Indonesia: Jakarta to Bali overland plus East Timor

Embarking on my first guided group tour across Indonesia from Jakarta to Bali
Sunday, June 4, 2017 to Monday, June 19, 2017

Introduction: being sceptical of organised tours

By now, I was already one month in Asia. I was familiar with the region and some Asian cultures. But for this journey, I wanted to try something completely new. After travelling independently for nearly two years, I booked my first organised group tour. Yes, I wanted to have this experience for no other reason than the experience itself. Indonesia was a rather random choice. I never planned to travel through Indonesia, nor from Jakarta to Bali. After all, I was already in the region and Intrepid Travel offered a good deal on this trip. Everything seemed to be perfect, yet I was sceptical.

Jakarta: arriving on Java and meeting the group

From the very beginning, I’ve had a great journey. I arrived one day before the group and was lucky enough to get myself into a free private tour. A seasoned, well travelled local guide insisted in showing me his personal highlights. It was still Ramadan and this good Moslem had to kill time, as he could not eat until the sun was gone. Meeting my first tour group was equally fabulous. I quickly bonded with the tour guide and a group of ladies my age, who already travelled together since Bangkok. Together, we shared many extraordinary moments, good laughter and lots of travel stories. From the very first day, I made great friends. I was really lucky with my first travel group.

West and Central Java: from Jakarta to Yogyakarta

To my surprise, Indonesia is much more developed than other Asian countries. The infrastructure, especially the public transportation is in a marvellous condition. Jakarta has a modern bus network and is heavily working on a metro system. Modern trains connect both ends of Java, Indonesia’s main island. Outside Jakarta, our first highlights were Pangandaran and the Green Canyon. In this rather rural area, we visited a small village and different family productions. We learned how to bake Fish and Rice Crackers, how to build traditional Puppets and saw many wild spices, like green pepper! In contrast, the Green Canyon offered us a naturally picturesque scenery. As the name already suggests, this is a green water paradise, hidden behind steep rocks! About half way from Jakarta to Bali, we arrived in Yogyakarta, the cultural epicentre of Java. The area hosts two UNESCO protected temples and is full of street-art. To my delight, the city also has a large art exhibition, the Art Jog.

East Java: between Volcanoes and National Parks

From Yogyakarta, we continued to move eastwards. After endless rice paddy fields, volcanic rocks were a surprising change in the landscape. With 45 active volcanos, Java is a hotbed of tectonic activities. One of our main destination in East Java was the Mount Bromo volcano. However, our sunrise hike literally fell into the water, as the day started with thick rain clouds. There was no red sunrise but we’ve still had a great view of the smoking volcano. Climbing the 250 steps to the rim and gazing down into the crater was terrifying! In the same region, we’ve spent a night at an eco lodge and an open shower under the stars. Before finishing our amazing Java experience and taking the ferry to Bali, we visited a Rubber and Coffee plantation. Travelling overland from Jakarta to Bali was incredible.

Bali: the global tourism industry is taking over

In Bali, I’ve had a bitter sweet ending of this great trip. I just can’t enjoy overly touristic and developed destinations. Bali has become such an extreme magnet for tourists, that it lost much of its original charm. The island has more souvenir shops and foreign visitors than residents. I can only guess how majestic this lovely island once vibrated. Luckily, we crossed Bali overland in a small van and accidentally ran into a traditional ceremony for the dead. This festivity is only held once in 5 years and being a live witness was a big honour to all of us. My personal highlight, however, was my first scuba dive. An experienced local guide introduced me to the fantastic underwater world. With a heavy heart, I said goodbye to my first tour group. I was happy to leave Bali but sad to leave behind my new friends.

East Timor: a young nation without much luxury

Instead of staying longer in Bali, like many others, I visited East Timor or Timor Leste. This is one of the worlds youngest nations and only recently gained independence from Indonesia. Timor means East in a local language and Leste means East in Portuguese. The country basically occupies the eastern half of an eastern Indonesian island. Because of its war with Indonesia and its isolation, Timor Leste is very poor. The country is pretty underdeveloped and lacking modern infrastructure. A shiny Burger King in the capitals city centre is its only sign of modernity. Nevertheless, the people seem to be happy with what they’ve got and live peacefully together. Through my homestay, I’ve learned a lot about the country. My host took me on a long bike ride into the centre of the island. I was impressed by the people and their simple, yet authentic lifestyle.

Jakarta to Bali: an adventure packed with highlights!

Wow, I really did it, I took part in an organised group tour! Last year, I could not have imagined doing this. Today, I am very happy for this experience. I have met the sweetest people, from the tour guide to my fellow travellers. I’ve had an amazing time, but I’ve also learned again, why I am travelling independently. I caught myself sneaking away from the group multiple times and wanted to explore the real life beyond the tour. Spending time and interacting with locals gives me more pleasure than touristic attractions. Luckily, this tour gave me plenty opportunities. Some of them, I could not have found on my own. Overall, I am very pleased with the outcome.

Special thanks to Intrepid, an amazing group leader and a great group for this experience on Jakarta to Bali!

My waypoints on this journey

Jakarta - exploring the rather modern capital of Indonesia, a metropolis of 10 million
exploring the rather modern capital of Indonesia, a metropolis of 10 million
Chinatown Jakarta - visiting Jakarta's oldest Chinese temple and eating tasty street food
visiting Jakarta's oldest Chinese temple and eating tasty street food
Istiqlal Mosque - observing Ramadan from the largest Mosque in all of South East Asia
observing Ramadan from the largest Mosque in all of South East Asia
Sunda Kelapa - observing seamen loading and unloading goods at this historic port
observing seamen loading and unloading goods at this historic port
Pangandaran - visiting an uprising village of fishermen with lots of fresh fish to eat
visiting an uprising village of fishermen with lots of fresh fish to eat
Fish & Rice Crackers - visiting families in local villages and learning all about the production
visiting families in local villages and learning all about the production
Green Valley -
swimming deep into the canyon and then jumping from a slippery rock
Puppet Master -
following the real master building and playing his Indonesian puppets
Yogyakarta - visiting Indonesias center of education, Javanese fine art and poetry
visiting Indonesias center of education, Javanese fine art and poetry
Masjid Sumur - visiting the unique underground mosque near the water palace in Yogyakarta
visiting the unique underground mosque near the water palace in Yogyakarta
Taman Sari - exploring the extraordinary (former royal) water palace in Yogyakarta
exploring the extraordinary (former royal) water palace in Yogyakarta
Art Jog - international annual contemporary art exhibition in the heart of Yogyakarta
international annual contemporary art exhibition in the heart of Yogyakarta
Borobudur - exploring the largest Buddhist temple in the world based in Indonesia
exploring the largest Buddhist temple in the world based in Indonesia
Rice Paddy Fields - planting and harvesting rice together with local farmers in Indonesia
planting and harvesting rice together with local farmers in Indonesia
Ramayana Ballet - watching an annoying version of the indian epic in a unique scenery
watching an annoying version of the indian epic in a unique scenery
Batik Artwork - learning how to dye like the Egyptians, Chinese and now Indonesians
learning how to dye like the Egyptians, Chinese and now Indonesians
Tofu & Tempeh - visiting a small local factory and learning everything about soy products
visiting a small local factory and learning everything about soy products
Seloliman Nature Reserve - hiking to a forest temple and walking through the nearest village
hiking to a forest temple and walking through the nearest village
Mt Bromo - climbing up one of the active and smoking volcanoes in Indonesia
climbing up one of the active and smoking volcanoes in Indonesia
Kalibaru Rubber - learning how to collect latex and produce rubber on the Glenmore plantation
learning how to collect latex and produce rubber on the Glenmore plantation
Luwak Coffee - drinking the world's strongest coffee after visiting a local plantation
drinking the world's strongest coffee after visiting a local plantation
Menjangan - doing my first discovery scuba dive and loving every minute of it
doing my first discovery scuba dive and loving every minute of it
Pemuteran - taking the ferry from Java to Bali and finding a quiet and lovely paradise
taking the ferry from Java to Bali and finding a quiet and lovely paradise
Bali - crossing the exceptionally beautiful and only Hindu island of Indonesia
crossing the exceptionally beautiful and only Hindu island of Indonesia
Ngaben Cremation Ceremony - bumping into the Hindu funeral ritual that happens only every 5 years
bumping into the Hindu funeral ritual that happens only every 5 years
Ubud - getting a culture shock when reaching this touristic town on Bali island
getting a culture shock when reaching this touristic town on Bali island