Our Absolute Favorite Things to Do in Java, Indonesia

The island of Java is a riot of experiences. From busy cities to ancient temples, we’ve collected all of our best small posts from our adventures and favorite things to do in Java and compiled them here. Most of them are videos.

Jakarta was our first stop on this grand world tour and as cities go, it was a bit daunting. You can see how we learned and adjusted to all of the challenges. Challenges made greater due to Tim’s blindness.

Indonesia is not always the easiest destination, but it’s one we fell in love with. Seriously, it’s one you can fall in love with, too. It’s an amazing and beautiful place.

Follow our journey. We start in Jakarta…

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How We Fell in Love with Jakarta

Jakarta is a big city through and through, the kind of place most people don’t want to stay for more than a few days. It’s busy, and spread out, and the traffic is absolutely nutso. There are few traffic signals, which would be a joke anyway because the place seems to run on its own set of ‘suggestions’, the lines painted on the road are simply ignored, motorcycles slide in and out and sometimes just go the opposite direction; there are no such things as rules here.

So, it’s your first night in town and you need things, like bottled water, snacks and dinner. You venture out, alone. It’s dark. The rows of cars never end and everything is on the other side of the street. You wait for some locals to cross, and go with them. You’ve been told it’s only five minutes to the convenience store but as you walk, dodging bad pavement and crumbling curbs, you look down dark side streets and it seems like forever before you reach the gleaming fluorescent glow that you seek.

The next day, you take your partially blind husband out on those same sidewalks, with shrubbery that crowds on one side and every bit of broken pavement becomes something to warn him about. The spicy food pushes his heat tolerances, the traffic still doesn’t make sense and Jakarta is feeling rather intimidating about now.

But then you take a tuk-tuk ride, and that’s fun. There’s more bad pavement and tons of stairs everywhere, up, down and back up again – but slowly you get used to giving the necessary warnings. At every turn, people are patient and helpful. At the least, they slide around you, at best, they take your arm and help.

Then a kind local explains the rules for crossing the street – never rush, but go steady and they’ll stop – and it all starts to make sense. You come to understand the flow of the city and its people. Your mistakes and foibles are accepted with good humor. They appreciate the effort.

At tourist spots, people, especially school kids, want to take pictures with you and interview you for their class assignment. These interactions are always entertaining and you wonder how many hundreds of times your picture has been viewed online.

You fall in love with the street food that is now just a hop across that street that was once so intimidating. After walking up and down you know where it’s best to just forego the sidewalk and walk with the cars. They have no interest in hitting you, or even complaining. With a couple beeps of the horn, they’re just letting you know they’re there. Oh, and that convenience store that seemed like it was ages away? It now means you’re almost home.

And it’s not just about getting used to the place. There’s something about that flow, that acceptance, of so many people taking life in stride and not getting upset at every little inconvenience, or being jaded into constant discontent.

Despite all of the craziness, Jakarta has a very human energy, in some of the best ways humanity has to offer.

Walking in Jakarta with a Blind Man

Jakarta’s sidewalks are an interesting mosaic of broken and missing tiles, wobbly slabs, drainage holes and crumbling curbs that are often blocked by shrubberies or parked motorbikes and carts selling food, or other things. For most able-bodied people, these are simply things to work around. If you trust that none of the cement slabs are going to collapse under your feet, it’s manageable to walk fairly quickly.

Throw in someone who’s partially blind, however, and it’s an entirely different story.

The first few days in Jakarta were rough for Tim. The rough sidewalk in front of our hostel was crowded on one side by a bulging hedge and the other by endless traffic. Every few steps there was another obstacle, sometimes a step up, sometimes down, things to dodge. And our favorite, a step down immediately followed by a step up. None of it was even, or smooth or remotely predictable.

At home, in Los Angeles, I routinely warned Tim about curbs, parking lot stoppers, driveways and the like, but in Jakarta the blind narration got taken to a whole new level. We made this video AFTER he’d had a chance to get used to the streets. We had to develop a new language and routine to deal with Jakarta’s chaotic sidewalks.

Often we resorted to walking in the street. As we’ve mentioned in other posts, the flow of traffic in Jakarta is unique, and there’s more than enough space and consideration for a blind man walking on the side of the road when necessary. However, being in the street full time wasn’t ideal, especially when those streets were particularly full.

Turn up the sound on this one to hear the kind of communications we needed to navigate the sidewalks in Jakarta. Remember, this is after he got comfortable. Even through to the end there are some exciting moments and you can see how Tim manages it all.

Knowing how difficult this was for him, and with me to guide him, we wonder if anyone who’s completely blind, or without a companion, has input on how they handled Jakarta’s sidewalks. We’d love to hear your stories and experiences.

Or if you’re like Tim and me, partially blind with a companion, have you attempted travel in a place with difficult sidewalks, and what were your solutions?

Note: Tim has a white cane, but that color-coding doesn’t seem to be recognized for blindness in Southeast Asia. Have you experienced any different?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Top 10 Secrets to Enjoying Jakarta

Ten keys to enjoying the exciting chaos that is Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta.

1) Eat Street Food – This is the always the tastiest option and the price is right. If you never bother with a formal restaurant, you’ll be better off.

2) Ride in a Tuk-Tuk – These are the best transport throughout the city (though motorbike taxis work great if you’re solo, too). They’re not allowed in all areas, but tuk-tuks are fun, comfortable and affordable (negotiate your price first), and their pilots are some of the best drivers you’ll find anywhere. Some call the drivers crazy, but they really just know what they’re doing.

3) Take the Train – The train system within Jakarta is smooth, easy and very clean. More than once we’ve seen them cleaning the floors as the train was moving. Just mind the step in and out, it’s a doozy.

4) Take Pictures with Locals – Whenever we’ve been at a tourist site, we’ve been asked to take pictures with people. The requests are always so good natured that we wouldn’t consider refusing. We get to meet a bunch of nice people, too.

5) Meet the Challenge that are Jakarta’s Sidewalks – Uneven, broken and missing tiles, gaps and drainage areas that would swallow a lesser human, busted curbs and wild growing shrubberies that encroach on an already too narrow space. And then there are the areas where food carts and mini-shops take over the space or the sidewalk is completely missing due to construction.  All of these things make for an obstacle course worthy of any reality game show. Then try doing it while legally blind, at night, when you’re hungry. Sometimes it’s just better to walk in the street.

6) Master Crossing Jakarta’s Lawless Streets – There are very few traffic signals in Jakarta, but there are LOTS of vehicles. The traffic is continuous. Gaps in the flow are rare and even if you find zebra stripes (a crosswalk) the traffic doesn’t stop for you. A local told us the secret. When you see a good opportunity, you put your hand out, with a little downward wave, and start across. Don’t run. Keep a steady pace and let traffic flow around you. Yes, it can be nerve racking at first, but you get used to it. It’s all about trust – a key feature on these little regulated streets.

7) Sweat – It’s humid, and hot. You’re going to sweat. Get used to it. (Hint: You will.)

8) Order Food You Can’t Identify – Don’t worry if you don’t know what you’re ordering, odds are it’ll taste good. You might even discover that something you didn’t like before is delicious here. Try everything.

9) Go to the Wayang Puppet Museum – In an old, Dutch colonial area called Kota, this museum is a delightful display of craftsmanship and creativity. While the focus is on Javan puppetry, usually revolving around the story of the Mahabarata, there are puppets from other Indonesian islands as well as England, France and Italy. After the tour you might be offered the opportunity to visit the puppet maker’s workshop for a demonstration and a short show. Don’t worry when you’re being led down and around the corner, through some construction, squeezing between k-rails, around the back, down an alley…it’s legit.

10) Relax and Take it in Stride – Jakarta is a busy, bustling city that is sometimes challenging and often wonderful, where the simplest task can turn into an adventure. Accept it for what it is and experience a different way of life.

Tuk-tuk Ride in Jakarta

Riding in a tuk-tuk in Jakarta is a rite of passage for any traveler to Indonesia. If you sit back and watch the traffic it might seem crazy at first. Tuk-tuk’s are prone to sharp turns and even going the wrong way down the street (motorbikes do, too) – and this is enough to deter some people from riding in the little blue cabs that clutter Jakarta’s streets. Do NOT be deterred.

Contrary to appearances, we found tuk-tuk drivers to be some of the best drivers in Jakarta. They generally knew where they were going, though it’s not uncommon for them to stop and ask if they need help, and they know the best ways to get there. Yes, you should always negotiate the price before getting in for the ride, but much is determined by distance and rates are usually reasonable.

Okay, so yes, tuk-tuk drivers pull some wild maneuvers, like I mentioned, but they do it with full understanding of how traffic flows in Jakarta. It’s not like other big cities. There’s a flow that is prepared for outlandish maneuvers. Room is left for the unexpected, making it rather…expected.

There’s a rule about roads in Jakarta, that once you start crossing the street, don’t stop, don’t rush, but don’t hesitate. Stay steady and the drivers will work around you. It’s a crazy kind of simple that requires trust – and everyone abides by it. Tuk-tuk drivers know better than anyone how to make use of this.

This video doesn’t show the wildest ride we went on, but it is a very typical one, and I like the way it shows both the traffic flow and the everday life of people on the backstreets of Jakarta. At one point you can see a family with the kid riding on the front of the motorbike. This is not only common, there are often more than three people on a single bike. Kids learn to hang on early. Likewise, they travel at significantly slower speeds than you see in the U.S.

If you go to Indonesia and have the opportunity, ride in a tuk-tuk. It’s not only one of the best ways to get around, it’s also lots of fun.

Cianjur- The Floating Village, the Fishicure and the Escape

Outside the mountain city of Cianjur, Indonesia, partway between Jakarta and Yogyakarta, on the island of Java, there lies a floating fish farming village.

Tim and I love boat rides and this was a nice one. It was very peaceful as we almost had the floating village to ourselves. That was also a downside, though, as all of the fishermen were off to market selling their goods. So there weren’t any people around to talk to. But the floating village is fun to see and there is a bigger surprise.

One of the fish pens is filled with garra rufa fish, or a variation thereof. These are the fish that love to eat the dead skin off of your feet. Many fancy spas offer these fish-pedicures at crazy prices. Our version was a little more…natural, and didn’t cost any extra. Our feet did turn out wonderfully smooth. And check out the underwater shot we got of the fish at work.

The things is, Tim is the one who’s ticklish. I couldn’t wait to see his reaction to the fish nibbling on his toes. I was sure they were going to drive him crazy.

Well, turns out that I had a somewhat harder time handling the little fishies than he did. I might have done some giggling…or guffawing. Okay, so I end up laughing my head off.

Then, in dramatic Indonesian style, the sky darkens and the clouds move in. What starts out a drizzle becomes a downpour and suddenly it’s impossible not to get wet. As the boat races back to shore, Tim and I huddle under the awning, trying not to get drenched while guarding our electronics. The dash back through the waterways is fun, and executed quite well by an experienced captain.

What started out as a peaceful day of boating in Cianjur ended up silly and exciting and all-around fun.

Borobudur – An Awesome Temple in Indonesia

Borobudur is a 9th-century Mahayana Buddhist temple near Yogyakarta, Indonesia, and the world’s largest Buddhist temple. Like everything in Indonesia, there were stairs, lots of stairs.

Of course, with Tim’s bad eyesight, walking up all those levels was a slow process. Oh, and did we mention that the stairs are very tall and entirely uneven. I don’t think any two stairs in a row are the same height. As usual with Indonesians and crowds, they patiently flowed around us.

If you get to Borobudur very early, like for sunrise, I understand that the place is nearly empty. We did not succeed at that time goal. Instead, there were people everywhere (a constant theme in Indonesia). It wasn’t so crowded that we didn’t get a good look at the temple, though.

Many of the sculptures on the walls were high relief and very detailed. You can sense the scale of the story being told, even if you only know a fraction of the mythology. Then there are the fully 3D statues. Unfortunately, many of the Buddhas have been decapitated, the result of Dutch colonials thinking it was okay to steal the heads to sell back in Europe.

But the overall effect of Borobudur is impressive. The dozens of bell-shaped stupas at the top make the effort to climb up there worthwhile, even as you’re surrounded by a sea of humanity. There is detailed carving everywhere and sometimes you can sneak off to a quiet corner and get a good picture of it.

If you can manage to get to Borobudur for sunrise, then I highly recommend it. I’ve seen some pictures of the peacefulness and it would be great to have the place that empty. But even if you can’t get there early, don’t miss this wonderful temple. It’s absolutely worth your time and money and should be on your must-see list if you’ll be visiting Java, Indonesia.

And if you’re in, or near, Yogyakarta, visiting Borobudur, you’ll probably want to check out the Prambanan Temple Complex as well. Equally cool, but very different from Borobudur. 

Team Hazard Visits the Prambanan Temple Complex

Prambanan Temple Complex is the largest temple in Indonesia dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. It’s near Yogyakarta, near central Java and is not entirely what we expected.

I have to admit, I imagined a group of temples, off in the middle of nowhere, solemn and sacred. No, actually, Prambanan is in the middle of a busy city and there were activities for the whole family on the temple grounds. There were food places and fun stuff like archery and horse rides for the kids.

There was even a tram that went around the whole Prambanan complex. Of course, we didn’t realize how big the place really was and so we failed to jump on the tram. I’d say that was a mistake, and our sore legs at the end of the day might have agreed, but walking around on our own allowed us to have a little privacy at some of the smaller temples in the complex.

The Crowds

I mention privacy because there were people everywhere. The video is edited so you get as clear a picture of the temples as we could manage, but trying to get a shot without tons of visitors in it was challenging. The temples themselves are fantastic. Carvings everywhere with detail work and sculptor would be envious of. Some of the complex is still being reconstructed from earthquake damage in 2006, and even those piles of bricks are interesting.

This was another of those tourist sites where we were constantly getting asked to have our picture taken. It’s the thing in Indonesia to take a picture with foreigners. It was never a problem, but it was nice to be out of the crowd once in a while.

The people here were awesome, though. At one point, there were these stairs at Prambanan that had no railing, and blind guy Tim was taking them very slowly. Instead of getting upset, the people simply moved around him, smoothly. Then, in the typical Indonesian style of helpfulness, a guy got on each side of him and helped Tim to the bottom of the stairs. Then we all gathered ’round for pictures.

If you’re in Yogyakarta, the Prambanan Temple Complex is definitely worth the time, cost and effort. Plan for a full afternoon and try to be there for some great sunset pics.

Getting There:

Tickets: $25USD, but with combo deals available for other sights in Yogyakarta, like Borobudur.

Getting There from Yogyakarta: Bus 1A is the cheapest and runs every 15 minutes. Grab (SEA Uber) works well, as does an arranged taxi. The ride takes 45-60 minutes, depending on traffic.

Traditional Indonesian Music and Dance at the Sultan’s Palace in Yogyakarta

Yogyakarta is a Special Region of Indonesia, in the central region of the island of Java. It is the only modern Sultanate within the country’s borders.

Every week, the Sultan’s Palace in Yogyakarta hosts gamelan (traditional music), dance and wayang (puppet) performances. This group of young musicians are very serious and quite good. It’s a slow style of music and take a little getting used to for most Western ears. The dance part of the performance is equally slow and the dancers show amazing control.

We’ve also included a few other highlights from the Palace grounds. We’ve been told that the giant rolling pin Tim is standing next to is not used to make giant pies, but a drum-like signaling device that’s used to spread news around town.

Throughout the day, groups of kids kept coming up to us, asking to interview us for a school assignment. They were on break and this happened to us in a number of places we went. Admittedly, they only asked when we were in touristy places where everyone was already taking pictures. There were always photos involved. The kids were great, though, and we had a lot of fun interacting with them. They loved it when they found out we liked their food.

The Sultan’s Palace is a great place to visit in Yogyakarta. While there are plenty of historical and gorgeous architectural aspects to admire, there are also nice courtyards for sitting and enjoying the day.

Yogyakarta itself can be a bit of a zoo. Sometimes the traffic is so intense that going even a short distance can take a ridiculous amount of time. But it’s not always like that. It’s good to consult your hotel and/or taxi driver about going certain places at certain times of day. If your hotel is near the Sultan’s Palace you have no excuse for missing out. Check with locals to find out when performances are.

Be sure to check out all of the fun stuff to do on the Island of Flores, Indonesia. It’s a true paradise.

Team Hazard

Old, fat and disabled and traveling the world anyway. Join Trina and Tim as they wander around the planet bringing you honest stories about the people and places they encounter.

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