Saturday, 29 April 2017

Java: The Beach Crawl

To read about the beginning of this trip, check out my post, Java: Yogyakarta.

After gorging myself on bubur (Indonesian rice porridge with coconut milk, omg) at the breakfast buffet, we had our hire car delivered to the hotel. There are lots of local vehicle hire places in Yogyakarta that are much cheaper than big international companies (checkout this list); we went with Iwan Transport and had no troubles!

Heading south out of the city was super easy, it was just one long road to Parangtritis for about 45 minutes. Parangtritis is a little seaside town where the locals of Yogya head for the weekend and holidays. Being a weekday we found it completely deserted, which was actually a little disappointing, especially as all the shops and eateries were empty or closed. With our accommodation at Villa Alcheringa not as luxurious as we were expecting things were looking grim, however we ended up having a fantastic, if bizarre day.

The main attraction is Gumuk Pasir, the ‘sand dunes’ a few minutes out of town. Hilariously, this is just a long slope of dirty grey sand, covered in photo taking opportunities like large novelty signs, flower garlands and a swing set. We ended up sitting on the swings for a good half an hour taking photos and boomerangs and just laughing about how ridiculous it all was. The beach had a similar vibe to Maungmagan in Dawei (Myanmar) with warungs lining the beach front, although the sand is a dirty grey and the water, being the Indian Ocean, is a bit too rough to enjoy swimming in. Again we spent a hilarious amount of time just sitting at the waterline getting smashed by the waves and making hilarious videos. The amount of sand that we carried home in our bathers and butt cracks and then deposited in the shower was absurd.

After some time in our infinity spa, we went hunting for the spot where you can go paragliding over the beach, however they were closed that day. Gutting, because when else do you get to go paragliding for $35!? Nearby though was Goa Langse, the path down to which some (apparently) call one of the most dangerous climbs in Indonesia. All I can say is that while it’s steep and the infrastructure questionable, I never felt scared of unsafe. Leaving Angela (who wasn’t game) and her book at the top, I scaled down the Amsterdam-steep stairs, ladders and bamboo poles, the cliff face overlooking the ocean and waves crashing on the rocks below. At the bottom is a little compound of buildings at the entrance of the cave. I was not allowed to enter too far into the cave itself because it’s a religious site, but it really isn’t that remarkable anyway. What was stunning however were the huge rocks, waves and sunset - totally worth it! Worked up quite a sweat on the climb back up, mostly because it was getting dark (is anyone surprised, anyone?). Near the top I heard Ange calling out to me, because it had occurred to her we hadn’t made any kind of plan and if I’d had an accident down there she was stranded by herself in the middle of nowhere. Oops. The 30-minute trek back in the pitch black was not ideal. Back at the room we treated ourselves to an in-room massage.

In the morning the real beach crawl began. The south coast of Java is littered with noteworthy beaches and after some thorough research I had short-listed a number of them to visit. This was no relaxing-in-the-sun type of trip, this was a see as many as we could kind of deal.

First up was Pantai Wohkudu, which was only an hour from Parangtritis and reachable on a very pleasant and sealed road, followed by a 20-minute walk. This beach was a tiny, secluded bay with some beautiful rock overhangs providing shade to lie in. This would be the perfect spot to bring a picnic and book and chill for the day away from any crowds. I did some serious rock scrambling to get some great shots of the rocks and waves. Like almost all of the beaches, we found that swimming was almost impossible with the swell from the Indian Ocean just too rough.

Next up was Pantai Kukup, just another hour along with reasonably good roads. This beach was more built up, with a village of shops and places to eat and more locals enjoying the good weather. And it really was just locals - we barely saw any other tourists or white people between Yogya and Bromo. We got our lunch to go (in a bungkus, wrapped up in paper) to eat on the beach. Literally as soon as we set down, we (and all our belongings) were engulfed by a wave that I saw coming in the nick of time. There’s a second half of the beach with no one on it you can access by running across the rocks/sand while the swell is out. Kukup was nice, but nothing overly remarkable.

(Pantai Wohkudu)

(Pantai Wohkudu)

(Pantai Kukup)

Yet another hours drive along the coast (actually each time we have to drive back inland a bit) was Pantai Timang, which we went to not for the beach, but for the crazy cable car over to Pulau Timang. The last stretch of the drive was our first experience of the rough and narrow roads I had been expecting, but nothing the hire car couldn’t handle. For the last stretch you have to park and then pay to be driven on the back of a motorbike with a local. I think our car could have definitely done it, but I wasn’t in a mood to argue over how they do things and the incredibly bumpy ride was like a rollercoaster. At the coast are some high rock outcrops and an 80m stretch of crashing waves over to a small, rocky island. The locals have built a rope bridge on the left, and on the right a hand-pulled cable car with an absurd amount of rope. Over on the island an incredibly helpful and friendly guide showed us all the best spots, kept us safe and most importantly, gave us our own private photoshoot - his photography skills were to be commended! I asked if we could return via the bridge and he said that foreigners were not allowed, right before a gigantic wave swept over the bridge. It was probably one of the most unique things about the whole trip.

With the day getting late, we decided to skip nearby Pantai Jogan, Nglambor and Wediombo (to be honest, I was being far too optimistic about the amount of beaches we could fit in) and head straight to Watu Karung, which was the most likely place to find accommodation (we hadn’t pre-booked anything). This is where the roads really went full Asia. 20-40km/h was the max we reached, driving along narrow and rocky roads, now in the dark, through forest and tiny villages. To be honest it’s the kind of adventure I love and that kind of driving makes it far less likely I will fall asleep …

(Pantai & Pulau Timang)

I had looked up a place called Pasir Putih Villa but we (and the incredibly friendly and obliging locals) couldn’t find the place at all (I think in the end we decided it had closed down?) and we were led to a very average homestay (Angela reported there were cat sheets, which I unfortunately missed). Also the whole town’s wifi was down. Claiming we needed to go get food, we bailed and instead found our way eventually to Chill Hill Homestay which was much nicer, and right on the beach! We then stumbled upon this cool little outdoor bar run by a foreigner that served pizza. The opportunity to speak a little English and have a non-Indonesian meal at the end of a long and exhausting day was very welcome, especially since the power socket in our room electrocuted me.

Sunrise revealed that we were staying on the most stunning beach in a small sheltered cove. There were a number of other foreigners here too, mostly visiting for the surfing - we got to check out a few very hot surf bods on our morning stroll. This would be the kind of place, in the middle of nowhere, where I could have stayed and checked out from reality for a week or two … but to be brutally honest I don’t think I or anyone I know would say that that kind of holiday is ever going to happen for me!

We headed out early on the back roads to double back to Pantai Klayar, which was suggested as the best of the beaches in the area. The morning drive there along the roughest roads yet, in the middle of nowhere, was really nice. Klayar definitely took the cake on our beach crawl. You can drive right up to and park at the beach, where there is a stretch of shops etc. There’s a long beach that ends in some large rock formations, behind which is a smaller (still connected) beach. The impressive waves constantly crash against and wash over the rocks and beach in different ways, making for stunning scenery. The sand (some white, some black) and the water was beautiful. At the far end you can climb up to a lookout to see the beach in its entirety as well as a blowhole in the rocks. We basically had the whole place to ourselves and wish we could have lingered all day. But we had a 10-hour drive to get through!

You can also check out my video, Java by Instagram Story.

(Watu Karung)

(Pantai Klayar)

(Pantai Klayar)

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Java: Yogyakarta

In 2014 I spent seven weeks working at an arts University in West Sumatra and from that developed a fondness (as well as some language skills) for Indonesia, so when the opportunity came up to make a return trip, I jumped at it. My trusty travel partner Angela and I had eight days in Java. I was not prepared for the sheer amount of amazing sights and things to do in Central Java alone, and as I suffer from severe FOMO, we moved through the place at breakneck speed.


We started our journey in Yogyakarta, the Melbourne (cultural capital) of Indonesia, a city that is worlds away from the hot, dirty, unappealing and sprawling mess that is Jakarta (seriously, don’t go). We checked into Greenhost Boutique Hotel, which met all of our expectations of super-cool, Instagram-worthy (yet affordable) Asian accommodation. Every wall is covered in hanging greenery, all surrounding a gorgeous central pool, and the breakfast buffet and top-floor bar received our high praise.

Our first stop, other than hiring a scooter next door at Bamboo House, was to try the traditional Javanese dish Gudeg at Gudeg Yu Djum, which was a great way to dive back into Asian food. While we were unsuccessful into getting into Taman Sari (the Water Castle) because it closes in the afternoon, we had fun wandering around the area until some friendly locals told us we could go around the back and get a great view looking over the wall. This was a fantastic tip, and we got better views of the pool than if we’d gone inside (and it was free too)! Further exploration led us to Masjid Sumur Gumuling nearby, an old Mosque with circular rooms and central staircases that made for some great photos.

There are two main tourist areas in Yogyakarta; Prawirotaman, where we were staying and filled with guesthouses and great places to eat, and just a bit further north, Malioboro, home the reputable markets and shopping strip. We headed there next for a look around, before deciding to come back for dinner after a rest at the hotel, a dip in the pool and some mojitos at the bar. Dining choices along Jalan Malioboro are almost entirely limited to street foot in the curb side stalls. Only one day in, Angela was not feeling so adventurous - we found her some Japanese in a food court, and I had some ayam goreng (fried chicken) at one of the stalls.

Day two saw us up early to make the hour long ride out to Borobodur for sunrise. You can pay an exorbitant fee to book through a neighbouring hotel to be let in before sunrise, but some extra research told us that it was sufficient to just go in as normal as soon as the temple gates open at 6am. We were the first in and made it to the top to watch the sun come up through the clouds. While Borobodur doesn’t compare to the scale of temple complexes such as Bagan and Angkor Wat, it’s still impressive and very beautiful; a definite must if you’re in the area.

Only about fifteen minutes away is the lesser known Gereja Ayam (Chicken Church), literally a church inside a giant chicken. The inside is filled with hilarious, politically charged wall paintings and you can climb up through the tower to look out it’s beak and then stand on its head for some reasonable views. On the walk back, while chasing some chickens, I walked into a massive spider web and basically had a seizure trying to brush potential spiders off of me.

Next up was another hour or so ride east to Kaliuran, a village on the side of the active volcano, Merapi. We made it just in time to Vogels Hostel for lunch before it started pouring and enjoyed some delicious ayam paniki, a kind of vegetable soup with chicken, heavily scented with lemongrass. By the time we were ready to leave, the rain had stopped, and we rode up to the carpark of Bukit Pronojiwo, a good place to lookout over the lava fields. Apart from being ridiculously overpriced, the cloud cover totally wiped out the views, so we turned back in time to be propositioned by a man in a bight yellow jeep, offering a 2-3 hour expedition up the volcano. Done!

Sitting in the back of the open topped jeep, we bounced along (with Ange laughing hysterically) the roughest roads I have ever experienced. We stopped at a decimated house (now museum to the last volcanic eruption), an old bunker, the underwhelming ‘alien rock’ and some fantastic views over the lava fields, with the volcano looming the in clouds in the background. Every stop was accompanied by groups of locals asking to take photos with us … we vowed that on the next trip we would provide them with a hashtag so we could make a collection of all the randoms uploading photos of us.

I only speak a bit of Indonesian, so on the way back when our driver asked us if we wanted to do something involving the words ‘water’ and ‘circle’, I assumed there was some kind of water wheel he wanted to take us too. Next minutes, he goes off road and we’re doing mad wheelies in the river under the bridge. Definitely the highlight of the day.

Back on the scooter the next leg took us to another temple, Prambanan (which kept getting Black Betty by Ram Jam stuck in our heads). By this stage we were flagging in energy and motivation, and the ambience of Prambanan was compromised by the epic Tupperware convention taking place on the grounds. We stopped at the exit for food and I had another Indonesian favourite, gado-gado, a kind of satay salad.

Battling the traffic back into Yogyakarta, we stopped by the Kota Gede neighbourhood so I could try a black soupy dish called Brongkos from Warung Jawi (reputably the best); not something I would need to have again, but I’m glad I tried it. By the time we got back to the hotel we were well and truly dead (remember, this is all still on day two) and we spent the rest of the night in.


After our epic beach crawl and trip to Mount Bromo, I still had two more full days in Yogya, with Ange leaving in the afternoon of the first. We got a private room at Venezia Garden Homestay, quite near our previous accommodation (but a lot cheaper), which was quite nice and near a lot of places to eat. We checked out Bu Ageng, a swanky looking restaurant that came highly reviewed, but I found the staff unusually rude and the food which took a long time to arrive, not great. I think it was probably geared towards fussy, white tourists … I would much rather eat in a dingey, street side warung.

In the morning we hired a scooter (bright pink this time!) to go and check out Kraton, the Sultan’s Palace. On the drive there, a local guy stopped beside us and offered to show us the way, protesting that he wasn’t trying to scam us. He led the way, and when we stopped he gave us directions and suggestions including to see Kraton with a guide and to check out the real batik school (as opposed to all the ‘galleries’ which are just scams). Turned out he really was just a nice guy helping out, which is increasingly rare in Asia. Kraton, which historically significant, is nothing special to look at and I wouldn’t have been disappointed if we missed it. However our friend was right; a guide was essential in making the site interesting and explaining a lot of things we would have walked past without a thought.

Nearby was a batik (a traditional Indonesian art form using wax and dye to make art and clothing) school that was sponsored by the palace in order to preserve local culture. If you’re going to look at and buy batik, this is the place in the city to do it - all of the shops and galleries along Malioboro sell fake, mass-produced batik at inflated prices and pay hawkers on the street to direct people in. At this school you can speak with the artists themselves! Ange ended up buying a piece, but not having a home I thought it a little impractical for me. We then walked up to Malioboro to check out Pasar Beringharjo, a massive market. We bought some matching couples t-shirts from the street, but otherwise Beringharjo was no different than any Asian market packed with cheap (and mostly useless) goods.

After Ange left for the airport I basically laid in my bed and bummed around in the room for the rest of the night before reluctantly going out to find food (I’d eaten all the oreos) - I did find some fantastic satay nearby!

My last full day was packed! I left early morning to ride east out of the city to Goa Jomblang, where I befriended a couple of German travellers while we waited. At Goa Jomblang you are lowered by rope in pairs around 50m down into a huge sinkhole, in which a forest is growing. Only a short walk through the dark (and intensely muddy) cave, you emerge into a larger cave with a round opening in the ceiling high above. At a certain point in the day light streams down through the canopy above and into the cave, making for some spectacular photos. Definitely a must do if you go to Yogya. Back at the camp I bought a hilarious tourist photo on the abseil rope with me and a random Singaporean dude I didn’t know.

Next up was some river tubing through Goa Pindul, also in the area. Everyone knows that tubing is my number one favourite thing to do in the world. The first part included floating in a group through the cave itself, which was filled with tiny bats and some beautiful ceiling openings near the end. Overall though, it’s quite short and largely unremarkable. After climbing out, you and your tubes transported by pickup truck to a more open river. This was beautiful, the river winding through a small, picturesque canyon - our guide mentioned that at another time of year the water is fluorescent green. We came to a waterfall, which has a ladder embedded that you can climb up, and a platform to jump seven metres back into the river. Even that height felt daunting for me, but I did it twice (the impact really hurt my balls!).

My German friends had hired a car and driver, which I guess is good (and cheap enough) if you can’t be bothered driving and navigating, but for me, being able to ride a scooter/motorbike, especially in good, hot weather, is the best part of travelling Asia (rather than being secluded away with tinted windows and air conditioning). In saying that, I did take a wrong turn on the way back and got a bit lost …

The rest of the night and the next morning was spent bludging in my room, thoroughly exhausted, before heading off to perform in Sumatra.

Check out the next leg of our journey in between our stays in Yogya, Java: The Beach Crawl.

You can also check out my video, Java by Instagram Story.