3 WEEKS IN: INDONESIA
Terima kasih for your people. Terima kasih for your temples. Terima kasih for your hospitality. Terima kasih for your food. Thanks Indonesia.
If, by any chance, you can get away for 3 weeks or more, go to Indonesia. That's an easy decision. The hard part will be deciding which of the more than 17,000 islands you want to go to. After a lot of research I decided to go to Java, Bali, Lombok and the Gili Islands. If you have more time and you feel adventurous I'd suggest Sumatra, Papua, Flores, Kalimantan or Sulawesi. But if it's your first time in Indonesia you should rather stick to my itinerary since you'll be able to see the most famous places and also, because the other islands are a bit more savage.
My first stop was Yakarta. That's where international flights arrive. From there, I immediately flew to Yogyakarta, the main city in Java. I stayed there 3 days. The first day we strolled down the city. It's not a very touristic place but I did not find it dangerous. To go from one place to the other you travel with a "becak". Just talk to a driver in the street, agree on a cost and stick with him the entire day. He'll take you everywhere you wanna go to. A single trip should be around 10,000Rp. Our driver told us none of them own the "becaks", they rent them and sleep in them since they live far away from the city. The city is what you would expect, a lot of people, lots of bikes and bazaars and very few tourists.
One day is enough to see the city centre and visit the birds market, the bazaars and the Sultan's palace, the Kraton. At the palace, they have performances every day so check the schedules with your hotel. My hotel in Yogya was Delta. A double room with a fan and a private bathroom is around 17$. I know, so cheap you might think it's not a good hotel but you can check the pictures of our room entrance below. It's super nice, clean, breakfast was included and the staff is so helpful. Also, right in front of the hotel, you'll find a restaurant where you can eat cobra. You'll have to tell them in advance because they actually have to hunt it first!
The second day, we went to see the sunrise at Borobudur, the largest Buddhist temple in the world. Watching the sunrise sitting at the top of the temple is something that you'll remember. Once the sun is out you can start walking around its corridors. It has hundreds of Buddha statues and the walls are covered in narrative relief panels that will make you want to spend hours inside the temple. That was my first time at a temple of that magnitude and it really leaves you speechless. If you go to Java, this is a must.
On the third day, we went to Dieng. There you'll find not so impressive temples but you'll see a volcano. If you don't have enough time you can skip it. After that, we headed to Prambanan, a hindu temple dedicated to Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. The main temple is surrounded by a large number of smaller ones.
After Java, we went to Bali. It's easier buying the flights between islands once you get there. Just by walking around the touristic places, you'll find "agencies" that will sell you the tickets. In Bali, our first stop was Kuta. We didn't stay long because Kuta was like being in Miami. It's like a bubble of fake and touristic places in the middle of an ancient island. If you are looking for authenticity, avoid Kuta. But, if you still want to go, there are some places you can visit like the Ulu Watu (a temple in a cliff) or Jimbaran beach. We stayed at Poppies Bali, a boutique hotel. Check our cottage below. The hotel was the best part of Kuta.
After a couple of days in Kuta, we hired a driver that took us to a town in Bali surrounded by rice paddies and temples, Ubud. Organize your trip in a way that you can spend here as many days as you can. The town itself has many things to do. It's an arts center so you'll find lots of small artisan galleries of wood statues, silver jewelry, stone figures, paintings... There are many good local restaurants where you'll eat the best Indonesian dishes. You can walk around the entire town. The massages at the hotels and spas are less than 30$. And not to forget "Monkey Forest", a huge forest where you'll feel like Indiana Jones going from temple to temple among thousands of monkeys that will jump at you and even fight with you if you have food in your hands. I'm not even kidding. They will.
One of the most famous restaurants is Cafe Lotus. Low tables surrounding a pond and delicious Indonesian food makes it almost impossible to find a seat, so reserve in advance and be ready to enjoy a cold Bintang and the best food in Ubud.
Other than the town itself, what makes Ubud the place to stay in Bali is that it's pretty close to the main temples and places to see. In your hotel, you'll be able to hire a driver that will take you wherever you want. Just by driving around the area you'll see rice paddies and family mini temples. On our way to a rice paddy, we started seeing hundreds of kids marching with their school uniforms and it was brought to our attention that they were preparing for their annual Independence Day celebrations.
After such an amazing drive, we got to a rice paddy. There a lot of rice paddies in Bali where you can go eat. Just ask your driver to take you to one.
And of course, the temples. We visited five, all very different from each other. In order to enter the temples you'll need to buy a sarong that will cover your legs. You'll probably find women selling them in the streets.
One of the temples we visited is called Goa Gajah. I'm not gonna lie, it's creepy. As creepy as a cave which façade has a devil's mouth and other creatures. It's a meditational temple and inside there are three stone idols. You won't need more than an hour to go into the cave and see the bathing pools and fountains.
At Pejeng's village there are 3 temples you can visit.
Very near Ubud you can go to Tampaksiring, the village of two different temples: Tirta Empul and Gunung Kawi. Tirta Empul is a hindu balinese water temple. Legend has it that the sacred spring was created by the God Indra. There's something magic when you see how the balinese hindus have kept the tradition and the belief of the ritual purification of the water. First, they make an offer to the temple and then they bathe in a pool carved of stone. On the other hand, Gunung Kawi is a funerary complex and one of Bali's largest and most ancient monument. It consists on ten rock-cut shrines. Each shrine is believed to be a memorial of the 11th century balinese royalty.
Finally, a temple not to miss is Pura Besakih as it is the most important temple of Hindu religion in Bali. A breathtaking mountain scenery surrounds the temple that rises majestically on the slopes of Mount Agung. You'll probably see hundreds of people bringing offers to the Gods and the temple. Nearby, you'll find a market with amazing and native souvenirs. I bought a "Kris", an asymmetrical dagger with blade patterning. Is both a weapon and a mystical object, as it's believed to have magical powers.
After everything we experienced there, leaving Bali was hard but we needed to keep going to our next destination, Lombok. To tell you the truth Lombok was just a "pass by" place to get to the Gili Islands but we decided to stay just because something caught our attention: a 3 day hiking trip to the Gunung Rinjani volcano. So, we looked for a hotel in Senggigi, which is the most important beach place in Lombok. We found the Mascot hotel, a pretty cheap but nice hotel and we booked our stay for one night (check out our cottage below). Then, we headed towards the beach and we spent the afternoon talking to some locals. You won't see many tourists there.
The next day, our trip to the volcano started. We woke up at 4 am. We packed a light bag and brought our wind and polar jackets and we started the hike with our guide and his team. They took care of the food and the tents. We just needed to worry about making it to the top. It was one of the most challenging things I've ever done in my life. The reward of making it was spending two nights sleeping under the most amazing views. But getting there wasn't easy. The first day the path was really steep and after the first 4 hours I started seeing how other people would turn around, tired and scared as the path is not safe at some points. After that, every breath was harder to take and after almost giving up I made it to the top right before the sunset. The guide set up the camp and they cooked for us. The view of the interior of the volcano was an amazing blue lagoon that made me forget I couldn't feel my legs!
The second day we descended to the lagoon and we swam in it. Then, we went back up through another route having to climb rocks that were bigger than me. At some point, my guide, who was wearing flip flops, had to lift me up with one hand because the rock in front of me was so huge I couldn't climb it. We spent the night on the other side of the volcano. Finally, the last day we went back down which means that we walked for 9 hours through slippery surfaces.
After our 3 day hike, I had muscle fatigue. Lucky for me the last part of the trip was about not doing anything but laying on the beach in the Gili Islands. So, back in Sengiggi we took a boat to Gili Trawangan. We travelled with locals (and potato bags and animals). The islands are so small that no cars are allowed so you either walk or take a horse carriage. We looked for a cabana right by the beach and we found Windy Pondok, a hotel with small cottages in the sand and a private cabana for each room right in front of the water.
There are 3 Gili islands. The best one is Trawangan. It's the biggest one and has the best beaches and night life and restaurants. And after all the nooddles we ate, some carbs tasted like heaven. You can do day trips to the other islands and do snorkel in the turquoise waters. The perfect ending to a perfect trip.