A surprisingly good start to our last country

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May 7th 2013
Published: May 16th 2013
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Having decided on the country where we would spend the last remaining weeks of our trip, we were excited to get there but also apprehensive. Would it live up to our expectations and be the perfect ending that we were looking for? Or would we be disappointed? Well if the start of our time in Indonesia is anything to go by, we will end up wishing we had longer here...

We rarely do things the easy way. Instead of booking a direct flight from Singapore to Yogyakarta, we tried to save a bit of money and booked an early flight which would connect in Jakarta with dubious airline, Lion Air. Leaving our hostel at 6.30am having had just a few hours sleep after a big night out was lovely as you can imagine, as was standing on the busy MRT during rush hour with our heavy bags on. What was better still was that it took much longer to get to the airport than we thought, so we barely had enough time to make check in. Then to top it off, at check in the surly woman asked to see our flight out of Indonesia, which we hadn't actually booked, but were going to in the next day or two once we knew the exact date. We told her this and showed her our ticket back to the UK from Bangkok but she wasn't having any of it and told us we had to have a flight booked out before she could let us check in, so was effectively denying us catching the flight. This went down swimmingly and after much arguing back and forth someone else came over and on the promise that Lion Air wouldn't be liable if we were turned away on entry into Indonesia, we were allowed to finally check in about 15 minutes before it closed. We made it to the gate and boarded the flight, promptly falling asleep for the 2.5 hour journey.

On arrival to Jakarta, we got our Indonesia visa's ($25 each ), cleared immigration no problem, collected our bags and then had to take a shuttle bus over to the domestic terminal (which seemed miles away, the bus took 20 minutes) for our second flight to Yogyakarta. To be fair the actual airline/planes were fine and all flights were on time-ish, it was just a round about way of getting from A-B but at half the price of a direct Air Asia flight it was worthwhile to us.

Finally after almost 8 hours of travelling we got to Yogya. We jumped on a bus towards the centre of town which took about 45 minutes and it dropped us right on Jalan Malioboro, one of the main streets and the area we wanted to stay in. We headed off down a side road to find somewhere to stay, and after checking out a few places we came across Bladok Losmen, a nice guesthouse with a cute terrace, good restaurant, clean rooms and even a small pool. Room sorted, we had a bite to eat and a quick walk around the neighbourhood, which we found very pleasant and a nice first stop in Indonesia. It felt arty with all the art shops and galleries, yet also quite rustic and cultured and we really liked it, something we didn't expect.

We had read all about the over friendly men on the street who start conversation then try to get you to go to an overpriced art exhibition and had agreed we would do our best to ignore these touts (of which there were many), but within the first 10 minutes Scott had already made a friend. As we came out of a shop a guy started speaking very quickly to us and was way to overfriendly - I thought straight away that he was a tout and tried to keep walking but Scott, ever the optimist, thought he was just a chatty guy so happily stood answering his text book questions one after the other until the inevitable came - 'what is your name, I'm XX, where are you from, ah London I have family in London, how long are you staying here for, what are your plans today, I can show you a one off art exhibition, today only...'. There were so many of these types of touts that would try and distract you at first with a question or statement as you walked past them like 'nice t-shirt', 'are you lost', 'where are you going', 'hello hello' etc, all quickly followed by 'where you from' and you knew what was coming next, so in the end we had to just ignore them all and not even smile and say hello back as they took this as an invitation to hassle us. Then there were the tricycle (becak) drivers; wherever you walked you heard calls of 'yes transport hello yes ok' and it did get tiring constantly smiling and saying 'no thanks, we are just walking', as then they would follow up with 'where you walking to, you need driver, yes ok...' so we had to ignore them after a while too. Even though it was all a bit annoying, they were not as bad as we had expected so it didn't bother us too much in the end. That night we were shattered from no sleep the night before and travelling for most of the day so had dinner and got an early night.

On our first full day in Yogya we had planned to do a small walking tour of the city and maybe visit some sites, but first we had to book one more flight online which we never seem to have much luck with. What should have taken 30 minutes tops ended us taking us half the day, as if it wasn't the internet crashing it was a problem with online payments, or the airline website, or something else. Finally after trying for the umpteenth time to book a flight on a different website we realised it had taken our money but the booking had been rejected...aghaa! Cue a 20 minute phone call to the help line (which probably cost more than our dinner) and a tantrum from Scott, and what should have been a relaxing day had already been a really stressful one. Eventually we booked the flight through a travel agent for the same price as online, something we should have done in the first place really to save a lot of time and hassle. We then did what we knew would make us feel better, and go for some food!

The food here has really surprised us and we don't remember it being this good - there is so much variety and everything we have had has been good so far, but our favourites are: Opor Ayam (chicken in a coconut curry), Beef Rendang (beef in a thick curry sauce), Chicken Sate (chicken skewers with peanut sauce) and even good old Nasi Goreng (friend rice), its all been delicious and we have enjoyed trying new things. That night we saw an Irish guy from our hostel, Eggy, who we had met briefly in the Philippines (on the ill-fated boat to Coron), so went for dinner and a few drinks with him. We ended up sinking one too many Bintangs (Indo beer) and watching a cool reggae band in a bar until the early hours before we realised the time and called it a night, as we had to be up super early for the one thing we had really wanted to do here...

Borobudur is a 9th Century Buddhist temple which lay hidden for centuries under jungle forest and volcanic ash. It's about an hour away from Yogya and said to be very impressive, so we were up at 4.30am to make it there for sunrise. We opted to book transport to the temple as it wasn't that much more than the local buses (50,000rp each for the private van instead of about 35,000rp each for the buses), plus the public buses didn't start running until later meaning we wouldn't make it for sunrise. As it happened we didn't make it for sunrise anyway, but instead our van driver stopped so we could see the sky turning colour over Mt Merapi, a nearby volcano, which was a nice touch. We had heard from a few Travel Bloggers and locals that if you enter via a n attached hotel's grounds, rather than the main gate, you sometimes don’t have to buy a ticket (which are not cheap at 190,000rp per person for foreigners, considerably more than both Angkor Wat and the Taj Mahal, not to mention the Great Wall and other Wonders of the World, something we couldn't comprehend), so we asked our driver to drop us at the Manahara hotel and meet us later at the main exit as we had to try this trick. It didn’t work at first so we left and started making our way to the main entrance to buy a ticket when a gardener called us over and opened a side gate for us into the compound, perhaps thinking we were hotel guests – result.

We actually got in just before 6am (the time it opens to the public) so we had the whole complex to pretty much ourselves for 10 minutes. On first sight it was shrouded in fog and mist so we couldn't see the true beauty of it, but once this cleared we could make out the intricate carvings and statues around the structure and the many, very imposing, large bells, some of which housed Buddha statues and some were empty. Borbudur temple consists of 6 square platforms topped by 3 round platforms, and on each level were various monuments, Buddha's and these large stupas (which looked like bells), the biggest being near the top. We spent ages circling each level before moving onto the next and found it all very impressive, especially as we didn't know too much about it until recently. Soon the hordes of local students had arrived all wanting to take their pictures with us, which was very sweet, and have conversations, which typically went something like this - 'Excuse me Sir/Miss (giggle giggle giggle), Can I please have a photo with you?' Of course we said yes, and then proceeded to have photos taken with the whole of said group. When this was over, the next question would be 'Where you come from?' Followed by applause and 'Do you mind if I have a conversation with you?' Now this would normally have been fine, and the students were very sweet, but when you are being asked every 2 minutes whilst trying to take in the historic monument it can get slightly irritating. We must have had over 40 people ask us the same thing within 10 minutes. In the end we would pose for quick pictures but had to refuse all conversations until we had finished our sight seeing, as otherwise we would just spend the whole time talking and not seeing what we came to.

After spending a good amount of time in the temple we strolled around the lovely gardens and viewed the two on-site museums which were both interesting. We then went back to the main entrance and had a nice breakfast of nasi goreng before re-meeting up with our driver.

On the drive back, our friendly driver pulled over at Mendut Temple which is the oldest Bhuddist temple in Java and sitting in the grounds next to this structure is the modern Mendut Bhuddist Monastery which was simply amazing with beautiful carvings, stained glass windows, many bhudda statues and what appeared to be Japanese inspired pagodas.

We got back and took another walk through the streets of Yogya, before buying our supplies (Vic's likes to be prepared for all eventualities) for our next few days where we would be travelling overland to Bali, with a couple of overnight stops and two sites we have been looking forward to seeing since we left home . . .

S&V's Travel Info & Tips:

General Info: Approx 15,000 INR/RP (Indonesian Rupiah) to £1.

Transportation: The bus 1A from the airport was 3,000 INR to Jalan Malioboro which is one of the main tourist areas. There are many taxi, becak, helicopter (horse and carriage) and buses on offer at low prices.

Food: Great options at low prices. BedHot Resto for local Indo food, Street stalls along Gang 2 for Nasi Goreng and Sate and Bladok for great western faire.

Accomodation: We stayed at a great guesthouse (which is surprisingly recommended in the LP) called Bladok. on Jalan Sosro. The room was 120,000 INR for fan & cold water. There was some early morning noise from nearby construction but the swimming pool, staff and great food options available made up for it.

Other observations:

x) The people so far have been so, so friendly and smiley.

xx) Most places add 10%!t(MISSING)ax plus 5%!s(MISSING)ervice which is very rare in Asia, so build this into your budgets for accom and restaurant food.

Additional photos below
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16th May 2013

ahhhh the tickets
I can see also pulled the hotel trick - well done!! Although we still feel a little bit guilty that we have done it haha It is expensive for backpackers though!!! cheers, B
17th May 2013

Last country
..."the last remaining weeks of our trip"! And what a trip it's been. Hope you enjoy your last country :)

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