Archive for the ‘Indonesia’ Category

25 things I love about cycle touring in Southeast Asia

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010
  1. The power of a wave and a smile – the international language of friendship
  2. Seeing crazy scooter stuff like 5 people on a scooter, 10 year olds riding scooters, scooters piled high with stuff, scooters with crazy attachments, people riding along holding their helmets under their arm!! The list goes on…
  3. Finding you are no longer surprised at crazy scooter stuff after a while, in fact you come to expect it
  4. Friendly children, babies in slings tied onto their mothers, mothers working with kids in tow
  5. Learning new languages and connecting with people, finding you can ‘talk’.
  6. Finding yourself talking pidgin English, missing words out and using the present tense way too much
  7. Getting somewhere under you own steam and seeing buses pass you, sometimes the same bus several times over a few days
  8. Going to ‘tourist free’ places and meeting local people
  9. Seeing red chillies laid out on a mat, drying in the sun
  10. Being independent – backpackers are often at the mercy of buses, tuk tuks and boats, all weary on arrival
  11. Living cheaply and being self-sufficient
  12. Trusting people
  13. Traditional hill tribe women eating betel nuts that make their teeth and lips blood red as they chew
  14. Not knowing where you are going to sleep that night, but not worrying about it
  15. Trying different food and discovering just how much rice it is possible to eat in one day
  16. Fresh pineapple
  17. Cows with big floppy ears standing in the road, reluctant to move and slightly put out at you being there on their road
  18. Learning about the world, people, their stories, politics and culture
  19. Feeling you can do anything, go anywhere, trusting your instincts
  20. Nice feeling you get when you feel comfortable in a country and find you have relaxed
  21. Being in tune with the weather, reading the signs and being exposed to the elements
  22. Seeing giant golden buddha statues  and brightly coloured, pristine temples in the most unexpected places
  23. Beautiful, shiny green paddy fields
  24. Cycling for 5 hours a day = plenty of time and space to think
  25. Weight loss, need I say more?!

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Java, Jakarta to Singapore by ferry via Batam

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

Links and useful information about this route at the bottom of the post.

We arrived at the ferry port and  to the mass of passengers, food and drink sellers.  We had some food and watched life go by trying to get a sense of the order in what to us, seemed like chaos.  We wanted to keep the bikes loaded till the last possible moment as ferrying the 5 bags that are attached to the bikes is a much harder than just pushing the bikes.  The ferry was huge but only took cargo and people no cars.  We entered the departure lounge and greeted the usual stairs of amazement with smiles and confidence.  Sometimes looking lost can be helpful as often people will come and help you, at other times looking lost can attract unwanted attention from people keen to sell you or help you at an inflated price.  This was a time for confidence.


The departure gates opened and there was a surge of people through the tiny double doors to go on to the boat.  Quite what the rush was I don’t know, we had two hours till scheduled departure and allocated beds on the boat.  After the rush we wheeled our bikes to the end of the queue that was forming to get on to the boat.  Hoping by some miracle that there would be an easy way to get the heavy bikes up the stairs to the boat.  We decided that no miracle was going to happen and it was time unload the bikes.  We had prepared for this as we carry specially designed bags that fit all of our pannier bags.  It only takes a few minutes to load up the bike and means we only have two big bags, our small days sacks and the bikes to contend with.  As we unloaded the bikes some keen porters came over to start helping us.  As appreciative as i was of the help i was concerned at the cost.  Waiting till we got to our cabin to find out the price was not an option.  The porters were keen to keep helping and trying to fend off questions of price.  Stopping everyone in their tracks, I forcefully but politely said we needed to negotiate a price before we continued.  After a few minutes of haggling we agreed on a price for two porters.  They would carry the big red bags and we would take the bikes.  It is difficult to know what a fair price is as wages vary dramatically in Indonesia and as tourists we are seen to have endless sources of money.

As we rejoined the queue another set of stairs was lowered for us, at the time i was not sure why but there was no reason to question this as these stairs looked much easier to negotiate with the bikes.  As we boarded, our tickets were checked and everyone was surprised that we were in economy class.  The special stairs had come down for us so that we could get directly to first class on the top decks.  Economy class was on the bottom deck.  We carried the bikes down the steps this time with the aid of Eyan an English traveller who we had met on the special stairs.  Eyan was kind enough to take Liz’s bikes as she is not quite strong enough to lift it down the stairs. 

We arrived at our communal cabin and I was happy with everything, we had no idea what to expect before booking but the large cabin that accommodated about 60 people had lines of beds with plenty of storage under the beds.  We paid the porters who conveniently did not have enough change, i had forgot to get some the night before.  We got settled in and chatted with our new friend Eyan and our fellow passengers who spoke some English.


‘How come you are in economy class why don’t you pay for first class’ this was the question that our fellow passengers were most interested in.  We explained that although we were western tourists we still had a daily budget.  We often explain that we worked hard, saved up enough money to travel the world  for 15 months, but to travel for such a long period of time meant us living of a small amount of money each day.  This is often a difficult concept for some people to grasp.  To many people they can not comprehend that we could every have a little money.  The perception of our lives back home can be of endless wealth.  Later in the voyage Liz was talking to some people about our visit to the Prambanan temple.  She was asked if we had been to the Borobudur temple as well.  Liz explained that we only had enough money to see one of the temples.  This statement was again met with much confusion.  ‘Can’t you get your parents to send you some money if you have run out?’  Its not that we have run our of money, its that we have a certain amount of money to live on each week and if we spend more than that we will not have enough money to make it home. ‘Ok I understand’ said the person Liz was talking to with a blank expression on her face.  The same girl was keen to travel to England to work as a housekeeper as all English people have house keepers.  Again Liz explained that while some people do have house keepers or cleaners this was not the norm.


This has given us an idea of how we are perceived and the perception of our wealth and lifestyle by some people.  It is a travellers conundrum rich vs. poor, but wealth and riches are not always in the form of money. 

The voyage was smooth with not much to do other than read and relax and talk.  There were some arcades and a cinema on board but not something we considered due to the cost.  We bought into the four meals for 10,000 RP about 0.70p and I enjoyed the forced relaxation time.  It is wonderful to just read and rest knowing that there is nothing else that you need or can do.


We did take some time out to explore the rest of the ship, it was very similar and easy to get lost in the maze of passages and stairwells.  On one of the adventures around the ship we got locked into another cabin.  They had announced on the tannoy that all passengers must return to their cabins for ticket inspection, only we did not understand this so only found out about it once all the doors around the ship has been closed and locked.  Somehow we managed to find a few open doors and reappeared at the cinema that was next to our cabin.  We had our tickets inspected and got back to our beds without anyone noticing that we were missing.  Whether this was a normal procedure or if there was a stow away on board had sparked my imagination, and i spent some time creating an adventure story about a stow away on a ship.

We arrived in Batam a little later than scheduled 28 hours since we left Jakarta and decided that we could ferry the bags and bikes ourselves with Eyans help.  The porters that had appeared were a little taken back at this but when they saw me lugging the big red bags i think they were secretly pleased.  We got all the kit off without any dramas and set off to find out which port we had landed at on Batam and how to get to Singapore, i could not find out this before or during the passage.  We wheeled out to the main road and quickly discovered that telling the taxi drivers eager for business that we were going to Singapore was a good thing, as they would point to the terminal that was only a few hundred meters away and stopped trying to persuade us we needed a taxi ride.


We got to the departure terminal and bought our tickets for the 45 minute fast boat ride to Singapore.  The terminal was new and clean and a stark contract to the rest of Indonesia that we had experienced.  I left the air conditioned departure lounge and went out into the afternoon heat.  I stood there for a while and said good bye to Indonesia, a country i had grown to love and wondered if i would return to explore more one day.  As i left, the heavens opened and it poured with rain, a fitting end as we had cycled in these downpours every afternoon in Java. 

Our passports were stamped and we boarded the small ferry to Singapore.  We did not say much on the passage, it seemed to go quickly, both of us lost in our thoughts and books.


Clearing immigration and customs we were now in Singapore.  We loaded up the bikes said good bye to Eyan and cycled off to find our warm showers host and to explore Singapore. 


 17042010337_3      17042010335_2 

Practical Information Prices April 2010

Ferry to Batam

Economy Class 252,000 RP p/p – 27 hours

Java Jakarta Tanjung Priok ferry terminal  to Batam Sekupang ferry terminal

Pelni website – prices and timetable

Pelni route map 2006

Porter to cabin 30,000 RP for two porters and two bags carried, starting prices 100,000 RP – carry smaller notes the porters are unlikely to have change. 

Food is available on board, each class has its own restaurant, in economy class we had four meals for 10,000 RP.  Very simple fish and rice each meal.  Bring snacks and water as it’s cheaper than buying it on or near the ferry. 

Economy class is fine, no bedding is provided, although sleeping  mats are comfy. Cabin is air conditioned, but smoky despite the no smoking signs. Showers and toilets are dotted throughout.

We were not charged any extra for taking the bikes but there is a weight limit of 50 kg per person slightly more in first class.

Ferry Batam Singapore

181,000 RP p/p.  Some people may have to pay departure tax about $13 SGD 45mins – 1 hour

Options are Batam Fast or Penguin ferry companies


Ferry Ports

View Jakarta to Singapore by Ferry in a larger map

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Yogya to Jakarta

Monday, April 26th, 2010

We were left with little choice, we only had a week left on our visa, not nearly enough time to get to Dumai, Sumatra our planned end for Indonesia.  We could have cycled another 300km further west and got a train from there to Jakarta but information on the train times was a little sketchy and we had to be in Jakarta for the 16th to get the once a week ferry.  We had already decided since landing in Bali that planes were off limits, due to the cost to the environment and in the spirit of more adventurous travel.  So we enjoyed a few days of in Yogya and hopped on the train to Jakarta.

We arrive in Jakarta hoping that it would be quite easy to get to the hostel from the train station.  The 7 hour journey had gone quickly and was comfortable.  At the station we negotiated the numerous steps, enthusiastic local bikers, keen to take photos and loaded up the bikes while we fielded more of the usual questions of interest and set off.  It was an entertaining experience trying to negotiate our way around a massive roundabout in the dark but we did it, and got to the budget hostel area and started to look for a place to stay.  Prices were a little higher than we had been used to but we found a small room that would do us for the two nights.  However the hostel owner decided that the room was too small for all our stuff and bikes.  I assured him it would be fine and said that we could not afford the more expensive upstairs room.  Without directly staying it he said that he would prefer it if we looked else where.  A bit taken aback i left Liz with the bikes and kit so i could explore more quickly.  15 minutes later and most places were either too expensive or full so we decided to wheel round together.  As we approached the end of the lane i noticed a hostel that i had not seen before, nothing special but they had availability for two nights, and it was late, still we managed to negotiate a price within our budget and got settled in. 

We did not sleep much as the design of the building and the Jakarta city heat was turning our room into a sauna despite the rickety small fan, that had been whering away all night.  Neither of us had much desire to traipse around a big city in the heat so we decided to skip the sight seeing and get the two jobs done so we could relax.  Get the broken camera fixed or replaced and recce the route to the ferry terminal for the next day.  We found the Olympus repair centre and reviewed our options.  To repair the camera was the same cost as a new one but a new one would not be covered under warranty outside Indonesia, so we thanked them for their help, they had been really helpful, many emails before our visit and set off to find the ferry terminal.

We took the bus to the end of the road and figured that the route was pretty simple and there were no surprises for the bikes.  We had a lunch from one of the local street sellers and headed back to the hostel to pack up and enjoy our last night in Java.  We had a nice dinner and checked some emails and got a basic plan together for Singapore and headed back to the hostel.  We were not looking forward to another hot night but were thankful it would be the last. We had also discovered that there was more to the hostel than met the eye and that it seemed to be operating as a brothel as well as a hostel or maybe the hostel was just a front? 

The next day we left early and headed of to the ferry terminal for an interesting 27hr crossing to the Island of Batam, part of Indonesia, just south of Singapore, and then another shorter ferry ride to Singapore. 

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Sunday, April 25th, 2010

Taking the train from Yogyakarta to Jakarta.

It was a strange for me to actually accept this would be the first substantial non bike part of the journey, apart from the planes over the sea.  I knew that it was inevitable but I had hoped that it would never come. In life there is always compromise and this was one of them.  When I had come up with the idea of cycling around the world I was looking to do it with someone, rather than do a solo trip.  After Liz and I got together she was willing to come with me, but was less concerned with a purist bike-only trip and not willing to spend years in the saddle.  So Bikeabout – New Zealand to England was born and we agreed we had the option to take buses, boats, trains, planes and camels if needed, and be back in time to have babies before old age creeps in.  I often worried that some people might see this as cheating and would be less willing to support us and the charity, and I also wanted to prove to myself that I could cycle all the way.

Contemplation on the matter has eased my conscience.  Firstly we never said it would be bike only. Secondly given the choice between leaving Liz and cycling alone or doing a slower, shorter trip with Liz there was little thinking time needed.

Anyone who thinks this is a cop out then spend 3 years saving enough money to put a deposit on a small house or flat, then instead of buying a house, buy a bike and use the rest of the money to cycle most of the way around the world.  At the same time try to run a marketing campaign that will raise £20,000 to build a school.  If you think this sounds a little hard or you’ve not got the time or money, then it might be easier to donate here!

Sorry for the rant, but I wanted to get it of my chest and I feel a lot better now.  Love to all those that support us!

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Liz on Indo (15th April)

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

Tomorrow we are leaving Indonesia and I’m a bit sad, I’ve grown fond of the place and the people since we arrived in February. Yesterday we took the train from Yogyakarta to Jakarta and whilst whizzing passed miles and miles of paddy fields I had 7 hours to think and write about what we have learnt and experienced during our time here…

IMG_4927There are rice paddies as far as the eye can see dotted with palms and men in lampshade hats, quietly working away scythe in hand. The water shines on the newly planted paddies, with neat terraces stepping up and away. In the long grass where the rice grains are visible, you see patches flattened, the most recent we pass looks as if a giant sat down for a rest and left an imprint of his bottom. Big brown, shallow rivers sweep through the land, scattered with rocks and some debris, colourful against the natural hues of the landscape. Areas of land are planted with other crops, bright lime green squares are woven into the patchwork, no space is wasted.

Men cycling with heavy fat loads of grass plod along the road, knees bent out, on ancient yet seemingly reliable bicycles. On completing my first 100km day, as the speedo clicked 100, seven men, loaded up in this same manner cycled by on the other side of the road. I was as amused seeing them in such procession as they were at seeing me cycling along on my bike. Wish i had a photo. As well as loaded bikes, we sometimes pass a horse and cart or more likely two cows and cart, going or returning from ploughing the fields. Along the roadside, big plastic sheets are laid out with grains of rice, spread out, drying in the hot sun.


Small tarmac roads run between fields into the villages. Subtly marked with stone entrances, the villages have their own little road network, invisible from the main roads. With few vehicles except scooters and bikes, children dominate these village roads. They play up and down the the street, sometimes on their bikes, in a carefree way, with few toys  – with the exception of small kites which we see everywhere. Their mothers may watch from a distance, or not – they are more than likely busy with some chore elsewhere in the house. In such close communities, you sense that everyone looks out for the children, and each other. When we’ve stayed with people it generally been hard to tell who’s child is whose! Grandmothers are often seen with young babies in their arms and older children take responsibility by looking after their younger siblings, cousins, friends. Sense of family is very strong here and people live very openly together.

Those who runs shops and warungs usually have their children with them and at night the children sleep on mats near the back of the shop – nothing seems to close. Children sleep when they are tired, despite the background noise, TVs and comings and goings, but there is little evidence of what we might call a bedtime routine, no pjs, bedtime stories, brushing teeth etc though perhaps we just don’t see it, they appear to just lie down and go to sleep.

Mothers carry their babies by strapping them with a sheet of fabric to their body. It’s a different style to African women who carry their babies on their backs; the Indonesian mums carry them on the side or front in a sling-like piece of fabric that holds the baby’s bottom in place. Very effective and women seem free to do just about anything whilst carrying their little one. Babies are doned with little woolly hats and a couple of layers, held close to their mother’s body. Don’t they feel the heat I ask myself? They appear not too. We’re constantly surprised to see people throw on a jacket or tracksuit top (hoody)  – it’s so hot, I couldn’t even contemplate it – were you born on the sun?


It’s interesting also to be in a hot country and for water to be so plentiful. I also associate heat with water shortages, droughts and the dreaded hose-pipe bans of English summers. With the amount of rain we receive in the Lake District I’ve often wondered how it is possible that we could ever be short of water in the UK! However the rain here is of a different nature. It rains everyday and it rains hard, instantly flooding the roads, the noise penetrates every building, and everyone points and tells us ‘Oojan, oojan’ yes we say with a welcoming smile – it cools us down after the heat of the day.

Strings of washing lines hang in the trees amongst the fields and houses, with bamboo structures used as drying racks. Its common to see women standing in the small canals, that run between the roadside and the houses, washing and scrubbing clothes. Women’s work is never done it seems…  In larger towns LAUNDRY signs are common and at 5000Rp per Kg it’s a pretty good service. we tried it once and were delighted to receive clothes neatly pressed and smelling fresh!

Government and official public buildings are very grand – big clean, solid buildings freshly painted with big lawns and gardens. On first approach I often think that it must be a hotel and as we get closer i see the formal signage and realise that no, it’s an ‘important’ building. They exist in stark contrast to the houses and structures that the average person lives in, which can be very basic, and seems odd that they are so monumental and grand.

Rubbish is a big problem here, people just throw their litter on the floor and plastic bags and plastic bottles are huge issue. Villages and towns tend to have informal rubbish pits or dumps often by the side of the road, and it’s common to see rubbish being burnt by the roadside. Sweeping however is something of a national sport and despite the unsightly rubbish dumping, people make every effort to keep their home and surrounding area clean and well swept. People sweep in the morning and again in the evening. You are likely to woken up by a combination of 3 sounds sweeping, chickens and prayers.

IMG_5116 The Javanese are always busy, there is always something to fix or build, it’s as if Java isn’t quite finished. The work is often labourious, what we might call back-breaking, yet things happen very quickly as many hands make light work. Indonesia definitely does not have an obesity crisis. It is rare to see anybody overweight and if anything we’ve seen more people who could be underweight (beggars/old men). Rice is eaten at most meals and vegetables. Sweets are sold individually wrapped, like penny sweets. Bars of chocolate are very hard to find, but wafer and biscuit based choc bars are common, are fave being ‘Beng Beng’ bars. Cakes and sweets food is generally hard to find. And only in big cities od you find Macdonalds, Pizza Hut and KFC. In Yogya in a nice, expensive shopping plaza,  we saw more overweight people in Pizza Hut than we have in the rest of Java, but perhaps a coincidence?!

Whilst much of Java seems rural with the same age old traditions as ever, the new modern, technical world has very much arrived here too. Many Indonesians have a mobile phone attached to their hand, like an extension of their arm! When we meet with groups of school children or people in the warungs, photos are taken are on their mobiles, whilst we field questions like Are you on facebook?

IMG_5212 Scooters are the transport of the nation, wherever you go armies of scooters will be there with you. At traffic lights they vie for the best spot, anxiously waiting for a green light. They then turn and see us and we are instantly in conversation  ‘where you from, where you go? Nobody seems to walk anywhere, always the scooter. If we plan to walk people always stop and offer you a life as if we must be mad to want to walk. One of our favourite images is of a man perched on a rock by the sea fishing, but wearing his motorcycle helmet – only in Indonesia!

As well as scootering and sweeping, smoking is unfortunately very popular, especially amongst men. As a non-smoker and an even less tolerant non-smoker than ever due to our anti-smoking laws in the UK, I have struggled to tolerate the smoking culture here. Cigarettes are cheap and everyone smokes everywhere, sitting next to you chatting whilst blowing smoke in your face. You could be eating or resting and there will be smoke coming your way from some direction, it drives me bonkers. However it is very sociable, in the sense that people like to give cigarettes and smoke together, and few seems aware that it may be unpleasant for others. There are no smoking signs in some public places, but these are generally ignored and nobody enforces the rule.


The call to prayer, ah the mosques. Heard throughout the day and night the call and songs of the muzzein range form soulful, melodic singing and chanting, to woefully untuneful noise. In larger towns at dusk the number of mosques create a competitive mosaic of sound. Despite the panic over Islam and an increased fear perhaps of Muslim people in Europe and the US, our experience of moderate muslims has been positive and has probably dissolved any of the preconceptions I may have had. People we have met have been warm, friendly, open, good humoured and relaxed. Some of the liveliest reactions we’ve had have been from buses full of school girls, all dressed in long skirts wearing a head scarf, yelling and waving and laughing with great excitement as we cycle alongside them.  Another was a few weeks ago, as we cycled passed a mosque during prayers and we heard over the tannoy ‘Good morning and don’t forget to smile’  It can only have been aimed at us and it did, indeed make us smile! Islam in Java is part of the way of life, the culture and runs seemlessly alongside their strong sense of family and community, sharing food, knowledge, labour and laughter, with an openness to strangers that is kind and of a genuine nature.

IMG_5111 Overall the generosity and warmth of the people are what make this place so great. Our friend Eric said that Indonesia is the land of smiles, he is not wrong. Whilst it can seem like the wild west at times, especially on the roads, in general there is a lot of freedom and autonomy, there are not so many rules and health and safety is still quite a new concept. People are incredibly tolerant of each other and put up with things that we may consider anti-social or dangerous, however I admire the fact that amongst the chaos, common sense prevails and somehow it all works!

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