Many people arrive in Indonesia through the chaotic capital of Jakarta and immediately try and find a way of getting out of it. A preference for many is to get a train across the island to the first place they know anything about — Yogyakarta. It’s an appealing option to simply jump on an air-conditioned train away from Jakarta and end up somewhere where there is an established and well-functioning tourist infrastructure complete with lovely hotels, modern Western restaurants and the jewel in the crown of Indonesian tourism, Borobodur.
But those with a little more time up their sleeve should think of spending two weeks in Java, incorporating more than just Jakarta and Yogya into their plans. We’ve written about what is possible in one week in Java and no doubt that itinerary is a rush. But with two weeks in Java you can explore some of these places more deeply and jump into a few other places that have fewer foreign tourists, allowing you to become more intimate with one of the most densely populated islands on earth.
The key to a two-week Java trip is to try not to panic when you reach Jakarta. Keep calm, puff your chest out a little and muster up a bit of determination -- a slow exit from the city brings you directly into West Java, a magnificent province visited less frequently than those further to the east.
Day 1: Jakarta
Arrive in Jakarta and find a place to stay. Most of the backpacker accommodation is in the centrally located Jalan Jaksa. It’s a bit of a seedy area and won’t suit everyone, but if you’re looking for a hostel that's a bit more flash and allows you to settle into Jakarta life a little easier, there isn’t a better place than Six Degrees on Jalan Cikini. This street is quite central and also home to some of the best food in Jakarta. Make sure you book a train ticket today for your onward journey tomorrow — Jakarta to Bandung (three hours) costing around 50,000 rupiah, depending on class of travel.
Day 2: Jakarta & Bandung
The main sites of Jakarta can be seen in six hours and because you’ll be heading to Bandung later in the day, an early start is a must. First stop is Monumen Nasional (MONAS) which is within walking distance of Jalan Jaksa and a short cab ride of about 25,000 rupiah ($2.20) from Jalan Cikini. From there, walk across the road to the east to visit two of the most prominent religious buildings in Indonesia: Istiqlal Mosque and the Jakarta Catholic Cathedral. Both are free to enter and the mosque in particular will interest those who have had little contact with Islam.
From here, catch a cab or motorcycle taxi to Kota Tua (the Old City) for about 30,000 rupiah ($2.50). In Kota Tua you’ll find a bunch of interesting museums, and rather sadly, a bunch of old decrepit buildings. Of particular note is the Wayang Museum, which has a fantastic display of traditional Indonesian puppets and masks. Around Kota Tua, stop for a bite to eat and continue walking north towards Museum Bahari, a fascinating maritime museum housed across a number of old spice warehouses built in the 1600s. Be sure to stroll around the nearby residential area to come to grips with local living conditions.
From this northern Jakarta area, return to your accommodation to collect your luggage and catch your train to Bandung. The area around the train station in Bandung can be confronting especially when arriving at night. It’s a good idea to know where you want to stay in advance, but if not, you should be able to find something if you walk up and down the side streets that run off the road that borders the station to the north.
Day 3: Bandung
Wake up early for a trip to Tangkuban Perahu, Bandung’s local active volcano. Catch a black Subang-bound minibus from outside the Hilton hotel by simply waving your arms madly when you see it. Prices to the gate of Tangkuban Perahu are notoriously negotiable for tourists, but you shouldn’t need to pay more than 20,000 rupiah. After being dropped off at the gate and paying your entry fee, it’s a long up hill walk to the crater lip. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to hitch a ride to the top with a local family. If you’re unlucky, you might have a local motorcycle taxi try and take you to the top for a fee. Our advice is to bargain like your life depends on it.
After taking in the sites of Tangkuban Perahu for a few hours, catch a Lembang bound minibus and get off in the middle of town. Once in town, ask locals which bus you need to catch to get to Maribaya, about five kilometres away — you’ll be looking for a small yellow one. After a short ride to Maribaya (5,000-10,000 rupiah), you’ll arrive at the entrance of Taman Hutan Raya Juanda, better known as the Maribaya forest walk. This five-kilometre walk through a conifer-lined river valley takes you past historical tunnels and allows you to see monkeys in the wild. From the end of the Maribaya walk, catch a minibus back into town — look for one that says “Stasiun Hall” if you want to arrive back at the train station. Return to your hotel for a well-earned rest.
Day 4: Bandung to Cipanas
Today is all about getting from Bandung to Garut, a West Javan town famous for volcanoes, geothermal areas and hotels with hot spring water. The best way to make this journey independently is to catch a bus from Cicaheum in the city’s east. Buses to Garut depart regularly from this bus station throughout the day and should cost around 25,000 rupiah. Jump off the bus at the Cipanas turnoff five kilometres before the city of Garut, as this is where most of the best accommodation is based and these hotels usually come with hot spring water piped right into your room. If you’re in the Garut area early enough you can probably see most of the best sights during that day by rental motorbike. We recommend visiting the ancient Hindu temple on a lake called Candi Cangkuang and the stunning natural geothermal site of Kawah Kamojang.
Day 5: Cipanas to Pangandaran
Travel from Cipanas by angkot to the central Garut bus station where you can catch a connecting bus to the beachside town of Pangandaran. Pangandaran is a famous beach destination popular with Indonesians, though not so much with foreigners. Beware that buses to Pangandaran are notorious for ripping off tourists. The maximum you should pay for a trip from Garut to Pangandaran is 35,000 rupiah, although it’s likely you’ll be asked for 60,000 rupiah. Once in Pangandaran, look for accommodation in the lanes running perpendicular to the main beach. For dinner, head down to one of the beach bars.
Day 6: Pangandaran
There are a number of cool things to do around the Pangandaran area and many of them can be accessed either on a tour or independently if you rent your own motorbike. First of all, head 10 kilometres in the direction of Batu Karas to find Agus, a traditional puppet maker who can even put on a small performance for you. From Agus’ workshop, keep heading west towards Green Canyon, a majestic narrow river canyon with a sensational swimming spot at the end. If on motorbike, keep heading west towards Batu Karas where you can stop at one of the many seaside cafes for lunch. Upon return to Pangandaran, it’s time for sundowners once again on the beach.
Day 7: Pangandaran
Today is all about exploring Pangandaran more locally. Head towards the heavily forested peninsula and choose one of two options: take a guide to explore the forest more fully or choose to go it alone and see what happens. Having a guide certainly can help and will generally allow you to spot a lot more wildlife such as a cave bound porcupine or a local deer. After exploring the forest, head to the seafood restaurants on the east side of the peninsula where you can pick a fresh fish and choose to have it fried, grilled or both. The rest of the day: lounge around on the beach.
Day 8: Pangandaran to Yogyakarta
Travel from Pangandaran to Yogyakarta. In peak times, a train booking is necessary -- check out the situation upon arrival in Pangandaran. If you’re happy to wing it, simply catch a bus to Banjar, head to the train station and figure it out from there. The worst-case scenario is catching a bus from Banjar to Yogyakarta. If you prefer to be helped by your guesthouse, most will be able to arrange a train ticket and a minibus connection. Upon arrival in Yogyakarta, find a place to stay. Most of the best backpacker accommodation is right across the road from the train station.
Day 9: Borobodur
Time to take in the pinnacle of Javan tourism, Borobodur. Although doable, getting to the stunning Buddhist temple of Borobodur for sunrise under your own steam is a hassle. The best way to do it is to rent a motorbike rather than trying to catch local buses. But by far the most popular option is to book a tour with your hotel. The good thing about booking a tour through your hotel is that some tours also include a trip out to Prambanan as well. Doing both temples using public transport is too much of a hassle for those with only two weeks in Java.
Day 10: Yogyakarta
Explore the local sights of Yogyakarta. Our favourites are the batik shops on Jalan Malioboro, eating some of the local street food, trying out the most famous Yogya dish of gudeg and visiting the Sultan’s Palace and the water palace. You can get around all of these places on foot or by becak. A full city tour on a becak should cost no more than 100,000 rupiah, but make sure you make it clear to your driver that you don’t want to be taken to any shops unless you specify them -- is a strong likelihood that commissions will be involved.
Day 11: Dieng Plateau
Take a day trip to the stunning mountain plateau of Dieng. Dieng is home to ancient Hindu temples, a number of different geothermal attractions such as boiling pits of mud and one of the most stunning landscapes in Java. Dieng is overlooked by most travellers to Yogya but it's worth the diversion. There are two ways to do a day trip to Dieng from Yogya. The easiest way is to book a tour through any one of the tour agents in town. Otherwise it’s possible to rent a motorbike and ride there yourself. It’s a long way to Dieng and getting there and back in one day requires a start as the sun is rising and will more than likely involve returning after dark. It’s a tiring day of riding, but the scenery is stunning and well worth the effort.
Day 12: Yogyakarta to Cemoro Lawang
When on a tight schedule in Java, you need all the help you can get with transport as it’s the one thing that can really slow your progress. One of the best ways to save time when wanting to see Gunung Bromo is to hop on a tour from Yogyakarta. These tours can also continue on to Kawah Ijen, an active volcano in which hundreds of workers mine and haul sulphur in a setting that resembles the bowels of hell. So today, catch a minibus with your tour company between Yogya and Cemoro Lawang, a village overlooking Gunung Bromo.
Day 13: Gunung Bromo
Waking up before dawn, it’s time to find a great viewpoint for seeing the sunrise over Bromo. Most people take the easy way out and simply get a lift to the main viewing platform on a jeep. After seeing sunrise over Bromo, the jeep will then take you down into the caldera, across the sea of sand and to the base of Bromo itself where you can climb to the summit. Without the use of a jeep, it’s possible to walk to a viewpoint of your choice, but getting to the top of Bromo on foot from there could be a bit of a stretch if you’re continuing your journey that day to Kawah Ijen. If using a jeep, it will take you back to your accommodation where you’ll need to pack up and catch your tour bus to Kawah Ijen.
Day 14: Kawah Ijen
After spending the night a few kilometres away from the Kawah Ijen carpark, you’ll be woken up before dawn again for a strenuous hike to the top of Kawah Ijen. Kawah Ijen is perhaps home to one of the most extraordinary human interest stories in all of Java, with men young and old hauling up to 100 kilograms of sulphur in wicker baskets up the face of the volcano crater and then down the other side to a storage point. There are also stunning views across the Bali Strait to Bali and in other directions towards nearby volcanoes. Upon descending the volcano, your tour bus will take you directly into Bali.
Java has more than enough to keep visitors interested for months on end and a two week journey only scratches the surface. Many people will benefit if they can rent a motorbike in individual towns to enable them to quickly visit local sights. Additionally, using tour companies to cut down on cross country travel is a wise option and can save at least a couple of days and a lot of hassle.
Where to go, how long to stay there, where to go next, east or west, north or south? How long have you got? How long do you need? Itinerary planning can be almost as maddening as it is fun and here are some outlines to help you get started. Remember, don't over plan!
Burma lends itself to a short fast trip with frequent flights thrown in or a longer, slower trip where you don't leave the ground. There isn't much of a middle ground. Ground transport remains relatively slow, so be wary about trying to fit too much in.
Roughly apple-shaped, you'd think Cambodia would be ideal for circular routes, but the road network isn't really laid out that way. This means you'll most likely find yourself through some towns more than once, so work them into your plans.
How long have you got? That's not long enough. Really. You'd need a few lifetimes to do this sprawling archipelago justice. Be wary of trying to cover too much ground - the going in Indonesia can be slow.
North or south or both? Laos is relatively small and transport is getting better and better. Those visiting multiple countries can pass through here a few times making for some interesting trips.
The peninsula is easy, with affordable buses, trains and planes and relatively short distances. Sabah and Sarawak are also relatively easy to get around.The vast majority of visitors stick to the peninsula but Borneo is well worth the time and money to reach.
So much to see, so much to do. Thailand boasts some of the better public transport in the region so getting around can be fast and affordable. If time is limited, stick to one part of the country.
Long and thin, Vietnam looks straightforward, but the going is slow and the distances getting from A to B can really bite into a tight trip plan. If you're not on an open-ended trip, plan carefully.
This is where itinerary planning really becomes fun. Be sure to check up on our visa, border crossing and visa sections to make sure you're not trying to do the impossible. Also, remember you're planning a holiday -- not a military expedition.