Indonesia’s train network is admittedly rather sparse and many travellers may not always consider the train as being the first mode of transport to use, with ferries being a popular long distance option, while minivans known as angkots and motorbike taxis (called ojeks) can also be a fun way to get around in the cities. The country is also served by a multitude of local airlines of course, but these have a fairly patchy safety record.
The fact is however that there are a handful of train journeys well worth trying on your next trip to Indonesia. Only two of the country’s islands, Java and Sumatra, have any sort of rail service worth speaking of. Of these it’s generally agreed that Java is the better option for first time visitors.
Rail Routes on Java
Using national rail operator PT Kerata’s generally reliable service you can travel from the capital Jakarta on two main route loops, either to Semarang and Surabaya and then on to Gillmanuk, where you can then transfer to a ferry which will take you to the ever-popular island of Bali.
Alternatively, the other loop dips inland, connecting you with Bandung and Yogyakarta, before re-joining the main line to Surabaya.
About the Jakarta to Yogyakarta Train Journey
The 790 mile trip from Jakarta’s main Gambir station to Yogyakarta takes around eight hours and is notably scenic. You can expect to glide past rice paddies, mountains and volcanoes through a largely rural setting where you’ll often encounter cows, sheep and waterfowl grazing near the tracks.
On the Train
Indonesian trains are comfortable with carriages offering three classes: Executive, Business and economy. Executive class offers such luxuries as pillows, reclining seats and footrests, while Economy cars are usually very crowded and noisy, but filled with ordinary local commuters and hawkers proffering their wares (selling everything from food, toys and drinks to books and services including massages, charging your mobile phone and even perfume sprays) and so arguably provides a more authentic travel experience if that’s what you crave.
The ‘Bisnis’ class makes for a good compromise, offering innovative ‘loveseat’ configurations and only marginally less comfortable seating than the more costly Executive Class.
This train has a pleasant dining car serving tasty (non-Vegetarian) local dishes, but do bear in mind that the toilet facilities on board may not be quite up to the standard you may be used to in the west.
A trip like this, taking in several stops en-route if you prefer to break the journey up, can cost as little as $100, so if you’re spending some time on Java and you want to see a fair chunk of the island, why not give it a go? It’s sure to be a memorable travel experience.
So why head to Yogyakarta in the first place, you may be wondering? Well Yogyakarta (or ‘Yogya’ for short, as it’s commonly known) is well regarded as Java’s prime artistic and cultural centre, as well as being the island’s proud bastion of the Javanese language.
This sprawling city of over 3.3 million people is generally more laid back than the more businessy Jakarta, and when you arrive you might want to explore the archaeological sites of Borobudur and Prambanan, check out some of the many excellent museums in the city, discover the vast palace of Kraton, or (depending on your views on such things) you could also pay a visit to the Pasar Pasty, the city’s huge bird market where you can expect to find songbirds, owls, raptors, and many other species of birds for sale.
Rail company Kerata does offer online booking these days, but since most of the site is in Indonesian and with only Indonesian credit cards accepted, you may find it easier to buy tickets at the stations or through a reputable travel agent.
You can also get tickets over the counter in any Indomaret supermarket, a popular chain with many outlets in most towns and cities.
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