I had an idea to do a ride in Indonesia for a while now but have been side tracked a couple of times before getting there. Mentioning I will ride Indonesia and everybody seems to say ‘oh Bali’ but IMO that is almost a different country within Indonesia. Focused on money with expensive resorts for those who seek to be whisked from airport to luxury hotel room. Phuket, Boracay and Bali are just not really my thing.
I planned 5 days riding from Yogyakarta to Mt Bromo volcano but before this I visited Jakarta where I was unfortunately side lined for a couple of days feeling run down with some sort of bug. Well better then than on the ride I thought. On my last day in Jakarta I made a visit to Istiqlal Mosque. This is the largest mosque in SE Asia and I engaged a guide to firstly get me access to the mosque, and then also a explanation of the workings and to learn something about the religion of Islam. I was very fortunate to have scored an excellent guide and I got an extended tour of the mosque. I am not a religious person however I found the information very interesting and also whilst not into man made things I found the design of the mosque caught my eye every where I looked.
I am going to post three photos from the web since my iPhone photos came out really lousy and because I want to give some indication of how impressive the design is.
Inside main hall which can hold 120,000 people, by Teguh Irjayanto
One of the walkways by Oyi Kresnamurti
Courtyard with minaret and the national monument in background by Afrandi Syahfril.
I took the train from Jakarta to Yogyakarta. It was a slow bumpy ride across the countryside all day in very old rolling stock. I had a window seat, I got my hotel to arrange the ticket in Jakarta and a guy tried to claim my seat but I was having nothing of it ha-ha and so enjoyed the views. There was a cooked lunch and it ended up arriving two 2 hours late but I still enjoyed it far more than taking a plane.
In Yogyakarta I rented a motorcycle from MK Rental Yogya, who will deliver to your hotel. I chose their Honda Versa being the biggest bike they had at 150cc and with conventional gearbox and wheels. Cost is 450,000 IDR or about $37.00 US for a week and this included two new helmets and a rain suit which I think you must agree is exceptionally good value.
I took a spin around town and went to visit the nearest temple, Candi Prambanan. First thing I noticed is Indonesia is the most intense riding experience I have yet encountered, and that is saying something after Thailand, Malaysia and Philippines. Everyone is all riding at seemingly reckless speeds and there is such a high volume of bikes around you all the time. Bikes that enter the traffic do not look they simply ease on to the side and slowly get up to speed and everyone moves over to let them merge. At any time you may have a number of bikes in front of you some slower some pulling off the road on the left some merging from left, a bike on your left passing you and another on your right passing you, while you yourself are passing bikes on your left and bikes on your right who are slowing to pull off to the right of the road. I felt like this must be how it feels in a one of those Moto3 small capacity bike races with so much happening around you all the time. It was like being in a video game but if you make a mistake you won’t bounce off things… At least they ride on the left hand side of road such as I am used to, not having to also rethink everything riding on wrong side (to me) of road meant I could quickly get up to speed, literally.
As noted earlier, I’m not really into man made things and ever since visiting the pyramids in Cairo and the tombs at Luxor everything else has had a tough act to follow but I got to wear a sarong which is mandatory for foreigners on site and was adopted by some locals who wanted to chat to me and that was rather nice.
Leaving Yogyakarta on the first day of my tour there was heavy traffic for awhile and I needed to get up to speed with how the locals ride or I would be stuck behind the slow moving ancient buses and trucks belching out huge clouds of diesel soot. I like SE Asia but I am sure I have shortened my life 6 months by riding amongst all the soot emitted from vehicles there. Anyway I soon learned that you can pull out to pass with oncoming bikes as they will move over to let you share the lane with them. This happened to me all the time too. Of course riding a bike in SE Asia you must give way to oncoming cars anywhere anytime. That is never ride too fast as you might at anytime need to brake sharply to move to edge of road or even off the road all together as cars will simply pull out into your lane to pass forcing you to move over.
The traffic soon thinned out and the riding became very pleasant.
I stopped at Pacitan for lunch at a cafe and the meal was spicy chicken soup with rice and puffed rice crackers and came to just 90 cents. The country either side was hilly with good roads and late in the day I encountered a third small mountain range and all up was very pleased with the road conditions and the plentiful curves. Just one small section of a few km rough road which probably was due to be repaired soon.
It was late by the time I got to Tulungagung. My route this day was about 270km according to the GPS but when planning the ride I was betting that it would be a bit like the Philippines and have a low average speed which indeed was the case and so it was still a big day despite the modest distance compared to other countries.
I stayed in a excellent business hotel in Tulungagung, quite upmarket and yet even with a buffet breakfast which was so big I could not sample everything it sill cost just $20.00 all up. Day two my GPS went haywire. Ha-ha as any regular reader knows no tour is complete for me without the Garmin GPS doing something illogical. Somehow the file for day went haywire or had some error as the GPS only wanted to route me back to my hotel in Yogyakarta which was not a route I had later in my tour or had ever plotted in the Ride with GPS online route planner I use. I always review each route loaded in the GPS before leaving home knowing that sometimes the GPS will not be able to route as per the waypoints due to difference or error in mapping data and had looked at day two plotted fine already so on this morning I just selected it and then set off following the route provided. I was a bit suspicious as I recognised I was soon retracing my route from the day before however I thought I had to back track a little from the hotel to then ride west. Well after some time I thought this cannot be right and then noticed the error.
I always have a offline map with me via the smartphone app called Maps with Me (also now called Maps.me) so I looked up where I was but then decided I would just see if the GPS could plot a new route to my destination that day instead of my ‘looks maybe scenic’ route to the south of the Mahameru volcano as the air was quite heavy with smoke so I considered I might not have much view of the mountains on my original route for the day. In hindsight I wish I had completed my original route as my GPS ended up taking me across a shortcut and bringing me into Batu via part of my route for day 4, albeit in reverse, and I was left wondering about the other area but oh well it was by no means bad riding. It took me past one of only two fast food chains I saw outside of Jakarta, namely a KFC, so I stopped as always interested to see what the local menu items are. The localised spicy KFC menu items in Thailand and Malaysia were terrific but sadly the special menu in Indonesia was teriyaki, hardly Indonesian. Oh well, there was an interesting monument at a town called Kediri which looked like the Arc de Triomphe but is called Monument Simpang Lima Gumul. From what I can tell it was built more as a commercial tool rather than to honour any past battles.
Motorcycles have to go to one particular bowser at petrol stations. Not sure why but it is full service and you don't have to take off helmet nor even get off the bike so it is quick. Most people seem to put a litre or so in and go. I was the only person filling up so perhaps I could have used the other pumps as my spend would have been over a limit, not sure.
The Honda Versa must be the most economical motorcycle I have ever ridden. I kept taking the lid off the tank to confirm the fuel gauge was accurate since it was hardly dropping but I could see the fuel was fine every time. I got to 300km and could not stand it so filled up but in fact it was still half full. Of course the bike only manages to do about 90kph but that is fast on Indonesian roads where average speed is 40kph in towns and 60kph out of town topping maybe 80kph when you can see a good clear bit of road in front of you. Sounds not much but go there and 80kph is often too fast for the conditions. Or to quote Sir Edmund Hillary from the NZ movie Beyond the Edge talking about the final assault on Everest. To try ride Indonesian roads at more than 80kph would represent an “unjustifiable risk” ha-ha. Fast is fast, it is all relevant.
In the queue for petrol. Outside of Jakarta there is only one petrol company and that is Pertamina the state controlled company but who cares when gas is only 65 cents a litre for premium. School is out and I stopped for a ice coffee at a Indomart store which are bit like 7/11 stores but limited range of food. The guys buzz up and down the road on the scooters showing off to each other while the girls all gossip and play on their smart phones.
There is an excellent climb up to Batu where I was going to base myself for two nights. The road winds its way up the valley and is rather tight and twisty but lots of fun on a small bike. As usual hard to photo those sort of roads as you are mostly taking a shot of a bit of tar shortly disappearing from view so here is a bit of straight instead.
Day three I set off to see the famous Mt Bromo Volcano. Most people are said to stay nearby in overpriced hotels and rise at 3am to take Jeeps to the lookout point where it is ridiculously crowded and wait for the sunrise trying to get a good photo in the crowds. Well of course anything with crowds or sounding like a tourist trap is not for me so reading up from solo travellers it seemed that you didn't need a 4 wheel drive and that daytime viewing after the crowds left was still ok so that was my plan.
I decided to take the least used of the three roads that ascend to Mt Bromo from Lawang and just see how far I could go by bike then descend via one of the more popular routes to Pasuruan. The ride up was for the most part on a quiet minor back road and unfortunately I somehow have lost the photos I had of this road. There wasn’t much in views along this route which services farms but the riding was interesting and at times challenging with some extreme gradients as the road would climb almost vertical up the mountain which I took some shots of but without a reference point it is hard to show how steep something is.
Arriving at Wonokitri village it gets confusing which way to go and the ever wonderful Garmin GPS was next to useless but eventually by trial and error I found the way to the the lookout. There is a checkpoint in route where you need to go into an office and pay the fees to enter the national park. There are dozens of ‘Jeeps’ in the village which turn out to actually be FJ series Landcruisers.
The road inside the park is sealed all the way and presents no challenge to ride, you could drive up there in any sedan, no need for a 4 wheel drive, the photo above is typical of the route. I read you have to walk from a car park to the lookout but there was nobody around so I rode past the car park and parked the bike at the steps to the viewpoint, then walked a short way to have the view below all to myself.
Of course photos, especially ones from a phone don’t do the view justice but it honestly stops you in your tracks and from your eyes is a very grand vista indeed. I stopped to look from a number of angles but the above is the classic viewpoint and well worth the trip. I enjoyed just being able to sit in total silence and enjoy. I can’t imagine how craptacular it would be with 100’s of tourists crowded in squawking.
After this I enjoyed a superb descent on the road to Pasuruan. After the park you are on mostly new road that winds along the plateau before slowly zig zagging down with a series of switchback curves that would put Stelvio to shame but unlike alpine hairpin turns these are a more open radius and I suppose could be described as snaking their way down to hill. On a small light bike such as the Versa at my modest pace they were actually a lot of fun.
Seems the famous Japanese sports drink actually is made in Indonesia. I was riding along and came across this place which is huge with buildings that seemingly go on forever. Below, every town has a colourful mosque.
Riding back towards Batu I pass via the area of Prigen which is a scenic spot near two more volcanoes. Seems a popular place to have a weekend holiday house or weekend escape as a number of expensive looking homes sitting on the hillside and a few hotels too.
Leaving Prigen I encounter a extremely steep ascent to Mt Arjuno which is another active volcano with a sister volcano Mt Arjuna. The road was the steepest I have ever encountered, not sure the gradient but there was no easing just straight up the side of mountain and I was in first or second gear only using a lot of throttle to climb it. Once at the top I was surprised to find a lovely road with excellent surface which wound its way through the forest. I came across a family of monkeys at one point who did not run off immediately.
A bridge over a mountain stream and then finally the summit. The other side was more open with fruit farms and a winding descent down to Batu with fruit stalls at every corner. I didn’t stop because actually it was very cold as quite high up and the sun had lost all it’s warmth for the day so dressed in a mesh riding jacket I was starting to shiver and thought I better get down and to the hotel asap.
Well day three was truly a magnificent ride full of amazing sights. I think I might have said to myself at the time if the rest is crap I will still be happy such was my pleasure with the ride that day. Here is the route I took more or less.
Day four I left Batu which I really had not seen much of due to a poor choice of hotel which was far from the town and from anything else including food. I have a rule on my travels to always make sure I am staying where I can walk to explore as once off the bike for the day and washed up last thing I want to do is get my gear back on and ride the bike in a strange town in most likely afternoon peak traffic. I somehow got it wrong in Batu which is a reminder for myself to plan better in future.
I wasn't expecting much today as I headed off back East however I first had the mountain range that I had climbed to Batu on day two and that was quite enjoyable going down as I got a good run with little traffic. I encountered very heavy traffic when I got on the main road highway 15 that runs towards Surakarta. At times the line of trucks in front seemed endless and traffic was at a standstill only the bikes could keep moving so glad I was on two wheels! I’d suggest trying to avoid this road.
Things improved once I left this route and the real surprises started at Magetan a lovely little town at the base of Mt Lawu which had a real different look and feel to it. As soon as I rode in I wanted to stay and explore but alas I could not alter my hotel booking for that night but if there is one town I want to revisit that is it. After here the road climbed steeply over Mt Lawu with many strawberry farms along the way and stalls selling large baskets of huge red strawberries for a tiny amount, I pondered how I carry them but of course zero options on that bike with the gear I had and while I thought about just sitting on the road side and feasting on strawberries I decided to go on and the road on the other side then plunges down the mountain in spectacular fashion but again another hard road to try photo.
I had not expected this and wish I could have captured it better. I must say looking at the photos I brought back my results this trip were not so good. I took a few less but more often I just missed getting the shot right. Part of the problem is I wear glasses for reading these days and I just can no longer see how the photos I take on the iPhone are unless I put on my glasses and when riding that is not really an option as I often pull up and one handed pull out the phone and take a photo and put phone back then promptly ride on so taking off helmet and putting on glasses would take a lot of time and I would no doubt stop far less to take photos if I was doing this. I need to bite the bullet on a new camera with viewfinder which would allow me to set the viewfinder magnification and be able to use without removing my helmet since I always use jet style helmets these days. I was going to get the Sony RX100M3 but the camera offers so little control over depth of field due to the poor lens Sony have coupled to the otherwise nice little camera. I will go look at the new Lumix in the coming weeks as some of the photos here really are quite poorly captured even by phone standards.
The road continued to wind along in the valley for some distance after the descent and this area was really very scenic.
As I got close to Surakarta the traffic intensified and the surrounds became more urbanised and grubby. I ran into afternoon heavy traffic despite trying to route myself away from the city on back roads. My GPS then had a moment and I was close to, but unable to find my hotel so after riding around and round I eventually stumbled upon it and was very glad to get off the bike and wash the days dust and sweat away. My route day four.
I was across the road from a collection of shopping malls and so I explored those later and had a great meal in one with the help of some more very friendly locals who suggested a particular meal set. I really felt like a few beers to celebrate the riding going well however that is the one thing that is not so easy to find as very few places sell alcohol and I never saw an actual regular bar that I could just have a drink in the whole trip so guess that is to be expected in a Muslim country.
Last day and I was heading towards Yogyakarta in a loop via a road that goes between two volcanoes, this being Mt Berbabu and Mt Merapi then visiting the temple at Borobudur. The road that ascends between the two volcanoes is a bit of a mess in parts but gets better then is terrific over the top. The views were superb with the smoking volcano on my left but also the soaring mountain side on my right with fruit and other crops being grown right up into the clouds!
Some interesting constructions along the way. Seems safe.
I somehow rode past the road to the Borobudur temple. There was signs along the way for it which often were not the same route as my GPS was set for but I will take a local sign over the Garmin any day of the week and seemed to be making progress then the signage stopped and so I went on but at some point stopped and checking my offline map seemed to be a long way from the area where I was originally heading for. It took me considerable time to eventually to find the temple due to a road that was blocked with two trucks broken down, one in either lane and then cars that tried to get around either side totally blocking access and then traffic was piled up for a few km in either direction but being on a small bike I was able to join others weaving between vehicles and off the road along small tracks to get around to finally make my way to the temple road. The temple had onsite car park but no access for motorcycles however I found some secure motorcycle parking nearby which worked out great as I was not sure how I could go if my bag was not able to be secure so this was perfect and I could leave my helmet and jacket simply on the bike as well. I made sure to put heaps of sunblock on as I got a little burnt at the my last temple outing despite only being in the sun briefly. The UV seems ultra high in Indonesia like Australia.
I really just had a short visit but it was enjoyable and no less than 4 families wanted to take photos with me so that was fun.
That neck tie is a cooling aid, you put it under the tap and it soaks up water which cools you as riding as well it shields that part of your neck that can get exposed to the sun if the jacket opens up. I always put lots of sunblock on but my neck often seems to get burnt if not wearing a scarf but even the summer Buff scarves are hot but this works really well. I shall do a bit of a review on the blog soon.
My getting lost had cost me a lot of time. I had not had any lunch yet and it was already 1.30 pm so I ate at the temple food stands and doing the maths decided I just would have to bin the rest of my final day loop south east and ride directly back to Yogyakarta to be able to hand the bike back that afternoon as planned. I would have liked to have seen the other mountain area but I had a really a great ride so far with no flat tyres, no rain and enjoyed some terrific roads so figured I had done well and so took the main road back to arrive about 4.00pm and be parked before the peak traffic.
This ride truly exceeded my expectations. I just figured I would try see Mt Bromo and maybe get a couple of good bits of road along the way. A much higher than expected portion of the route was good riding and even the straight stuff is never boring as the focus needed whenever in the towns will keep you occupied. The food was great always fresh and quality ingredients. The below was a meal I had at a upmarket place with a fancy mocktail drink and it was still less than $4.00 all up. I wonder why food is excellent there and Thailand and Malaysia yet so woeful in Philippines as well as costing 3 times the price. Cost wise Indonesia is excellent value. I simply could not spend the (modest) amount of money I had exchanged for the trip and after a couple of weeks left with half of it still in my pocket.
If you smoke then Indonesia is a smokers paradise, smoking is permitted anywhere and a pack costs less than one dollar. The road side is awash with cigarette advertisements and tv is full of cigarette ads too. There is a lot of local rubbish burning like in Philippines, perhaps even more so as rubbish is not left piling up along the road like in many urban areas of Philippines but that means the air quality may be a problem for some. Nor is there the lawlessness that the Philippines has as far as I could tell. You get a smile and a wave or curious look from locals rather than being sized up as happens in Philippines where it really can sometimes feel (and is) very edgy. I never felt that at all in Indonesia, there isn’t guards with pump action shotguns at every shop or petrol station and you don’t get padded down to enter a shopping mall by staff with revolvers such as happens in Philippines. Actually I never saw any guns nor experienced the begging that is everywhere in Philippines just a couple of guitar players at traffic lights busking. Indonesia does have a big graffiti problem however which surprised me and gave areas a run down feel where they did not deserve them.
While the riding there requires concentration the Indonesians don’t cut corners into the oncoming lane like the Thai’s do which can be very dangerous when riding Thailand. I really enjoyed not having to deal with that and wonder how the government managed to get people to follow that road rule when many other road rules seem more a guide. Perhaps the people chose to do that themselves as there is a lot of cutesy shown between road users there and not much aggression despite the seemingly recklessness it is controlled and has a method to the madness.
At traffic lights in SE Asia you nearly always have a LED countdown timer which shows the remaining time on the green light and then the wait time on the red light. An interesting variation is the Indonesian ones often switch to scroll a message during the middle of the red wait time then back to the countdown for the final 15 seconds. Everyone on bikes at the front jumps the lights at about 3 seconds remaining on the red countdown to green. Funny how you adjust by day five I was beeping my horn with the rest at about 5 seconds to go for people to start rolling ha-ha. The horn is used extensively and while we westerners think using the horn is rude it is to make people aware you are passing them or otherwise draw attention to your movements so you are not bumped into. Took me awhile to get use to using it but the system works and I never saw a single accident while I was there.
Well I had a great time and I’ll certainly return to see more of Indonesia in the future.