The Journey Through Java: Jakarta

Jakarta Buildings

If you ever want to experience culture shock, without travelling particularly far, fly from Singapore to Jakarta. At a first impression, the two cities seem to be complete opposites. Everything clinical and hyper-organised about Singapore was suddenly whipped away from beneath our feet. The comfortable, air conditioned, polite world we’d just come from now felt like another planet.

After we managed to figure out which cramped bus was headed for the city centre, faffed around for a while at the train station-come-bus-interchange, sweated our way to the bus stop nearest our hostel, our haven was finally in sight. There was just one more challenge to face: crossing the road. Honestly, I think you should get some kind of recognition (perhaps a certificate?) for every road you manage to successfully navigate in Jakarta: the roads are CHAOS.

Ryan and I, two polite and nervous Brits, stared across at our would-be home for the next two nights. The Wonderloft hostel is painted bright yellow and looks incredibly inviting after you’ve trekked across the busy city with a backpack. But for a minute there, I didn’t think we’d actually manage to get to the front door. Anyway, this crossing the road saga probably isn’t the insightful and informative travel info you tuned in for… Although you’ll be happy to know we made it in the end. I never quite mastered the art of confidently walking into traffic, one authoritative hand outstretched in a ‘stop’ motion, but Ryan took it in his stride (perhaps the traffic stopping power went to his head?)

Other than the road crossing drama, our few days in Jakarta went pretty smoothly. It is a big city and could be given much more time for a thorough exploration, but with the short time we had, we mainly stayed around the old town area. Fatahillah Square turned out to be a great place to start. Flanked by museums on all sides you have an instant selection of arts and culture to choose from. I somehow got my way and managed to drag Ryan to the Wayang puppet museum (instead of the Museum of Fine Arts and Ceramics or the Jakarta History Museum) which was rich in Indonesian culture, but super creepy.

The puppets were all intricately decorated and the craftsmanship behind each style was amazing. Each piece was initially made as part of a Wayang performance, in which the puppets would be used to tell traditional folk stories. As impressive as the puppets were, and as much as we appreciated the artwork, wandering through those dimly lit rooms full of menacing looking characters without any other humans in sight proved enough to give anyone the creeps. Getting back into the scorching daylight and managing (quite skilfully) to avoid what was shaping up to be a perfect slasher film premise came as a relief.

As we’d already seen in Singapore, Jakarta’s colonial history was difficult to avoid. We ate at cafe Batavia which had a balcony overlooking the old town square and the whole vibe of the place, from the architecture to the framed black and white pictures of British royals, was heavily colonial. It seemed strange in relation to the rest of the bustling city.

Jakarta is a shockingly ‘real’ city, compared with the metropolitan dreamland that is Singapore. It definitely grounded us back in reality. The hectic life there was so interesting to be a part of, even in the brief whirlwind of a couple of days. Creepy puppets and death defying road crossings may not be the regular tourist itinerary, but I enjoyed Indonesia’s fast-paced capital nonetheless!

How to Spend a Week in Ubud

Colourful pots in Ubud

Whether you’re a surf seeker, an adrenaline junkie, a would-be yogi or a professional relaxer, you’ll find your dream location in Bali. After visiting, I’m not even slightly surprised at how popular the small Indonesian island is. ‘Eat Pray Love’ probably did its part to get the masses flocking there to ‘find themselves’, but confessing you’ve found yourself is actually just a genius excuse to never have to leave the bohemian bubble.

My personal travel tastes lead me straight to Ubud- the lush green centre of the island. As much as I love a good beachy day, I’m a pretty useless sunbather (my pasty white English skin just isn’t cut out for it you know?) so the jungle scenery suited me a lot better.

One question we had upon arriving in Bali was “how long should we spend in Ubud?” Some people advised a couple of days max, whereas some seem to set up home there for as long as possible. After some deliberation, we settled on a week. A week was perfect (if you can’t make time to stay forever), and here’s how we spent it:

Ubud Palace

Day 1: Get Your Bearings-  Exploring the Town and Checking Out the Palace

We stayed just outside the town (only about five minutes away by Scooter) and we made sure to make time to explore it. One of the highlights was attending a dance show at the Palace; incredible costumes, unusual dance moves all accompanied by live music made for quite the show. The movements of the dancers seemed at odds to gentle flowing dance forms that I am accustomed to. Folktales were told through jerking movements and wide eyes that moved in time to the music with incredible precision. The show was an easy and entertaining way to sample a bit of Indonesian culture.

Ubud Monkey Forest

Day 2: Make Some Furry Friends- Ubud Monkey Forest and the Ridge Walk

On our second day, we were craving a bit of nature. Luckily, we didn’t have to go far! The Ubud Monkey Forest is located just on the outskirts of the town and is easy to reach by bike. You only really need a couple of hours to wander around the trails and make friends with some monkeys. Oh, and when I say make friends I mean, watch them from afar, try not to make eye contact for fear of a full-blown monkey fight, protect your belongings painstakingly and get the shock of your life when one- after all this- still jumps on your shoulder. They really are cute though, well worth popping by to say hello!

Not far away, on the same side of the town you have the Campuhan Ridge Walk. Easy to complete in an afternoon, the ridge walk is perfect for those who fancy a scenic walk but are not out for anything too strenuous. The ridges take you on a narrow path over hills surrounded by rich green jungles and rice terraces. So many stunning photo ops without having to even leave the town!

Day 3: Early Rises- Tegalalang Rice Terraces and Tirta Empul Temple

The Tegalalang rice terraces are certainly not to be missed while visiting Ubud. You’ll have no doubt seen idyllic images of the sun-kissed green terraces while researching Bail. You may also have seen loads of insta-friendly swing pictures? Well, the Tegalalang rice terraces are surrounded by viewpoints from which you can take a swing over the jungle. This makes for an incredible picture, but the swings have become such a tourist hot-spot that you’ll find yourself paying around $30 for the snap. 

We dragged ourselves out of bed super early to catch the sunrise at the rice terraces. Even though the day we went was a bit rainy, and the sunrise wasn’t the best, I would still fully recommend getting there at this time of day; we had the whole place to ourselves- not another tourist in sight! We also didn’t get charged any entrance fee wh9ich was an added bonus.

Since we got there so early we still had the whole day ahead of us. We decided to spend it visiting the nearby Tirta Empul Temple. This temple was such a wonderful find, full to the brim with history and culture. The main feature was the pools of holy water which locals would bath in daily, following a specific ritual under each stream of water. At first, we thought we’d be encroaching by getting involved in this ritual (neither of us are religious in any way) but after our guide persuaded us enthusiastically we decided to give it a go. It was a fantastic experience to feel part of the whole ritual and to know that we were doing it respectfully (even if the water was absolutely freezing!)

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Day 4: Feed your Essential Needs- Yoga Barn and Satria coffee plantation

A trip to Ubud wouldn’t be complete without giving some good old fashioned ‘finding-yourself’ yoga a go! The Yoga Barn, which is only a short walk from the main street in Ubud, is a wonderful place to take a class. With classes for beginners, experts, and everyone in between! It is also a gorgeous place to spend a day relaxing with a book. Be sure to sample some vegan goodies in the café as well- you’ll feel rejuvenated!

After a morning of yoga, we hopped on the bike and drove up to Satria coffee plantation. We’d already sampled the famous Luwak coffee in Yogyakarta, but we couldn’t resist getting a bit more and saying hello to the lovely Luwak Cats of Bali.

The guide we had at the plantation was great, explaining the coffee roasting process fully and letting us see the beans at each stage. The best part? We got to sample a full range of coffees completely for free! Sitting on the plantations’ balcony with an incredible view of the jungle we sipped on our free coffees loving life.

Day 5: Go Chasing Waterfalls- Trip to Tukad Cepung

Waterfalls are a key part of the Ubud experience and there is SO many to choose from! Do your research and see which ones tickle your fancy, big, small, in the jungle or down in a cave- your waterfall needs are guaranteed to be satisfied. We opted for Tukad Cepung waterfall. Tucked away in a cave you have to venture down many steps the reach the falls- but it’s totally worth the thigh burn!

The opening in the roof of the cave lets in a stream of light which illuminates the pool at the foot of the waterfall creating an incredible view. I can easily recommend this waterfall, but if you have more time then Tegenungan, Kanto Lampo and Nungnung waterfalls all look amazing too.

Mount Batur at Sunrise

Day 6: Get Active- Mount Batur Hike and Hot Springs

Day six was another painfully early rise. We had decided that our time in Ubud wouldn’t be complete without hiking mount Batur and the best time to do it? Sunrise of course! After considering how we might do the hike alone, we instead chose a guided tour with ‘Get Your Guide’. Although this seemed expensive it turned out to be the best option. The hike isn’t necessarily difficult (and I’m defo not particularly fit), but to get there at 3 in the morning and complete most of the hike in the pitch black would probably cost you a lot and be more stressful than it has to be. The tour with ‘Get Your Guide’ included transport, a hiking guide, breakfast and visits to the hot springs and a coffee plantation after the hike- completely worth it in my opinion.

The hike itself was tiring but getting to the peak just as the sun rose over the mountains was breath-taking. After a photo shoot and a much-needed coffee (which I instantly spilled down myself- disastrous) we sat and enjoyed the insane view. 

After the hike, the hot springs were very welcome! We were thankful to be able to unwind and relax in the pools while taking in the views of the amazing surrounding landscape after our active morning.

Vegetarian meal in Ubud
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Day 7: Chill out in the town, you’ve been busy!

You can be as active as you like in Ubud; there’s always another hike, another incredible waterfall, another historic temple and they’re all simply incredible. However, if you want a more chill day, the town itself is full of lovely places to grab a coffee, fill up on amazing veggie grub and just relax. Wulan’s vegetarian café was our favourite place to chill and get some amazing budget meals and we spent a lot of our final day relaxing there.

The Journey Through Java: Yogyakarta

Prambanan Temple

One of my favourite parts of travelling is turning up to a new city that you know next to nothing about. Sometimes these unknown cities prove to be underwhelming, a brief pitstop in your journey that comes and goes with little impact. Some however, turn out to be perfect surprises. These places are perhaps quieter than big tourist destinations, with a more ‘untouched’ quality. Yogyakarta was our first pleasant surprise.

The main reason we visited was for the famous temples. The city is surrounded by breath-taking religious relics. The to the North you have Prambanan (9th-century Hindu temple) and Borobudur (9th-century Mahayana Buddhist temple) We spent a day exploring Prambanan, the largest Hindu temple in Southeast Asia and the whole place was truly amazing. You know the setting from the Jungle Book, where King Louie lives, ruling over his monkey empire from the relics of an ancient temple? Singing that iconic tune? Well that’s the closest reference point I have for this impressive site. And I challenge anyone to visit Pranbanan temple and not come out humming ‘ooby doo, I wanna be like you-oo-oooo…”

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As well as the main temple, it’s definitely worth having a wander around the rest of the historic site. Other, smaller, temples such as Sewu will also take your breath away and be far less rammed with tourists and selfie sticks.

After taking in these historic wonders, we decided to spend an unplanned day exploring the city centre. One of the wonderful things about Yogyakarta was how friendly all the locals were. Many seemed eager to share a bit of the city’s culture with us: what shows were going on, where the best places to visit were and when to go, and a bit about the local art forms, particularly Batik.

At one point we found ourselves in a small Batik gallery above a shop on Malioboro street (the bright and bustling shopping district  of the city). The owner of the gallery was lovely, offering us a free cup of tea and talking us through the fascinating process of Batik printing. Tourist trap or not, it was interesting to learn about this custom and see the creation of some beautiful batik prints first hand. Also, the general push to promote local artists was so nice to see.

After our batik lesson we continued with our sightseeing mission, exploring Yogyakarta’s other attractions such as the Taman Sari Water Palace and the bright bohemian neighbourhood surrounding it. The street art, murals and brightly painted houses that characterised this area turned it into an Instagram-able gem- definitely worth a wander!

After a days’ worth of city sightseeing we were desperately in need of nourishment (nourishment… coffee… whatever you want to call it) and Yogyakarta did not let us down on this front. After visiting the Water Palace we called in at a small, almost hidden café which specialised in the famous Luwak coffee.

If you haven’t heard of it before here’s a bit about the odorous origin of luwak coffee: Once the coffee beans have grown in a plantation, small furry creatures called civet cats come along, gobble them up, and right on cue, poop them back out. The poop is then harvested and processed to make the infamous brew. Pretty gross right? But people spend a LOT of money on this shit (pun completely intended). A cup of Luwak coffee can fetch up to $50 and you could even fork out $100 for a bag. Something about the fermentation process going on in these coffee cats makes the coffee highly desirable and, to be fair, pretty tasty. We got to try this rare treat and even had the pleasure of meeting one of the plantation’s civet cats in person. She was called Louise and was very friendly.

Other than luwak coffee, there are loads of lovely little places to grab a refreshment on Yogyakarta. If you’re on a strict budget there is also no need to worry; we had a delicious meal at a quaint veggie café called Fortunate Coffee and it cost about a fiver in all for both of us. The food was just what we needed, and the staff were friendly, I would strongly recommend for anyone after some budget veggie grub!

Yogyakarta is a small city, and it doesn’t take too long to explore. Saying this, the region is surrounded by natural beauty and plenty of opportunities for day trips: caving, mountain climbing, and sand boarding to name a few. If you’re ever in Java, it is not an area to be missed!