Breakfast at Deli River, our Medan stopover
Indonesian farmer tending rice field with shrine as backdrop
Sipiso-piso Falls near Lake Toba

Our PREMIUM North Sumatra and Java Adventure

For QUICK ACCESS to itinerary highlights click on the destinations and activities listed below

THURSDAY– Day 1

ASSEMBLING IN KUALA LUMPUR

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

Chief among them is the Sama Sama Hotel where we spend a relaxing night before beginning our Indonesian adventure tomorrow morning. This beautifully appointed five-star hotel  is located within the airport complex. It is connected to the International Terminal by an airbridge with a 24-hour buggy service to transport your luggage.

The location 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 welcome is that! 

Where possible a member of our hosting team will be on hand to meet you on arrival to make sure all goes smoothly.

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 restaurant/cafe/bars in which to wind down.  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 (Friday) morning .

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

Don’t worry – our hosting team will be joining our tour guests for breakfast and will be on hand to answer questions and assist.

Travel Map North Sumatra and Java Tour
De-luxe twin room Sama Sama Hotel Kuala Lumpur International Airport

Deluxe twin room Sama Sama Hotel KLIA

FRIDAY – Day 2

MEDAN ... AND A WARM SUMATRAN WELCOME

Times given below may vary should flight timetables be adjusted. Changes continue in the aftermath of the COVID pandemic. You will be updated prior to your travel.

09.00 am – We gather in Reception at the Sama Sama Hotel and make our way to the International Terminal to join our short flight to Medan. Members of our tour hosting team will be there to assemble our group, and escort and assist, especially with luggage.

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 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.

1.00 pm to 2.00pm – Poolside luncheon snacks with juices and soft drinks.

From 2.00pm –  Time for calls home, resting, and enjoying a leisurely drink on the hotel’s Omlandia Restaurant poolside terrace. Or to stroll through the beautiful gardens of tropical plants, or to recharge with a dip in the infinity pool.

6.00 pm – We gather in the Omlandia Restaurant for a Welcome and Getting-to-know-you Reception with complimentary drinks and dinner of authentic Indonesian dishes. This will be followed by a briefing and introductions to hotel staff and members of the hosting team.

Included Meals – BREAKFAST, LUNCH, DINNER

Facade Kualanamu Airport Medan
Medan's modern new AirportTerminal

Video profile –  Deli River Hotel

Omlandia Restaurant - delicious and beautiful food

SATURDAY – Day 3

PALACES, MOSQUES, MANSIONS AND STRANGE FRUITS

09.30 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 arrange transport. Medan has some excellent al fresco food court dining – perfect on a warm and balmy tropical evening.

Included Meals – BREAKFAST, LUNCH

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
Durian - to Asians the "king of all Fruits"
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 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. It’s often 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 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 is 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.

We return to the – striking Kapal Bambu Restaurant (it means bamboo ship) for dinner. The menu includes good Indonesian, fusion, pasta and some Western dishes. If you still have the energy, then perhaps an evening stroll along the river or around the village.

Included Meals – BREAKFAST, LUNCH, DINNER

A wonderful reason for visiting Bukit Lawang

A short jungle trek experience at Bukit Lawang – words in Indonesian but pictures universal. We tube home only if the river level is safe (and we wear lifejackets). It’s fun.

Drone views of  Bukit Lawang village straddling Bohorok River

MONDAY Day 5

COOL HIGHLANDS, COFFEE, FRUITS AND TWIN VOLCANOES

Today we journey for about 5 hours (via the Medan outskirts 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 area 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 2,460m (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.

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) or take a stroll to explore the area and the township.

Dinner tonight at the resort, or perhaps one of the eateries offering excellent local foods a short distance away in the township. where we might also catch some live music. The Karo Highlands is home to the Batak people who are famous for their love of music and singing

Included Meals – BREAKFAST, LUNCH, DINNER                                  

NOTE: Our stay at Berastagi is an opportunity to catch up on laundry.

The lush and fertile Karo Highlands
Tending the cabbages while Mt Sinabung rumbles
Sinabung Hills Resort - aging grandeur

TUESDAY– Day 6

BATAK FARMS, MARKETS, TASTINGS, FLOWERS AND A PLEASANT LAKESIDE LUNCH

Today 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.

Afterwards we take a short excursion to the village of Lau Kawar, nestled by a beautiful lake in the foothills of Mt Sinabung for a lakeside picnic/BBQ lunch. The lake is noted for its blue waters and peaceful atmosphere.

Dinner tonight is Chinese cuisine at the Asia Restaurant (maybe we can also try their chilled passionfruit drink). 

Included Meals – BREAKFAST, LUNCH., DINNER

Karo Highlands is famous for its coffees
Beristagi's fruit and flower market is a sight to behold
Lau Kawar Lake - blue and peaceful

WEDNESDAY – 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 three-hour drive to the village of Parapat on the lakeshore. But we are taking it slowly with stops along the way for some fascinating experiences.

Our Lake Toba destination is great – but so is our journey to get there …

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 over the centuries from 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 control strategies.

This all ended in 1947 when sultanates and kingdoms were incorporated into the newly independent Indonesian nation. For a time, the Pematang Purba 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. 

Toba is the largest  lake in Southeast Asia and regarded as the most beautiful. Samosir Island in its centre is almost as big as Singapore.

The half hour 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 below.

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

Lakeside pool at Tabo Cottages Resort

Video profile of Tabo Cottages Resort

Traditional Bsatak house
Batak long house at Dokan - home to as many as 8 families
intricate patterns Pematang Purba royal compound
Sipiso-Piso waterfall Karo Highlands
Spectacular Sipiso-Piso plunga waterfall
Parapat township - Lake Toba
Vehicular ferry to Samosir Island
Tuk -Tuk Peninsular - our destination on Samosir Island

THURSDAY– 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 massive wooden longhouses with distinctive saddle-shaped roofs. Originally the roofs were of sugar palm fibre (called ijuk), but now many have been replaced by more durable but much less romantic corrugated iron. If you look closely you also will see that the 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 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.

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 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 at weekends.. 

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 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-your-hair-down party atmosphere as the night progresses. It’s a guaranteed opportunity to get to know the locals!

Included Meals – BREAKFAST, LUNCH

Samples of Batak singing groups

Batak close harmony Sentosa Trio sings – ‘One Night in Lake Toba’

A decade on, but Lisbet Sirait and her Elios Group still sound great. 

Traditional Batak houses on Samosir
Sarcophagus of founding Sidabutar king
The famous stone chairs of Ambarita
Sarcophagus of founding Sidabutar king
Craft weaving at Lumban Suhi-suhi
Superb views - Manara Tandang Tele
Local and Western foods at Tuk-Tuk
Locally brewed palm wine - careful!

FRIDAY – Day 9

A TIME TO REST, GO FISHING, OR TRY SOME SOLO EXPLORING ...

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 with more energy to burn then we will have options for you to consider.

Maybe you might like to go fishing in the lake – give us notice and we will see if we can arrange the hire of gear, guide and boat.

Or maybe do some solo  or small group exploring or meeting with the locals. We will suggest some places of possible interest within easy  distances and information on transport options.

But for those who would like a break after eight days on the road it’s hard to think of a better place to enjoy it. Chill out, enjoy the space and the place of Tabo Cottages and perhaps try an inexpensive traditional massage or foot reflexology treatment.

Perhaps take a wander down the Tuk Tuk Peninsula for a leisurely lunch and some conviviality at a local eatery.

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 (along with some Western standards thrown in). Cash bar.

Included Meals – BREAKFAST, DINNER

Batak performers at Tabo Restaurant
Fish from wet market Lake Toba

Are there fish in Lake Toba? – you bet there are.

SATURDAY – Day 10

BACK TO THE BEAUTIFUL DELI RIVER HOTEL, PEANUT COOKIES, AND A CANDLELIGHT DINNER

Time to 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) of 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

Peanut cookies galore - all created on the premises
Farewell dinner by candlelight at Omlandia Restaurant

SUNDAY – 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 an arrival around noon to miss the peak periods on Jakarta’s notoriously clogged roadways.

We travel by coach to check-in at our deluxe Jakarta accommodation for tonight at the highly rated four-star Santika Premier hotel, where we will get settled and have lunch.

A hanging square, dungeons below and relics above, from before Jakarta was Jakarta

We will rejoin our coach mid-afternoon to travel to historic Batavia Kota Tua (Batavia Old Town). a complex of grand European-style 17th century buildings surrounding Fatahillah Square.

It’s centrepiece 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. 

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

The square and remaining old buildings are now a heritage area. After a period of decline and neglect, much of its 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.

Where modern Jakarta began and majestic, elegant working sailing ships in rainbow colors 

Old Batavia is next door to Sunda Kelapa Harbour where classic traditional sailing vessels still tie up. It’s also where today’s Jakarta had its very beginnings. 

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 take charge briefly until kicked out by the Indonesian Demak forces of King FatahillahHe 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 Indonesian independence in 1945.

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, offshore surfing, and luxury inter-island cruise vessels.

Colorful Chinatown alleys of food and market stalls

Time permitting, we will take a stroll through the colorful alleyways of food and market stalls of Glodok, Jakarta’s Chinatown. It also is next door to the Old Batavia area. 

For our dinner tonight we will remain in Old Batavia and celebrate our arrival in Jakarta at the iconic and atmospheric Cafe Batavia Restaurant. It overlooks the square and its night-time activities.

Included Meals – BREAKFAST, LUNCH, DINNER

Hotel Santika Premier, Jakarta

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

Fatahillah Square in Batavia Old Town
Phinisi ships at Sunda Kelapa Harbour

MONDAY – Day 12

EXPLORING SOME HIGHLIGHTS OF INDONESIA’S SURPRISING MEGACITY

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, and other national  capitals, Jakarta 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 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 metro 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.

A spectacular symbol of the struggle for Independence with gold leaf (lots of it) glistening in the sunshine  

Indonesia’s National Monument is a 137m (433ft) obelisk rising from the centre of Merdeka (freedom) Square and symbolizing the pride of the young nation’s people in achieving independence as a republic 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 around 50 kilograms of gold leaf. It is lit at night and is spectacular.

Important buildings surrounding Merdeka Square include the National Museum (more than 109,000 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 Istqlal Mosque. These along with the central offices of major Government agencies.

Living 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 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, which can accommodate 132,000.

It 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 a massive pipe organ.

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

This is the mosque in which you will often see crowds of prostrate worshippers in international TV news reports of religious festivals in Indonesia like Ramadan.

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 space for religious events like Idul Fitri, Easter and Christmas.

We wilkl pay them short visit – visitors are welcome at both. 

Gold and silver finery, along with scary carvings

Indonesians are rightly proud of their National Museum with 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 is housed in a splendid building near Merdeka Square. Its collection is 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 long but we will take in some of the more interesting exhibits.

The essence of 33 provinces shrunk into 100 amazing hectares

From the monumental heart of the National Capital we journey about an hour to visit what is technically a theme park – but one that’s very different You will likely find it absorbing.

 Taman Mini Indonesia Indah (it translates as Beautiful Mini Indonesia Gardens) is intended primarily as a display of Indonesian social culture and diversity all in one place. Replicas of traditional houses and pavilions in the architectural styles of 33 Indonesian provinces are on show in beautifully landscaped settings.

Don’t be confused by the word ‘mini’ – this refers to the park being a miniature Indonesia, not to the full-size scale of the buildings. The structures are faithfully rendered, most are exotic to Western eyes, and many are quite beautiful.

Along with displays of colorful and striking traditional costumes, artifacts, tools, and weapons, they instantly bring home the rich diversity of the hundreds of ethnic groups who share this nation of islands.

In fact, the Taman Mini displays have been ranked as possibly Indonesia’s best collection of artifacts and handicrafts.

And there’s more -Taman Mini Indah has 19 museums, seven nature parks (including a famous bird park), three cultural parks, and four recreational Parks. Religious buildings include a mosque, a Buddhist temple, a Catholic church, and a Confucian temple. Oh, and there’s also an IMAX theatre.

Happily it also boasts some excellent food outlets where we will lunch before taking a look around.

Anyone for checking out the shopping ?

Jakarta is famous (some might say infamous) for its massive and quite splendid shopping malls. And prices in Indonesia are cheap for visitors bringing strong foreign currencies.

From Teman Mini Indah we will have the option of returning to the hotel to rest or checking out one of the big South Jakarta. As Indonesians say ‘terserah kamu’ (up to you).

Later we re-gather for dinner at Seribu Rasa (it means ‘One thousand tastes’)  – a restaurant conveniently close to our hotel. Its promise …

A GASTRONOMIC JOURNEY TO “ONE THOUSAND FLAVORS” OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN CULINARY TRADITION

We surely should be able to find something really interesting to enjoy here!

 
Included Meals – BREAKFAST, LUNCH, DINNER – cash bar
Aerial view of central Jakarta
Jakarta - the mega city of Southeast Asia
National Monument - topped with gold
Entry to the National Museum of Indonesia, Jakarta

The National Museum with elephant statue

Worshippers under the dome in the Istiqlal Mosque

Sanata Maria Catholic Cathedral Jakarta

The Santa Maria Catholic Cathedral from the colonial era

Distinctive Nias House from North Sumatra at Taman Mini Indah

Distinctive Nias house, part of North Sumatra pavilion at Taman Mini Indah

Cavernous interior of Pondok Indah Mall in South Jakarta

Cavernous interior of the Pondok Indah shopping mall in South Jakarta

TUESDAY– Day 13

JAKARTA TO BOGOR AND VIA THE STUNNING PUNCAK PASS TO BANDUNG

A scenic journey we check out of our Jakarta Hotel and travel by coach to the satellite city of Bogor and then up through the Java Highlands to the cool and beauty of Bandung.  

Bogor Presidential palace, magnificent downtown gardens and Nepalese spotted deer 

We head south through city and suburbs for about an hour and half. Our immediate destination is the Bogor Presidential Palace and the adjoining Bogor Botanical Gardens.

The gardens have around 15,000 specimens of trees, shrubs and flowers, plus lawns, lotus and lily ponds, monuments – and grazing Nepalese spotted deer – spread over 87 glorious hectares 

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 this satellite city of 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 Presidents for official occasions.

 With its extensive parklands and  gardens, aging trees and picturesque lake, the palace is the centerpiece of a very beautiful setting.

We  take a slow drive through some of the most beautiful sections of the Botanic Gardens and may even pause for a cuppa.

Fresh mountain air and panoramic vistas of tea gardens as we head 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 it will take us 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 stop at one of the many resorts or restaurants tucked into the hillsides for a leisurely lunch with a view.

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 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 bar service with beers, wines, cocktails and spirits. 

Better Tours arranges and  picks up the tab for the food – cash bar.

Included Meals – BREAKFAST, LUNCH, DINNER – cash bar

Presidential Palace, Bogor
Massive tree in Bogor Botanic Gardens
Winding and wending through beautiful Puncak Pass
Historic art deco Hotel Savoy Homann, Bandung
Section of Braga Permai Restaurant,

WEDNESDAY– Day 14

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.” 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.

The city sits in a plateau basin surrounded by rolling hills, mountains and active volcanoes. Lush vegetation covers the surrounding slopes 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  oldest and most respected 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 around number three in the population hierarchy of Indonesian cities. 

Asia Africa Conference Centre and Museum – homage to a pivotal historic moment and a different world view 

We take a short stroll to our first stop for today when 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. 

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

People challenging the colonial order  and Cold War alignments like Indonesia’s Soekarno, Nehru from India, Naser from Egypt, Chou En Lai from China, and U Nu from Burma.

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”.

Strawberry fields, rabbit saté, glorious gardens and a drive-up volcanic crater close-up

Next 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. 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.

Checking out a tea plantation – in comfort of course

By now it is obvious to us that the mild, cool climate of the Bandung region is perfect for tea gardens. And we would be remiss if we didn’t take a closer look.

So our next stop is the nearby Astro Highlands Ciater tea plantation which caters for curious visitors and is also a healing centre and camping area.

It also has a restaurant serving delicious Sundanese food – it’s hard to imagine a better place for lunch than right here surrounded by beautiful gardens. 

We move on from the tea garden at around 2.45pm for something special …

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.

We have options for dinner tonight – perhaps the Garden Restaurant in the Savor Hormann or another stroll to the restaurant strip in Braga Street. Once again, Better Tours picks up the tab for the food – the alcoholic drinks are on you.

Included Meals – BREAKFAST, LUNCH, DINNER – cash bar

Gedung Sate - West Java Governor's offices, Bandung
National flags fly at historic Asia Africa Museum
Beautiful expanses of tea plantations around Bandung
Rabbit Sate is a popular speciality in Bandung
Gunung Tangkuban Perhau - the 'drive up' volcano
Section of restaurant at Astro Highland Ciater tea plantation

Restaurant area overlooking tea gardens at Astro Highlands Ciater

Pieces of bamboo plus talent bring amazing results!

Heartwarming - Children's traditional music and dance show at Pak Udjo School

THURSDAY - Day 15

STUNNING SCENERY AND SPACIOUS COMFORT AS WE JOURNEY TO THE 'CULTURAL CAPITAL'

An early start – we depart the Savoy Hormann Hotel at around 7.30am to join the 8.30 train to Yogyakarta. We travel 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. You are about to discover one of them.

We journey for seven relaxing 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 150 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. 

Yogyakarta and a first look at one of Indonesia’s most famous fun shopping and eating streets?

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 .

A FREE night tonight, and we suggest you consider taking a stroll down Jogjakarta’s  Marlioboro Street to check out the food scene.

It’s a kilometer-long hive of  arts, crafts, clothing and specialty shops, arts and crafts sellers, food outlets, street food vendors, buskers and becaks (pedicabs – traditional pedal rickshaws). 

It’s probably the most famous shopping street in Indonesia and it’s both safe and fun. Don’t worry, one of our team members will accompany those feeling nervous.

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.)

Landscaping - Bandung Railway Station
The Argo Wilis rolls out of the hills
Exekutif Klas on the Argo Wilis
A journey through lush countryside
Yogyakarta's famous Marlioboro Street

FRIDAY – Day 16

SPECIAL PLACES IN A SPECIAL CITY AND SUNSET OVER AN AMAZING WONDER FROM 1,200 YEARS AGO

Yogyakarta, usually referred to as Jogja’ by locals, is the only remaining ‘royal’ region in Indonesia. It is 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, musicpoetry, 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 around 9am 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 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.         

BOROBUDUR – from glory to abandonment, to burial under jungle and ash, to rediscovery, restoration and wonder!

From around 2.30pm we travel about an hour and 20 minutes 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 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.

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 big and interesting day, but heck. we need to eat somewhere, right?

So we’ have chosen the Rosella Easy Dining Restaurant for tonight’s dinner. It is close to our hotel (less than 15 minutes)  and notable for its a romantic setting overlooking paddy fields. Javanese dishes are the specialty with some Western and fusion.

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

Included Meals – BREAKFAST, LUNCH, DINNER

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

Pavilion at the Sultan's Palace
Gamelan instruments at the Keraton
Teman Sari Water Palace
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

SATURDAY – Day 17

A MORNING OF LAZY OR INDULGENCE -- AND THEN A MAGICAL AFTERNOON AND EVENING

Today we can sleep in a little with a FREE morning before heading out in the afternoon for a very special viewing of antiquity with dinner and a unique and spectacular performance

But first, how to best use or waste our free morning?

Here are some options (Click the underlined links to see the details) –

PRAMBANAN – An absorbing afternoon and a magical dusk and evening

In mid-afternoon  hotel, we depart the hotel 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 overgrown 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. (Bear in mind we will be going directly from this visit to dinner and a performance.)

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 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 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 shapes of the Prambanan Temples as background. 

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 outline of the story in English.

Included Meals – BREAKFAST, DINNER

Time for some pampering or shopping

Good massages are cheap in Jogja
Shopping's a hoot at Beringharjo Market
The Prambanan Hindu temples complex is awesome

Head spinning dron vision of Prambanan temples by Thierry Gapp

Prambana is the backdrop for the Ramayana Ballet
How's this for a pre-ballet dinner setting?

SUNDAY – Day 18

TO A PLACE LIKE NOWHERE ELSE ON EARTH ... IT'S WHERE THEY TAKE THOSE ICONIC PHOTOS

An early start this morning – we will be travelling Klas Exekutif once more, this time aboard the Sancaka Pagi express, departing at 6.45am and arriving at 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 the Jiwa Jawa Resort. It is about 3km from the edge of the caldera and the Lautan Pasir (Sea of Sand) plain. It is nestled into a park-like hillside setting, with views. 

We dine at the Java Banana Cafe, part of the Jiwi Jawa complex. It offers an excellent menu of Western and Indonesia dishes.

We need to avoid being late to bed tonight to be ready for a VERY EARLY start tomorrow to see the famous Bromo sunrise… and then, in the early light of morning to climb the stone stairway to peer into the bowels of Mt Bromo from its rim.

As we retire tonight, maybe we should murmur a little prayer for clear weather!

Included Meals –  LUNCH, DINNER (Quick early breakfast at hotel or food on the train.)

Mt Bromo and Mt Batok - a landscape from another world
A glorious sunrise over Bromo - thousands come to see it

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

MONDAY – Day 19

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 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 Monday). 

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 Sunday night)

Viewing the sunrise at Bromo to the sound of clicking cameras has become a celebrated ritual. Weather permitting, the display of 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. 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 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 a 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.

The sounds come from inside the earth – some say like a huge jet engine at full throttle! We may even 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 – going 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 epochs can be seen throughout the region, reminders of times before the arrival of Islam and 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.

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 Hotel Tugu, our accommodation for tonight. Tugu means monument and it’s appropriate for this  unique five-star boutique hotel. It is as much a five-star living museum as a hotel.

The owner is one of Indonesia’s leading collectors of original art, antiques and historic photographs. His hotel is where works from his collection are on show – a living gallery.

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.

In the event we cannot secure enough rooms at the Tugu, we will default to  the Hotel Atria. It 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.

We stay in for dinner tonight at the Hotel Tugu’s excellent rooftop Saigonsan Restataurant –  yep, wonderful tastes of Vietnam.

Included Meals – BREAKFAST, LUNCH, DINNER

Saigonsan Vietnames Restaurant at Hotel Tugu, Malang
Staircase to the crater rim of Mt Bromo volcano in East Java
A short hike, then a stairway to the rim
The jeep fleet - our Mt Bromo mode of travel
Hindu temple at base of Mount Bromo
Huge crowds on the rim for the annual Yadnya Kasada Festival
Jiwi Jawa Resort at Mt Bromo

We stay at the Jiwi Jawa Resort  (below) when  we visit Bromo – not luxury but comfortable, pleasant and convenient.

A switch to relaxed and charming ...

Leafy Ijen Boulevard is flanked by colonial era mansions
Malang has a beautiful Catholic church ...
... and a stunningly beautiful Mosdque

LEFT – The richly decorated rooftop Saigonsan Vietnamese Restaurant at the Hotel Tugu

TUESDAY – Day 20

LEAFY BOULEVARDS TO TECHNICOLOR VILLAGES AND SERIOUSLY WHACKY TRANSPORTATION WHIMSEY

No rush this morning – two early morning starts are enough. Today we can sleep in a little. First a leisurely breakfast, then we drive through leafy boulevards and areas of colonial architecture around Malang.

Then we head for an area of squatter homes or slum. WHAT! We hear you cry …. Have you gone NUTS! 

An 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 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 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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

WEDNESDAY – Day 21

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.

Ibu Risma, a former little-known official within the city’s administration, 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. 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 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.

An activist Mayor brought a makeover for the city of Surabaya
Now it's cleaner, greener, tidier, better administered , and awarded
The Heroes Monument honors the independence fighters
Striking sculpture in the Heroes Museum
Monumen Bambu Runcing – the Bamboo Spear Monument

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

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

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.

THURSDAY – Day 22

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 around 11am for the Juanda International airport to join our 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 around 13.30, for a 45-minute flight with Lion or Batik Air, 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 Lombok.

Simply flag your interest and preferences and we will come back with ideas and recommendations.

Included Meals – BREAKFAST

Surabaya's Juanda International Airport
Modern terminal facilities at JUanda

Thank you for joining our North Sumatra and Java tour. We hope that some day we can meet again

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