9th - 19th February
09.02.2009 - 19.02.2009 30 °C
After our three week jaunt in Australia we had a flight to Singapore to begin our journey in South East Asia. Singapore was a good place to ease into life in Asia as English is the official language and it is an immensely well organised and immaculately clean city. We caught the MRT from the airport to our hostel then had a relaxed evening. We were quite tired from the flight so had a fairly early night; we only left the hostel to grab some food at a nearby restaurant.
The following day we went into the centre of the city and met up with two Dutch girls from our hostel, Miek and Rosa, and a friend of a friend of theirs called Hann. Hann is from Singapore and had agreed to show Miek and Rosa around and they asked us if we wanted to tag along.
The first thing we did was go to a food hall in Chinatown for lunch where there is a huge variety of cuisine available. We then walked through the bustling streets which are lined with market stalls until we reached the famous Sri Mariamman Hindu temple which we had a look around. There is a mosque further down the same street which some of us briefly popped into before we made our way to Little India.
Little India is an interesting and colourful part of the city with lots of shops, restaurants and cafes. We went into a Turkish coffee shop for some drinks then caught a bus out to the beach but unfortunately it started raining shortly after we arrived. The beach isn't anything special anyway!
In the evening we all met up with Mike's friend Jon who is from Singapore and went for dinner at an outdoor foodcourt that overlooked the harbour in the heart of the CBD (it had stopped raining by this point!). We had more interesting food including stingray and murtabak. We said goodbye to the Dutch girls and Hann, who had been a good guide, and went for a walk past one of the Merlions and then for some beers with Jon.
We arrived in Jakarta late at night and fortunately had arranged an airport pick up with the bed and breakfast we were staying at so were taken straight there. We ended up getting a really nice, ornate room which was quite expensive (by our standards) but was a pleasant change from our usual lodgings. We were in an area of the city called Bangka and during our time in Jakarta we spent quite a lot of time there, walking around and eating food from the street stalls.
Jakarta isn't a particularly great place though. It is massive, over populated, quite dirty and very polluted. The normal traffic flow is akin to rush hour in most cities and if you are unlucky enough to get caught in rush hour in Jakarta it seems improbable that the traffic will ever move! We would have left the day after we arrived but we needed to sort out visas for India through the Indian Embassy which has turned out to be one of the biggest (and costliest) hassles of our trip so far.
The first day we went to the embassy they wouldn't accept our applications as we didn't have Indonesian and Indian 'references' nor passport photos. We returned the next day, Friday, after much rushing around and photocopying, and this time our applications were accepted. However, we were told that we couldn't pick them up until the following Thursday. The whole thing is quite ridiculous though as most countries we've been to don't require visas and others, such as Indonesia, issues visas on arrival which take 30 seconds!
The one touristy thing that we did in Jakarta was visit the national monument which is a 450ft tower in the centre of the city. We joined the queue and waited our turn to take the lift up to a lookout platform at the top where there are panoramic views of the sprawling urban jungle below.
Obviously we didn't want to stay in Jakarta until we collected our passports so we decided to go to Yogyakarta which is at the opposite end of Java (there weren't any attractive options closer). The 10 hour train journey to get there was a bit of a nightmare! It left at 6.20am from a station at the opposite end of the city so we were up at 4.45am to start the mission. The train itself had no air con and was ridiculously humid. When it picked up speed there was a welcome breeze coming in through the windows but most of the time it was either going slowly or was inexplicably stopped in the middle of nowhere. To cap things off there was a seemingly endless stream of hawkers, buskers and beggars harassing all passengers in sight. The journey did take us through some spectacular scenery so it wasn't all bad.
The hostel we stayed at in Yogyakarta for 4 nights was probably the best value we've had on the trip. It cost £2.20 each a night for a private room with bathroom, included breakfast and there was a large swimming pool. We spent quite a lot of our time in Yogyakarta relaxing at the hostel and taking advantage of the swimming pool which we had to ourselves most of the time.
The main activity that we did in Yogyakarta, and indeed one of our main reasons for visiting, was going to Borobudur and Prambanan. Both of these highly spiritual places are very impressive and well worth making the effort to see. Borobudur is the largest Buddhist temple in the world and has been restored to its former glory.
Prambanan is a large Hindu temple which was partially destroyed in an earthquake in 2006 and there is currently a lot of restoration work being carried out at the sight.
On another day a local tuk-tuk driver took us on a mini tour of the city that included visiting the Sultan's palace. The Sultan is very popular in Yogyakarta (many people want him to be president) as he does a lot of work to help poor people. He even lets 25,000 people live within the grounds of his palace. It is unlikely the British royal family will follow suit.
He also took us to see some Batik art which was really cool. The artists start off with a bit of cotton or silk and sketch the drawing in pencil before coating the pencil markings in wax. They then dip it into various coloured dyes and 'de-wax' it to complete the process. Our driver then took us to a workshop where they make puppets in a traditional style.
We got a night train back to Jakarta on Wednesday which wasn't anywhere near as bad as the train down but was marred significantly by extremely loud Indonesian pop music that was playing throughout the train. We arrived in Jakarta at 4.15am and had to hang around at the train staion until it was a more reasonable hour when we could drop our bags off at the bed and breakfast we stayed at previously. We then had a number of hours to kill until we could pick up our visas from the Indian Embassy and suprisingly found refuge in KFC, McDonalds and Burger King! These establishments were not like the outlets which we know from home as we were able to while away the time reading on leather sofas, watching FA cup football on plasma screens and using free internet. After a period of waiting in the rain outside the embassy we got our passports back then headed straight for the airport and got a flight to Bali!
A rather unusual aspect of our time in Java has been that a number of locals have come up to one or both of us and asked if they could have their photo taken with us. It must have something to do with a lack of white faces on the island but was quite amusing for us as we felt like we were famous. Sort of.