Java Bali Tour: Visit Indonesia


If you’re inspired by reading about the Indonesian islands of Java and Bali but haven’t visited these amazing islands, this Java Bali tour could be just right for you.

Lynda Bransbury is offering very reasonably priced places on her Java Bali Heritage Tour in December 2012-January 2013. I met Lynda while I was studying Javanese gamelan music and she was studying puppetry in Solo, Central Java. You can read more about her tours in this interview or head straight to her own website.

MountainsHere are the juicy details:

JUST TWO PLACES LEFT ON OUR XMAS TOUR

27 December – 12 January 2012

17 nights in Java & Bali £770 single room; £612 if 2 people share

13 nights in Java £481 single room; £373 if 2 people share

7 night tour of Central Java £270;

Come and experience the wonders and beauty of Java and Bali for 17 nights. Vibrant tropical vegetation, lush rice fields, impressive volcanoes, sacred and ancient sites, dating back to Hindu Buddhist times.

BorobudurEach country has its own rich, cultural heritage. Traditional performing arts and rituals remain a vibrant and valued part of daily life. The 17 night study tour (13 nights in Java and 4 nights in Bali) combines visits to the major historical sites from the Hindu Buddhist past, including the World Heritage Site of Borobudur Temple, with opportunities to see traditional dance, ritual and performance. You can also take part in workshops led by internationally recognized Javanese artists in sound, movement, meditation, traditional dance or shadow puppets.

We visit Javanese mountain villages where the traditional way of life has hardly changed in generations, and stay overnight in village houses. You get to see traditions, performance and farming practices that tourists rarely see.

CONTACT

Lynda Bransbury at lyndabransbury@yahoo.com or telephone (+44) 873 812 664 for more information or to book a place. See www.javabaliheritage.co.uk

Balinese dance

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South Sulawesi in Pictures 6: Stilt Houses

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One of the elements of the South Sulawesi landscape that really caught my eye were the houses and their architecture, from the curved rooftops of Torajan traditional homes to the stilt houses that line the road around Bira on the … Continue reading

Bira Beach (Pantai Bira): White Sand Spoilt by Litter


A friend’s opinion that Bira was the most beautiful beach in Indonesia secured my decision to visit as the endpoint of my South Sulawesi trip, which had taken me north to Tana Toraja and to the city of Makassar.

Bira Beach, a few hours drive from Makassar, has become one of South Sulawesi’s most popular traveller haunts, with domestic and international tourists coming to enjoy the powdery white sands and crystal clear waters.

White sand at Bira BeachTourism = Litter

Unfortunately, as happens in many places that become tourism’s new best friend, the main part of the beach, where the road finishes abruptly at the seashore, was covered in litter. Plastic bags, food and drink containers and other random objects had been churned up by the waves and dumped on the beach, and the situation did not change during our three-night stay.

Rubbish on the beachYes, the sand is some of the most powdery soft white sand I have ever set foot on, but the need to constantly watch my step to avoid treading on broken glass rather spoilt the moment.

The sign on the right tells people to keep the beach clean. Beside it is a pile of litter.

The sign on the right tells people to keep the beach clean. Beside it is a pile of litter.

A Changeable Sea

On our first day the sea was relatively calm; people buzzed back and forth on banana boats dragged by speedboats. Other boats anchored near the beach, with passengers from nearby islands alighting. I swam in the sea, and as long as I avoided the boats, it was pleasant for swimming.

On day two, however, the waves were bigger and it was impossible to do proper swimming. Sunsets along the beach were beautiful, but not of the sun-dropping-into-the-ocean type.

I found that walking further along the beach, away from the hubbub of Bira with its souvenir stalls and rubber ring hire shops, led me to cleaner sand with fewer people, and I swam there on day three.

Not a Peaceful Idyll

So, Bira is definitely not the peaceful idyll that some guidebooks and people would have you believe. It’s a small but bustling tourist place, with plenty of places to stay and eat, and lots of shops to buy your Sulawesi t-shirts.

With this kind of under-planned tourism, where places just sprout up to cope with demand, there is often a lack of thought for keeping an area clean and pleasant. I hope that this issue will be addressed by the local businesses who rely on a steady stream of beach-going visitors. And for the time being, I suggest avoiding Bira – there are plenty of better beaches in Indonesia (here’s one example).

Bira Beach Hotel Hell – Dirty, Smelly, Rat-Infested and Poor Service!


We had phoned ahead to confirm our late arrival at Bira Beach Hotel at Pantai Bira, South Sulawesi, and were assured that someone at the hotel would be up. However, on leaving our rental car in the midnight darkness, the hotel door turned out to be locked. We knocked and banged for a while and tried phoning the hotel number. Eventually someone woke up who sleepily showed us to our bungalow.

Pantai BiraOur Night in Hotel Hell

We were exhausted from our long journey all the way from Tana Toraja, and just wanted to have a shower and go to bed. But there was no running water. A sign informed us that during the night there was indeed no water, and that guests should save some water in the large plastic bucket provided. There were only a few centimetres of water in our plastic bucket.

The leftover sachet from someone else’s shampoo littered the bathroom and this rubbish, along with the ants and hairs in the bed, suggested that the room had not been cleaned. We used our limited water to wash our faces and brush our teeth before quickly retiring to bed. There wasn’t even water to flush the toilet.

Rats!

It was nearly 1am and we were so tired. Just as I was nodding off I was woken with a start by a scuttling sound beneath me—a rat’s footsteps! We got up again but couldn’t find the culprit and so returned to bed. I was almost ready to believe that my mind was playing tricks on me. Then suddenly there was a much louder noise. We immediately leapt out of bed and saw a large rat in one of the two holes above and below the air conditioning unit.

Rat holesAlthough not scared of rodents, we didn’t want to wake up to find holes chewed in our bags, let alone have rats running across our bed in the night. We expected better from a hotel that isn’t the cheapest in the area.

We returned to reception and after much banging and several tries at phoning we finally succeeded in rousing somebody who agreed we could move to a different bungalow, without a word of apology.

Moving Bungalows

We were offered no assistance in moving our luggage to the new room; indeed we were just given the new key and the staff went away. While we were moving our belongings there was a power cut and we were plunged into pitch black. Slowly and carefully moving by moonlight we moved to the new bungalow.

It was similar; a double bed, wooden veranda area with chairs, a cold water only bathroom with no running water at night, and an air conditioner. The new room was possibly slightly cleaner, with only one obvious piece of rubbish, a half-empty water bottle on the veranda. We were relieved that there were no rat holes.

Unfortunately the bathroom door was on its last legs and wouldn’t close. The smell from the bathroom permeated through the bungalow. When the electricity at last came back on we turned on the air conditioning to try to get rid of the bathroom smell. When we woke up in the morning it had mysteriously switched itself off.

Excuses and Apologies

The next morning we were given towels, toilet tissue and soap. When I asked why we didn’t receive them upon check-in, I was told that the hotel had run out of towels at that time. I explained our complaints, from poor service to rats, but the member of staff seemed disinterested and did not offer an apology.

A while later, another staff member came and heard our complaints. She did apologise and said she would make a note that the bungalow with rats should not be used until the problem was fixed. She offered us a discount, which she honoured when we checked out later that day. We had had enough of Bira Beach Hotel and nothing would make us stay there again.

South Sulawesi in Pictures 4: Batutumonga and a Buffalo Fight

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We had been told there would be a buffalo fight in the village of Londa, Tana Toraja, and sure enough, hundreds of spectators lined the grassy bank watching the buffaloes face off in the mud below. Driving north to Batutumonga … Continue reading

South Sulawesi: Transport Prices and Durations


These journey times and costs are accurate from my June-July 2012 trip. At this time the MakassarToraja road was being renovated and resurfaced. This made the journey slower, but once the roadworks are complete, the smooth, wide road should speed everything up.

Makassar streetFor the Makassar-Toraja and Toraja-Makassar legs of my trip, I took air-conditioned executive buses, which were very comfortable. Litha & Co has buses departing throughout the day, with the last departure at 10pm; you should arrive at the terminal in plenty of time to ensure you get a ticket because the buses do get full. Bintang Prima’s buses were slightly more luxurious than Litha & Co, but both buses had powerful air-con, reclining seats and adjustable footrests. Both stopped for lunch and a few other times along the journey.

If you want to travel from Tana Toraja all the way to Pantai Bira in one day, you can either hire a car for the whole journey, for which I was quoted prices over a million rupiahs, or you can do as I did and rent your car from Makassar. My rental car with driver met me at the bus terminal on my arrival in Makassar and we arrived at Pantai Bira later that night. If you don’t want to fork out for car rental you’ll have to break your journey with a night in Makassar.

Travelling anywhere by public car, expect to squeeze into half a seat as they normally take ten passengers. From Pantai Bira to Makassar, ask your hotel to book seats in a public car a day before you want to leave.

Journey Duration Cost
Makassar airport to city centre  Under 1 hour Rp. 100,000 fixed price to Zone 1 destinations
Bus Makassar to Tana Toraja (Litha & Co) 9 hours including stops Rp. 90,000
Public car Makale to Rantepao Under 1 hour Rp. 5,000 (shorter journeys cost less)
Bus Tana Toraja to Makassar (Bintang Prima) 9 hours including stops Rp. 100,000
Private car hire Makassar to Pantai Bira 6 hours including stops Rp. 600,000
Public car (kijang) Pantai Bira to Makassar 6 hours including stops Rp. 50,000
Taxi Mallengkeri bus terminal to central Makassar Rp. 36,000
Taxi central Makassar to airport Under 1 hour Rp. 80,000

 

South Sulawesi in Pictures 3: Toraja Graves in Cliffs and Caves

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This gallery contains 4 photos.


Tana Toraja has much to offer to tourists, and its unique graves in cliffs and caves along with statues of the dead are one of the stranger highlights.