Java, the most populated island in Indonesia, attracts many travellers each year and it’s easy to see why. Consisting of 6 provinces from Banten in the West all the way to East Java, this island has some world-famous attractions such as Mount Bromo and Borobudur Temple. However, they are not the only gems in Java. There are many other beautiful lesser-known destinations that are mostly frequented by the locals or domestic travellers. So let’s explore some other marvellous places in Java from the local perspective!
Conquer Java Like A Local
1) Kota Tua: Colonial Architecture in the Heart of the Capital
Jakarta is the economic and political centre of Indonesia, and that’s why many tourists often cross Jakarta off their travel itinerary in Indonesia. Most tourists drop by only for a short transit as they think they aren’t much to explore here. However, Jakarta packs so much more than an economic hub.
Its historical Kota Tua (Old Town) area shows its vibrancy during weekend or holiday. This area is the heart of Jakarta’s history with quite a number of museums, historical buildings and monuments. One of my favourite is the Jakarta History Museum! Built in 1710 as the Dutch City Hall, the museum today displays objects from the prehistory period of the city region until the Independence in 1945.
If you get to spend the whole day in Kota Tua, step into the Wayang Museum, Cafe Batavia, and the Fine Art and Ceramic Museum – they will transport you back in time. The grand structure and intricate ornaments will definitely put you in awe. You can also rent the colourful old-school bicycles to cycle around the Old Town in style! Hundreds or even thousands of locals usually crowd Fatahillah Square during weekends, so try to drop by on a weekday or weekend early morning.
Where to Stay
Where to stay in Jakarta?
Located in Central Jakarta, Pullman Hotel is within a 10-minute walk of Plaza Indonesia and Grand Indonesia Shopping Mall. This is one of the most reputable hotels you can find in Jakarta, and its strategic location makes it an excellent choice if you don’t want to get trapped indefinitely in Jakarta’s infamous traffic jam while navigating around the city.
2) Kawah Putih: White Crater Lake
Located just 50 km south of Bandung, the capital city of West Java, Kawah Putih (or White Crater) gave a mystical sensation that you can rarely find elsewhere. Stepping into Kawah Putih is like entering a different realm! The dormant crater lake radiates an otherworldly pale white colour, coupled with surreal turquoise water. The green hill in the background just made everything look so isolated and tranquil at the same time.
During the WWII, the Japanese military took control of this area for mining activities. Today, visitors still can see the various entry points of the tunnels, although they have been closed for safety reasons. Nevertheless, you can still smell a strong sulphur odour from these openings.
Kawah Putih is a favourite destination among locals living in Bandung and its surrounding area who want to immerse themselves in the enchanting beauty of nature while escaping the hectic city life.
If you are planning to stay longer in Bandung, Tangkuban Perahu, a small volcano located 30 km north of the city, is also worth a visit. Tangkuban Perahu means “upturned boat” in the local language which refers to the legend of its creation by a man named Sangkuriang. It is also the only crater in Indonesia that you can drive up to its very rim!
3) Gedong Songo: A Beautiful 9-Temple Complex on a Hill
Gedong Songo Temple is a group of small 8th century Hindu Javanese temples, which are located in Ambarawa town, 40 km south of Semarang (the capital of Central Java province).
Gedong Songo is one of the most beautiful temple complexes in Central Java, and the views alone are worth the trip. On clear days, visitors can witness a long stretch of volcanoes on the horizon, from Mount Lawu in the east, Mount Sumbing, Mount Sindoro to Dieng Plateau in the west.
The name Gedong Songo, which translates into nine buildings, is not the original name of this site. It was inspired by the nine small temples located within the compound. The best time to visit would be early morning or late afternoon when the sun is not too hot. Do yourself a favour by bringing some food for a picnic while you are at it — that’s what the locals normally do!
4) Punthuk Setumbu: A Hill with a Sunrise Like You’ve Never Seen
Punthuk Setumbu Hill is one of the lesser known hills that boasts the most breathtaking and memorable sunrise views in Java.
Located near the world-famous Borobudur Temple, Setumbu Hill can be reached in 1.5 hours from Yogyakarta by car. To watch the majestic sunrise, you should reach the hill before 05.30 AM (yep, it means waking up at before 4 AM!).
Your struggle doesn’t end there! Upon reaching the viewpoint, you should beat the crowd and quickly set up your tripod with your best lens! The sun will rise slowly from behind two grand mountains called Merapi and Merbabu, and on their right, you will see the world’s largest Buddhist temple, Borobudur, slowly emerging amidst the mist. So get there early to find the picture-perfect spot for the sunrise!
After you are done enjoying the gorgeous sunrise, walk downhill to Gereja Ayam (Chicken Church) located nearby. Despite the name, it is not a church, but a prayer place open to anyone that was constructed by a local man. Although the construction was stopped and the building was left abandoned, the site deserves the short detour from Setumbu Hill.
Where to Stay
Where to stay?
Manohara Hotel is my top pick as it is strategically located just next to Borobudur Temple. Besides the excellent service and comfortable room, Manohara Hotel also offers its guests an exclusive Borobudur sunrise package that allows visitors to enter the temple complex before the official opening time to enjoy the magnificent sunrise.
5) Parangkusumo: Sand Dunes in a Tropical Country
Java has almost anything you can ask for, and this includes sand dunes and sand boarding! Located 30 km south of Yogyakarta, Gumuk Pasir Parangkusumo indeed resembles a mini desert, although with a bit too much plantation.
Locals would visit the place for some “Instagram-worthy” photos or selfies. Some adrenaline junkies would love sand boarding and you can rent the equipment from a shop nearby. Sand dunes are pretty rare around the Equator, so it is no surprise that Parangkusumo is a popular spot for pre-wedding photos. Even a few local movies are filmed here!
How to get around Java?
Despite being a single island, Java is immensely huge! Travelling by land to cover all the places listed above is not so recommended, as it will take too much time. The best solution would be to book multiple flights across the big cities and to rent a car in these cities to get to the surrounding area during the day.
Major airports throughout Java serve both international and domestic flights:
- Jakarta (Jakarta Special Region)
- Bandung (West Java Province)
- Semarang (Central Java Province)
- Yogyakarta (Yogyakarta Special Region)
- Surabaya (East Java Province)
You might want to try taking the local train once in a while! The ride will definitely be longer and not as comfortable as taking a plane, but it’s a good chance to witness the local culture. There is always a charm in travelling side by side with the locals and train is the perfect way to break the barrier. Be prepared to get pleasantly surprised by the locals’ friendliness on train as well as the authentic local food on sale at the train stations!
Where to stay in Java?
There are plenty of hotels in every big city of Java, so accommodation should not be a major issue. However, be careful if you are travelling during the high season because the big reputable ones can get fully booked real quick, leaving you with sky-high prices or below-average rooms. Other than the above-mentioned Pullman Hotel Jakarta and Manohara Hotel Borobudur, you can click here to take a look at other hotels too.
Is that everything that Java can offer?
Given the vastness of Java island, this article can only cover a small fraction of all the gems this island can offer. The densely populated island also boasts a few world-famous destinations, such as Borobudur and Mount Bromo, and it would be unfair not to mention them at all.
Borobudur Temple is biggest Buddhist monument in the world, and was built in the 8th and 9th centuries AD. It has ten terraces correspond to the ten stages that the Bodhisattva has to achieve before attaining to Buddhahood.
Borobudur Temple is located near Yogyakarta (very close to Setumbu Hill), and it would be best to visit the temple early morning after witnessing the sunrise (either at Setumbu Hill or from within the temple complex itself).
Probably the most famous mountain in Java (or even in the region!), Mount Bromo offers an incredible view and experience without any strenuous hiking.
Most travellers stay overnight at Cemoro Lawang, a small village located near to the viewpoints before going to the summit. The nearest international airport would be in Surabaya, the capital of East Java province.
Java has (not) been conquered
Truth be told, Java can never be conquered even by the locals. This vast island continues to surprise travellers at every turn and every corner. There will always be new places to be discovered, new faces to be seen, new delicacies to be tasted and new opportunities to be seized.
Final piece of advice: to explore Java like a local, ditch those travel guides and maps; ask around for help and trust your instinct because the best experience Java can offer will never take place if you are merely following those guidebooks. Time to explore Java like a local!