We’ve just spent a couple of days short of four weeks on holiday in Indonesia. It’s a longer trip than we’d normally make and with hindsight would have been better if it had been a few days shorter but you can’t change history so why dwell on it.
It was a holiday of three thirds and a bit more. The first was spent in Bali and Lombok, the second in Bogor and Bandung in West Java and most of the time in the company of Juni’s brother, Oka, and his family. And finally the third took us across Central Java to Borobudur and Solo before a last few days in Jakarta. My son, Charles, who lives in Australia, joined us in Bandung and stayed with us until the end.
You don’t have to say much about Bali. It’s got a fundamental charm and although the beach culture is pretty rampant there’s still much of its Hindu core to experience and enjoy. We were not disappointed. We revisited most of the important cultural sites, experienced a wonderful kecak dance in an open auditorium next to the Uluwatu Temple and enjoyed first class dining in several restaurants including Seasoned in Ubud and Cinnamon in Tanjung Benoa. We also took a day trip to Nusa Pendida which has extraordinary beaches and which gave us a snapshot of Bali 40 years ago. I can’t see this remaining undeveloped for much longer.
Lombok is different and we went because it’s there. It reminded me of the Java which I got to know 40 plus years ago: small towns operating an essentially agricultural economy with little traffic and horses and carts still very much in evidence. It is of course a Muslim island so the similarity is with Java and not with Bali so you can’t compare it with Bali before the surfers arrived. There was an earthquake in 2017 and Lombok has not fully recovered but there are big plans nonetheless. The Chinese are investing in an enterprise zone on the north coast and there’s a motorcycle GP circuit being built by Kuta Beach. You wonder if these are really good for the island.
Photos from Bali and Lombok are at https://adobe.ly/38uV2To
The majority of my experience of Indonesia over the years has been with Bali and Jakarta and both have a strong international slant and that makes them easy for the traveller. Not so Bogor and Bandung which are very much a part of West Java and of the Sundanese culture and see little need to cater for people like me who, perhaps unreasonably, look for facilities similar to those which they access at home. That means that many hotels and restaurants are alcohol free and those that are not offer little more than beer. It’s also reflected in a cuisine which is not to my taste.
The other feature of Bogor and Bandung is the traffic. There’s little public transport and although there are some modern highways most of the roads are still narrow 2 lane. This means a lot of traffic, lots of congestion and lots of pollution. Many people use cars of course but these are heavily outnumbered by motor bikes, it seems that everyone has one, and these are a constant source of hazard paying little regard to the rules of the road.
My biggest disappointment however was the Savoy Homan Hotel in Bandung. This iconic Art Deco building in the centre of the city would have been the centre of its life and I remember it from a visit about 10 years ago when it was vibrant and an ideal meeting place for lunch. Sadly it was empty when we visited this time, there wasn’t even beer on the menu and nobody seemed to care. Thankfully the building itself is still in good shape.
However we did enjoy quality time with Juni’s family, we had excellent food at the Hotel Mason Pine and we were impressed by the enthusiasm at the restaurant Miss Bee, somewhat of a Bandung institution.
Photos from West Java are at https://adobe.ly/2sHjqSC
The final third of our trip was an eclectic mix running from a surfers’ hotel on the south coast though a high-rise in Purwokerto where we enjoyed New Year’s Eve and heritage hotels in Borobudur and Solo to a perfectly formed boutique in Jakarta. We learnt that Central Java is not as frenetic as its neighbour and were reminded once again not to confuse a country with its capital.
Central Java is more about agriculture and with fewer people there’s less traffic on the roads. We raced through the rice fields before climbing into the Dieng Plateau.
The highlight of this part of our trip, and maybe the trip itself, was Borobudur. Firstly Borobudur itself which we visited at sunrise and then the Plataran Heritage Hotel which is of the highest standard. The Royal Heritage in Solo was less impressive but the city provided us with great dining options at the A&MCo and Saffron restaurants.
Pictures from Central Java are at https://adobe.ly/3aKJjSC
Jakarta was a return to a city in which I’d lived for two years in the mid 70s. To say it’s changed would be an understatement. What was a medium-sized city, not without its problems, is now a concrete jungle with, for me, an unrecognisable skyline of office blocks, hotels and malls. It still has those problems though. It’s being badly hit by floods ‘as we speak’ and getting about is a nightmare. However it has an ambitious public bus system with reserved road space and an underground railway and the mobile phone system today obviates the need for cars and motorbikes to be used to carry messages.
I lived in the garden suburb of Kemang. It is no more. The road layout has changed and there are office blocks, hotels and shopping streets where before there had been none. I had lived on Jl Nangka Timur I. That’s still there but it’s got a new name and although the bungalow I lived in survives the one next door is now a road junction.
Jakarta is of course a modern, international city not to be confused with Indonesia at large. But it’s good to see some attempts to protect and even enhance its heritage. I was particularly impressed by the Chinese house preserved behind the modern Novotel and by Cafe Batavia on Taman Fatahillah which reflects the style of life which must have existed during the colonial days.
Back in the 70s there were few modern hotels and even fewer restaurants. That’s all changed and we especially enjoyed staying in the Kosenda, a boutique hotel which ticked most of the boxes marked excellent and, in a salute to the many good Chinese restaurants of the 70s, we had perhaps the best meal of our trip at the Tien Hoa. OK we were the only people in the restaurant but the food and service were of the highest standard.
Pictures from Jakarta are at https://adobe.ly/36A9KHm
It was a long trip and maybe it could have benefited by being a little shorter. However given the extent of our travels and the variety of what we witnessed it’s difficult to imagine how we would then have done it justice. Indonesia is the land of a thousand islands and to understand it you’ve got to invest the time accordingly.