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Motorcycle Paradise

Motorcycling Indonesia – East Java volcano tour

I had an idea to do a ride in Indonesia for a while now.Mentioning I will ride Indonesia everybody seems to say ‘oh Bali’ but IMO that is almost a different country. Phuket, Boracay and Bali - just not my thing.

(Updated 2018 – images refreshed, words trimmed and couple of new photos).

First I visited Jakarta where I was unfortunately side lined for a couple of days feeling run down with some sort of bug. Well better now than on the ride. On my last day in Jakarta I made a visit to Istiqlal Mosque. This is the largest mosque in SE Asia and I engaged a guide to firstly get me access to the mosque, and then also a explanation of the workings and to learn something about the religion of Islam. I was very fortunate to have scored an excellent guide and I got an extended tour of the mosque. I am not a religious person however I found the information very interesting and also whilst not into man made things I found the design of the mosque caught my eye every where I looked.

I am going to post three photos not by myself since my iPhone photos came out really lousy and I want to give some indication of how grand the design is.

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Inside main hall which can hold 120,000 people, by Teguh Irjayanto

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 One of the walkways by Oyi Kresnamurti

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Courtyard with minaret and the national monument in background by Afrandi Syahfril.

I took the train from Jakarta to Yogyakarta. It was a slow bumpy ride across the countryside all day in very old rolling stock. I had a window seat, I got my hotel to arrange the ticket in Jakarta and a guy tried to claim my seat but I was having nothing of it ha-ha and so enjoyed the views. There was a cooked lunch and it ended up arriving two 2 hours late but I still enjoyed it far more than taking a plane.

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In Yogyakarta I rented a motorcycle from MK Rental Yogya, who will deliver to your hotel. I chose their Honda Versa being the biggest bike they had at 150cc and with conventional gearbox and wheels. Cost is 450,000 IDR or about $37.00 US for a week and this included two new helmets and a rain suit which I think you must agree is exceptionally good value.

I took a spin around town and went to visit the nearest temple, Candi Prambanan. First thing I noticed is Indonesia is the most intense riding experience I have yet encountered, and that is saying something after Thailand, Malaysia and Philippines. There is such a high volume of bikes around you all the time. Bikes that enter the traffic do not look, it is job of traffic to let them in which is nice. You have bikes slowing and stopping on as well as merging and passing and flowing all around you. I felt like this must be how it feels in a one of those Moto3 small capacity bike races with so much happening around you all the time. At least they ride on the left hand side of road such as I am used to, not having to also rethink everything riding on wrong side (to me) of road meant I could quickly get up to  speed, literally.

As noted earlier, I’m not really into man made things and ever since visiting the pyramids in Cairo and the tombs at Luxor everything else has had a tough act to follow but I got to wear a sarong which is mandatory for foreigners on site and was adopted by the locals who all wanted photos with me. (I chose one of the funnier shots)

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Leaving Yogyakarta on the first day of my tour there was heavy traffic for awhile and I needed to get up to speed or be stuck behind the slow moving ancient buses and trucks belching out huge clouds of diesel soot. I like SE Asia but I am sure I have shortened my life 6 months by riding amongst all the soot emitted from vehicles there.

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Anyway I soon learned that you can pull out to pass with oncoming bikes as they will move over to let you share the lane with them. This happened to me all the time too. Of course riding a bike in SE Asia you must give way to oncoming cars anywhere anytime. Never ride too fast as you might at anytime need to brake sharply to move to edge of road or even off the road all together as cars will simply pull out into your lane to pass forcing you to move over.

The traffic soon thinned out and the riding became very pleasant.

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I stopped at Pacitan for lunch at a cafe and the meal was spicy chicken soup with rice and puffed rice crackers and came to just 90 cents.

The country either side was hilly with good roads and plentiful curves.

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It was late by the time I got to Tulungagung.  My route this day was about 270km according to the GPS and that was too long here.

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I stayed in a excellent business hotel in Tulungagung, quite upmarket and with a buffet breakfast which was so big I could not sample everything yet cost just $20.00 all up.

Day two my GPS went haywire. Somehow the GPS wanted to route me back to my hotel in Yogyakarta, weird. It persisted to route me all wrong and I got lost.

My destination today was the Mahameru volcano but I had lost a lot of time and thought I’ll have to take a different path now. I used Maps.me on my phone as the GPS refused to work and took a shortcut bringing me into Batu.

Stopped at a KFC hopeful of some local spicy version but alas just standard. Interesting monument at a town called Kediri which looked like the Arc de Triomphe but is called Monument Simpang Lima Gumul. From what I can tell it was built more as a commercial tool rather than to honour any past battles. Shame I missed my intended route for today.

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Motorcycles have to go to one particular bowser at petrol stations. Not sure why but it is full service and you don't have to take off helmet nor even get off the bike so it is quick. Most people seem to put a litre or so in and go. I was the only person filling up so perhaps I could have used the other pumps as my spend would have been over a limit, not sure.

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Outside of Jakarta there is only one petrol company and that is Pertamina the state controlled company but who cares when gas is only 65 cents a litre for premium.

The Honda Versa must be the most economical motorcycle I have ever ridden. I kept taking the lid off the tank to confirm the fuel gauge was accurate since it was hardly dropping but I could see the fuel was fine every time. I got to 300km and could not stand it so filled up but in fact it was still 1/3 full. Of course the bike only manages to do about 90kph but that is fast here. Sounds not much but go see and 80kph is often too fast for the conditions. Or to quote Sir Edmund Hillary from the NZ movie Beyond the Edge talking about the final assault on Everest. To try ride Indonesian roads at more than 80kph would represent an “unjustifiable risk” ha-ha.


School is out and I stopped for a ice coffee at a Indomart store which are bit like 7/11 stores but limited range of food. The guys buzz up and down the road on the scooters showing off to each other while the girls all gossip and play on their smart phones. Nothing different despite what people might imagine.

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There is an excellent climb up to Batu where I was going to base myself for two nights. The road winds its way up the valley and is rather tight and twisty but lots of fun on a small bike. As usual hard to photo those sort of roads.

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Day three I am off to see the famous Mt Bromo Volcano. Most people are said to stay nearby in overpriced hotels and rise at 3am to take Jeeps to the lookout point where it is ridiculously crowded. Well anything with crowds or sounding like a tourist trap is not for me so reading up from solo travellers it seemed that you didn't need a 4 wheel drive and that daytime viewing after the crowds left was still ok so.

I decided to take the least used of the three roads that ascend to Mt Bromo from Lawang. There wasn’t much in views along this route which services farms but the riding was interesting and at times challenging with some extreme gradients.

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Arriving at Wonokitri village it gets confusing which way to go but eventually by trial and error I found the way to the the lookout. There is a checkpoint where you need to go into an office and pay the fees to enter the national park. There are dozens of ‘Jeeps’ in the village which turn out to actually be FJ series Landcruisers.

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The road inside the park is sealed all the way and presents no challenge to ride up. I had the place to myself for most of the time.

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Of course photos, especially ones from a phone don’t do the view justice but it honestly stops you in your tracks and from your eyes is a very grand vista indeed.

After this I enjoyed a superb descent on the road to Pasuruan. After the park you are on mostly new road that winds along the plateau before slowly zig zagging down with a series of switchback curves that would put Stelvio to shame. On a small light bike such as the Versa at my modest pace they were a lot of fun.

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Hot afternoon once back to sea level in towns.

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Riding back to Batu I pass via the area of Prigen which is a scenic spot near two more volcanoes. A number of hotels with nice views here might be nice spot to stay.

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Leaving Prigen I encounter a extremely steep ascent to Mt Arjuno which is another active volcano with a sister volcano Mt Arjuna. The road was the steepest I have ever encountered, just straight up the side of mountain and I was in first gear. Once at the top I was surprised to find a lovely road with excellent surface which wound its way through the forest. This area was great riding.

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The other side was more open with fruit farms and a winding descent down to Batu with fruit stalls at every corner.

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Well day three was truly a magnificent ride full of amazing sights. Here is the route I took more or less.

Day four I left Batu which I really had not seen much of due to a poor choice of hotel which was far from the town and from anything else including food.

I wasn't expecting much today as I headed back East. I encountered very heavy traffic when I got on the main road highway 15 that runs towards Surakarta. At times the line of trucks in front seemed endless and traffic was at a standstill only the bikes could keep moving. I’d suggest trying to avoid this road.

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Things improved at Magetan a lovely little town at the base of Mt Lawu. As soon as I rode in I wanted to stay and explore but alas I could not alter my hotel booking for that night. After here the road climbed steeply over Mt Lawu with many strawberry farms along the way and stalls selling large baskets of huge red strawberries for a tiny amount, I pondered how I carry them but of course zero options on that bike with the gear I had.

The road continued to be good riding but I have no decent photos to share. Nice curves, farms and rice terraces, very scenic.

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As I got close to Surakarta the traffic intensified and the surrounds became more urbanised and grubby. I ran into afternoon heavy traffic and was very glad to get off the bike and wash the days dust and sweat away. My route day four.

I was across the road from a collection of shopping malls and so I explored those later and had a great meal in one with the help of some more very friendly locals who suggested a particular set. I really felt like a few beers to celebrate the riding going well however that is the one thing that is not so easy to find.

Last day and I was heading towards Yogyakarta in a loop via a road that goes between two more volcanoes, this being Mt Berbabu and Mt Merapi then visiting the temple at Borobudur. The road that ascends between the two volcanoes is a bit of a mess in parts but gets better then is terrific over the top. The views were superb with the smoking volcano on my left but also the soaring mountain side on my right with fruit and other crops being grown right up into the clouds!

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Seems safe.

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I somehow rode past Borobudur temple. More GPS issues, or map issues as the device was working. It took me considerable time to eventually to find the temple with off line maps due to a road that was blocked but glad I persisted. There is off site secure motor bike parking so gear can be left on bike.

I really just had a short visit but it was enjoyable and many families wanted photos with me.

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That neck tie is a cooling aid, you put it under the tap and it soaks up water which cools you as riding.

My getting lost had cost me a lot of time. It was already 1.30 pm so I ate at the temple food stands and doing the maths decided I just would have to bin the rest of my final day loop south east and ride directly back to Yogyakarta to be able to hand the bike back that afternoon as planned. I would have liked to have seen the other mountain area but I had a really a great ride so far with no flat tyres, no rain and enjoyed some terrific roads so figured I had done alright.

This ride truly exceeded my expectations. I just figured I would try see Mt Bromo and maybe get a couple of good bits of road along the way. A much higher than expected portion of the route was excellent riding. The food was great always fresh and quality ingredients. The below was a meal I had at a upmarket place with a fancy mocktail drink and it was still less than $4.00 all up.

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Indonesia is a smokers paradise, smoking is permitted anywhere and a pack costs less than one dollar. There is a lot of local rubbish burning which cause smoke haze but there is no rubbish collection so this is the norm. When I was young there was no rubbish collection where I lived in Australia so rubbish was also burned in backyards. I never felt unsafe, occasionally a little on edge but I had no problems.

While the riding there requires concentration the Indonesians don’t cut corners into the oncoming lane like the Thai’s do which can be very dangerous. There is not so much aggression.

At traffic lights in SE Asia you nearly always have a LED countdown timer which shows the remaining time on the green light and then the wait time on the red light. An interesting variation is the Indonesian ones often switch to scroll a message during the middle of the red wait time then back to the countdown for the final 15 seconds. Everyone on bikes at the front jumps the lights at about 3 seconds remaining on the red countdown to green. Funny how you adjust by day five I was beeping my horn with the rest at about 5 seconds to go for people to start rolling ha-ha. The horn is used extensively and while we westerners think using the horn is rude it is to make people aware you are passing them or otherwise draw attention to your movements so you are not bumped into. Took me awhile to get use to using it but the system works. 

Well I had a great time and I’ll certainly return to see more of Indonesia in the future.


2018 note – cannot believe I have not been back here, such a wonderful trip.

11 comments

  1. Thanks for sharing your Indonesia experience. Unfortunately I do not know much about the country (I have had Indonesian food that's all...), so it's wonderful get a glimpse of it through your eyes. It does look pretty, fairly clean, and safe.

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  2. Thanks Sonja, some areas are not so clean however mostly rubbish seems to be be burnt rather than dumped in water ways or left to accumulate such as in Philippines. It was a very interesting country and one I want to see more of but bike rental is limited to mostly West Java and Bali.

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  3. Thanks for sharing your riding experience in Indonesia. It's really revealing to read "outsider" reviewing your own folk. Really refreshing & some parts make me laugh :-bd.

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    1. Really want to come back but the time I am free is early in the year when it rains more which is not good for riding but I will get there perhaps next year.

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  4. How much money did you take on your trip?

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    1. I don't recall the total cost but travelling in Indonesia was very good value. I remember at the time the prices for anything was half similar in Thailand.

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  5. You should travel to Vietnam and experience the traffic there, maybe compare to Indonesia haha. The landscape you capture on your way is stunning, I must travel there some time in the future.

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  6. It was funny story haha
    However I have some tips for you, if you do some trip again, you can try to find some bikers/some motorcycle club and asking them to help you find a place that you looking for, or just guide you so you don't have to affraid if you lost your GPS connection...actually, the road that have pass to mount bromo was very dangerous on criminal activity even it was a daylight...many dangerous road in java, and make sure you don't ride alone.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks I never felt in any danger but there was s couple of road blocks on the small roads to Mt Bromo where guys had buckets for donations which I thought was legit but perhaps it wasn't? I never stopped either time just riding past so maybe I avoided trouble that way. Also wearing a helmet and sunglasses I was not immediately visible as s tourist.

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    2. That's great to hear you haven't any problem...

      Thumbs up for your barvery hittng very busy and aggresive road on my country, that's cool thing as a tourist done I ever knew
      Please come here again

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