04.11.2014 - 09.11.2014 32 °C
Yogjakarta is a relatively small city not too far from Solo. It only took us an hour to get here by car. We booked ourselves in for two nights. The city is home to Borobudur, the famous Buddhist temple built in the 9th century. It’s an astounding sight given its age and the only religious attraction I’ve been more impressed with so far is Angkor Wat in Cambodia.
During our trip we were asked a number of times by the female locals if they could have their photograph taken with us. Naturally we were loving all the attention but we were brought back down to earth when our tour guide explained why. Most of them just want to compare their skin colour to ours, and to check how much whiter their skin has gotten since the last time they had their photo taken with another pale tourist! If you haven’t been to Asia you may not know that white = wealth and beauty. You can find skin whitening products everywhere. Many locals laugh when I explain how many of us in the west want to be tanned (or orange in the case of some people).
One word of caution for those of you visiting… be prepared for ‘sales hell’ as soon as you leave the temple. The sales touts aren’t allowed to badger you on holy ground, but they more than make up for it as soon as you’re back on capitalist soil. Within seconds a dozen touts surrounded us, insisting we buy every piece of Buddha related merchandise they could carry with their two hands. After several minutes of telling them ‘no thanks’ and ‘no money', most of them left us alone. Except two that is, who followed us for the long walk back to the car park. I’m ashamed to say we bought four Borobudur themed postcards and a Buddha head in the end. Offer no more than a third of what they ask for.
Thursday arrived and it was time to take a short one hour flight to Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia and home to more than nine million Indonesians. I hinted in my last update that I had set my expectations to low, and if you’ve read my posts on Kuala Lumpur and Surabaya you’ll know I’m not a big fan of these types of cities. I somehow let Bangkok away with it for the fun factor and sheer craziness of the place. So what are my thoughts on Jakarta? Well, it’s exactly as I expected. Imagine London without any underground metro. There are traffic jams all the time, everywhere. The place is huge. And poor old Jakarta has a pollution problem in league with Beijing. Today was the first day we were able to see the sky.
A photo from our hotel room. The Gili Islands feel like a distant memory now.
The view from one of our taxi trips. It's the only way to get around but thankfully they're cheap.
We knew we weren't going to be able to traverse most of the city in a few days like Shanghai. Instead we booked ourselves into a hotel that is attached to a shopping mall the size of a small city. It’s so big in fact we got lost several times. So we’ve had a great time these past few days wandering around the shops, visiting the arcade, eating good food and enjoying the cinema at just €3.50 a pop. In the last three days we saw Heroes 6 and Instellar, the latter of which we saw twice (it's that good).
It hasn’t all been shopping malls though and on Saturday we visited the Taman Mini Indonesia park. The park is filled with famous buildings from all parts of Indonesia and what they describe as ‘an authentic example of the various cultures through Indonesia’. Ok it’s tacky and theme park-esque but it’s fun. And the locals made a fuss of us. We're getting used to being the only Caucasians in town. The park is huge and you need a motorbike to get around all of it. Alternatively you can pick a few spots and take a cable car from one end to another.
During the day we ran into a cobra who ate Alberto. He wasn't happy.
We also got up close and personal with the Komodo dragon. We were hoping to visit the Komodo islands on the eastern part of Indonesia a few weeks ago to see them in the flesh but the trip was too expensive. This was a welcome alternative.
Today we took a trip to Jakarta’s Old Town for lunch. It’s run down, crowded but it was good to see a bit more of the ‘real Jakarta’. There was a festival on for kids which was great to see. There's meant to be an excellent night market here too. There's a massive divide between rich and poor. The rich tend to stick to the hundreds of malls in the city and the poorer folks stay outdoors.
I'm not sure I'd recommend Jakarta but Java is well worth a trip for Borobudur and Mount Bromo. A couple of nights in Jakarta is fine as it serves as a popular transport hub to the rest of the world. We stayed for four but we had the mall to entertain us. And so that's it for Indonesia, we've really enjoyed the variety of sights and experiences over the past eighteen days. Tomorrow afternoon we take a longer flight than usual to our final stop in Asia, Dubai. Central America is just around the corner.