Tag Archives: indonesia

Java Guidebook

It’s been over a year since I travelled to Bali to commence writing for travelfish.org. A year in which much has happened. It’s actually a bit crazy to think how quickly the past year and a bit has gone, but here I am now, sitting in a dodgy shack in the back streets of Kuta, Bali once again contemplating writing another guidebook. This time Java!

Java is a petite-looking island home to 135 million (!!!) people nestled between enormous Sumatra and bite-sized Bali. The problem with viewing Java as petite is that it’s often easy to think that as a tourist you can breeze through in a week and more or less have it covered. Java is packed with activities for tourists such as enormous volcanoes, sprawling rainforests, white sand beaches and thousands of years worth of culture. A week is never going to be enough.

I’ll be trying to cover the entire island in about 2 and a half months and I will not be stopping to sun myself on the beach, spend late nights drinking with other backpackers or generally doing anything that wastes time. It’s a big job. And that’s a lot to do with how many cool places there are in Java, how slow travelling through the island is and the detail in which I need to do the research.

Java, here we come!


So after leaving Pangandaran, I ignored the advice of the Lonely Planet and headed to a train station that was said to be an inconvenient place to get to Yogyakarta from. But I had a map and it looked close. Lucky for me, my judgement was correct — my journey to Yogyakarta was 4 hours quicker than a guy I had met earlier in the day who was travelling in the same direction.

The Journey to Yogyakarta

Normally I don’t write about journeys between A and B — mainly because people like to hear about destinations and that is fair enough. But the train journey across Java is brilliant and is worth mentioning here. It really is part of the Javan experience to sit on the train outside of the toilet and just chat with all the people that wander past — or go to the toilet. And the scenery is to die for. Take a look at my short short short video if you’re interested in what it looks like.

Yogyakarta City

Compared to anywhere else in Java, Yogyakarta is absolutely packed with tourists. But even then, it’s not like many Asian destinations where white people outnumber local people. Yogya is an easy city to get around, a great place to eat nice food and undertake hassle-free tourist activities. There are a bunch of backpacker hotels located near the train station which I recommend as being the best area to stay. The other backpacker area is slightly more upmarket, but further out of town. That problem is countered by the fact that there are nice cafes around there. I headed over there 4 times during my Yogya stay and a fave of mine was…Via Via. Basically some hippy Western joint with ethical principles or some such thing. I forget. But the food was nice, the staff knew what they were doing and there was a good cause behind it.


So why do people go to Yogyakarta anyway? Well, there’s a few temples around that are pretty famous and spectacular and stuff. I didn’t see them this time, but have done before. Number one on the hit list is always Borobodur. Number 2 is always Prambanan. There are plenty of others, but it’s not always easy to get to them unless you’re on some sort of comprehensive tour, hire a car and driver or ride a push bike there. And that is possible if you’re a cycling fiend.

The other cool thing to see in Yogya is Gunung Merapi. If you’ve never seen a volcano before, this is a sight to behold. The volcano towers ominously above the surrounding landscape and erupts with frightening regularity often killing many.

Taman Sari, Yogyakarta
Taman Sari, Yogyakarta

In the town itself there are bunch of things to see such as the Sultan’s Palace, some old swimming pools and a the bird market. Forget the bird market. There is absolutely no touristic value there. The swimming pools are good and I didn’t get into the Sultan’s Palace.

In fact, I didn’t do a whole lot when I was in Yogya. I just hung around and chatted with fellow travellers, rode a bike for many kilometres, ate good food and got a lift to a restaurant in Bedhot’s fantastic VW. And absolutely fantastic vehicle.

Bedhot's Amazing Volkswagen
Bedhot's Amazing Volkswagen

Out of all the cities in Java, Yogya is the one that most foreigners will feel comfortable in but it is still a very local city, not a tourist city. That really just says that other cities in Java are not tourist cities in the slightest and you will feel uncomfortable — which is good for some, not for others.

Yogya has it all…temples, swimming pools and good food. Give it a go!

Tanah Airku – Indonesia

I guess the title of this post is a little misleading, but it’s representative of the way I feel about Indonesia. It feels like my home country. I don’t know why I love this place so much, but I feel comfortable here. The people, the food, the innumerable cultures — all of this stirs a passion inside me which I’ve rarely felt. It therefore integrates perfectly into the philosophy of the new me. You beauty!

This video is an advertisement for instant coffee, but it does a pretty good job of summing up my passion for the country. It’d be a fantastic tourism advertisement as well, but I’ve never seen one of those for Indonesia — that’s another story.

IMLAC Contact Details

OK, so I know that people are searching the internet for more information on learning Indonesian in Indonesia… and specifically the contact details of the language school IMLAC in Bandung. Well, here they are.

Email: mariaimlac@yahoo.co.id

Address: IMLAC, Jalan Gunung Agung No. 16, Bandung 40142, Jawa Barat, Indonesia

My advice is to contact Maria via email. She is the office manager and can help with visas, visa advice, schedules, costs etc. These are the contact details for the office in Bandung, but Maria can put you in touch with the other offices (eg Salatiga) if you need those details. Maria can speak English, so don’t worry about any language barrier. Note: These details were correct as of 2012, but IMLAC now has a website which might be more up to date.

A brief note on costs. You can get away with about 4,000,000 rupiah (US$440) per month per person when living here in Bandung and studying at IMLAC. That is the costs of visa, tuition, rent and food. You can probably do it slightly cheaper, most will spend more than that (mainly to eat at restaurants, hire a maid, do fun stuff, buy nice things).

Happy to field questions.

Learning Indonesian Progress Report – Culture

Before arriving in Bandung to learn Indonesian language, I knew that part of the course was going to deal with Indonesian culture and to be honest, I just wasn’t interested. Mainly because I already knew quite a bit about different customs and the ceremonies that the different ethnic groups like to undertake. The other thing was that I thought I could just pick up the nuances of the culture by living here. I thought the culture was the stuff that as outsiders we observe. The surface stuff. The ceremonies, the way people interact, the way people talk, the styles of people’s houses – the things we can see. But it’s much more complex than that.

After almost 2 months of learning Indonesian, learning about the culture and living in a kampung, I can honestly say that I could never have understood the subtlties of this culture on my own. It would be impossible. And I now feel for many of the expats living in Indonesia who are regularly frustrated by some of the little things in day-to-day life when dealing with Indonesians – it’s really all about cultural misunderstandings.

So what am I talking about? Well, I’m talking about understanding the way Indonesian people think and feel and how that impacts on the words they use, the way they use them and the body language that accompanies that. There’s an obsession with status in Indonesia that I never really understood before. But it’s complex. It’s not just about wanting to be at the top of the hierarchy. It’s also about being polite about it and not boasting about your wealth or social standing. There is a constant struggle to lower oneself to ensure that other don’t view you as being a snob.

It also goes for things like new clothes or shoes. If you complement someone on the new clothes, the person will be embarrassed and will say they’re cheap, not good or were on sale… anything to devalue them so that the person doesn’t appear to revel in having someone praise their wealth or social standing. It’s all very strange and very complex.

By the same token, even though you’re lowering yourself at every opportunity, it’s only on the surface. You really do try and move up the social ladder while acting as if you’re not and that it’s not important. So you might buy an ipad partly because it increases your status in the eyes of others, but you’ll try and say it’s rubbish and not that good knowing that it still makes you look richer and more important. I love it.

So why is this important? Well, if I want to be something other than just another white guy living in Indonesia that can throw around a few dozen Indonesian words, I need to fit in. I need to cocok. And I think it’s every person’s responsibility to cocok if you go and live in another country. In Australia when we see immigrants stick within their enclaves and fail to embrace the local culture, we castigate them — we discriminate against them. The same happens in Indonesia and I think it’s fair enough.

So this culture thing is all important. It can’t be learned from a book, it can’t be learned from the people. It has to be taught to you, you have to experience it and you have to be pulled up when you get it wrong. And that is something that is not likely to happen from an Indonesian person as it’s embarrassing to correct someone when they do something wrong. Especially a bule. Which is just another one of those cultural complexities.

Bali Photo Essay – Culture

So once upon a time, I got all enthusiastic about showing people some awesome Bali sights… And I did that by posting a few photo essays about People and Animals, Food and Beaches. But then I started a new adventure and events overtook the Bali one and here I am, with a bunch of Bali photos that need to see the light of day some 9 months after I took them.

So today I show to you Bali’s culture. Before visiting this small island which is a speck in the vast Indonesian archipelago, most people have visions of an exotic culture of bare breasted women carry offerings to temples, men tilling verdant ricefields and kids playing joyfully with archaic toys. Well, of course that’s fallacy, but a similar feeling can be experienced if you try hard enough – albeit of the more modern kind (ie no boobies).

Rice Offering
Rice Offering

So this is one of the small rice offerings put out by Balinese people at the start of each day from the rice they have cooked. A thanks to the gods for the food.

Rice Field Temple
Rice Field Temple

These “temples” are placed all throughout rice fields for purposes that are too complex for me to understand. Probably something to do with the rice goddess, Dewi Sri.  Needless to say, they are everywhere.

Pura Melanting
Pura Melanting

Pura Melanting is a large temple near the coastal town of Pemuteran in northwest Bali. When I was there, it was decorated coloufully and looked fabulous.

Balinese Penjor
Balinese Penjor

Penjors are used for a variety of reasons, but most tourists will see these around Galungan – a 10 day period of great importance to Balinese. Usually lots of pigs are slaughtered as well and made into lawar and sate. If you get a chance, eat the raw blood version of lawar – it is an experience.

Human Skulls at Trunyan
Human Skulls at Trunyan

Skulls are cool. Especially when they’re on a black flag and you ponce around with a peg leg and an eye patch. Better still, you can get up and personal in the village of Trunyan where local people don’t really bury their dead. Well not all of them anyway. Some of them just decompose above ground and the resultant skulls are placed on a wall for all to see. Cool!

Carved Temple Box
Carved Temple Box

Balinese have quite a few artistic specialities. They carve, they chisel, they weave and they paint. Sometimes all on the same piece. This temple box is similar to many you will see all around the island.

Balinese People Praying at Pura Lempuyang
Balinese People Praying at Pura Lempuyang

Finally, Balinese people pray. A lot. And it’s not uncommon to see scenes like this when you get out of the main tourist centres. The settings are usually unbelievably peaceful and the devotees completely focussed. Bliss.

So there you have it. Bali really does have culture in spades and many people fall in love with it. Wanna go to Bali?



Pangandaran, West Java

After taking care of a few housekeeping matters in Bandung, I decided to head off on a journey to some Javan destinations. The rough plan was to visit about 5 places in 10 days, but I ended up only visiting Pangandaran on the south coast and Yogyakarta in central Java which is more akin to my normal pace of travel.

Getting from Bandung to Pangandaran is easy. You simply find your way to the bus station in the centre of Bandung called stasiun hall and catch the number 1 city bus to Cicaheum. Buses to Pangandaran depart regularly and tickets for the 7 hour journey can be bought on the spot for about Rp35,000. It’s not a particularly pleasant journey because the condition of the road is poor, but the scenery in parts is stunning.


Pantai Pangandaran
Pantai Pangandaran

So the main reason you go to Pangandaran is for the beach. It’s a grey-looking thing lined with palm trees and it’s really quite picturesque despite the colour of the sand. Few foreigners make it to Pangandaran and you’ll be sharing the main portion of the beach with domestic tourists. Move west along the beach and it suddenly becomes barren and devoid of any human life whatsoever – perfect for a romantic walk along the beach (blergh).

It’s not very safe to swim at the beach due to the large waves and strong currents, but some people give it a go anyway. In the past 12 months, 11 people have drowned there and near-misses are daily occurrences. The lifeguards have a nice, shiny truck that they drive up and down the beach, but I didn’t see them get out of it let alone jump in the water. Maybe they can’t swim…

Whatever the case, the beach is a fantastic place to relax, people watch and surf (if you’re into that sort of thing).


There’s plenty of accommodation in Pangandaran and a basic room with cold water and a squat toilet will set you back around Rp70,000 per night. You can upgrade to an air conditioned room for about Rp100,000 per night. Most of these places cater to Westerners and are located at the far western end of town. The locals all stay in the centre of town and I reckon there’d be some decent cheap options there as well if the Western options are too expensive or not up to scratch.

Green Canyon

Green Canyon, Pangandaran
Green Canyon, Pangandaran

Around the Pangandaran area there are a few cool things to do. Well maybe one. A visit to Green Canyon is a must when visiting Pangandaran. It’s a small canyon with crystal clear turquoise-coloured water where you can hire a boat to take you up to a small swimming area. On the weekends, it’s extremely busy as I found out, but it is still a beatiful place even with the throngs clambering all over the rocks to watch their friends swim. Go here.

Batu Karas

Young Girls on the Beach
Young Girls on the Beach

Batu Karas is a surfing town that is less-heavily touristed than Pangandaran and it’s still relatively undeveloped. To be honest, it feels like a bit of a dump. But this will change as time passes and people invest money into the roads, warungs and seaside infrastructure. Apparently it’s a great place to surf and private lessons can be had for about Rp100,000 per day. I think I might partake in a bit of this later in the year when I’ve got a bit of spare time. Hopefully I can find some more redeeming qualities.

To keep you going, here are a couple of videos I took of Pangandaran and Green Canyon.

So that’s it. Another great tourist destination in Indonesia. If only infrastructure and marketing gave this place a chance. Want Indonesia?

Learning Indonesian Progress Report – Understanding Accents!

Today, for the first time, I realised that I recognise accents in Indonesia. You might think that it’s no big deal, but for me it’s important because it allows me to understand when someone says a word that sounds different to the way I learnt how to say it. Wha? Example.

Pakai. This is the verb people use for “to use” (which is not technically correct anyway!!!) I learnt to say the “ai” part like an American would say “I”. People in West Java say the “ai” like a Brit would say the “ey” bit in “hey”. Then the rest of Indonesia quite often speaks informally and just says “pake” with the “e” sounding like “e” in “egg”. That same principle applies across all the words with “ai” in them and then a range of other words that mean you have no idea what someone is saying, even though you’ve learnt the vocab!

So it’s important. And I have only just realised that I am naturally hearing the different variations in pronunciations without having to think about them. That is fantastic! Real progress.

Pantai or Pantay?
Pantai or Pantay?

The next problem I have to work out is when people are speaking in a mix of English and Indonesian. Most of the time I have absolutely no idea what they are saying when they use English words because I’m concentrating on each word trying to convert each Indonesian word into English in my mind… and then someone gets tricky and slips in an English word with an Indonesian accent. For me, it just sounds like an Indonesian word that I haven’t learnt yet! Pure hell! I reckon it’s better for people to just use one or the other, particularly if their English pronunciation is not quite up to scratch.

Which leads me to my last point — Given that I often have problems understanding Indonesians using English, it’s important for me to make sure my Indonesian pronunciation is spot on if I want to be understood by the vast majority of Indonesians. So I’ll continue to work on that…

What’s your experience with accents in foreign countries?


Arriving in Bandung, West Java, Indonesia

I arrived Bandung, West Java, a couple of weeks ago on a high from my enjoyable journey through Singapore and Malaysia. Well, the high actually wore off before I arrived in Bandung. Boarding the plane to Bandung, I was the only white person in line. I was unexpectedly unnerved! I was fidgeting and trying to quell it by slouching and acting cool. On the plane, when the announcements came on in English immediately after the Indonesian version, I imagined everyone was thinking “this is for the white guy”. Of course they weren’t (were they?), but I was becoming unsettled. Arrival at the airport in Bandung provided another unexpected challenge. I had to rely on my limited Bahasa Indonesia skills to negotiate my way through customs and immigration — there was no falling back onto English words when I didn’t know the Indonesian version — no safety net.

Things got worse when I entered the cab. The driver had zero English, it was 11pm and he didn’t know where my hotel was despite saying he did. He took me to Unik Hotel whereas I wanted to go to Unique Hostel. Simple mistake. So we were stuffed. We drove around aimlessly for about 20 minutes before I had a great idea. I’d been looking at Google Maps on my laptop before departing Malaysia and I still had the browser window open. So I fired up my laptop, amazingly zoomed into the address of the hotel and I was able to direct the driver there. It was stressful because the whole saga played out in Indonesian and I’d only just hit the ground.

I settled into the hotel and woke the next morning to a pretty ordinary breakfast. Bread, a sausage with some creamy, moussy stuff in the centre and some coffee. Of course I ate it. That day I walked the 7km up the hill to my language school and got a good sense of where it was in relation to the rest of the city. I also researched a few hotels along the way in case things didn’t work out at Unique Hostel.

The next day I tried to get a motorbike licence from the police station, but the intelligence guys who deal with foreigners told me it wasn’t possible. Likewise, it was impossible to get a post-paid sim card for my phone. I would have to stick with the entirely adequate pre-paid system. That same day I stumbled around some upmarket cafes and got a feel for where I would espcape to if the nasi goreng on the streets got too much.

By this stage, I was settling in and quite happy to take the next 10 days to travel around Java with the confidence that my return to Bandung would be easy. Or would it? Halo Halo Bandung!