So far, this has been a year of many firsts.
First time overseas with my favourite girlfriends, first time to Taiwan, Germany & Vietnam (which surprised a lot of friends cos they think that I only like visiting cold countries), and this trip, my first time hiking up a mountain!
If you ask me, I probably wouldn’t have planned this in a million years because I’m just not sporty. I cannot count with 2 hands the number of people who’ve expressed their shock at this piece of information. But hey, if Evonne can “climb a mountain”, so can you!
If you were to ask the typical Singaporean whether they’ve been to Indonesia and where, they would most likely respond with the typical answer of “Bali” or “Bintan” – and that would be my exact reply too, hahaha. This trip though, have opened my eyes to the bountiful sights Indonesia has to offer.
We were blessed that Nuffnang Singapore Blogger’s trip to East Java, organized jointly by Garuda Indonesia and Visit Indonesia Tourism Office, was all well planned for – from flights, food, to transport on land and even our insurance (IMPORTANT!) were covered by ACE Insurance – all I had to do was to soak up the beauty and culture of East Java with my fellow Nuffnang Bloggeratis!
In the span of 5 days / 4 nights, we scaled the famous Ijen Crater, got a fabulous view of Mt Bromo and the surrounding spots of interest (Whispering sands), and then to explore what Malang & Surabaya has to offer!
P.S. Did you know that Indonesia has over 18,000 islands?
If you were to spend 1 day on each island alone, it would take you 50 years to finish exploring everything!
Call time was 6am at Changi Airport (can you tell from my not-awake eyes?) – our Garuda flight was at 7:50am! A photo of us Nuffnang Bloggeratis and the ladies from Garuda before our adventure began! They had a dedicated check-in counter for us, how sweet!
I know there has been a lot of aviation scared recently, but I knew that I could trust Garuda, since they were pretty well known, with an extensive flight network as the 20th member of the SkyTeam alliance, with a modern and young fleet of technologically advanced aircraft!
Garuda Indonesia was awarded “Best Cabin Crew” by Skytrax – a London-based, independent airline ranking agency, and it has won it two years in a row (2014 & 2015)!
We were pleasantly surprised by the Business Class seats they offered us – it’s actually my first time on business class! Garuda Indonesia is NOT a LCC (low cost carrier), so you can rest assured that your business class seats are comfortable!
Spacious, plush seats for you to sink into – towels, and a welcome drink once you board the flight (before taking off)!
They provide you with cushions and blankets in business class! And yesssss to leg roommmm!
Seat buddy, Jessica! So glad to be travelling with some familiar faces!
This woman can really sleep during flights and when we are travelling (buses too). And while she was fast asleep, the cabin crew made sure not to disturb her – but once she woke, they immediately asked her if she wanted breakfast!
And breakfast is served! I choose mee goreng of course hehehe
Jess had an omelette – I still very much prefer local fare!
Nuffnang bloggeratis – Jess, Shenny, Charlene, Zoe, Sheila, Randy & Andy + Garuda Indonesia’s excellent cabin crew behind us!
There are many ways of getting to the city where Kawah Ijen is nearest to, but the route planned for us was to board a flight on Garuda Airlines from Singapore to Denpasar (yes Bali, Ngurah Rai International Airport), where we would then take a smaller propeller plane from Denpasar to Banyuwangi (Blimbingsari Airport)!
As Garuda VIPs, there was a comfy transfer bus waiting to take us to the airport when the plane hit the tarmac!
I haven’t been to Bali in a few years, and I was surprised by how different it looks! As it turns out, the Ngurah Rai International Airport’s new International Wing was completed back in 2013, while the existing one was renovated and used as a domestic terminal instead.
Garuda Airlines is to Indonesia like how SQ is to Singapore, and they have a number of VIP services offered to Garuda’s preferred clientele, such as VIP baggage service, where you relax in a lounge and wait while your luggage is being retrieved!
There was a short wait between flights at Denpasar and Banyuwangi, so Garuda actually arranged a small surprise for us – lunch outside the airport, at Kuta, Bali! It was a very quick drive out from the airport – it was literally around the corner.
It was scorching hot, but the restaurant offered plenty of sheltered seats and we had the natural sea breeze to cool down with, which wasn’t too bad that day!
Segara overlooked the beautiful beaches of Kuta! Listening to the waves crashing and enjoying my lunch in the shade was sheer bliss. I didnt mind the squirrels clambering around the stilts above us either haha. It was idyllic life at its best.
We were all given SIM Cards (simPATI Freedom Prepaid) to use with out phones – really thoughtful of our guides and planners! simPATI supposedly has the best rates and coverage, but I didn’t want to change simcards as I would prefer to be contactable by my original number. I got myself a portable wifi device from Visondata instead (enter VDSGEVONNZ for 20% off!) and did some comparison – connection wasn’t any poorer or slower than the sim cards and it did help to save battery life on my phone when we went into areas with poor reception!
We made the only boy in our group serve us hahaha. Thank you Randy!!!
YUM! Really tasty fare at Segara. I did not expect this good a stopover and view just for lunch!
We then boarded a smaller propeller plane at the domestic airport, which would take us to Banyuwangi! Here’s a pic of all of us – I believe it’s everyone’s first time on a propeller plane! We’re all in Liverpool jerseys because Garuda is a partner sponsor!
With Jess! And my bag of chips which had a story. I had this bag of chips in my bag all the way till the last leg of the trip – it bloated up as we went to higher altitudes LOL before I finally decided to rip it open on the last leg back to Singapore. HAHAHA.
And we land safely in Banyuwangi’s Blimbingsari Airport, !
“Banyuwangi (Fragrant Water) is at the easternmost tip of Java, and is best known for its ferry connection at Ketapang to Gilimanuk in Bali. This area has a lot more to offer though and it is becoming better known as a visitor destination in its own right. Banyuwangi is also the gateway to some stunning volcanic scenery on the Ijen Plateau as well as the main access point for the Baluran National Park, world renowned surfing at G-Land (Grajagan), and the remote Alas Purwo National Park. – Wikitravel“
We were welcomed by the mayor of Banyuwangi and given some token headgear! I thought it was really cute!
With Veronika from Garuda!
Did I mention that we were being fed non stop? We boarded a bus which would take us to our hotel while showing us around Banyuwangi, where we were to freshen up and have dinner with some very important people – BUT BEFORE THAT, we were given yet ANOTHER snack box for the bus ride. *emoticon with shocked face*
I enjoyed the bus view though – the bus was comfortable, well air-conditioned and they had water for us in the bus too! The scenery outside was full of greens as the bus rolled down to the city area – a whole lot of planting going on!
Indonesian hospitality : D
After an hour’s ride or so (there was a short detour to show us around the place) – we arrive at Hotel Santika Banyuwangi, which looked really pretty and presentable! Can’t say I didnt feel impressed, really!
Hotel Santika Banyuwangi’s rooms didnt disappoint either – it was generally clean, pretty spacious and brightly lit. My only gripe was 1 – the floor seemed to be a little dusty (wear bedroom slippers!) and 2 – they seemed to be having a little electricity issue that day we arrived as we had a few blackouts within an hour. It didn’t happen again though for the rest of the night!
The view from my room at Hotel Santika Banyuwangi!
Ondeh ondeh!!! And other coconutty desserts!!!
Dinner time! It was hosted by the hotel and we all got to savour some pretty nice Indonesian fare! I kept going back for the mee hahaha.
Us with the VIPs that night, Mayor from Banyuwangi and Ministry of Tourism Indonesia!
By then it was almost 9pm and we really needed to prepare, and then catch up on our sleep as we start our hike at midnight! YES MIDNIGHT!
Gear for the hike up!
What to wear for hiking up Kawah Ijen? I was told that it’s around 2 – 8 degrees, but it didn’t feel like it at all, so it really wasn’t necessary to go all arctic expedition here. It gets warm when the sun rises and also when you’re hiking up, so I decided to layer smartly.
- Comfy shoes with a GOOD GRIP on the SOLE (also, preferably wear ankle socks, or something high so that you don’t get abrasions at the back of your feet (I didn’t, sensitivity differs from person to person) and less dirt on your feet)
- Layers – I had on a relatively thin windproof jacket from Under Armour, but a fleece layer inside (which I later took off halfway up the hike)
- Neck warmer (mine’s a balaclava from north face, you can bring a scarf but i found this most convenient)
- Beanie (to keep your head warm and lose less heat, however I didn’t really wear this in the end. Also protects your head from all the dust)
- Tights / Comfy pants (anything that wouldn’t obstruct you from climbing – I personally didn’t find thick woolen layers or windproof pants necessary)
I would think that if I had known about the slippery downslopes earlier, I might have brought some padding for my knees too because we nearly slipped a few times! Heat pack to me weren’t necessary because you get hot and sweaty really fast hiking up!
Prepping essentials! Which I later regret bringing this much of.
When I first showed my husband what I’d intended to bring along for my hike, he laughed at me.
What a terrible person. But later on I realized he was right… *sigh* let’s review what I brought along:
- Mask (necessity, because of the sulfur fumes + volcanic dust/fine soil around)
- Portable WiFi (not necessary but good to have)
- Portable charger (you won’t even be using your phone much actually)
- Towel (Negligible weight so just bring along)
- Water (Important)
- Weatherproof Camera (missing cos I’m using it to take this picture)
- Secondary camera (it’s a HTC RE, which i wanted to use for taking videos of the sunrise while main camera shoots stills)
- Zoom Lens (Unnecessary – JUST GET ONE GOOD LENS AND FIX IT ONTO YOUR CAMERA)
- Tripod (GOOD TO HAVE if you’re doing astrophotography)
- Spare batteries/SD card, plasters, money (for the miners, if you want to)
- Sunblock, nutmeg balm (just in case), eyedrops, wet wipes (important)
- Snickers (for energy)
- Torchlight (necessity! even better if you have the ones that you attach on your head)
- Backpack to store everything (it’s important to note that this should be washable or at least easy to clean)
I think I could have done away with at least 1KG from all the unnecessary items! Sigh. Thank god I had the guys to help me along (more about that later haha)
The weatherproof part for the camera wasn’t exactly necessary, but the Olympus OMD EM5 MKII was weatherproof anyway so it was a really good plus. I have a friend who went, encountered a sandstorm, fine sand got into the camera and killed it – so I wasn’t taking any risks. And after this PLUS Bromo, I really thank god that I have a weatherproof camera with me because I didn’t have to overly care for it.
I took a quick shower (20 mins), blew dry my hair (20 mins), packed my stuff (15 mins) and tried to hop into bed ASAP but I ended up sleeping all of 2 hours before we had to meet in the lobby of Hotel Santika (12.30am).
The jeep could go where the huge 30 seater bus couldn’t, and were waiting for us by the time we gathered at the lobby!
Told you we were very well fed. They prepared snacks and emergency items (essential oil, vitamin c, wipes) for us on the jeep ride even!
The bumpy jeep ride (seats 5 persons, excluding driver) up to Pos Paltuding, (where we start hiking) took approximately 1 hour from Hotel Santika Banyuwangi.
“West of Gunung Merapi is the Ijen volcano, which has a one-kilometer-wide turquoise-colored acidic crater lake. The lake is the site of a labor-intensive sulfur mining operation, in which sulfur-laden baskets are carried by hand from the crater floor. The lake is recognised as the largest highly acidic crater lake in the world.” – Wikipedia
Kawah Ijen is made popular with tourists after a feature on TV, showing it as one of the only 2 locations in the world with “blue flames”. The blue flames aren’t lava – they are actually light, created by the combustion of sulfuric gases when it comes into contact with air that’s being released through the cracks at high pressure. For a series of beautiful images by Olivier Grunewald, click here (because I wasn’t able to get down the crater of Kawah Ijen to take pictures)
The hike up to Kawah Ijen from Pos Paltuding base is about 3.2km long, and you’ll need 2-3 hours to reach the rim of the volcano, depending on your speed. The sun rises at about 4.30am, which meant that you NEED to start early or you’ll miss the famous blue flames as it’s no longer visible once the sun is up!
We arrive at Pos Paltuding at about 1.30 / 1.45am. Pos Paltuding which is also a base camp with shower facilities to sleep over should you wish to begin here instead of staying at a nearby (and more comfortable) hotel like we did. We all took turns to use the lavatory (if it can be called one – it’s more of a just a floor with a drain for you to pee on) before we started the climb as it’s hard to find a toilet once you begin your journey.
And we began our hike up, in the dark – when I first hopped off the jeep after arrival at base camp, I was awed by the display of stars above me, and it only got prettier and prettier as we hiked up the trail. It wasn’t a bed of roses for sure, but I had severely underestimated the 90 degree slopes! I was way, way, way behind the first group, taking 10 second rests for every 10 steps climbed, panting for air between cursing my weak calves, and also really thankful for Randy who was practically my handrail the entire way up the mountain! And Chuanren the photog who carried my camera. And Andy who helped me with my tripod. And the guide, who stayed behind with us and even offered to carry my entire backpack for me. I said no in an effort to preserve any last bit of dignity I have! Now you see why I say don’t bring so much stuff… or just bring along a man or two with you. XD
The climb up started easy, then slowly became full of really steep upward slopes – as we neared the top, the slope’s incline began to level a bit more and it got easier. So it’s sort of like BEGINNER > EXTREMELY DIFFICULT > EASY MODE going uphill. And mind you, there were no railings at all on the side! It began to get dustier and dustier as we scaled – when we were about 3/4 uphill, you could smell the difference in air quality! I strapped on my mask at this point to protect myself.
If you don’t have a mask, you need not worry – there are masks for rental and you wouldn’t miss them. It was about 20,000 rupiah for a gas mask, though I cannot be sure if they changed the filters or not so… I would still suggest that you bring your own. $50 for your own safety is a small amount to pay!
The trail would be chicken feet for people who exercise a lot and have relatively good stamina – I was probably the weakest link in the group, and made it just in time to the crater’s rim at 2368,m above sea level . I probably had a good 30mins before the sun started to rise, but I really didn’t want to go down the crater (which would take another 30 minutes) because I was afraid of falling.
Visitors are actually warned to not go down the crater as it is a dangerous path to take – but not many heeded the warning anyway.
A huge sign was erected to warn you of the danger of toxic gases if you were to go down – heck, you could smell it even if you stayed at the rim of the crater!
I had wanted to stay at the rim of the crater and grab pictures of the amazing stars in the sky (SO CLEAR SO BRIGHT) BUT Andy went down with my tripod before I could ask for it, so… I had no tripod.
I decided to make an attempt to descend, and managed to make it down just maybe 50 steps before I gave up and crouched at a corner for pictures because I was too slow – the sun was already beginning to rise, and it would be pointless as the blue flames would no longer be visible.
Picture taken from about 50 steps down the crater with the Olympus EM5-MKII + 12-40mm! Can you spot the blue flames?
My 12-40mm at 40mm.
I think you can clearly see why the 12-40 wasn’t enough to capture the blue flames, especially not this far away from it! I had a longer zoom lens in my bag, but you woudn’t want to expose your lenses as it’s really quite dusty at this point.
I waited a while longer and took more pictures before deciding to go back up. It was easier than going down, but still a bit of an uphill task. I have poor balance, it seems. T_T You can still see a bit of the blue flames here, but they are beginning to disappear as the sun rose.
I decided to take a rest near where the sign was. I was DEAD tired! And check out my dirty feet and my black/grey nikes that have turned into a dirty brown beige shade *makes a face* Sitting down meant more dirt on me though, but at this point I frankly couldn’t care less. Let me rest!
And right behind me were more hikers and also the miners who made their way up and downhill like it was walking on a flat surface! Some of them extended a hand to me though when they saw that I had difficulties going up even that exact slope the miner’s going up in the picture.
There were some railings to prevent you from tumbling down hahaha but it lasted less than 20m. I was thinking… OMG I DID IT. I HIKED UP A MOUNTAIN! /cheer
This was such a great spot for pictures!
But that was after some artistic framing of course, haha. Behind me were a bunch of miners burning rubbish to keep themselves warm!
This was breathtaking.
The miners could carry loads of up to 60 or more on their shoulders each trip!
Yes, this was the path to the crater’s rim and this is the way back down too!
It wasn’t just the night skies that were beautiful – the mountainous terrain teeming with greens was also an amazing sight to behold!
The things you couldn’t admire while hiking up in the dark…
The miners and their wheelbarrows lined up neatly like this was a parking spot.
The descent wasn’t an easy one, either. It was definitely faster than going up, but you still had to be very careful, as the sand granules were so fine that they practically offered no grip.
Remember the 90 degree incline upslope? THEY ARE NOW 90 DEGREE DOWNSLOPES. You probably could slid down faster, but I wasn’t about to risk my ankles and thus walked very carefully. As careful as we were, we still had a few injuries (even the guide slipped and grazed his leg!). Thank god for the planner who assisted me downslope!
Couldn’t be happier to reach the base again!
I have a confession to make. Remember I said this was a year of many firsts?
… I created another first – my first time peeing on a mountain, in the wild. *blushes red*
In my defence, I finished half a bottle of water and I had held my pee for at least 4.5 hours by now!!! I thought that there would be a midpoint post with a toilet somewhere, but NOPE! So I had to get Dayu to help me keep a look out while I uh, relieved myself. T_T I’m not very proud of myself and the whole time I was muttering sorry to nobody in particular. Aiyeeeesh.
Next up, Mt Bromo!
We took the jeep back to Hotel Santika Banyuwangi at around 830am and reached at about 930, where I grabbed a quick breakfast at the hotel in my dirty clothes before showering up in the room, and doing some final packing before checking out at 11am. It really wasn’t easy getting the gunk out of my hair and off my body – and I had to clean my jacket and shoes before wearing them again for bromo tomorrow! Yikes!
There was practically no time to snooze – however, to get to Bromo, we had to take a 5 hour bus ride… Which somehow became a 7 hour bus ride and gave us more time to catch up with some sleep! We spent a good part of the 7 hours aboard the comfy big bus with reclining seats, and only transferred to a smaller bus at a terminal as the bigger bus was unable to go up the narrow roads where the mountain lodges were.
We finally reached Jiwa Jawa Banana Lodge at almost 7pm, and boy, was it cold or what?! They weren’t kidding when they said it was cold, and I understood why there were people hawking gloves and beanies at the bus terminal where we did a quick bus switch!
The Jiwa Jawa Banana Lodge (also known as Java Banana Lodge) was at 2000m above sea level, hence really chilly at night. It was about 10 degrees! A warm cup of ginger tea never felt more appropriate and comforting!
We had dinner at the Jiwa Jawa Banana Lodge, but I bet all we really wanted to do was to sleep, since we had to be up at 3am the next day, hahaha!
The internet connection here was a bit spotty as it’s probably only set up where a resort were, and our rooms seemed to be really far away from the signal because we all had bad connections (2G only). I was really impressed by how beautiful the lodge looked though, it was really presentable and most definitely very clean!
The rooms were super spacious, too! Once again, wear your bedroom slippers cos the floors were a bit dusty – but otherwise, they had all the necessary – king sized bed (or XTRA LARGE MAYBE?!) and hot water. Actually all you really need is hot water that doesn’t run out because it was cold in here even without air-conditioning.
Quickly prepared my stuff and instantly tried to go to bed asap – not that hard since we had spotty internet connection anyway, haha. By the time I got to bed after cleaning up my shoes and gear further for Bromo, it was around 12mn *shocked emoji face*. I had to be ready and leave the lodge by 2.30am! Yikes.
Well, this post is getting REALLY long, so Day 3 (Bromo) would be a story for another day!
Promos & Discounts!
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If you have any more questions, please ask away in the comments section!
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All images in this post shot with an Olympus OMD EM5 MKII + 12-40mm (mostly) & 17mm lenses.