Our PREMIUM North Sumatra and Java Adventure
For QUICK ACCESS to itinerary highlights click on the destinations and activities listed below
SATURDAY – Day 1
ASSEMBLING IN SINGAPORE
Flights from home arriving in Singapore today for an overnight at the Village Hotel, Changi, a quality four-star business hotel. Your tour package covers your room and breakfast on Sunday morning. Other meals will be at your cost. The hotel has a choice of restaurants and the Changi Village shopping area close-by has many excellent local cafes and food-court outlets.
A Hotel shuttle service operates from Changi Airport to Changi Village Hotel – to check the timetable click HERE.
Should you prefer the convenience of a taxi the fare from the airport will be about SGD$20, including the $5 airport surcharge.
You will not need to rise early Sunday for your onwards flight to Medan, Indonesia, so you have the option of a good night’s sleep or taking a taxi into town to explore a little of Singapore dining or nightlife – up to you.
Village Hotel undergoing renovations
NOTE: The Village Hotel at Changi has been closed and undergoing renovations during the Pandemic. The refurbishing is expected to be completed in January 2023. If the reopening is delayed we will use a comparable alternative hotel.
(We can help you with arrangements for an earlier arrival for a private stop-over of extra days in Singapore. But your tour package price includes only one overnight with breakfast – extra nights and meals are at your cost).
SUNDAY – Day 2
MEDAN ... AND A WARM SUMATRAN WELCOME
Please expect times given below WILL vary as flight timetables are adjusted following the COVID pandemic. Your will be updated at time of bookings.
13.00 pm – Our coach departs for Changi Airport Terminal 1 and check-in for our JETSTAR flight to Medan, Indonesia.
A member of our tour hosting team joins us at the Changi Village Hotel to assemble our group, and escort and assist at Changi Airport and again on arrival at Medan.
15.15 pm– Our flight departs Changi for Medan. Reset watches (Medan follows Jakarta time which is one hour behind Singapore time.)
15.40 pm – (Indonesian time) – Arrival at Kualanamu International Airport, Medan. Our Medan hosts meet us for the 50-minute journey by coach to the beautiful Deli River Hotel, located on the banks of the Deli River about 12 km from the Medan CBD.
The accommodation is in villas set in beautiful lush gardens with views to a lake and the river. We will be based here for two nights and you will love it! Check out the video at right – make sure you view in full screen mode.
You will have free time after arrival to make calls home, take a rest, enjoy a leisurely drink on the hotel’s Omlandia Restaurant poolside terrace, stroll through the beautiful gardens of tropical plants or to recharge with a dip in the infinity pool.
18.30 pm – We gather in the Omlandia Restaurant for a Getting-to-know-you Reception with complimentary drinks and dinner of authentic Indonesian dishes. This will be followed by a briefing and introductions to members of the hosting team.
Included Meals – BREAKFAST, DINNER
Video profile – Deli River Hotel
MONDAY – Day 3
PALACES, MOSQUES, MANSIONS AND STRANGE FRUITS
09.00 am – We board our coach to explore the city of Medan, the capital of Sumatra. Medan is steeped in history from both pre-colonial and colonial times with a remarkable mix of ethnic groups and cultures, and interesting places to see.
Our city tour comes with an illustrated “Tours through historic Medan and its surroundings” city guide book prepared by the folk at the Deli River Hotel.
A palace created by an Italian for a dynasty helped into power by the Dutch …
One of our first stops is the Istana Maimoon (Sultan’s Palace) the home 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 just 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.
Moorish mosque built by a Sultan with funding from tobacco and Chinese business …
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 1 million Dutch guilders, a fortune at the time.
The octagonal building is in Moorish style with materials imported from Europe, including marble from Italy. Walls and ceilings are decorated with Islamic art.
Visitors are welcome, but we need to avoid prayer times and to dress appropriately – long pants for men and modest clothes and hair coverings for women. Footwear must be left outside the entrance.
The poor Chinese immigrant who was to become Medan’s richest benefactor …
A visit 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’s 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 and left school early to work in his family’s shop. He 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, was recognized with honors back in China and in Malaysia, and 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 through the US Embassy in Jakarta from the US Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation.
Lunch and an introduction to the spikey ‘king of fruits” …
Medan is famed for its food culture and we LUNCH at the historic 90-year-old Tip Top Restaurant and Bakery, a landmark eatery that has become a Medan institution.
Afterwards we visit Ucok Durian where you can see, taste, smell (and buy if you wish) the spikey Durian fruit which many South-East Asians consider to be the “king of all fruits”. Medan ranks as the durian capital of Indonesia and it said that no trip to Medan is complete without visiting this famous and extensive market stall-cum-local café that sells durian products 24 hours a day!
We return to the Deli River hotel in time to rest and relax prior to dinner. Tonight’s dining will be at your choice and cost at the hotel’s Omlandia Restaurant or an outside restaurant or food court. If you wish to eat out, then we will be happy to make recommendations and help you arrange transport.
Included Meals – BREAKFAST, LUNCH
TUESDAY – Day 4
ORANGUTANS, JUNGLE, MONKEYS, BIRDS, RUSHING RIVER AND A STUNNING ECO HIDEAWAY
We take a scenic 4-hour journey to the sleepy village of Bukit Lawang, nestled on the edge of the Gunung Leuser National Park, the largest nature reserve in Southeast Asia and described as the green heart of Sumatra.
This is the location of the internationally famous Bohorok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center, established in 1972, where two Swiss conservationists and local rangers taught orangutans recovered from captivity the skills they needed to survive in the wild.
The rehabilitation program has now moved to another location. But while it operated more than 200 orangutans were released into the Bukit Lawang jungle and it is one of the best places in the world to see these remarkable primates in their natural habitat.
We lunch at the Bukit Lawang Eco Lodge (where will be staying tonight). Then we join an experienced expert guide for an easy three-hour jungle trek through beautiful primary tropical rainforest to see Sumatran wildlife – like Siamang (black-furred gibbons), Thomas Leaf Monkeys, long tail Macaque and varieties of exotic Sumatran birds. Best of all, with a little bit of luck, there’s a very good chance we will see Orangutans!
Watch the nearby VIDEO (Indonesia: Orangutan … ) to see what one group of visitors encountered along the walking trail. Be sure to view in full screen.
The Bukit Lawang Eco Lodge, a rustic but highly rated and authentic three-star hotel overlooking the river. It is designed for its environment – not luxury but clean and comfortable with touches like showers where you can see the stars. The bad news is that the showers sometimes do not have hot water – the good news is that cold water is not so cold this close to the Equator.
The Eco Lodge is a place to relax and absorb and enjoy the sights and sounds of the jungle night – and the staff will likely treat you like family.
Dinner is your choice at your cost – the menu at the Lodge’s striking Kapal Bambu Restaurant (it means bamboo ship) includes good Indonesian, fusion, pasta and some Western dishes. Or you can try one of the eateries nearby in the Bukit Lawang village.
Included Meals – BREAKFAST, LUNCH
An encounter with friendly Orangutans
Drone view of village straddling Bohorok River
WEDNESDAY – Day 5
COOL HIGHLANDS, COFFEE, FRUITS AND TWIN VOLCANOES
We journey for about 5 hours (via Medan and then climbing through oil palm and jungle cloaked roads) to the cool mountain village of Berastagi in the Karo Highlands.
The township is 1300m (4300 ft) above sea level and historically was a “hill station” resort area where the well-to-do elites of Medan spent weekends and holidays relaxing and enjoying the temperate climate away from the heat of Medan.
The Karo Highlands is famous for its rich volcanic soils and is a major growing area, shipping vegetables, fruits and cut flowers to markets throughout Sumatra and other regions of Indonesia. The region is also noted for the quality of the Arabica and Robusta coffees produced from its cool, highland plantations – yes, we will have an opportunity to sample both the fruits and the coffees!
As we approach Berastagi we pause to view twin active volcanoes from a spectacular viewing site at Gundaling Hill. Mt Sibayak (it means King’s Mountain) rises to 2012m (7,250 ft) and its nearby, slightly bigger, brother Mt Sinabung rises to 7,460m (about 8,000 ft).
After lying quietly dormant for some 400 years, Mt Sinabung came back to life in 2010 and 2013. More spectacular eruptions resumed from 2014 and it remains active. One recent eruption was in 2021
At 7km our viewing area is close enough to see, but far enough away to be safe, outside the designated eruptions exclusion zone.
From here we also have our first glimpse of iconic Lake Toba, our destination in a couple of days from now.
We lunch at the Sinabung Hills Resort, a big hotel in the grand resort style with sweeping grounds and gardens and great views. We will be staying at the resort for two nights.
Your own arrangements for dinner tonight. Perhaps dine at the resort, or we will recommend eateries a short distance away in the township for you to consider.
Included Meals – BREAKFAST, LUNCH
NOTE: Our stay at Berastagi is an opportunity to catch up on laundry.
THURSDAY – Day 6
BATAK FARMS, MARKETS, TASTINGS, FLOWERS AND A PLEASANT LAKESIDE LUNCH
We visit a farming area to taste some of those exotic fruits, see how they are grown and meet the growers. Then it’s on to the famed Berastagi fruit and flower market where we will see the wide range of produce from this fertile region – exotic, delicious, succulent fruits, vegetables and flowers, plus clothing and souvenirs, honey, other local foods. Not just a look-see, but also a fruit tasting, with vendors encouraging us to try their product.
We can also buy and eat local snacks – like freshly grilled and buttered sweet corn on the cob – or buy favorite fruits to take back to the hotel for later. We can even take a ride around the market precinct on a horse and pony cart.
The market is full of color and, usually of lively activity and good humor. You MUST bring your camera – the colors, displays and atmosphere are stunning and you will want a photo or video memory.
It’s Chinese for lunch at the Asia Restaurant (maybe try their chilled passionfruit drink) and afterwards we take a short excursion to the village of Lau Kawar, nestled by a beautiful lake in the foothills of Mt Sinabung. The lake is noted for its blue waters and peaceful atmosphere.
The remainder of the day and evening is ours to rest, explore, or maybe take a luxuriant traditional (and very inexpensive) massage. Alternatively, a short taxi ride to the nearby hot springs (bring your own togs and towel and be aware the healing waters will smell a little of sulphur) or a stroll to explore the area and the township.
The Karo Highlands is the home of the Batak people who are famous for their love of music and singing – maybe there will be a venue this evening where you can see and hear local groups performing. Dinner tonight at your choice and cost.
Included Meals – BREAKFAST, LUNCH
FRIDAY – Day 7
BOUND FOR THE WONDERS OF LAKE TOBA WITH GREAT STOPS ALONG THE WAY
The BIG day has arrived – we are on our way to magnificent Danau (Lake) Toba. It’s about a four-hour drive to the village of Parapat on the lakeshore and then another hour by vehicular ferry to our destination of Samosir, an island almost as big as Singapore in the middle of this largest and most beautiful lake in South-east Asia. The destination is great – but so is our journey …
One large traditonal house, eight families and a bunch of critters beneath …
We wend our way through pineapple, cloves and ginger plantations to the village of Dokan where we see traditional houses of the Karo people. Here families still live as they have for generations – up to 8 families in one extended house! Cattle, pigs and water buffalo are penned beneath the elevated dwellings.
We can look inside a house where our guide explains the traditional Karo way of life. But we ask that if you do go inside you please make a modest donation to these hospitable people – anything from Rp20,000 to Rp30,000 (AUD$2 to $3) can be very helpful to these families.
The home and the court of 14 generations of kings – being brought back from dilapidation …
We continue to Pematang Purba where we explore the royal compound of the Purba dynasty of clan kings of the Simalungun Batak people. Fourteen generations of Purba dynasty rulers created and lived in the decorated traditional long houses and galleries from 1624.
The Dutch colonial administrations maintained and even elevated the status of local Kings and Sultans with whom they formed alliances as part of their political and commercial strategy.
This all ended in 1947 when sultanates and kingdoms were incorporated into the newly independent Indonesian nation. For a time, the royal compound’s buildings fell into disrepair, but then local officials designated it as an historical museum with the buildings and intricate decorative motifs being progressively restored.
Our guide will relate how the Simalungan rulers, their wives, their concubines and their courtiers once lived and ruled here.
Water bursting from the cliff and plunging the length of a football field …
At our next stop we view the sparkling Sipiso-piso falls formed by a small apparently underground river running beneath the Karo plateau. The water bursts from a hole in the escarpment wall as though pumped from a big tunnel and plunges some 120 metres (360ft) into the northern tip of the Lake Toba caldera.
It is the highest waterfall in Indonesia. The name Sipiso-piso means “knife-like” reflecting its tall, thin, gleaming stream and the way it cuts into the face of the cliff.
A place that shaped the destiny of our forebears and became a wonder of the world …
In the early afternoon we arrive at the township of Parapat on the shores of magnificent Lake Toba where we pause for lunch at a lakeside restaurant. From here we take the passenger and vehicular ferry to Samosir Island.
The voyage over the blue, fresh waters of the lake is itself an adventure and allows us to marvel at the immensity of the explosive volcanic eruption that brought it into existence 74,000 years ago – and in the process almost wiped out our early forebears.
Lake Toba should rank up there with the Grand Canyon, Uluru, the Great Barrier Reef and Niagara, Angel and Victoria falls among the world’s great natural attractions. It is so big, so beautiful and so distinctive. It is the world’s largest crater lake, located some 2,900ft above sea level, and up to 505 metres deep (that’s 1,657 ft).
We stay on the Samosir lakeshore at the Tabo Cottages Resort. It is set in beautiful gardens with pools and pavilions and will be our base for three nights while we explore the fascinating attractions and meet the peoples of Lake Toba and its surrounds. Check out the video at right.
A quiet night tonight after our big day – we dine at the excellent Tabo Cottage restaurant/bar (aptly the name derives from the Batak word for delicious).
The restaurant roasts its own Sumatran coffee beans, has a German bakery to produce delicious breads and pastries, and the menu includes Indonesian, Chinese and Western dishes.
A recommended house specialty is Bratkartoffein met Fisch (roast potatoes with salad and a hefty slab of fried freshwater fish taken from the lake).
Included Meals – BREAKFAST, LUNCH. DINNER (cash bar)
A look-see at Tabo Cottages Resort
Video profile of Tabo Cottages Resort
SATURDAY – Day 8
LIVING TRADITIONS AND LIFESTYLES AND WHERE CANNIBALS ATE THEIR CONDEMNED
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 go, 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” or “goodbye” (and “bless you” after you sneeze). Today we will hear it often.
A living Batak village and a look at a fading traditional way of life
We first travel the short distance to the Toba Batak village of Tomok, a row of separate massive wooden houses with striking saddle-shaped roofs. Originally the roofs were of sugar palm fibre (called ijuk), but now many have been replaced by more durable but less romantic corrugated iron. If you look closely you also will see that these massive buildings have been constructed without the use of nails!
The houses are raised and supported on wooden piles one to 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 of each family.
Despite the conversion of the Batak to contemporary religions in the 1800s, 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 (and the traditional toileting arrangements).
Close to the Tomak houses are the historic carved tombs of the Sidabutar kings, including the sarcophagus of the king said to have founded the Batak settlement on Samosir and another who led the Toba Batak conversion to Christianity. Our guide will relate the fascinating legends surrounding the Royal graves.
We must wear ulos (a traditional sash) to enter the cemetery – these will be provided by attendants at the entrance.
A meeting place where leaders dispensed rough justice and heads sometimes rolled – literally!
Next we move on to the small village of Ambarita, another cluster of traditional housing but with much more. 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.
Until about 200 years ago, Batak clans, reputedly, also indulged in cannibalism and are said to have cooked and eaten the flesh and organs of enemies vanquished in battle or people judged to have broken clan laws.
At Ambarita we see relics of this bloody era when we visit King Siallagan’s stone chairs in a courtyard, shaded by a magnificent Hariara tree.
This is where clan elders deliberated and made decisions, where wrong-doers 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.
But before moving on we will eat a much more civilized lunch at the Resto Jenny or Resto Samuel, just two of the excellent local restaurants on the Tuk Tuk Peninsular.
Traditional spinning, dyeing and weaving and the creation of beautiful crafted garments
An hour around the island lake-shore takes us to the village of Lumban Suhi-suhi, famous for its hand-woven traditional fabrics, particularly the beautiful 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 a week to complete.
We see weavers creating their intricate pieces and you will have an opportunity to purchase a shawl as a souvenir for yourself or to take home as a gift. These are beautiful, genuine hand-crafted and practical pieces you may well want to consider.
Overlooking a majestic landscape from on very high – it is truly breath-taking!
If we have the time and the weather is right, our final brief stop for the day will be Manara Tandang Tele, an elevated tower site offering magnificent views over the whole of Lake Toba. You will need an ultra-wide lens or a stitching function on your camera to capture it. The outlook can be breath-taking and is worth the time and the climb (by coach) to get there!
How about a Saturday night out – drinks, music, meeting locals and VERY interesting food
A FREE night tonight. we can rest, recreate and reflect on the day while enjoying a cocktail at the resort or an Indonesian Bintan beer (it’s a good pilsner style drop and the name means “star”). Then dine at our leisure.
Or maybe we can wander the nearby Tut Tut Peninsular tourist area and try one of the eating places or bars there. No need to be worried – the Toba area is safe, the people are welcoming and there is usually someone who can speak English. (Besides, should you need help, our phones are always switched on.)
A reminder that singing and music is a way of life for the Batak people and many establishments have excellent live performers, especially on Saturdays.
A reminder too that most of Toba’s Batak people are Christian and therefore eat and really enjoy their pork (babi in Indonesian) dishes.
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 last 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 about a 4% alcohol content when fresh (about the same as many beers).
It is usually enjoyed along with guitars, bamboo flutes, improvised percussion and much impromptu singing and music – a let-the-hair-down party atmosphere as the night progresses. It’s a guaranteed opportunity to get to know the locals!
Included Meals – BREAKFAST, LUNCH
Batak close harmony Sentosa Trio sings – ‘One Night in Lake Toba’
… And they start VERY young – a little shy and an amateur video but infectious enthusiasm.
A decade on, but Lisbet Sirait and her Elios Group still sound great.
SUNDAY – Day 9
A TIME TO REST OR TO GO TO CHURCH ... BECAUSE IT SOUNDS SO GOOD
Today is our off-day – a chance to rest, reflect and truly enjoy our magnificent surroundings. But if you awake wide-eyed and bushy tailed then we suggest you bounce up, don some smart and conservative attire and go to church!
Why? Because if you don’t you will miss out on some heavenly and uplifting harmony singing …. true music lovers may experience shivers up the spine. You will be welcomed at the church, but If you feel too awkward about entering, then find a place to stand or sit outside or just walk by and let it wash over you.
For the rest of your day enjoy the space and the place and relax. Perhaps try an inexpensive traditional massage or reflexology (foot massage) treatment or do some solo exploring (we will provide a list of places of possible interest within easy strolling distance and information on transport options).
Or maybe you might like to go fishing in the lake – give us notice and we will try to arrange the hire of gear, guide and boat.
Tonight, we gather for a SPECIAL DINNER at the Tabo resort. It comes with a selection of delicious Indonesian and Western foods and a performance of traditional Batak songs and music (probably with some Western standards thrown in). Cash bar.
Included Meals – BREAKFAST, DINNER
MONDAY – Day 10
BACK TO THE BEAUTIFUL DELI RIVER HOTEL, PEANUT COOKIES AND A CANDLELIGHT DINNER
Time to pack our memories and say selamat tinggal (goodbye) to beautiful Danau Toba. We return to Medan via the plantation route and go “home” for one more overnight at the beautiful Deli River Hotel – a journey of about four hours through palm oil, rubber and cacao plantations.
A stop for tastings at a most unlikely bakery with crazy cookie names
We will pass through Pematang Siantar, North Sumatra’s second largest city (popn 280,000), and stop briefly to taste and perhaps buy (a box should cost about AUD$3) some famous crunchy Ting Ting, Teng Teng, Pong Pong or Ping Pong peanut cookies or rice candies (plus your choice of a host of other varieties).
Yes … peanut cookies. We kid you not about the names – that’s what they are called. And people flock from all over to this modest roadside bakery on the outskirts of town to first try and then buy them … because they taste so good.
We also take lunch at a local restaurant at Pematang Siantar.
We arrive back at the delightful Deli River Hotel in plenty of time to rest and perhaps do some preliminary packing or organizing for our departure tomorrow morning for Java.
Another special treat tonight with a Candlelight Farewell Dinner in the Deli Hotel’s Omlandia Restaurant. It’s our opportunity to say goodbye and thank you to our Sumatran hosts who have looked after us so well over the past 10 days. Cash bar.
Included Meals – BREAKFAST, LUNCH, DINNER
TUESDAY – Day 11
ON TO THE “BIG DURIAN” - THE THIRD LARGEST METROPOLIS IN THE WORLD!
Today we transfer to the Kuala Namu Airport (about 50 minutes) to join our flight (about two and a half hours) to Soekarno-Hatta Airport in Jakarta. We time our departure for a mid-afternoon arrival to miss the peak periods on Jakarta’s notoriously clogged roadways.
Tonight, we stay in deluxe accommodation at the highly rated four-star Santika Premier hotel. For our welcome to Jakarta dinner we will be off to the Seribu Rasa – a highly rated and elegant restaurant serving Indonesian and Asian cuisines and seafood. The name means “1,000 tastes”.
Included Meals – BREAKFAST, DINNER
WEDNESDAY – Day 12
A LOOK AT HIGHLIGHTS OF INDONESIA’S MEGACITY BEFORE WE HEAD FOR THE HILLS
If this is your first visit you may well be surprised by Jakarta’s modern 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.
Like the District of Columbia in the US and the Capital Territory in Australia, Jakarta has special status as the capital of the Republic of Indonesia. It ranks as a province with a Governor and a provincial administration.
As of 2022 the Special Capital region has a population of about 11 million (twice the population of Singapore but crammed into only about 90% of Singapore’s land area). Adjoining satellite cites take the total Jakarta megacity population to more than 30 million. This makes the Jakarta megalopolis one of the two or three largest cities in the world.
Jakarta has many great things to see and do but traffic congestion means you need a lot of time and patience. So, we must limit ourselves to a quick look at some more easily accessible highlights close to the heart of the city.
Silver and gold extravagances of the Rajahs and Sultans plus ceramics, batik and scary carvings
Indonesians are rightly proud of their National Museum with more than 109,000 exhibits and precious artifacts displaying the history and cultural diversity of the nation dating from as long as 2000 years ago. All are housed in a monumental building near Merdeka (‘independence’ or ‘freedom’) Square. The museum is sometimes referred to as the Elephant Building after the bronze elephant statue in the forecourt – a gift from the former King of Thailand.
A spectacular symbol of Independence with gold leaf glistening in the sunshine (lots of it)
The National Monument is a 137m (433ft) obelisk rising from the centre of Merdeka Square and symbolising the pride of the Indonesian people in achieving independence as a federated nation after 300 years of colonial rule.
Built by founding President Soekarno in 1961 to commemorate the independence struggle, it is sacred to the people of Indonesia who refer to it as MONAS (from MONumen NASional).
The plinth at the base of the column houses a history museum with spectacular dioramas recreating key moments in the story of Indonesia from earliest times through to the freedom struggles.
The monument is topped with a 14.5 metre bronze flame coated with some 50 kilograms of gold leaf. It is lit at night and is spectacular!
A hanging square, dungeons below and relics above, from when Jakarta was Batavia
More than 300 years ago it was the City Hall, then it was the headquarters of the Dutch East India Company and then the offices of the Dutch colonial administration. Now it’s the Fatahillah Jakarta History Museum.
Now it’s the centrepiece of a complex of grand European-style 17th century buildings surrounding Fatahillah Square known as Jakarta or Batavia Kota Tua (Batavia Old Town).
In colonial times it served as the “CBD” of Batavia. Those earlier eras saw hangings in the square out front, and the imprisonment in cellar dungeons of recalcitrant political activists.
The square and remaining old buildings are now a heritage area. After a period of decline and neglect some of its former glory has been restored and it attracts many visitors. It has become a place where there is almost always something happening – a great vibe.
Where modern Jakarta started and majestic, elegant working sailing boats in rainbow colors
Sunda Kelapa Harbour is more than just a line of docks where vessels tie up. It’s where today’s Jakarta had its very beginnings.
From here, at least as long ago as 800 years (and maybe even as many as 1,500), the people of the Sundanese kingdom shipped spices and other commodities throughout east Asia and imported porcelain, fabrics, perfumes, dyes – and even horses.
Then along came the Portuguese in 1522 to take charge briefly until kicked out in turn 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 World War II when the name Jakarta was adopted. It was retained after Indonesian independence.
At Sunda Kelapa today we see living history – rows of graceful, colorful traditional Phinisi sailing ships.
These majestic vessels with their twin masts and schooner-like rigs are still central to Indonesia’s seafaring traditions and the movement of cargo between thousands of island communities. A few have been adapted to serve as dive, off-shore surfing and luxury inter-island cruise vessels.
Presidential palace, magnificent downtown gardens and Nepalese spotted deer
We turn south and weave through city and suburbs towards Bogor, where we will pause for lunch at The Gili Gili Restaurant – noted for its Sundanese food and ambiance.
Our immediate destination is the Bogor Presidential Palace and the adjoining Bogor Botanical Gardens with 87 hectares of trees, shrubs, flowers, lawns, lotus and lily ponds, monuments – and grazing Nepalese spotted deer.
The gardens opened in 1817 and are Indonesia’s oldest and most important, with a world-wide reputation for conservation and research. They are magnificent and they are located in the heart of the city a million people.
The Presidential Palace began life in 1744 as a mansion retreat for the Dutch Governor and successive Dutch and British administrators, including Stamford Raffles, later to become the founder of Singapore. Now the palace is regularly used by the current President for official occasions.
With its extensive gardens, aging trees and picturesque lake it’s a very beautiful setting.
Fresh mountain air and panoramic vistas of tea gardens to the City of Flowers
From Bogor we take the scenic route via the Puncak Pass to historic Bandung, the university and conference city known as the “city of flowers”.
It’s only about 120km but will take around 4 hours as we climb through the mountains with fresh, cool air, panoramic views and sweeping expanses of tea plantations. The Indonesians call them tea gardens (kebun teh) and it’s a more apt description.
People from Jakarta flock to the area’s townships and resorts at weekends and on holidays. We are travelling mid-week so will hopefully avoid heavy traffic.
We will stay two nights in Bandung at the Hotel Savoy Homann with its great location, elegant retro look and a wonderful history dating back to 1888.
Bandung is another Indonesian city famed for its food. Tonight we head for lively Braga Street – Bandung’s “eating street” – to try the Braga Permai, one of the city’s oldest restaurants.
It offers an extensive menu of Western, local and fusion dishes plus confections, desserts and baked delights. There’s live music and bar service with beers, wines, cocktails and spirits.
Tonight we arrange and pick up the tab for the food – you take care of your drinks.
Included Meals – BREAKFAST, LUNCH, DINNER – cash bar
This video from Expedia provides an excellent introduction to the city of Jakarta
THURSDAY – Day 13
HISTORIC COLONIAL RETREAT AND UNIVERSITY TOWN KNOWN AS THE ‘CITY OF FLOWERS’
Bandung is sometimes called the “Paris of Java” or the “City of Flowers” reflecting 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.
The city sits in a plateau basin surrounded by rolling hills, mountains and active volcanoes. Lush vegetation covers the surrounding hills and fertile valleys, while its elevation of 768m (2,225ft) , means constant cool, fresh mountain air – a stark contrast to the heat and smog of Jakarta, just 140 kilometres distant.
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 leading and oldest higher education institutions are to be found with as many as 25 universities and colleges and more than 200,000 students, including the prestigious Bandung Institute of Technology.
Today we soak up some of the atmosphere of this important, historic and vibrant Indonesian city of 2.5m people (plus more than 6m in the surrounding metropolitan area). It ranks at number three in the hierarchy of Indonesian cities.
Strawberry fields, rabbit saté, glorious gardens and a live volcanic crater close-up
We begin with a peek at the surrounding region. As we drive out of the city, we encounter beautiful 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 more 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. Our coach can park almost at the edge of the 500m deep crater’s. At an elevation of 2084m (6,837ft) expect it to be chilly, so best bring a jacket!
We view the volcano up close and take in and enjoy the distant views over lush forests. On a clear day they can be magnificent.
Plantation tea – how it’s grown, picked and processed
The mild, cool climate of the Bandung region is perfect for tea gardens. We visit the 3,000 hectare Ciater Tea Plantation, less than half an hour from Tangkuban Perahu, to learn about the history of tea in the region, and its cultivation, picking and processing.
Once picked, the tea leaves undergo withering, milling, fermentation, drying, and sorting and the Ciater plantation produces hundreds of tons of dry tea a year.
From the tea gardens we travel back into the suburbs to lunch at Sindang Reret, another iconic Bandung restaurant in a traditional style serving delicious West Java and Sundanese food.
Asia Africa Museum – homage to a pivotal historic moment and a different world view
Back in town we call at the Museum Konferensi Asia Africa, venue of the famous Bandung Conference of 1955, which gave rise to the international non-aligned movement.
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 or so of of Western decolonization in Asia and Africa.
You will find your visit here and the historic moments it evokes both informative and interesting, and it will leave you better able to appreciate the point of view of peoples of the “developing world”.
Maybe the most heartwarming memory of your Indonesian visit …
Colorful traditional costumes, traditional instruments crafted from bamboo, traditional and contemporary songs, and traditional dances …this is the program presented daily by Pak Udjo’s Angklung 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 LOVE this performance. And even if you are not interested in any of the above you probably will be sucked in 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 run 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.
A spectacular outlook and delicious International and Sundanese cuisine
After a short break and time to shower and change at our hotel we depart for a special complimentary dinner to mark our final night in Bandung …
A short coach journey brings us to the Valley Bistro Restaurant which, contrary to its name, is actually perched on a hillside with spectacular views back over the night lights of the city. The food is a mix of Indonesian and International. Cash bar.
Included Meals – BREAKFAST, LUNCH, DINNER – cash bar
Pieces of bamboo plus talent bring amazing results!
FRIDAY – Day 14
STUNNING SCENERY AND SPACIOUS COMFORT AS WE JOURNEY ON TO YOGYAKARTA
An early start – we depart our Hotel at around 7.30am to join the 8.30 train to Yogyakarta, travelling Klas Exekutif aboard the Argo Wilis express.
In our age of budget airlines and constant hurry few international visitors are aware of Indonesia’s wonderful scenic train journeys. This is one of them.
We travel for seven hours in a modern air-conditioned railcar with comfortable seats, plenty of leg room, and large panoramic windows to enjoy the breathtaking scenery.
It you are a train buff you will treasure this journey. And if you aren’t, then by the time we arrive in Jogjakarta you may well become one..
The line meanders through hills and valleys and remnants of the morning mist. If the weather is kind, 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 irrigated rice paddies carved into the hillsides. As we leave the mountains the scenery changes to extended plains of rice paddies with farming families toiling in conical bamboo or rattan hats, and working buffaloes, rotary hoes and intricate flood irrigation systems.
Java, with around 170 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 travelling by 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.
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 the Javanese, Chinese and European elegance from a bygone era.
A first look at one of Indonesia’s most famous fun shopping and eating streets?
A FREE night tonight, and we suggest you consider taking a stroll down Jogjakarta’s famous Marlioboro Street to check out the food scene.
It’s a kilometer-long hive of arts, crafts, clothing and specialty shops, food outlets, street food vendors, buskers and becaks (pedicabs – traditional pedal rickshaws).
Alternatively, the hotel’s Paprika Restaurant has plenty of choices and there are many restaurants, cafes and coffee shops nearby.
If you dine at the Paprika you might also 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 ambiance of this historic establishment.
Included Meals – BREAKFAST (lunch is provided on the train and snacks are available to purchase.)
SATURDAY – Day 15
SPECIAL PLACES IN A SPECIAL CITY WITH A MAGICAL AFTERNOON AND EVENING
Yogyakarta, usually referred to as “Jogja” by locals, is the only remaining ‘royal ‘region in Indonesia. It governed by an hereditary Sultan.
The newly installed national government made this concession in 1950 in recognition of the strong support of the then Sultan during the 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, wood and stone carving, visual arts and wayang (shadow) puppetry. More recently it has even become famous for 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 at 8.45am to explore interesting places within this special City. Be prepared to be amazed!
A Royal compound recognized as the heart and soul of this very special city
We begin with a visit to the Keraton, the Sultan’s Palace. Compared with the palaces of European royalty, this building and its compound is 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 is the home of the Sultan today and the palace pavilion is used for important ceremonial functions. There is a modest museum and there are daily performances of Javanese art forms. Being a Saturday, we may well see a performance of traditional Javanese leather puppets during our visit.
Sultans, roses, concubines, an 18th century royal pool and an underground mosque
Next, we explore the nearby Teman Sari Water Palace and the adjacent Underground Mosque, remnants of a once splendid garden complex of 59 buildings and pavilions surrounded by pools, extensive grounds and 18 water gardens and lakes fed from springs.
The Yogyakarta royals of 250 years ago 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 and more damage came during the Java War of 1825 to 1830 between the Dutch Colonial Administration and Yogyakarta-based rebel forces.
The gardens complex fell out of use following an earthquake in 1867, which destroyed several remaining buildings and drained the water features. 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.
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 – 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.
A close-up look at traditional ways of creating beautiful silver work and batik fabrics
Creating beautiful arts and crafts seems to be embedded in the DNA of Yogyakarta. Many of those beautiful paintings, batik fabric designs, wood and lava stone carvings, and intricate silver pieces you see on the gift and souvenir shelves of Bali, Jakarta and other Indonesian cities originate here.
We visit communities where some are created so you can see the artisans using traditional handcraft methods.
The township of Kota Gede is famous for its silver crafts 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 silverwork pieces and jewelry will be on display and for sale at much lower prices than you would pay at home (easy-to-carry items if you are looking for gifts for friends or family).
Colorful and intricate batik fabric is another celebrated hallmark craft of Yogyakarta and is where some of Indonesia’s most beautiful work is produced.
Indonesians are rightly proud of their batik heritage and 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, even quality product, is mass-produced using mechanical silk screen 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 come to Yogyakarta to take courses in this absorbing craft art.
We lunch at the legendary Omah Dhuwur Restaurant – an historic Dutch colonial building in a garden setting noted for its Javanese, Asian and international dishes.
PRAMBANAN – An absorbing afternoon and a magical dusk and evening
After a brief R & R break at our hotel, we depart for a half hour journey to 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 covered by jungle and largely forgotten.
In 1811 a surveyor working for the then 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 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. So far 16 of the original temples have been restored, despite a setback of more earthquake damage in 2006.
Prambanan is Indonesia’s largest Hindu monument and rated by many as among the world’s most beautiful. Its soaring sculpted towers, exquisite carvings, statues and intricate reliefs celebrate the stories of the Hindu Gods and illustrate the epic of the Ramayana.
The Hindu Sanjaya dynasty of the ancient Mataram Empire is credited with building the complex from around 850AD. 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, and our guide will introduce you to some of these 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 sun screen and carry a bottle of water.
The temple staircases are steep, uneven and without handrails, so take care. Don’t panic if you do not wish to climb – the complex can be viewed and enjoyed from ground level.
We explore the main areas of the complex until it closes at 5pm (be prepared to run the gauntlet of hawkers and stallholders as we exit).
Weather permitting, we then travel about 15 minutes to a hilltop next to the nearby Kraton Ratu Boko temple to view the spectacular sunset over Prambanan (cameras at the ready for marvelous memories).
Dinner and the world’s longest running live show – a ballet spectacular Javanese style
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 drinks (cash bar) and a complimentary selection of Javanese foods in a stunning garden setting with the grandeur of the Prambanan temples bathed in soft floodlights as our backdrop.
Then from 7.30pm 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. For the wet season months from January through April it is staged in a special indoor setting. From May through December it is presented on a massive outdoor stage with the Prambanan Temples as the backdrop.
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 an outline of the story in English to help you follow follow what’s happening.
Included Meals – BREAKFAST, LUNCH, DINNER
Expedia video guide to Yogyakarta – a good introduction to this city of arts and culture
Striking aerial views of Prambanan temples by Thierry Yuri
A short video of a scene from the spectacular Ramayana ballet presentation – it has 200 performers!
SUNDAY – Day 16
A MORNING OF LAZY OR INDULGENCE -- AND AN AMAZING WONDER FROM 1,200 YEARS AGO
Today we sleep in a little with a FREE morning before heading out in the afternoon for a very special viewing of antiquity – Yogyakarta’s most famous landmark, the magnificent Borobudur Buddhist temple.
But first, how to best use or waste our free morning?
Here are some options (Click the underlined links to see the details) –
BOROBUDUR – from glory to abandonment, to burial under jungle and ash, to rediscovery, restoration and wonder!
From 2pm we travel about an hour and 40km to view one of Indonesia’s most iconic attractions – the world-renowned Borobudur Buddhist Temple.
Along the way we pass rows of stonemasons’ yards where artisans use mallets and chisels to carve ornate statues, reliefs and garden features from lava rock thrown up in 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 now 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 with construction 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 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 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.
Over a space of two months, Cornelius and and a work party of 200 men cut down trees, burned vegetation and dug away earth to reveal the temple.
The discovery sparked world-wide interest, but the unprotected temple suffered 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 funds towards the restoration program. 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 and attracts pilgrimages by Indonesian and international Buddhists, along with its thousands of tourists. The entrance fees for visitors go towards on-going restoration and maintenance funding (don’t worry, your ticket is included in your package).
Our guides tell us more stories of Borodudur and explain the significance of some of the reliefs and the legends thy portray as we ascend the monument. 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 it 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 5pm – but we stay a little longer. We have paid a surcharge so that we may linger on the top of the temple in the shadows of the stupas for an hour or so to watch setting sun.. Weather permitting, it is stunning.
What a finale to end the formal part of our visit to this fascinating and enigmatic city!
Still have some get up and go in the tank?
Yep, we’ve had a couple of big and interesting days, but heck. we have a FREE NIGHT. And Jogja is a safe and lively city and though we have an early start tomorrow, it’s mainly a travel day.
Plus, we need to eat somewhere anyway, righ?
So, here are some options for stepping out, depending on your mood and energy levels. They include recommended places to dine, do some bar hopping or just join the locals having fun in the City Square near the Sultan’s Palace.
Included Meals – BREAKFAST
Time for some pampering or shopping
The majesty of Borobudur
(No captions necessary)
Clip from Channel News Asia’s “Aerial Asia” series
Relaxed dining or having fun Jogja-style
MONDAY – Day 17
TO A PLACE LIKE NOWHERE ELSE ON EARTH ... IT'S WHERE THEY TAKE THOSE NEAT PHOTOS
http://www.jiwajawa.com/jiwa-jawa-resort-bromoWe are on the train in Klas Exekutif once again, this time aboard the Sancaka Pagi express, departing at 6.45am and arriving at the town of Mojokerto soon after 11am.
We again pass through beautiful countryside with mountains, paddy fields and plantations. And don’t panic if you missed breakfast – there is food available for purchase on the train.
From Mojokerto we join our coach for a journey of about 3 hours to our accommodation at Mt Bromo. We pause along the way for lunch at the Sri Istana Ayam Goreng restaurant – famed for its East Javanese food and especially its traditional Javanese fried chicken.
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 ranks as yet another of Indonesia’s great natural wonders.
The Bromo volcanoes are up there with Wayang Kulit puppets, Balinese dancers, Borobudur and Prambanan as iconic representations of Indonesia, often used to illustrate book covers and magazine articles.
Each year hundreds of thousands of Indonesians and international visitors make the pilgrimage to view the sunrise over Mt Bromo, the most famous and accessible of the volcanoes. Tomorrow we will join them. We are going to see it all, CLOSE-UP.
Mount Bromo, rises some 2,400m (7,870ft) above sea level out of a basin of ash sand. Beyond, in the background, Mount Semen, puffs clouds of smoke, Semen is Java’s highest mountain at an imposing 3,676m (12,060ft). Around them a cluster of other volcanoes, some issuing their own sulfurous smoke.
Tonight, we stay at the Lava View Lodge Bungalows or the Jiwa Jawa Resort. The Lava View is near the edge of the caldera with views across the Lautan Pasir (Sea of Sand) plain to Mt Bromo and Mt Semen beyond.
The Jiwi Jawa resort is about 3km distant in a park-like setting, also with views.
The food at the Lodge Cafe is fine, the views are magnificent, and the drinks are cold. The Java Banana Cafe is part of the Jiwi Jawa complex and offers an excellent menu of Western and Indonesia dishes.
There is live music in the Lodge restaurant-bar most nights but this evening we need to remember to rest to be ready for a VERY EARLY start tomorrow to see the famous Bromo sunrise… and then, in the early light of day climb a special stairway to peer into the bowels of Mt Bromo from its rim.
As we retire, we all should murmur a little prayer for clear weather!
Included Meals – BREAKFAST, LUNCH
TUESDAY – Day 18
RISING IN PRE-DAWN DARKNESS FOR AN EXCURSION LIKE NO OTHER - UNFORGETTABLE
We rise in the chill of the pre-dawn to join a convoy of jeeps ro drive to a sunrise viewing point located on Mount Pananjakan. We travel less than 10 km, but it will be slow going because it will still be dark and there will be crowds (even on a Tuesday, though many fewer than at weekends).
We need to be at the viewing point before 5am to secure a good spot, meaning we need to be assembled and ready to go from our hotel by around 4am! (We will confirm timings and assembly details for you on Monday night).
Viewing the sunrise at Bromo to the sound of clicking cameras has become a celebrated ritual. Weather permitting, the light, colors and shadows. as the early morning sun embraces the mountains and swirling mists, is spectacular.
(Please click to check our HOUSEKEEPING NOTES re our Bromo sunrise excursion, especially about clothing and staying warm!)
Some visitors feel diffident about following the tourist herd and only reluctantly allow themselves to be persuaded to join the early drive or trek through the darkness. 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 you wait for dawn to break then don’t worry – those enterprising Indonesian vendors will be at the viewing point and have you covered!
Once the sun is up, the pictures taken and the crowds dispersing, we head down and across the Sand Sea to the drop point near Mount Bromo. From here we climb to Bromo’s crater rim for what will be another unforgettable experience.
Ascending to the Mt Bromo volcano crater rim
We trek up the lower slopes of Bromo for about 45 minutes (about 1 km) and then climb a stone stairway of about 250 steps. We csn take it easy and take our time.
There are horses and motorbike taxis to traverse the section to the foot of the stairway, but we recommend against them. Neither the trek nor the stairway is unduly steep, and the climb is not difficult for anyone in half-way reasonable shape. Remember, we are not in a hurry.
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.
Sounds come from inside the earth – some say like a huge jet engine at full throttle! We may feel the earth tremble.
A concrete security wall extends for about 75 metres along the rim. A narrow path extends beyond that but with steep drops off both sides, beyond the wall is NOT recommended.
Bromo is active and erupts from time to time (most recently in 2016 and 2019). But the Indonesian Centre for Volcanology and Disaster Hazard Mitigation closely monitors activity and at any hint of another eruption exclusion zones will be established – and we will not be there.
The scenic views from the summit are stunning as you look out over a grey other-worldly landscape to the mountains near and beyond.
Mount Bromo has been revered by the local Hindu villagers for hundreds of years. At the edge of the Sand Sea and near the drop point at the base of the climb to the volcano is Pura Luhur Poten, a Hindu temple of great importance to the Tenggerese communities scattered across the region’s mountain villages.
The villagers make yearly pilgrimages to the summit to pray during the Yadnya Kasada Festival and to toss offerings of fruit, rice, vegetables, flowers and livestock into Bromo’s smoky, growling black crater. (Vendors may offer to sell you posies of flowers to toss into the crater as an offering when we visit.)
With minds possibly reeling from the wonders we have seen we return to our hotel for breakfast, a shower and change of clothes ready for a late-morning departure.
SO, WHAT IF THE EARLY JEEP EXCURSION TO VIEW THE SUNRISE SOUNDS TOO MUCH FOR ME?
Well, the good news is that you too can enjoy a quite magnificent sunrise viewing from a vantage point just behind the Lava View Lodge – not quite the adventure of the viewing from Mount Pananjakan but still inspiring. We urge you, however, to then join the rest of us for the climb to the crater. This is an experience too special to miss unless you have asthma or some other health condition to consider.
ON TO MALANG – A change of pace as we move on to the place described as Indonesia’s most relaxed and charming city
From Bromo we travel for about two hours through the mountains and gardens to the lovely historic city of MALANG.
With a population of around a million, Malang is East Java’s second largest city, once prized by the Dutch of the colonial era for its mild highland climate. Today, it retains much of its stately colonial architecture and grand mansions line its main boulevards.
From the 8th century Malang served as the seat of the ancient Kanjuruhan and Singhasari kingdoms, later being absorbed into the Javanese Mataram Kingdom from the 17th century. Hindu relics from these great early kingdoms can be seen throughout the region, reminders of times before the arrival of Islam and Dutch colonial rule.
Today’s leafy heritage city has been described as Java’s most relaxed and charming. The surrounding hills and valleys are a rich agricultural area with dairy farms, orchards (especially apples), and tobacco, tea and coffee plantations.
Our first stop in Malang will be for lunch at the Java Dancer Café and Coffee Roaster where we can try some of that quality coffee. The motto of this very Javanese style restaurant is that every sip of Java Dancer coffee must reflect “our passion for providing Indonesia’s best.”
The café offers a wide selection of coffees brewed in your choice of three different methods. It also serves a quality selection of Indonesian and international foods, including pizzas.
From Java Dancer we travel 10 minutes to the highly rated Atria Hotel, our accommodation for tonight. The Atria offers modern facilities and excellent service along with a touch of Javanese culture and batik art.
We will have a FREE AFTERNOON and evening to rest and recover from our Bromo exertions. 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 street of bougainvillea and historic colonial era architecture, including mansions plus iconic churches, museums, civic buildings and other landmarks in the historic City Square area. It takes about three hours and our tour leader can help you with arrangements.
For dinner tonight, we suggest you explore some of the excellent restaurants within a few hundred metres of the hotel – there is a wide choice of cuisines from Javanese to other Indonesian, Chinese and international, including a pizza hut.
Included Meals – BREAKFAST, LUNCH
We stay at Lava Lodge Bungalows (top) or the Jiwi Jawa Resort (below) when we visit Bromo – not luxury but comfortable, pleasant and convenient.
A switch to relaxed and charming ...
WEDNESDAY – Day 19
LEAFY BOULEVARDS TO TECHNICOLOR VILLAGES AND SERIOUSLY WACKY WHIMSEY
No rush this morning – after two early morning starts, today we can sleep in a little. After a leisurely breakfast, we drive through some of the leafy boulevards and areas of colonial architecture around Malang.
The, we continue on to some very different squatter or slum areas.
WHAT! We hear you cry …. Have you gone NUTS!
Undcerstandable 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 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, wacky 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 more playful than 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 with 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.
It is famous for its ornate colonial architecture, antique furnishings and beautifully maintained gardens – if we were not staying, we probably would be visiting, as the Majahapit is one of the landmarks typically included in city tours.
A FREE night tonight with a choice of plenty of excellent restaurants in and near the hotel.
Included Meals – BREAKFAST, LUNCH
THURSDAY – Day 20
THE CITY THAT HELPED INSPIRE INDONESIA’S SPIRIT AND SHAPE ITS MODERN DESTINY
Today we explore Surabaya, knoiwn to Indonesians as The City of Heroes for its critical role and the sacrifices of its people in 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.
It remains one of Indonesia’s most important financial, industrial, commercial and transportation hubs with major industries including shipbuilding, heavy equipment, food processing and agriculture, electronics, home furnishings, and handcrafts.
Surabaya also 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.
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.
A former little-known official within the city’s administration, Ibu Risma, set about cleaning up Surabaya and its government, increasing city spending on education and libraries; creating parks, sports facilities and playing fields, expanding green space to 20% of city lands; tackling persistent local flooding problems, cutting wasteful spending, enhancing transparency, and shutting down an infamous red-light district ranked as one of Southeast Asia’s biggest brothel complexes.
After some 10 years as Mayor Ibu Risma left the 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 – and most of us know nothing about
Surabaya continues to be known most widely in Indonesia and by international scholars for its pivotal role in shaping the history and national ethos of Indonesia. On our city tour today, we learn about little known aspects of the emergence of Indonesian nationhood.
On August 15 of 1945 the Japanese surrendered, ending the Second World War in the Asia-Pacific. Two days later at 10am Indonesia’s founding President Soerkarno, flanked by his deputy Mohammed Hatta, stood before a small gathering in front of Soekarno’s Jakarta home and proclaimed 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 December 1949.
The city of Surabaya played a pivotal role when Indonesian nationalist militias took control of the city soon after the Jakarta declaration, launching a sequence of 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 Indonsian 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 Dutch red white and blue tricolor to create a Merah Putih – the banned flag of the independence movement.
Facing guns and tanks with machetes and bamboo spears
Events came to a head when young men and women announcing themselves as Arek-Arek Suroboyo (Children of Surabaya) raided Japanese armories for weapons. Then from the 10th of November they joined pro-independence regular Indonesian forces in pitched battles against British Indian forces, Dutch colonists and Japanese soldiers co-opted and re-armed by the British to try to restore order.
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.
As a “battle” it proved a massive defeat for the Indonesian nationalists. But 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 again to regain the control they enjoyed over the years prior to the Japanese occupation.
So much was happening in the aftermath of the war in Europe and the Pacific that few Westerners knew (or cared) about the bloody events in Surabaya and 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, or Americans about the Alamo, Gettysburg, or Lexington and Concord.
Indonesians now celebrate 10 November as National Heroes Day. Today we visit the Tugu Pahlawan (Heroes Monument) and its associated museum 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.
MORE SURABAYA HIGHLIGHTS
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, a popular product in Indonesia but banned in many countries because of the high tar content.
It is also a preserved historical site and has become one of Surabaya’s most viewed attractions with up to 19,000 Indonesia 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 hundreds of girls 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 who changed his name to Sampoerna and created his brand (it means perfect). In 1932 purchased the complex as a family home and 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.
In commemoration of Sampoerna’s 90th anniversary in 2003, the central complex was painstakingly restored and opened to public. While it is something of a shrine to the Sampoerna empire, it has many beautifully maintained exhibits of general interest.
In 2005 the Sampoerna family sold its interest in the business (in a deal worth more than US$5 billion) to Phillip Morris International, part of the US-based Altria Group Inc, the world’s biggest tobacco company.
A genuine Arab bazaar and a 600-year-old mosque that draws pilgrims from all over
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 of them live and work. It is complete with a market in the style of a traditional North African or Middle Eastern souk or covered bazaar.
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 sweet halawa confectionaries. It has been said it can feel like a back ally in Cairo.
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 centrepiece 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 and, for the nation’s majority Muslims, one of its most sacred.
The big and elegant bridge symbolizing national achievements and aspirations
Indonesia is the midst of a massive infrastructure program to support economic growth and lift living standards including 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 will see an example with a trip over the elegant Suramadu Bridge, linking Surabaya to the island of Madura and 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 metre clearance to the high tide level to provide a channel for shipping passing through the Madura Strait.
Crossing the bridge offers great views over the Madura Strait and the bridge is beautiful 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 rightly proud of it.
Shark versus crocodile – Nope, not a sporting challenge. Rather the naming of a city
No tour of Surabaya would be complete without taking a quick look at the Suraboyo Monument, the city’s sculpture icon of a shark and 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, 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.
Included Meals – BREAKFAST, LUNCH, DINNER
Drinks, food and farewells
Today brings us to the end of our exploration of the REAL North Sumatra and Java. We have experienced just a few of the beautiful places and tasted just some of the rich culture and activities to be enjoyed out there beyond Bali. There is still 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 Farewell Dinner, and we prepare for our onward or homeward journey tomorrow.
FRIDAY – Day 21
TIME TO PACK OUR MEMORIES FOR SHARING WITH FRIENDS AND FAMILY AND HEAD FOR HOME
For those of us not making an optional visit to other parts of Indonesia, it’s time to head back to Singapore to join flights home or continue to our next destination. We hope you will be taking pleasant memories of your stay and a new understanding and appreciation of Wonderful Indonesia and its people.
Our coach departs the hotel at 11.00 for the Juanda International airport to join our Jetstar 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 has many excellent things to see and do.
Guests travelling on for an optional unaccompanied stay in Bali also will depart Juanda domestic at 13.30, for a 45-minute flight with Lion or Batik Air, arriving in Denpasar at 15.15 (Bali time). As with guests staying over in Singapore, we are happy to help with accommodation and touring arrangements for Bali and Lombok.
Included Meals – BREAKFAST