Giant Spider in Jakarta, Indonesia

Breaking Down in Java Indonesia

I couldn’t stop them any longer – flopping down on the hotel bed I buried my miserable face in the pillow and let the tears flow. I’d been holding them back for days, trying to ignore the disquieting feeling in my gut that I’d made a terrible mistake coming to this country. We’d been in Indonesia less than a week and I was already longing to leave – what had gone so horribly wrong?

Temple in Java, Indonesia

View from Borobudur Temple, Java

The Curse of Jakarta

We touched down in Jakarta after a 12-hour flight and were greeted by an immense thick, moist wall of heat and shouts of ‘Mister!’, ‘Taxi?’, ‘Hello!’  We made our way slowly, by bus and taxi,  to our accommodation, discovering along the way that pavements are a novelty in Indonesia – you have to watch your step next to the roads crammed with weaving motorbikes, honking taxis and dangerously-speeding cars.

Giant Spider in Jakarta, Indonesia

The giant spider in our bathroom in Jakarta

Jakarta is a sprawling, dirty, congested city with no particular centre; everything looks the same, streets lined with tiny wooden shops and areas of wider paved roads, tall glass buildings and malls. Very quickly we noticed the absence of other foreigners and we soon realised why – Jakarta is way off the tourist trail. There aren’t any particular sights to see or monuments to explore; everything is so spread out you have to get taxis everywhere and unless you can speak Indonesian it’s incredibly difficult to communicate with people.

This hadn’t been what I’d expected. Naively, I’d imagined Jakarta would be similar to Bangkok; easy to get around with plenty of English signs and information, loads of places to stay and sights to see – Jakarta wasn’t even remotely like that. To make matters worse we were staying out in a residential area in a house we’d found through AirBnB; we got extremely stared at by the locals every time we ventured outside and spent a long time wandering fruitlessly looking for a taxi. I’ve never felt so completely out of place in my life – like a total alien. All this combined with the squat toilets, giant cockroaches and spiders in our bathroom, cold-water showers, stifling heat, putrid stench of the air and lack of edible food made for a very miserable start to our trip to Indonesia.

Nightime in Yogyakarta

Bustling streets in Yogyakarta

Yes, in retrospect we had just been smacked in the face with the culture-shock stick; having just spent two months in neat, sparkly-clean New Zealand and Australia we were completely unprepared for the conditions in Jakarta. We were only just realising how easy everything had been on our trip so far. We’d experienced nothing but clean, clearly-priced hostels, English signs everywhere, supermarkets selling recognisable food and our very own rental car. Now, exhausted, we were floundering in the stifling strangeness and heat of Jakarta.

Nevertheless, we had things to do; a second laptop to buy, Philippine visas to get hold of and travel vaccinations and malaria tablets to sort out. We found a laptop quickly enough but things went downhill after that; the visa office was closed because of an election. At the travel clinic we paid a fee to see a doctor and somehow got conned into buying some very expensive anti-malarials – we were beginning to feel pretty cursed.

Escaping Jakarta

Fed-up, we hid in our room, comforting ourselves with episodes of the Amazing Race. I was staggered by the powerful waves of homesickness that were washing over me. I didn’t just miss London, I longed to be anywhere in England, or New Zealand, or Australia – I even found myself pining for Scotland after one particular episode of the Amazing Race – I’ve never even been to Scotland!

View of Java from the Train Window

The view out of the train window as we left Jakarta

I skyped my mum one evening and felt like I was peering into another universe; the computer screen was like a magical portal showing me a reality so familiar, yet so alien to what I was experiencing in Jakarta. I wished I could have just stepped through the glass to have a sandwich and a chat and snuggle up with one of my mum’s little dogs on my lap. I hadn’t expected to feel like this at all and especially not so early on in the trip, what was wrong with me? Maybe I wasn’t cut out for travelling in Asia? Or perhaps feeling this lost, in every sense of the word, is merely what it’s like to really travel – but if that was true, did I really want to live this kind of lifestyle?

It was time to get out of Jakarta.

Our train to Yogyakarta was booked for 8.30am and although the taxi driver picked us up before seven, I began to panic as soon as I saw the traffic-choked streets. I spent the next hour gritting my teeth in the back of the taxi, terrified that we’d miss our train, lose the hefty £37 we’d spent on  tickets  and worst of all, be stuck in Jakarta for another day. My nerves were stretched taut – if I thought travelling would chill me out, I was sorely mistaken.

Unbelievably, we did make the train but sadly, things didn’t improve.

Us and Indonesia Tourists at Borobudur Temple, Indonesia

Indonesian people were keen to have their picture taken with us

On arriving in Yogyakarta we spent about an hour trekking through familiar Jakarta-esque streets looking for a room in the searing heat; our backpacks weighing us down, sweat soaking our shirts until we found somewhere halfway decent. I became even more dispirited as we later searched the streets for food, hungry and headachey to find nothing vegetarian or appealing to eat.

I’d had enough. It was all I could do to get back to the hotel before I broke down, admitting everything to Andrew, who was also having trouble warming to Indonesia. I felt like a total travel failure – what were we going to do now?

Buddha Statues at Borobudur Temple, Indonesia

Buddha Statues at Borobudur Temple

Leaving Java Indonesia and Brighter Days

We’d planned to spend a few weeks in Java but decided instead to move on to Bali early, as soon as we’d done the few things we were really looking forward to in Java. Maybe we should have stuck it out for longer and things would have improved, but in the end we decided that we’d invested too much in this trip to spend any more of it feeling miserable.

Borobudur Temple, Indonesia

Borobudur Temple, Indonesia

As I write this I’m sat in a beach hut on Gili Meno, a tiny, almost silent island off the coast of Lombok and it’s hard to remember exactly how awful that first week in Java was or to believe just how miserable I felt. However, I want to write honestly about my experiences and even though things improved vastly once we left Java I still think it’s important to document the challenging times; because I have no doubt we’ll learn the most from them in the long run. That week in Java marked a turning point in our travels; our trip, which had so far been a series of fast-moving adventures stalled and the novelty of travel started to wear off – the reality of what long-term travel entails began to sink in and we’ve been slowly adjusting to that realisation ever since.

Top of Borobudur Temple, Java Indonesia

The top of Borobudur Temple

Despite our difficulties, we did have a couple of incredible experiences that made our week in Java memorable for happier reasons. Firstly, we took a trip out to Borobudur, an impressive ancient Buddhist temple. The mammoth stone structure looked so beautiful set against a hazy backdrop of mountains, volcanoes and vast green fields. As we walked around an odd thing happened too, Indonesian tourists started approaching, asking to have their pictures taken with us simply because, as white westerners, we were a bit of a rarity. We didn’t quite get used to this strange attention but the Indonesian people are so lovely in general (which made me feel even worse about disliking Java) that you couldn’t refuse.

Right before we left for Bali we also had one of the strangest yet most incredible travel adventures yet: our midnight tour to Mount Bromo.

breaking down in java indonesia, pinterest pin

Pin Me For Later!

  • Patti
    Posted at 05:49h, 18 June Reply

    Ah Amy – what a tough week! But I’m guessing as you reflect you’ll realize how much you learned from the negative, as well as the positive. And – you’ve gained a lot of knowledge about how/where you want to travel from here forward. You know, I joke about the photos of the spiders and such but at my age I know what I can and can’t handle and seeing that creature would have put me over the edge, seriously. I know there are parts of this world we will never see because of the very things you described and I wouldn’t even attempt it so kudos to you for trying! And now you know a bit more about what you can handle! Safe travels ~

    • Amy
      Posted at 08:53h, 18 June Reply

      Hi Patti, I think you’re right that we’ve both learned a lot about the places we want to travel, what lengths we can push ourselves to and how we react to alien situations. I don’t blame you for being put off by creatures; the spider was hideous! It’s always good to know your limits.

  • Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)
    Posted at 10:24h, 18 June Reply

    Oh Amy, I’m so sorry to hear about your rough time on Java. Honestly, it sounds like a version of what we experienced when we hit China, right down to us hustling to catch our train out of Beijing (which, of course, we missed). In some ways we had been a bit disappointed during our month in Japan because of how it didn’t seem *that* foreign, but we were repaid for that in spades when we hit China which was about as foreign and frustrating as a place can be.

    I’ve pretty much only heard negative things about Jakarta, so I can’t say that I’m surprised to hear you hated it so much. I’ve definitely learned that your first impressions of a country can be so critical and have also found that it is sometimes better to start off not in one of the big cities/famous places, which often aren’t even an accurate reflection of the country, but to start off somewhere smaller so that you can acclimate to the new country in a more low-key environment. At first, everything can be overwhelming, even in great places like Bangkok, as you don’t know what the pharmacies look like or what the standard dishes are to order and I think juggling a big city’s energy on top of that can be really frustrating.

    In a similar way, when we headed to the Philippines, I made sure we didn’t stay in Manila, even though that’s where our flight landed because, like Jakarta, I had only heard bad things about the place. We immediately caught a connecting flight to Cebu, then went to a smaller island. I’m so glad we did, because by the time we hit Manila at the end of our trip, we were so used to how things worked in the Philippines, it hardly fazed us at all. You know we wound up falling head over heels for the Philippines, but I think it would have been much harder if Manila had been our introduction to it. We’re going to use this same tactic for when we hit Indonesia in just over a month—we fly to Bali and fly out of Jakarta (which I wanted to avoid altogether, but it was the cheapest place to fly to Nepal from…)!

    Also, I’m glad to hear that despite your rough week, you were able to change your plans and things have improved!

    • Amy
      Posted at 11:27h, 18 June Reply

      Hi Steph, I definitely think our experience sounds similar to what you guys went through in China; in fact, I remember thinking of your post about that while we were in Jakarta. Thanks for the suggestion about avoiding central places at the beginning of the trip; when we arrive in the Philippines I think we’ll take your advice and move out from Clark straight away. We’re flying out of Manila so I hope we’re also unfazed by it by the time we get there! You made a good call flying into Bali; I’m interested to hear how you both find Jakarta too.

  • Charlie
    Posted at 17:46h, 18 June Reply

    So sorry to hear you didn’t have a great time in Jakarta! I’ve heard/read quite a few negative things about the city, I think we’ll keep I visit short in case it’s not sweet! It must be a hard adjustment to life on the road once the novelty wears off. I hope you’re enjoying yourselves again now you’re in Bali. Perhaps you both need to slow the travel down a bit and take some time to relax. I hear Bali is the perfect place for this! 🙂

    • Amy
      Posted at 02:41h, 19 June Reply

      Hi Charlie, Bali, Lombok and the Gili Islands have all proved to be great places to relax – a world away from Jakarta! Unfortunately we didn’t read anything about Jakarta before we visited, if we had I think we would have been more prepared; I’m glad that we went through that experience in a way though as it’s taught us a lot about expectations and the way we want to travel. I’d definitely recommend keeping a stay in Jakarta as brief as possible, or skipping it altogether.

  • Carmel
    Posted at 19:56h, 18 June Reply

    Reading this makes me think I was right in putting off Australia and Europe until later in our trip. It was tempting to jump into the familiar European travel right off the bat, but I knew I’d grow too comfortable with the familiar, so we chose to head straight to Mongolia. I’m hoping by choosing this method, we’ll see the comforts we’re accustomed to in the US as a treat once we get there…however, I’m sure there will be a whole different set of downsides to this method (things feeling WAY too expensive being one I can think of now).

    I was going to say this sounded like Steph and Tony’s trip to China and she said it first! I think it’s hard not to feel like somehow you’re doing something wrong and like a failure, but you’re only human. Not everyone will love the same places and maybe at another time, you might love it there (maybe, because I’ve heard a lot of similar opinions of Jakarta). I’m more of a “cut your losses” kind of gal and think you made a wise decision. It’s not going to be all fun and games traveling, but it also doesn’t have to be downright miserable.

    • Amy
      Posted at 02:45h, 19 June Reply

      Hi Carmel, when we were in Jakarta I said to Andrew that perhaps it would have been easier had we come to Asia first before Australia and New Zealand. I’m sure Australia will feel like a treat once you get there; my little brother just spent a few months in Asia and is now in Australia and he’s loving it by the sounds of things.

  • Heidi Wagoner
    Posted at 10:48h, 21 June Reply

    Wow that is a rough time! Okay that picture of the spider got me, my goodness it was huge! There is nothing worse than being miserable and hot and homesick. When it rains it pours and then it too passes and life changes. So sorry to hear about your time there, but I like that you shared it with all of us.

    • Amy
      Posted at 10:56h, 21 June Reply

      Thanks Heidi – the spider was horrible! I think on the road tough times can seem particularly tough and changes all the more dramatic; we’re still getting used to all this.

  • Rob
    Posted at 23:17h, 26 June Reply

    Hey Amy, your experience in Java reminds me so much of my trip to Mumbai! We spent most of our time in our hotel and tried to make our escape on the trains only to discover they were all booked up. We thought we were going to implode so hid in our hotel room away from all the starers and booked an budget breaking flight to a quieter part of India… Instantly the stress was forgotten. I honestly think the horrific times make the good times taste even sweeter!

    • Amy
      Posted at 03:05h, 27 June Reply

      Hi Rob, Mumbai sounds like somewhere we would struggle too if Jakarta was anything to go by. You’re so right about the horrific times making the good ones even sweeter; we’re in Borneo now and are absolutely loving it!

  • Laurel- Capturing la Vita
    Posted at 14:02h, 03 July Reply

    What an incredible experience for you! I love the photos, but I’m not sure how I would deal with that spider. 😉

    • Andrew
      Posted at 14:08h, 03 July Reply

      Thanks Laurel, It really put things into perspective, not everything we do or everywhere we go is going to be amazing, but so long as we take the positives from them it will be OK.

  • Adam @ PergiDulu
    Posted at 07:28h, 22 July Reply

    Ha! You have to have a bit of a laugh about the culture shock. I’ve experienced it on 2 separate occasions on arrival in Java and once you get past it, Java is one of the most underrated places in Southeast Asia.

    The food is a problem for most people because there is no point of reference. With a list of common dishes and what to expect, the food situation can become a pleasure!

    Clearly an Indonesia lover here 🙂

    • Amy
      Posted at 08:41h, 24 July Reply

      Yes, clearly an Indonesian lover Adam 🙂 I think that had we perhaps gone back to Java after Bali, once we’d figured out what dishes to eat we would have had a better experience with the food; I don’t know that we would ever get used to Jakarta though! We don’t regret our time in Java at all though and I can see how you can grow to love it (minus Jakarta!) once the culture shock has worn off. A couple of the highlights of our entire time in Indonesia were our trips to Mount Bromo and Borobudur, we absolutely cannot argue that Java is one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever been.

  • Felicia
    Posted at 10:10h, 22 July Reply

    aw. Sad to hear you had a rough time in java….

    I understand how Jakarta can be a shock to the system… I do still get quite a culture shock whenever I holiday back home…. Let alone your first exper

    My only suggestion is perhaps try to make friends with the locals if you haven’t tried before? We love to show off the hidden gems of our cities when we do have the chance…. Couchsurfing is a great place for that. (For all over the world really. Not just Indonesia.)

    All the best for your future travels. Hope you will give java another shot at some point in the future. 🙂

    • Amy
      Posted at 08:53h, 24 July Reply

      Hi Felicia, thanks for commenting. Couchsurfing is a great idea and I’m sure we would have had a much better experience had we had someone to show us around Jakarta. We did actually stay in a house owned by a local in Jakarta but unfortunately she wasn’t there at the time so we still had to find our own way around (which was tough!). Thanks for your kind wishes, maybe one day we will return to Java!

  • Sari
    Posted at 08:38h, 05 November Reply

    Hi, I am Indonesian.. 🙂
    I also hope Jakarta will turn into a pleasant town in the future.

    • Amy
      Posted at 11:09h, 05 November Reply

      Hi Sari, I hope so too 🙂

  • RICK
    Posted at 02:40h, 23 April Reply

    Well I am amaized at your description of Java. Surely you knew it is a third world country and things are not the same as England , Australia etc. I am an Australian and have lived in Indonesia for 5 years and love the place. U get used to the traffic and other idiosyncs. To say the food was crap well it is a lot better than fat pies and chips.What do u expect if you travel the world, every thing to be the same as the place you left??
    May as well stay home then.
    I have travelled to a lot of places in Indonesia by myself, driving my own car or motorbike and love the culture, siplicity of life, the people are so friendly, not arrogant like a lot of westeners.
    Most of Indonesians lve on about a $1.00 a day but will take you in and feed you and look after you and are always smiling. Compare that with a day on your western streets. Go have an adventure!

    • Amy
      Posted at 12:35h, 23 April Reply

      Hi Rick, thanks for your comment. We definitely had an adventure in Indonesia and since then have continued to travel in Asia for over a year – at the moment we are living and working for a disaster relief project in the Philippines, so I understand many of the sentiments you’re making. However, this post was written during my trip to Indonesia and reflects how I was feeling at that point in my trip: overwhelmed with culture shock and coming to terms with the realities of long-term travel.
      I stand by the impressions I had of Java but having now travelled more extensively in Asia I absolutely think I’d deal with Java differently now. I certainly didn’t expect the world to be the same as England, which is why I set out to travel and I have discovered so much and come to love Asia but it wouldn’t have been honest to write about my experiences in Java at that point in my trip without mentioning how I was dealing with culture shock. If you read the entire piece you will see that I mention the people are lovely and there were parts of the country I really liked.
      By the way, I’m not keen on the phrase ‘Third World’ – we all belong to the same planet and considering the United Nations does not include Indonesia in its list of the 50 least developed countries in the world, this label is even less appropriate.

      • RICK
        Posted at 08:09h, 24 April Reply

        UNITED NATIONS !!! what a fast that is. They wouldn’t know what hit them if they had to move out of 5 star hotels and fend for themselves. Bunch of thieves if u ask me.
        Anyway point taken and good to see you are enjoying your travels. I’m off to Lombok next week for about 10 days. Love that Island. Away from the hustle of Bali.

        • Andrew
          Posted at 12:02h, 24 April Reply

          Thanks Rick, have a great time in Lombok; we liked our short time on that island. 🙂

  • mark
    Posted at 10:56h, 11 July Reply

    Hi, sorry to hear your report. I have lived and worked in Jakarta and its one of those place that you need to live in to understand. Unlike many South-East Asian places, Jakarta is a functioning national capital and is not really a tourist destination, they tend to leave that to places like Bali and Lombok.
    Jakarta does have a few things of interest, but if you are a foreigner and look lost, alas they can sense a quick dollar to be made and often exploit the unexpecting. I would love to go back in time and have the opportunity to give you some advice on where to go and be treated with equal respect, and where to go to enjoy the place, but the traffic will always be the same, has been that way since my first time there in 98.
    Don’t be scared to go back, but do your homework on what areas are ”tourist friendly”

    • Amy
      Posted at 13:50h, 11 July Reply

      Hi Mark, thanks for commenting and sharing your experiences; I certainly wish we’d had your advice before we arrived in Jakarta. I do think that having travelled more extensively in Asia now that we’d cope with Jakarta much better (and may even enjoy it) if we were to go back again. You’re totally right about doing homework too, we should have done more research before arriving in the city.

  • Chloe
    Posted at 20:58h, 18 August Reply

    Hi Amy, I’ve just come across your blog as I’m looking into some tips for travelling Java. Myself and two girlfriends arrive into Jakarta in September and we haven’t made any concrete plans yet, we only have 4 weeks in Indonesia (more or less) and we want to make our way over to Bali, Lombok and Gilis eventually, probably sooner rather than later judging by your post – although this is not the first negative feedback I’ve found from a tourist on Jakarta, and we want to spend the majority of our time in the Bali area. But I was just wondering if you have any advice and also any places we should definitely see before moving on to Bali? Would appreciate your help. Thanks, Chloe

    • Amy
      Posted at 21:33h, 18 August Reply

      Hi Chloe, thanks for your comment. As you know Jakarta was far from our favourite place but there are a couple of things worth seeing. First of all Borobudur temple near Jogjakarta is pretty impressive and although we didn’t actually see the sunrise from Mount Bromo the trip was memorable. Jakarta is an interesting place and if we went back we may see it completely differently. I hope you have a great time and while in Bali I would recommend the Bali Eco Cycling Tour, Ubud is great and there are some amazing secluded beaches to visit rather than the crowded Kuta. As for the Gilis, we found it cheaper to fly from Bali to Lombok then get the boat to the little islands. Enjoy! 🙂

      • Chloe
        Posted at 21:59h, 18 August Reply

        Hi Amy, that’s great thanks, I’m seeing a few blogs mentioning the Borobudur temple and Mount Bromo so I think they’re a must! Hadn’t heard about the cycling tour in Bali or thought about the option of flying so thanks for that I’ll look into those. Much appreciated 🙂

  • Dwiputra
    Posted at 14:20h, 19 December Reply

    Hi Amy

    I am Indonesian n i live at suburban of jakarta
    i wanna tell u about some interesting places in jakarta :

    1. Taman Mini Indonesia Indah (TMII)
    we can learn about indonesian culture completely here and “travelling around” indonesia for some hours:p and this place only in Jakarta, Indonesia

    2. Hudred of malls in Jakarta
    for example : grand indonesia, plaza indonesia, fx mall, ex mall, pacifique place, plaza senayan etc

    3. old city of jakarta,_Jakarta
    we can see dutch colonial architecture, some intersting museums, the plaza, the street vendors

    4. Hundred of colonial buildings
    spread all the city

    5. National Monument (Monas)
    it is the icon of jakarta city, located in central jakarta

    6. National Museum
    just west of national monument
    we can learn about indonesian history n culture here
    if in TMII we learn about Indonesian in big park
    here we learn about Indonesian in museum

    7. Ragunan Zoo
    we can see many kinda animals here but the best to see is orang utan at schmuttzer conservation inside that zoo.

    8 Istiqlal Mosque & Cathedral
    just northeast from Monas, those are great n big worship places, and uniquely the Mosque n the Church are face each others, it shows the tolerant n peacuful life between moslem n christian people in Jakarta.

    9. Setu Babakan
    it is a park with a lake and here is Betawi Culture Centre. Betawi is original ethnic in Jakarta ,about 10-15% of Jakarta Population. every Sunday we can see Betawi cultural performance such as dancing, singing, traditional music, joking etc.

    10. Thousand Islands
    maybe like between Lombok and Gili Islands, just off north from Jakarta, we can relax in beautiful Islands in thousand island such as umang island, kelor island, tidung island, etc

    Bonus :
    Bogor City
    The city is in south part of Jakarta, an hour trip aproximately. it has cooler weather and has a bogor great garden in central bogor builded by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles. around Bogor City it has many interesting places, such as Taman Safari, Puncak, beautiful view of tea garden, etc

    that is what i can share to u 🙂 i hope u can go here again, and i promise i can guide u to make u feel interesting n better 🙂

    • Amy
      Posted at 05:04h, 20 December Reply

      Thanks so much for reading and sharing your tips and advice. We will definitely check these places out if we ever go back to Indonesia 🙂

  • Brady
    Posted at 10:49h, 21 December Reply

    Hey, I just want to point out you seem to have booked the cheapest places and didn’t go to restaurants and eating street food lol. Sounds like you where experiencing Indonesia as poor westerners, no offence but you guys certainly tried to save money to much and ruined the true experience. Jakarta is horrible due to the weather yes and it smells bad in most places in Indonesia due to the food they eat etc. I really suggest you go back to Java visit Bandung and Lembang and book nice hotels and go to nice restaurants and you will see how good Indonesia is. I live in Bandung when I am in Indonesia I can’t handle the heat in Jakarta or anywhere else for that matter. If you want cool cold wind go to Bandung and Lembang it is really nice especially at night. And Lembang has volcanic hot springs some hotels I have been to are £200 a night villas with private volcanic hot springs!

    • Amy
      Posted at 04:53h, 22 December Reply

      Yes, we definitely travelled differently back then (we visited in 2013). Indonesia was also our first stop in Asia and I think we just had a shock there. Now that we have been living and travelling through Asia for a few years I am sure that we would cope with Indonesia/Jakarta much better if we went back there today. Lembang sounds nice!

Post A Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.