Monday, 25 June 2012

Volcanoes, lakes and temples, Java, Indonesia

After relaxing in the hills of Bali for a few days, it was time to set off in order to fit in all the sights in Java and Sumatra. This made for a long day of travel to the neighbouring island; first back to Denpasar (near Kuta) and then transfer to another bus terminal before getting a bus Gilimanuk (west Bali) bound, about a five hour ride, followed by a ferry crossing. Not so much long as it was boring, but happy enough to get to Java and find a cheap as chips guesthouse to relax in, until midnight at least.

As always, there is someone willing to help you find accommodation or book a tour with and this small town of Ketapang was no exception. Four pound accommodation, okay. Reduced price volcano trip, excellent. Even approaching high season, some of the sights out here fall victim to the popularity of the Komodo dragons on the Flores islands and the obvious delights of Bali.

Mt. Ijen

This is just one of many volcanoes in Indonesia but a popular one on the tourist trail, mainly because of the lake in the Ijen crater, the blue fire which can be seen at night, and the miners working to excavate as much sulfur as they can in a day.

Still feeling groggy from waking at just after midnight, the driver spent just under two hours driving to the base of the trail leading up to the lake, the four-by-four slowly trudging uphill over the cobbled road. Once at the top, the rangers offered coffee and a simple breakfast before the assault on the path to the top. Not the most rigorous climb but still, thankful for a headlamp and at 3am it was difficult enough.

Reaching the cusp of the caldera around 4am, the miners were all out in force, labouring up the hill with their baskets of sulphur which weigh somewhere between 75 and 90kg. They have to climb up out of the crater and then 3km down to get it weighed, twice daily, so they can be paid, about $10 a day. Yikes.

The blue flame, which you can only see at night, was really cool, basically super hot fire coming out of the ground with the sulphur pouring out around it. Meanwhile the miners were working around these conditions. Soon enough the sun started to come out, the fire disappeared and you could see just how yellow the area is where the sulphur rises. Given the conditions, the miners have to stop around midday, hence the early morning starts, as the entire lake is just covered by fumes.

Ijen Lake

At about 2800m elevation, it was pretty cold up here early morning

Miners at work
Doesn't look too heavy

Surface of the caldera

Mt. Bromo

Five hours west of Ketapang lies the small town of Probollinggo, the jumping off point for any and all tours heading to Mt. Bromo, the ultimate volcano sunrise in Java, or so it is said. Not enough time to enjoy sunrise at every peak so just went with the flow and sorted out another tour. No guide needed this time as with Ijen, a jeep makes things easier but it's not necessarily required to get to the viewpoints from where you wait for the sunrise. Those who wish to can hike up to the viewpoints from the local village Cemero Lawang, but back-to-back midnight starts didn't sound particularly appealing.

There are two viewpoints and from the lower one I assume you have just as good a view as the higher one, the distance to the volcanoes making the difference between the vantage points minimal. Thankfully a much later start to proceedings, only had to get up at 2.30am this time, and even though it was at a similar altitude to Ijen, it wasn't so cold with the cover afforded from the viewpoint.

Mount Bromo isn't actually the biggest volcano in the massif, but it is the most well known, having erupted as recently as 2011. In the picture below, Mount Batok is in the foreground, Mount Semeru in the background and Mount Bromo in the middle with the 'Sea of Sand' surrounding them.


Mt. Bromo et al


Ten hours drive west of Bromo is the town of Jogjakarta, home to two of the most famous temple complexes in Indonesia; Borobudur and Prambanan. There are plenty more options available, more volcano tours and jungle treks for those interested but having just done this, I took a pass.

Not a whole lot going in the town itself, the city's kraton being the main attraction within the city, but this isn't necessarily a tourist attraction, more like some sultan's home, or so I was led to believe. Anyway, not here for that. 


Close to a couple volcanoes, of course, and just 40km or so outside of town lies Borobudur, the biggest Buddhist monument in the world. It's a pretty big complex but you only really come out here to see the main temple. As usual here, the easiest thing is to book a tour with anyone on the main tourist road and you can arrange hotel pickup and transportation to the temples. Both Borobudur and Prambanan came as a package deal for around a fiver, can't go wrong (excludes entrance fee, looking at a tenner for both).

From the main entrance you can't actually see the temple but once you have walked through the garden for a minute or so, the main temple looms up close in a big section which it dominates. There are three levels but to beat the crowds the easiest thing to do is go straight to the top for some choice snaps and work your way down. Even on a Saturday, the number of kids on school trips was staggering. One group came up to us for a photo and when we said it was okay, the flood gates opened and the next hour was literally spent posing with every kid in Java, my mouth was aching from smiling.
At the base of the temple
Surrounded by shrines

Stupas on top with Buddha statues inside
View from the top

View from below


An hour or so away from Borobudur but closer to the city lies Prambanan, the largest Hindu temple in Indonesia. Unlike the previous temple, once you are past the ticket office and round the first corner, the temple is in full view and dwarfs everything else in the surrounding landscape. The main shrine, dedicated to Shiva is nearly fifty metres tall and the obvious centrepiece to the temple. Many of the smaller shrines hold statues or various deities and you can walk up the steps to go into them all, aside from the one which is being renovated.

Not as many school kids thankfully and only accosted a handful of times which I could manage, any more though and I may have lost the will to live.

The grounds were a similar size to Borobudur but what remaining temples there were, were all under repair so not too much to see there unfortunately, so after walking around the main attraction it was time to head back to the hotel.

Temple from afar with the main shrine dedicated to Shiva

Walking up to the temple


Nice leap

Temple under repair

Jogjakarta itself was a relexing city, or it could have been. The hotel had a balcony with an epic breeze in the heat of Indonesia. Either way, after the early morning starts to see the volcanoes and temples, it was a nice place to rest and recharge the batteries.

Not feeling Jakarta, been to big cities before and not overly bothered about it so plane tickets booked and heading straight to Medan on Sumatra to get to Lake Toba, a place I have always wanted to get to. Not overly interested in 40 plus hours on a bus, a couple quick flights will be just fine. Next stop, Lake Toba.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Bali, Indonesia (2)

Lake Batur/ Mt. Batur

Further north of Ubud is volcanic Mt.Batur. Trekking to the top is optional but I gave it a pass as I will  be heading to Java soon enough to do that kind of thing. The ride up to the mountain viewpoint is constantly uphill and winding through the forest until you suddenly come up for air and the volcano is immediately in sight with the crater lake of the same name next to it. It was a little cloudy but there were still decent enough views, only now and again is it clear up here.

View of Lake Batur and Mt. Batur

Mt. Batur


Besakih temple is the biggest in Bali so I made it a must on my temple sightseeing. You wouldn't know it from the pictures or from where I was standing but it is actually about 1000m up the face of Mt. Agung, the tallest mountain on Bali, the cloud cover is just too thick to actually see the summit which is a shame. Now and again a view is possible but sadly not this day.

As always there are touts trying to offer their services as a guide who are not needed really, although in the end I gave some money to a 'temple guardian' who followed me for a while and explained a fair bit of the layout to me. Not sure what a temple guardian is exactly but at least he was being original for a tout.

There are 35 buildings around the complex, most of which house statues of various size depending on the building. Again, many people here to make offerings, nice to see these temples are still in use by the local Balinese people and not just aimed at tourists.

All these temples are accessible by motorbike and public transport but if you are feeling lazy and don't mind splashing out, ahem, ten pounds or so, then it is just as easy to hire a driver for the day to do all the donkey work and just let your camera do the rest.

Entrance to the temple  grounds

Steps leading up to entrance

View from top of the steps
Within the main temple courtyard

More buildings within the complex

One of many spots to make an offering

More temple buildings

Through the entrance
Again, a view from above

Just before the main courtyard

Tanah Lot

Close to Denpasar, I decided to give public transport a go to get to this temple out by the ocean. In hindsight, for just a litte extra it really is just easier to give some money to a random Balinese guy and just tell him where you want to go. Four changes of transport to just go about 30km is a bit of a faff, probably why I went for the easy option with the afformentioned temples.

The temple is easy enough to find though with all the locals in the area aware that it is a toursit hotspot. Once past the ticket booth it's just a short walk to the ocean where the temple awaits, sadly only practicing holy men or worshippers allowed up the steps to the temple itself, maybe my Bintang tank top and board shorts gave me away as a tourist.

However, with the tide out, you can walk around the area and get pretty close to the spot where the temple is situated, come high tide though the temple is off limits (I guess).

Tanah Lot temple

Steps up to the temple

View of the rest of the grounds

Rice Terraces

Bali is famous for it's rice terraces and they really are everywhere and with the hilly nature of the island, most of them look very similar and just as impressive, non-more-so than the terraces up around Tegal Lallang, about 8 km north of Ubud - a serious cycle to get to, but going downhill to get back is much easier. However, most I saw had just been harvested so the ground had either been burnt or was past that stage and the grass was being allowed to grow over before the next harvest.

Bukit Jambul rice terrace
Tegal Lallang rice terraces

Village huts bordering Tegal Lallang

Tegal Lallang
As fun as Bali is, there's still plenty more in Indonesia to see. Next stop, Java for some volcano action.

Bali, Indonesia (1)

Arriving in Denpasar around midnight on a Friday night I was a little concerned about finding a place to stay for the night, but one I got to the Kuta tourist area, any such fears quickly dissappated considering just how many guesthouses and hostels there were. Quickly found a place and headed out to explore.

Feels much more like I'm in South East Asia than in Malaysia here, touts everywhere trying to sell all the same stuff-T-shirts, surf boards, shoes, wooden cocks - the usual stuff you find out here. Bars on every corner is also another change from Malaysia, with it being a Muslim country and all.I quickly got myself a couple of 7/11 beers wandering around the tourist area, checking out the bars and the outrageously loud music which I've not been privy to for the past month. Can't figure out if it's a good or a bad thing, kind of got used to the quiet at night. Haven't missed the incessant touts though, although it's always entertaining when they try to sell you complete tosh.

During the day, the whole of Kuta, Legian and Seminyak comes alive, especially around the beach with everyone offering surf lessons, no point in doing one of those expensive surf camps when there are so many options right here on the beach.

Kuta beach

Out to sea

Along the beach

However, there is much more to Bali than just fun in the sun, once out of the tourist area there is so much more to see. Unless you are a surf enthusiast or really enjoy touts, there's really not much point in hanging around for too long.


Just 20 or so miles north of Kuta is the countryside town of Ubud, surrounded by rice terraces, small temple complexes and all side roads lined with Batik style houses and buildings, many of which are selling relics and building materials. Immediately it’s obvious there is a much more relaxed feel to the area: the distinct lack of touts as soon as you get off the bus, the main road isn’t lined with the same old shops and only the chunks of missing footpath to hamper your progress.

Coming by accommodation is easy, more relaxed guesthouse owners casually ask if you want to stay with them. A comfortable bungalow set off the main road and right in the heart of the town centre was perfect. 

As you would expect, there are more places of interest in the surrounding area compared to in the city centre and hussle of Kuta/ Legian for example. Tours can be booked virtually anywhere with many local Balinese men offering much the same tour for much the same price, so with a bit of hagling, you can't lose. Some of the following places were part of a tour.

Gajah Goa

Only a couple kilometres out of Ubud's centre is the sprawling Gajah Goa temple, Elephant temple, complex. After passing a few ineviatable stalls selling the usual bric-a-brac, you come across a set of winding stais that leads to the main outdoor temple area and a huge pumpkin tree; a pre-requisite for these type of places. There are plenty of smaller buildings where people come to worship and make offerings, plus a couple old caves which were used back in the day.

There is a small creek running through the complex and tucked away from the temple grounds lie some rice paddies, tended by locals who live on site and, I expect, help tend to the grounds as well.

Beyond the temple area is a beautiful garden where a narrow footbridge crosses the creek and leads to some stone steps which in turn lead to a jungle path, which in turn leads to some small caves where monks used to worship and further down the path, a Buddhist temple which is currently under reconstruction.

Large pumpkin tree

Small buildings around the complex

Stone steps leading through the garden

Pond within the garden

Steps to the jugle path

Old rock carvings covered in moss


Not far from Gajah Goa is the much smaller temple grounds of Pejeng. This is one of many temples which are dotted around the coutryside near Ubud, just off mainroads and easily accessible to anyone. As with many of these temples, it is still in use today with people coming to worship on a daily basis, when I arrived there was a sizeable congregation, many of whom were children, sitting down in the grass listening to some sermon. 

Main garden by the entrance

Buildings within the grounds

Places to lay offerings

Religious ceremony

Gunung Kawi

Known also as 'The Rock Temple', this one was a little more of an effort to get too. Although the entrance to the grounds was easily accessible, you have to decend many flights of stairs to get the to the actual complex where there are many caves for worship and shrines and buildings carved into the rock walls.

There is a river running through the complex with a bridge to cross and various other places where stepping stones are available, with both side bordered by towering cliff walls. There's an obvious area where the main hub of the temple is but there are various other sets of steps that take you to other vantage points to see the various courtyards and buildings from on top, while many other trails just lead aimlessly into the surrounding jungle.

Entrance to the temple complex

In the temple ground

View from on top

Rock carvings

Stream through the temple grounds

Tirta Empul

Close to the small township of Tampak Siring lies the holy spring and temple of Tirta Empul, a popular place for tourists and even more so for locals who come here on a daily basis to receive a blessing. The complex itself is quite big, but most people situate themselves in the main courtyard where they prepare their offerings and themselves for their blessing where they have to cover themselves before entering the water. Then they queue in an orderly fashion, cleanse themselves and receive their blessing.

Entrance to the main courtyard

Locals waiting for blessing