Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Indonesia general impressions: Jakarta and Banyuwangi

Indonesia general impressions: Jakarta and Banyuwangi

Trip to Indonesia 05.08.2015 Don Muang to Jakarta, 13.08.2015 Denpasar (Bali) to Don Muang. Everything in between evolved during my trip.

Just this year, Indonesia allows visa-free entry for most European countries, which is laudable and put Indonesia above Myanmar and Vietnam on my list of places to go for visa run. With visa free entry to Vietnam since July 2015, it will probably be next. A trip to Lao would still be cheaper even though I have to pay for a visa, but I find applying for a visa humiliating (call me racist, but when I travel to a 2nd or 3rd world country, I want to feel welcome).

Weather was nice throughout my stay, temperature pleasant. Indonesia has same power plugs as Germany, charger from Thailand doesn’t fit, but I have an adaptor. Currency is Indonesian Rupiah IDR with exchange rate about 1 EUR = 14.9 kIDR (k = kilo = 1000) during my stay, and 1 USD = 13.5 kIDR and 1 THB = 385 IDR. Many public toilets have no wash basin.

Trains are comfortable, even 3rd class. Aircon and windows cannot open (which I like very much, I hate air drafts in closed rooms – that includes trains – and in Thailand in 3rd class usually fan is on and window open, which gives the “drive through a barn” feeling – all kind of insects, plant parts and soot flakes from fires blow into the train). Both trains I took were on time.
Jakarta Wednesday 05.08.2015
Arrive at airport. Try to get money from ATM, the first ATM returns my visa card, but no money and message in Indonesian. Second and third ATM show message in English that my request cannot be processed and I should contact my bank. Fortunately, I have enough cash for the whole trip (calling from Indonesia to Germany from mobile phone can cost exorbitant amounts of money, so I will wait until back in Thailand with for a cheap connection). Update: try at my usual ATM in Bangkok: get money without problem without calling my bank.

Nobody bothers me with taxi on my way to bus station! Bus to Gambir (wait half an hour, then 15:45-17:02, 40 kIDR) and walk to Jalan Jaksa (backpacker area). The expat and tourist scene in Jakarta is smaller than say Udon Thani or Kanchanaburi, contrary to Bangkok, Jakarta is not touristy at all. Jalan Jaksa (the red car which sells SIM cards at elevated prices is a permanent fixture, the tires are flat):

General observation: The criminal elements that are present in all countries concentrate in tourist areas (Bangkok Silom/Sukhumvit, Pattaya, Phuket). Out of these areas (in Thailand and Indonesia) only nice people who are happy to see a foreigner visit their country and try to help.

Check several places for room, nothing convincing, finally settle in a guesthouse 150 kIDR per night (aircon, no window, no WiFi). Convenience stores similar to Thailand, but have no SIM cards. A phone shop has cards on display starting from 70 kIDR, probably overpriced.

Walk to Gambir train station. Railway tracks are above ground (the entire station is similar to skytrain stations in Bangkok), access to platforms only with a ticket. While I read timetables, a local approaches me and asks if he can help. Always be wary in such situations, but his intentions are genuine. Ticket cannot be bought now, come back tomorrow. He helps me with SIM card at the railway station (SIM card 10 kIDR, top up 40 kIDR) and insists on paying for it. He invites me to Yogyakarta (where he will go soon). That was quite a surprise, I thought there must be a hook, but no!

Jakarta Thursday 06.08.2015
To Gambir train station to book ticket to Yogyakarta. Information at the train station is very good (staff fluent in English, aircon and you sit opposite to staff on a desk, unlike Hua Lampong). Train to Yogyakarta is booked out. I will travel to Banyuwangi instead and ask for a connection, with change in Surabaya. Take this information and go to advance booking counter, where I have to queue 11:35-13:30 (Yes, that’s 1 h 55 min!). When it’s my turn, I learn that my connection is booked out. But there is a similar train to Surabaya from another railway station (Pasar Senen, in walking distance), which I take. However she can’t sell me a ticket from Surabaya for Banyuwangi, I have to check at Surabaya again.

After having wasted a lot of time at the train station, I take taxi (instead of bus) to Taman Mini (similar to Muang Boran in Thailand, replicas of traditional houses and religious places from all over Indonesia, combined with an entertainment park), 13:35-14:27, 104 kIDR + 8 + 5 + 2 + 2 tolls. 

Official closing time is 5pm, but from 4 pm they start closing, so I can’t see everything. Why the hell do they close at 5 pm? Similar applies to many places in Thailand.

Bus to sauna, traffic jam. Sauna closed for renovation. Taxi to hotel.

Walk around railway station and chat with locals. There is a man who speaks good English and wants to convert me to Christianity or Islam (not sure what he means when he speaks of God). He is convinced this encounter (he and me) is not by chance! He talks about Sodom and Gomorrah (homosexual activities that made God angry, I don’t comment on this), and then how God makes earthquakes and volcanoes to punish sinners. I tell him earthquakes and volcanoes can be explained by geology, he won’t have any of it.

Then I have an epiphany: “But there are no earthquakes and volcanoes in Germany! How do you explain that?” “Germany used to be a glorious kingdom. God loves German people!” 

Well, it wasn’t a kingdom, but a “F├╝hrerstaat”, and the end was not that glorious, but I don’t know what to reply. Outwitted by a local! Then he continues “Speak after me (language I don’t understand) and your life will turn good!” I say goodbye and go home to sleep. Half an hour longer, and he would convince me to get circumcised.

Jakarta Friday 07.08.2015
Visit National Monument (Monas Monumen Nasional). There is a large park around it, but gate in the south-east (near Gambir station) is closed day and night. There is a large gap under the gate and locals pass through this gap, but I have a backpack and want to retain a modicum of decorum, so I walk around to a gate that is open.

In the park, walk around the entire monument in search of an entrance. Finally a local tells me the entrance is via a tunnel, the entrance to the tunnel is about 100 m north of the monument. Free luggage storage and free toilets. Entry 15 kIDR to go on top. Queue for lift 12:45-13:15. Lift is for 11 people, 10 passengers and one operator who does nothing more than push one of the three buttons and then sit on his chair and play on his phone. 

View of Gambir train station from top of Monas, the cupola behind the train station belongs to Immanuel church:

Great view of Jakarta from top. Queue again to go down (13:25-33).

Walk to railway station Pasar Senen and board train to Surabaya (schedule 15:45, real 15:46).

Surabaya and Banyuwangi Saturday 08.08.2015
Train arrives in Surabaya Pasar Turi 03:27 (schedule 3:20). Take taxi to Surabaya Kota (3:35-53, of which 5 minutes to get off parking at railway station, no meter, 50 kIDR). Buy ticket for train to Banyuwangi (schedule 4:15-11:45, real 4:28-11:45).

The train goes through Banyuwangi town (stops at Karangasem, but not at Argopuro which are both in town) to bus station and ferry port to Bali some km north of town. At the train station, an officer from tourist information greets me. I ask about details to go to Ijen volcano and he offers me a tour for 850 kIDR (driver and car, all inclusive) which I book. For another 50 kIDR, he drives me to a guesthouse in town. Once I’m undressed for showering, I notice there is no towel in room. Too lazy to dress and ask for towel at reception, shower and air dry. Afternoon nap.

At night walk around and chat with locals, keeping in mind that I there are no towels in my room. If I take someone back, I would have to stop at reception with the boy and ask for towels, or bring the boy to room and then go back to ask for towels. In the end, I couldn't get anyone to my room and got towels from reception.

Copyright 2015 ChristianPFC


  1. Having been myself to Indo many times-about 6-7 mostly before 2000, I can confirm that Jalan Jaksa is but a shadow of its former ''glory'', same applies to Jogya. Tourism has been very hard hit in Indo, esp. the low-budget bekpekstyle. On my last stay many of the former better places along Jaksa had sclosed alltogether. Walk around the corner-evenings-and talk/flirt with the guys who live there Indo style ''indekos''.
    The name of stasyon is gambir, not Gambia, and it now only serves expensive Kelas Bisnis and up trains (kereta api). Same applies to Yogya: different stasyon for different kelas of train.
    Towel=handuk in bahasa. Banner=spanduk.

    1. Gambia is a country in Africa, thank for your comment.

  2. Vietnam is visa free now. I went in July with a UK passport.

    1. Checked, visa free entry to Vietnam is already in force, changed wording of my post.


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