Seven Reasons Why I’ll Never Forget Indonesia


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Surabaya, East Java, Indonesia – Tomorrow morning, I’ll be flying out of Indonesia’s second largest city marking an end to my 9-day trip in this unforgettable country. I have read many good things about Indonesia even before I started planning the trip but nothing could have prepared me for what waits in Java. Like the tasty Nasi Goreng, my experience was a mixture of many things: good memories, unpleasant incidents, and new experiences all held together by the universality of human kindness. Take this case for example: On a public bus ride from Situbondo to Surabaya yesterday, I asked the bus conductor how much I should pay. Not understanding his reply, I handed over IDR 100,000 and relied on his honesty to give me the right change – I received IDR 15,000. I mentally converted the fare to PHP and it seemed correct for a six-hour bus ride in the Philippines. I smiled and said “Terima Kasih”. After what seemed like five seconds, the guy sitting beside me, a member of the Indonesian Marine Corps asked the bus conductor in a calm but assertive voice how much change he gave me. I was floored when the bus conductor handed me an additional IDR 50,000.

Just like that, and I had someone to converse with until we reached Mlandingan .

While it is true that I met some not-so-good people, who tried to take advantage of my relative ignorance, they could never tarnish the positive image of Indonesia in my mind. If anything, they only made me a smarter traveler.

So, here are the seven reasons (in no particular order) why I’ll never forget Indonesia:

1) The Sunrise in Mt. Bromo. I will not say much except this: it is probably the best sunrise I have seen in my life, so far. This deserves a separate blog entry.

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2) Experiencing the ‘art’ of selling Batik. I always trust my instinct. And in this case, I was saved twice. The first near Taman Sari, and the second in Malioboro. The second one was more interesting as it involved five people in concerted effort trying to lure me into buying overpriced Batik Art – the master, three students and the friendly vendor.

While I was looking at souvenir items in a shop along Malioboro the friendly store attendant began asking where I came from, where I’ve been so far in Jogja and if I’ve heard of the Batik Art Exhibit which is on its last day in a nearby building. As soon as I entered the room, somebody offered me hot tea and asked which pieces I liked most. He informed me of the prices and said he would give me a ’last-day’ discount. I told him I don’t have money for Batik Art as it is not part of my travel plan (the same excuse I used in Taman Sari).At one point, he even suggested I use my ATM or Credit Card. 

He got angry when I told him I’m already leaving.

Truth is, the Batik paintings in this exhibit are beautiful. There’s no way I could tell if they’re fake – but the hard selling technique is not my cup of tea.

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3) Being asked by Indonesian students for photos in Taman Sari and Borobudur. Don’t laugh now. Just let me enjoy this fifteen minutes of fame (Haha.Kidding). I wouldn’t say I was surprised by this little oddity because I have read in one blog that students coming from other Indonesian provinces visiting Borobudur usually ask foreigners for photos with their group . Caucasians apparently, are the main target. I asked some of them if it is for school because they also tried to start conversations in English. Some of them said yes.

They would start pushing the ‘bravest’ one to approach you and ask for photos; or sometimes they would say in chorus “mister, photo-photo please?”  You’ve guessed it right, I said ‘yes’ each time.

At one point, I also asked a group to use my phone (as proof of course!) – too bad, #4 happened.

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4) I lost my phone in Teletubby Land. Somewhere in this beautiful landscape, I did not notice I dropped my phone. I never found it and I’m sure it was not stolen. This is a mistake I hope to never make again – I feel blind travelling without a smart phone. I had a backup which proved useless because I wasn’t able to bring the charger. Complete loser, I know.

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5) Wildlife in Baluran. When I saw a blog post on Baluran, I never had to think twice about putting the National Park in my itinerary. Indonesians should be really proud to have a gem as beautiful as Baluran in their midst.

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The girl-boy tandem from Besuki had a soaring performance. I didn’t understand the song but It was so good I had goosebumps.

6) Indonesian Bus Experience. As a Filipino, I thought nothing would surprise me anymore when it comes to buses. I was wrong. The public bus fare in Indonesia is very low (IDR 35,000 mentioned earlier) but it took more than six hours for the non-aircon vehicle to reach Surabaya from Situbondo. Almost one and a half hours of this was spent waiting for more passengers at various terminals along the way. Public buses I have tried in Indonesia operated in an ‘anything goes manner’ – feet on the chair, cigarette smoking (as the passenger next to you pleases), and overtaking while running at very high speed. But if there’s one thing that surprised me most, it is the succession of performers going in and out of the bus from one town to another bringing with them various musical instruments: guitars, ukulele, banjo, pvc pipe drums, and maracas. It was six hours of awe-inspiring, amusing, and sometimes downright irritating performances. I felt like an Indonesian Idol judge by the time we reached Surabaya – punctuated by an unforgetable ‘silent song’ from a deaf-mute performer in Paiton.

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7) Blue Fire at Kawah Ijen. This is an out-of-this-world experience and deserves a post of its own. Along with the sunrise in Mt Bromo, I would consider this as the highlight of my trip to Java. I greeted a brand new day at the mouth of an active volcano with the sulfur miners. IMG_4909 Indonesia and its more than 17,000 Islands has so much to offer. This ‘unforgettable’  list could easily reach 100 in no time: getting inside a Mosque for the first time, an indecent proposal while checking out at a hotel in Jogja, eating a hot Bakso one chilly evening at Cemoro Lawang, and so much more. For now, let’s have seven, if only because it’s my lucky number. 🙂

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8 Responses to Seven Reasons Why I’ll Never Forget Indonesia

  1. James says:

    James, I’m so glad you enjoyed Indonesia as much as you did – I was with Bama when you emailed him about your itinerary and we were a bit worried that you might run into some sort of difficulty. I’m not surprised they tried to scam you on Malioboro and of course being a solo traveller made you more of an easy target. The “art exhibit” trick is nothing new from Jogja to Bangkok and Beijing, there are both good and bad people everywhere but as you rightly said, even the unpleasant encounters help us to become smarter travellers.

    Seeing your photo of Bromo brings back some fond memories and I couldn’t agree more, the sunrise there was one of the most magnificent I’ve ever seen. Raw, primeval, an almost lunar landscape of ash and worn volcanic cones turning to orange – with the morning mist hugging the caldera floor.

    I had to laugh when I read about your experience as a minor celebrity at Borobudur. Indonesia seems to be one of the few countries where I get mistaken for a native – that includes being charged the local admission at Bromo and Bali’s Pura Tanah Lot. Bama says I could blend in as a Chinese-Indonesian (still working on my Bahasa Indonesia), although I know it’s also down to the fact that we often travel together.

    James, I’m looking forward to all your posts from this latest adventure, especially Ijen and Baluran as Bama and I are planning to go sometime next year! Also, have you thought of trekking Mt. Rinjani? You seem to be a fan of mountains so that could be a possibility on your second trip to Indo – assuming that Bali and Lombok are your focus. Just make sure you train well in advance, it is far less accessible (no jeeps!) compared to Bromo and the journey involves a 3-4 day trek. Have a safe trip back to Manila!

    • Hi James, yeah, I remember he was in Hong Kong that time. I didn’t have a difficult time mostly because Indonesians were helpful -from the Ojek drivers in (Tumpang) Malang, to the Homestay owner in Baluran. As for the few not-so-good ones, well, you’re right, they’re everywhere, even in Manila.:)

      About the Borobudur incident, must be the shades haha. As expected, I got mistaken for a native quite a number of times too.

      If I had more time, I would have included Rinjani… Maybe on my next trip…i’ll make sure I train for it as I dont want to be sore all over when I get back to work. Thanks James! Already packing my things – it was a fast 9 days.

  2. Bama says:

    As James mentioned above that at first we were a bit worried about your The-Amazing-Race-like itinerary. But I’m glad you managed to visit all those places in 9 days as planned! Reading your experience at Borobudur reminds me of the time when I was a school kid. There was this school trip we did to Borobudur and some of my friends asked me to ask random foreigners to take pictures with us. After a few no’s we finally had a conversation with a guy from Thailand. Looking back now I feel a bit silly. 🙂

    I’ve been to Bromo three times but I never get bored of its beauty. The otherworldly landscape never fails to impress me, really. I’m glad you experienced the blue fire at Ijen as well, I myself am looking forward to witnessing that sometime next year with James.

    Can’t wait to read more of your stories from Indonesia! Have a safe flight back to Manila!

    • Hi Bama,it wasn’t as hectic as I thought it would be because I made a few changes -like I shifted to an Ijen ‘tour’ when I arrived at Probolinggo (instead of doing it on my own). Your recollection made me smile. I find the ‘photo thing’ both amusing and endearing at the same time. I’m sure 5 years from now, those kids will feel like you do now – they’d be thinking in the lines of ‘wt*.look at this guy enjoying his mini-celebrity moment’.lol. Thanks Bama!

  3. I’ve been to Indonesia only once–to Yogya and Jakarta. I think it’s time to go back. I would love to go to the national park. I’ve never seen deer in the wild before. And yeah, we didn’t get approached by locals. In fact, we were mistaken to be Indonesia and only paid locals fee in Borobodur hehe

  4. Lance Adayon says:

    I’ve never been to Indonesia yet, but I look forward to visit the place maybe a year or two. In addition to the pics you have provided I also watch Indonesian movies which further sparks my curiosity and Interest with Asian culture (not to mention Korea and Japan, which are part of my bucket list).
    But I have a series of questions though and I hope it’s OK for me to ask these. Here it goes:

    1. How much money did you prepare for this trip?
    2. Are the cost of living in Indonesia pretty expensive?
    3. What are some the culture and traditions that I need to watch out (just to give me a heads-up and for me not to be Ignorant once I go there)?

    I look forward for your reply. Thanks again for sharing this!

    • Hi Lance! Im sure you will have a great time in Indonesia 🙂
      1 and 2) Nope. Indonesia is not expensive (I did not reach Bali though). Food and transpo are cheap. I can’t give you an exact amount because I overspent on so many things.haha. You’ll be fully covered with Php 15,000 for a 9-day trip excluding airfare (domestic flight of air asia is very affordable).
      3) You need not worry on this one – like in most cases respect and open-mindedness would do. 🙂 As a Filipino, I didn’t really have to adjust to the Indonesian way of life. The family who hosted me in Baluran National Park were so warm and hospitable I felt like I had a sleepover at a friend’s house. Safe travels!

  5. Blogs like this one makes me want to explore and experience the world some more 🙂

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