Featured image by Olivia Brady
1) Try all of the food – an absolute must wherever you go, but the food here is frankly delicious.
If there is one thing Indonesians know how to cook it is sate, and in Jakarta there are countless street food stalls selling chicken sate with peanut sauce.
My new favourite discovery is tempeh, which is a vegan treat made out of soybeans, quite like tofu but nicer. You can have this in sate form or instead of meat in a dish. One of my personal favourites was with aubergine in a spicey sauce with some kapuk on the side, which is like a mix between a prawn cracker and a poppadom.
Definitely sample all of the Gorengs… If you are confused (like I was), here’s a little helping hand:
Nasi Goreng: translates into ‘fried rice’ so it is similar to, but slightly spicier than, Chinese or Southeast Asian fried rice (I also think it is slightly nicer).
Mei Goreng: as above but with yellow wheat noodles.
Kwetiau Goreng: the same again but this time with flat rice noodles (a very handy thing to know for the wheat-intolerant, as most places will not have a clue what you are on about when you say “rice noodles” – they will try to present you with a plate of rice with egg noodles on top).
2) Go to see the National Monument in Jakarta and try to get there in a tuktuk.
The monument is pretty majestic and travelling around central Jakarta you will almost certainly get stuck in the ridiculous traffic for quite literally hours, which is an experience in itself in a tuktuk, plus your driver will most likely be a part-time comedian. This is also a great opportunity to practice your haggling skills, as the drivers are likely to try and be a bit cheeky with their original asking price.
3) Wonder around the miles and miles of tea plantations.
The never ending tiers of vibrant green etched into the sides of the rolling mountains are so so beautiful. The tea plantations in Indonesia are like the cooler and better looking sibling of the rice paddies in Southeast Asia if you ask me. And if you are a tea-lover like me, it is always interesting to see where the contents of your mug has come from.
4) Travel by train with the locals.
Travelling by train is always a lovely way to get a real feel for a place I think, and also a good way to see what the rest of the area looks like as you chug through the untouched countryside.
If you have travelled around Southeast Asia, you will need to readjust your expectations of what it means to be a backpacker here. In Indonesia there is no popping to the reception of your hostel to book onto a sleeper bus full of other backpackers; instead you must book a ticket onto one of the regular trains in order to get to your next destination. These can be bought in advance online at tiket.com, or on the day of your journey directly from the train station.
Expect to be one of, if not the only, foreigner on there. Don’t panic though, if you are having trouble or are confused, simply ask one of the locals – they really are the loveliest people and will be more than happy to help you. (There is a 99% chance they will ask for a selfie with you in exchange for their advice but, as long as you aren’t camera shy, you’ll be absolutely fine here).
5) On that note, in any given place, count how many times the locals ask you for a selfie or picture.
…Or they don’t ask, they just run up to you, sit themselves down on your lap and merrily whack out their selfie stick before you get the chance to even think about objecting. Honestly though, these are some of the nicest people you will ever meet so no matter how many photos you have to smile for, there is no way you could ever get irritated by them.
6) Go to Kawah Putih in Ciwidey, near Bandung.
This stunning lake is referred to as the ‘dead crater’ by the locals because its waters are held within the crater of a dormant volcano. Kawah Putih translates into ‘white crater’ in English, which makes sense because the concentration of sulphur in the water has turned the colour of the lake a bright turquoise and the surrounding landscape a bright white due to its close proximity to the acidic waters. A layer of mist hugs the mountains which overlook the crater and floats above the surface of the water. The entire place is eery and stunning.
It is one of the most unusual and beautiful landscapes I have ever seen, but don’t be fooled by its good looks: be sure to buy a mask to shield your nose and mouth from the sulphur, and don’t be surprised if you have a tickley throat after. Also, I would recommend taking a jumper or jacket with you just in case, because the area does not have the normal humid climate you may have become accustomed to.
7) Go to the hot springs in Bandung and say yes if they ask you if you want a mud mask.
To get there you have to walk along a rocky path, which winds its way around the edge of one of the tree-covered rolling hills, and then down into an unassuming looking alcove. On closer inspection, there is steam creeping out from the gaps between the rocks all over the ground, which is actually quite hot in some places.
The locals, who are quite possibly the most genuinely happy people I have ever met, will offer you a halter neck shawl to wear and then point you in the direction of the hot springs or the mud. A word of warning, the mud mask will not be the relaxing spa-like mask you may imagine; it involves covering your entire body in the naturally hot mud found in pools amongst the rocks. You will then be led, clambering back across the warm rocks, over to the hot springs to wash the mud off and bathe in the warmth of the pools, before making your way back up through the trees and out of the steam-filled alcove.
8) Wake up at 3am and watch the sunrise from within Borobudur temple.
Climb up the steps to the temple by the light of your torch, find a spot within the largest Buddhist monument in the world and wait as the air gets lighter, the sky gets pinker and mist starts to float around the mountains. As the sun peers it’s head over the edge of the horizon and reaches out across the sky, painting the clouds with its warm touch, you will witness what is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.
Stay there after the sun has fully risen too: it becomes beautiful in an entirely different way once the darkness has lifted. Sitting amongst the Buddha statues, looking out across the misty mountains, you will completely forget how sleepy you are and just be happy to be there.
9) Go to ViaVia in Yogyakarta at least once (or go several times like we did).
This is a chance to sample some of the delicious local Indonesian food, or some other Asian dishes, or even just have a falafel sandwich. They do gluten free bread, flourless chocolate brownies and other exciting treats for the food-intolerant among us. They also do some of the most delicious smoothies I have ever tasted and a glorious array of teas.
They also hold yoga classes here, which are a definite must if you have a spare hour in the morning or evening. On top of this, they have a running art exhibition and live music every Friday. So all in all you’d be crazy to miss this one out.
10) Go to Mount Bromo and the Ijen crater if you get the chance.
(we didn’t because it had recently erupted so people weren’t allowed within 1km, so we figured the 12 hour minibus journey may not have been worth it)
The main attraction to Bromo is the fact that there is a constant stream of smoke billowing from the top, so watching the sunrise from a nearby peak is supposed to be pretty spectacular. The blue flames at Ijen sound insane, although have been described by many as “beautiful but dangerous” so this one really depends on how daring you are feeling.
Java is definitely a road slightly less trodden by English travellers; with its Southeast Asian neighbours often stealing its appeal as a place to set down their backpacks, or the allure of Bali and Lombok meaning it is frequently skipped out. But if I had one piece of advice for anyone exploring this corner of the world, it would be to not miss out this gem.