My 7-day backpacking adventure across Java, Indonesia

Before 2013 drew to a close, I flew to the world’s largest archipelago, Indonesia, and embarked on an adventure of a lifetime.

It took me seven days to fulfill my jam-packed backpacking trip on Java Island that actually happened during the sporadic rainy season in this part of Indonesia. The entire journey covered important historical sites, breathtaking volcanic scenery, and a bunch of food-tasting activities. Here is the rundown of events in my week-long adventure in Java.

Day 1: Jakarta – Purwokerto – Wonosobo

Arriving in Jakarta at past midnight, I originally planned of sleeping at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport and just wait for the first Damri bus trip to Gambir at 4 AM. I thought that by this way I could save some money from taking the expensive evening taxi from the airport to city center. My Indonesian office friends warned me about the risks of sleeping at the airport, but I said I’ll just give it a try. To cut the story short, I ended up dozing off at their apartment instead. :)

Motion and inertia: Passengers wait for their respective trains at Gambir Train Station, Jakarta

My first target destination outside of Jakarta is Dieng Plateau. I’ve read some nice comments about this place so I’ve added it to my list. From Gambir station in Jakarta I took the morning train bound for Purwokerto at 6:30 AM. Dieng Plateau is part of Wonosobo, and to get there I took the Jakarta-Purwokerto-Wonosobo-Dieng Plateau route.

Day 2: Dieng Plateau – Magelang – Jogjakarta

Dieng Plateau is a highland community in Wonosobo famous for its cool mountain climate and verdant landscapes. And when I say cool, I meant freezing. Taking a shower without a heater felt like a punishment.

Sulfur emissions of Kawah Sikidang mixed with mist resulted to an almost zero visibility in this part of Dieng Plateau, Wonosobo

The first half of my second day in Java encompassed Dieng Plateau, hopping (no, walking) from one tourist spot to another. I started my morning trek in the eerie forest of Telaga Warna (Colored Lake) followed by a foggy visit to the sulfuric Kawah Sikidang (Sikidang Crater). I finished the tour loop in Arjuna Complex before completing the full circle back to the village.

The unmoving crowd at Malioboro Street, Yogyakarta during New Year’s Eve 2013

From Dieng Plateau I descended to Wonosobo and made a bus connection to Magelang in order to reach Yogyakarta. The special district of Yogyakarta is a prime tourist destination in Java. Javanese culture and traditions are at their purest forms in this region. Large volume of crowd teems this city during special occasions. I can attest to that when I spent the New Year’s Eve on the streets. It was crazy gridlock. It was very difficult to escape the swarm that occupied the streets for the fireworks display.

Day 3: Borobudur and Prambanan

Yogyakarta (or Jogja) may not be Java’s largest city, but it is the island’s soul. Life in this place might be too modest for others but by and large, people consider Jogja as a very special place. Two places that attract visitors are Borobudur and Prambanan temples.

Borobudur Temple

Prambanan Temple is Southeast Asia’s largest Hindu temple

They say that a Java trip will not be as fulfilling as it is than when you paid a visit to the household name Borobudur. This staggering Buddhist temple compound is one of the important heritage sites in the country. It is like a pre-requisite. However, Borobudur is too touristy that having a solo picture without an unwanted stranger ruining your shot is nearly impossible. If you are over with Borobudur, get to explore Prambanan, Southeast Asia’s largest Hindu temple.

Day 4: Malang – Ngadas

From Yogyakarta, I took the 7-hour overnight train to Malang to continue my journey in East Java. From Malang, I rode an angkot to Tumpang and chartered an ojek uphill to the highland village of Ngadas.

Ngadas is a small highland village in the city of Malang

I already triggered my remote when I heard a motorcycle coming my way

Like Dieng Plateau in Central Java, Ngadas is located up in the mountains. It is situated on the mighty ranges of Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park. If Dieng Plateau is composed of sub-villages, Ngadas is a standalone community surrounded by luxuriant vegetation. It is too green there and I loved it!

Day 5: Ngadas – Cemoro Lawang

Ngadas served as my base camp before moving forward with my trek to Cemoro Lawang, another village in the national park, that is the usual gateway to Gunung Bromo. The village of Ngadas is just at the back of Bromo, around 14km away from Cemoro Lawang. I got the inspiration of trekking to Bromo via Ngadas from the backpacking genius Marcos Caratao of Ambot Ah.

A horse and his master get ready for work at the savanna in Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park

I stayed overnight at a homestay in Ngadas in preparation for the trek from the savanna to Cemoro Lawang. From Ngadas, it took me about 25 minutes by ojek to reach the edge of the vast grassland where I began my 3-hour walking journey.

The lush savanna at the back of Gunung Bromo

The arid Sea of Sand

The people I talked to were bewildered with the idea of walking the great expanse of land that separates Cemoro Lawang from Ngadas. Some even laughed at the idea, which they actually thought as stupid. But hey, it was a milestone for me. Not everyone will brave to walk on a barren Sea of Sand with a big chance of getting stuck there for a few minutes, helpless and invisible, amid thick clouds that intermittenly envelops the area. I’m proud that I’m one of those few crazy people.

Day 6: Gunung Bromo – Probolinggo – Surabaya

This was the highlight of my trip. I was very satisfied that I saved Gunung Bromo for last. Everything was magical. From the stimulating view of sunrise over at Mount Penanjakan, to the surreal encounter with the billowing volcanic crater of Gunung Bromo, I got nothing else but expressions of amusement.

Mount Batok as seen from the sunrise viewpoint at Penanjakan

Mount Bromo is unsurprisingly one famous attraction in Indonesia. It all starts in the morning ascend from Cemoro Lawang to Penanjakan. A sunrise tour of Bromo feels like a procession of 4 x 4 jeeps and scooters. When you’re on your way up there in Penanjakan during the holidays, you’d see an endless trail of vehicular lights getting their way to the sunrise viewpoints. Everyone is just too excited for Bromo.

Halfway through the crater of Gunung Bromo

At the lip of the billowing crater of Gunung Bromo

It was a short-lived dream for me. Immediately after our sunrise tour, I packed my stuff once more and left Cemoro Lawang for Probolinggo. From the latter I took another bus to Surabaya where I caught a plane back to the megalopolis of Jakarta.

Day 7: Jakarta

When I went back to Jakarta, all I longed for was the temperate climate of the mountains. The withdrawal syndrome wasn’t easy as I couldn’t just move on with my fun-filled journey to Bromo. But I had to accept the reality that I was already back in the city.

Selamat Datang Monument taken from the rooftop of Mandarin Oriental Hotel Jakarta

My last day in Indonesia was solely for Jakarta. I wanted to know more about this metropolitan area that I visited Kota, Monas, and Selamat Datang Monument, all by public transport. I’m aware that traffic jam is terrible in Jakarta that’s why I only used Transjakarta Busway. It is a chaotic place just like Metro Manila. I can say that Jakarta is really a big force of a city to reckon with.


Mark is a travel bug slayer, a practical backpacker, and a future globetrotter. He dreams to skydive over the Swiss Alps, to live in a Mongolian yurt, and to sled on the icy plains of Antarctica. When he's not dreaming, he plays the role of a web developer.

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