Borobudur or Bust
Trip Start May 11, 2004
13Trip End May 10, 2005
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The alarm went off at 6am this morning, waking up to an alarm feels very strange, as we've spent the last month getting up as and when we wake up, or depending on the place, when the cockerels want us to! We caught the Eksekutif class train (yes they spell it that way) to the city of Surabaya, costing £3 each for the 7 hour journey. We splashed out the money for Eksekutif class as it had air conditioning, really good air conditioning, so good in fact that we had to rent a couple of blankets as we were so cold. Thankfully every 10 minutes a waiter came round offering drinks and really tasty and cheap food (better than Virgin Trains £4 soggy ham sandwiches!). Although when I had a walk down to third class (just to warm myself up) I made the fatal mistake to look in the hole of a kitchen that they were preparing the food in, didn't feel hungry for the rest journey after that!
What a difference it is arriving in Surabaya compared to Bali, no hawkers, no touts for hotels, no other tourists - just us. This is the second largest city in Indonesia and for most travellers is just a stopping off point either going to or coming from Bali. Surabaya is like Birmingham, no tourists every really stay there, it's just a sprawling industrial area and the main base for Indonesia's navy.
We checked into a non descript business hotel and ventured out that night to see the sights, first we had to contend with the traffic, 10 lane roads choked with cars, buses and lorries which had never even heard of catalytic converters. We waited to cross the road for what seemed like 20 minutes noticing just how many traffic police (all wearing face masks) there seemed to be, when suddenly all the traffic stopped and the road was empty, I felt like Moses and was just about to cross the now clear 10 lane road when we saw the armoured military vehicles rolling towards us. It brought memories of the news footage of Russian military hardware being paraded in Red Square during the cold war. Literally a 100 vehicles ranging from armoured personnel carriers to police motorcycles to top of the range SUV's to an ambulance, with a vintage flag waving Rolls Royce in the middle. Junaidy straight away thought it was Madonna.
Instead it was President Megawatti in Surabaya campaigning for the upcoming election, Tony Blair going through London in his Jaguar with just a couple of police motorcycle outriders seems very tame in comparison.
After walking for ages, we ended up in the bar of the Hyatt Hotel having one small beer (at the Hyatt's prices) watching a local version of "Steps" doing their routine on stage (we thought of you Tor!). Having got into the mood for a night out we asked the barman where was good to go clubbing and were told that Station Disco was the place to be, located on the top of a multi-storey car park near our hotel. We were obviously the only people who knew that this was the be, as no one else was there. We listened to the ear bleeding Indonesia rock music for all of 5 minutes before we made our excuses and left, not even having our complimentary drink. Back to our non descript hotel bar to watch local businessmen and 16 year old girls do Karaoke.
The next day was spent cruising the shopping malls, we love the shopping malls - they have air-conditioning! This one also had Troy playing at it's multiplex cinema, very strange watching an obviously pirated version of Troy at what was an official national cinema chain.
Two nights in Surabaya and that was enough, another 6 hour train journey, this time to the historic city of Yogyakarta, commonly just know as "Jogya". At last we found the travellers district and hung out at the excellent Belgian-run travellers' café Via Via.
The main tourist attraction near Jogya is the stunning Borobudur. The worlds biggest Buddhist temple and the greatest ancient monument in the southern hemisphere, Borobudur is one of the seven wonders of the world - only 6 more to go then!
The shrine has nine square terraces and a circular top one, is half a kilometre high covering a hill overlooking the Garden of Java. There are 504 statues of Buddha, with 70 stupas on the upper, open terraces each containing a sitting statue of Buddha, legend has it that if you touch one of these sitting statues then your dreams will come true.
Deciding to be proper travellers, we took the local bus for the 40km journey there - never again. The bus was old, dirty, overcrowded and took ages, although we did make friends with a local school girl who was very sweet and "escorted" us past all of the touts at Borobudur bus station and straight to our hotel. On leaving, she handed Junaidy a note in both Indonesia and English telling us to take care and if in need of help to call the local police! Such a change from most of the locals which we met who were just after our money. We were later told that Borobudur is infamous for robberies and muggings.
Bus from hell
We had booked in for two nights at the Manohara Hotel built in the grounds of Borobudur and allowing free entrance to the complex, a very bland hotel with a very bland restaurant, but great air conditioning in the stifling heat. We missed sunrise over Borobudur the next morning (surprise surprise!), when we eventually woke and headed to the temple we realised that it was Saturday and thousands of schoolchildren had descended on the temple all wearing luminous uniforms of different colours depending on the school, whose sole aim seemed to be to have their picture taken with a westerner! After a photo shoot which Steven Miesel would be proud of we decided that one day of temple exploring was enough and cancelled our second night in the hotel.
If you touch the Buddha inside the Stupa then your dreams will come true
So, back on the bus from hell heading back to Jogya, unbelievably the journey was even worse than before standing all the way in 100 degree heat, packed in like the Central Line at 8am on a Monday morning, only this time with a 2 hour traffic jam in the middle and half a dozen ducks in a tiny cage quacking their last dying breath for the whole journey.
So far, this is the first time that we have actually come back to the same place rather than always moving on, it almost felt like coming home! Early the next morning (well 12 noon after breakfast and a swim!) we jumped in a Becak (see picture below) and headed for the centre of Jogya, the driver spent the whole journey trying to sell us for that night, an 18 year old girl, who lived next door to him in his village, he wouldn't take No for an answer and thought that there was something very strange about us for refusing. No comment!
Do you think we've changed much since we've been travelling?
Heading for Jakarta involved another train journey, this time for 12 hours and was out of the question, so we booked a flight on Lion Air, Indonesia's equivalent to Easyjet for our trip to Jakarta. Everything which we were told about Jakarta is true, I quote from the Lonely Planet:
"Indonesia's capital is a congested sprawl of wealth and poverty, modernity and tradition, attracting Indonesians from all over the archipelago in search of a better life. The hopeful keep coming, despite the economic downturn and increased poverty."
Mostly travellers get in and out of Jakarta quickly, we had just three nights until our flight to Singapore. As it was both Junaidy's birthday and our anniversary we decided to check into a swanky hotel A HREF=http://www.alilahotels.com/jakarta TARGET=NEW>Alila Hotel for our stay. Having internet in the room was a godsend, a chance to catch up on all those emails!
The breakfast at the Alila was "probably the best breakfast in the world" the choice ranged from traditional english to dim sum to pastries to chicken salad to Chinese porridge to cheese board to Indian tiffin bites to........you get the idea. After having our fill we headed out into the chaos of Jakarta, if we thought that the traffic in Surabaya was bad then we hadn't seen anything yet. The only way to get around is by taxi and you need to leave at least an hour even for the shortest journey. Having asked Junaidy what he wanted to do for his birthday we ended up......at the designer shopping malls then onto the amazing Circa. A bar / restaurant on the 49th floor of BCI Bank Tower done, in a Louis XIV style, very decadent and over the top with beds to lie back on sipping cocktails whilst viewing the sprawling mass of Jakarta below. We raised a glass to friends and family back home in blighty.
Birthday drinks at Circa
A bed with a view
We're right at the top!
That night, we had dinner at the "Lana Thai" a beautiful atmospheric Thai restaurant in a restored traditional town house in a quiet area of Jakarta. Everything was perfect, the food, the location, the company, until my credit card rejected! Unfortunately, I had brought the wrong card.....Junaidy was ever so understanding though......NOT! We ended up putting £6 on credit card (all it would take) and the rest in cash, whose idea was it to have a card with a low limit for travelling?
It was my turn to decide what to do on our last day in Jakarta, you guessed it we went off in search of cheap DVD's, CD's and computer programs. Needless to say we happened to find what could be the largest shopping complex in SE Asia (felt that way anyway) which sold every DVD film you've ever heard of or are likely to hear of all at about 80p a pop, CD's at 50p and full computer programs normally costing anywhere up to £500 a go for about £1 each. All I need now is a computer to watch / listen / run them on (more on this in the next entry). We were due to go for our anniversary dinner that night but after hours and hours of walking and sitting in taxi's crawling through Jakarta's rush hour traffic all we wanted was to sleep, we'll save the dinner for another country!
Where I stayed