Sunday, June 6, 2021

Escape to Idylic Belitung Island

FIRST gaining popularity after hitting the big screen in 2008’s award-winning ‘The Rainbow Troop’, Belitung island in Bangka-Belitung province is recognized for tis white sandy beaches, Stonehenge-like granite rocks formations and lush environs.
In the past five years, the island’s popularity has increased, as it became known as the birthplace of former Jakarta governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama.
I had high expectation of Belitung after seeing thousands of pictures on my Instagram feed. I foolishly assumed that the island would be similar to Bali or Lombok. Imagine my surprise when I was greeted by empty asphalt roads and a quiet ambience.
Evry, my local guide-slash-driver, told me that there was only one department store on the island, illustrating how different the island was from my imagination.
During my visit, I discovered that many tourists come to Belitung to see Laskar Pelangi’s shooting locations, Ahok’s childhood home and for island hoping. After spending three days on the island, I had to admit that Belitung’s different envirionment was perfect for the much-needed break I was longing for.
The peaceful morning
 I spent the first day exploring East Belitung regency, which is where Laskar Pelangi was filmed and the Andrea Hirata Literary Museum and Ahok’s childhood home are located.
The next day, I woke up at 7 a.m. As I opened the curtain, I was greeted by sunshine and fresh sea breeze coming through my window. Although, I was staying ner the town center, the BW Suite Belitung hotel in Tanjung pandan had the luxury of ocean view rooms.
I quickly got myself ready and headed down to the loby to fin Evry. He suggested we make a quick stop at Kong Jie Coffee for breakfast.
The coffee shop was packe with people eating traditional breakfast meals, such as nasi gemok (rice and fried fish wrapped in simpur leaves) and banana fritters while enoying a cup of java. Despite being crowded, time seemed to move slower. The cutomers were not in a hurry. They slowly sipped their coffee while chating with friends or playing with their mobile phones.
The atmosphere was so laid-back and it was relaxing to experience it, especially for someone who lives in th city like my self.
I wished I could have spent longer time enjoying the coffee shop. But I had to move on to Tanjung kelayang Beach to rent a boat to island hopping.
Away from reality
I spent almost two hours inside the car. The jorney was smooth, as the asphalt road was empty. Prior to arriving at our destination, I saw housed that had similar architecture and were surrounded by huge yards. I rarely sawa people in front of the houses. Some houses had their doors left wide open ,showing how safe the area was.
Travel tips
1.       Paying by credit or debit card could be considered safer and more convenient than carrying cash.
2.       Save time and money; when traveling out of country, paying by card in local currency can offer a competitive exchange rate.
3.       Make two copiex of important travel documents, including your passport, in case of emergency.
4.       Notify your band card issuer about your travel plans to help monitor for fraud.
5.       Set alerts so you can keep track of spending on your phone.
6.       Data roaming charges can skyrocket while abroad so set up your cellphone to avoid international dat roaming or ensure you have an international plan.
7.       Keep a list of important contacts in case your phone is lost or stolen.
8.       Check out fun local events such as festivals and concerts in the city you’re visiting.
As I arrived at Tanjung Kelayang Beach, I could again smell the fresh air. After paying Rp 400.000 to rent a boat, I changed my clothes and climbed into the speedboat.
The first five minutes were heavenly. The warm sea breeze touched my face and the wind blew through my hair. I could hear the sound of crashing waves while enjoying the sight of the celar blue sky and crystal-clear water.
“This is Batu Garuda,” said Evy, waking me from my daydream. He pointed to a giant rock formation and said, “You can see the shape resembles the Garuda bird.”
“You cannot go on the rocks,” said Evry, asking me to take a picture from the boat.
I started to recognize the shape and took some pictures.
We then move to Batu Berlayar Island. The small island is filled with Stonehenge like rock formations that are icons of Belitung. Here, I finally saw how popular Belitung has become as a tourist destination. The ilse was filled with visitors trying to take nice pictures. It took me a while to find a quiet spot. I got carried away and began posing like an Instagram influencer.
 After feeling satisfied, we went to our next destination, Lengkuas Island. The island is known for its lighthouse, which was built in 1882. Visitors can climbup to third level to take in the view of the turquoise below.
I felt disappointed because I could not go to the top to see a bird’s eye view of the island. But the good news was, Evry said, I could go snorkeling off the eastern and western shores of Lengkuas Island.
“We should buy biscuits,” Evry said, explaining that we could feed the fish while snorkeling.
Although the corals were not as colorful as the ones in Komodo Island or Raja Ampat, snorkeling in Belitung was not a disappointment. Once I entered the water, holding the biscuits, I was instantly surrounded by fish.
I spent around 20 minutes feeding the fish and enjoying the underwater scenery. Then I decided it was time to move on to the next stop.
The boat brought me to Pasir Island. Although it is called an island, Pasir Island is actually a sandbar that is onely visible during low tide. If you lucky, you might see large pnkish starfish. I felt like I was staying in the middle of the ocean.
As I climbed back on the boat, Every said that our next stop would be special, as it was quieter than Lengkuas and Batu Layar Islands.
He was not llying. There were only a few people on Kelayang Island. It was clearly the perfect beach for sunbathing.

It was so peaceful and I felt like I was on a private beach. However, the weather started getting warmer, so it was time for Gede Kepayang Island comes with changing rooms, a restaurant and power stations. However, visitors need to pay Rp 20.000 per person to enjoy the facililities.
The restaurant serves freshly caught fish grilled with local spices along with free-flow of coffee and tea. As I enjoyed the udang saus Padang (prawns in spicy sauce), I grabbed my mobile phone and discovered that I had been busy exploring the islands for around for hours.
It was the first time I had checked WhatsApp that day. I felt so happy to be able to escape from my normal routine for a while [Source : The Jakarta Post magazine |Edittion Jul 2017 | by : Jessica Valentina]

Wednesday, May 5, 2021


TANJUNG LESUNG, hailed by the government as one of the country’s new, Bali-like international destinations, centers on Cikarang-based Jababeka & Co’s exclusive enclave of pricey beachfront resorts and the special economic zone currently being developed at Ladda Beach. The absence of any equal competitor and the inconvenience of low-end options outside the enclabe means there are no alternatives to choose from.
While Bali has its recently-erupting Mt.Agung and the West Bali National Park, the Tanjung Lesung enclave is located in close proximity to Krakatoa, a volcanic island formed after a colossal eruption in 1883, and to the pristine Ujung Kulon National Park. Unlike Bali, however, it doesn’t have any strong, distinct cultural or religious heritage of tis won. Although it is situated in Banten, it’s not the home of the Badui, the traditional Bantenese community, whose hilly homeland is, in fact, closer to Jakarta (120 km) than to Tanjung Lesung (194 km). This may explain why it built a Mongolian food and culture center to entertain tourists. This, and some decorative attempts to imitate Bali, indicate the lack of a strong vision for its development.

Located a 3-t0-4-hour’s drive from Jakarta (and a shorter ride by helicopter from Cikarang  if you’re a potential investor), the giant enclave’s top hotels are the Kalicaa Villa Resort and the neighboring, almost two decade-old Tanjugn Lesung Beach Hotel. The later boasts a great family villa, a beautiful beach, a very enjoyable swimming pool, but institutionalized, uninspiring food. Currently, the resorts are awash with visitors when there are sport events or company gatherings. Lower-priced promotional packages also attract guests during the low season. A stay there comes wit hfree access to the Beach Club, where different water sports (such as jet ski and snorkeling) are offered.
Despite the club’s dilapidated look, new structures were being built when I went
[From : The Jakarta Post Travel Edition, August 2018  | Words: ]

Sunday, April 4, 2021

A Family Outing To Bromo

 “YOU MUST SEE MOUNT BROMO”. It was 16 years ago and I was traveling around Indonesia for the first time, and there was always some “must-see” destination in each place, whether it was a royal palace, a temple or verdant rice paddies. Well, back then I was single and (relatively) young, so getting up atg stupid 0’clock in the morning, to drive upa sheer mountainside in a jeep and then ride on a horse to see a volcano was something I thought was doable. I booked a tour and arranged to be picked up from my hotel at 3 a.m. the following morning.
Alas, being single and (relatively) young, other thing interposed. I went out for dinner with the intention of getting an early night but met up with some friendly local people, who persuaded me to go for a drink, just one mind, at a nearby nightclub. One thing kind of led to another and by the time reception called me at 3 a.m., I really wasn’t in the mood to go volcano-spotting. Full disclosure, there were quite a few other “must-see” destinations, royal places, temples and verdant rice paddies, that I also missed for similar reasons 16 years ago.

I often regretted that decision, not a lot I admit, but enough to make me think I really should make the trip at a latter date. So here I was all of 16 years later in the pleasantly compact East Java town of Malang, oldern and wiser and with four kids ranging from 7 to 12 years in age, looking forward to our trip to Mt. Bromo.
For someone used to my comfort zone of Jakarta, rarely venturing to anywhere else in Indonesia, other thn driving to Bogor for the afternoon or a long weekend in the expat havens of Bali, I was looking forward to seeing again some of the other bits of Indonesia on a family tour of East Java. The short flight to Malang certainly provides a magnificent view of the Java that for too many of us is simply “fly-over country”. To see the line of dark brooding volcanoes, some extinct, some just waiting the right moment, emerging through the clouds below you is to be reminded of the powerful and ancient forces that have crafted this beautiful land. And to arrive in Malang’s sleepy little airport and wait the best part of 40 minutes to collect you bags from the only plane parked not 100 meters from the baggage carousel is to be reminded why you don’t make the trip so often.
On this trip to Bromo we were being picked up at midnight to drive trhough the ngiht up the mountain to catch the beautiful sunrise fro ma neighboring peak. We calmbered into a Toyota Land Cruiser that had seen better days and began a spine-shaltering ride along rutted tracks and around hairpin bends in the pitch dark in what seemed like some Mad Max-style race with hundreds of other jeeps and  insane motorcyclists to get the peak first.
Dropped off just below Sunrise Point we climbed to the viewing platform, two hours before dawn, and having got our spot, there was little to do other than lie down on the concrete floor and try to get some rest, while latecomers stumbled over us in the dark as the jostled for their spots.
It is cold. Not cool, as in a nice evening in Puncak, it’s an Irish night in February cold.

You need to wear warm gear, a sweater, thick coat, hat, gloves, a scarf too. There are blankets to rent but you don’t want to wrap yourself in one of those for a couple of hours, trust me on this. The cold was made worse by a biting wind that rolled big, marrow-chilling we clouds of fog over and around us. Fog that meant that when the sun did rise there was not much to see. So, after trying to look cheerful for family pictures consisting of shivering children against a pallid background of murky gray mist, we finally gave up and made our way back down.
Then into the Toyoto again to go hurting down the mountain, with the added delight of now being able to see over the sheer sides of the road into the dedly precipes below. We arrived at a dustbowl that appeared to contain the entire production line of Toyota Land Cruisers circa 1996 and in the middle of which was the steaming caldera of Bromo. The caldera is reached on the back of tiny little ponies. The ponies can carry adults but in the interests of animal welfare I skipped the ride and crossed the sand-blown moonscape on foot. I may have looked a little mad, because a vendor offered to sell me a paper surgical mask. For Rp 100.000. I am not that mad.

The climb to the caldera is a steep one, and very crowded. But at the top the sight is ever ybit as stunning as you are led to expect, well it is if you can get through the forest of selfie-sticks to take a look. Don’t seek a moment of intense self enlightment at the wonders of nature and our puny place in the great universe, though, get the pictures you need for social media and move on for the next person to take your place at the railing. You also might want to leave young kids below in safe hands before you begin your ascent, trying to get that perfect instagram picture while keeping an eye on a 7-year-old girl in a san-kicking competition with her brother on the edge of a volcanic crater can be distracting.
Time for a few more photos before we got emphysema from the dust swirling around everywhere and then it was back into the Toyota to contemplate the great wisdom of modern car designers who had the clever idea of making vehicle interiors of soft molded plastic and foam, as we bumped hedas against the roof or backs against angular steel door fittings, before retuning to the hotel for long hot baths in the late afternoon, a mere 18 or so sleepless, bedraggled hours since leaving.
Whisper it, I really should have done this 16 years ago.
[From : The Jakarta Post Travel Edition, August 2018  | Words: Arif Suryobuwono]