We fly from KL to Indonesia, into Yogyakarta, or ‘Yogya’ as it is commonly known. 2.5 hours later we are in Borobudur, which is the world’s largest Buddhist monument dating from around 800AD. The Villa Borobudur is a pretty good hotel and gives good views over the valley as Mount Sumbing looms overhead against an orange sunset. It’s certainly worth the trip. Other bits and pieces in the area include two smaller temples, Pawon and Mendut, and a charming bicycle tour of Candirejo, including advice on how to weave mats and tablecloths, how to make rice crackers, and an amateur attempt at playing Javanese Gamelan instruments – a dreadful sound really.

We are then off to Yogyakarta. We visit the Sultan’s Palace, which is not that exciting, and the Water Castle with its three pools, in which the Sultan frolicked naked with a range of wives and mistresses. A Batik workshop visit was highly informative, but the Kota Gede silver workshop was a washout as all the silversmiths had gone on a lunch break. Java’s largest Hindu temple, Prambanan, is definitely worth a look, but the Plaosan temple is nothing to shout about. The Phoenix Hotel is looking tired.


Things get worse on our trip to Solo. The road is nasty with non-stop businesses all the way and there’s nothing at the end of it, so a waste of time really and not sure why it was on the schedule. We declined a 5-hour trip to the appropriately-named Candi Sukuh, which apparently contains “interesting” tantric pornographic carvings. In Solo, Mangkunegaran Palace is charming but pointless, although I do cut a dash when wearing my compulsory sarong. Triwindu market is full of stuff, but not people.

The Roemahkoe Hotel is a disaster including a sole mattress on the floor masquerading as a bed, no windows in the main area that was mosquito infested, they ran of beer, had no nibbles and barely any edible food. We upgraded to the bridal suite and left early in the morning. Even that had gekkos in the bathroom, and a spider nesting in a bath that wouldn’t drain away.

Next up is Solo to Jomblang on a train, which is clean and punctual with a generally nice view of paddy fields interspersed by the odd industrial area. We drive to Malang and check in to the Hotel Tugu Malang, which is superb. Malang has a nice vibe as we wander around, and we are roped in as celebrities to a kids’ colouring competition in the main square. The Chinese temple is a delight, as is Rainbow City – a project in which the government persuaded paint sponsors to revitalize a slum area by the river. The Blue City opposite is somewhat less exciting – only being blue because it’s the colour of the local football team, which hardly classifies as cultural inspiration.

We then drive to Mt. Bromo for a night at the Jiwa Jawa Hotel. It’s pouring down on arrival high up in the mountains and visibility is so bad that we can’t see the volcano at all. But the next day all has cleared and we have climbed it and come back down by 7am. We have the place to ourselves until then, at which point the whole world is ascending it. Bromo is spouting a lot of smoke and there’s a boiling water bubbling sound constantly emanating from it. The view from on high on the caldera edge on the other side is staggering.

The next day we drive to Surabaya – our final day before taking separate flights to Bali and Brunei the following morning. The Hotel Majapahit is excellent, and it would have been good to stay longer.

Concluding remarks on Indonesia. At 270 million people, it’s the fourth most populous country in the world, and it feels like it. It’s rammed and chaotic. Cities and roadsides are in the main a bit of a nightmare. A nice blend of religions helps people to have a balanced attitude so it is generally friendly. Some excellent points of historical interest and some wild environmental parts, but the religion thing gets pretty boring after a while. Our exposure was Java, not Jakarta in the west. Javans are keen to point out that there are big differences between them and Jakartans, so sweeping generalizations are probably inaccurate. So, plus points for culture but minus points for chaos, averaging out at 6/10.