I have to be honest and admit here that I am a bit of a train freak. I love riding on trains regardless what class coach I am in and how long it would take me. There is just something about chugging along on a railway track that brings back comforting memories of my childhood and all the other railway adventures that I have had before. When the opportuinity came up to ride in one during our trip in Indonesia, it was certainly something that I would not even think of missing out. It was not that hard to convince the others in the group to go with the plan seeing that the alternative was to fork out more money for a plane ticket or spend almost the same amount of time in an overnight bus trip. Added to the novelty of taking a train in a foreign country, I was certain that everyone would be on board (so to speak) with my plan of taking the train.
We had purchased tickets for the Executive Class coach and were shown to our coaches as soon as we were able to board the train. The coach itself was clean, comfortable and air conditioned. Since we were on a train that started it’s route from Jakarta earlier in the day, there were already people in their seats but we didn’t have much trouble finding our seats since we already had reservations. Another item that I noted was the existence of a porter service at the train station which I have not seen before in KL. For a nominal fee, these uniformed porters who I believe were employed by the train station would help travelers with their loading and unloading of their luggage. Since we didn’t really have that much of luggage to carry, we obviously did not have to use their services but learning that they were available just increased the novelty factor in this train journey.
The train journey was scheduled for 8 hours from Bandung to Jogja which we traverse westwards through the Java island. Since the Argo Willis train service was a somewhat express train service, the train only stopped for about 15 minutes at selected stations. The tickets that we purchased also included a fairly filling lunch set which consisted of plain rice, fried chicken, tempe and fried eggs. Drinking water was also included in the set but if you ask for juice instead then you’ll be charged 7,000 Rph additional. Lunch was served to us by train stewards who I don’t think we have on Malaysian trains at least on the train rides that I have taken here. I remember having to either go to the meal car to get something to eat or pack our own lunches when I take the trains here. Of course, I have yet to try a long haul train trip in Malaysia on a first class ticket so I’m not sure if the same service would be available in that class.
Once we were done with lunch, we had the rest of the trip to look forward to. They had TVs on the train that was tuned to the train’s onboard entertainment package which repeated after a while. Other than walking to the doors to snap pictures of the scenery that was passing us by and to update my travel notes, there was actually not much to do during the train trip. Unlike Malaysia, the scenery outside of the window consisted of an unending vista of padi field green occasionally broken by the red clay tiled roofs of villager’s houses and small towns. The train breezed by through these small towns quite fast if it was not in one of the stops scheduled for the train. Since it was not announced, I wished that I had taken the list of stops this train made since I was at the time not sure if we had already arrived in Jogja. We were already a bit late at the time since the train made some unscheduled stops between stations and I was afraid that I would miss the Jogja station since it was not the last destination for this train service.
(L: Updating my travel log book on the train, R: Interior of our Executive class coach)
(Selected scenes that passed us by as our train travelled from Bandung to Jogja)
It was nearly an hour later at 3pm when we finally pulled into Jogja station. In hindsight, while it was a long trip, a train ride in Indonesia was something that I would remember always in my travel. Once we got off the train, we were met by the driver that was sent by the homestay where we were staying at during our stay in Jogja. Unlike the other cities, I had arrange a full stay and tour package with Delta Homestay for our time in Jogja. We were suppose to start on our tour the morning we reached Jogja but since we arrived late that day, we had to reschedule the sites that we were suppose to visit that day to another day. Once we had checked and stowed away our gear into our rooms at Delta, we had the choice of just hanging out by their swimming pool for the rest of the day or explore the city on our own which we ended up doing. Having had some ideas from our guidebook, we decided to take the local mode of transport, the becak, to go around the city.
The becak, what the locals here called the trishaw, was undoubtedly the most common sight in Jogja. For 30,000 Rph, they would take you to the sights around town as well as to places to shop where they do earn some commission for bringing in customers. It was how they made their living and while it was a bit irritating to be shuttled from one shop to another, I wondered how much do they actually get from it considering the time and effort that they spend ferrying us around town. Another thing that I found out is that you are not obligated to buy anything if you didn’t want to at these stores since they already got their commissions just for bringing the customers. Of course that didn’t work for a bunch of shopaholics on a shopping binge like us!
The first place that they took us was a batik factory where we were shown the process of making Indonesian hand painted and printed batiks. Since it was an actual working factory, we got to see and learn the process from start to finish from the workers who were there. After the tour, we were ushered into their showroom where their products were displayed for sale. Seeing that the prices were a tad more than what we were willing to pay for, we said or thanks and moved on to the next place which was another batik studio near the Kraton area which specialized in batik artwork. They had a lot of choices to choose from and I found myself a nice piece to frame and put in my bed room. I was also looking for something for my living room but they didn’t have something that I liked in the size that I needed.
We made another shopping stop at a local T-Shirt (which locals know them as “Kaus”) shop where they had a variety of T-shirts in all the colors of the rainbows and all types of captions both nice and naughty. Having already bought my share of T-shirts in Bandung, I only bought a child’s size one for my nephew here where I noticed that everything had the Dagadu brand. I’m not sure if it’s a brand name or a something that they print on to denote it as a product of Jogja. After having our fill of the shopping trip, we decided to find somewhere to get some dinner. We knew that we wanted to try a Jogja specialty rice dish called “Nasi Gudeg” so we told the becak driver to take us where they would go to eat nasi gudeg. We were taken to an unmarked shop located near the Kraton’s alun-alun area were we were shown to our table and shown a menu of the selection of what was available.
(L: Selection of Wayang Kulit characters, R: Dagadu T-Shirt shop, Jogja)
Nasi Gudeg was essentially plain rice with chicken, fried tofu, tempe served with a sweetish curry/stew made out of young jackfruit cooked for hours in palm sugar and other spices. We also had a sambal that night that was called sambal goreng kerecek which was made out of the skin of the water buffalo. I have to say that the dinner that night was my first experience in the trip of eating something that I was totally unfamiliar with from past experiences. Up to that point, everything that we ate was something that we knew or had before back home but Nasi Gudeg was uncharted territory for us. All in all, it was quite nice even though it was a bit too sweet for my taste. Thankfully they brought out the special chili paste sambal specially reserved for Malaysians since they know that we would always ask for the hotter option than the locals. Sambal Goreng Kerecek was another thing that I enjoyed after being able to look beyond the fact that I was actually eating buffalo skin.
After dinner for the 3 of us and our 3 becak drivers, we decided to take in some free cultural experience in the form of a free Wayang Kulit show that they held nightly at the nearby Museum Sonobudoyo. The show was held in a special hall which we had to pay an entrance fee to attend. Unfortunately, no one told us that the hall was not air conditioned and there were no fans to cool the air inside down. It would have not been too bad had the windows were opened to let in the cool night air but unfortunately for us that was not the case. We sat in the hall for about 45 minutes trying to enjoy the Wayang Kulit show that was being narrated in Javanese before we surrendered and beat a hasty exit to the cooler night air outside. Having enough of shopping, food and culture for the night, we decided to head back to our homestay. If riding the becak was exciting during the day, it was doubly exciting at night when it seems that all that was between you and getting hit by a car on the street was the skill of your becak driver.
(Wayang Kulit Performance at Museum Sonobudoyo. Too bad it was totally in Javanese and the hall was too hot to stay long)
After paying for our becak trip (50,000 Rph per person including tips), we decided to rest and reflect on our day with some late night coffee and conversations at the verandah of our rooms. Our Jogja adventure was just beginning.