The Beauty of East Java
Friday, September 30, 2016 @ 3:36 AM

A year ago, we decided to take an adventurous week-long trip from East Java to Bali - independently. Which means, no tour guides, no pre-arranged transportations, no domestic flights. It was a blast. We flew into Surabaya, made our way through Malang, Probolinggo, Cemoro Lawang, Ijen and Banyuwangi on public transports like trains, buses and taxis as much as we could, before taking a bus-on-ferry to Seminyak, Bali.


Within hours of touchdown in Surabaya, we witnessed a daylight robbery whilst dragging our luggages along the street in bid to get SIM cards for our phones. A lady screamed, and when we turned to look, a man had hopped onto the back of his accomplice's motorbike and sped off waving a sickle in one hand. Her branded handbag was snatched from her in the process. It was unnerving to just witness the crime. We decided to give up exploring Surabaya and head straight to Gubeng Train Station. The cab driver who took us there told us that Surabaya is generally a safe city and the incident was one-off when we recounted the incident to him though.

Trains in East Java are tricky. There is no way to find out the train schedule for the day unless you make your way to the train stations in advance. There, we bought our tickets to Malang. We also managed to purchase our SIM cards from a small shop across the street from the station after asking some locals for directions.

Train Rides

We took multiple train rides in this trip, and to me, it was the most enjoyable mode of transport. The trains were comfy, with ample space for us to sleep comfortably, and the food we bought on board were delicious. The trains we took were mostly empty with a few friendly locals here and there. The kids on board were cute. They will smile back at you when you do, and pose for the camera when they see one pointing towards them. Some were shy, but some were cheeky.

Our 4-hour train ride from Surabaya to Malang was fuss-free. We stuck our legs atop our luggages and fell right asleep. We felt safe and comfortable throughout the ride.

It was already night when we reached Malang. Hordes of taxi-drivers stood outside the station, but we were weary for from research, we knew the drill. It would be "expensive" because we were tourist, and we were adamant not to fall prey to them. We however met some Ojeks who offered to ride us to our hotel at a small fee of SGD2 each.

The Ojeks in Malang are like the trishaws in Singapore, but at one-tenth of the price. It was an amazing experience as we made our way on the ojeks with the night breeze in our hair through the dark road to our hotel. We did feel quite bad though, because we could hear the old man huffing and puffing as he cycled two of us with our luggages, struggling to catch up with his friend in the front with our two other friends. We gave them an additional SGD1 each for their hardwork - it wasn't too much for us, but they thanked us profusely with genuine smiles on their faces anyway. I fell in love with Malang there and then.

Batu Secret Zoo

Our main aim to stopover in Malang was for Batu Secret Zoo and it definitely did not disappoint! We had around 3-hours to explore the zoo because we had a train to catch in the evening, and it was a rush to finish the whole park. There was even a little amusement park in the zoo where the rides are all free! Definitely worth the stopover if you love animals.

The taxi ride to Batu Secret Zoo was about an hour long and it costed us approximately SGD8. The drivers in Malang are very friendly, and we could feel how much they love Malang from the way they would enthusiastically share about the fun things we could do in Malang - so much so that we felt it was a pity that we only had half a day for the place! Malang is my favourite place in East Java, no doubt about it. I would love to go back to the zoo again if I visit Malang again.

Probolinggo - Cemoro Lawang

With heavy hearts, we left Malang for Probolinggo on a train, from where we would make our way to Cemoro Lawang, the base to start our hike to Mount Bromo.

Probolinggo was totally different from Malang. While in Malang the people were generally friendly, we immediately became weary in Probolinggo, where touts were everywhere. We stood out like a sore thumb with our luggages - tourists who will need their help to get to Cemoro Lawang, and they knew it.

They worked smart, as we soon realised. Tonnes of internet research did not stop us from falling for their traps. First, they offer a small amount, like a dollar or two, to cheat you into boarding one of their little vans. Then, they drive you to one of their many shops where they will promote all kinds of tour packages to unsuspecting tourists. They even offered to buy us dinner from street vendors nearby - a mee goreng or two for a fee.

A tip for future travellers: try to arrive in the day. There are public buses up to Cemoro Lawang that costs less than half of what private vans costs, although they only move off when the van is filled.

We refused to take up their tour packages and walked along the road with our luggages, passing by various similar shops. The main bus station wasn't too far ahead, and we had our Google Maps with us. In the end though, we still fell prey to the private buses because it was night time and there were no more local buses heading up to the base of the volcano. I think we each paid close to SGD10 for the private ride up to Cemoro Lawang that night.

Read about our climb up Mount Bromo here!

We made our way down from Cemoro Lawang the next morning on the public bus which costed us SGD3 each. It was not as comfortable as a private van, but it was a satisfying experience nonetheless.

Probolinggo - Banyuwangi

Our initial plan was to take the train to Banyuwangi from Probolinggo train station, but as I said, and I will say it again, the people at Probolinggo will go to the end of the world to persuade you into their tourist traps. Please, do not make the same mistake as us and stick to your plan.

As soon as we disembarked from the public bus, the locals came up to us to question our plans. We asked for directions to the train station, but were immediately persuaded otherwise. "Take the bus," they say. "It is faster." "The train only departs at 1pm, which is a long wait." We had no way to verify the train schedule as we had to be there to check the schedule for the day, and we were tired from our hike up Mount Bromo just that morning, so it was not difficult to persuade us to stray from our initial plan to take a train, which brings us to the next mode of transport - the bus.

We were told that the bus will come at 12noon (it was 11.30am at that time) and we could have our lunch while we waited for the bus. It wasn't expensive, probably around SGD7 each, but it was quite a horrible experience nonetheless. It was after 12nn when we finished our lunch, but the bus would always be "coming in 10mins" each time we asked. It wasn't until 1 or 1.30pm before the bus finally came. And lo and behold, we were the pretty much the only tourists on the packed bus.

It was a horrible experience not just because it was packed, unlike the train which was probably cheaper (our train ride never costed more than SGD7 per person) and more spacious, but the perverse behaviour of the males who escorted us to our bus. Our male friend was in the washroom when the bus arrived, and us three being females, were worried that they might leave him behind. We refused to get on the bus before he came back. Despite us repeatedly saying "no", they persisted on making us take a picture with them, and one even groped my female friend's bottom when we boarded the bus. It was not until halfway on the bus ride before she told us of the incident.

Not only that, halfway through our bus ride, we were made to change to another bus, this time non-air conditioned and packed to the brim that we had no seats to rest. The bus made multiple stops along the way (definitely a public bus that does not cost SGD7 per person) and had people board and alight at each stop. The bus also sped like it was in a F1 race when it was single lane, with the opposite lane driving in the opposite direction. We slept not a single wink on the bus ride because it was such an harrowing experience watching the driver navigate through the traffic and overtaking the cars on the single lane road. There was even once where he made such an emergency break that everyone, including the locals, got a slight scare. Although it was definitely 100percent a local experience, it is not an experience I would love to relive again.

We managed to arrive safely at Banyuwangi. It was evening by the time we arrived. We had the best dinner at a roadside street stall next to our hotel. It was cheap, approximately SGD0.80 per plate of local foodfare, and we even got an extra plate to share because it was so good. The amiable hawker spoke not much english, but it was clear to see that he was delighted that we enjoyed his food so much.

Banyuwangi - Kawah Ijen

We arranged for a jeep to bring us from our hotel to the foot of Kawah Ijen since there were four of us. It was safer than taking four different motorbikes up the mountain, although it was an experience I was looking forward to.

Kawah Ijen was definitely on a different level scale as compared to Mount Bromo! While it took us around 1.5hours to scale Mount Bromo independently of jeeps or donkeys, it took us around 6-7hours to complete the whole mountaineering experience for Kawah Ijen. The hike up was much more tedious as the path was steeper with minimal stairs. Read about our climb up Kawah Ijen here!

Banyuwangi - Bali

The climb at Kawah Ijen marked our last day in East Java. We read that it is cheaper to board a ferry from the ferry terminal in Ketapang to Gilimanuk in Bali before catching a bus from there to Seminyak, Bali. We were however, offered a bus-on-ferry ride which costs SGD7 per person, and it will bring us straight from the terminal to Bali without having to alight and wait for the bus. We gladly took on that offer because we were so worn out from the climb.

It was not a bad decision though, we were one of the first few on the bus, so we got to choose our seats (we took up the whole back row) and as childish as it may sound, we were extremely excited when our bus was loaded into the ferry like cargo and we were transported across the sea just like that! There was no need to even get up from our seat at all. We were literally ferried to Bali before the bus disembarked from the ferry and continued on its 4-5hours journey to Seminyak, Bali.

That concludes the first part of our trip in Indonesia. We spent a few days exploring Bali before some of us broke off from the crew to Tulamben for diving before joining the rest back at Seminyak to chill again. It was one of my best trip to Indonesia.

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