I mentioned in my New Year post that I would be focusing on domestic travels in Malaysia or destinations within Southeast Asia for the first half of 2017, and Indonesia was the first country that I planned for this year.
Indonesia comprises 17,000 islands and is the largest island country in the world. There is no way I would be able to explore all 17,000 islands but ever since I explored some of their hidden gems back in 2009 and 2013 (before they became ‘hot destinations’ now), Indonesia has been one of my favourite destinations in Southeast Asia. Moreover, it is only 2-3 hours’ flight from Malaysia – how convenient is that!
I had always thought that my first visit to Indonesia was to Bali and Komodo Islands in 2009 but my sister reminded me that my first visit went way back to our family trip to Lake Toba in Sumatra when I was 10 years old. Also, I had thought my last trip to Indonesia was to Mount Ijen in 2009 but it was to Lombok in 2013! I’m definitely getting old for my memory is failing me, LOL! It has been 4 years since Lombok, and I recently returned to Indonesia – a weekend trip to Surabaya and Mount Bromo in East Java.
Surabaya is the second largest city in Indonesia and was once the largest city in the colonial Dutch East Indies. There aren’t many interesting attractions in Surabaya but this city is the gateway to the Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park.
How do I get to Surabaya?
Travellers can fly directly into Surabaya or travel by train or express buses from the major cities of Java such as Jakarta, Bandung or Jogjakarta but expect a long journey of 10-15 hours. For those who are travelling from Bali, they can take a ferry from Gilimanuk in Bali to Ketapang in East Java, a bus to Banyuwangi and finally a train to Surabaya.
My sister and I flew from Kuala Lumpur to Surabaya, our flight was 2.5 hours.
And how do I get to the Mount Bromo area?
The Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park is named after its 2 mountains: Mount Bromo, the Tengger people who inhabit the area, and Mount Semeru.
Mount Bromo (2,329m) is the most popular and accessible active volcano in Java whereas Mount Semeru (3,676m) is the highest mountain in Java but is currently closed to visitors due to its highly active nature. The last eruption of Mount Bromo was in November 2010 which saw the volcano spewed ash up to 2,300 feet in the sky, and its eruption went on till early January 2011. The national park was closed but reopened several months later.
We travelled by private car from Surabaya to Mount Bromo, the journey was only 3 hours’ drive. The short drive is the main reason why many domestic tourists visit this volcano. College/University students also enjoy going on motorcycle trips from Surabaya on Saturday (just after midnight), arriving at the national park in time for sunrise, after which they have breakfast in the village nearby before heading back to Surabaya. Hence, should you decide to travel to Mount Bromo, note that there could be a larger crowd of tourists than usual on weekends and during Indonesian holiday periods.
Travellers can opt to travel for a couple of hours by bus from Surabaya to the Probolinggo bus terminal, and switch to another bus to Cemoro Lawang which is the nearest village to the national park. A word of caution though: be aware of scams and touts targeting foreign tourists.
Who are the Tengger people?
Mount Bromo was named after Brahma, the Hindu creator god – the name Bromo derived from the Javanese pronunciation. The people who in live in the villages situated in and around the national park are the Tengger people or the Tenggerese, and they practice Hinduism.
The Tenggerese are one of the few Hindu communities left in Java. Bali is not the only Hindu island in Indonesia but the Tenggerese are believed to be descendants of Majapahit rulers in Java who were driven to the mountains to flee from the mass arrival of Muslim Madurese in the 19th century.
Unlike Bali, Hinduism is rather non-ostentatious in Bromo with the exception of a Hindu temple in the village, Hindu altars outside their homes, and the Poten Temple at the caldera of Mount Bromo where Tenggerese and Balinese pilgrims visit and make offerings.
You can easily spot the Tenggerese by their poncho-like blankets wrapped around them as they trot on horses bringing tourists back and forth across the caldera or the Laut Pasir (Sea of Sand).
Where to stay?
We stayed at Jiwa Jawa Resort, a 4-star hotel which happened to be one of the best properties in the national park. The owner of the resort is also a photographer who exhibits his spectacular photographs of Mount Bromo and works of art by other artists at the Java Banana Gallery, a gallery-cum-café at the resort.
Other types of accommodation such as hostels, guesthouses and homestays are available. However, expect very basic accommodation at the guesthouses/homestays.
When do I get to climb Mount Bromo?
Mountain climbing is all about climbing to the summit in time for sunrise, right? Well, there isn’t a need to climb a mountain to see sunrise here – we travelled by jeep instead. Yeah I know, we are “cheaters” 🙂
Our jeep arrived at our resort at 3.30am and drove us for 45 minutes to Mount Penanjakan Viewpoint to see sunrise over Mount Bromo. No other vehicles are allowed except motorbikes to the viewpoint, local jeeps only. Although sunrise was at 5am, we needed to book our spot early – the best vantage point – to take photos of the sunrise and Mount Bromo.
As the sun began to rise, we did not only see Mount Bromo but three distinct volcanoes. The volcano in the foreground is the dormant Mount Batok; Mount Bromo is situated just behind Mount Batok with its entire top blown off and crater belching white sulphurous smoke; and the highest volcano of the three is the highly active Mount Semeru which emits smoke every 20-30 minutes.
It was cold that morning, temperatures dipped to 14-15 degrees Celsius but by the time we saw the first rays of light, we forgot about the cold for we were too busy admiring and taking photos of the three mountains and its surrounding landscape especially in that soft morning light.
(We were told that it gets really cold during the mid-year season – 5-7 degrees Celsius!)
By 6am, we went back to the jeep and were driven back the same route from which we came earlier – in the dark. We stopped at the caldera of Mount Bromo where our horses were waiting to take us to the foot of Mount Bromo. Travellers can choose to walk but since we were “cheaters” we rode on horseback instead 🙂
At the foot of Mount Bromo, we climbed over 200 steps to the summit of Mount Bromo – the crater. And we came very close to the white sulphurous smoke that we saw from a distance at the viewpoint at sunrise.
We learnt that the Tenggerese climbed up the steps on the fourteenth day of the Hindu festival of Yadnya Kasada to make offerings of fruit, rice, vegetables, flowers and sometimes livestock to the mountain gods. They throw their offerings into the volcano of Bromo, and some locals even go down into the crater to recollect their sacrificed goods for they believe could bring them good luck! Well, I definitely do not want to fall into that crater!
Should I hire a jeep and go on horseback, or can I hike on my own?
We wanted some comforts, as such, we preferred the jeep and the horseback ride.
For those wanting the alternatives, travellers can hike for 2 hours to Mount Penanjakan Viewpoint for sunrise or they can hike for 45 minutes through the Sea of Sand and then up the steps to the crater of Mount Bromo. I do not have the specifics but just ensure that you get proper information and permits before hiking on your own. This is because the national park could be off-limits if local authorities detect potential volcanic eruption or tremor activity.
We had a fantastic weekend getaway – it was a right balance of city tour, mountain-climbing (well, sort of haha), cool and fresh mountain air, Indonesian food and a little bit of shopping – just the kind of escape that we needed to rejuvenate our minds and souls weary from the humdrum of daily routines.
But one thing for sure, that will not be my last trip to Indonesia because I’ll be back!
*My visit to Mount Bromo was hosted by Smailing DMC. I had personally used Smailing DMC services for trips to Komodo Island, Mount Ijen and Jogjakarta during my pre-blogger days, and have been very pleased with their services ever since. Opinions expressed in this post, as always, are my own.
*Linking with #FarawayFiles.