QuirkyAccom on Twitter
The largest directory of unusual places to stay on the planet
QuirkyAccom on Facebook
QuirkyAccom on Twitter
Accom Type
Subscribe by RSS | Subscribe by Email:

Borobudur and Discovering Beaches in Java

merapiArriving into Jakarta (Java, Indonesia) was not an instant pleasure. The queue for first visa, then torturously slow passport control was only made worse by the sound of torrential rain thundering on the roof. Unseasonal, unexpected, unappreciated rain! We were cajoled to our airport hotel just a few paces away by would-be porters, keen to make a few coins. After the pristine efficiency of Japan, we needed a moment to adjust. Interesting noodles for dinner and chicken porridge for breakfast and we were heading for our next delay on the internal flight to Yogyakarta in central Java.

By now we understood that we had arrived into this 90% muslim country in the middle of Ramadhan, the fasting month where those partaking can't eat during daylight hours. Keeping respectfully dressed and not flaunting our daytime meals were important considerations. We even wandered if we'd have trouble finding places that would provide food in the day - although this never proved to be a problem. If, however, you arrive as Ramadam ends, travel can be a nightmare as locals are then on the move themselves - vast numbers of them.

At Jogya, as Yogyakarta is affectionately known, there was more heavy rain and a dash for the terminal under umbrellas followed by a long wait for bags. My children had started to look at me with the 'Why have you brought us here?' eyes. A bag of crisps doesn't placate them much as they turn out to be spicy!

overloadedBut then, we were on the road: counting motorbikes (by the hundreds) and watching them plough through deep puddles whilst balancing their entire family plus an array of packages. And even more entertaining noting that some of the drivers are no older than our own children (8 and 10). The kids were animated again and we were on our way….to Borobudur.

I've wanted to get to this stupa-ed Buddhist temple for many years so instead of a brief excursion we had elected to stay at the Hotel Manohara with Borobudur so close that it's viewable from the grounds. It's an attractive, typical Indonesian-style hotel with single-storey air-con rooms around the garden, and open-sided restaurant and traditional musicians in the lobby. We took advantage of the mini-movie explaining Buddha's life and teachings on many of the carvings found at the monument and the pilgrimage that Buddhists have made for centuries across Asia to come here. You are supposed to walk each layer of Borobudur studying the messages in the relief panels before circling the 72 bell-like stupas which house a Buddha statue each, finally arriving at the top - and enlightenment.

Over a civilised dinner we were entertained by dancers and then off to bed early with hopes of better weather in the morning.  Our alarm was set for 4am when we were delighted to see stars overhead. So we joined a group of hotel guests (paying a hefty additional £17 per adult) to enter Borobudur ahead of the crowds, under torchlight with the aim of grabbing the perfect location for that all-important sunrise shot of the striking stupas through the morning mist. Was it worth it? I think probably not. Perhaps for us it was marred by restless children, who were only briefly enthralled by entering in the dark. Where I may have been feeling spiritually serene, I was busy scowling and whispering fiercely at them to stop bickering! Once the light emerged they began to play Hide and Seek and were happy again.

reliefThe reality was that the sun only peeked through the cloud around 6am - at which time the gates open to the regular visitors. And there were plenty of vantage points from which to get great photos even then. It wasn't overly crowded in fact. Perhaps on the weekend or at certain times of the year the numbers would be suffocatingly higher and it would be worth splashing out on the early tickets. We leisurely cruised the perimeter of the temple looking at the carvings as we descended, finding them all the more interesting for all that we'd learnt about them the previous day.

After having our fill at breakfast we took hotel bikes (miraculously they had some that perfectly fitted our family) and cycled the circuit of the parkland around Borobudur, passing some rather sad looking elephants along the way. We had a catch-up nap until check-out and loaded into our next ride to Jogya itself.

We were really impressed with our stay at Manohara and would recommend you go there if visiting Borobudur.

Private transfer from Jogja airport - around £20. Probably cheaper by regular taxi on a meter. Room with air-con - £50 for 2. They had interconnecting rooms which worked well for us. Dinner was standard hotel price of £2-4 a meal. A large beer was £3.30 - in other parts of Java this is usually around £2. Regular Borobudur ticket included.

balletWe took it easy for the rest of the afternoon, before getting a lift to Prambanan Temple to see a special Indonesian ballet performance there. The rain could hold out no more which was a shame as it was an outdoor spectacular. The temple was the lit backdrop to the stage. We sat on soggy seats, under umbrellas wondering if it was going to be worthwhile. Against all odds we became engrossed. The ballet had the essential ingredients - tormented love, good and evil characters and comedy moments - but just as the storyline upped its tempo so did the rain. The outdoor stage had to be abandoned and we watched the finale inside. (Therefore, we overheard, missing a spectacular explosive end only possible outside.) But it was a great cultural feast enjoyed by us all.

The next part of our travels I had arranged because of that old traveller's instinct that there must be something interesting on the coast near Jogja. I couldn't find out much about it from the internet except a couple of lines about Indryanti beach which mentioned some huts. More searching and I found a phone number and managed to speak to someone with limited english and asked her to put a couple of rooms aside for us. We took a taxi (£23) south which takes 2-3 hours and found Walet Guesthouse. It's directly over the small road at the centre of Indryanti beach. Our simple air-con rooms were ready (£23 a night each). The beds plump, the bathrooms basic but everything clean and new - and a nice table and umbrella outside to hang out at. The beach was a beautiful cove with crashing waves and some simple eateries on the sand. It was the weekend so it was quite busy with Javanese tourists scattered along the waters edge, fully clothed and happy to be soaked by repeated white frothy surges from the sea.


indryantiYou can contact Walet Guesthouse through QuirkyAccom. The staff speak limited english, but the owner, Sri, can reply to emails in english most of the time.

We sat at a beach table and looked at the Indonesian menu. It began to dawn on us that we weren't very well prepared. There's no bank here so we would need to get to a neighbouring town to see us through the week. We'd failed to bring a dictionary and there was no internet in these parts. With some sign language and guess work we ordered lunch from what was available on the menu. There were no other foreign visitors around, locals didn't speak more than the odd word of English - and there was no booze! An afternoon stroll to rock pool beaches, reflecting the sky, to the west verified that this area is not on the overseas tourist map. How wonderful. Not since being in the first huts on Palolem (Goa) had I stayed somewhere before the backpacker circuit blew its cover.

But we also had some reservations. Although you can get fresh seafood here, there was far from a full or imaginative menu - everything came with rice. Could we eat variations on the same meal 3 times a day for a week? Would we last out without being able to top up our Kindles? Actually being cut off from the outside world did seem appealing! Then there was, possibly scariest of all, the lack of booze. But by the end of day one we had found a helpful source and stocked up a fridge with beers from a shop down the road. Now things were looking promising.

Our first full day on the beach, a Sunday, and I felt the need to keep covered up. The beach was still pretty busy and everyone was fully clothed. I kept a sarong on and sat under an umbrella keeping a close eye on the children who were being thrown around by the waves - for hours. We couldn't have brought them to a better play ground. People would occasionally approach them, or us, for a friendly chat and ask for a photo. The Javanese are very keen photographers, being at the beach is a great opportunity to pose for shots. They are great to watch as they have lots of fun - burying each other, darting in and out of the water, playing tug-of-war and having a laugh.

poktunggalBy the Monday things had really quietened down. We had the beach almost to ourselves. But luckily, we did meet a group of friend's - American ex-pat's and Javanese - who helped us out with the lingo so we began to communicate better. The days passed quickly - clambering over the rocks to more stunning beaches to the left and right, borrowing bikes to take a spin around to enthusiastic roadside greetings, the 4 of us sitting on the sea shore being pounded by waves, sunset from a viewpoint on the rocky mound overlooking the beach and a day spent on the glorious Poktunggal beach. Perfect family memories that will stay with me. And all under blue skies, the rain had miraculously disappeared as soon as we arrived.

There was some very basic rooms, pretty much a mattress and shared shower/toilets, at Poktunggal for about £10 a night, and several stalls for food and drink. Pale sand, clear water, a bit calmer than at Indryanti, although still with the roar of the waves crashing further out on the reef. We hired an umbrella and mat and set up camp for the day there before clambering back over the rocks, past crabs and shells and 2 empty bays back to Indryanti.

goapindulThe helpful guys at Walet had arranged a car and driver for us one day (for just £18) and we went to Goa Pindul to float through a cave in inflated rings (£2 each). The driver then took us to his guesthouse, Kampoeng Baron, for lunch. I couldn't have been more pleasantly surprised - an creative collection of rooms, pagodas and artefacts set in a pretty garden. So Javanese yet with colourful modern art on every wall. There are 4 guest rooms plus various places to eat and relax, all beautifully presented. My favourite rooms were actually the standard rooms with open air bathrooms costing around £40 a night including breakfast. We'd stumbled upon a slice of heaven - especially when we were handed a menu in english with a tantalising selection of dishes, including pancakes, real orange juice and fish cooked in honey and lemon sauce with chips. You can get very excited about a potato after a week of rice!  This place is not beachside so you need transport to get around, either from the driver or by hiring bikes (£5 a day). They offer transfers to/from Jogja for £20. This stylish guesthouse is about 1km from Baron, where a multitude of painted fishing boats lay on the brown sand and beyond them the river joins the sea. You can swim here, but its a working beach so its not perfect for it.

We popped in on Kukup, but here, as with many of the beaches on this coast, the coral/rock comes to the water's edge, particularly at low tide, and its not possible to swim. The following beach, actually also walkable from Indryanti (several coves to the west), is Karkal. This is a long impressive stretch of sand leading the eye on past rocky headlands to coves beyond. Again there is coral rock but in some places there is more of a gap, and at high tide you can get in for a decent splash about. There are a few simple pagodas built by the sand and near the car park a row of showers/toilets and a selection of little places to eat. I imagine this is another spot that can get very busy with day visitors at peak times. We only shared it with another couple or two. At Sembodro Cottages (call Agus on (0062) 87839315777) the rooms are pretty uninspiring but look out on the beach and have AC, costing around £20 a night. You can cross a little ricketty bridge to wander around a volcanic rock outcrop and on the other side of it there is a quaint and more sheltered small cove - Sarangan. This undeveloped spot was probably our favourite of all.

I'm starting to realise that travelling during Ramadham is an advantage as most locals don't go anywhere during this time, and you may beable to ask for reduced rates because of that. We felt privileged to have the chance to explore this whole area, rarely seeing a Western face over the week, and having the beaches mostly to ourselves. We did meet a young Dutch girl who was working in the area with 40 others, on a volunteer project, so its not like we were pioneers - but, I think, lucky.

There are changes going on around here already. It's a work in progress, with people toiling industriously to be ready. Huts are springing up, woodwork is being varnished and steps painted - you can taste the future. But this area is being prepared for Jogja weekenders and day-trippers and for the holidays at the end of Ramadhan at this point. Before travellers turn up in their droves, making their mark, I think there is still time. And certainly the locals aren't overcharging, competitive or affected by our ways and expectations as yet. It's was a pleasure to get a relaxed welcome and take a bite out of a slower pace of life.

malioboroBut back in Jogja we are being hustled. Our hotel is in Malioboro, the tourist hub of town. There's plenty to see and barter for and rickshaws to whisk you about, Batik galleries to visit, food stalls to sample… The main street is enough to give you a headache after a short while so we were pleased to have chosen a small hotel in a 'gang' alley nearby. Hotel 1001 Malam has a central courtyard full of exotic plants and a pond and 2 stories of rooms with Indonesian wall paintings and everything you need for a restful stay. Straight over the lane, is Tu Casa es Mi Casa. After our forced abstinence from decent variety at the beach we were positively drooling at the menu here, and enjoyed the art and ambience of this relaxed place. We weren't tempted by the meal of cobra, or drinking its blood though! If on a lower budget, further down this lane are several losmen (guesthouses) that should do the trick, and there's also a mosque, tour agents, motorbike rentals and laundry services. At either end of the gang there are hotels a bit more upmarket, some with small pools. It's a cool atmosphere - a great area to get back to after a brief venture into the consumerism of Malioboro itself. Gang 1, parallel, has an interesting place called Boomerang Bookshop which sells nice handicrafts, batik postcards and books at fixed prices if you get fed up with debating the cost of everything.

Middle of our last night and the power goes. They are still digging around in the drains to try and rectify it at midday. It's about 30 degrees so we're missing the AC. The volcano, Merapi, is getting lively too. Time to move on.