The island of Java

Java is one of 17000 Indonesian islands, the world’s largest archipelago. It’s located in Southwest Asia, near Malaysia and Papua New Guinea. The country is known to be an authentic paradise, with green landscapes, outstanding beaches with crystal clear water and a bountiful cultural and religious tradition.

The island’s most well-known, and probably the most visited, is Bali, but there are many other locations also worth a visit. Java, where the chaotic capital is found, and Sumatra also deserve our attention. Of course, all others will be interesting enough, they are just not as visited.

When I was preparing my travel plan for Indonesia, I went for Bali, due to its rice fields and temples, and Java for its Borobudur temple, a mandatory stop for me. Since I had enough time, and would start with Kuala Lumpur, I decided to explore the area of west Java and arrived at Borobudur by train.

So I looked for some information about the west Javanese cities, but did not find much. I realized that tourist sites were probably scarce, something I confirmed later. That made me want to go for a visit, I believe. I really want to visit authentic places, before they eventually stop to exist…

10-day travel

Throughout 10 days, I explored Jakarta and Bogor, Bandung, Purwokerto and, finally, Yogiakarta, where Borobudur is found. The traffic is absolutely chaotic in every place I walked, much worse than Bangkok or Saigon. I read that it was one of the most populated islands in the world, which actually results in a completely chaotic traffic. There are plenty of cars at any time of the day.

If you visit Java, get ready to spend several hours if you want to go anywhere by car, even if it is very close. The easy and inexpensive bike rental that exists in Bali is nowhere to be found here.

One morning, for instance, I had to exchange money and do laundry and it was all I could do. The places were very close to the hotel where I stayed, but there were so many cars that I should have walked instead. I would have done it if it wasn’t for the baby stroller.

The cities

In my opinion, Java’s very best is not the cities. They are super messy and, frankly, not very interesting. What is really worth is leaving the center behind and visit its surroundings. It’s a pure green explosion as we move away from the chaos. The rice fields, the palm and bamboo trees create a beautiful landscape.

Transportation

I arrived in Jakarta on a flight from Kuala Lumpur, then I did it all on the ground. Between cities I always went for the train, which is comfortable, with air conditioning and very cheap. But we are in Asia, so you should always expect a substantial delay, which can be more than an hour.

I always advise to buy the tickets on the day before, to avoid surprises like I had. I had to rewrite the travel plan between Jakarta and Bandung. There were about ten trains between these two cities in the day I wanted, but there are so many people that they all get jam-packed pretty quickly. Without internet, without being able to speak English with anyone, it was difficult to put up an alternative plan. But I managed to. 😉

Interior of a train in Java, Indonesia
Interior of a train in Java

 

Bandung surroundings, Java, Indonesia
Bandung surroundings

Within each of the cities, I used the Grab whenever I could, an Uber-like app we know. Expect major waiting periods of up to one hour at peak times. In any case, even if the driver accepts the journey and is moving towards your location, he may cancel at any time. It takes a lot of time and patience…

The food

In every place I visited in Java I realized that you basically have two options: eat rice or noodles. Either one or the other may be cooked in water, fried or turned into a soup with shrimp, tofu, beef or chicken. The food is usually reasonable, but if you don’t like spicy food (like me) you must emphasize “not spicy” a couple of times.

I always had the excuse that my daughter couldn’t eat spicy stuff. They were a little more careful because of that.

The inhabitants

I was under the impression that the Javanese are quite friendly and a little shy. As we walked on the street, people looked at us and smiled, I think that they were surprised to see someone so different around. During several days of travel, I didn’t spot any westerners, so it’s not surprising to see their curiosity.

In a fairly timid way, they approached us and asked to take a picture or record a video, always with a hand covering the mouth, a habit that we normally see in our children.

I was approached often due to my daughter. They all wanted to touch her skin and hair, which is not as smooth as the Javanese’s. I admit that most of the times I didn’t care, but when there were several consecutive requests, even she started to refuse… But this ended as soon as we arrived in Bali.

Javanese smiles, Indonesia

Javanese smiles

Religion

The majority of this island is clearly Muslim. Few adult women don’t wear the traditional scarf to cover their heads and shoulders. I saw some girls younger than my daughter (3 years old) already wearing it. In other Muslim countries that I visited, girls don’t tend to wear it so early.

There are several mosques throughout the cities, painted green and gold. They are an oasis of exuberance between the poverty of the houses. This is something that always shocks me, in any religion.

I was allowed to enter a mosque in Purwokerto, nearby the shopping center with modern features. I was limited to the female-only division, with half a dozen of Javanese women that were in their moment of prayer. This was a very interesting moment of proximity with Javanese women.

When they entered the mosque, the women walked to the cloakroom to pick one of the tunics stored there. Then they moved to a place far from the rest of the women, dressed the tunic and began the ritual. One of them arrived with her two daughters, who quickly caught mine’s attention. The three immediately started to play in that small space of the mosque, while the mother was focused in her ritual and I was taking some photos to perpetuate the moment.

Women-only area, in a mosque in Purwokerto.[/caption]A woman getting ready for prayer in a mosque in Purwokerto.

Woman preparing for prayer in a Purwokerto mosque, Java, Indonesia
Woman preparing for prayer in a Purwokerto mosque

We got closer when she finished her prayer, after some smiley exchanges. As was to be expected, she immediately wanted a picture of my daughter with hers. We changed a few words before leaving, she had an immense curiosity to know where we were from and why we were there. Yet another super friendly and curious Javanese.



Travel Guide

When to go: Between April and October.

Documents: passport with a 6-month validity starting from the date of departure from Indonesia. Visa exemption in Indonesia as long as the entry occurs in one of Indonesia’s five main airports or nine sea ports. This type of visa is valid for 30 days (not renewable), for purposes related to tourism, culture, business trip or official purposes, but not for any other type of labor activity.

Currency: The local currency is the Indonesian rupiah.

Time zone: The western zone (Jakarta) GMT + 6 (Summer) and + 7 (Winter).

Language: There are a large number of languages in the country, the official is the Indonesian or bahasa indonesia. The most common foreign language is English.