2nd Impressions of Indonesia

Posted on 12 February, 2015

It’s Saturday 15th November, approximately 9 PM and I’ve just arrived at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport Jakarta, dead tired following over 13 hours in transit since I left behind the schizophrenic weather of Melbourne, but incredibly excited to be visiting Indonesia for the second time, only this time with my good mate Kiran in tow. I don’t quite know why I felt even more excited this time around than I did when I arrived in Jakarta for my very first visit on November 30 last year. Maybe it’s because I’m much wiser now and know what orderly chaos (and crazy fun) to expect beyond the airport? Or maybe it’s because I have my good friend with me, whose only travel experience beyond Australia is the over-commercialised, generic tourist trap of Phuket, Thailand and the Malaysian Peninsula. In many ways I’m just as excited for him as I am for myself, and as our taxi careens down the Jakarta Outer Ring Road towards our accommodation in Cilandak Barat, I’m keen to hit the ground running and give both of us an authentic “Indonesian experience” on the busy streets of the capital city. With only 8 days before we leave for Singapore, the clock is ticking….

Travelling in 'Kota Gila'. Photo: Michael Reardon
Travelling in ‘Kota Gila’. Photo: Michael Reardon

4 Days in Kota Gila: Never Enough

Our first day in Jakarta set the pace for the rest of the trip. We were up by 6.30 AM, but didn’t leave the house we were staying at until 9.00 AM, by which time the roads were relatively busy (for a Sunday at least). Catching a taxi was not for me, so I coaxed my friend onto the next Metromini heading northbound on Jl. Fatmawati towards the Blok M Bus Terminal, from where we would take the much more modern Transjakarta bus to the north of town. This was my friend Kiran’s first real introduction to Indonesia and it’s safe to say he was a little worried for the first 10 minutes or so of our ride on the Metromini. I on the other hand felt very happy, even a little giddy perhaps to once again be surrounded by the orderly chaos that defines this country in my mind, and makes cities such as Jakarta so damn exciting! To cut a long-story short, we managed to catch the final minutes of Jl. Thamrin’s car-free Sunday approximately 90 minutes later as we walked from Setia Budi up to the Grand Indonesia Roundabout, where our casual pace was interrupted by the onslaught of Jakarta’s banked-up traffic flowing freely once again. After lunch we arrived in Kota Tua and having obligingly posed for countless rounds of “boleh foto misterrr!” we followed an old canal past decrepit Dutch colonial buildings, to the otherworldly floating village of Sunda Kelapa. Here our path was met by a mixture of curious children, stray cats, chickens and an old man who after finding out I was Australian could only say “Tony Abbott!” with an amusing look of bemusement on his face. Our remaining 3 days in ‘Kota Gila’ as I like to call it, involved visiting UI, Bogor, MONAS and Tanah Abang, in between running around so I could catch up with my many local friends.

Bandung: A Urban Oasis Amongst Even More Orderly Chaos

On Wednesday night, having missed the 6.15 PM train due to Jakarta’s notorious macet, we caught the later 7.45 PM service from Stasiun Gambir to Bandung, where I would spend the next 2 days fitting over a year’s worth of clothes shopping into just a few hours whilst doing the customary sightseeing all tourists do when they visit a new city for the very first time. We arrived in Bandung just before midnight and although I couldn’t see very much, I was immediately impressed by the seemingly cooler, greener, hillier environs of the country’s 3rd biggest metropolis. We were fortunate enough to stay on Level 18 at one of Bandung’s better hotels, which meant by morning the green expanse of the city came into full view from the heights of Cilembeleuit Hill. A short jalan-jalan along Jl. Cihampelas and I had already fallen for the ‘Paris of Java’ and her elegant, tree-lined streets, tempered by the usual pandemonium of Angkot’s, beggars, buskers, hawkers, stray cats and curious locals which can be found all across the entire archipelago. By Friday evening, it was time to leave for our next destination and stepping aboard the Kerata-Api, I knew I had just experienced a very special place, one which held my keen interest and left me feeling pleased yet not entirely satisfied. I hadn’t seen enough of Bandung and wanted to delve even further below the surface of this intriguing town as soon I could take time off work again….

Jogja: Like Coming Home for the Second Time

I didn’t sleep very well during the 7 hour train journey, but I did wake up 4.00 AM the following morning to find myself in Yogyakarta Station just as expected. I was tired as usual (nothing’s new), but I immediately felt a strange sense of belonging, almost like I was “coming home” for the second time, even though I only spent 3 nights in Jogja during my last visit in December 2013. There’s something almost magical about this town, everything from Jl. Malioboro and its daily parade of eccentric characters, to the serene sights of Candi Borobudur and Prambanan had left a lasting impression on me to this very day. Jogja has all the mod-cons of Jakarta, but without the traffic or confronting poverty and all the greenery of Bandung, but without the smog of a big city. My 2 days in Jogja were criminally short, but me and my friend Kiran managed to make the most of it, visiting Pantai Pok Tunggul and Ngandong on the Southern Coast of Java, in addition to the temples mentioned above. Monday morning we left Jogja for the ‘utopian’ city-state of Singapore, where the people behaved like carefully programmed robots, the trains ran on-time to the very second and the streets were so forensically-spotless it appeared a little more of their character had been wiped away with each clean. From this short distance I really did miss the orderly chaos and friendly faces of Indonesia, and it made me realise what I love soo much about this country. On 2nd impressions, Indonesia is just as busy, exciting, enthralling and repugnant as before. But above all, Indonesia is a brilliant cross-section of humanity in all its beauty and ugliness, packed into a few thousand islands only 1/3 the size of Australia’s landmass. Indonesia is humanity writ-large!