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Part 3: Bali, Yogyakarta, Borobudur, Prambanan, Mt Bromo

11.06: Kuala Lumpur -> Bali
12.06: Bali
13.06: Bali
14.06: Bali
15.06: Bali -> Kuala Lumpur
16.06: Kuala Lumpur -> Yogyakarta

17.06: Borobudur, Dieng plateau
18.06: Prambanan, Yogyakarta
19.06: Yogyakarta -> Mt Bromo
20.06: Mt Bromo -> Surabaya
21.06: Surabaya -> Johor Bharu -> Mersing

16.06: Kuala Lumpur -> Yogyakarta
Hotel Indah Palace, Yogyakarta (Prawirotaman area). 325000 rupiah for a comfortable room in a three star hotel. The room is medium size, has a telephone, TV, fridge, minibar, electronic safe, free wireless Internet in the room (good quality). The toilet is so-so, a bit oldish, but ok. Breakfast included in the room rate.
Weather: sunny then overcast in KL. Hot in Yogyakarta when I arrive.

We get up at 8am, have breakfast, pack our stuff, then do some shopping in the nearby shopping complexes. At 12pm we are back in the Melia hotel and check out. At 12:30pm I'm in a taxi (RM 90, hotel limousine) to the LCCT terminal of AirAsia which I reach around 1:30pm.

The 3:05pm AK594 flight to Yogyakarta is delayed until 3:25pm (in reality the plane will only take off at 3:45pm). While waiting at the gate, I use the free Internet access of the airport to book the flight from Surabaya to Johor Bharu on June 21st and to download my emails. Then, shortly after 3pm the plane starts boarding and later takes off.

I arrive in Yogyakarta airport at 5pm local time. I discover that Java time is one hour behind Malaysia time. Then it takes some time to get the visa, pass the swine flu scan and retrieve the luggage. I only manage to exit the airport at 5:45pm. The first thing to do is to get some cash. After some walking I find the airport ATMs (there are several). I have to try several ATMs because the max. retrievable amount is limited and my bank charges a 4 Euro fee for each withdrawal.

Next thing to do is to organise a hotel. Well, I might just take a taxi to Prawirotaman street, but I run into the hotel reservation counters and engage in a conversation. After some discussion I select the Indah Palace, which seems to be comfortable but still cheap, located in the right area and has wireless Internet in the room.

Then I take a taxi to the hotel (55000 rupiah, coupon system at the airport). I'm in the hotel around 6:30pm. The taxi by the way stops along the way because of engine problems.

After checking in, I get out and explore a bit the area around the hotel. Manage to find very quickly Prawirotaman street. But where are all guesthouses, hotels, cafes and travel agencies? There should be a lot of them, since this is supposed to be the tourist zone.

In fact it doesn't take too much walking until I find the first travel agency. There I enquire about the tour options. Later, after having spoken or checked several other travel agents, I realize that all travel agencies are offering the same tours, at almost the same prices. To Borobudur at 5am it's 50000 rupiah; the tour to Bromo 2D/1N including accomodation ranges between 300000 and 450000 rupiah + single supplement in case you travel alone (around 80000 rupiah), and so on.

I end up booking a car+driver for a combination of Borobudur and the Dieng Plateau. We'll leave at 5am, arrive at Borobudur at 6am (slightly after the sunset), spend approx. one hour there, then proceed to the Dieng plateau. Total fee of 450000 rupiah, which I do not bargain because it is quite cheap if translated into Euro.

After that I continue exploring the area. There are more hotels, cafes, restaurants, travel agents, shops etc. in this area. The streets seem quite dirty. Then I get back to the hotel.

17.06: Yogyakarta -> Borobudur -> Dieng plateau -> Yogyakarta
Hotel Indah Palace, Yogyakarta.
Weather: sunny, blue sky in the morning, lots of haze. Surprisingly fresh in the morning. Fresh in the Dieng plateau, because Dieng lies at an altitude of over 2000m a.s.l. Overcast in the afternoon, rain. Clear again in Yogyakarta in the evening.

Very early wake up: I'm supposed to get up at 4:30am to be ready at 5am, in practice I wake up already well before 4am. At 5am I'm in the car and the driver starts the trip. Half an hour later, at 5:30am, the car (a 10-seat minivan with 400000km) breaks down. The engine stops working.

There we are at the outskirts of Yogyakarta at 5:30am. The driver tries to fix the engine himself, then calls somebody. This somebody arrives, tries to fix the engine and fails.

Finally, at 6:50am, the replacement car arrives (a Suzuki car with just 60000km) and we can continue the trip. But it's late. We only pass by the Mendut temple at 7:05am and I reach the main Borobudur temple at 7:20am. By this time the temple is completely overcrowded with hundreds of people. Apparently several classes of schoolchildren arrived here this morning.

I'm furious, because the only reason I got up so early is that I wanted to be at the temple very early, to avoid joining masses of tourists and take some photos. Now instead the temple is overcrowded, how to take photos? I'll have to edit away the people in all photos.

At 8:10am I leave the temple and start walking towards the car. I only manage to find it 20 minutes later (could not find it initially, the compound is very big).

At 8:30am we continue driving towards the Dieng plateau. Very nice rural countryside, idyllic with rice paddies, coconut palms, every now and then a tree, lots of terraces. Narrow street with lots of traffic, makes driving slow.

The Javanese are cultivating every square cm of land. On every mountain and hill there are terraces. These people really are serious about agriculture. I'm later told that there are four harvests per year and that the soil is very fertile. No famines, there is enough food for everybody.

We reach the Dieng plateau at 11:30am. Entry ticket is 20000 rupiah, which covers all things we'll see today except for the lake we see in the end. Somebody offers his services as a guide for 75000 rupiah. I accept because I know nothing about this place and a guide can be very helpful. Besides it's a way to support the local economy (I do not bargain the requested fee, because it corresponds to 5 Euro which is peanuts for two hours of work).

Until 1:10pm we explore the Dieng plateau: several Hindu temples (the oldest found in Java), hot springs with boiling water and sulphureous emissions, volcanic activity and in the end this lake with the coloured water. Quite interesting place, well worth the trip from Yogyakarta.

Then we drive down to Wonosobo where the guide leaves us (he lives here) and we have some lunch. Fast food in Bunto's chicken, because it is almost 3pm. I didn't like the buffet style restaurant to which the guide brought me initially.

Around 3:20pm we finally start driving back to Yogyakarta. We are both tired, the driver and myself. I'm back in the hotel at 5:40pm.

18.06: Yogyakarta -> Prambanan -> Yogyakarta
Hotel Indah Palace, Yogyakarta. Shower very unstable: the water temperature changes between too cold and too hot. Impossible to stabilise it: I have to keep adjusting the shower knob.
Weather: sunny, blue sky in the morning. After 10:30am some clouds in the sky. Hot, no rain.

I get up at 7am and after breakfast by 8:30am I'm in a taxi to Prambanan. The driver shows a price list, quoting a round trip Yogya - Prambanan - Yogya (3 hours) at 125500 rupiah. Since I'll need some transportation anyway to get back to Yogyakarta and a taxi saves some time, I agree to this. Not sure if I'm overpaying or not, but these are anyway very small amounts in Euro terms.

We reach Prambanan shortly after 9am. The ticket costs 110000 rupiah, almost the same as the Borobudur ticket. I thought that the Prambanan ticket would cost significantly less, because the main attraction is Borobudur.

Prambanan is an impressive Hindu temple complex; quite a feeling when you are approaching. Tall towers, excellent state of preservation - or should I say, excellent reconstruction, since it appears that Prambanan was just a pile of ruins when the Dutch archeologists first arrived and was later rebuilt by assembling all the stones. Very photogenic.

At 9 something am there are already big crowds of people at the temple. Lots of schoolchildren coming in classes. I'm at the complex until 10:30am, then walk back to the taxi and we drive back to Yogyakarta.

I tell the driver to drop me off at the Kraton, which we only reach at 11:25am. Lots of traffic by now in the streets in Yogyakarta.

The Kraton turns out to be a disappointment. Only 5000 rupiah entry ticket, but almost nothing to see. I only spend there 15 minutes, then walk out. Then I walk a bit around the area. Some interesting colonial style architecture, for instance the Bank Indonesia building.

Around 12:15pm I get into a taxi and head to the train station. The idea is to book a train to Probolingo. Not so easy, as it turns out. There are only two trains tomorrow to Surabaya, one at 7:15am (arriving at 12:45pm), one around noon (arriving 5:40pm). The noon one is too late, so I'll have to take the 7:15am train. These only go to Surabaya. There I have to change trains and take a train to Probolingo. But trains to Probolingo leave Surabaya either at 9am or 10pm and I can't catch the 9am train if I leave Yogyakarta at 7:15am. So most likely I'll have to rent a car + driver in Surabaya,  because using combinations of buses probably takes to long or is too messy.

You get the train ticket in the reservation office of the train station. I pick up a number at 12:30pm and will have to wait over one hour. It's my turn only at 1:45pm and I almost miss it because I wait outside the waiting hall of the reservation office (too hot inside, no A/C).

At 90000 rupiah for the top class (executive) the train ticket is incredibly cheap. That is less than 7 Euro for a trip of 380km. In Germany such a ticket would cost over 10 times the amount.

After that, around 1pm, I get back into town. The yellow taxis at the train station ask for 20000 rupiah to bring me to Malioboro street (it will turn out later that I could have walked, since it's just 500m from the train station) and refuse to use the meter. So I take a becak for 10000 rupiah. Given the extremely short distance I should have negotiated this down to 5000 rupiah or so, but never mind, these are very small amounts and these people are poor.

Malioboro street is jam-packed with sourvenir, fake goods and batik shops. Tough to walk around, because the pavement is very narrow and people continously try to sell you something.

At 2pm I'm in the Malioboro mall, an air-conditioned shopping mall selling international goods. Have a smal snack there, then continue walking on Malioboro street at 2:40pm. Heavy pollution everywhere, as tons of vehicles, many of them diesel, spit out black clouds of exhaust fumes. I guess one hour on the streets here is as bad as smoking a pack or two of cigarettes.

Shortly after 3pm I'm back in front of the kraton. Then I start walking back to Prawirotaman street. Should not be so far away, according to the map, but then it turns out to be quite a walk as I only arrive there after 4pm (granted I made a lot of stops along the way, checking out things I see).

In Prawirotaman I go to a travel agent and ask if they have the package to Mt Bromo without the transportation to Cemoro Lawang. Turns out that they can only offer the Lava View lodge for 425000 rupiah, while the complete package costs 540000 rupiah and includes transportation (160000 rupiah), the hotel and the jeep (80000 rupiah) to the sunrise point. But they tell me it's low season and it should not be a problem finding accomodation at Cemoro Lawang. So I decide to get to Cemoro without a booking and to look there for a room.

For the rest of the day I don't do much. Since there is nothing to see in Yogya, I just stay in the hotel and later in the evening have some dinner in a cafe.

19.06: Yogyakarta -> Mt Bromo (Cemoro Lawang)
Hotel Lava View lodge, Cemoro Lawang. 400000 rupiah (overpriced) for a room with two beds, a small TV, very basic toilet but with hot water. No A/C (what for?), no heating. The shower has hot water, but the water is very hot, too hot for a shower and there is no way to make it less hot.
There are actually other places in Cemoro Lawang who offer rooms with hot water for considerably less than this. But I guess here you pay for the great location: panoramic view of the caldera and the craters directly at your doorstep.
Weather: sunny, blue sky, some cloud. No rain.

I wake up at 5:15am, get ready and at 6:35am I leave with a taxi to the train station (total fee is 17000 rupiah). We reach the train station at 6:50am, amazing how much activity there is on the streets so early in the morning.

The train has very, very cold air conditioning, perhaps not more than 15C. I have to put on some additional underwear and wear a jacket. Perhaps it might have been better to take the class without A/C. Later in the morning the temperatures slowly go up and starting from 11am it gets comfortable. While on the train, the service personnel distributes water and buns to the passengers. I also see them walking around with dishes carrying warm meals, so it must be possible to order those.

The train arrives a bit early at 12:36pm in Surabaya. There I head to the information counter and enquire about how to get to Mt Bromo. They tell me that I can rent a car+driver for 600000 rupiah, which seems too expensive. So I have first some food in the food stall of the train station. There a local guy approaches me and offers to bring me to Mt Bromo (Cemoro Lawang) for 500000 rupiah, which is more in line with what I was thinking. I accept the offer. Possibly I could have negotiated this down because as I later hear the guy lives in Cemoro Lawang and wants to go back (so he doesn't have to drive back to Surabaya).

We leave shortly after 1pm and initially drive through Surabaya. Surprise, surprise, Surabaya is not as ugly and disgusting as described in the Lonely Planet. Surabaya (at least the area through which we drive, i.e. from the train station, passing by the airport, towards Probolingo) is actually quite clean, with lots of green, and modern. Almost pleasant. I guess tomorrow I'll explore it a bit.

Lots of traffic on the streets which slow down a lot. Shortly after 3pm we pass by Probolingo. From there it's about 50km until Cemoro Lawang, which will take almost two hours. The mountain road is very steep and narrow in certain sections.

Shortly before 5pm we reach the Lava View hotel in Cemoro Lawang. The rooms are a bit overpriced at 400000 rupiah, but never mind for just one night. I check in and then enquire about the jeep for tomorrow morning. 300000 rupiah they tell me. Eh... perhaps can I share the jeep with some other people? They don't know and say I should come back at 8pm.

Then I have a dinner in a simple place. 18000 rupiah for a noodle soup, a dish with rice, fried chicken + vegetables and a soft drink. Unbelievably cheap, perhaps the cheapest dinner I have ever had. Compare that with the 300000 rupiah we used to spend in Bali for the family for one meal.

It seems that if you are careful a bit you can travel across Indonesia spending very, very little.

In the evening I do nothing and go sleeping early.

20.06:  Mt Bromo (Cemoro Lawang) -> Surabaya
Hotel Weta, Surabaya. 370000 rupiah for a "middle class" room, with TV, phone, bath + shower, fridge with minibar, tea making equipment, nice furniture, nothing else. A/C is a bit too cold, not adjustable. Bathroom is old and has not been renovated recently
Weather: sunny, blue sky, fresh on Mt Bromo (really cold in the morning before the sunrise).

I get up at 3:20am, have a shower and am ready at 3:40am. At 3:50am the jeep driver knocks at the door. I get out and enter the jeep. We are six passengers in addition to the driver - quite cramped and uncomfortable behind. We leave shortly before 4am and after a 45 minutes drive we are close to the top of Mt Penanjakan. There are tons of jeeps parked there, lots of activity, lots of people. Food stalls, shops etc. Since it is still early I have a cup of tea in a stall and then proceed to the top of the mountain where the antennas are.

On the mountain top there is a viewing platform, where hundreds of people are standing and waiting for the sunrise. Around 5am it starts brightening up, at 5:15am the first rays of sun appear. Quite fresh, there is some wind.

At 5:50am it is quite bright already and I walk back to the car, because I don't know when the driver is leaving. Actually I'm the first at the jeep and have to wait 10 more minutes until all passengers are there. We then drive down into the caldera until the foot of Mt Bromo. Some locals offer trips on the horseback to the crater. From there it's a short walk across black sand until the crater, then there is a staircase until the crater. On top of the crater you can see white smoke coming out with a sulphur smell.

At 8am I'm back at the car, 15 minutes later all passengers are back and we drive to the hotel. Breakfast in the hotel. At 9:05am I'm in the lobby of the hotel and enquire about transportation to either Surabaya or Probolingo. A car with driver to Surabaya is 600000 rupiah, otherwise there is a "shuttle" bus to Probolingo for 30000 rupiah. Will take the shuttle bus thanks. When is it leaving. Some phone call, they say at 9:30am.

I get back to room, pack my bags and at 9:30am I'm back in the lobby. No shuttle bus waiting for me. At 9:50am I'm told that the driver left already because he filled up the minibus. But there is the truck driver of the hotel who can bring me to Sukapura, a village 17km from here, at no charge. From there I can get a minibus to Probolingo.

So at 10am we leave for Sukapura and arrive there 25 minutes later. A minibus to Probolingo leaves at 11am, but will leave soon for 60000 rupiah. Fine, I pay the 60000 rupiah and we leave soon.

By 11am we arrive at the bus station in Probolingo. There as soon as I get out of a minibus I'm immediately taken over by a friendly local who helps me finding a bus to Surabaya. Turns out later that this friendly local is in reality a thief working for a local travel agency, Mitra Jaya. Mitra Jaya has two offices in the Probolingo bus station, strategically located at the two entrances to the bus station. There touts of the agency route non-knowledgeable tourists like me to the agency, where the agency sells bus tickets at inflated prices.

The guy brings me to the counter of Mitra Jaya, and fills out a form. There are two buses, a local slow one and an express one. The express one costs 75000 rupiah I'm being told. I hand over 80000 rupiah to the guy and then am told that there is a 10% government tax on top, 82500 rupiah in total.

At this moment my brain wakes up and starts to connect. 82500 rupiah for such a short distance.... hmmm.... sounds a bit expensive. I pull out the Lonely Planet guide and check the price. According to the LP the price should be around 10000-20000 rupiah. I ask the guy, why does your bus cost so much. Some short discussion, then I tell the guy that I am not buying his bus ticket.

Then the guy starts talking about a 40% cancellation fee. I don't get back my money, the 80000 rupiah he is holding in his hands, only 60% of it. He says I made a reservation and this 40% is government mandated bla bla bla.

Approx. 20 minutes of discussion follow. The boss comes, I talk to him. I say I am going to call the police. Empty threat, because I don't know where the police station is, if I use the mobile phone to find out the number and call them it's likely that there will be 10-20 minutes of telephone calls costing a multiple of the 80000 rupiah the guy ows me.

In the end the only option to get the money would be physical violence. More discussion, the guy finally gives me 60000 back and keeps 20000. I leave and look for a bus to Surabaya. Later in the LP guide I read that the Probolingo bus station has a horrible reputation.

It turns out that you do not buy the bus ticket in a counter. You simply enter into a bus with your luggage and purchase a ticket on board. Cost is 22000 for a comfortable seat in an A/C bus to Surabaya.

I take the 12pm bus, which arrives at 2:30pm in the Surabaya bus station. There, again, as soon I get out of the bus a local tries to adopt me and take my luggage. This time I grab firmly my luggage and get rid of all touts who offer their services.

I walk to the well marked taxi counter and take a taxi to the hotel Weta. Cost of the 10km trip is 60000 rupiah, almost three times the cost of the 100km bus trip from Probolingo to Surabaya. The price differences are really incredible in Indonesia.

Around 3:20pm I leave the hotel and take a taxi to the Jembatan Merah area of Surabaya, where the old town of Surabaya is supposed to be. It's actually a pretty unremarkable area, even the Masjid Ampel (in walking distance, but very tough to find) is nothing special and looks quite modern.

Until 4:30pm I explore the area on foot, then I take a taxi. I tell the driver to bring me to that shopping mall I saw near the hotel Weta. The driver understands something, then ends up bringing me to the hotel Weta. I tell him to bring me to the mall, then drop off the taxi and walk on foot to the mall. Almost impossible to cross the street because of the intense and fast traffic, you have to use a bridge.

The Tunjungan mall is really huge. Modern, clean, full of expensive upmarket shops selling branded international goods. I have some dinner there (have skipped lunch today), then walk around a bit.

At 6:30pm I start walking back to the hotel. This should be in walking distance, but in fact it takes me over half an hour to find the way back.

21.06: Surabaya -> Johor Bharu -> Mersing
Hotel Embassy, Mersing. RM 55 for a basic, but functional room. It has A/C, a small TV, two tables, bed, mirror, clothes hanger, basic toilet with shower not much more else. Very basic, but in a good location in the city centre and sufficient for my needs. Finally an A/C whose thermostat works.
Weather: sunny, blue sky, but quite hazy in Surabaya. Overcast to heavy rain in Johor Bharu, more fresh. Sunny and warm in Mersing.

I wake up at 6am, have breakfast at 7am and by 7:25am I'm in a taxi to the airport. Quite a long drive. Despite mostly using the motorway we only reach the airport at 8am. The taxi costs 120000 rupiah.

Check in at the AirAsia counter. 150000 rupiah of airport tax to pay, which apparently AirAsia forgot to include into the ticket price. Here AirAsia failed to declare the full ticket price (complete of taxes and all fees) on their website. The same thing happened when we left Bali. We were lucky to have still have sufficient Indonesian cash with us.

The AirAsia flight to Johor Bharu surprisingly leaves 10 minutes early at 9:15am (scheduled departure time is 9:25am) and lands early in Johor Bharu at 12:15pm local time. Then it takes quite a long time to get through the new swine flu check. Not sure if I chose the wrong queue or if people simply were jumping queue, in any case I'm one of the last to pass this health checkpoint but wasn't one of the last to leave the plane.

Copyright 2009 Alfred Molon