How has it been over a month since we left Indonesia?! There’s truth in the saying “time flies when you’re having fun”, and it feels like just yesterday when we boarded a plane and left the first destination of our big trip behind to start the next leg of the journey in Singapore and Malaysia. Being country number one, Indonesia has firmly cemented it’s place in our hearts, so it’s time to reminisce about the first 2 months of our backpacking exploits in what was a truly incredible country! From Java to Flores, here’s the best experiences of our Indonesian adventure.
Volcanic craters and Tea Plantations in Bandung
If you really want to experience, not just see, Indonesia, a motorbike is the way to do it. And on day 5 of our trip, this is exactly what we did in the city of Bandung, Java. Here, four of us enlisted the local pros and hopped on the back of their bikes to explore the south of the region in what was a breathtaking day ending in serious bottom ache! Our bikers were Ardy, Gil, Tieo and Ega from D&D Tour and Travel, and with a lot of laughs and some interesting street food treats, these guys took us around some of the highlights of this Javanese city.
First stop was Kawah Putih - The White Crater. This volcanic crater was absolutely stunning, particularly because of the green/blue colour of the water that fills the vast lake in the centre of Patuha Volcano. We left our guides at the bottom and after a hair raising journey in a rickety little bus up some very steep hills, we donned our sulphur protecting face masks and explored the edges of the lake. And if that experience wasn’t amazing enough, the journey there was beyond imagination. We biked for hours through the bustling city and came out into the beautiful landscape surrounding the south of Bandung - tea plantations, rice paddies and, as we drove higher into the hills, cool tropical rainforests alive with nature. It was the first time on our trip that we got to see the Indonesia we’d been waiting for.
Next were the tea plantations shrouded in clouds and practically deserted. We had the place to ourselves as we meandered though the never-ending rows of tea and found a perfectly placed rock to climb up and take in the view. Who would have thought that the leaves that make up Britain's favourite beverage could be such a wonderful sight, and the silence surrounding us made the place all that more awe-inspiring.
Heading back to the city, we stopped at a street food hub for our guides to break their Ramadan fast and for us to try some weird (and I want to write wonderful but I’ll just stick with weird!) local delicacies. The guys bought us loads of different deep fried stuff (some of it I’m not even sure what it was) and we got stuck into the random bits of chicken (and when I say ‘bits’ I mean innards) and battered veggies. Amongst other things, we tried intestine (actually pretty nice and like crispy skin), heart and chicken feet - well Will tried the last two, there was no way I was going to eat chicken feet! Let’s bear in mind that at this point I was still convinced that everything I ate was going to give me food poisoning, and this was the first time I put my guard down and went for it. I’m so glad I did because eating here made me realise that, actually, the food was fine and I wasn’t going to puke it all up later!
Green Valleys and Canyons in Pagandaran
By this time we had grown into a big group of like-minded travellers (basically all dutchies with us two brits and one german - hideously outnumbered by half of the Netherlands! But we love them). We were probably the largest group of non-locals to have ever descended on the sleepy coastal town of Pagandaran, and here we became like a big backpacker family. And being non-locals, we decided to take on the top local highlight and visit The Green Valley and The Green Canyon. To get there we enlisted Indonesian guide Dindin - and without him (and at one point we did, foolishly, think let’s try get there ourselves) we would have got hopelessly lost. He took us by motorbike through thick jungle, beautifully expansive rice paddies and little Indonesian villages, and after first visiting a local puppet makers house and learning about his traditional trade, we ended up at The Green Valley.
We then spent the wonderful morning jumping off rocks, sliding down waterfalls, flipping (belly flopping) off rope swings and just generally causing havoc in the jungle streams. It was tremendous fun and we loved every second!
In the afternoon we caught a boat down the river to The Green Canyon. My goodness this place!! It was absolutely breathtakingly stunning! Definitely one of the most beautiful places we have ever seen - the pictures don’t even do it justice. As well as being just as fun as the Green Valley, the Canyon was also a serious work out. Let’s just say, clambering around those rocks and throwing yourself into some very strong waterfall currents, in a bikini, when you’re not the most coordinated person in the world is not at all easy - and of course I ended up falling flat on my back/bum (terrific bruises to show for it) and taking a toe nail off (gross I know sorry) - but the aches and pains the next morning were all completely worth it.
Temple Hopping, Waterfall Swimming and Celebrating Eid-Al-Fitr in Yogyakarta
Yogyakarta was one of the nicest Indonesian cities we visited - I’m not sure why, there’s just something about it that makes it feel less crazy than other places we’ve been. And there’s so much to do there! Yes, ok, one of the things we did was go to the cinema, but it’s worth it when you get a blanket and the seats recline (and there was even one screen that has beds!), but we also visited some of the incredible sights that the city and it’s surroundings had to offer, starting with it’s temples.
We arrived to Yogya on an overnight minibus from Pagandaran which was one of the most uncomfortable journeys ever, but it meant we arrived at temple number 1, Borobudur, in time for sunrise. This temple is iconic due to it’s huge bell-shaped structures and buddha statues. We were all absolutely shattered, beyond shattered even (it’s hard to sleep when the bus driver parks next to a mosque and a man shouting alllllll night), but the beauty of the temple made up for that, even if the sunrise wasn’t quite what we’d hoped for.
The next temple we visited was Prambanan, which was a short and easy bus journey out of the city. Prambanan is a temple complex made up of 240 temples rather than just one like Borobudur, and we spent the day meandering around the beautifully carved structures in the blazing heat (in hindsight, it probably would have been better to visit later in the afternoon when it wasn’t quite so hot!). The buildings were absolutely stunning, so intricately decorated with Hindu designs, and it was sad to see that an earthquake had damaged many of the outer temples. Even the damaged ones however have been partially rebuilt to show what they would have looked like before, and it was definitely worth venturing out from the main trio of temples to the smaller ones surrounding it, not just to get away from the tourists, but also because some of these are just as beautiful, if not more so, than the three that draw the crowds.
Whilst in the city we also rented a motorbike and headed out of town to Taman Sungai Mudal - a series of waterfalls in the jungle mountains surrounding Yogya. They are super steep and our legs ached for days after climbing the stairs back up from the bottom waterfall, but of course, it’s always worth it when you get to spend the day swimming around in turquoise blue waters in the heart of the rainforest. On the way back (and probably something the wouldn’t count as one of our favourite moments but is surely up there with the most memorable!) I decided I’d like to have a go at riding a motorbike for the first time, with disastrous consequences. I didn’t even last 2 minutes before my shoe fell off and I crashed into some bollards, taking someone else’s bike out on the way! Will sitting behind wasn’t too pleased and nor was the owner of the bike, but when he could see how shocked and upset I was he was the nicest guy! It could have been so much worse than it was and man did it cost me a pretty penny - it’s safe to say I won’t be getting on a bike again any time soon, or at least until I’ve learnt to drive a bit better (Will doesn’t trust me too anyway).
On our last evening in Yogyakarta we joined a hostel and went out to watch the celebrations for Eid-Al-Fitr marking the end of Ramadan, along with the resident pet hostel snake, which made everyone who spotted it jump out of their skin! It was amazing to watch the parade and the work that had gone into the floats and dances by the residents of the surrounding villages. The parade went on until way past 1am and we could hear the celebrations going on all night in the streets around our hostel!
BALI AND LOMBOK
Discovering Temples in Northern Bali
Whilst in Bali (a place we returned to on 3 separate occasions because we loved it so much) we spent our time meandering around the local sights, visiting water temples, rice terraces, innumerable beaches, a foodies paradise and a sacred monkey forest. It’s definitely the place to just have a good explore and wander around, whilst also preventing monkeys from climbing on our heads.
Tirta Gangga is a water temple we stumbled upon without realising it was even there, and we’re so glad we did. We’d just visited the Hindu temple of Lempuyang where:
We’d not got the iconic picture that is the main reason everyone goes there because of a 2 hour queue waiting for people to take 15 photos of them doing a yoga pose that signs everywhere say you shouldn’t do.
We’d climbed more stairs than our legs were ok with to visit temples which were a little rundown, unkept and sad looking (we got halfway to the top of the thousands of stairs to then be told it wasn’t worth it and we should probably just turn around - which we did).
We’d just been attacked by a very angry monkey defending his family from us sitting and minding our own business in his temple - probably one of the scariest things that’s happened to us on the trip and has led to an annoying irrational fear of macaques!
So this was definitely a good time to find Tirta Gangga, which was obscured by trees and gates with a little ticket booth announcing it’s presence. In hindsight we probably should have realised that the reason there were lots of little snack shops dotting the pavements was probably because there was something worth seeing nearby, but at the time we were oblivious! Even though it was a bit of a dull and stormy day, the temple was wonderfully serene and peaceful - full of pretty ponds, an array of beautifully carved fountains, pools and shrines, and a lake filled with koi carp with stepping stones to walk over. We spent the afternoon strolling along the pathways and taking it all in.
Monkey Forests, Rice Terraces and Beach Chilling in Southern Bali
We made our way to Ubud, where we were surrounded by artistic crafts and green jungly vibes. Despite hearing some stories of cheeky and aggressive macaques, The Monkey Forest was at the top of our list of places to visit here, and even though we were apprehensive about monkeys (especially because of our plummet to the bottom of the food chain at Lempuyang) we actually found they were much calmer than their wilder neighbours. Maybe that’s because we didn’t take anything - no bags, no jewellery, no food or water bottles, just a camera - with us, because we did see a few people have earrings stolen or their bags opened and the contents promptly riffled through and stolen. It was pretty cool to get so close to the monkeys - even though they’re ‘wild’ they are so used to people they don’t get defensive when we got close to their families, meaning we could get some great photos of the babies. They certainly are very cheeky monkeys, but just don’t let them on your head and don’t take a bag and they won’t bother you at all!
Another place in Ubud which we loved was Tegallalang Rice Terraces, which are such a good spot to just wander around and explore. We visited twice and both times at sunset which meant we missed the crowds and got to see the terraces in all their green glory. We followed the little paths along the edges of the paddies and ventured down into the terraces and up the other side, crossing a stream on the way and seeing some wonderfully picturesque views. It was easy to forget that this was a tourist spot and that we weren’t out the the middle of nowhere in the rural Indonesian countryside.
After visiting the green havens of Ubud, we moved on to the beaches of Uluwatu and Canggu to put in some serious surfing, tanning, chilling and (my favourite) eating time. There are so so many beaches to choose from, and we tried to visit as many as we could including - Padang Padang, Dreamland, Melasti, Uluwatu (which has the best beach bar - Single Fin) and Batu Bolong and Echo Beach in Canggu. The food in Canggu has to get a mention because it is honestly some of the best food we’ve ever had. There are so many interesting restaurants in this suburb of Bali and it’s like they are competing to be the most quirky and foodie - you can eat something different and beautiful every night. It’s not very traditional Indonesian, but the doesn’t bother us as we’d really had enough of Nasi Goreng Ayam (chicken fried rice) by this point. It really reminded us of Falmouth, the town we went to university, which is probably another reason why we loved this place so much - we returned to Canggu 3 times and we still didn’t get to try all the wonderful restaurants, although we gave it a good go!
Climbing Mount Rinjani
Being one of the toughest things we have ever done in our lives, climbing Mount Rinjani on Lombok has got to be up there in the most memorable things we did in Indonesia. As it happens, I have already written a blog post about this part of our trip and so, for fear of repeating myself, you can read about the highs and lows of our journey up one of the highest volcanoes in the country here.
Partying, Cycling and Snorkelling with Turtles on Gili Trawangan
Island life is definitely one of the things we enjoyed the most during our time in Indonesia, so much so that we returned to the little island of Gili Trawangan off the coast of Lombok not once, but twice! The chilled out vibes, the quirky little streets, the lush sunsets and the incredible snorkelling firmly places Gili T as one of our favourite destinations.
It’s known as the party island of the three most popular Gilis, and we certainly did our fair share of partying (and had sooo much fun dancing on the beach into the early hours). But there is also so much more to it than just the party vibe. There’s no cars on the island (something we absolutely loved about it) and so we rented bicycles to get around. We cycled around the entire thing, and actually found that the beaches we stopped at along the way on the other side of the island swiftly became our favourites, mainly because there’s not as many tourists taking up all the beanbags! Saying that, Turtle Point, a beach on the busier side but still a little away from the main strip, has got to be the best by far. Every time we went snorkelling here (and we went a lot) we saw at least 3 turtles, sometimes more! We had some magical moments swimming with the most chilled out turtles ever; they just munch away on the sea grass while we floated over the top or swam down next to them. It was absolute heaven.
Cycling around also meant that, as well as the quieter beaches, we found other places which we definitely wouldn’t have stumbled upon otherwise. One evening as we were making our way to the far side of the island for sunset, we found we couldn’t cycle further along the “road” (definitely not a road) because of the sheer amount of sand across it (bicycles and sand do not mix well!). So we took a detour down a side street and came out into a stunning glade of palm trees lit beautifully by the colours of the setting sun. Further along we found some little restaurants which were basically deserted, and one of them, Pituq Warung, housed some of the best food we’d tasted in Indonesia - if we opened a restaurant, this is what we would want it to be like.
Gliding with Manta Rays on Nusa Ceningan
Island life continued on another cluster of islands, this time off the coast of Bali. Of the three, Nusa Ceningan was our favourite - chilled vibes, practically deserted and stunning views - we spotted some land for sale which set our imaginations wild and led to us picturing the building of a house upon the hill looking over one of the best views of the neighbouring islands and sea below! We can dream right?
Meeting up with Will’s family, we decided to go on a snorkelling trip around the three islands, stopping at points on the shores of both Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Penida. We spent the day swimming amongst the beautiful coral and the endless fish, but the best site by far has got to be Manta Point bordering the rugged cliffs of Nusa Penida. The seriously choppy waters and lack of fins meant some of us didn’t get in to snorkel, but those who did were rewarded with sightings of two gorgeous Mantas gliding their way with ease through the strong currents (while laughing at the struggling humans above).
Biking to the Viewpoints of Nusa Penida
Nusa Penida is known for it’s awe-inspiring view points, so what better way to spend the day but to jump on some motorbikes and visit as many as we could! And it probably wouldn’t have taken quite so long if the roads weren’t in the state that they were. Honestly. THE. WORST. ROADS. EVER. Ouch is all I can say.
But it’s the roads and the incredibly bumpy journey which makes it probably the most memorable day of biking yet. Especially because one road had so much dust piled up on it the wheel just stopped turning! Yes, we fell sideways.
There were several stops on our trip round the island, and first was the iconic Kelingking Beach. There’s a shed load of tourists, but this is made up for by the beautiful view - the T-Rex shaped rock surrounded by the bluest water and even some Manta Rays floating in the currents. Thankfully we managed to find a spot without the crowds to enjoy the view by walking just a bit further along the cliff. It’s possible to go down to the beach as well, but we decided that the rickety ladder was a bit of a step too far, and besides we had other viewpoints to visit!
Our next stop was Angel Billabong - a crystal clear tidal pool with the biggest waves we have ever seen, crashing on the rocks and coming into the pool! I’ve seen pictures of people swimming in it, but there is no way you could have got into that pool on the day we visited and left alive! Scary, but it was amazing to watch the waves splashing high above the rocks and transforming the still water of the pool into a rushing flurry of white water.
From there it was a short walk to Broken Beach - another naturally beautiful place created by the waves breaking down the rocks and carving out a tunnel. And then, we rode all the way back over the roads, that can’t be called roads, to watch the sunset and explore the rock pools at Crystal Bay.
Catching a Boat to Komodo National Park
Leaving the best til last - the boat trip and scuba diving in Komodo National Park was our favourite experience of the whole two months! So much so that it’s got it’s own blog post. Have a read about why it’s up there as the best thing we did in Indonesia here.
So that’s it (finally after over a month of writing this post), that’s Indonesia summed up in 10 crazy, wonderful and unforgettable moments! We properly packed in the experiences, but we’ll definitely still be returning to Indo to do all the things we didn’t have the chance to do (there’s so many things the country is huge!). We hope you enjoyed reading about all the things we packed into 2 months in this incredible country - would you believe there’s even more stuff than this?!
Thanks for reading,
Ellie and Will