A long-haul trek (to Indonesia, country number 38)

Maria and I left Green Hut at 10am on the nose for our lengthy trip to Bali. On the way I think we used pretty much every available type of transport we could have.


First up, we jumped on the monorail to KL Sentral. This is a great way to get around Kuala Lumpur, being regular and cheap. I still can’t figure out why the platforms are maybe 75m long when the train’s are barely 20m. Also, there are three “lines” with no financial connection although they do intersect. You have to get off one train, go to the ticket counter and get another ticket to continue your journey on the next line. Not an issue between Bukit Bintang and KL Sentral, but it does make hopping about the city slightly less convenient than it could.

Private Bus

Once there, we boarded one of the budget buses to the Air Asia terminal at the airport. There are two services (at least) running there. One’s actually a subsidiary of Air Asia and charges MR9. The other’s a competitor who charge MR8. Amusingly, we were joined on our (packed) budget-budget coach by two members of the Air Asia cabin crew! Looks like they don’t get a free or discount pass to get to work. I do know that if you book a flight to KL via Air Asia, a popup appears on the web page offering you the transfer to Sentral for MR6.50. No such offer when going the other way, though.

I snoozed for a lot of the journey to the airport, and we arrived in good time to check in. The queues weren’t too bad and we settled on a McD’s for breakfast as we’d not had anything else. Realistically, it was that or food from one of the convenience shops. Rock / hard place.

For a budget terminal it’s not bad, but if you do want something approaching a meal, get it from McDs outside the security check. Once you go through there’s nothing approaching a restaurant. The whole place has free wi-fi as well, in line with the “grown up” terminal nearby.


Our flight was called on time and we joined the crush for boarding which is common in Asia. People here generally queue but they’re hardcore about it, though thankfully not as intimately as in India.

The flight was two hours and crossed one time zone, so our watches went back an hour. This was to get confusing as I’ll explain later on…

We landed a little ahead of schedule and battled our way off the plane, almost having to shove some aging Germans out of the way as they key stopping for conversations in the narrow corridors. The visa fee for Indonesia is US$25, also payable in Malaysian Ringgit at Jakarta airport (and I’d suspect Indonesian Rupiah). The Ringgit charge is a flat MR100, so the only way you’ll get screwed is by a big change in exchange rate. I’m not sure of the Rupiah price.

Annoyingly, I only had about MR75 on me. And there are no ATMs within eyesight of the visa desk – the first we found were past immigration and customs, which isn’t too convenient. Fortunately, Maria had enough to lend me and I paid her back with my first Rupiah withdrawal.

Another thing to note with the Indonesian visas as – for tourists – there are essentially two to choose from. A 7-day transit visa and a 30-day visitor’s one. Neither of these can be extended once you’re in the country, which is a pain for somewhere the size of Indonesia. You have to do a border run, and if you’re somewhere like Bali this is a long trip. Even Vietnam with it’s annoying initial application allows a single renewal and it’s a much smaller nation.

However, we got in OK and walked outside. My first steps into Indonesia – country number 38 on this trip if I’ve counted correctly. Our time on Java, the island which holds Jakarta, was to be very short, though. If I’d had the time I’d have sent postcards, but believe me this simply wasn’t possible!

Public bus

We located the Damri bus stop which runs a shuttle service to the Gambir train station. It’s currently IDR20,000 (About £1.30) for the 40-minute journey – although this time is traffic-dependent.

It’s an interesting bus ride along the roll road looking at the buildings. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a mix in my life. Big buildings, small ones, shacks, wooden, brick, lean-to’s, detached villas… name it and you’ll see it. If you’ve been to Bangkok and think the random residences along the river are unusual, wait till you see Jakarta.


At Gambir, we disembarked to the expected throng of taxi and tuk-tuk drivers. There are three train services to Surabaya, which we needed to get to next. Two of these, the eksekutif and bisnis ones, run from Gambir and are air-conned with bunks and the like. Their journey time is around the 10-hour mark, and they’re comfy and clean. They’re also around IDR200,000.

So we flagged down a tuk-tuk to take us to the nearby Pasar Senen station where we could get one of the ekonomi trains. Hey, the idea here was to save money based on a direct flight to Bali!

The tuk-tuks are somewhat different to the Thai ones, sounding more like they have dinky lawnmower motors in than motorbike ones. We also got a better price by walking outside the station than taking one of those which had parked up. The 20,000 fare was haggled down to 10,000 and we sat back as we… well… crawled through the streets. These things don’t accelerate as well as the ones owned by the speed-junkies in Bangkok, believe me.

Maybe ten minutes later we were dropped at the entrance to Pasar Senen, where we walked up to the ticket counter and explained that, yes, were were in the right place and, yes, we did want the ekonomi train despite being foreigners. No, really. Yes. Not the expensive one from Gambir. We’re sure. When does it leave?

“Four fifteen”

What time is it now?

“Four fifteen”


With the help of the guards and a couple of passengers we jumped on with the door hitting our bums on the way in. Well. It would have if there were any doors. One of the guards removed two guys from our seat and we settled in for a long trip.

Our IDR46,000 tickets got us a decent sized seat, but not a lot of padding. Or leg-room. Forget air-con, or working fans. The breeze from the open windows was the only thing stopping the train turning into a huge cooking vessel as we clickety-clacked along the north coast of Java. At least the lights worked so we could read once the sun set. We were lucky to be at the end of the carriage – the light in the middle section was burnt our which would have made things even more tedious.

Oh, did I mention the journey was around 14 1/2 hours?

The journey reminded me a lot of India, predominantly because of the crammed hordes and the number of people who boarded at each stop to sell things. I recall four groups who got on to sing and try to get money – two girls with karaoke units and two bunches of boys with guitars and very loud voices. And whoever thinks it’s a good business decision to try to sell coffee to people they’ve just woken up at 3am when all they want to do is get back to sleep is beyond me.

As it’s Ramadan at the moment, food sales weren’t exactly rampant until sundown when all of a sudden hundreds of bags were opened, plastic cartons crinkled apart, and so forth. Oh, and far too many cigarettes lit.

Maria likes her food and tried a couple of the things from the hawkers. The kopi (coffee) sellers also do pot noodles, then there are fruits, nasi (rice), sweets (Indian and Western versions), and so on.

One young lad opposite talked to us on and off for a fair portion of the trip, as did some behind us as well as a handful of older travelers using the youngsters as translators. The main topic – why are you on the train? And why this train? Foreigners either fly or take the eksekutif services!

However, they were genuinely curious not accusatory. I swear we were the only non-Indonesians on the entire train, not just the carriage. And with that came status. And generosity. Whether it’s an Indonesian thing or a Muslim thing I don’t know, but we found ourselves being offered little bits of food from many of the people sat nearby. It was like being in Bangladesh again as we posed for photos. Between my (now pretty impressive) beard and Maria’s bright blonde hair, we certainly stood out as different from the locals.

Sleep, however, was a nightmare with barely forty minutes of undisturbed slumber at a time. Either someone moved and jostled me, or I cramped up, or my leg went dead, or someone started yelling “NasiNasiNasiNasi” at full volume. The smarter people slept in the aisles, or under the seats, though that left them at risk of being stood on as the traders marched up and down the carriage.

Finally, thankfully, joyously, we arrived at Surabaya at around 7:30am. We said goodbye to our traveling companions. I wanted to hug the little old lady who’d fed us bananas and doughnuts but didn’t think it was appropriate. I did pass my card on to one or two people who asked if I had email. If they visit this blog – thank you each and every one for making a very long journey that bit more enjoyable than it would have been otherwise!


As with Jakarta, Surabaya has a handful of train stations. We’d arrived at Pasar Turi and needed to get to Gubeng for the Mutiara Timur service to Banyuwangi.

Transport options were the usual – taxis, motorbikes… and pedalo. The taxis were quoting IDR50k while we got a price of IDR20k for two pedalos, IDR10k per person. Why not? One of the passengers off our train was also going to Gubeng and I think wanted to share a cab, but we’d already made a deal with the cycle-guys.

The ride was maybe ten minutes, and just what I remember from the likes of Ho Chi Minh city – cyclos are exempt from traffic laws. Silly things like red lights and direction of traffic flow mean nothing to a man with a passenger in front of him to cushion any collision.

Once we pulled up at the station, the two guys even insisted on giving us a hand with our luggage and getting it to the correct window for our tickets. Wish a smile, a handshake and an exchange of cash they waved us farewell.

Train again

When buying the tickets, Maria mentioned we were heading for Bali and they offered us a ticket which would cover us all the way there. However, there was a little breakdown in communications and we couldn’t figure out exactly how this worked. We just got the train tickets for Banyuwangi and decided to sort the rest out when we got there.

We’d just sat down to eat some “food” (pot noodle) when an announcement (and several members of the public) informed us that the train was here and we should board. They all seemed in a hell of a rush about it so we grabbed everything and jogged for the train. A local showed us to our seats (in exchange for IDR1000) which were much more comfy than the ones on the last train. I think we were bisnis class – we just asked for the backpacker-friendly “cheapest” which were IDR50k apiece.

This trip was to take around seven hours. As we neared Banyuwangi, a couple of the other passengers talked to us and asked where we were going to. Once they knew we were going to Bali, they told us there was a bus we could catch once we arrived which would take us all the way to Denpasar for IDR50k. This included the ferry fee as well. Bonus.

They even ensured we found the right bus by informing the train guard where we were going. At the station we were herded out and onto the coach.

Bus again

The ferry terminal at Ketapang is definitely walking distance from the train station. Walk out past the village green (which reminds me of Sri Lanka for some reason), then turn right on the main road and keep going. Ferry prices for foot passengers are IDR7000 per person if I read the signs correctly.

Our coach pulled in to wait for the ferry to dock – they’re every thirty minutes – and we were once again inundated with people selling stuff. Maria bought some new sunglasses that were either crooked or she has wonky ears. One guy was trying to sell “very good!”. We’re not sure what it was, because every time we asked him he just told us it was “very good!”. But what is it? “Very good!”


We took the time on board the ferry to stretch our legs a bit. It’s a very short trip, maybe twenty minutes, and we saw our first white people in over 24 hours on the upper deck. Two Belgians who’d worked their way over from Sumatra and were heading for the Gili Islands.

As we neared the island of Bali, the sun started to set and once we were back on our coach, darkness was setting in.

Bus once more

The roads here aren’t bad and we made good time from the port. Despite our driver obviously having a death wish and a heavy right foot, we got to Denpasar in a little over three hours after we docked.

Denpasar treats bus stations like the Javanese cities treat train stations. To get a public bus to Kuta, we’d have to get from Ubung station down to Tegal.

Stuff it.


We hopped onto a private minivan (I think these are the bemo) for IDR20k which took us to Bemo Corner in Kuta, not far from all the cheap hotels.

We started on Poppies Gang I looking for accommodation, finding most places full. Those that weren’t were asking IDR70k upwards for very basic rooms. I think we checked around 10 places until a local pointed out one of the side streets and told us there were many places up there as well.

Given that he wasn’t pushing one particular place, we walked up and had a look. The first place we found which had a “room available” sign was Taman Ayu Bungalows.

The friendly owner was more than happy to show us a room. Basic, but clean and IDR50k per night, which was the cheapest we’d been offered. But… only one room and despite two beds, Maria didn’t want to share. I told her to take it and I’d go wandering.

Fortunately, the guy then said he had one more room but only for one night unless someone checked out the next day. Existing tenants get priority, so as long as someone left, he could put the booked person into that room. Fine by me.

So there you have it. Kuala Lumpur to Kuta. Door to door it was 37 hours. almost exactly. And we did save a fair bit on what we’d have paid for a direct air fare. Off the top of my head, around £40. It doesn’t sound a lot, but it costs £3.20 for a night’s accommodation here and you can eat ridiculously well for the same amount again.

My night didn’t end there, though. I was hungry having eaten one pot noodle and a doughnut since we’d left KL airport. Unfortunately, all the nearby restaurants were closing which I thought was a little strange as it was only just after 10pm. I ended up in McDonalds as it was the only place doing an actual meal.

Time for a quick one as well, so I stopped off in a nearby bar for a Bintang – the local brew. And got talking to an Aussie couple (she from Newcastle). And another Aussie (from King’s Cross). And a Brit (from Liverpool).

One beer turned into… erm… a few. Small bottles became large ones and then Zane (the one from KX) and I went in search of a bar that wasn’t closing.

Amazingly, we didn’t have much luck as we walked out to the seaside area. Only one place was open and it was IDR50k to get in. And the music sucked.

So we did what any self-respecting backpacker would do. Headed to Circle K and bought bottles from the fridge to drink on the beach.

While we were there, a local guy that Zane had met joined us with two of his friends. We stayed out there until the sun just started to rise before we all staggered to our respective hovels.

On the way, we were accosted by a motorcycle-riding prostitute. Who told me she liked me very much and grabbed a part of me I’d rather wasn’t grabbed by anyone I didn’t at least already know over a couple of drinks. I knew what to expect this time, though. My first reaction wasn’t to push her away – it was to jam my hand into my pocket and clutch my wallet. One bitten… She seemed a little put out when Zane and I told her we were very much in love and didn’t like women. Eventually she just left, empty handed, and I wondered if there was anywhere open I could get some disinfectant to dip my manhood in.

Now, I thought it was 4:30am. I was wrong. Remember waaaaaay back at the top I mentioned something about the time zones? Well, they’re weird down here.

As a general rule, you go east and your watch goes forward. You head west, it goes back. North/south, no change. Of course, country borders and the like do mess with the pattern, but I’d hit a weird one with Indonesia.

Right, folks – Google for a map of SE Asia. Malaysia is generally east and north of Sumatra and Java in Indonesia. Yet if you fly west or south to either of these, you put your watch back an hour. This quirk is what threw me.

When you leave Java heading east (Bali is your first land stop), your watch does what it should do and goes forward an hour, which nobody told us.

This is why the restaurants were closing when I went looking for food. And why the sun was up when I went to bed at 5:30.

It’s also why I missed my inclusive breakfast as they only serve till 11:00 and my incorrect watch was telling me it was 10:30. The owner told me I had it set wrong. Gah.

For reference, the third time zone (GMT+9) starts at East Timor and extends into Papua. And despite being a huge distance east of Kuala Lumpur I’m actually in the same time zone!

Peninsular Malaysia is the place that throws the system. The time zone for Borneo is extended west to include the mainland, I guess so the whole country is in one zone.

The things you learn while travelling…

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