Java is a destination many people simply don’t allow enough time for and a question we’re often asked is “I have only a week in Java, where should I go?” Read on for our thoughts.
The answer to that question largely depends on where you enter the island, where you’re heading to and what sort of activities you like to do. But given that most people enter Java through Jakarta and want to make their way to Bali, it’s pretty easy to give a few suggestions for a handful of spots to spot at to fill a single week in Java. To be honest though, Java is worth a lot more, at least two weeks, so if you can stretch to a longer stay, pop over to our two weeks in Java itinerary. Also, if you really know nothing at all about Java, take a look at our highlights of Java piece.
Java is big (it is roughly 1,000 kilometres from east to west) and densely populated, with plenty of creaking infrastructure thrown in for free. The ground transport is very slow and at times quiet uncomfortable—don’t be surprised when something as little as 100 km take an entire day to cover. Because of these factors, getting around, even with judicious use of domestic flights, can be time consuming. There is though a quite reasonable train system and with just a week-long stay, the train is the way to go.
Java’s wet season runs roughly late October to late February. During this time, road travel is fine on the major roads, but landslides do happen and there can by trip disruptions. If you’ve got a date with a long haul international flight, be sure to allow enough wiggle room to make sure you don’t miss it. Once the wet season finishes, Java blossoms, with lush rolling hills and clear skies delivering spectacular volcanic views. Costal areas can feel very hot during the day, but evening temperatures, particularly in the higher inland, can drop at night. If you are planning on climbing volcanoes, bring protective cold weather gear—even in dry season.
Travel in Java during Ramadan is still possible, though expect many restaurants to be closed (or minimally staffed) during the day and transport can be very busy around Eid.
Assuming you’re arriving in Jakarta, with just a week on Java it can be tempting to leave the city immediately, but we’d say say instead give the city a day (if for no other reason than to acclimatise). There are a couple of museums worth seeing and the old quarter of the city (Kota) is worth a poke around.
On the second day, get a morning train to Bogor, where the main attraction is the fantastic botanical gardens, established in the early 1800s by the Dutch as a residence for the Governor, a botanical research facility and a place for the upper class to picnic. While the gardens alone are worth half a day, a visit to a Wayang Golek Workshop is a good way to fill out your day. Get a late afternoon train (or bus) back to Jakarta.
Leave Jakarta on an early morning train for Yogyakarta, the launching point for the magnificent Buddhist temple of Borobudur. The trip takes around eight hours, so aim for an 08:00 train. While it sounds like a waste of the day, this is actually a very scenic trip and a far better way to take in the country than by flying over it. If you are time pressed though, flights are cheap and fast.
Borobudur was built during the ninth century and the temple was used by the Javanese population until around the 14th century when surrounding Islamic sultanates expanded and the island’s conversion to Islam began to gather steam. With an outlook to Merapi, it is quite magnificent.
With three days in Yogyakarta, you have plenty to choose from. Aside from Borobudur, there is the fascinating temple complex of Prambanan, a water palace and the Sultan’s palace—and much more. If you would like some beach time, consider a daytrip south to Parangtritis Beach, or if you’re move history inclined, the Dieng Plateau can be visited on a very long day trip from Yogyakarta.
After getting your fill of Yogyakarta, a gruelling full-day trip awaits to get to the lofty Gunung Bromoten hours of ricefields, trucks and maniacal traffic. As your time is so limited, doing an organised tour is really the only way to fit this in, so book onto one of the tours sold through one of the many agents in Yogyakarta. This tour will include transport to Bromo, accommodation in Bromo and your transport onwards to Bali. If you have more time, skip the tour, get the train to Probolinggo and do it yourself.
The towering active volcano complex surrounding Gunung Bromo is a popular destination for tourists in Java, but is often overlooked by those wanting to make a quick exit from Yogyakarta and who choose to fly to Bali from there. While flying from Yogya to Bali is a good option for those with little time on their hands, Bromo is such a wonderful place that the extra time spent travelling there is well worth it. In fact, most of these tours depart Yogya one day, spend that night on the crater rim near Bromo and depart late morning for Bali. It’s a brilliant alternative to flying.
Located on the south coast of West Java roughly half way between Jakarta and Yogyakarta, Pangandaran and its sleepy sister Batu Karas offer laid back beach time, some decent surfing and some interesting off beach distractions. Three of four days would be a good spread in either of these beachside spots, though be sure to allow for the time to get here.
Stuart McDonald co-founded Travelfish.org with Samantha Brown in 2004. He has lived in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, where he worked as an under-paid, under-skilled language teacher, an embassy staffer, a newspaper web-site developer, freelancing and various other stuff. His favourite read is The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton.
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.