Indonesia is a destination like no other. It is the fourth largest country in the world, comprised of thousands of islands and stretches a vast area, which creates the ultimate place for diversity. Being highly volcanic, the soils have provided for dense forests hosting plants and animals not seen anywhere else on earth. The landscapes are breathtaking, from the peaks of the volcanos to the white sand, black sand and pink sand beaches. I can say without a doubt that the people living in Indonesia are also among the kindest I have met. I have never met so much curiosity about why I was visiting somewhere. My first visit was in 2018 and comprised of so many memorable experiences, packed into only eight days.
Padar Island is home to a black sand, a white sand and a pink sand beach
The Propeller of the ATR 72 Aircraft
I arrived into Jakarta's Soekarno–Hatta International Airport after an overnight flight from Seoul, South Korea with a quick transit through Singapore's Changi International Airport. After making the way through the usual Immigration and Customs routine, I needed to make my way to the domestic terminal, find some coffee and a bite to eat then wait for the next flight to Surabaya. From Surabaya's Juanda International Airport I was picked up by the tour company with whom I had prearranged an amazing start to this trip. After a nearly four hour drive with some amazing views we finally arrived at Bromo Cottages, the hotel for the night. After getting settled in, there was only energy and time available to find a bite to eat and then wash up and head to bed for a very early start the next day.
Inside an Active Volcano
With a wakeup call at 2:30am, a cup of coffee and a quick breakfast in my belly, it was time to head out. Our driver and tour guide were already waiting for us when we walked outside so into the Jeep we climbed. The drive to the volcano was very exciting with steep, winding roads in the pitch black. The adventure was more than worth it as before long we found ourselves at the edge of the caldera to wait for sunrise. The guide was very attentive and ran back to order some hot chocolate for us as at elevation it was quite cold. I must admit I was unprepared for the temperatures with what I had packed for tropical islands which straddle the equator.. please learn from my mistakes.
As the time for first light grew closer, so did the size of the crowd at the overlook. Waking up so early was well worth it as we ended up having front row views of the most amazing sunrise I ever witnessed. The increasing light opened up the vista of the caldera with six volcanic peaks rising high above. Gunang Semeru let off a perfectly timed puff of smoke just as there was enough light to see it.
The stairway to heaven leads to the rim of Bromo
From the overlook, it was time to hop back into the Jeep to head down into the caldera, a hike across the Sea of Sands and a climb up the stairs to the rim of the active volcano. It was a weird mix of excitement to see the inside of volcano while trying to fight the climb the stairs at altitude. Be sure to wear sunglasses, drink plenty of water and take your time. As a total nerd with anything and everything related to Earth Sciences, staring into the depths of an acid lake with smoke pouring out had me gushing. After an hour or so, we descended back down the stairs and hopped back into the Jeep for the four hour drive back to the airport.
A selfie with the inside of Mount Bromo
A selfie with the inside of Mount Bromo
Prior to the trip, I had invested in face masks and highly recommend you use one as the sulphur is strong and will burn as your breathe. I had booked the tour with Bromo Sunrise Tour Indonesia which included the hotel, all transportation, a local guide, breakfast and entrance into the park for two people (a local friend and myself) for 2.5million IDR. It was a little expensive but overall a great value for an incredible experience.
Exploring Yogyakarta & the Temples
The next flight from Surabaya to Yogyakarta was very short, less than an hour. I had prearranged a driver to pick us up at the airport as I anticipated being tired after the early start to the day. The driver brought us directly to the hotel and we were able to arrange transportation for the next day with him as well. After checking into Java Villas, we decided to explore the area a bit and find some much needed food. As we were very tired, we did not stay out for long so back to the hotel for a much needed shower and to sleep early.
The following day we started off with poolside breakfast at the hotel then to meet our driver outside and a ride out to the first stop of the day, Candi Borobudur, my first UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is the world's largest Buddhist temple, and I can admit it is a massive complex. Definitely make sure you bring plenty of water as the site was extremely hot and void of any shade. Sunrise visits to the temple are very popular as well, however after the sunrise tour at the volcano the previous day, we opted to visit a little later in the day. Borobudur is very impressive to witness. Thought to have been constructed in the 9th century, there is so much history and to see all the fine details of the stone carvings is quite impressive. Most people visiting Borobudur will also visit Candi Prambanan as they are near each other.
One of the many Buddha statues of Borobudur
Intricate Carving in Prambanan
Prambanan is an 8th-century Hindu temple compound. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is the largest Hindu temple in Indonesia. The site is centered by a huge building with more than 200 other structures spread out. Due to a strong earthquake in 2006, some of the structures were destroyed, however a rehabilitation program is underway. Unfortunately, my knowledge of Hinduism leaves much to be desired, however the site was still a great experience.
As both Borobudur and Prambanan are very popular attractions for people from all over the world, be prepared for the overwhelming number of vendors located at the entrance and exit at each site. Just like when exiting a theme park attraction, in order to exit either of these temple complexes you will need to find your way through essentially gift shops with vendors selling all types of souvenirs and knick knacks. I always think it is great to help the locals when you can, if you have an interest in taking something home from your trip.
Face to Face with Dragons
After the temples and a little more exploring around Yogyakarta, it was time to once again get a little rest. The next day was strictly a travel day, my friend returned home to Jakarta while I caught my flight to Bali and on to Labuan Bajo. Upon my arrival, I checked into Hotel Beta Bajo, a new construction in this quaint fishing village which has been experiencing a huge boost in tourism and growth, and confirmed the tour for the following day. The hotel was able to arrange for me an amazing tour with Alexandria Cruise. Once settled in, I found dinner across the street and made it back to the room in time to witness a perfect sunset over the harbor.
Ever since I was a child and first saw David Attenborough on Komodo Island, I too wanted to go. This was my primary goal when I decided to visit Indonesia and despite all the amazing adventures I had already experienced, I was very much looking forward to this day. The tour company picked me up from the hotel at 5am and delivered myself, and others in the group, at the dock where we met our tour guide and crew for the day. We set off soon after and made our way to the first stop, Padar Island. Padar is known for its triple beaches (black, white and pink) which are all visible after a short hike to the top of the peak. After taking in the views and shooting some photos, we returned to the boat and headed to Komodo Island.
Komodo Dragons are the largest reptile on the planet
Labuang Bajo on the Island of Flores offers stunning sunsets
We docked, paid our admission fees and met with our park guides for a quick information session then started our walk around a piece of the island. It did not take long to be face to face with the largest lizard on the planet, the Komodo Dragon. Seeing them on television does not do justice for how large they truly are. Keep your distance as these apex predators can be fatal, though your park guide will have a stick to fend them off if something sets them off. On the island, we also saw a wild boar and some deer, though there are other species around including various snakes and water buffalo. The guides were very informative and helped with taking photos. After the tour, I met with some locals to enjoy coffee on the beach while other members of the group purchased souvenirs. Once we all reconvened it was time to jump back in the boat for a quick trip to the pink beach for lunch and snorkeling.
After an hour at the beach we continued the tour with a stop at Manta Point and two more spots for snorkeling. Being underwater to see all the fish was an amazing experience as well. At this point of the day, after seeing the dragons, everything else became a blur, likely due to how tired I was. We arrived back in the docks at sunset and were returned to our hotels. I enjoyed a hot shower and passed out. The next day, I met up with a local who showed me a small cave system not far from the town before I needed to go to the airport.
Island of Gods
Of course if you are going to Indonesia, you cannot skip the most famous island, Bali. It is truly paradise. I stayed at the Alila Ubud, and had arranged transportation with them. Coming from the hotel industry myself, I was blown away by the service received at this gorgeous property. I later learned this is the norm in Bali resorts. I opted to enjoy some downtime and stayed on the property for the evening, enjoying the onsite restaurant and the infinity pool before retiring to the room.
The following day started off with a delicious breakfast at the hotel before meeting up with a local who agreed to show me around. We hopped on his motorbike and made our way to the Monkey Forest. Here you can meet local, wild macaques (although really they are found all over the island) which was such a fun experience. From here, we made our way over to the Tegalalang Rice Terrace, a very popular spot for all visitors. It was a treat to enjoy a stroll through the terraces and some lunch overlooking the lush greenery. As the heat started to build, it was time to cool off at one of Bali's incredible waterfalls, Tegenungan. Once refreshed, there was more to see with a walk along the beautiful Campuhan Ridge Walk. As we finished up the walk and returned to the motorbike, we had discovered a Food festival was taking place. I feel so lucky to have been here during this time as it was the perfect opportunity to sample many local dishes at once. With a full belly and no more energy after a packed day, it was time to once again catch up on some much needed sleep.
The most relaxed macaque in the Ubud Monkey Forest
The Last Stop
Posing in front of the Monas Independence Statue in Jakarta
The tour of Indonesia was not over quite yet. There was one more full day to enjoy so I jumped on another plane on my way to Jakarta. This massive capital city has so much to offer, including traffic like you have never seen before. I once again met up with my local friend who had agreed to show me a couple of the sites during my short time here. We tried some street food and jumped into a taxi to see the Batik Museum to learn about this local style of textile. If you are visiting Jakarta, it is impossible to skip a visit to MONAS, the National Monument. Around the monument, you will find many vendors once again selling all sorts of goods and snacks. Our timing was perfect as a storm was rolling in just as we finished up our visit so we flagged down a taxi and went over to enjoy a delicious late lunch/ early dinner at Dirty Duck's. Due to a very early flight the next morning, I needed to head back to the hotel to wash up and sleep.
My first experience in Indonesia blew me away. It is to this day, difficult to grasp just how much this country has to offer. With thousands of volcanic islands covering such a large area, the diversity in landscapes, animal species, people groups and history, there really is something for everyone here. Since this trip, I have returned to Bali for a three week stay and will be returning again to explore more. Very high on my list is to meet Orangutang on the island of Kalimantan (Borneo) and climb a few more volcanos.