I explored Indonesia  for two weeks during my three-week backpacking trip early  this year. Considering this huge country trumps even the Philippines in terms of archipelagic size, I wanted to take careful thought with my itinerary.

I knew two weeks would only be enough time to see a glimpse of what Indonesia offered. It was tempting to do a jam-packed “amazing race” trip to cover as many bases. On the other hand, I didn’t want to overwhelm myself skimming through too many destinations.

I ended up planning a visit to only one island, Java Island. If I got the sudden urge (or have enough time) to visit another island, I told myself I can decide during the actual trip.


Seeing Jakarta on Google Maps, I had my initial reservations. I remember how scared I was visiting Manila on my own for the first time. Jakarta is even bigger than Manila in terms of population and conurbation. Even today, I get the jitters whenever I explore (Metro) Manila outside the vicinity of an LRT/MRT station. Jakarta doesn’t have a light rail system, which means I have to figure out a way to move around using its extensive bus transit network.

I hopped on an evening flight from Kota Kinabalu to Jakarta. Seeing the endless sprawl of Jakarta’s night lights confirmed that it was indeed one extraordinarily huge city.

Jakarta International Airport, Jakarta, Java Island, Indonesia
Flying over 28 million inhabitants of Greater Jakarta’s massive urban sprawl

Arriving late, taking the local bus, and finding a hostel after dark, I was prepared to exhaust all the street-smarts and backpacking skills that I learned during my past travels.

While I was on my actual exploration of Jakarta, I discovered that getting around was not as hard or taxing as I thought. I spent my one full day walking, mostly, along the streets and canals lined with grand Dutch-colonial buildings in Old Batavia / Kota area.

Kota Fort - Jakarta, Java Island, Indonesia (120307-170033)High walls of restored Dutch warehouses and the chaos of Old Jakarta’s market area.

Jakarta, IndonesiaAlong the canals of Old Batavia, once envisioned as a tropical Amsterdam

Jakarta, IndonesiaNight traffic along Jalan Thamrin, one of Jakarta’s major business and shopping strip.


I couldn’t wait to finally start exploring Yogyakarta, my main destination in Indonesia.

I wanted to get lost in the hidden passages of the Water Castle (Kraton), marvel at the spires of Prambanan Temple complex, take a journey to the pinnacle of Borobodur temple, and of course, soak up as much of Javanese culture.

 Jakarta International Airport, Jakarta, Java Island, Indonesia
Aerial view of Jakarta (Soekarno-Hatta) International Airport on my flight from Jakarta to Yogyakarta

Yogyakarta, Java Island, IndonesiaLocal tourists display their leaping feats at the underground mosque in Yogyakarta

Prambanan Temple Complex-Yogyakarta, Java, IndonesiaSilhouette of Prambanan Temple spires with Merapi Volcano during dusk

Borobodur Temple Complex-Yogyakarta, Java, IndonesiaSolace for the whole of three seconds near the main dome of Borobodur Temple

Borobodur Temple Complex-Yogyakarta, Java, Indonesia
Bird’s eye view of Borobudur Temple from the high lofts of Amanjiwo

Ngadas, East Java

On my way to Mount Bromo in East Java, I took an overnight train to Malang (my first long distance train ride) and ventured to the highland village of Ngadas.

I discovered Ngadas when I was researching about alternate routes to Mount Bromo. There wasn’t a lot of information online on how to do the traverse, I only knew only that it was possible and the mountain views there were exceptionally amazing. Indeed it was!

Ngadas / Gunung Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park, East Java InVeggie farms covering entire mountain tops of Ngadas on my way to Mount Bromo

I spent one night in a homestay before attempting a hike to Cemoro Lawang, the main jump-off point to the crater of Mount Bromo.

I met many heartwarming friendly locals. I loved that this route was borderline off the grid. I finally got to escape the tourist frenzy in Yogyakarta :)

In fact, most locals thought I was Indonesian at first glance … or before I started talking. I had to learn a couple of words and phrases in Bahasa Indonesia, which was useful when taking non-touristy local transport. My most used sentences were “Saya tidak bisa berbicara bahasa Indonesio. Saya Dari Philippines.” Translated as “I can’t speak Indonesian. I’m from the Philippines.”

Ngadas / Gunung Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park, East Java InDevouring a hearty soup of Bakso while enjoying the relaxing highland views of Ngadas

It was the height of the summer heat when I left the Philippines. I assumed Indonesia would share the same weather since it was geographically close to home.

I didn’t expect it would rain too often during my trip. I eventually figured out that Java island and much of Indonesia lie at the opposite side of the equator. The climate cycle of the dry and wet season was reversed.

Ngadas / Gunung Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park, East Java InBraving the thick mist on my hike from Ngadas to Mount Bromo

I woke up to a wet misty morning in Ngadas. I was definitely having doubts pushing through with the 17km (3-hour) hike across remote mountainous areas laden with active volcanoes. I was alone, wet, and cold. Not to mention visibility was limited to several meters and I was carrying my backpack.

I could have actually looked for a motorcycle driver for hire, who can take me straight to a cozy room in Cemoro Lawang. I listened intently to my instincts, my “adventurer self” was shouting that I go for it. I had a good gut feeling about it. Hey, it’s not everyday that I get the chance to go on a crazy and potentially epic  adventure.

Mount Bromo – Cemoro Lawang

15-minutes into the hike, one motorcycle driver passed by. He offered a free ride all the way to Cemoro Lawang, I was beyond grateful. When we passed by “the savannah” at the backside of Mount Bromo, I was caught breathless. I told him to drop me off there so I can experience trekking through the beautifully arid scenery and take my own pace to capture the moment in pictures.

Cemoro Lawang / Gunung Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park, EastThe Savannah hidden at the backside caldera of Mount Bromo 

Cemoro Lawang / Gunung Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park, EastBraving the sea of sand desert-like terrain at the foot of Mount Bromo

The whole time I was in the vicinity of Mount Bromo. I didn’t get to see the divine spectacle of the sun rising past the five volcanoes at the Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park. Each morning, I was greeted with too much clouds cover. It would’ve made my trip perfect but that’s what I get for traveling during low/rainy season.

Cemoro Lawang / Gunung Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park, EastHindu temple, Pura Luhur Poten, dwarfed by the steaming crater of Mount Bromo

Cemoro Lawang / Gunung Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park, EastLife-threatening photo ops at Mount Bromo crater

Cemoro Lawang / Gunung Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park, East

Finally, a taste of java in Java Island, Indonesia

Baluran National Park, East Java

Originally, I wanted to see another nearby volcano, Mount Ijen, famed for its picturesque turquoise-colored acid crater lake. Unfortunately, it was closed to tourists due to high volcanic activity at the time.

Bali was a couple of hours land travel + 1-hour ferry ride away. Crossing over was very tempting but with 4 days left before my flight out of Indonesia, I thought it was too little time to really immerse myself in what Bali had to offer. I decided to reserve it for another trip.

I found myself roughing it out for three days at Baluran National Park in East Java. Like Ngadas, it was relatively off-the-grid to foreign tourists (even to locals, as I was told).

I was hooked after seeing a photo of its savannah. Unlike the one near Bromo, this one is located in a vast area teeming with wildlife, and diverse flora.

I enjoyed stalking the wild animals the most :) I fulfilled one of my deep desires of feeling like I was in a NatGeo show.

Baluran National Park, East Java, Indonesia

Stalking a herd of wild deer at Baluran National Park

Baluran National Park, East Java, Indonesia

Thriving in adversity. Cute bird finds safety surrounded by a thorn tree.

Baluran National Park, East Java, IndonesiaHanging with resident beach bums at Baluran National Park

Surabaya, East Java

I made my way to Surabaya in East Java to catch an onward flight to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

When I look back on my time spent in Surabaya, its motorcycle filled streets definitely comes to mind first. It was the hardest street crossings that I’ve done in my life. The traffic just never stops. Even crossing two lane roads was a major challenge.

Surabaya, East Java, Indonesia
Speeding Motorcycle filled streets of Surabaya in East Java, Indonesia

On my walking tour of Surabaya, I got to see lots of grand heritage buildings lined up charmingly beside peaceful canals. The city used to be an important Dutch-colonial trading center.

Surabaya, East Java, IndonesiaRiverside colonial buildings of Surabaya City

Surabaya, East Java, IndonesiaTime stops as pigeon flies past Surabaya’s old buildings

Two weeks wasn’t even enough to explore most of Java Island. I’m definitely coming back to Indonesia for more!

 Java Island, Indonesia two-week (14 days) itinerary


I’ll be posting more journals, photos, guides, and detailed itineraries later. In the meantime, here’s a rundown of my backpacking trip to Indonesia.


    • Kota Kinabalu to Jakarta Flight
    • Jakarta Old Batavia
    • Jalan Thamrin


    • Jakarta to Yogyakarta Flight
    • Yogyakarta Water Castle (Taman Sari)
    • Yogyakarta Backpacker district: Gang I & II of Jalan Sosrowijayan
    • Borobudur Temple complex
    • Prambanan Temple complex

Mount Bromo

    • Overnight train to Malang
    • Ngadas homestay
    • Ngadas to Mount Bromo / Cemoro Lawang hike
    • Mount Bromo / Cemoro Lawang

Baluran National Park, East Java

    • Bondowoso Detour
    • Mount Bromo to Baluran
    • Baluran National Park

Surabaya, East Java

    • Baluran to Surabaya night travel
    • Surabaya Walking Tour
    • Surabaya to Kuala Lumpur flight

Update: I posted my DIY travel notes from this trip at Java, Indonesia Itinerary: Jakarta, Yogyagarta, Bromo and East Java.