Watch the video, keeping in mind that Robert’s camera doesn’t have zoom. Enough said.
We’ve moved from Indonesia to Thailand, so that means it is time for final thoughts on Indonesia. Although, once again, our final thoughts on Indonesia are limited by the fact that we only stayed in Bali (Nusa Dua and Legian) and Java (Yogyakarta).
Kuta Beach on Bali is where many of the tourists go. We think there is pretty much only one reason to go to Kuta Beach, and that is to visit the local branch of Paradise Dynasty. Yum….soup dumplings. The rest of the area is pretty much just one big Australian drunk fest.
While we were in Yogyakarta, we were stopped repeatedly so that locals could take photos with us. We loved it, even if we didn’t really understand it. The only other place where anything like that has happened to us with any regularity was in Myanmar back in 2015 and there the locals largely tried to be surreptitious about taking our photos.
Tipping is SO complicated in Indonesia. Everything we read said tipping isn’t expected but is highly appreciated. Great. That isn’t very helpful. And, then we read that we were expected to give our driver lunch money. And give him a tip at the end of the day. So much for tipping isn’t expected…..
We love, love, love the crackers in Indonesia. When you go to a restaurant, oftentimes there will be a pail of crackers on the table. Sometimes the pail is huge. I’m talking like a 5 gallon paint bucket big filled to the brim with bags of crackers at the beginning of the night. The crackers vary. Sometimes they are prawn crackers, sometimes they are rice crackers, sometimes there are nuts involved. They are pretty much always delicious. Trust me, just try them. They only cost about 3000 IDR (21 US cents), so you really have nothing to lose and plenty to gain.
While Bali is predominantly Hindu, Java is predominantly Muslim. But the Islam religion practiced in the Yogyakarta region of Java would be surprising to most Americans. For example, a local introduced us to a fermented rice wine beverage with a small quantity of alcohol in it. When we asked why this was popular in Java (given that it was our understanding that practicing Muslims don’t drink alcohol), we were told that most Javanese Muslims drink some alcohol, they just aren’t blatant about it and don’t drink enough to get drunk. Similarly, when we asked our driver if we needed to make sure he was somewhere where he could participate in Friday prayers, he thanked us profusely and explained he wasn’t expected to pray if he was working. We were also told that intermarriage is common. Apparently, the couple has to be the same religion on paper (which we were told tends to be Islam because it is easiest to convert to Islam in Indonesia), but then can actively practice whatever religion they like. And, while most of the women cover their hair, almost none cover their face. (There are other parts of Indonesia where the predominant form of Islam is much more strict).
Yogyakarta is full of graffiti. Most — but not all of it — it is really, really bad.
If anyone offers you anything made of “green beans,” they aren’t talking about haricot vert. They are talking about mung beans. We were so confused when given a dessert made with “green beans.” Don’t get me wrong, desserts made with mung beans aren’t much better (come on, vegetables don’t belong in dessert — I’m talking about you carrot cake), but at least mung bean desserts are familiar to us from our past travels.
Everything in Java is sweet. The chicken is sweet. The coffee is sweet. The only thing that isn’t sweet is the dessert. (Well, except the doughnuts. The doughnuts are excellent and tasty and come in some unique flavors and are a sugar bomb and I loved every bite).
It is interesting how cheap healthy food is in Java and how expensive crap food is. One day, we had a healthy and filling lunch of chicken and noodles for under $3 for the two of us. Then, we had coffee, a cold version of hot chocolate, and a doughnut at a local doughnut shop, and it was more than twice the price of our lunch.
The mosquitoes in Java are vicious. Trust me, I’ve lived through a Northern Wisconsin summer or two. Those mosquitoes can’t even compete against the Javanese mosquitoes. They are tiny, so you can’t see them. They bite during the day. They bite during the night. The bite when you are outside. They bite when you are sound asleep in your hotel. And, they bite through massive quantities of Deet like Deet is the best tasting thing in the world to them. (Only 2 more days and counting until we are outside of the dengue fever incubation period….).
The Javanese ADORE Barack Obama. As soon as anyone found out we were American, they started telling us their “I almost met Barack when he visited Java” story. They absolutely LOVE him. One guy tried to say with a straight face that Trump was also a good president, but changed his tune and looked relieved immediately when we disagreed.
We still don’t understand how all the tattoo shops in Bali can survive. Likewise, we don’t understand why tourists come to Bali and get Native American inspired tattoos.
Beer is often listed as a “soft drink” on menus in Bali. I kid you not. You can rest assured that did not happen in Yogyakarta (where beer wasn’t even on most menus).
For some reason, all over Indonesia the locals call male tourists “boss.” Do you want to buy a t-shirt boss, do you want to rent a scooter boss. Robert hates, hates, hates being called “boss.” (On Java, Indonesians call Caucasian tourists “bule,” which kind of sounds like boul-ay. There is a great debate as to whether the term is derogatory or not and I’m not weighing in on that mess.)
There was something very sad and ironic about hearing “Wind of Change” by the Scorpions multiple times a day in both Bali and Yogyakarta. Recall that the video for the song contains images of the fall of the Berlin wall (even if the song wasn’t actually about the wall). Interesting that the song was being played over and over and over in Indonesia while the U.S was tearing itself apart about whether to build a wall on the Mexican border.
The Indonesians we met love John Denver. And Bebe Rexha. Go figure.
If you want a 60 day visa for Thailand, the place to get it is Bali. Talk about a piece of cake. Show up with your paperwork and money, and three days later you have your visa. Genius! We were a little bit worried about how unofficial the visa looked (e.g., everything filled in by hand), but they let us into Thailand so I guess it was official.
While visiting Yogyakarta, we decided it would be nice to get out in the countryside for a day and visit a beach. Enjoy nature and all that, right? Well, we read about a beach called Timang Beach. Right off of Timang Beach is a small island. Apparently, locals fished for lobsters on the island and built a hand-powered gondola to carry them over the water. The gondola is now open for tourists (as is a recently built suspension bridge). Winner, winner, chicken dinner — we had our beach. What we didn’t know is that Timang Beach is (1) super touristy, like on par with the Wisconsin Dells; (2) not even really a beach — you are on cliffs the entire time; and (3) a huge money pit. Let me explain.
The first thing you need to do is arrange transportation. We booked a private car and driver. At first, we thought it was insanely expensive — 600K IDR or about 43 USD — but then we realized it was less than a cab from our old home to O’Hare airport. Given the cab ride only lasted about an hour, and we had the car for the entire day, the price didn’t sound so bad. (Yes, I’m rationalizing a bit here, but as you will see it was the most reasonably priced part of our day …..). You could probably rent a scooter too, although cell phone reception in the hills was pretty grim and the route was far from straightforward (and you run the risk of riding on back roads in a torrential downpour). Plus, if you rent a scooter you have no chance of a driver like ours who played all the best hits from the 80’s hair bands — we heard Def Leppard, Bon Jovi, and even White Lion (remember them????).
Anyway, after about 2 hours of winding through surprisingly busy country roads with rice fields and corn fields and cassava fields, we arrived at the furthest point our car could go. In other words, we arrived at a point near where the locals have refused to allow the road to be paved in order to charge tourists an insane amount of money for a jeep ride. (OK, fine, I’m speculating here, but I would take this bet….). Yep, boys and girls, it was time to pony up 350K IDR (about 25 USD) so we could jump in a jeep for the 10 minute or so ride to the beach. Interestingly, the drive started on a road that was suitable for cars, and ended on a road that was suitable for cars, and there was just a short stretch in the middle that was unsuitable for cars — yep, pretty sure that was intentional. But, I digress.
After our smooth, bumpy, smooth jeep ride, it was time to part with still more of our money. It was 100K IDR (about 7 USD) per person to cross to the nearby island on the suspension bridge or 200K IDR per person to cross on the “gondola.” Can you guess which one we picked? Yep, the no doubt horribly unsafe human powered gondola with no seat belt, no life jacket, and no chance of survival if anything failed. Good thing the ride only lasted 30-40 seconds or so.
After exploring the island and having all kinds of photos taken for us by one of the workers, it was back across the gondola, back into the jeep, and off to the restaurant that serves only two meals — 1 kg of lobster with tempeh, rice, and veg for 650K IDR (about 46 USD) or all of the above plus fish and squid for 750K IDR (about 53 USD). I don’t eat lobster or squid, so we got the smaller of the two meals, but Robert tells me the lobster was delicious — we got two lobsters, one of which was covered in garlic and the other was covered with a tomato/onion compote — and I can vouch for the tempeh (I’m still shocked that I like tempeh). But, this was our most expensive meal in all of Yogyakarta and I didn’t even eat the main course, so we were more than a little annoyed (especially considering they served us enough food for at least 4-6 people — oh well, our driver was happy to take the leftover lobster).
All that said, and even after spending an insane amount of money in one day, we actually LOVED the day. It was a ton of fun. Cheesy and touristy and corny and annoying, but pretty cool all the same. If you have plenty of time in Yogyakarta and plenty of cash, this just might be worth putting on your to do list if you like this sort of thing. (Note we were there in low season and there was only one other group of tourists on the island with us — I’m guessing it is a madhouse in high season).
One of the things we were most excited about when visiting Yogyakarta was the food. We had read that the food in Yogyakarta was absolutely amazing. Unfortunately, we weren’t that impressed.
The best known local delicacy around in Yogyakarta is something called gudeg Jogja. Gudeg is young jackfruit slow cooked in a charcoal pot along with palm sugar and coconut milk. It ends up kind of the consistency of chunky sludge. Appetizing, right? It is often served with spicy cow skin, tempe, and a duck egg. We also tried a version of gudeg made with coconut flower. Neither of us were huge fans of gudeg — it is really, really sweet and the consistency is certainly not something I want for dinner. We tried it at Gudeg Yu Djum, Jalan Wijilan No.167, which is supposed to be one of the best places to have gudeg so, if you want to try it, that might be a good place to start.
Another local delicacy is bakpia. Apparently, nearly all Indonesian tourists in Yogyakarta buy bakpia to take back for friends and family as a little gift. It is a moon cake that was traditionally filled with mung bean paste. We, however, bought the chocolate flavor. Unfortunately, we found bakpia to just be “meh” — in a land where everything is sweet, this dessert was surprisingly not very sweet at all.
Thankfully, we did ultimately find two restaurants with Indonesian dishes that we would highly recommend. First up was Yammie Pathuk at Jl. Kemetiran Kidul No.63. This is a small little place not too far from Malioboro Street (maybe a 10 minute walk). There was no English menu and the staff didn’t really speak English, but they were friendly and helped us order. Yammie Pathuk serves chicken noodles. These are homemade noodles that taste strongly of chicken. They put chicken chunks on top (careful, the chicken is sweet like almost everything in Java), along with a couple of wontons. The noodles come with a side of broth and you can also get chicken meatballs (bakso) in the broth. They also had some fried wontons that I really, really wish we had seen before we ordered because they looked amazing. The cooking is done right in the main room, and the dishes are put together assembly style right in front of the customers. Order by ticking off what you want on a small sheet of paper — make sure you have a translate app on your phone as the menu is only in Indonesian — then sit down and watch your food being cooked.
Another favorite was Pak Pele. If you are standing in the park in front of the Sultan’s Palace, this place will be on the corner to your left. It looks like a food cart with a seating area. Again, you order by marking off what you want on a piece of paper (have that translate app handy again), hand it to one of the guys, then have a seat and wait for your food. This place primarily serves bakmi, which is a type of noodle. We had bakmi goreng (fried noodles with chicken and egg) and bakmi godhog (soup with noodles, chicken and lots of garlic). The noodles come in two varieties — yellow and vermicelli (you can also get them mixed) — we liked the yellow best. And, you have to try the peanut crackers that are sitting in huge pails on the tables — they are addictive and at only about 20 cents a bag you can go to town.
We also had ronde at Pak Pele, which is a hot drink made from ginger, along with pickled ginger, peanuts, and some little balls made with sticky rice with ground peanuts inside. Strange right? But it was really, really good.
Robert was also a fan of the local coffee speciality — kopi joss. This is a glass full of coffee and then they put some red-hot charcoal in the glass. You wait a few minutes, fish out the charcoal (don’t use your hands!), wait for the coffee to cool to a drinkable temperature, and then drink up.
Oh, and if you finally just give up on Indonesian food, we highly recommend Mediterranea for French-style food and pizza. Yum!
Remember how we said we were templed out when we left Siem Reap? Fortunately, its been a few months, as we spent another day in Yogyakarta temple hopping. We booked a private car (and completely overpaid given we only wanted it for half a day) and wandered around to several different temples.
We started our day at Prambanan, the largest Hindu temple in Indonesia. It was built back during the 9th century. It is another Unesco World Heritage site and, in some ways, I liked it even better than Borobudur. While the carvings weren’t as intricate, it was much easier to get a view of the entire temple complex. Most people visit Prambanan at sunset, but we arrived at 6:30 a.m. and were one of only a handful of people there so we pretty much had the temples to ourselves for awhile. Plus, there were beautiful views of Mount Merapi at that time (the view was pretty much all clouds by 7:30 am) and we were able to see the volcano smoking from multiple vents. So cool!
Included in the Prabanan ticket price (350K IDR or about 25 USD) are three other temples. They have a little shuttle train that will take you to the other temples (for a small price), but we walked as it was only a couple of kilometers to the furthest one.
We started at the furthest away temple, which is Sewu Temple, and the one of the three we found most impressive. Sewu Temple is a Buddhist temple from the 8th century. Much of it was in ruins, but there were still some impressive towers.
We also visited Bubrah Temple. This is a Buddhist temple from the 9th century and is just a single tower and not that impressive. Nonetheless, we walked right by it so there was no reason not to visit. (We didn’t visit the third temple as it was mostly ruins and closed for renovations)
As you leave the Prambanan grounds, be sure to stop at the cafe. There is a guy on the side selling “serabi solo” which are pancakes made of coconut milk and rice flour. The outside is crunchy, the inside is creamy and you can get them with chocolate added. Yum!
(Note you can get a combo ticket to Borobudur and Prambanan which saves you some cash but it is only good for two days. You can also get a combo ticket to Prambanan and Ratu Boko. We had intended to visit Ratu Boko but, for reasons completely unknown to us, the combo ticket didn’t go on sale at Prambanan until 8 am — given the ordinary price of Ratu Boko is also 350K IDR we decided to skip it).
Next stop on our temple tour was Plaosan Temple, a Buddhist temple built in the 9th century. This temple is surrounded by rice fields, homes, and shops. It is next to impossible to get a shot of the entire temple which mainly consists of two large towers. Nonetheless, t is worth a few minutes if you are in the neighborhood (especially as the entrance fee was only 3000 IDR (about 21 U.S. cents).
Our last stop of the day was Ijo Temple, a Hindu temple built in the 10th and 11th centuries. Ijo Temple is located high in on a hill and is apparently best visited at sunset, but we didn’t feel like heading back out to the area late in the afternoon. Ijo Temple is one large tower and several smaller towers. Unfortunately, the day we visited the large tower was full of men climbing all over it and removing moss so we didn’t get very good photos, but it is worth a short visit if you are nearby.
All-in-all, it was a lovely day in the countryside around Yogyakarta.
Some days, sightseeing isn’t all it is cracked up to be. And, I think it is important to be honest about what sights are worth seeing and which sights simply aren’t worth seeing. So, here goes….
One of the alleged highlights of Yogyakarta is Taman Sari, otherwise known as the water temple. It was constructed back in the 1700’s and was used for, among other things, bathing and relaxing and, according to at least some websites, wife hunting. Back in the day, it spread over 12,000 acres (I know that seems like a really high number, but I got it from the World Monument’s Fund website which I think is pretty reputable but perhaps not because 12,000 acres seems huge). Now, however, other than a couple of pools, some abandoned buildings, and the underground mosque, it is pretty much gone.
We decided to get up early and walk to Taman Sari from our hotel. Along the way, we picked up an English teacher here in Yogyakarta who wanted to walk with us and practice his English. We learned all about weddings in Java (guests are expected to stay no more than 20 minutes or so — they congratulate the couple, drop off a gift, eat a small snack, and go) and teacher salaries (he said that teachers at government schools make 4 million IDR — or about 285 USD — per month, which based on my research appears to be just over the minimum wage in Indonesia). It was fun chatting with him, and that turned out to be the highlight of our visit to Taman Sari.
By the time we arrived at Taman Sari, we were disgustingly hot and sweaty and already in need of a shower. Nonetheless, we plunged onward. We quickly learned that the pools were quite small. Most of the rooms were abandoned, and there were no signs explaining anything anywhere (in either Indonesian or English, so I’m not just bitching about the lack of foreign language signs). Apparently, if you don’t hire a local guide (and plenty hang out just inside the entrance), you don’t get any information at all.
After wandering around for about 15 minutes, and getting yelled at for going the wrong way, we decided to try to find the underground mosque. Of course, there are no signs for that either. Thankfully, after Robert and I nearly came to blows about which direction to walk, some woman took pity on us and pointed us in the right direction. Off we went, wandering through narrow alleys and trying to navigate with Google maps. When we finally found the underground mosque, we weren’t that impressed. There were people everywhere, all waiting their turn to get a photo on these steps.
Bottom line, if you are in Yogyakarta, I think you can give Taman Sari a pass. If you do go, you might want to try going as soon as they open and hitting the mosque first before the masses of people arrive.
Whooo hooo! We are in a brand new to us city (Yogyakarta, which is actually pronounced like jogjakarta by some people, apparently because the Dutch colonizers couldn’t pronounce Y or so one of our guides told us) and you know what that means? Sightseeing! It is about time. We were both getting pretty tired of sitting by the pool all day. (OK, fine, we will probably never get tired of that, but we are both eager to get out and do some sightseeing before our next two months of sitting by pools in Thailand).
Borobudur is THE “must see” in Yogyakarta. In fact, we’ve read that it is the most visited site in all of Indonesia. Borobudur is the world’s largest Buddhist temple and a UNESCO world heritage site (and you know how we love those). It was built in the 9th century, abandoned sometime around the 14th century, and “discovered” (yeah, right) by Sir Raffles buried under ash and jungle in the 19th century. So we booked a car and driver to take us to Borobudur our first full day in Yogyakarta.
Most people seem to visit Borobudur at sunrise, which means leaving town no later than 4 am. If you know anything about us, you know we were not down for that. But, it is brutally hot here and visiting in the middle of the day just wasn’t an option. So, we sucked it up and our car picked us up at 5 am. We arrived at Borobudur just as they opened up for those people that had not paid extra for the sunrise. There were very few people there, which was lovely. And, we finished up our sightseeing just as the day really started to get warm.
There are several levels to Borobudur and you can walk 360 degrees around each level. They are covered with various statues.
And, the lower levels were absolutely covered with intricate carvings, some of which had nice pops of bright green moss growing on them.
At the top, there are over 70 stupas, each of which contains a Buddha.
By around 8:30, as we were wrapping up our visit, the school field trips were in full swing. Oddly, many of the school girls wanted to take photos with me — I’m guessing I posed with 10-15 different groups of girls and we finally just had to walk away. Some wanted to practice their English, but most just wanted the photo. One group of school boys also wanted to pose with Robert. I have no idea why they wanted photos with us, but apparently it is quite common. A local we spoke to said that most of the school kids are from small villages, that they rarely see Caucasians, and they take the photos so they can say they “met” a tourist.
We finally rolled out of Borobudur around 9:15 and made our way to Gereja Ayam (the Chicken Church). The story is that a Christian named Daniel Alamsjah was working in Jakarta when he had a vision to build a prayer house (he claims it wasn’t intended to be a church, but a prayer house for all faiths). In 1989, he was walking near his wife’s family’s home, and realized the land looked just like the land he had seen in his vision. So, he started building the prayer house. He wanted to build something that looked like a dove but, as you can see, it didn’t quite work out that way.
The prayer house was open from about 1990-2000, but then closed. The rumor is that the place was eventually abandoned because of lack of funding and because of conflict with the locals (who were not Christian). But, the enterprising locals have now turned it into a tourist destination and it is open again. I’m not sure how much praying actually happens here. There are private prayer rooms and a main room, but there is also a cafe and weird “just say no to drugs” type artwork.
After our visit to the Chicken Church, we were off to Mount Merapi, an active volcano. Merapi erupts frequently (every 5-10 years) and the last big eruption was in 2010 (so, yes, it is about due for another one) killing over 300 people (mostly those who had not heeded the evacuation warnings or so we were told). Our guide claimed lava was being expelled 2 km down the mountain while we were visiting, but the volcano was covered in clouds so we can neither confirm nor deny that report.
We jumped into a jeep to tour the area. This was, unfortunately, the low light of the day and a real waste of money. The tour stopped at three places. First up was a “museum” which was basically just a house that had been destroyed when the volcano last erupted and filled with ruined household objects.
The next stop was the “alien stone.” This is a large stone that was expelled by the volcano. It traveled something like 7 km, and wound up in a field. Then, it was off to a bunker where some people had died — the bunker was built to withstand hot smoke but two people got trapped in the bunker as lava flowed by and, as I understand it, basically baked to death inside the bunker.
The Merapi tour might have been a good tour if the weather was better and we had seen views of the volcano, but we both think you can pass on this if you visit Yogyakarta.