Semarang, Indonesia

Indonesia was a former Dutch colony. Semarang, our second Java stop, was a major port town during the Dutch colonial era. Thus, Dutch colonial buildings can be easily located here, mostly around Old Quarter. Some have been renovated to turn into a cafe, restaurant, administrative building or art gallery. But I believe greater efforts could have and should be poured in to preserve them. It is a shame, really, because poor maintenance seemed to be a common problem among not just the historical, religious sites but also the lodgings/ hostels. In fact, I would like to think such a matter outlined some important characteristics of the people in this region (ya, including my fellow Malaysians) but I shall leave the debate of it out of this blog.

Gereja Blenduk/ Dome church

Architecture around Old Quarter. Half of the time we were chilling inside either the art gallery or the cafe having coffee and beers. We could have explored the interiors of these buildings more. Alas, it was simply too hot to move around much.

We did stroll a bit further with our motorbike to stumble across what seemed to be a church and some residential housing.

The Great Mosque of Central Java. No stranger to mosques since I live in Malaysia but I must admit this is the most majestic and unique mosque I have come across. And this attraction was also part of the reason I included Semarang in my itinerary. We arrived before noon, waited for it to reopen after lunch break just so we could take the lift to the uppermost floor of the viewing tower to have a bird’s-eye view of the mosque and nearby towns.

Lawang Sewu. This landmark used to be the headquarters of the Dutch East Indies Railway Company and is lined with numerous doors and windows. After World War II, a battle broke out there and many died at the scene. Rumor has it that the building is haunted. If I am not mistaken, public is forbidden to visit the place after 6pm or 630pm. We almost couldn’t make it that afternoon but in the end, we managed to stay until it was almost dark. When night fell, the whole building was brightly lit, looking mystical from afar.

Javanese cuisines and doing it the local way

I love food so I made a point to try out the local food I identified that is famous in each of the cities I went to. Maybe it was just me, but the food didn’t come as cheap as I imagined, even after the currency conversion 😦 But locals were paying the same amount, nevertheless. Anyway, below are some of them (do click for bigger view)! Enjoy!

Solo

Sate buntel is mutton satay covered in fat and served to enjoy together with sweet soy sauce, sliced red onion and chilies, tomatoes etc. We were lucky to have spot that shop full of patrons while getting lost on bike that we knew we just had to stop to join in. We noticed the locals were also enjoying a few other mutton-based dishes which looked really yummy, but we could never find our way back to this shop to sample them.

Nasi Liwet (left) is steamed rice served on banana leaves cooked with chicken broth along with chicken, boiled egg, tofu and I believe to be coconut milk or santan. Unfortunately, I didn’t like coconut milk and although the rice was piquant, I somewhat found this to be overrated especially when you walked into a street and there were an entire row of shops selling the same thing. Tongseng (right), on the other hands, is curry-like mutton stewed with vegetables with distinctive taste of sweetness which was appetizing. We liked it so much that we ended up ordering for it few times at different places.

While in Solo, we managed to stumble across one of the morning markets which we believed to have started as early as 7am because by the time we arrived, the crowd had mostly already dispersed with the stall owners getting ready to pack. What was new is that locals enjoyed their food by sitting on the mats prepared by the eatery stalls, as can be seen from the pictures. So did we follow? Oh hell yeah. And the noodles shown on the right pic, was exactly what everyone else was eating. The noodles couldn’t be bad so we ordered one for ourselves too!

Semarang

In Semarang, we had Tahu Gimbal – fried tofu cooked with sweet and spicy shrimp paste which was served with lontong covered shrimp gravy, chilli, egg, prawn, cabbages and peanut sauce. To soothe our thirst on the hot day, we ordered coconut water served with its meat and jelly. And next to us, was a huge tent set up along the roadside which gave you a glimpse of how the locals (mostly office workers from nearby) had their daily lunch – seated next to one another (could be friends or strangers) around long table enjoying the food.One of the most fulfilling meals we had. Regretfully, we had to leave Semarang without trying the famous lumpia – spring rolls stuffed with fillings like eggs or vegetables influenced by the Chinese community settled down in Semarang in the early days.

Cirebon

After having enough of lontong in coconut milk (eww) in Semarang, I was ready to move on to Cirebon only to discover quite a drastic change of food in terms of how they tasted, were served and displayed in this city compared to previous two. The famous one was Nasi Jamblang (right) where a variety of dishes was readily served on table. All you needed to do was grabbed a seat then picked the dishes you wanted along with white rice and you walked away with only having to pay what you had chosen. We also decided to treat ourselves something fancier by having our lunch in a nice restaurant where the waiters brought to us all the dishes they had in plates (see bottom left). Similarly, we took whatever we fancied and they would take note of that during billing time so we just had to pay accordingly for the dishes we took. We did wonder what they were gonna do with the remaining dishes left untouched. Would they go to waste? Or would they be served to the next walk-in customers? One could easily be overwhelmed with the many choices presented, but after 3 meals, we were once again ready to leave because frankly the food simply didn’t suit our taste buds due to the blatant spiciness.

Bandung

I often reiterated to friends that Malaysian fried rice and noodles were nothing compared to Indonesian. I was craving for some, so at this point I stopped trying unfamiliar local dishes by sticking to some of the most delicious nasi goreng and mee goreng. How do they do it?! How come theirs always taste better than ours hmmm.

JakartaDSCF3261

We didn’t stay long in Jakarta, but our guide brought us to this guy who was selling kerak telor – rice mixed with duck egg and spices like dried shrimp before it was served folded. We believed it would have tasted nicer if we ate it immediately while still hot 😦

Our Java Itinerary

DSCF3016Figured that it would be helpful to share our itinerary to those interested. As you can tell, we relied on the fantastic railway system to get around the cities. In each city we were in (except Jakarta and Cirebon), we mainly rented a motorbike to explore. The places we stayed were priced reasonably and comfortable. If you are looking for a luxury stay or great amenities, they might not be your taste. In my next post, I would try to provide list of food and places of attraction in each city if I don’t procrastinate too much! *fingers crossed*

City Date Accommodation Transportation Mode
KL 4th Capsule by Container Hotel KLIA2 AirAsia
Solo 5th – 7th Istana Griya 2 Hotel AirAsia
Semarang 7th – 9th Imam Bonjol Hostel Semarang JOGLOSEMAR Executive Shuttle Bus
Cirebon 9th – 10th Wisma Bahtera Hotel Train (SEMARANG TAWANG) – (CIREBON)
Bandung 10th – 12th Buminanienie Family Guest House  Train (CIREBON)-(BANDUNG)
Jakarta 12th – 13th POP! Hotel Airport Jakarta Train (BANDUNG)-(GAMBIR)

Cirebon

Cirebon, sounded so beautiful once I got the hang of pronouncing it correctly. It was our third stop of the whole journey at which we would spend up to 24 hours. It was also the city we decided to take a break from all the exploring because the heat was too much for us to take. Other than mealtimes where we determinedly ventured out nearby to fill our tummies, we found comfort to spend remaining of our day in the air-conditioning hostel room watching TV, sleeping or doing nothing – no more looking up places of attraction with Google Maps and searching for motorbike renting. This was also the city where we decided the food was a bit too spicy for our liking. More to food later in this blog!
DSCF3186
On the train departing from Cirebon to Bandung. Take note of the batik motif or pattern.. I read that its the specialty of Cirebon as different cities produce batik with their own unique patterns.
DSCF3161
The most noticeable landmark from Cirebon train station to our hostel which was located along this main road. And this main road was the only we ever explored in Cirebon, for it was too hot to walk further. 😦

Backpacking in Java (Overview)

Just got back from Java, Indonesia from a 9 days 8 nights trip. Flight tickets (AirAsia) were booked one year in advance, however the itinerary was only finalized one week before going. And I am proud to say that it was so well-thought-out that we stick to it till end!

The idea to return to Java arose from my love for Yogyakarta. It was unfair to miss out other potential (and must I say, underrated) gems. So a trip that spanned across Central Java to West Java was realized in 9 days 8 nights, to which we managed to cover 5 cities. They are Solo (landing) -> Semarang -> Cirebon -> Bandung and lastly Jakarta (departure). All in all, a reasonable amount of RM1.7k was spent per person inclusive of flight tickets (with me flying from Sarawak transiting one night in KL), accommodation, food, train tickets and other land transportation fees.

Finding information on where to go and how to get around in Solo, Semarang and Cirebon can be a bit hard as they aren’t on the radar of most Western tourists. In fact, we were like the only foreigners they had in these 3 cities with our East Asian figures standing up like a sore thumb thus often getting mistaken as the Mainland Chinese tourists. Lucky for us we are no stranger to Bahasa Indonesia which enabled us to search and gather information in another language that led us to few helpful Indonesian bloggers who have dedicated in promoting their beautiful country online.

Unfortunately, I was not on my best frame of mind. An ideal backpacking trip is one where I get to relax and do some soul-searching, no rush or whatsoever. There was a moment of panic when I realized in pain that I wanted to do the Java trip one year ago, not now! What I wanted these days is a solo trip to the Bali or Lombok beach where I got to do nothing rather than hopping from one city to another under the hot sun. Worst, when I was there, my heart and my mind drifted to KL or back to Sarawak instead. True that I was being myself by being away from work and whatnot yet I wasn’t staying true to myself in so many instances. Aha. And 9 days was simply too long to be out of the life I was familiar with – I was not moving in the direction to be the kind of person I envisioned if I stayed any longer. If that makes sense 😦 .

Day 4 in Yogyakarta

DSCF0848I snapped the photo on my flight to Yogyakarta. I asked the brothers seated next to me the name of it and they told me it is Mount Merapi (literally Fire Mountain in Indonesian.. coincidentally part of my itinerary).

We hired a driver from another tour agency for Day 4. We requested to have breakfast first before we started the day, but the driver simply brushed it off. Anyway, we were first drove to a place at Mount Merapi where all the jeep tour packages are offered. We took up the package of short route (1.5 hours) where a driver would take us to explore Kaliadem in his Jeep. What were we expecting? To see the village (which was once beautiful but now damaged) after the eruption of Mount Merapi in 2010 which claimed thousands of lives and homes.
The jeep tour was definitely not for the faint-hearted like me. Little did I know the ride would be sooo bumpy going up and down on the uneven land full of lava rocks that I had to grab hold of the handles tightly so that I didn’t get thrown out of the jeep (can’t remember if we had the seat belts on). The surrounding was pretty much bare with the sight of lorries and diggers working on the lava sands that were still smoking & some greenness as plants have started to grown over years on the fertile javanic soil. But as time passed by, there were more and more jeeps passing by fetching curious passengers like us.
DSCF0899DSCF0913
The jeep tour wouldn’t have been so memorable if it wasn’t our driver. A humble man who lost his home due to the eruption but still smiled optimistically. He did a great job in explaining everything to us – the stories behind the places we visited (i.e. the bunk, the museum) and the emergency evacuation experience he and his family were put through in 2010. He also brought us to the stalls operated by his wife and relatives (saw him hug his small son) where we ordered for warm coffee, ginger tea and snacks. Mount Merapi is a time-bomb with smoke still coming out of it viewing from far when the sky is clear.. so there is always a chance the home he was now rebuilding would be destroyed again when it erupts. When we posed that question to him, he said he acknowledged that but it didn’t stop him from enjoying the moment and carry on with his lives.DSCF0924DSCF0921DSCF0922Sadly, the adventure had to come to an end and we had to bid goodbye with our jeep driver. Our hair, face and clothes were coated with a layer of dust. I am happy that the villagers are returning, that the tourism and sand digging are helping them to move on. Returning to our driver who were waiting for us, he finally brought us to lunch. Before that, we were discussing where to go. I had my mind on attractions nearby Kaliurang area such as the national park but the driver was adamant to leave. He offered to bring us to Borobudur (or was it Prambanan) but we realized the entrance fee for two persons weren’t taken into consideration during my budget planning, thus leaving us reluctant to proceed whenever we thought of the exorbitant fees. We therefore turned him down and insisted to go back to our hotel after noon (we had a mixed feelings about our driver for that day – we found him less warm and accommodating and the fact that he kept promoting his side-business didn’t help).

So yeah, if you are wondering – we did go to Yogyakarta but we skipped the most important attractions aka UNESCO World Heritage Sites that drew everyone in.  Hehe.

Day 3 in Yogyakarta

DSCF0884
Since the attractions I wished to visit are far away from the city, I found few tour agencies online, contacted and at last finalized two different drivers for my Day 3 and 4 itinerary in Yogyakarta. Like its accommodation, the drivers we booked didn’t accept any deposits. Just few back-and-forth messages and their English was limited. So I was preparing myself to be let down. Instead, they turned up at our hotel on time to pick us up! We had our breakfast at a nice restaurant with lake view outside of the city. We already expected to be brought to a place with meals more expensive than we would normally pay for by our driver. But the ambiance and food really made up for it!

Our destination for the day was Dieng Plateau in Central Java, which is more than 2000m above sea level. The journey took up almost 3-4 hours but I honestly didn’t keep track as I was busy looking at the stunning scenery outside the car window. We passed by the city, to the outskirts, further up to Magelang then Wonosobo, finally we reached Dieng. We passed by universities, Javanese mosques and houses, pottery factories, paddy fields, villages, markets, fruit and vegetable farms. I almost couldn’t believe that I was in Central Java – a place sounded so far away yet so near, so mysterious yet so similar.

DSCF0970
Our first stop was Kawah Sikidang – a volcanic crater. Obviously having never seen anything like that, I was so excited to go near the smoky pond, discover the crater holes with bubbling hot water and smell the sulphur odor. While The Boyfriend couldn’t be bothered with the natural wonder!!DSCF0870
Next, we moved to Arjuna Complexes where Hindu Temples are clustered. The weather in Dieng couldn’t be any perfect – misty and we could feel the gentle breeze (but it got really cold after a while). Visitors, many of them young Indonesians or families, just sat or lied on the ground enjoy the lush greenery after taking photos. Surprisingly, The Boyfriend was a bigger archaeology enthusiast between us. He went inside the temples through the mouth-shaped doorways, studied the stones and structures, pondered about their purpose and sighed when the religious site was tainted with people dressed up as Teletubbies, Hello Kitty and Donald Duck posing for visitors to take photos lol.

10687155_10203426220390491_1751065643305445393_n
Our last stop was Telaga Warna (the Colorful Lake) – my most anticipated attraction. But they were asking foreigners to pay 20 times more than locals which was outrageous. We didn’t encounter this when we were at the crater and the temples. We did pay for the parking fees and the entrance fees, but the amount was reasonable so we didn’t feel ripped off albeit paying more. We tried to tell them we were from Jakarta, but we obviously didn’t act and talk like ones and we didn’t have the local passport to show. After much debate and with the guys pointing and laughing at us, we decided to walk away.

The journey back was a tiring one. 3-4 hours on the road yet I felt like forever. The driver was starting to get more impatient thus, drive even more recklessly. The sky fell dark real soon. The road condition was really bad but the effect was only felt when my mind and eyes were no longer lingering at the sights past our windows. I initially thought that the driver fee was exorbitant and that we should have saved some money by opting for public buses. By the end of the day, I think the money spent was well-worth it. The driver had been a really great guy and its people like him that made our trip special when we looked back.