Category Archives: Java

Living in Java: an update

Well, well, well. It’s been a pretty amazing year and a bit in Java. Spending one whole year in Java doesn’t actually sound like that much of a big deal to me right now. But I know that before arriving the thought of living anywhere other than Australia for a year seemed like sheer madness. Now it feels normal.

Just one of the many amazing places I have visited in Java in the past year
Just one of the many amazing places I have visited in Java in the past year

Earlier this year I posted a video montage celebrating a year in Indonesia. It’s a simple video which shows some of the trials, tribulations and delights of everyday life in Indonesia. Some with a keen eye will have seen some of the important moments from my time here in Indonesia so far.

Getting Married

The most important thing that has happened to me in Indonesia during the past year is getting married. I came to Java for a 3-month stint studying Indonesian and ended up getting married. How did that happen? Nobody knows, but I’m extremely happy and that’s all that really matters. Susan and I were married in June this year in Bali surrounded by a handful of friends and family.

Us on our wedding day
Us on our wedding day

Learning Indonesian in Bandung

I came originally to study at IMLAC for 3 months before shooting off to Bali to learn how to surf. Well, since I was getting to know Susan and was generally having a fab time living in Bandung, I decided to extend my Indonesian lessons. I ended up completing 6 months of full-time study. I thought that after completing this much studying that I would be fluent, but I am not. I can hold a conversation with anyone in Indonesian and can pickup a lot of what people are talking about when I overhear their conversations, but I still struggle to talk in the style of locals. Why? Because the proper way of speaking and writing in Indonesian is a long way from how most people actually speak. Many people studying at my school questioned why we didn’t learn the informal language, but that’s not something you go to school for. You learn that on the street and by interacting with people.

One of the classrooms at IMLAC
One of the classrooms at IMLAC

For anyone intending on staying in Indonesia for any extended period of time, I would highly recommend getting some formal training in Bahasa Indonesia. I saw many people arrive in IMLAC with no Indonesian language knowledge getting to a pretty good proficiency within 1 month.

Writing for Travelfish

I continued writing for Travelfish while in Indonesia and this took about 3 months of my time. I covered most of Java. Actually, to cover every tourism aspect of Java would probably take about 5 months, so I hit the spots that foreign tourists are more likely to hit. Even then I spent a week at one point without seeing another white person. Java doesn’t get many foreign tourists travelling through it. Those that do come here spend their time in Yogyakarta and then move on. How very sad.

Working for Travelfish is no holiday, but it's fun!
Working for Travelfish is no holiday, but it’s fun!

Honeymoon

Recently Susan and I spent two months in Australia and New Zealand having our honeymoon. We stayed in campervans for most of the period and it was an incredible experience. Highly recommended. More to come on this.

Sunrise in the outback on our honeymoon
Sunrise in the outback on our honeymoon

Thoughts

Reflecting on the past year and a bit, I can truly say that life is unpredictable when you don’t have the anchor of a proper job dictating events. I’m becoming increasingly keen to start a business or ten here in Indonesia. Everywhere I look I see opportunity for people with my background to make money. Whether it be opening up a small guesthouse, a small eatery, a website or something else. Opportunity abounds here.

Right now Susan and I are experimenting with a new Indonesian travel website called Pergi Dulu which we hope one day will provide destination information to the growing masses of Indonesian travellers. Today it is a blog, tomorrow hopefully something different.

So that’s where I am at now. I’m truly passionate about Indonesia and am bullish on the country’s economic prospects and potential as a tourist destination. If only the rest of the world would wake up.

West Java

Ah yes… Java. Previously I spoke of some of the places I loved from both East and Central Java. Today, it’s the West. West Java was a bit of a revelation to me as I had thought there wasn’t a lot to see before setting off on my travelfish.org adventure. But as it turns out, West Java is absolutely packed with awesome things to see and do. Lots of beaches and lots of volcanoes as well as a few reasonably large cities with Western conveniences.

Pangandaran & Batu Karas

I’d already been to Pangandaran before and knew it was a great little beachside spot to hang out for a while. But on my second visit, I enjoyed it even more. It’s nice combination of enough tourist infrastructure to make things comfortable and not enough foreign tourists to turn it into a mini-Kuta. I also checked out Batu Karas which is just down the road and has a totally different vibe — I liked it! The disappointing thing about both of these beach areas is that they deserve to have masses of foreigners visiting them, but at this point in time they are virtually empty with only a small handful making their way there.

Sunsets like this most nights in Pangandaran
Sunsets like this most nights in Pangandaran

Garut

Garut itself is nothing to write home about. But there are few attractions nearby that are definitely worth a look. I particularly liked Gunung Papandayan, an explosive volcano, Kawah Kamojang, a geothermal area with bubbling pits of mud everywhere and Kampung Naga, a traditional village with no electricity supply (except via car battery – so definitely no playing PartyCasino here!).

Huge volcano near Garut
Huge volcano near Garut

Bandung

I’ve been living in Bandung for the past year and it definitely is worthy of a mention. Mainly for the nearby Tangkuban Parahu and Maribaya forest walk, but also for the great culinary scene. There aren’t many foreigners visiting Bandung and it makes sense when you see how difficult it can be to get to Tangkuban Parahu by public transport without getting ripped off.

Tangkuban Parahu near Bandung
Tangkuban Parahu near Bandung

Ujung Genteng

Ujung Genteng would have to be my favourite West Java destination. It’s small strip of villages which stretches along a remote coast some 100km from the nearest city of any size. The great thing about Ujung Genteng? Total isolation, crystal clear water and a magnificent turtle rehab centre. When I was there, I think I saw one other foreigner, but I’m not 100% sure — they flashed past on a motorbike.

Ujung Genteng is magic
Ujung Genteng is magic

So the same disappointment I have felt in other parts of Java came back again in West Java. Absolutely incredible destinations that have very few foreign visitors. Many of them are not that easy to get to, public transport operators regularly rip foreigners off and accommodation is generally VERY basic. If only some of these people could tune into what foreigners want, maybe more would make their way to this neck of the woods. Until that happens, these places are going to be virtually unspoilt. Go there!

 

Central Java – culture, beaches and natural wonders

I have travelled a lot through Java since I arrived almost a year ago. In that time I’ve travelled the entire length of the island for Travelfish.org covering all of the common sights in Java as well as many that are off the beaten track. To be honest, it’s hard to stay on the beaten track in Java and it’s only because many people freak out when they arrive that they speed through the island towards Bali without so much as stepping on a beach or climbing a volcano (except maybe for Gunung Bromo). Central Java is a magnificent part of Java that surprised as it has a bit of a reputation for being desolate. And when you compare it to East and West Java, that might ring true. But Central Java has Borobudur and that is the biggest tourist attraction in Indonesia outside of Bali. Plus, there are some other places that I reckon are some of the best in the whole of Java.

Semarang – capital of Central Java

Semarang is the capital of Central Java and is where I flew into. It’s simply a big city with a great old section which floods occasionally. It flooded when I was there and the becak driver was driving me home in water that would have otherwise been up to my thighs. Needless to say I got wet — especially when the guy couldn’t peddle any more because we’d gotten stuck in a hole. The old town is basically a bunch of old buildings that are sadly falling into a state of disrepair.

Semarang old city
Semarang old city

Move out of the old town and into Chinatown and you find a part of the city that is surprisingly well-looked after. Chinatown is a great place to go on weekends when food markets are set up there.

Karimunjawa Islands

The Karimunjawa Islands are located about 100km off the north coast of Central Java — a cluster of small islands, some of which are inhabited by fishermen. Tourists go there because the water is crystal clear, there’s plenty of coral for snorkelling and the sand on many of the beaches is simply blindingly white. It’s a basic place where food is simple as is most of the accommodation. You rarely see another white person while you’re there and riding a motorbike around the island truly gets you into virgin territory for foreign visitors. This place is magical and is one of my favourite places in Java.

Karimunjawa has white sand and clear water
Karimunjawa has white sand and clear water
Karimunjawa Central Java
Karimunjawa Central Java

Dieng Plateau

Dieng Plateau is another one of my favourite places, but it couldn’t be more different than Karimunjawa. Dieng is located at 2100m above sea level and is home to the oldest Hindu temples in Java, boiling pits of mud and farms that spill down massive steep mountains. It’s cold, cloudy and absolutely enchanting. Overnight temperatures often dip below freezing in the dry season and day time temperatures can be quite frigid too, especially after having arrived from the stifling lowlands.

Small town on the Dieng Plateau
Small town on the Dieng Plateau

The great thing about sleeping overnight in Dieng is that most of the accommodation is located in people’s houses. This means friendly and warm service and some of the quirks you’d expect in an Indonesian house like no heating when it’s practically snowing outside. Needless to say, you do breathe steam out of your mouth the whole night and if you need to get up to go to the toilet in the middle of the night, you’re in for an icy trip across the tiled floor in bare feet as of course Indonesian bathrooms are constantly wet. The best way to get around this is to dehydrate yourself.

Boiling water near Dieng Central Java
Boiling water near Dieng Central Java
Telaga Warna, the coloured lake in Dieng
Telaga Warna, the coloured lake in Dieng

Random photos

These random photos are of a place that isn’t in any of the guidebooks and won’t be in the travelfish guidebook either mainly because it took all day to get to on the back of a motorbike. Almost did me in. Only stayed for about 15 minutes and got bored, but it does make for some good photos. Everyone loves a mud pit!

Bleduk Kuwu Central Java
Bleduk Kuwu Central Java
Exploding mud of Bleduk Kuwu
Exploding mud of Bleduk Kuwu

Of course there are other places in Central Java that I went to that I could go on and on about, but no one has time for that. And there’s also Yogyakarta and Solo, both of which are already written up for travelfish and I didn’t have to visit. Central Java is truly magical and almost completely untouched by white folk. I went about a week without speaking to another one. YES! What you reckon? Good place or not?

Turtle hatchlings in Ujung Genteng

I went to a place called Ujung Genteng last month. It’s an awesome and remote place on the south coast of West Java where only very tourists make it. Among the great things to do there such as snorkelling, eating fresh fish and laying around is the possibility to see turtle hatchlings running down to the ocean. So I took a video as the sun set of those cute turtles. Check it out.

Slow Loris (Javan)

So last month I saw a Javan Slow Loris for sale on the side of the road outside of a big mall in Bandung, but at the time I didn’t know what it was. The locals just called it a cus-cus, but it’s not one of those. It’s an endangered Slow Loris which is a weird-looking and cute primate! Anyway, I found out because someone posted a comment on my youtube video.

When I was in Jakarta last week, I was curious to see if I could find more of these nifty little creatures, so I went to the Pramuka Bird Market otherwise known as Pasar Burung Pramuka. At first I was told that there aren’t any monkeys or lorises in the market as it was illegal to sell them. But all of a sudden a guy popped up and wanted to show me around. So he took me to what he claimed was the only slow loris in the market at the time — all the others had been bought. It was an incredible creature, but I really didn’t like the way they treated it. They held it by the back leg so it wouldn’t run away and generally treated it roughly. I got some great shots though. Check them out.

What a cute Javan Slow Loris
What a cute Javan Slow Loris
What a great set of eyes they have!
What a great set of eyes they have!
The slow loris is hungry!
The slow loris is hungry!

It’s illegal to buy or sell the slow lorises, but the law is no barrier in Indonesia. So they offered it to me for $100 and when I had a startled look on my face (I couldn’t believe it was that cheap!), he laughed hard and told me to negotiate. In other words, he was trying to rip me off by charging $100! I could have easily got it for $50, I’d say.

Elsewhere in the market there were eagles, civet cats and animals that were a cross between a cat and a dog and very cute. I would love to have one of those, but again the issue of them being ripped from the jungles of Indonesia is concerning.

Ever wanted a slow loris? What do you think? Cute or what?

East Java & Indonesia’s Problem with Tourism

So in December I had the opportunity to commence writing the Java section of the Indonesia guide for travelfish.org Yes… What a month it was too. I basically spent the month traipsing back and forth around the cities and towns of East Java trying to uncover the best accommodation, sites and activities for travellers heading to that part of the world.

What I found interesting about this trip is how infrequently I came across other travellers. At times I would goes days without seeing another white person, yet the places I was visiting were great tourist destinations. Places like Surabaya are well-worth a stop… so why aren’t people checking it out? Well, I think I know the answer. There are hardly any travellers out there that are adventurous. Hardly any. The vast majority are more comfortable taking pre-arranged transport than public transport, eating at malls rather than warungs and staying in hotels found on hostelbookers rather than those listed in a guide book (or worse, finding themselves by walking around).

Gunung Bromo Savanna
Gunung Bromo Savanna

It’s a big call, I know, but what else explains why people aren’t visiting the temples of Trowulan, the temples at Singosari or Gunung Semeru, the largest volcano in Java? This despite them being very close to other locations that attract quite a few visitors such as the well-connected Gunung Bromo.

Dwarapala in Singosari, Malang
Dwarapala in Singosari, Malang

So Indonesia has a problem. Foreign visitors generally aren’t going to be bothered heading to cities like Malang unless it’s easy to get there and once there, the sites are easy to reach. An example of the difficulties that one must endure is the process of seeing the Singosari temples near Malang. If you want to do it, you either have to hire a car and driver for the day or utilise pubic transport. A car and driver is usually quite expensive and people just don’t bother. To get to them all by public transport in a day is an exercise in perseverance. One has to catch at least 10 angkots. 10! So to speed things up, it’s best to mix it up with a few motorcycle taxis too. But most people just aren’t going to be bothered with this approach either. The better option would be to hire a motorbike, but I rarely see foreigner tourists on motorbikes in Java. I think I’ve seen one.

Huge, active volcano, Gunung Bromo
Huge, active volcano, Gunung Bromo

Anyway, it saddens me a bit and I wish Indonesia would try and tackle this problem. This is not a problem of visitors. It’s a problem of infrastructure and marketing. Hardly anyone knows about Gunung Bromo which in my opinion is one of the highlights of my experiences in SE Asia. And even when people do know about it, they really need to land in Yogyakarta to easily book direct transport.

Temple in Trowulan, outside Surabaya
Temple in Trowulan, outside Surabaya

These issues make Indonesia a brilliant place for those that are slightly more adventurous and determined. It means you can have authentic experiences every day you are here. It means you won’t be bothered by loud-mouthed drunken louts, teens in “in the tubing” shirts or fools reliant on hostelbookers/tripadvisor to get their accommodation ideas. It’s perfect really. But sad for Indonesia.

So what’s my point? My point is that Indonesia needs to do more to give its attractions the best possible chance of being seen. In the meantime, Indonesia is a virtually unspoilt wonderland just waiting for adventurous souls to come and try it out. Give it a go!

Note: The Indonesia view of this issue is slightly different because they speak the language, are familiar with the modes of transport and how things work.

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!

Yogyakarta

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.

Pecel
Pecel

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!

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.