Saturday, 4 August 2012

Travel To, From and Within Java, Indonesia

Rural Java, near Malang
We flew Air Asia direct from Ho Chi Minh City to Jakarta, arriving at a few minutes before midnight.  From touchdown, we couldn’t help making comparisons between Indonesia and Vietnam, which has been our home for the past year.  Most visitors arriving into Saigon’s international airport are able to obtain a visa on arrival, but they need to have applied online, filled in a form and paid a fee at least a couple of weeks before their trip.  They have then had to check their e-mail, print off the confirmation, fill in another form, get a couple of passport photos and make sure they have another fee in dollars in cash.  Having done all this, they arrive in Vietnam, often after a lengthy flight, and usually have to wait for at least an hour while their documents are processed and they are reluctantly admitted into the country by surly looking officials.  The contrast on arrival in Jakarta was stark!  We had been given a simple form to fill in on the plane so, on landing, the process was simple, quick and efficient.  The immigration officials took our money and stamped our passports with beaming smiles and welcomed us to Indonesia. 

A customised cyclo!
So, within minutes, we were through with the formalities.  Our priorities were to obtain some local currency and arrange transport to our hotel, both of which were achieved with ease.  There was a vast number of ATMs just after we had passed through customs.  We were only staying in Jakarta for one night, so we had booked into a hotel close by which offered free transfers to and from the airport.  We asked at the information desk where a very friendly young lady rang the hotel for us and they sent a bus to pick us up.  We had to wait for less than five minutes!!  We were struck by the contrast with Frankfurt airport, where, a few months ago, we were in transit and had to kill three hours between 8pm and 11pm.  In that airport, there was literally nothing open and not a soul around to ask for assistance.

Schoolchildren near Yogyakarta
The next day, we transferred back to the airport for an internal flight to Malang in the east of Java.  This time, the airline was Garuda.  Unfortunately, due to the late arrival of an incoming flight, we were delayed by almost two hours, which made what should have been a short hop take up most of the day.  The airline, however, provided food and drink and tried to make the wait as pleasant as possible.

Malang airport is mainly used for military purposes and has only recently started accepting commercial flights.  As a result, it is small with few facilities, but building work is going on and, again, the staff were very helpful in organising a taxi to take us to our hotel in town.

A little boy getting a lift home!
When planning our trip to Java, the idea was to fly to the furthest point east that we wanted to visit and then use public transport (trains and buses) to make our way back to Jakarta via Yogyakarta and Pangandaran.  Whilst this is perfectly possible, we hadn’t really considered the distances involved and, given our tight schedule, we ended up hiring private cars and drivers to take us between the cities.  Obviously, this was a much more expensive option, but, on this occasion, we felt that the expense was worth it in terms of convenience, comfort and time taken.  So it was that we drove across Java, from east to west and in doing so, we saw so much of the country and felt that we got a real glimpse into the lives of the Javanese.  Clearly, had we travelled with them on buses and trains, we would have got a greater insight, but time didn’t allow it this time!

At the end of our trip, we flew back to Vietnam with Air Asia and, again, were very impressed with the service.  It is clear to see why the airline has been voted the world's best budget airline for the last three years.  I'd vote for any airline which has jeans as part of the uniform for the air crew!!

See more photos of our road trip across Java here.


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