If you've ever heard of Java it might be for several reasons; from your first #helloworld, or your first cup of #elixiroflife #coffee, or, and this is the Java I want to elaborate on, as one of IG's trending hashtags last year accompanying pictures of a beautiful #island in Indonesia.
Java is just 1 of the 17,508 islands of Indonesia, but with its 140 million #youreadthiscorrectly inhabitants, the densest island of them all. #worlddominance It is located between the famous paradise island Bali and Sumatra, and home to Indonesia's extremely crowded capital Jakarta.
On the island, people's daily lives are structured by the rules of traditional Islam. And although this has been the main religion for years, you can still find lots of remains of other religion that ruled the island at one point in history, making it culturally rich for visitors.
We arrived on Java in November 2017, after visiting Lombok, Gili Islands and Bali. It was the last stop of our trip, before flying back home and the difference between these islands was immediately clear upon our arrival in Surabaya, the first big city we'd seen in weeks.
East Java (Jawa Timur)
#Surabaya is the second largest city in Indonesia, losing only to Jakarta, and is the capital of East Java. Thanks to its huge port, this city is still of great economical importance. In the 18th and 19th centuries, it was the largest city in the Dutch East Indies and still today you can see the mark of colonial times.
Arriving in Surabaya meant going from the mindfulness of Bali's beaches and temples to one of the busiest cities we'd seen so far, in just a few hours. Although we came from paradise island, we weren't as rested as we should have been. (Thanks to my huge intrinsic #FOMO). Our initial intent for flying to Surabaya, was to use it as base camp for a visit to Mount Bromo. But a few minutes after arriving at our hotel, Artotel Hotel Surabaya (which was really nice and cheap), it took just one look at one another to know: we weren't going anywhere. #soulmates It seemed like we were going to find our peace and quiet among the crowds this time.
We started googling "top things to do in Surabaya", and for once were glad my FOMO wasn't going to affect us too much. None of the items on the list seemed to be real #mustdos. So we were happy to explore without pressure for a few days.
Much to my own delight, the first recommendation was to visit a mall. #hooray #letsgotothemall (This was really starting to feel like my kind of city). Besides being the best place for food, these malls are so big you can spend days in each one of them. And there are many spread all over the city. #shoppingheaven
The few we visited, had up to eight floors per tower on average and about the same number of towers, linked together with large hallways. Besides shops and food courts, a lot of malls hosted mini-amusement parks, with rides, games and even karaoke rooms (which we tried off course). Anyways plenty to entertain yourselves for a few days!
On our second day, my FOMO kicked in a little, so we tried scheduling in some more #culture, and decided to stop at an old tobacco company, called Sampoerna.
The company was founded in 1913 and now hosts a small museum, which you can visit for free. The guides are often students practicing their English.
Production of cigarettes is still done on site and the staff consists of practically all women, who work during school hours in order to support their families. #wonderwomen
All cigarettes are still produced by hand, but this didn't seem to impact production speed at all. As the workers get paid by the target, it felt like we were watching people work in fast forward, which was probably the most impressive thing we'd seen so far.
As a bonus, a free bus tour starts at the museum each day. #wejustmisseditofcourse
Our last stop in Surabaya took us back to colonial times, visiting Hotel Majapahit. This is a historic luxury hotel opened in 1911. If you don't have the budget to stay overnight (neither did we), you can always just visit and go for drinks or afternoon tea (which wasn't very spectacular tbh, but at least you'll get a nice setting to put on your IG #everythingforthegram).
So although we hadn't planned to visit Surabaya, it is a nice place to stay for a day or two, if you have the time. If you don't, no FOMO needed for this place.
Our next plane took us to Central Java.
Central Java (Jawa Tengah)
Now this place should certainly make the FOMO list. It's not only full of natural wonders but the cultural heritage is so rich, it has #unesco written all over the place. Let me give you the highlight real.
Our first UNESCO stop was a Buddhist temple called #Borobudur, ranking as one of the greatest archaeological sites of Asia. The temple consists of different platforms full of Buddha statues covered with #stupas (or bell-like sculptures). Borobudur is one of the most visited tourist attractions of Indonesia, being extremely crowded (and f*cking HOT).
Therefor the best time to visit is either early in the morning (at sunrise) or late in the evening (sundown), with less crowds and more agreeable temperatures.
Of Course our out-of-proportion-sleeping-powers, made sure we had to visit this world wonder with hell's temperature settings.
The site is also a very popular field trip destination for Indonesian schools, so next to tourists the site is overflowing with students.. These students are easy to spot in their uniforms and extreme excitement of seeing a Bule #foreigner (aka us). This meant we got asked to pose for pictures by A LOT of people, making visiting the temple a bit more complex. #seewhatIdidthere
This isn't a phenomenon you'll encounter only at Borobudur, but there seemed to be a proliferation when visiting this site.
After our 5-minutes of fame at Borobudur, our guide advised us to see another architectural wonder later that day, so we headed towards Prambanan
Prambanan, was our second UNESCO World Heritage site and a #Hindu temple complex from the 9th century, built in honor of the personification of the cosmic functions: creation (Brahma), maintenance (Vishnu) and destruction (Shiva), together called the Trimurti. When entering the three main temples on site, you'll see that each of them is dedicated to one of the functions by a huge statue in the middle.
The temple complex has over 200 temples, so you can easily spend of few hours here if you want to soak it all in. Best times to visit, are either early in the morning #sunrise or late in the evening #sundown. There are less crowds and the changing lights make you see different elements of the complex. #inanewlight
You can visit the temples on your own or find a guide to show you around. We met a local guide there who was able to explain us some of its history, in Dutch nonetheless. Be aware that all of these guides seem "free", they will still expect a tip at the end of the tour. #nosuchthingasafreelunch
As a bonus, a few times a week the temple complex transforms into the beautiful stage for the Ramayana ballet.
Once you soaked in all the culture you can bare, there are plenty of other things to do in the region.
Having some trouble adjusting to the high temperatures we went looking for some cooler entertainment. Since we enjoyed the #lazyriver in Waterbom (Bali), we were curious about #cavetubing in Goa Pindul. This is a naturally formed cave, housing an underground river. The site is known as being a tourist attraction, where you float down the river on inflated tires.
Unfortunately due to a lack of strong current on most parts of the river, you'll quickly find yourself floating towards, well.. nothing.. The local solution is hiring guides who wade through the water, pulling a string of tourists on rubber floats, which makes you feel a bit like a big baby who isn't allowed to swim on his own. Even Though the scenery is ok, it's not a show stopper. So if you're bored, try it out, but if you're already short on time, skip this.
If you want to have an interesting cave experience however, Goa Jomblang is a way better place to go. It is known by tourists for its #lightsofheaven, shining through a hole in the roof of the cave.
The cave is made up of three parts. The entry, which is actually a huge sinkhole, into which they rappel you down, two by two, and was formed by the collapse of the roof of the cage. The second part is a short dark tunnel through which you need to walk before entering the final, and best, part of the cave, called Goa Grubog. This is where you'll wait for the sun to be in just the right place to give you the heaven light. The sight is quite magnificent, with the view of the underground cave, the light from above and the sound of the underground river roaring below.
As the sun is only in the right position for a few minutes a day, being on time (10:00 AM) at the venue is a key requirement to visit. Booking is best done in advance, as only 25 people a day are allowed to visit the cave. To get there it is best to hire a private car, the roads aren't always easy, but definitely worth the trip!
During our stay, we had a hotel close to the airport and the city center of Jogjakarta, so for our last few days of sightseeing we headed into town.
Taman Sari or water palace and Keraton
The Taman Sari was built in the 18th century as gift for the wives of Sultan Hamengku Buwono by the Portuguese. The sites hosts a beautiful garden consisting mainly of some kind of big pool, and reminded me a little of Jasmine's garden in Aladdin. #toomanydisneymovies
Taman Sari is connected to the royal palace or #Keraton by underground tunnels. These tunnels host a complex map of hallways and catacombs that were used as escape routes and bunkers during times of war. Both the tunnel complex on its own and the Keraton are worth exploring if you have some time.
Many years ago the ground around the palace was given to servants of the king to live on. Today many of them still live here and speak very highly of him. Most of them are very eager to show you around and tell you about the goodness of the king's' heart. Later we learned why: Although the main religion in Indonesia is Islam, the servants of the king in Yogyakarta were allowed to be part of any religion they wanted as long as they lived in peace with the other. Talk about a progressive king! #lessontobelearned
Besides the nice architecture and stories you'll find here, there are also plenty of #batik stores that you can visit.
Mount Merapi lava tour
We did this tour as an alternative to a museum we wanted to visit which was closed. However it was a nice eye opener to see what damage those forces of nature can cause and how the people on the island live under constant threat. So although not a very cheery visit, definitely interesting.
Special capital region of Jakarta (Daerah Khusus Ibu Kota Jakarta)
As with a lot of capitals, locals advised us not to visit Jakarta. There is not much to see, the crowds are crazy (we noticed being stuck in traffic for hours) and most importantly it's quite a dangerous place. Besides the big airport often used for flying from and to Indonesia, there isn't much to see there. So we enjoyed our final day of holiday using the spa facilities of our hotel. #staycation
General tips when visiting Java
Don't rent a motorcycle here as the roads are way too crazy (more than Bali, where it's quite nice and easy to use this type transportation), but take an official taxi with a meter (like Blue Bird) to avoid getting ripped off or rent a private car for a few days.
As a girl it's better to cover up your shoulders and knees. As a foreigner you will already get a lot of looks, but wearing shorts and tank tops (as I unknowingly did on our first day) will get you some dirty ones. #judgementisreal #respectothercultures
Hope you have a great time there!