.com

Stone chairs at Ambarita village Lake Toba

The famous stone chairs of Ambarita where clan elders debated and meted out sometimes savage justice. Pic – discoveryourindonesia.com

Tabo Cottages - view over pool to lake

A section of the view to Lake Toba from the al fresco dining area at the Tabo Cottages Restaurant – a nice place to linger.

Highly decorated front of traditional Batak House, Lake Toba

Intricate decorations are a feature of many traditional Batak houses. Most of the shapes and colors have particular significance. Our guides will explain. Pic Raul Heinrich – Wiki Commons

A decade on, but Lisbet Sirait and her Elios Group still sound great. This more traditional sound is now giving way to contemporary styles among younger musicians.

Locally brewed palm wine - careful!



Time for us to say selamat tinggal (goodbye) to Samosir Island and move on to the town of Balige on the southeast end of the lake. (It is close to Silangit airport from where we will fly to Jakarta tomorrow.)

A relaxed day today with a later start. We cross by ferry to Parapat where we board our coach at around 10.30 am for another very scenic drive following the crater escarpment.

It takes around an hour and half or us to reach the Damar Toba Lakeside Restaurant where we will enjoy a leisurely luncheon in a beautiful lakeshore setting.

After lunch we travel about 15 minutes to the impressive Museum Batak and Silalahi Centre. This private museum complex opened in 2011. It is the creation of Tiopan Bernhard Silalahi, a prominent Batak figure who rose from humble beginnings to become a military general and a Cabinet minister in the national Government.

The museum collection depicts the history and mythology of the Batak tribes and their cultural values and achievements – like the story of the Batak language and a unique writing system from pre- colonial times.

It is only about 20 minutes from the museum complex to the Labersa Hotel and Convention Centre where we will stay tonight.

We will probably be checking in by around 3.30 to 4pm – plenty of time to rest or relax. Perhaps in the ‘Sky 8’ rooftop café and bar, or taking a swim in one of the many pools, or exploring the waterpark features that are part of the hotel complex.

Tonight we gather for a ‘Farewell to Toba dinner’ while we watch the night descend over the waters of the magnificent lake.


Fish from wet market Lake Toba

Are there fish in Lake Toba? – you bet there are, both farmed and wild. And they feature on local menus.

The Labersa Hotel and Convention Centre at Balige is where we stay tonight. It has magnificent views over Lake Toba and to the hills beyond.  

Batak museum building Balige, Lake Toba

The impressive Batak Museum building, Balige.

SUNDAY – Day 10


We need to be boarding our coach at around 8 am this morning for a half-hour run to the airport. There we will check in for our flight to Jakarta departing at 10.10 am. We will touch down at Soekarno-Hatta International at around 12.20 pm.

A coach will be waiting to transfer us to the Mercure Hotel Jakarta Batavia near the North Jakarta seaport (about 45 minutes via the tollways to avoid Jakarta’s notorious traffic).

After settling in we lunch in the hotel’s pleasant Malaka Restaurant. The menu includes International, Asian and Indonesian dishes.

We take a little time to relax after lunch until around 3.30 pm when our guides will take us for a stroll to nearby historic Fatahillah Square, a relic of the days when Jakarta was known as Batavia.

A scene of crowds, color and activity

Today it will likely be filled with painters, musicians, food vendors, tattoo artists, dancers, technicolor bicycles, and perhaps even a wedding procession.

Beautifully restored old colonial-era buildings surround the square, many of them housing museums telling the fascinating story of the early days of colonizers, conflicts, and shipping and trade to and from all corners of the region.

From here, at least as long as 800 years ago (and maybe even as many as 1,500), the people of the Sundanese kingdom shipped spices and other commodities throughout East Asia. They imported porcelain, fabrics, perfumes, dyes – and even horses.

Then along came the Portuguese in 1522 to briefly take charge until kicked out by the Indonesian Demak forces of King Fatahillah. He changed the name to Jayakarta (translating as city of victory or glory). 

A hundred years later along came the Dutch and another name change – to Batavia. This lasted until the Japanese occupation in World War II when the name Jakarta was adopted. It was retained after Indonesia’s independence declaration in 1945.

The Central Business District of Old Batavia

In colonial times the area around the square served as the “CBD” of Batavia. It saw public hangings and the imprisonment of recalcitrant political activists in cellar dungeons.

The centerpiece today is the Fatahillah Jakarta History Museum. More than 300 years ago this building was the City Hall. Then it was the headquarters of the Dutch East India Company, and then the offices of the Dutch colonial administration. We will visit it briefly.

The square and remaining old buildings are now a heritage area. After a period of decline and neglect, much of the area’s former glory has been restored. It attracts many visitors and has become a place where there is almost always something happening – it has a great vibe.

We end our ‘strolling tour’ with a special treat when we dine at the iconic and award-winning Old Batavia Café.

The Dutch East India Company built the premises more than 200 years ago as an office and quarters for senior ranking officers. A French expat later converted it into an art gallery, and then from 1993 an entrepreneurial Australian transformed it into one of Jakarta’s “must-visit” dining venues.

We will be upstairs in the non-smoking area, overlooking the square and its night-time activities. It will be pleasant and fun.


Street scene in Jakarta CBD

Today’s Jakarta is quite something with soaring skyscrapers, massive shopping malls and a big city vibe. If you include the spillover into adjoining provinces it is home to almost 35 million people.

Mercure Jakarta-Batavia Hotel building

The Mercure Hotel Jakarta Batavia is our accommodation in Jakarta. This excellent hotel is strategically located near Jakarta Old Town. 

Pink and blue bicycles for rent in Fatahillah Square in Jakarta Old Town

Yep, pink and blue rental bicycles are part of the fun scene at Fatahillah Square in Kota Tua (Jakarta Old Town). In the background the restored colonial building that was once the Batavia Town Hall offices and is now a history museum. Pic idetrips.com

Bike riding and other activity in Fatallilah Square Jakarta Old Town

There’s always something happening at Fatahillah Square in Jakarta Old Town. The square and its surrounding colonial buildings were once the beating heart of the city. – Pic freepic.com

MONDAY – Day 11


If this is your first visit you will be surprised by Jakarta’s soaring skyscrapers, wide avenues and massive shopping malls. If you are returning after an extended absence, you will be amazed at the changes and the speed of development. 

The CBD of today’s Jakarta is more like Manhattan than the tropical ex-colonial seaport we might have unconsciously imagined. And with its suburbs marching beyond its boundaries into adjoining provinces, it is one of the world’s biggest megacities.

Like the District of Columbia in the US and the Capital Territory in Australia, Jakarta proper has special status as the Ibu Kota (capital) of the Republic of Indonesia. It ranks as a province, with a Governor and a provincial administration.

As of 2023 the Special Capital region had a population of about 11 million – twice the population of Singapore but crammed into only about 90% of Singapore’s land area.

But satellite cities and suburbs have gobbled up space in the adjoining provinces taking the total Jakarta metro population of around 34.5 million – and that’s around 8.5 million more than the total population of Australia.

This puts the Jakarta megalopolis up there with Tokyo (39m) and China’s Chong Quing (32m) as one of the world’s most populous urban conglomerations.

Great sights to see but horrendous traffic

Its size, status, and diversity make Jakarta one heck of a city, with much to see and do.

But a massive and growing population also means its people have to contend with horrendous traffic snarls. This despite a new urban passenger rail network (MRT) and one of the world’s most extensive dedicated busways.

So, we limit ourselves to some of the more easily accessible highlights close to the heart of the city, and accept that our itinerary timings may need to be flexible.

We begin today with a short diversion to Sunda Kelapa Harbour where classic traditional pinisi sailing vessels tie up. These elegant and colorful ships have been the mainstay of Indonesian inter-island trading for hundreds of years.

They are the kind of vessels that Joseph Conrad wrote about in his celebrated stories of the sea, often set in the waters of the Malay Peninsular and the Indonesian archipelago.

The boats, with their tall masts and topsail ketch rigs, are built from memory without plans or blueprints by Bugis craftsmen from South Sulawesi. UNESCO has recognized their traditional skills by designating their boatbuilding as an ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage.”

A spectacular symbol of the struggle for Independence  

Our main destination this morning is Indonesia’s National Monument, rising 137m (433ft) from the centre of Merdeka (Freedom) Square.

The huge square is in the heart of the city. Founding President Soekarno ordered the building of the monument here in 1961 to commemorate Indonesia’s successful struggle for independence after 300 years of colonial rule.

It is sacred to the people of Indonesia who refer to it as MONAS (from  MONumen NASional)

We will view surrounding sculptures and visit the museum housed in the plinth at the base of the column. The exhibits are mainly spectacular dioramas recreating key moments in the story of Indonesia from earliest times through to the freedom struggles. Docents are on hand to explain the compelling story.

The monument is topped with a 14.5-metre bronze ‘flame’ coated with around 50 kilograms of gold leaf. It is lit at night and it is spectacular.

Important buildings surrounding Merdeka Square include the National Museum (exhibits and precious artifacts displaying the history and cultural diversity of the nation), the National Library, the Supreme Court, the Merdeka Presidential Palace, and the massive Istiqlal Mosque.

We will take short coach trips for a closer look at some of them.

Symbols of a founding philosophy of religious freedom and tolerance

Imagine a building for worship capable of accommodating almost 120,000 people in prayer – Jakarta’s stunning Istiqlal Mosque, the largest mosque in Southeast Asia, achieves that and more.

That’s more people than the spectator capacity of ANY of the world’s biggest sporting stadiums other than the Narendra Modi cricket stadium in the Indian state of Gujarat (it can accommodate 132,000).

This is the mosque where you will see international TV news images of crowds of prostrate worshippers during religious festivals like Ramadan.

Our guides will explain interesting symbolic features of the massive structure, which was designed by a Christian Batak architect.

The mosque is located opposite the beautiful St Mary of Assumption Catholic Cathedral.

The cathedral opened in 1901 during the Dutch colonial era and is notable for its tall spires, ornate altar, and massive pipe organ.

Founding President Soekarno insisted that Istiqlal – the national Mosque – be built across the street from the Cathedral as a symbol of religious tolerance, as enshrined in the newly independent nation’s constitution.

Cathedral and Mosque work closely together to serve their respective flocks, the most tangible cooperation being the opening and sharing of each other’s parking spaces for religious events like Idul Fitri, Easter and Christmas.

We will make short visits to both.

A very special luncheon stop

We next travel about 15 minutes to the delightful Kawisari Café. This highly-rated eating place is owned by the Tugu Group, who also operate high-end boutique hotels.

The Kawisari serves different and delicious food and fine artisan coffee from the Tugu group’s own plantation in East Java.

It just happens to be Java’s oldest working coffee plantation, established way back in 1870. (PSST … we may have a pleasant surprise for you when we make our way to East Java later in our tour).

Gold and silver finery, along with scary carvings

After lunch we travel about 10 minutes to the National Museum.

Indonesians are rightly proud of this institution. It houses more than 140,000 exhibits and precious artifacts displaying the history and cultural diversity of the nation from as long as 2,000 years ago.

The museum occupies a splendid building near Merdeka Square with a bronze statue of an elephant in its forecourt, a gift from a Thai king. Locals have labelled it the Gajah (elephant) Museum.

The collection is rated the most complete in Indonesia, and among the finest in Southeast Asia.

It includes graphic stone statues from the classical Hindu-Buddhist periods in Sumatra and Java, and extensive collections of Asian ceramics. In the Treasure Rooms you can see the Royal regalia, ornaments and jewellery of the kings and sultans of old, crafted in gold, silver, and precious stones.

We will not be able to linger as long as we might like, but we will take in some of the more interesting exhibits.

We will leave the museum in time to avoid the peak hour traffic and return to our hotel. This will give us time to rest and refresh before we head out for another special and leisurely meal.

An al fresco dinner by the beach and harbor front

It is about 25 minutes by coach from the Mercure to Pantai Indah Kapuk where, weather permitting, we will be dining al fresco pujasera-style near the beach and the harbor foreshore.

Included Meals – BREAKFAST, LUNCH, DINNER – cash bar


This video from Expedia provides an excellent introduction to the city of Jakarta

Aerial view of central Jakarta

Jakarta – the mega city of Southeast Asia with suburbs growing into adjoining provinces and a total population nearing 35 million.

Phinisi ships at Sunda Kelapa Harbor – these classic sailing vessels are still used widely in inter-island trade through the Indonesian archipelago.

Indonesia’s National Monument – topped with gold and the centrepiece of a magnificent square in the heart of Jakarta. It commemorates Indonesia’s declaration of independence from Dutch colonial rule on 17 August , 1945.

Entry to the National Museum of Indonesia, Jakarta

The National Museum with elephant statue in front. The museum displays show the ethnic and cultural diversity Indonesia and are rated as one of the finest collections in Asia.

Worshippers under the dome in the Istiqlal Mosque. Islam is by far the dominant religion of Indonesia and this massive complex can accommodate up to 120,000 worshippers.

Sanata Maria Catholic Cathedral Jakarta

The Santa Maria Catholic Cathedral from the colonial era sits just across the street from the Istiqlal mosque – a symbol of Indonesia’s constitutional commitment to religious tolerance.

Cavernous interior of Pondok Indah Mall in South Jakarta

This is the cavernous interior of the Pondok Indah shopping mall in South Jakarta. The city has become famous for its enthusiastic embrace of shopping malls with claims there are now nearly 200 of them within the Special Capital District alone.

Kawisari cafe and eatery Jakarta - section of dining area

We lunch today at the delightful Kawisari Cafe and Eatery – its famous for its style and its coffee.



At 9 years old and fresh from a tiny, dusty village in the Australian bush I found myself riding for the very first time in a double-decker bus (top deck, front seat) across the iconic Sydney Harbor Bridge.

As the harbor came into view and we rumbled up the bridge approach to pass under the massive grey steel arch I suspect my grin was wider than my face.

At some time we have all lit up with beaming smiles in the excitement of a magical moment like that.

Perhaps today we can reprise some of that feeling as we board Southeast Asia’s first high-speed ‘bullet train’ to race from Jakarta to Bandung in the West Java Highlands at speeds of up to 350km an hour.

Indonesians have aptly christened it ‘WHOOSH’ and it completes the full journey of a little over 140km in around 45 minutes. If that doesn’t give you just a little bit of a buzz then maybe you need to check your pulse?

WHOOSH is a Belt & Road initiative built by an Indonesian and Chinese consortium at a cost of US$7.3 billion. The service began operations in October 2023.

Ironically, our 26km coach journey from the Mercure Batavia Hotel to South Jakarta’s Halim station to join the train will take around as long as our train trip. And our 23km transfer to our hotel in Bandung will take longer.

A beautiful and historic old art-deco style hotel

We will lunch in the Garden Restaurant at the Savoy Homann, a hotel in a great location, with an elegant retro look, and a wonderful history dating back to 1888. We will spend two nights here.

This is the hotel where the leaders and delegates from the newly de-colonized countries of Asia and Africa stayed and strategized for the famous Bandung Conference of 1955.

Leaders like Colonel Nasser of Egypt, Prime Minister Nehru from India, U-Nu from Burma, and Premier Chou En-Lai from China joined Indonesia’s founding President Soekarno and representatives of 24 other ‘emerging’ countries. They represented 54% of the then world population.

The gathering, in the aftermath of the Korean War and a time of rising Cold War rivalries, is widely accepted as laying the groundwork for the creation of the non-aligned movement in Belgrade six years later.

Over the following decades, this 120-member bloc would come to change the shape of international relations across the world.

A visit to the Asia-Africa Conference Centre or a stroll around town.

After lunch those of us with an historical bent will take an optional stroll 200 metres to visit the Asia Africa Museum and Conference Centre where the 1955 deliberations took place.

Our walk will replicate that of the Asian and African leaders and teams of delegates from 29 nations who strolled from the Hotel Savoy Hormann to attend each day of that fateful event all those years ago.

In 2015 leaders from throughout Asia and Africa, including China’s Xi Jinping, joined Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo in replicating the walk to mark the 60th anniversary of the 1955 conference and take part in summit meetings.

Tens of thousands of Indonesians visit here, but typically the only Westerners are history buffs and those who have closely followed the twists and turns of global politics over the 75 years of Western decolonization. 

Our visit will evoke interesting and informative historic moments and leave us better able to appreciate the point of view of peoples of the “developing world”.

If you would prefer to rest. Or perhaps to take an independent stroll around the heart of town …

Bandung is sometimes called the “Paris of Java” or the “City of Flowers.” The names reflect the old-world architecture of its colonial heritage, its central place in the history of the Indonesian nation, and a lively scene of cafes, restaurants, hotels, resort retreats, and learning.

Some of the interesting areas are an easy stroll from the Savoy Hormann – if you would like to soak up some atmosphere, members of our team will give you directions, or maybe even join you.

Dinner in the Number One eating street

Bandung is another Indonesian city famed for its food. For dinner tonight we head for lively Braga Street – Bandung’s best-known “eating street” – to try the Braga Permai, one of the city’s landmark colonial Dutch-Indonesian restaurants. 

It offers an extensive menu of Western, local and fusion dishes plus confections, desserts and baked delights.

There’s also cash-bar service with beers, wines, cocktails and spirits (which is probably a good thing because the Savoy Hormann does not serve alcohol).

Included Meals – BREAKFAST, LUNCH, DINNER – cash bar

Whoosh high speed train linking Jakarta and Bandung, Indonesia

A futuristic train in a futuristic setting. This is WHOOSH our high-speed ride from Jakarta to Bandung.

Night at the historic Savoy Hormman Hotel in Bandung.

The Savoy Homann Hotel, our accommodation in Bandung. Leaders of the emerging nations of Asia and Africa gathered here for the historic Bandung Conference of 1955.

Section of colorful Braga Street, Bandung

Sections of Bandung’s Braga Street are note for their color, style and old world charm.

Leaders and officials from throughout Asia and Africa attended the 60th jubilee celebrations of the Bandung Conference and replicated the famous 1955 walk from the Savoy Hormman hotel to the nearby conference venue.

President Joko Widodo of Indonesia and President Xi Jinping of China join leaders and invited guests from throughout Asia and Africa to mark the 60th anniversary of the 1955 Bandung Conference in a symbolic walk from the Savoy Hormman Hotel to the conference venue.

Packed convention hall at the Asia Africa Museum in Bandung in 2015 to mark 60th anniversary of the 1955 Bandung Conference.

Guests from Asian and African nations packed the Conference Hall at Asia Africa Museum in 2015 for the diamond jubilee of the historic Bandung Conference of 1955. Note the display of flags on stage.

Section of Braga Permai Restaurant,



Important, historic and vibrant Bandung is a city of 2.5m people and ranks at number three in the population hierarchy of Indonesian cities, just shading Medan. 

The city sits in a plateau basin surrounded by rolling hills, mountains and active volcanoes. Today we are heading out of town to explore the beautiful surrounding region.

Lush vegetation covers the slopes and fertile valleys, and the elevation of 768m (2,225ft), means constant cool, fresh mountain air – a stark contrast to the heat (and often smog) of Jakarta, just 140km away. 

Many of the Dutch colonial administrators had their homes here, often leaving their families while they worked in Jakarta during the week and retreated to the cool of Bandung at weekends.

And it is here today that some of Indonesia’s oldest and most respected higher education institutions are to be found. There are as many as 25 universities and colleges and more than 200,000 students, including the prestigious Bandung Institute of Technology. 

Expanses of beautiful tea plantations and a drive-up volcano

The beauty of the surrounding region is a large part of what makes Bandung so appealing. As we drive out of the city, we encounter hillside gardens of vegetables, corn and fruits, including fields of strawberries with passers-by urged to come pick their own.

We pass roadside warung warung (stalls) and small restaurants offering local foods, especially rabbit sates with a spicy peanut dipping sauce, a local specialty. And we drive through broad sweeping vistas of lush and oh-so-orderly tea gardens.

A 30-kilometre journey of about an hour will take us to Gunung Tangkuban Perahu, the only ‘drive-up’ volcano among the many “rim of fire” volcanoes across Indonesia. The name translates as ‘upside down boat mountain’ and describes the way it looks from Bandung on a clear day.

Our coach can park almost at the edge of the 500m deep crater. At an elevation of 2084m (6,837ft) expect it to be chilly, so best bring a light jacket. 

We see the volcano and the distant views over emerald countryside. On a clear day they can be magnificent.

Like most Indonesian attractions. The viewing area is ringed by vendors selling food, drinks and souvenirs. Don’t be upset – they are local folk with limited resources trying to support their families.

Lunch surrounded by tea gardens

The mild, cool climate and the rich soils of the Bandung region are perfect for tea gardens. So our next stop is the nearby Astro Highlands Ciater tea plantation. It caters for curious visitors and also has a healing centre and camping area.

The plantation restaurant serves delicious Sundanese food – it’s hard to imagine a better place for lunch than right here surrounded by beauty. (Wonder what beverage we should have with lunch?)

We head back to the city at around 1.30 pm for a special event – colorful costumes, traditional instruments crafted from bamboo, traditional and contemporary songs, and traditional dances …this is the program presented daily by Pak Udjo’s Angklung traditional music school

It has become an institution as one of Bandung’s most popular visitor attractions – and it is all performed by children aged from about 4 to late teens.

If you like cultural traditions, you like kids, and you like music and dance, you will be entranced by this performance. If you are not interested in any of the above you probably will be charmed anyway. Because it’s so different, such fun and so heartwarming. 

Imagine a cute, wide-eyed 4 or 5-year-old in traditional costume helping you sound the right notes, on cue, on a traditional bamboo instrument as part of a mass audience performance of a Beatles tune or a Broadway hit.

The late Bapak Udjo Ngalagena and his wife Ulum opened the school and studio in 1966 to help preserve Sundanese music, dance and artistic traditions. He succeeded beyond his wildest dreams, and his family now runs the school and the performances. 

Young performers from the school have presented their music in international venues, including a UNSCO concert in Paris, and performances at the UN headquarters in New York.

Delicious choices, with more choices … and more choices

Tonight we experience just how passionate the people of Bandung can be about their food and the incredible diversity of the choices available to them.

We travel about a kilometre to dine at the Sudirman Street Night Market where we can choose from a dazzling array of food and drink, all quickly and expertly prepared.

It’s awesome.


(This site is in Indonesian but the pictures are in English and Google Translate is great for the sections you really need to read.)

Beautiful expanses of tea plantations around Bandung
Rabbit Sate is a popular speciality in Bandung
Section of restaurant at Astro Highland Ciater tea plantation

The extensive restaurant area overlooking the tea gardens at Astro Highlands Ciater

Pieces of bamboo bring amazing results in talented young hands ! Traditional producing pop performances at the Pak Udjo Music School.

Heartwarming - Children's traditional music and dance show at Pak Udjo School
Sudirman Street Night Market - a street of food stalls

Stall after stall, after stall – all selling delectably delicious local and international foods. That’s the scene at the Sudirman Street night market where we let our hair down tonight – Pic – @Rudy Halim.



The train trip from Bandung to Yogyakarta ranks as Indonesia’s most scenic – and if you have previously traveled anywhere by train in Java you will know that’s saying something.

But we go a step further. We will be making the six-hour journey in the luxury of one of the Indonesian railway system’s new panoramic rail cars.

It has been said that scenic trains are “the stuff of dreams” – train carriages with ultra-large windows and glass rooftop panels to maximize passenger views of gorgeous landscapes.

Such panoramic trains are a popular feature of rail systems operating through beautiful mountain scenery in Switzerland and the Canadian Rockies. And in December 2022 the concept came to Indonesia.

The carriages are fitted out to high levels of comfort and come with rotating seats, plenty of leg room, remote-controlled window coverings, spacious restrooms, special luggage racks, and complimentary food and beverage services.

An early start to head off any hassles

It’s only around 15 minutes from the Savoy Hormann Hotel, but we need be aboard our coach at around 6.30 am for the short transfer to Bandung’s central railway station. The Argo Wilis express departs Bandung at 7.40 am and we will be driving through the early stages of rush hour traffic.

We also need time for securing boarding passes, maybe grabbing a coffee, and finding our carriage while our support team takes care of our luggage. The last thing we want is stressing out because we might miss the train. This is a journey for relaxation and enjoyment.

In an age of budget airlines and constant hurry, few international visitors are aware of Indonesia’s wonderful scenic train journeys. You are about to discover one of the best of them.

If you are a train buff, you will treasure this journey. And if you aren’t, then by the time we arrive in Yogyakarta you may well become one.

We breakfast on the train as it meanders through hills and valleys and remnants of the morning mist. We see kampungs (villages) clinging to the sides of the hills and smoke rising from homes nestled in valleys far below. 

Swathes of green jungle open to expanses of terraced rice paddies carved into the hillsides.

As we leave the mountains, the scenery changes to extended plains of rice paddies, populated by working buffaloes, one-man rotary hoes and intricate flood irrigation systems, with farming families toiling in conical bamboo or rattan hats.

Java, with around 148 million people, is one of the most densely populated places on earth. If travelling by road you find yourself passing through an endless series of townships and villages. 

But the train takes you into and through the countryside and lets you see and appreciate the rural scenery and the rich, fertile croplands that make Java one of the world’s most productive food bowls. 

We lunch on the train and reach Yogyakarta around 1.30 pm.

Another historic high-end hotel and a famous and fun shopping street

For the next three nights we will be going 5-star at the opulent Phoenix Hotel, in the heart of Yogyakarta. This is an iconic Dutch colonial-era hotel with a mix of Javanese, Chinese and European elegance.

Our arrival will give us plenty of time a rest and/or to take a stroll or a becak ride (pedicab – traditional pedal rickshaw) to experience Jogjakarta’s Marlioboro Street, probably Indonesia’s most famous shopping street

It’s a kilometer-long hive of arts, crafts, clothing and specialty shops, food outlets, street food vendors, buskers and becaks. It’s both safe and fun and it buzzes day and night.

Don’t feel you have missed out if you would rather rest (perhaps in the hotel’s lovely courtyard pool area).

We will all be visiting Marlioboro Street and areas nearby for dinner tonight when we join experienced local guides to travel by becak for a popular Street Food Tour. It’s a hoot.

(PS – The hotel’s Vino Bar is open from 5 pm daily with a half-price happy hour until 7 pm. You might consider trying a decadent Colonial-era Gin Sling, the hotel’s signature cocktail. It’s mixed at the table by a safari-suited waiter, all very much in keeping with the ambience of this historic establishment.)

Included Meals – DINNER – STREET FOOD TOUR (Breakfast and lunch on the train)

Panoramic Train Carriage Java

A world class scenic train journey deserves a world class viewing opportunity and that’s what we get when we ride panoramic railcar from Bandung to Yogyakarta.

Bringing stunning landscapes inside – the huge picture windows of the new Indonesian panoramic rail cars.

Our panoramic carriage becomes part of the Argo Wilis Express train, here emerging from the highlands.

Exekutif Klas is how we will later travel onwards from Yogyakarta.

A journey through lush countryside
Yogyakarta's famous Marlioboro Street

FRIDAY – Day 15


Yogyakarta, usually referred to as ‘Jogja’ by locals, is governed by an hereditary Sultan, making it the only remaining ‘royal’ region in Indonesia. 

In 1950, the young newly installed national government made this concession in recognition of the strong support of the then Sultan during Indonesia’s campaign for independence. All other sultanates were incorporated into the new nation.

Jogja is famous for classical Javanese fine arts and culture, including dance, batik textiles, drama, literature, music, poetry, silver crafts, stone and wood carving, painting, and wayang (shadow) puppetry. 

More recently it has even boosted its cultural cred further through its ubiquitous and colorful street art.

All this, together with its famous monumental structures like the ancient Borobudur and Prambanan temple complexes, have made it Indonesia’s second most visited city, exceeded only by Bali. 

We head out around 9 am to explore interesting places within this special city. Be prepared to be quietly awed! 

The Water Palace – playground of the elite

First, we explore the Teman Sari Water Palace and the adjacent Underground Mosque. Once they were part of a splendid garden complex of 59 buildings and pavilions surrounded by pools, extensive grounds, 18 water gardens, and lakes fed from springs. 

Until around 220 years ago the Yogyakarta royals came here to rest, meditate, work, pray, frolic and, sometimes, hide.

The British invasion of Central Java and Yogyakarta in 1812 saw much of the complex destroyed. More damage came during the Java War of 1825 to 1830 between the Dutch colonial administration and Yogyakarta-based rebel forces. 

The gardens complex finally fell out of use after an earthquake destroyed several remaining buildings and drained the water features in 1867. Squatters moved into and around the ruins and gradually filled in the empty pools and lake beds. 

Today, nearly 3,000 residents occupy the area around the Taman Sari Water Palace in a settlement called Kampung Taman, a community known for batik, and traditional painting and craft traditions. 

Restoration after heritage value recognized

The heritage value of the Water Palace complex was recognized from the early 1970s when restoration efforts began. But so far only the main bathing complex has been substantially restored. 

Legend has it that the Water Palace pool was designed for the princesses, wives, concubines and other ladies of the court to bathe, and for the Sultan to relax and “hunt” for partners.

It’s said that the Sultan would throw a rose from the high tower on the southern side of the pool and the young lady who caught it would be chosen.

Legend also has it that at one time a tunnel was driven from the Underground Mosque all the way to the ocean to serve as an escape route in the event of an attack. If so – given time, earthquakes and neglect – apparently it no longer exists. 

But lesser tunnels certainly were built from and beneath the complex to serve as hiding places. Our guide will tell more of the fascinating stories of this interesting relic.

 The Sultan’s Palace – preserving traditions

Next we visit the Keratonthe Sultan’s Palace. Unlike the grand palaces of European royalty, it is a compound of pavilions which superficially appear modest.

But some of the Javanese decorative detail is beautiful and the mystical status of the Palace and its pavilions compensate for the lack of grandeur. Our guide will relate the stories.

The Keraton compound remains the home of the Sultan today and the palace pavilion is used for important ceremonial functions.

There are daily performances of Javanese art forms like gamelan music, Javanese dancing, puppetry, and poetry.

Arts and crafts in the Kota Gede district

Creating beautiful arts and crafts seems to be embedded in the DNA of Yogyakarta.

It’s here that many of those beautiful paintings, batik fabric designs, wall hangings, lava-stone carvings, and intricate silver pieces on the gift and souvenir shelves of Bali and Jakarta are created. 

We visit communities where some are crafted so you can see the artisans using traditional handcraft methods.

The township of Kota Gede is famous for its silverwork and we see silversmiths designing, melting, casting, soldering, shaping and polishing intricate pieces while staff explain the processes. The artisans are accustomed to visitors and usually are happy to answer your questions as they work. 

Beautiful silver wares and jewellery will be on display and for sale at much lower prices than you would pay at home.

Colorful and intricate batik fabric is another celebrated hallmark craft of Yogyakarta and is where some of Indonesia’s most beautiful designs are produced. 

Indonesians are rightly proud of their batik heritage. Tailored batik shirts and flowing long gowns of fabrics with batik designs are de rigueur for formal occasions.

It also is the custom for staff to wear batik on Fridays at government offices, banks and many other businesses and institutions throughout Indonesia.

Today, much batik fabric is mass-produced using mechanical silkscreen techniques. But we will visit a batik home industry workshop where the traditional methods of design creation, color mixing, wax layering and hand dying are still used. 

The process is fascinating, and many visitors return to Yogyakarta to take courses in this absorbing craft art.

We move on to a leisurely lunch at the legendary Omah Dhuwur Restaurant – an historic Dutch colonial building in a garden setting noted for its Javanese, Asian and international dishes. 

Sunset from the shadows of the stupas on the roof of Borobudur

From around 2.00 pm, we travel about an hour and a half to view one of Indonesia’s most iconic attractions – the world-renowned Borobudur Buddhist Temple

We pass rows of stonemasons’ yards where artisans use mallets and chisels to carve ornate statues, reliefs and garden features from lava stone thrown up over years past by the Mt Merapi volcano. We also will pass a spectacular hillside Chinese cemetery.

Borobudur is more than just the world’s biggest Buddhist temple. Dating from the early 9th century, it also is a place with a fascinating story and an aura to match.

It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and Indonesia’s most visited tourist attraction. After being there you will understand why.

Borobudur was built from around 760 to 830 AD during the Sailendra Dynasty’s reign over the Mataram kingdom. Construction is estimated to have taken 75 years. 

(At its peak the Mataram kingdom of central Java included the Indonesian Srivijayan Empire and extended to southern Thailand, parts of the Philippines, Northern Malaysia and Cambodia.)

Borobudur sits in the shadows of Mt Merapi, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, and is near three other volcanoes. Volcanic eruptions, together with conflicts, brought a displacement of population to East Java around the 11th century. 

Then the widespread conversion of Javanese to Islam and the subsequent decline of Hindu kingdoms in Java in the 14th century brought the complete abandonment of Borobudur.

With neglect and more volcanic eruptions Borobudur was to lay hidden for centuries under layers of volcanic ash and jungle growth.

Java briefly came under British administration from 1811 to 1816 and the appointed governor-general Thomas Stamford Raffles, learned of a “big monument” deep in a jungle near the village of Bumisegoro

He sent Hermann Cornelius, a Dutch engineer, to investigate.

What he discovered sparked world-wide interest.

However, the unprotected temple remains were to suffer looting and vandalism during the 19th and early 20th centuries before being protected and preserved. 

The largest restoration project was undertaken between 1975 and 1982 by the Indonesian government and UNESCO, with many countries contributing towards the work. In 1991 UNESCO listed the monument as a World Heritage Site.

Borobudur ranks with Bagan in Myanmar and Angkor Wat in Cambodia as one of the great archeological sites of Southeast Asia. It attracts Indonesian and international Buddhist pilgrims, along with thousands of tourists. Visitor entrance fees go towards ongoing restoration and maintenance.

As we ascend the monument, our guides tell us more stories of Borobudur and explain the significance of some of the reliefs and the legends they portray.  At the top, we see the site’s famous bell-like stupas and take in the magnificent views. 

Some of the short staircases are a little steep and the treads narrow, but the climb itself is not arduous if taken steadily – we will not be not be in a hurry and will be pausing at various levels as we go.

However, you should wear appropriate shoes. It also can be hot, so, even though it is afternoon, we also recommend wearing a hat and carrying your bottle of water. 

Like all holy places in Indonesia, visitors to Borobudur are expected to dress modestly. Shorts and mini-skirts are not acceptable for women and attendants may politely offer a sarong to visitors dressed inappropriately (or perhaps you can bring your own). Shoulders also should be covered.

The gates close and the crowds leave Borobudur at 5 pm – but we stay a little longer. We have paid a surcharge so that we may linger in the shadows of the stupas on the top of the temple to view the changing colors of the setting sun.

Weather permitting, it is stunning.

Romantic dinner overlooking the paddy fields

Yep, we’ve had a big and interesting day, but heck, we need to eat, right?

It is about an hour to the Rosella Easy Dining Restaurant on our way back into the city and it is close to our hotel (less than 15 minutes). It is notable for its relaxed and romantic setting overlooking rice fields.

Javanese dishes are the specialty with some Western and fusion.

A highlight is an atmosphere of gentle lighting and soft music (over the sounds of frogs and cicadas of course) in a beautifully decorated traditional, open-sided Javanese joglo. A great place to wind down and talk about our day.


Yogyakarta - Quick Introduction

Expedia video guide to Yogyakarta – a good introduction to this city of arts and culture

Teman Sari Water Palace
Pavilion at the Sultan's Palace
Gamelan instruments at the Keraton
Young silversmiths working their craft
Yogyakarta is famed for its Batik artistry

The majesty of Borobudur

(No captions necessary)

Borobudur Buddhist temple in Yohyakarta, Indonesia

Striking aerial views of Prambanan temples by Thierry Yuri 

Clip from Channel News Asia’s “Aerial Asia” series

Relaxed dining Yogyakarta style

Rosella Restaurant - close to city but a world away



Today we can sleep in … (did I hear a faint ‘hallelujah’ from somewhere out in the ether?)

And we can enjoy a FREE morning before heading out in the afternoon for a very special viewing from centuries past, followed by dinner and a unique and spectacular show.

But first, how to best use our free morning? To see some options worth considering just CLICK HERE to go to a whole page of ideas (make sure you check out the ‘Cream Bath’ hair treatment) 

Whichever we choose, we need to be back at the Phoenix Hotel in time for a 2.15 pm coach departure and an absorbing afternoon, followed by a magical dusk and evening.

PRAMBANAN – glories from Java’s Hindu epoch

First we travel half an hour to explore Prambanan, Yogyakarta’s awesome Hindu temple complex. Here, around 1,100 years ago, more than 240 ornate temples of intricate stonework and varying scale occupied a swathe of 77 hectares (around 190 acres). 

Time, political and social change, and the impact of earthquakes – particularly a major quake in the 16th century – reduced much of the huge complex to ruins. Like the famous Borobudur Buddhist temple 50km away, it was overgrown by jungle and largely forgotten.

In 1811 a surveyor working for the British Governor-General of Java, Thomas Stamford Raffles, “rediscovered” the ruins and the remaining temples. But the British administration lasted a brief four years, and Prambanan, like Borobudur, was left unprotected from looting and vandalism. 

Proper restoration began only in 1930 and continues today with strong support from the Indonesian Government and recognition since 1991 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Sixteen of the original temples have been restored, despite a setback of more earthquake damage in 2006.

The Hindu Sanjaya dynasty of the ancient Mataram Empire is credited with building the complex from around 850 AD. The main temples are dedicated to the Hindu Trinity of Gods – Brahma (the Creator), Vishnu (the Preserver) and Shiva (the Transformer). 

The Prambanan complex abounds with symbolism, myths, legends and mystique. Our guide will tell you more as we explore. 

Visitors to Prambanan are expected to dress modestly and we recommend appropriate shoes and a hat. Though it’s mid- afternoon, consider sunscreen and carry a bottle of water.

(Bear in mind we will be going directly from this visit to dinner and a performance. Perhaps a change of footwear or some clothing in your daypack – we will ensure packs are kept safe while we dine and enjoy the show.)

The Prambanan staircases are steep, uneven and without handrails, so take care. No need to worry if you do not wish to climb them – the complex can be viewed and enjoyed from ground level. 

We explore the main areas of the complex until around 5 pm when Prambanan closes (be prepared to run the gauntlet of hawkers and stallholders as we exit).  

Weather permitting, we next travel about 15 minutes to a nearby hilltop next to the Kraton Ratu Boko temple. Here we view the spectacular sunset over Prambanan (cameras at the ready).

The world’s longest-running live performance

As dusk settles, we travel back to the beautiful Ramayana Restaurant right next door to the Prambanan complex for a special highlight of our Yogyakarta visit. 

First a reception and a buffet of Javanese foods in a stunning garden setting with the grandeur of the Prambanan temples bathed in soft floodlights as a backdrop.

Then from 7.30 pm the brilliantly colorful Ramayana Ballet with a cast of 200, accompanied by a traditional Gamelan orchestra

This spectacular two-hour show will be an enduring memory of your Indonesian visit.

From May through December, it is presented on a massive outdoor stage with the Prambanan Temples as background. For the wet season months from January through April it is staged in a special indoor setting.

It is quite extraordinary!

The ballet relates the Javanese version of the ancient Ramayana folk legend. To help you understand the dance drama, you will have a booklet outlining the story in English.

Included Meals – BREAKFAST, DINNER

Time for some pampering and shopping

The massages are excellent in Yogyakarta – and they are cheap. Try the ‘Traditional’.

Shopping’s a hoot at Beringharjo Market – it’s off Marlioboro Street

This awesome three minutes of drone vision of Prambanan temples is a wonderful introduction to this fascinating site  – Video by by Thierry Gapp

Prambana is the backdrop for the Ramayana Ballet – the cast of some 200 is in keeping with the grandeur of the venue.

So how’s this for a pre-ballet dinner setting?

SUNDAY – Day 17


Today we move on to Malang, the lovely city widely regarded as the ‘jewel’ of Java’s Eastern Highlands.

We will be travelling Klas Exekutif on the Sancaka Pagi Express, departing at 6.45 am and arriving at Mojokerto soon after 10 am. Yes, it means an early start, but it will be well worth it, the travel will be comfortable, and our afternoon will be restful. 

We again pass through beautiful countryside, with mountains, paddy fields and plantations. And don’t panic if you missed breakfast – we will arrange for it to be available on the train.

Our coach is waiting at Mojokerto to take us on a trip of about 3 hours into the highlands – part scenic (through villages, fields, and mountains), and part tollway.

With a population of around a million, Malang is East Java’s second-largest city, once prized by the Dutch colonists for its mild climate. Today, it retains much of its stately colonial architecture and grand mansions line its main boulevard.

Malang served as the seat of the ancient Kanjuruhan and Singhasari kingdoms from the 8th century, later being absorbed into the Javanese Mataram Kingdom from the 17th century. Hindu relics from these early epochs can be seen throughout the region, reminders of times before the arrival of Islam and, later, Dutch colonial rule.

The hills and valleys surrounding Malang are a rich agricultural area with dairy farms, orchards (especially apples), and tobacco, tea and coffee plantations.

Staying in a five-star living museum

The highly-rated Hotel Tugu, is our destination. Tugu means monument and it’s an appropriate name for this unique boutique hotel. The Hotel Tugu is as much a five-star museum as a place to stay.

The original founder is one of Indonesia’s leading collectors of original art, antiques and historic photographs. Tugu Hotels (there are now four of them with another on the way) are where works from his collection are on show – living galleries.

He and his partners in the Tugu Group declare their intentions in their mission statement:

“Tugu Hotels & Restaurants’ mission is to communicate to the world the ‘unknown’ beauty of the culture, art, soul and romance of Indonesia, through using hundreds of antiques and artworks to tell stories of Indonesia’s amazing history that has been left untold, unknown and forgotten to most of the world.”

Their efforts are being noticed internationally –  L’Officiel Voyage, a French luxury travel magazine with a focus on hidden gems, has included the Tugu in its ‘Top 100 of the best and most unique hotels in the world’.

We have three nights here to enjoy and appreciate the fruits of the vision of the owners.

After check-in we will lunch in the hotel’s Merapi Restaurant, which enjoys a reputation as one of Malang’s leading eateries. We will have a FREE AFTERNOON to rest and recover from our travels.

The hotel pool area is very attractive, and afternoon tea (or coffee) with treats from the in-house bakery is available (GRATIS to guests like us) from 4 pm until 6 pm in the Tugu Tea House (2nd floor).

Optional becak tour of beautiful boulevard

But if you have the energy and would rather explore a little of this beautiful city, then we recommend you consider a becak (pedicab) tour of Ijen Boulevard.

This is a beautiful avenue of bougainvillea and historic colonial era architecture, including mansions and iconic churches, museums, civic buildings and other landmarks in the historic City Square area. It takes up to three hours and our tour leader can help you with arrangements.

We stay in for dinner tonight at the Hotel Tugu’s excellent rooftop Saigonsan Restaurant – a different taste of Asia with the wonderful flavors of Vietnam.

Included Meals – BREAKFAST (on train), LUNCH, DINNER

(NOTE – In the event we cannot secure enough rooms at the Tugu, we will default to the excellent Hotel Atria. It offers modern facilities and first rate service along with a touch of Javanese culture and batik art.)

Leafy Ijen Boulevard is flanked by colonial era mansions
Malang has a beautiful Catholic church ...
... and a stunningly beautiful Mosdque
Saigonsan Vietnames Restaurant at Hotel Tugu, Malang

The richly decorated rooftop Saigonsan Vietnamese Restaurant at the Hotel Tugu

Tourist in Becak seeing Ijen Boulevard in Malang

An optional slow tour by Becak is a relaxing way to take in the beauty of Ijin Boulevard and the City Centre of Malang.

MONDAY – Day 18


Today we visit Kawisari coffee plantation, where you will be invited to see how ‘Luwak Coffee’ – the most expensive coffee in the world – is made.

We hinted at surprises later in our tour back in Week 2 when we introduced you to the Tugu Group’s Kawisari Café in Jakarta. We delivered the first yesterday when we introduced you to the superb Tugu Hotel and today we deliver another.

Kawisari is not just any coffee plantation – it’s the oldest working coffee plantation in Java, established by Dutch planters in 1870. And it is part of a massive area of more than 850 hectares (around 3.25 sq miles).

Our visit, exclusively for our group, is both an adventure and an opportunity to learn the story of the wonderful beverage that has come to occupy such a central place in our lives and society.

We see and hear about all the interesting stuff that happens before coffee reaches our supermarket shelves, delicatessens, cafes, and breakfast tables. How it is seeded, planted, grown, harvested, graded, roasted, blended, packaged and shipped to the eager coffee drinkers of the world.

You will find it illuminating and fascinating, especially some of the traditional artisan methods that continue as part of the process.

We also learn what makes some good coffees great and others not-so-good. And yes we get an opportunity to see and taste the differences.

Gorgeous mountains setting

We experience all this surrounded by beautiful forested mountains and valleys with gurgling streams, and legacy buildings and equipment – reminders of the history and traditions of this 150-year-old enterprise.

Back in the day the coffees from this region became so famous that a “cup of Java” became a generic term worldwide for a cup of coffee.

(Too young to remember? Sneak a moment to check out the Manhattan Transfer’s version of Java Jive’ a 1940s tribute to the delectable beverage penned by Ben Oakland and Milton Drake. It’s a blast from the past truly worth 2 minutes and 48 seconds of your life!). 

We will be making an early start (around 6.30 am) for a run of about two hours to the plantation. We will be treated to an open-air breakfast along with a demonstration of the traditional way of roasting the coffee beans.

Then we board 4-wheel-drive transport to tour the plantation and hear about the growing process. Depending on the season, we will be able to try selecting and picking the ripening coffee cherries.

Cloves and rubber are also grown on the Kawisari land. We will visit plantations of both, and you may have a chance to try your hand at rubber tapping.

We move on to the plantation factory to see the processing stages for both coffee and the latex from the rubber trees.

We complete our visit with a traditional Javanese luncheon at the Kawasari Lodge (including organic vegetables grown in the Kawisari gardens) and, appropriately, a coffee-tasting session).

Back in time for afternoon tea and a REST

We should be back at our hotel by around 3.30 pm, in time for complimentary afternoon tea with local treats, and a rest.

We have a spectacular day planned for tomorrow and we will need a super-early start (like, midnight). So it will be prudent to rest this afternoon and have an early sleep this evening.

So, no group dinner tonight – rather we are leaving it to you to select from one of the Tugu’s wide choice of menus and dine where and when it is most convenient for you.

Included Meals – BREAKFAST, LUNCH (at Kawisari Plantation)

Another of those special days when we go deep into the highlands of East Java to learn about, see, and taste the premium artisan robusta and arabica coffee of Indonesia. This short video provides a glimpse of what we can expect.

Woman worker picking coffee cherries at Kawasari Coffee Plantation, East Java

Depending on the season, we may get to try our hand at picking some of those colourful cherries that cover the beans that later yield those delectable tastes and aromas. Kawasari coffee is certified organic – chemical fertilizers have long since been replaced by compost and cattle manure to supplement the rich volcanic soils.

Preserved colonial clubhouse from 1922 at Kawisari Coffee plantation.

Preserving the legacy – the faithfully maintained Societeit de Harmonie te Kawisari Club, one of the early plantation buildings from 1922. We will hear its fascinating story when we visit.

Tugu Hotel guests (that’s us) can enjoy a complimentary afternoon tea from 4-6pm in the Level 2 Teahouse. Local sweets, snack and treats are served from a traditional food stall. 

TUESDAY – Day 19


Those of us who have already lived long will be well aware there are very few things for which it is worth rising from your bed for a midnight departure.

Our itinerary for today is one of those exceptions.

The Bromo Tengger  Semeru National Park park is part of an extraordinary geographic feature known as the Tengger Masiff, a cluster of five active volcanoes surrounded by a “sea” of sandy volcanic dust in a massive 10km wide caldera.

It has a surreal beauty and is yet another of Indonesia’s great natural wonders. It is also an iconic image, often used to illustrate book covers, magazine articles, and tourist brochures about Indonesia. 

Hundreds of thousands of Indonesians and international visitors come here to view the sunrise over Mt Bromo, the most famous and accessible of the volcanoes.

Today it’s our turn.

Peering from the rim into the bowels of the earth

And after the sun climbs into the sky we will climb a staircase to the rim of the volcano crater to peer into the bowels of the earth and hear its roar.

Mount Bromo, rises some 2,400m (7,870ft) above sea level out of a basin of ash sand. Beyond, in the background, Mount Semeru, periodically puffs clouds of smoke. (Semeru is Java’s highest mountain at an imposing 3,676m about 12,000ft). 

Around them a cluster of other volcanoes, some quiet, others issuing their own sulfurous smoke.

Our transport will pick us up at the hotel just after midnight from where we will drive through the darkness (snooze time?) to reach the village of Cemoro Lawang. There we join a convoy of jeeps to a sunrise viewing point located on Mount Pananjakan

We travel less than 10km through the caldera, but it will be slow going because it will still be dark and there will be crowds (even on a Tuesday). 

Sunrise viewing a celebrated ritual

Viewing the sunrise at Bromo, to the sound of clicking cameras, has become a celebrated ritual. Weather permitting, we see a spectacular display of light, colors, and shadows as the early morning sun breaks through the swirling mists and embraces the mountains.

Some visitors feel diffident about following the tourist herd. They only reluctantly allow themselves to be persuaded to join the early drive or a trek through the darkness.

But invariably they come away singing praises and thankful they decided to see such memorable moments.

By the way, if you need a coffee, tea or an instant noodle soup to warm you while waiting for dawn to break then don’t worry – those enterprising Indonesian vendors are set up at the viewing point and have you covered.

Be sure to bring the flashlight included in your complimentary daypack. Bed aware also that it will be cold at the viewing site’s elevation in the darkness and early dawn, so we will arrange to rent warm jackets for you.

Once the sun is up, the pictures taken and the crowds dispersing, we head down and across the Sea of Sand to a drop point near Mount Bromo. From here we climb to Bromo’s crater rim for what will be another unforgettable experience.

We first walk up the lower slopes of Bromo for about 45 minutes (about 1 km) and then a stone stairway of about 250 steps. We take it easy and will not hurry.  (See picture below)

Neither the trek nor the stairway is unduly steep, and the climb is not difficult for anyone in reasonable shape. There are horses and motorbike taxis to traverse the section to the foot of the stairway if preferred.

Close up with an intimidating force of nature

We hear the booming sounds of the volcano as we climb. As we reach the rim and smell the sulphur fumes, we are struck by the roar of this intimidating force of nature.

A concrete security wall extends for about 75 metres along the rim. A narrow path extends beyond that but with steep drop-offs on both sides – going beyond the wall is NOT recommended.

Bromo is active and erupts from time to time (most recently in 2016 and, briefly, in 2019). But the Indonesian Centre for Volcanology and Disaster Hazard Mitigation closely monitors activity. At any hint of another eruption, exclusion zones will be established – and we will not be there. 

As you look out over a grey other-worldly landscape to the mountains near and beyond, you will find the views from the summit are stunning

Mount Bromo has been revered by the region’s Tenggerese Hindu communities scattered across the region’s mountain villages for hundreds of years. Near the base of the climb to the rim we will see Pura Luhur Poten, a Hindu temple of great importance to these local communities.

Our viewing done, we return to the village where we enjoy breakfast before heading back to Malang and our hotel. This time, travelling in daylight, we will be able to see the jungle, the villages, the farms and the countryside along the way.

Rest, a relaxing dinner, and a sleep-in

Back at the hotel, some time to freshen up before a relaxed luncheon and then REST TIME – after two big but spectacular days we have earned it.

Tonight we will dine once more at the hotel, this time surrounded by the art and the antiques in the Melati Restaurant. We will choose from a selection of Asian and international dishes. We might even celebrate with a cocktail, or two.

(PSST – We can linger. No more early mornings for the rest of our tour!)


This video from the Luxury Travel Expert channel will give you a glimpse of what to expect on our Bromo Sunrise excursion.

Mt Bromo and Mt Batok - a landscape from another world
The jeep fleet - our Mt Bromo mode of travel
Huge crowds on the rim for the annual Yadnya Kasada Festival
Hindu temple at the base of Mount Bromo
Section of the Melita Restaurant in Hotel Tugu

Dining while surrounded by beautiful art and collectibles – tonight we gather for dinner at the Hotel Tugu’s highly rated Melati restaurant.

Staircase to the crater rim of Mt Bromo volcano in East Java

We walk (or take a motorbike or horse ride) for about a kilometre from the jeep parking area and climb 245 steps to the volcano rim … slowly, steadily, and with pauses to rest and admire the view. 



No rush this morning – three early morning starts are more than enough. Today we can sleep in a little.

After a leisurely breakfast, we drive through leafy boulevards and areas of colonial architecture around Malang. Then we head for an area of squatter homes or slums.

WHAT! We hear you cry …. Have you gone NUTS! 

An understandable reaction, but bear with us. 

At one time Malang authorities talked of clearing Kampung Jodipan, a riverbank area of squatter shacks and very basic housing occupied by the poor. But students from the Muhammadiyah University in Malang, with help from locally-based air force servicemen, had different ideas.

They proceeded to change the face of the community by painting more than 100 houses in bright multi-colors (greens, blues, yellows, pinks, and purples) and adding street-art murals.

The transformation has created a vibrant visitor attraction, raising a little extra income for residents through visitor donations, and raising community pride in the area. 

It’s now known as Kampung Warna Warni (the colorful village). On the other side of the river, Kampung Arema has followed suit and is all painted blue, the team color of Malang’s popular Arema Football Club.

The residents are gracious and welcome visitors, so we will take a short stroll through the area for a closer look at this unusual social experiment and seek some great picture opportunities.

From the wondrous to brash and wacky nostalgia, whimsy and serendipity – gotta be seen to be believed

We travel a further 30 minutes to Malang’s sister resort city of Batu to see a whimsical, whacky cross between a museum and a theme park. 

It’s hard to believe, but located here in the highlands of East Java is Museum Angkut, a world class transport museum covering almost 4 hectares. And it comes with a twist – more nostalgia than history and maybe as much playful as serious with a serendipitous approach to collecting, curating and presentation.

The museum houses a collection of more than 300 old and recent vehicles of all kinds from bicycles, mopeds and motorbikes to a London double decker bus, fire engines, military tanks, vintage and classic cars and lorries, a Batmobile replica, Rolls Royce and Humvee limousines and a Land Rover that transported Queen Elizabeth during her 1954 visit to Australia. 

The collection even extends to a flight simulator and the Bell helicopter the US gave to foundation president Soekarno in return for releasing an alleged US spy.

Museum Angkut is a knockout for car enthusiasts yet enjoyable and interesting for non-enthusiasts – there is much to see, and we probably will have to drag you away. There also is a food court and restaurants nearby where we will lunch.

On to SURABAYA – the city that played a key role in securing Indonesia’s modern nationhood

From Museum Angkut we journey some two and a half hours to Surabaya, Indonesia’s second city with a population of 3.5 million (rising to more than 10 million if you include the surrounding Greater City area).

It has 33 mega shopping malls, heritage colonial architecture, and skyscrapers rising to as many as 52 floors.

We are again going 5-star and staying for two nights in the iconic Majapahit Hotel. It’s a hotel reeking of history, service and style, sometimes described as an oasis in the heart of this busy city.

The hotel was opened in 1910 by the members of the Sarkies family. Other hotels opened in Southeast Asia by this famous Armenian family of hoteliers included the iconic Raffles Hotel in Singapore, the Eastern and Oriental in Penang, and the Strand in Rangoon (Yangon).

The Majapahit is famous for its ornate colonial architecture, antique furnishings and beautifully maintained gardens – if we were not staying, we probably would be visiting anyway, as it is one of the landmarks typically included in city tours.

High Tea in the beautiful Majapahit gardens

We will be arriving in time to enjoy a gracious High Tea, served in the immaculate garden and surrounding terraces between 2 pm and 6 pm each day – an homage to an earlier and much less hurried era (we have prepaid for you).

A FREE night tonight with a choice of plenty of excellent restaurants in and near the hotel. It is only three minutes’ walk (about 200 metres) to the giant Tunjungan Plaza shopping mall which offers a plethora of eating choices.

Our team will help with recommendations.


Malang's technicolor kampungs - yep, sunglasses territory
3D street art makes a great backdrop for taking photos
The Transport Museum at Batu is extraordinary
Classic vehicles in film lot setting at Museum Angkut

The historic Majapahit Hotel is our accommodation in Surabaya. It was built by the family who founded the famous Raffles hotel in Singapore.



Today we explore Surabaya, known to Indonesians as The City of Heroes for its key role and the sacrifices of its people during Indonesia’s struggle for independence.

Surabaya dates from the early 12th century and rose to prominence in the 18th century. Until little more than 100 years ago, it was the largest and richest city in the Dutch East Indies and a trading hub for coffee, sugar, tobacco, rubber, timber and sought-after spices from islands to the north.

It rivalled Shanghai and Hong Kong in importance.

Surabaya remains one of Indonesia’s most important financial, industrial, commercial and transportation hubs, with major industries including shipbuilding, heavy equipment, food processing, agriculture, electronics, home furnishings, and handicrafts. It is also home to a major Navy base.

Surabaya is notable for its cosmopolitan population and cultural diversity with Chinese, Indian, Arab and Cham communities living alongside the majority Javanese, Madurese and other Indonesian ethnicities.

Transformation at the hands of Lady Mayor

The city underwent a quiet revolution from 2010 when Tri Rismaharini, known as Ibu Risma became the city’s first directly elected and first woman Mayor. Previously, Surabaya was known for its dirty streets, poorly maintained facilities, traffic jams, corruption, and a lack of administrative transparency.

Ibu Risma, a former little-known official within the city’s administration, set about cleaning up Surabaya and its government.

She increased city spending on education and libraries; created parks, sports facilities and playing fields, expanded green space to 20% of city lands; tackled persistent local flooding problems, cut wasteful spending, enhanced transparency, and shut down an infamous red-light district ranked as one of Southeast Asia’s biggest brothel complexes.

After some 10 years as Mayor (including re-election with a record majority), Ibu Risma left office at the end of 2020 to accept an invitation from President Joko Widodo to become Indonesia’s Social Affairs Minister.

The brutal battle that changed Southeast Asia forever

Surabaya is known most widely by Indonesia and international scholars for its pivotal role in shaping the history and national ethos of Indonesia.

On August 15 of 1945 the Japanese surrendered, ending the Second World War in the Asia-Pacific.

Two days later, at 10 am, Indonesia’s founding President Soerkarno, flanked by his deputy Mohammed Hatta, stood before a small gathering in front of Soekarno’s Jakarta home to proclaim Indonesian independence.

These events sparked four years of bitter conflict and confusion until the Dutch finally relinquished their efforts to re-establish their colonial control of Indonesia.

In Surabaya, Indonesian nationalist militias took control of the city soon after the Jakarta declaration. This sparked events leading to a brutal battle that killed thousands.

The Dutch had believed they would restore the prewar status-quo and be welcomed back by the Indonesian population to resume their rule over their largest, wealthiest, and most profitable colony.

Returning Dutch colonists newly liberated from Japanese prisons raised the Dutch flag over the Hotel Majahapit (then known as the Hotel Oranje).

The hotel secured an indelible place in modern Indonesian history when a young independence revolutionary climbed the flagpole and ripped the bottom portion from the red white and blue Dutch tricolor to create a Merah Putih – the banned red and white flag of the independence movement.

Events came to a head when young men and women announcing themselves as Arek-Arek Suroboyo (Children of Surabaya) raided Japanese armories for weapons.

From the 10th of November they joined pro-independence regular Indonesian forces in pitched battles against British-Indian forces, Dutch colonists and Japanese soldiers whom the British co-opted and re-armed. 

Young Indonesian irregulars who had no guns mounted attacks with machetes, knives and bamboo spears. Over subsequent days an estimated 6,000 to 15,000 Indonesian and as many as 1,500 British and Dutch soldiers and civilians died. Some 200,000 people fled Surabaya.

The British called in 10,000 infantry reinforcements, tanks, naval bombardments and aerial bombing, and gradually assumed control.

The defeat that won the war

As a “battle” it proved a massive defeat for the Indonesian nationalists. However, the conflict galvanized wider Indonesian and international support and proved a decisive strategic moment for the independence movement.

The cries of Merdeka (Freedom) from the young Surabaya fighters echoed throughout the country.

Within a year all British forces had left Indonesia and the Dutch found themselves caught up in on-going armed and political conflict. They were never to regain the control they enjoyed over the years prior to the Japanese occupation, and finally conceded to Indonesian independence in 1949.

So much was happening in the aftermath of the World War in Europe and the Pacific that few Westerners knew (or cared) about the bloody events in Surabaya. For those who did, it is now a distant memory.

But every Indonesian knows the stories of heroism and most feel the emotions of glory, pride, loss and reverence that many Australians and New Zealanders feel about the ANZAC campaign at Gallipoli, the British about Dunkirk, or Americans about the Alamo, Gettysburg, Lexington and Concord, or Omaha Beach.

Indonesians now celebrate 10 November as National Heroes Day. 

Today, we begin our Surabaya highlights tour with a visit to the Tugu Pahlawan (Heroes Monument) and its associated museum.

This is where the people of Surabaya and visitors from throughout Indonesia remember and honor the events and the sacrifices of the Battle of Surabaya of 1945. The exhibits and their story are sobering.

After our brief stay at the museum we spend our day exploring some interesting Surabaya highlights.

An activist Mayor brought a makeover for the city of Surabaya
Now it's cleaner, greener, tidier, better administered , and awarded
Ibu Risma - Transformational Mayor of Surabaya for 10 years

Tri Rismaharini (Ibu Risma) the transformational Mayor of Surabaya is credited with changing the face of the city during her 10 years in office the maximum two 5-year terms.

The Heroes Monument honors the independence fighters
Striking sculpture in the Heroes Museum
Monumen Bambu Runcing – the Bamboo Spear Monument


Hand rolling up to 4,000 cigarettes a day – we see how it’s done ...

No matter how you feel about smoking and cigarettes, you will find Surabaya’s Old Town area and the House of Sampoerna fascinating. 

This stately colonial-style complex first opened in 1862 – once an orphanage, briefly a theatre (reputedly Charlie Chaplin once dropped by), then a family home and a production plant for premium cigarettes.

Now it houses a museum, an art gallery and a café as well as the large former theatre auditorium where hundreds of women still use traditional methods to hand roll Indonesian Kretek (cloves flavored) cigarettes. They remain a popular product in Indonesia but are banned in many countries because of the high tar content.

It is a preserved historical site and has become one of Surabaya’s most viewed attractions with up to 19,000 Indonesian and overseas visitors a month. 

House of Sampoerna guides relate the history of the complex and its interesting and beautiful historic exhibits. It has been described as like entering a time capsule. 

We get to see the mind-boggling speed with which the hundreds of women roll, trim and pack the prestigious Dji Sam Soe kretek cigarettes for the Sampoerna brand. Some roll up to 4,000 cigarettes a day!

Liem Seeng Tee, a Chinese former street vendor, changed his name to Sampoerna (it means perfect) and created his brand. In 1932 he purchased the complex as a family home and as Sampoerna’s first major cigarette production facility. He went on to amass a fortune and his family routinely places in the top 10 in Indonesian Rich Lists.

To mark Sampoerna’s 90th anniversary in 2003, the central complex was painstakingly restored and opened to public.

In 2005 the Sampoerna family sold its interest in the business to Phillip Morris International, part of the US-based Altria Group Inc, the world’s biggest tobacco company (in a deal worth more than US$5 billion). 

A genuine Arab bazaar and a 600-year-old mosque

Surabaya’s cosmopolitan population includes more than 5,000 people of Arab ethnic descent with more again on the nearby island of Madura. 

We visit the robust Arab Quarter in Surabaya Old Town, where many Arabs live and work. It is complete with a market in the style of a traditional North African or Middle Eastern souk or covered bazaar.

It has been said it can feel like a back ally in Cairo.

Visitors flock to the Arab Quarter to explore the market alleyways, stalls and hole-in-the-wall shops, and to sample delicious Middle Eastern foods – kambing (lamb or goat) dishes along with dates, pistachios, raisins, chickpeas, samosas and sweet halawa confectionaries

Guess where we are going to pause for lunch?

The area is known as the Ampel district for the famous 600-year-old Sunan Ampel Mosque, which attracts pilgrims from all over Indonesia and beyond. 

The ancient mosque, built in 1421 by Raden Achmad Rachmatullah (better known as Sunan Ampel), is the centerpiece of the area. 

Sunan Ampel is said to have been the son of a wandering descendant of Mohammed and to have come from the Champa Kingdom in what is now Southern Vietnam.

Indonesian Muslims recognize him as one of nine holy men (the Wali Songo, meaning saints) who spread Islam in Java. His descendants are said to have helped topple the Majapahit Empire

The Sunan Ampel mosque is not noted for architectural significance or beauty, but rather for its place in history as the third-oldest mosque in Indonesia. For the nation’s majority Muslims, it is one of its most sacred.

A big and elegant bridge symbolizing national achievements and aspirations 

Indonesia is in the midst of a massive infrastructure program to support economic growth and lift living standards. It includes roads, railways, airports, power stations and electricity grids, seaports and shipping, public housing, telecoms, hospitals and health services, schools and universities, and more. 

Today we see an example with a trip over the elegant Suramadu Bridge, linking Surabaya to the nearby island of Madura, opened in 2009.

At 5.4 kilometres, it’s Indonesia’s longest bridge, with two traffic lanes in each direction plus an emergency lane and dedicated lanes for motorcycles. The central span has 36 metres of clearance above high tide to allow for shipping passing through the Madura Strait. 

Crossing the bridge offers great views and the structure is beautiful, especially when lit at night. But its real significance is as a marker of the strides being made in the development and the transformation of infrastructure across the nation. 

The Indonesian people are proud of it.

A story of shark versus crocodile and the naming of the city 

No tour of Surabaya would be complete without taking a quick look at the Suraboyo Monument, the city’s iconic sculpture of a shark and a crocodile locked in a dramatic battle. 

The sculpture, near the entrance to the city zoo, depicts a legend from Indonesian folklore about a giant white shark named Sura and a giant crocodile named Boyo.

Originally friends, they had a falling out over food and territory. The story says they had a terrible fight right where Surabaya is located.

Ultimately the crocodile won, the sea became the territory of the shark and the land the domain of the crocodile. In due course, the people named the location Suraboyo, which became Surabaya.

Needless to say, there is an official alternative. It suggests the name came from the Javanese “sura ing baya”, meaning ‘bravely facing danger.’

Spoilsports. Shame about that, but the Suraboyo statue is striking regardless.

We return to the Majapahit in time for a rest before our last night together on tour.


The amazing Sampoerna hand-rolled cigarette hall
Welcome to the Ampel district - Surabaya's Arab Quarter
You might think you are in a Middle Eastern bazaar
The revered 600-year-old Sunan Ampel Mosque
The resting place of holy man Sunan Ampel and his family
Indonesians are proud of the Suramadu Bridge
Surabaya Monument - celebrating a founding legend

Almost GOODBYE time - Drinks, food and farewells

We have reached  the end of our exploration of North Sumatra and Java. We have visited stunning places and experienced just some of the rich culture and diversity of Indonesia beyond Bali. Enough to know there so much more to see. But it must wait for another time.

For now, we celebrate our final night together and say our goodbyes with complimentary drinks and our special FAREWELL DINNER.

We promise it will be FUN!

FRIDAY – Day 22


For those of us not making an optional visit to Bali, it’s time to head back to Singapore for an add-on stay or to join flights home. We hope you will be taking pleasant memories of your visit and a new understanding and appreciation of Wonderful Indonesia and its people.

Our coach departs the Majapahit Hotel at around 10.45 am for the Juanda International Airport to join a flight to Singapore, departing at 13.30 and arriving at Changi Airport at 16.40 (Singapore time) – plenty of time to join an evening flight to your home city. 

(If you wish to stay over in Singapore for a few days, then we are happy to help with hotel and tour suggestions – Singapore is an easy destination and offers much to see and do.)

Guests choosing an optional unaccompanied stay in Bali will depart Juanda domestic also at around 13.30, for a 45-minute flight, arriving in Denpasar at approximately 15.15 (Bali time).

(As with guests staying over in Singapore, we are happy to help with accommodation and touring arrangements for Bali and/or Lombok).

Simply flag your interest and preferences and we will provide ideas and recommendations, and will be happy to assist with bookings.

Included Meals – BREAKFAST

Surabaya's Juanda International Airport
Modern terminal facilities at JUanda

Thank you for joining our LAND CRUISE of North Sumatra and Java and have a safe trip home. We hope that some day we can meet and go 'land cruising' once again

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