The time I arrived in Indonesia with one friend, but left knowing five.
It was a rainy Saturday morning. We stayed up a bit too late on Friday night, packing and planning and chatting. But it didn’t affect us too much. We were too excited about going to a new country, about our recess week starting, and for me about going to the SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE for the first time in my life.
Originally, when I picked Singapore I had thought that it was in the Southern Hemisphere. But, it wasn’t. My poor geographical knowledge ruined my chances at visiting the bottom half of the world. I figured that I could just travel to Australia while in Singapore and I would get it done, but when I started looking at flights from Singapore’s Changi airport to Sydney, or Melbourne they ranged in price from $400-$1000 round trip. And that was just the flight. A trip to Sydney for a week might cost me $2500 even from Singapore. I guess that’s a deal if I was coming from Calgary, but when my lunch today cost me $2.80 (Roast Chicken Rice AND a Soup), my definition of expensive is a bit warped.
So I was bummed.
But as September picked up and I started chatting more about recess break with the other international students I found that a lot of them were interested in going to Bali. To be honest, I didn’t really know what ‘Bali’ was. Was it a country, an island, a city, a resort, or a beach?
Bali is an island in the country of Indonesia. There are cities on the island of Bali, like Kuta and Ubud.
I ended up choosing to go to Indonesia with one of my closer exchange friends, Steven, from Sweden who is studying in Glasgow. It was just us two as the other two friends that I’m close with had a class during recess week. 🙁
Nonetheless, we were enthusiastic about visiting a country that we had both never been to! Not to mention, doing it in the middle of a semester of school!
Steven did most of the research before we booked the trip. He wanted to go to Jakarta, Lombok island, and Bali island. As I really didn’t know anything about any of these places, I basically said, to book his trip and then just x2 for everything.
I ended up letting him book everything and just paid him afterwards. This was nice to not have to think about a trip and just go along with whatever was planned. 🙂
Soon enough, our departure day arrived.
It was one of those days where you wake up just before your alarm rings. I avoided hearing the dreaded “constellation” sound on my iPhone. I’m not sure how I picked that sound, but I’ve grown accustomed to waking up to it after 8 weeks of using it in Singapore.
The time was 6:29am. I knew I had to get dressed, brush my teeth and REMEMBER to put my toothbrush and tooth paste in my luggage. I had practiced this in every trip I had ever been on, but my success rate for remembering to bring my toothbrush is somewhere between a C+ and a B-.
This time I remembered :D.
I gathered my final packing items and jetted off to Steven’s room just after 7am. We had planned to leave NTU at 7am as we knew we were a 15 minute bus ride and 2 hour train ride away and we weren’t sure about the connections involved.
As I dragged my wheeled luggage on the sidewalk between my dorm room and his, my hands felt every bump and imperfection in the pavement. Little did I know, these would be the smallest of inconveniences that I would have with my luggage.
I knocked on Steven’s door and decided to just open it. It was unlocked. Steven was sitting shirtless by his computer, just chatting with his Swedish friends. I reminded him of the time, and he found a shirt on the floor and got dressed.
We headed toward the bus stop as the drizzle of rain became more prominent. It was still alright, but as more water collected on the road, more water was tossed up by the wheels of my luggage.
The train ride felt short. Time seemed to have squeezed itself together and in a bit longer than a blink of my eye we were exiting the enormous 6 car train that had just spanned the entire distance of Singapore.
After navigating a small maze of escalators and airport signs we printed our boarding passes with ease. Despite Scoot being a ‘budget’ airliner, their process was top notch.
We checked the time and found that we were well ahead of schedule, definitely enough for the quick breakfast we skipped back on campus.
The prices were slightly more than campus prices. But that’s just the way airports are, so it was no problem.
We passed through an incredibly efficient set of security measures in Changi airport. None of the hour long TSA security lines that I was used to back in Calgary and at other American destinations. Although, later we would find out that there was another more stringent security check point at each gate.
We reached our gate in due time and I sent off an instagram (@maximillian.hum) update.
The flight to Jakarta was relatively uneventful, a minor delay, minor turbulence, and a standard landing. Exiting the plane onto the tarmac is standard practice on this side of the world, so I imagine people who don’t have good physical mobility would have tremendous challenges.
Upon landing at CGK (Jakarta’s airport call sign) we found ourselves utterly clueless. For some reason, the thought of learning at least a few words of Indonesian never crossed my mind.
I think being in Singapore and not needing another language might have played a small part.
We exited the airport and faced an onslaught of drivers petitioning to take us to the city for 300,000 Indonesian Rupiah. Each one explaining why they had the best ‘deal’. Steven was steadfast in his negotiating and didn’t give in to offers of “how much you pay,” or “I give you best price.” When we countered with 100,000 IDR the driver simply replied “not possible.” As soon as he realized that we weren’t going to become his newest victims he left us alone.
We both decided that the McDonalds breakfast sandwiches we had earlier had evaporated in our stomachs and that we needed to try some authentic Ayam Penyet!
…or as authentic as you can get while still at the airport.
From the previous 8 weeks in Singapore I learned that ‘Ayam’ means chicken in Indonesian and ‘Penyet’ means fried. So I guess I did know a few words in Indonesian after all!
Steven and I sat down at the one restaurant outside the arrivals terminal and made our first purchase in Indonesia. Two Ayam Penyets!
They were small chickens, and they were not the best. But we wanted some food and I couldn’t complain even if I wanted to because our cook/waitress didn’t know English.
We happily paid our combined bill of 50,000 IDR ($5CAD) and proceeded to the Sim card booth.
We both purchased the default Sim Cards that came with 1GB of data. I believe they were 160,000 IDR or ($16CAD).
After paying for our Sim Cards, I had the most challenging language barrier encounter I had ever experienced.
Since we had declined the expensive full service taxis, we relied on Google Maps to tell us that we needed to board a bus. Which bus, I was not sure. Where exactly we were supposed to catch this bus. Again, not sure.
I’ve just realized that buses have consistently given me trouble.
After a few minutes of pondering we decided to take our chances and walk towards the place that was indicated on our phones. We left the terminal and parsed our way through the hot, humid air.
After the sweat had become apparent to everyone around me, we finally reached the bus area. It was only a 10 minute walk.
I approached the booth to buy tickets, hoping that the ticket lady would be able to speak enough English to get us on our way. With enough make shift sign language to make me cringe, we figured out that a bus to Gambon would serve our purposes.
We waited (not-so) patiently in the shade, which was still about 10 degrees hotter than inside the terminal. The bus depot was on the larger side of bus depots and didn’t have very good signage. So we needed to stay alert in case the bus to Gambon showed up without a proper announcement. We also realized we wouldn’t be able to understand the announcement even if it did happen.
Our bus eventually came and all was well. By this time, it was mid-afternoon and we had just been through a very long travel day. My eyes grew heavy and I dozed off.
At first, a two hour bus ride sounds horrific. A two hour bus ride after a two hour train ride, half hour delay and two and a half hour plane ride sounds… very horrific.
But it wasn’t so. We were in a new country, and every experience was new. Even the transportation.
Transportation was a theme of our travels. Over the course of our eight days in Indonesia I’m pretty sure that we spent more time getting to the place than being at the place. EVERY PLACE.
When I woke up I was in a new city. A really big city. Jakarta is the second largest metropolitan area in the world. Only Tokyo is bigger in size and population. This was a cool fact that made getting around really not cool.
The saving grace was that Uber and Grab (Uber competitor) were very inexpensive in Indonesia. A typical ride was less than $5 CAD. A fact that we only found out after our very long, very arduous journey from where the Gambon Bus dropped us off and where our accommodation was.
Upon our arrival in the big city we checked our phones to see just where we needed to go. It was only a 30 minute walk. We decided this was no problem to trek ourselves and waved away all of the tourist trap drivers.
The mid-day sun was both the star that lit the way and the reason my shirt looked like I had worn it in the shower. The bumpy sidewalk in Singapore was as smooth as a baby’s bottom in comparison to the infrastructure in Jakarta.
Carrying luggage with you in any city after a long travel day sucks. I remember days when I travelled with my mother to Manhattan. Carrying our big 50 lbs luggage up the stairs in the subway made me vow to never do that again. Little did I know that the filthy subways of New York were considerably cleaner than the rusting Ped-ways of Jakarta.
At one point there was an enormous traffic circle. It spanned 4 or 5 lanes of cars with a beautiful fountain in the middle. Traffic circles are great tools for vehicle efficiency, they are horrible for pedestrians. Especially when there are very limited sidewalks and Ped-ways.
Upon traversing the insane traffic patterns of Jakarta’s afternoon rush we found ourselves navigating a set of half destroyed and decaying stones. The path was a bit under 2 feet wide (60cm) with cars flying by at 60 – 70 km/h. To say I felt unsafe is an understatement.
We walked along this narrow, unfriendly, unwelcoming path for a good 10 minutes. Finally, we reached the bridge we were supposed to cross.
As we pulled our luggage over the bridge we noticed just how filthy the water flowing underneath was. Imagine chocolate milk.
We made a few wrong turns, but sure enough we found our way and arrived in our pretty forgettable hotel.
No matter, we were in a new country, we had places to explore!
The first place we went to was a street market!
I bargained my way down from full price to a third of the price on several items. Even still, I think I overpaid on almost everything I purchased. Mid-way through the bartering process I grew fed up with the fact that I could only speak English and the vendors could basically not speak English so I decided to learn a bit of Indonesian.
I googled some basic Indonesian and tried my best to learn a new language that I had no background in, while walking through the busy streets of this market.
The numbers 1-10
Go to this place
Yes and No
These words were essentially enough to get me through the entire trip. Admittedly, I had a really tough time learning new things on 5 hours of sleep and after a long travel day. I guess this is to be expected, but at the time it was frustrating.
We ate some noodles at this market, and also a delicious donut!
While bartering at this market I couldn’t help but be reminded of the market we went to in KL. Jakarta felt like the KL market on steroids. I was truly out of my element, in a completely new language, with completely different tastes.
After spending about 3 or 4 hours at this market, seeing the sights, hearing the sounds, learning the language, and tasting the food, we decided to check out the ‘Chinatown’ in Jakarta.
We got a tuktuk driver to take us there!
We left the market and talked to a tuktuk driver. He held up 5 fingers, and I said ‘lima!’? my newly acquired Indonesian vocabulary. He nodded and we went into the back of the Tuktuk. Before he went off, his friend pushed his hand into the cabin and asked us to pay him. I thought that this was a bit odd, but I took out a 5000 IDR note and put it into his hand. A second later we were full speed ahead into the crazy Jakarta traffic.
En route we experienced almost crashing more times than I can remember. At least that is my Canadian traffic impression of Jakarta. Steven has spent quite a bit of time in Vietnam where near misses are still considered misses and thus the standard. Speeding through intersections of traffic and weaving in and out of lanes with people riding bicycles, next to walkers, next to motorcyclists, next to Tuktuks, next to cars, next to busses made me very uncomfortable. But I soon adjusted and learned to simply accept my new level of danger tolerance. The entire first day was shocking, but by the end of the week-long trip I had grown accustomed to the Indonesian way of life.
The driver ended up dropping us by some warehouse that we had no idea about. He demanded a 50,000 note and our altercation even drew the attention of other locals who supposedly had better English. By the time we actually took out our wallets, 3 people had arrived at the scene. They were all telling us to pay the man 50,000. The only reason we were reluctant was because we thought we had agreed to 5000. And we had already paid another guy 5000.
After a few of these unfortunate events, we decided to start calling them “getting bamboozled.”
Being ‘bamboozled’ sucks.
It happened a lot.
But we shook it off and just attributed it to the cost of travelling in Indonesia. This way of living is part of the travel experience and makes for more interesting stories. And either way, it was still only ($5 CAD) so honestly not the biggest of deals.
The bigger issue was that, we had no idea where he had dropped us off at. And it definitely didn’t look like Chinatown.
We eventually found our way using GPS and Google maps, and found ourselves walking on a pseudo street market with minor Chinese influences. Certainly not the Chinatown that I had expected, or that I had grown accustom to in Singapore, or KL.
This got boring quickly.
So we called another Grab and went off to the one part of Jakarta that I planned. Lara Djonggrang.
I had seen this restaurant in a blog post I had read earlier. I can’t remember exactly where I found it, but it turned out to be a really good find.
The most expensive meal I had in Indonesia…was not that expensive by Canadian standards. I ordered a cocktail, 2 appetizers, and an enormous main course. In total it costed 25 Canadian dollars. The restaurant was beautiful. Beautiful in every sense of the word. The entrance way felt like a scene in Eat, Pray, Love. The furniture seemed as though it had been chosen to display what an Indonesian palace hundreds of years ago might have looked like. We crossed over man-made water fixtures and tiny ponds with fish swimming in them. There was a luxurious seating area a few feet (80cm) from the water. The doors were ornate and the tables were set up like a fancy restaurant. There was a freshly lit candle in the middle of our table and our waiters spoke the best English we heard all trip.
This was a nice restaurant.
The food was great! I had a type of spring roll and some vegetables that were stewed in some kind of broth. They were crisp and tasted fresh, yet they also had depth to them. The first thing you taste was distinctly different than the last thing you tasted. This characteristic makes any food stand out. It takes average food and levels it up to exquisite food.
The Spring rolls came with a sauce that resembled a type of peanut flavour. This is typical with a lot of spring rolls so I wasn’t too surprised here. Nonetheless, a great way to start the meal.
Next came the entrée.
One thing I should note about this restaurant is that the menu was enormous. Seriously, it dwarfed any menu I had ever used before. Not just in physical size, but also with the number of choices. While flipping through the large canvas pages, I noticed myself taking several minutes just to read all the descriptions of the food.
I was originally going to get the Saté, but Steven pointed out on the last page of the menu there was a sort of ‘platter’ type dish that encompassed many of the choices on the menu. Since we were only going to be in Jakarta one night, and since I’d probably never be back at this restaurant again, we decided to go big and just take the sampling platter.
It was the right choice.
There were probably 10 different food items on this 60cm (24 inch) diameter plate. It was all new. I couldn’t even tell you what I ate, because everything was unfamiliar to me. I’m pretty sure the dish incorporated some chicken, and beef, a chip type thing, shrimp, corn, peanuts, a lot of sauces which I’m not sure about, curry, a mysterious vegetable, a sweet potato-like thing and many other unidentifiable food bits.
I can say that for the most part, this dish was delicious. It was a wonderful way to enjoy dinner on our first night in Indonesia!
The second best restaurant all trip was Taliwang Ayam Nyaman!
This restaurant was so good that we ate at it twice! The first time was for lunch before exploring a monkey forest, and the second was for dinner with very special people we met at Lara Djonggrang.
The first time was simply to try some high quality Indonesian cuisine. We found the restaurant via Trip advisor, and because of it, we used trip advisor the entire time in Indonesia. Turns out, this was an excellent decision and certainly one of the highlights of the trip.
After eating here the first time, we thought we would probably never come back, because we were only in Lombok for a few days and there were probably many other choices!
On our last night in Lombok, we had grown quite fond of the people we had met over the previous two evenings and decided to take them back to our favourite restaurant on the island!
How it all happened:
The first dinner we had in Jakarta was an exquisite and fairly intimate affair. The restaurant wasn’t overly busy. In the room where we were seated, there were 2/10 other occupied tables when we arrived. Halfway through our meal, another group came into our room. They glanced at our food and made a few comments out loud about how good it looked. We smiled and nodded.
We didn’t think anything of the encounter so we simply finished our food and enjoyed the evening.
The next day we had an eventful day in Jakarta visiting the national monument, taking photos with locals, and eating street food, all before we left on our evening flight to Lombok.
Lombok was fantastic, our hotel was a 5 minute walk from the beach and we went every single day! But after dinner on the first full day in Lombok both Steven and I were looking for something to do. It was off season in Lombok and Bali, which was part of the reason we were able to stay for such an affordable price. But, it also meant not a lot was happening.
We were walking on the main street in Sengigi, the town we were staying in, when we happened to see the group of people who commented on our food in Lara Djanggrang two nights earlier!
In the moment, it seemed ridiculous. Unbelievably unlikely, and ridiculous. But after a fair amount of hesitation and back and forth, I said let’s do it! So we followed them into a random restaurant and said hello. Steven was the one that recognized them so he led the conversation. I’m glad he did, because I don’t know that I could have been that brazen in that moment. (Since that action, I’ve now had lunch with a random person in the cafeteria. I know these actions don’t turn out very often, but knowing that I CAN makes me very happy.)
We ended up joining these random people we saw in Jakarta and learned about their stories.
Robert was a material scientist who worked for Michelin in Paris and is now doing solar technology research in China. He met his girlfriend Ji Wen in the same lab while he was in Paris. She originally is from China, but is still working in the same lab in Paris. Hui wen is Ji Wen’s sister and is studying finance in China and her boyfriend Zheng Zhao is studying communications also in China.
Something that added a layer of novelty to this chance encounter was the fact that Robert was celebrating his 32 or 33 birthday the week we met them. I don’t really have any encounters with 30-year-olds outside of family. This was an awesome experience and they were really great people to meet and befriend.
We ended up trading advice for things to do on the island. They ended up visiting the monkey forest and on our last day we went snorkelling with sea turtles together! Recounting the experience now seems cool, but not as extra-ordinary as I remember it feeling in the moment. Making bold decisions made this trip even more exciting and memorable than it already was going to be. And I couldn’t be happier!
Going outside your comfort zone to travel to a new country is a wonderful way to live life. Taking that mentality with you on your trip will bring even more surprises! Push yourself, get uncomfortable, and never take a day for granted!