It was her first trip to the Far East, so what better place to start than Java and Bali. ‘Although I love my pools and beaches, I do like an adventure, so this varied itinerary appealed to me; I love delving into new cultures and getting to grips with a whole new way of life’
Sarah is usually the one at the front chatting to the guide, so if you want good feedback, she’ll have more than most! She also shares great down-to-earth recommendations if you’re thinking of treading a similar path.
Where did she get to?
The tour was an organised affair with 3 nights in Central Java and 6 nights in Bali. It incorporated Yogyakarta, Solo, Candi Dasa, Ubud, Munduk and Sanur.
What did she see?
‘In Java I visited Prambanan, the biggest Hindu Temple in Indonesia, Borobudur, one of the largest Buddhist Temples. We walked and cycled through acres of paddy fields, chatted with workers, tried our hands at pounding rice and sampling the dishes created from it. I saw men making the Gamelan (a local musical instrument), learned the skills involved in crafting the intricate daily offerings to the gods, as well as Sonskrat weaving that provides fabric for wedding gowns.
Above Ubud in Mundul, there is some of the most beautiful jungle on the planet. It is a challenging walk, and the most strenuous part of the tour. Passing ancient Balinese trees, hiking deep into the jungle, stopping only to check each other for leeches (yes seriously!), we concluded with a 30-minutes canoe ride back to our bus – rainy, but nonetheless spectacular.
Up for sunrise and home for breakfast
You may not appreciate the early alarm, but you will find the sunrise over Bali a mesmerising, beautiful and mystical sight. ‘Then back to the home of a total stranger for breakfast; it’s common for tours to take you to a local family to enjoy a meal, hospitality is second nature to these lovely people, although I can’t imagine it happening in my house!
‘I guess most of the sights I saw were religious in some way – the country’s values are deeply rooted in their beliefs so understanding this is essential to get an insight into the people. The stand-out one for me was the Sabatu Holy Water Temple – a memorable experience - as a non-religious person I guess I could have found it disconcerting but instead it quite inspired me. Approaching with a totally open mind, (along with a similar attitude from the rest of my group), I fully threw myself into the ritual. In the ongoing humidity, however, I must admit, that the cleansing ritual in the holy waterfall was as much about refreshment as it was about spirituality! The water shrine was 200 steps down, we dressed in traditional Balinese sarongs, presented the gods with our offerings, and prayed, before bathing once more in the waterfall – I recall asking for relief from my back pain, and as it’s been fine lately, perhaps my prayer has been answered?'
How did she travel?
‘Getting from one main place to the next was usually by people carrier as we were a smallish group. The roads cover a spectrum – full-on traffic in Bali’s capital city to unmade roads with buffalo in remote Java. Our days included bike trips – the terrain is fairly flat so this is a great way to get about. The odd canoe ride allowed a different river angle and we were taxi’d in man-powered tuk-tuks – a little strange initially but I got used to it and our ‘drivers’ were always jolly!’
‘It has to be the interaction with the Javanese people, especially the children. Central Java still doesn’t see a huge number of tourists, so children will still run out from their classes at school to say hello and ask to practice a little English. I was slightly ashamed to have very little local language! I confess to rarely seeing a sunrise in my everyday routine so this Balinese spectacle is forever etched in my mind’
Who did she meet?
‘I learned so much about the people I met. Java is 90% Muslim and Bali is 90% Hindu. I found the Indonesians to be highly spiritual; the Hindus make daily offerings to the gods. These are always, beautiful, colourful, hand-craft pieces that are left on the ground outside their houses or business. You can’t miss the mix of new and old, as you make your way around.
‘I know now that Indonesians believe in karma’ - all actions, and their results, have a cause and effect – this is possibly why they are so friendly, welcoming and just can’t do enough for you.
‘I was told that the eldest members of the family sleep in the highest part of the house, that their whole purpose in life is gearing up for the next, and the majority of men and women work in the rice fields’
'I also learned that every village has its own temple and that owning birds is a status symbol’ This is a difficult one from our point of view, as sadly, the trade in these pet birds is having a damaging effect on the bird population of Indonesia, with the country’s own symbolic Javan hawk-eagle at serious risk of extinction.
‘I am richer for the interaction I was able to have with these generally happy people, and will take many of their values, positively into my life’
Sarah’s Top Tips for your trip
- Pack robust trainers or walking shoes
- Remember it may rain, so a change of footwear is essential
- Pack plenty of the usual bug spray!
- Be aware of the physical demands of your tour
- Ladies, be prepared for some of the toilet situations!
- And keep an open mind – embrace the difference
'One final recommendation - get involved!'