We started our trip from the Philippines where we were visiting family. Our priority was to see Borubodur and other architectural and cultural sites in Jogjakarta and Bali/Ubud Indonesia.
- Set a price before agreeing to a guide or riding in a cab
- Cell data is slow and spotty in some places
- Bali/Denpasar is 1 hour ahead of Jogjakarta
Day 1 Tuesday
Arrive in Denpasar/Bali: 7:00 AM
Hotel: Hilton Garden Inn (5,000 points per night)
Free airport shuttle
No Money Changer in hotel
Self Tour: Jagatnatha Temple (Pura Agung)
Bali Provincial State Museum (Negeri Propinsi Bali)
Transportation: Bluebird (cab company, app is similar to Lyft and Uber)
I knew our trip to Indonesia would be special as soon we walked through the tarmac entrance of Bali Ngurah Rai airport. The split temple entrance patterned from centuries old Hindu architecture was intricate. It gave me a sense of being in a magical place. Ngurah Rai airport is easy to navigate and architecture and decor is stunning. It was around 8:OO AM in the morning when we arrived at the hotel. We dropped our bags at the desk and walked around the neighborhood. There was’nt much to see in the area and the phrase, “The city isn’t exactly walkable”, by an expat based in Bali came to mind. The restaurants were still closed in the morning and hungry from our early morning flight, we trekked back to the Hilton for brunch. Andy and I were able to try several Indonesian dishes and ate snake fruit and passion fruit for the first time. It was delicious. The staff were very helpful with our food and culture questions. We learned to fold our hands and nod in greeting and the Hindu custom became natural to us throughout our trip.
Jagatnatha Temple (Pura Agung) and Bali Provincial State Museum (Negeri Propinsi Bali).
We needed cash for our tour and found the nearest gas station to the hotel a convenient location for a money changer, convenience store to purchase water, and a pick up point for our Bluebird Taxi.
A very nice man welcomed us in front of the temple and offered to tour us around Jagatnatha. The gongs were being played during our tour which lent a nice atmosphere during our visit. We also learned a lot about Hindu culture and worship from our guide.
We walked next door to the Bali Provincial State Museum and opted to do a self-tour. Travel forums had forewarned us that guides and peddlers can be pushy. We had to be pretty firm with the men offering to guide us. The museum is worth a visit for it’s beautiful architecture, intricate wood work, and gardens.
There was a wrinkle to our day when our Bluebird taxi driver couldn’t find us after our tour. Jagatnatha Temple and Bali Museum are right beside a large monument park (Puputan Square) and the app didn’t specify exactly where we were. Andy and I decided to walk to a one way street behind the temple and museum. It was easier to watch the cars coming in from the intersection and our new Bluebird driver had no difficulty locating us.
Day 2 Wednesday
Bali to Jogjakarta: Flight time 1 hour
Paid airport transportation
Air Asia’s system is down! Passengers were required to be at the airport 4 hours ahead of departure. It wasn’t possible to go sightseeing in the morning and make it to the airport without feeling stressed and rushed. Our solution was to sleep in before our 1:45 PM flight.
We arrive in Jogja. The scene is instantly different from Bali! The traffic and motorcyclists balancing people and objects more than it’s intended carry reminded me of the Philippines. I’ve mentioned that our main purpose for our trip to Indonesia was to see Borubodur. The best hotel for this was Manohara Resort whose property is within the grounds of the Buddhist temple. It’s literally in the backyard of the property. We arrived as the sun was setting, checked in, and scheduled our sunrise tour at 4:30 AM. Andy and I had dinner at the hotel restaurant and watched a short video about the history of Borubodur.
Day 3 Thursday
Tour: Borubodur Sunrise
Hotel: Sheraton Mustika Resort and Spa (10,000 points/night)
No money changer in hotel
Free airport shuttle
Tour: Prambanan Temple
4:30 AM. Dark . The call to prayer was echoing solemnly throughout the compound as we sleepily trudged through the gates to the temple entrance. The flashlights that waved around erratically with every steep step up the stone stairs, were the only source of light. We finally reached the top and waited while sitting on blocks of stone hundreds of years old. The first light was gray. The sky was cloudy and the sun, unfortunately, was not going to show it’s purples, oranges, and reds. Still, every person from all over the world that came to be at the temple was gifted with a beautiful view of the mountains and valleys. The pointy stupas, each with a carving of Buddha housed inside, were a stark contrast to the rolling edges of the mountains in the background. Andy and I, after filling our selves with the view and the sheer experience of being on top of Borubodur, slowly made our way down the temple. We marvelled at the 9th century old intricate stone carvings and reliefs as we walked around most of the nine levels of Borubodur.
Good souls gravitate towards each other. Andy and I met a Buddhist pilgrim and a photographer after our temple tour. What was supposed to be a quick rest stop for tea and snacks turned into an hour long conversation between fast friends. I wouldn’t think much of meeting new people since Andy and I are friendly and chatty. However, the four of us clicked well together like we all knew each other for years. The experience was somewhat spiritual. Our new Buddhist friend made a mention of reincarnation and karma. He referred to us as long lost brothers and sisters saying we’re “the big four reunited in Borubodur”.
We left after breakfast for Jogja city and offered to pay our driver extra to take us to Prambanan. Our driver was nice but a little sketchy. Andy and I checked in at the Sheraton Mustika Hotel before going to the temple. I thought the hotel, being a big chain, would have a money changer. They do not. We asked our driver to take us to the airport nearby so we can have money changed. It was a bit odd when he kept driving away from the airport and offered to call his friend who can change our dollars to rupiahs. When we adamantly refused, the driver not wanting to turn back around to go to the airport, found a money changer a block from where we were.
The afternoon heat was relentless as we walked through the ticket booth and out the door to the park and gardens. I thought it was going to be a short walk but Prambanan is set back from the entrance. The heat was getting to me and I tell Andy that I am “temple’d out”. My comment was premature since I quickly forgot the heat and fatigue when we approached Prambanan. The tall Hindu structures with it’s gray stone stupas and carved reliefs is breathtaking. There is a divine feeling around being in temples so old and sacred. I think, even after centuries, the intensity of faith and devotion of ancient people still flows through the temples and grounds of Borubodur and Prambanan.
In the evening while resting at the hotel, Andy and I were startled by loud wailings from outside our room. We opened the glass door to the balcony and stood to listen. Several mosques in the area were blaring their speakers on full volume for the “call to prayer”. I didn’t mind hearing the call in Bali and in Manohara since there was only one singsong solemn voice on the speaker praying and it sounded serene and peaceful. The Jogjakarta city mosques call to prayer, however, were a sensory overload.
Day 4 Friday
Walking Tour: Water Castle Cafe
Sumur Gumiling Underground Mosque
Taman Sari Water Castle
Kraton of Jogjakarta (Yogyakarta Palace)
Our plan was to eat breakfast at the Water Castle Cafe and walk to several sites of interest from there. The trusted Bluebird cabs in Bali do not operate in Jogja so we decided to trust in humanity and took a random cab to our starting point. We were not disappointed. Andy and I started from the parking lot of Taman Sari/Water Castle since it was one of the sites we were to visit after our morning meal. The directions on Google Maps looked easy as we walked the few blocks to our breakfast place. The cafe, we found out, was hard to find. It is set back from the main streets specifically Ngasem street and Polowijan street. One has to walk behind Ngasem Market and cross the plaza to the cafe. It is a treat to eat at the Water Castle Cafe. The owner/photographer/artist put a lot of love in decorating the place. He is also very friendly as he chatted with us and gave us directions behind the cafe to the Underground Mosque.
Water Castle Cafe, the Mosque, and Taman Sari Castle are all connected through narrow residential alleyways. It is easy to get lost trying to get to one place to the next. We didn’t feel unsafe and other tourists and tour groups walked by from time to time. Some of the front doors of the homes lining the alleys had small art installations and uniquely painted doors.
Our next and unintended last stop was the Kraton of Jogjakarta, the Royal Palace of the Sultan of Jogjakarta. The Kraton is an easy walk of about half a mile from the Taman Sari/Water Castle. A friendly guide met us at the entrance and offered to show us around. He was full of interesting information about the Palace and spoke english well. We also chatted about life and cultural differences between Christians and Muslims as well as liberal and conservative practices in Indonesia. Our guide suggested for us to go to a Batik store across the street from the Kraton which we agreed to. We watched how it was made and bought Batik art to take home. Our planned last stop for the day was Marlioboro market. We decided to skip the market and took a cab back to the hotel instead.
Day 5 Saturday
Flight and Drive: Jogjakarta to Bali then Driver pick up to Ubud
Tour: Sahadewa Kecak and Fire Dance 6:30 PM to 7:30 PM
Airbnb: Floating Wooden House Ubud
(Suarti Boutique Village)
Payed hotel pick up
Sleep Inn and Fly Out. Destination Bali! Sheraton Mustika in Jogja has an amazing brunch buffet featuring different regional dishes and delicacies. Since the hotel is close to the airport, we had enough time to relax by the pool before leaving for Bali. The garden and pool area was very pretty with waterways leading to the main pool and fountains . It is patterned after the Water Castle and in homage to the Borubodur temple.
Bali Ngurah Rai airport 4:45 PM. It’s an hour and a half drive from the airport to Ubud. The driver was personable and friendly, he wanted us to have good use of our time and suggested for us to stop at a small temple and see kecek dancers afterward. Our answer? Of course, Yes! Hindu temple architecture is so interesting and detailed no matter how small or large it is. Any opportunity to see one is a definite go. Our driver didn’t disappoint with his suggestion to see the temple or the dance. The stage, costumes, and music were vibrant and colorful. The performance was exhilarating. Andy and I wanted to see more of the dances. Luckily, another performance was scheduled for the next morning.
Suarti Boutique Village (Hotel). I should have heeded the advice of a travel expert who warned me that points of interest in Ubud are not exactly walkable. The roads are narrow in most parts and there are no sidewalks. Andy and I were a bit disappointed that our hotel in Ubud is about a mile from the city center and Monkey Forest. However, the beautiful property made up for it. Suarti’s restaurant, called Kassava, also served good food. We ate several of our meals at the restaurant to try most of what they had on the menu.
Andy and I regrouped and planned what we were going to see and do the next day. We had hired a driver for the day to take us to two sites. Goa Gajah/Elephant cave and the Monkey Forest. Since the kecak performance was so thrilling, we decided that watching the Barong and Kris dance was a must. The idea to sign up for a cooking class was also irresistible.
Day 6 Sunday
Sahadewa Barong and Kris Dance 9:30 AM – 10:30 AM
Goa Gajah or Elephant Cave
Paon Bali Cooking Class 4:00 PM
A long, fun day of sightseeing. The Kris and Barong dance was located about 30 minutes south of the hotel. It was out of the way from the Elephant Cave and Monkey Forrest but the Sahadewa dance group puts on a great performance and it was worth the trip. Our next stop after the show was supposed to be Goa Gajah aka “Elephant Cave” but our driver, not wanting us to miss seeing the Tegenungan Waterfall,convinced us pass by since it was on the way. The light rain didn’t stop us from walking the long stairway leading to the waterfall trail. Andy and the driver continued on the trail to the banks of the water. I sat and waited by a store located a few feet from waterfall and watched a woman prepare a tray of flowers and incense. She told me they were offerings for the safety of locals and tourists. I followed along as she placed incense and flowers by the tiny shrines that dot the trail to the waterfall. It’s almost magical to watch this woman in traditional clothing leaving incense smoke trails while walking to a waterfall.
Goa Gajah and Monkey Forest
Goa Gajah is a small cave that features an intricately carved rock face. The largest carving is a mouth of a demon, which is also the entrance to the cave. There are several altars for different gods inside but I wasn’t able to stay in the cave for too long. Unfortunately, the smoke from the incense bothered me. The ancient baths in front of the cave is also an interesting sight. The pools are set below the ground with life size carved female figures lining the wall. Each figure holds a pitcher flowing with spring water that pours into the pool.
We walk the rest of the compound. I am fatigued and decide to wait at an open pavilion while Andy explores a downhill path through some other ruins. The coconuts being sold in the compound were too tempting. I choose a coconut and the girl, who was barely a teenager, expertly chops of one end without spilling the coconut water. She then fashions a spoon from the husk so I can scoop the meat after drinking the water. I happily walk back to the pavilion with coconut, straw, and husk spoon in hand. Shortly after, Andy arrives from his expedition. The heat of the Indonesian summer day was apparent from the sweat pouring off him. He sat and rested while I bought him a nutrient and electrolyte filled coconut. We were both replenished from our afternoon snack and had enough energy to tackle our last tour of the day.
Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary
We seriously heeded the warnings that the monkeys are untamed and will try to grab items from one’s hand or in someone’s pocket. Andy and I were careful not to have any food or bags with us. We also used hidden wallet pouches under our shirts for our valuables since we didn’t want to leave them in the car. How do I even begin to describe this beautiful place?The forest sanctuary is lush. There is even a very old and tall Banyan tree with branches or “aerial prop roots” (Wikipedia) that look like giant vines hanging about 2 stories high. The monkeys were everywhere and they are not tame. They were not a bother because we were respectful of their space so we were for the most part ignored by monkeys. It was easy for us to be safe since there were other tourists who were gutsy (stupid) enough to try and taunt the monkeys for their attention. We did buy a couple of bananas from a vendor so we can have our “safe” interaction with the monkeys. A woman told us how to stand still, close together, and hold the fruit with our outstretched hand. A monkey climbed Andy’s shoulder first to take the banana from his hand and then crossed over our shoulders to me and took mine.
Paon Bali Cooking Class
It is still amazing to me how we were able to fit all our tours in one day, plus a cooking class. We barely had time for a quick shower at the hotel before the Paon Bali Cooking Class ride arrived. Other soon to be cooks were also picked up from their respective hotels and made a happy, hungry, bunch of 10 people from all over the world. I think Paon has to be the best cooking class in Ubud. It was organized and every detail was well thought out. The food was cooked by us in a timely manner while also learning more about Balinese cooking. The staff helped a lot in finishing the cooking process so we can start prepping other ingredients for the next dish. Our dinner was a spread of coconut chicken skewers, gado-gado (vegetables in peanut sauce), green bean stir fry, fried tempeh in garlic chili sauce, fish steamed in banana leaves, and chicken curry. It was a learning experience for us since we loved what we had been eating in Bali and Jogjakarta. We finally understood that the food in Indonesia is so good because the dishes are made of several spices prepared, layer by layer, flavor by flavor.
Day 7 Denpasar
Hilton Garden Inn
Our time in Indonesia was coming to a close. Andy and I slept in and relaxed until check out time then payed a ride to take us back to Denpasar/Bali. I wish I can say that our last meal in Bali was amazing but it was not. It was one of the few times that we didn’t check the reviews for a place and our dinner in a seafood restaurant by Jimbaran beach was not very good.
I can’t express in words the magnitude of being in structures that have stood for hundreds of years. The temples had us speechless and awestruck as we try to take in the intricacies of the many reliefs and stone carvings that detail every surface. Our travel to Indonesia was an adventure and it was amazing.
Jogjakarta was daunting since Andy and I weren’t married at the time we visited. I read travel forums that the law doesn’t seem to apply to foreigners and non-Muslims. It’s a gray area but my other concern was that I look Indonesian. Our hotel didn’t ask for proof of marriage (just passports) and the staff assumed we were married by calling us “Mr. and Mrs.”
We were also greeted during one of our walks by a bystander. He asked if I was Indonesian. I clarified that I was a Filipino. The man smiled and nodded permissively while saying “American and Filipino good.” The encounter was friendly but a bit odd and we’ve since speculated what it might have meant. We didn’t feel threatened by the curious man and maybe we would have had a great conversation with him if not for the language barrier. In most Asian cultures, it is common and also customary to ask people personal questions. It’s a way to find common ground for a friendly chat. It was also interesting to see a hotel sign saying “Married Couples Only” outside the Prambanan compound.
Andy and I usually try to avoid staying in large hotel chains but we had points/credit to use. It saves money but keep in mind that Indonesia is one of the most affordable countries to tour in. Do your research and chat with people who know Bali and Jogjakarata. Travel forums are great resource sites! I chatted a lot about the in’s and outs of Bali with Rachel from Grateful Gypsies (here). Her tips and advice were all valuable. I learned about downloading and using the Bluebird app from her. I’m not sure why I didn’t try to chat with people about Yogyakarta but pieced together information for our visit instead. Websites for Yogyakarta: Tripadvisor (here), A Travellers Journey (here), Leave Your Daily Hell (here).
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