Indonesia: a welcome surprise

Indonesia

Indonesia was an unlikely addition to our bucket list. It hitched itself on because it happened to be a convenient place to view the total solar eclipse of March 2016. But having booked our tickets to Palembang (from where the eclipse would be visible), we decided to add Borobudur and Bali on the sightseeing list.  And now looking back, have no regrets. Seeing Borobudur, a world heritage site, was a humbling, soothing and a wondrous experience, all at the same time.  And Bali was a magical island, full of astounding and varied natural beauty, from surreal sunset skies to tranquil lakes shrouded in mist and vibrant intricately designed ancient temples to pristine beaches of clean white sand.

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At first sight, Jakarta airport looked like a quaint throwback. Unlike the gleaming tall glass facades that one expects at an international airport of the capital of a country, it was spread out horizontally with sloping tiled roofs.  But we were quite efficiently ushered through immigration. One of the few countries where Indians are given visa on arrival without any fee!

Jakarta

Jakarta is a crowded bustling city, subject to huge traffic jams. The long elevated road from the airport almost to the city centre tries to mitigate the problem to some extent. But we noted that we would need to leave our hotel well in time for our departure 3 days later. The best place to get away from the crowds and traffic is to stay in the Ancol region in North Jakarta.  This is an area with restricted entry for both locals and guests, regulated by an entrance fee per vehicle as well as number of persons.

The Ancol region lies along the coast and besides having lovely beaches, looks like one large green park with quiet walkways. There are no residences here and besides a few hotels, only activity areas and amusement parks. The most famous of them is the Dunia Fantasi with water parks and action rides. We stayed at the Discovery Hotel and Convention Centre with excellent rooms and restaurants.  But what stands out from our Ancol stay is the excellent dinner that we had at the Bandar Djakarta Restaurant located a pleasant 2 ½ km walk from our hotel. The whole atmosphere there is electric with locals crowding the tables. The menu is primarily seafood and the guest get to make their choice from a live “aquarium” located near the entrance. The food is spicy and washed down with the local beer, it made for a memorable experience.

Things to do in Jakarta

One day’s outing is enough to view Jakarta’s main monuments, the Istiqlal mosque, the Jakarta Cathedral church (30% of the population of this Islamic country are Christian) and the National monument. We reached the open air plaza with fast food joints adjoining the latter around dusk and spent the evening watching locals talking and eating with their families.

But you need to budget one whole day to visit the Teman Mini Indonesia Indah, a sprawling 250 acre amusement park that brings Indonesian culture & nature to life via museums & replicas of famed sights as well as everyday structures like the local houses. An aerial ropeway and elevated train track both allow a bird’s eye view of the park’s greenery and its attractions. You can even taste the various cuisines at the eating joints within the park. A lazy way to see the diversity of various regions of Indonesia without actually travelling there!

Borobudur

After a 2 day trip to Palembang to view the eclipse, we landed at Yogjakarta airport, drove directly to Borobudur and checked into the Manohara Borobudur Hotel located just next to the temple. This hotel is elegant and quiet, but more importantly, because of its proximity, it allows easy predawn access to the floodlit temple and the climb to the top to see the sunrise.

We then walked down at our leisure in the wan early morning sunlight; our guide explaining to us the meaning of the elaborate well preserved carvings on this massive 800 year old, 1500 square feet, nine-tiered World Heritage monument. The design of this monument is thought to represent both Buddhist cosmology and the state of the human mind! The trip back to the airport included a stop at the Prambanan temples, a group of again 800 year old Hindu temples with sharp tall elaborately carved spires, which are well worth a visit.

Bali

Bali’s Denpasar airport is a short flight away from Yogjakarta but the appearance of the airport and the atmosphere is charmingly exotic and relaxed. You know that you are going to have a great time there! There are three distinct regions of Bali that every traveler should experience: the beaches and vibrant nightlife in the south (Kuta, Legian, Nusa Dua), the misty mountains in the North around Beratan Lake and the laid-back charming area in and around Ubud. Each is a different face that Bali shows its visitors.

Kuta and Legian’s beaches are legendary, both for the clean long sandy areas and a warm sea that is suitable for wading, sailing and just gazing at from under a beach umbrella. It is even suitable for surfing for the debutant surfer with training offered and surfboards on hire. The colourful sunsets on the beaches are an awesome sight and the setting sun brings to life the beach shacks with the clink of glasses, cheery laughter of tourists and the aroma of mouth-watering seafood. After a sumptuous meal, we headed over to Sky Garden a 5 storeyed disco with different types of music playing on each floor. Each to his/her own taste! The modest entrance fee includes a drink and entry for the ladies is free. The next day, we pampered our muscles, sore from the extensive exertion of the disco dancing, with a relaxing Balinese massage.

The kecak dance

The kecak dance should be a “no miss” item on your Bali trip. This is a group dance of over 100 bare chested Indonesian men wearing a checked black and white “skirt” who continuously chant hypnotically and rhythmically. They enact the story of the mythological Ramayana and we were held enthralled during the entire hour long performance. We saw the show held in a small amphitheatre near the Uluwatu temple against the background of a fiery sunset, which made it even more memorable. But watch out for monkeys who abound in the temple environs who will snatch you caps, glasses, phones or cameras!

The next day we took off for Beratan lake in the north which is included in the list of the world’s 20 most beautiful lakes. The climb up to 4000 feet in the mountains took us past green terraced rice fields that were soothing to the eyes. The lake was surrounded by mist and felt cool and refreshing after the heat of the southern Bali beaches. The Ulun Danu temple poised at the edge of the lake with painted carvings made for great photo opportunities.

We spent the last 3 days at a resort in Ubud. Except for short excursions to the “Sacred Monkey Forest” and the local curio market we just lazed in the resort’s swimming pool with a waterfall, took leisurely evening walks and took more relaxing massages. There were plenty of restaurants in Ubud offering various cuisines to satisfy our palate. Ubud offered us a sojourn in serenity, before returning to “civilization”!

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Indonesia was an unlikely addition to our bucket list; Full of astounding and varied natural beauty, from surreal sunset skies to tranquil lakes shrouded in mist and vibrant intricately designed ancient temples to pristine beaches of clean white sand.
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 Thank you, Suhas Prabhu for writing this wonderful guest post.

suhas prabhu
Suhas Prabhu

Suhas Prabhu is a pediatrician from Mumbai with a passion for travel. He has been travelling for the past 25 years and has visited over 25 countries. He usually travels with his wife doing his own research rather than organized tours.

35 Comment

  1. If only I had the money to travel to Indonesia…my best friend is from there! Reading your blog post was enough for me to imagine I was there in person!

  2. Swati says: Reply

    Borobudur is such an amazing place. The sunrise would be so wondrous there. I have heard so much about the dance at Uluwatu temple. Trek to Beratan lake sounds great 🙂 Glad you had such a great time
    Swati recently posted…3 Day Hampi – Trip Expert Award 2017My Profile

  3. Thanks for a lovely post on Indonesia. Your tips on where to stay in Jakarta are really useful. I had read somewhere that Borobodur has a relation with India and the Hindu mythology as well. Is the story known to you as well? If yes, is it valid?

  4. Thanks for a great post on Indonesia. Most people just head for the beaches, but Indonesia has so much more to offer.Your tips on Jakarta are most helpful.
    Gastrotravelogue recently posted…MILAN HOSTELMy Profile

  5. Indrani says: Reply

    I am in the process of chalking out an itinerary for Indonesia. Your post has helpful pointers.
    Looks like there is ample opportunity for good photographs.

  6. Marge says: Reply

    Indonesia wasn’t one of my dream destinations before but after the aggresive tourism campaign that their tourism department did in which I got to see how beautiful this country really it, it has made its way into my bucket list. I do want to visit Bali in particular and also Borobudur. The kecak dance looks interesting.

  7. Sandy N Vyjay says: Reply

    Indonesia is indeed a mesmerizing mosaic of natural wonders and heritage structures. I am really awed by Borobudur and would like to get there someday. The culture of Indonesia is also intriguing and am fascinated by the influences of Indian culture.

  8. neha says: Reply

    Indonesia is a very small country but it has so much to offer. I guess I won’t be able to do justice to jakarta and bali both if I were to make a single trip. So, I am thinking to do two trips there – one to bali and another one to Jakarta. Both are beautiful.

  9. Indonesia is a beautiful country and it has so much to offer. I am already awed by its beaches, landscapes, natural wonders, and heritage. The Kecak dance seems quite interesting and hiking till worlds most beautiful lake will be adventurous and thrilling. Surely gonna include Borobudur in my trip to Indonesia.

  10. Reshma says: Reply

    Indonesia is surely one of the most beautiful and culturally rich countries in South East Asia. Having spent a little time in this country, I have a long list of places to cover here including Jakarta! The Kecak dance looks like a splendid performance. Would love to witness this as I have seen men wearing ‘skirt’ like attire there but not a dance performance!
    Reshma recently posted…Ghorepani Poon Hill Trek – An Adventure in the Annapurna MountainsMy Profile

  11. Punita says: Reply

    Surprisingly, I have never heard of Borobudur before. It looks like a large temple complex, with such grand architecture. The upturned bell structures caught my eye.
    Punita recently posted…Cocktail of opulence and tragedy at the Habsburg PalaceMy Profile

  12. Shona says: Reply

    I’ve been to Jakarta & Bali and enjoyed both, but I am itching to get to Borobudur!
    Shona recently posted…Fine dining For Less: #2 Capetown, Copenhagen & Sydney!My Profile

  13. The sunset from your first photo is truly amazing. I would love to visit Indonesia myself one day. The kecak dance seems like a great experience not to miss on a trip like this.
    Bilyana | OwlOverTheWorld recently posted…The Book Every Traveler Should Have (203 Travel Challenges Book Review)My Profile

  14. Susan R says: Reply

    We’ve been to Bali but didn’t see a kecak dance, looks like we missed out! As for Indonesia, the temple in Borobudur would be high on my to visit list. Beratan Lake sounds well worth a visit too

  15. Midori says: Reply

    I did a similar travel many years ago (when I hadn’t still a blog). Your post brings me so many great memories! It was my first travel alone! Thanks for sharing!

  16. Bali needs no introduction as one of the most famous places in Indonesia but loved reading this quick guide to the country. I’d definitely be interested in visiting Jakarta and the Borobudur temples.

  17. Looks like a really nice trip. Bali is on the list and it’s good to know I could also do Jakarta in the same trip.

  18. David says: Reply

    I’m hoping to see Borobudur and Bali when I visit Indonesia in September so this is a timely article. This provides a good guide for both so have pinned it for future reference.
    David recently posted…A Guide of What to See in Northern MaltaMy Profile

  19. Karla says: Reply

    Indonesia is one of my favorite countries. I loved it there. I did borabodur on my own, it was so cheap and lovely.

  20. I did have a chance to visit Bali around the next week but it was only for 4 days. Am glad I skipped it, as there is a lot to do in Indonesia and I feel that even a week isnt enough to experience Bali properly.
    Witnessing the sun rise and set in Bali is definitely a wonderful experience, which I tend to have soon enough.
    Arnav Mathur recently posted…20 Photos That Will Make Ladakh your Instagram Favorite DestinationMy Profile

  21. We have never thought about going to Indonesia, but it seems to be an interesting country! Thanks for sharing this!
    Travel with Mei and Kerstin recently posted…The Lichtenstein Castle: An Obsession Unlike Any Other…My Profile

  22. Megan Jerrard says: Reply

    Indonesia is on my bucketlist – I’ve been hearing more and more about the destination lately, seems to be popping up as the new “it” destination among travelers this year – I can understand why too – of the 1700 something islands Borobudur and Bali are definitely on my radar, and I really want to get to Komodo too. Thanks for reaffirming my desire to visit soon!

  23. Nice Post, I remember going to Borobudur and Prambanan, many years ago.
    How much is the entrance fees these days?
    Indonesia has so many different things going on its an amazing place.
    Still more to see 🙂

  24. Julia says: Reply

    Indonesia is on my bucket list and it looks so pretty there! Was Bali crowded with tourists? That’s been my main concern with visiting.

  25. Indonesia is amazing and I am sorry I missed Borobudur on my visit. What an incredible place. Thanks for sharing! #feetdotravel
    Stephanie (1AdventureTraveler) recently posted…See Amazing China Gigantic Army of Terracotta WarriorsMy Profile

  26. Kasia says: Reply

    Never been to Indonesia before. I would love to see Bali. Would you be able to recommend any nice hote lin Bali ? 😉

  27. I’v only been in Bali and thought it was awesome! I would love to visit more of Indonesia. And also go back to Bali for surfing!

  28. Martin says: Reply

    The culture of Indonesia is truly interesting. I plan to visit it in the future.

  29. Rocio says: Reply

    Indonesia another one in my list! Especially Bali has been my favorite! I guess this kind of trip is more spiritual and touch your soul after that. I am so such curious about it!!!

  30. Nathan says: Reply

    Your photos are gorgeous! It makes me want to get back to Indonesia ASAP. I miss the beaches and temples.

  31. Indonesia was love at first sight for me. There was so much natural, cultural and spiritual beauty to explore. Can’t wait to go back.

  32. I have never been to this part of the world. If I ever get enough time off for the plane ride (from USA) I want to visit Bali then hop over to the Philippines where my husband’s ancestors live.
    Carmen Baguio recently posted…6 “Must Do” Activities in Athens, GreeceMy Profile

  33. The last time I was in Jakarta I took a unofficial taxi from the airport (although I know, I’d should never do so). And yes, I had to pay for my stupidity. He drove to the next petrol station and said, I’d have to give him the money to fill his petrol tank. Otherwise he wouldn’t drive further. The rest of my stay was much more pleasant 😉

  34. You visited some beautiful parts of Indonesia. Other than the traffic and over population, Jakarta is an amazing city isn’t it! I love your photos of Borobudur, you had indifferent weather which made them unique.
    Only By Land recently posted…Staybridge Suites Liverpool – Travel Blogger ReviewMy Profile

  35. Garth says: Reply

    Wow love to visit Indonesia one day, having done Cambodia last makes us want to see more of Asian countries, as they are so fascinating with a rich history. Borobudur looks incredible!
    Garth recently posted…TorontoMy Profile

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