Getting around Indonesia
Trains and planes
Train travel in Java
Indonesia is a massive archipelago spanning over 5,000 kilometres from its western tip in Aceh to the eastern border in Papua, and travelling across this huge country requires the use of a wide variety of transport (including boats, which we cover here). On the densely populated island of Java, which is the home to more than 120 million people, a popular and relatively fast form of transport is the railway, which connects all the major cities (including Jakarta, where the trains have been in the news).
There are also train services in Sumatra, but the train lines there are not connected to one another, making long distance travel impossible and usually not worth the effort. In Java, the story is different, with frequent trains between many of the destinations that travellers are likely to find themselves heading to.
As a general rule trains are faster than buses in Java, but also more expensive. We like to think of train travel as a great compromise between scenery-skipping flights and stomach-churning buses. For example the journey from Bandung to Yogyakarta by train takes eight hours and costs 100,000-120,000 rupiah depending on the class, while by bus it takes 12 hours and costs 90,000 rupiah. Occasionally it is possible to pick up an economy fare on a train with cramped bench seats for a slightly lower price than the bus, but be warned that the bus in this instance may well be more comfortable.
Indonesian trains offer three different classes of travel: economy (Ekonomi), which used to be fan-cooled (as you can see in the photos in this story!) but is now mostly air-con and no longer available on many popular routes; business (Bisnis), which has larger coach-style seating in a two-two configuration; and executive (eksecutif), which has air-con, more legroom and power sockets for all your gadgets. On trunk routes the services tend to be primarily business and executive.
In the economy and business carriages, sellers will regularly jump on the train to sell food, drinks and knick-knacks, meaning you don’t need to go hungry on your journey. In all carriages you will be regularly offered nasi goreng on plates from the train staff themselves, but you pay a premium for this service.
All classes of carriages have clean squat toilets and racks for luggage which are large enough to fit even the biggest of backpacks. It is worth noting that theft on trains is not unknown in Indonesia so it’s best to keep valuables close especially if heading to the toilet or having a sleep.
The process of booking a ticket for train travel in Indonesia is fairly simple. Head to the nearest train station and ask for the ticket office. The ticket office can arrange tickets for train travel that day or for weeks in advance. Outside of holiday periods and weekends, trains are rarely fully booked and pre-purchase is not absolutely necessary. If you find yourself stuck during a holiday period without a train ticket, it is possible to obtain black market tickets from agents who generally buy tickets in bulk and on-sell them at hefty premiums. Check in shops surrounding the train station!
A great place to get started on planning for your train journey is www.kereta-api.co.id. The site is only in Indonesian, but it is easy enough to make sense of. Not all fares are listed on the site, particularly those cheaper economy tickets, but it does give a good idea of where trains go to and from, how long they take and what the approximate costs are. More accurate and reliable information is available at train stations.
Travel travel in Java is a fantastic way to see the countryside without having to endure the perils of bus travel. The scenery is magnificent, the service efficient and the price competitive. Tempted?
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