Part 15 (2 March - 3 May) South east asia Part 3 (Indonesia, Borneo, Hong Kong)

Indonesia  (2 March – 21 April)



Overlanders (idiots like us who take their car to the other end of the world) have mixed feelings about Indonesia. Some really love it, spending up to a year island-hopping through the whole nation. Others recommend against going, advising to leave the car in Malaysia and just use train, boat & airplane between the interesting sights. Circumstances lead us to take the car (see our Cambodia blog final paragraph) and ours and Ed & Sue`s car arrived on schedule on the 2nd of March in Surabaya, Java. 


However, we hit some bureaucratic booby-traps and got stuck for 10 days(!) before our cars were released to us. Luckily we found a company called ‘A. Hartrodt’ who did a great job of helping us clear customs. Without their employee-of-the-month Adjeng the process would surely have been more expensive and taken even more time!





Where at first we really disliked the crowded, polluted and traffic-jammed city, Surabaya eventually grew on us and by the time we left the city we could almost say we liked it. Most Indonesia-travelers will probably call us either insane or brainwashed for saying this J 



In the streets friendly Indonesians wanted to talk to us but often the only 2 English words they knew were “Hello Mister!”... which they also said to Nicolette J We quickly realized that we had risen to superstar-status again because, like Iranians, lots of Indonesians wanted to take “selfies” with us. And they could be very persistent. While we were driving people tried to stop us by jumping in front of the car and we have even been chased by some guys on a moped trying to get us to stop for a quick picture!

Life was not expensive for us in Surabaya, it was easy to stretch our budget and still live in relative (and sometimes shameful) comfort like the Indonesian upper class does. We spend our days going to the cinemas, scouting car paint shops to get our car coated (for the trip to Canada), arranging car insurance (which failed miserably) and trying out lots of different restaurants to sample the delicious Indonesian food. 


 To give you an idea of our cost of living in Surabaya:


-        Luxury hotel incl. breakfast: 20 euro per night

-        Taxi to downtown and back: 2 euro incl. tip

-        Nice dinner for 2 incl. drinks: 6 euro

-        Cinema tickets for 2: 4 euro


Needless to say, cooking in our car in Indonesia was not worth the trouble. We were lucky that eating out was the standard here, as it was impossible getting our European gas bottles filled due to a different filling method. 

Mount Bromo


On the weekends, we got some days off from our bureaucratic battles with Indonesian customs and we took a train ride to Mount Bromo, an active volcano about a half days travel from Surabaya. A piece of advice for travelling around in Indonesia: use the trains wherever possible! They are very well organized using an airline-style boarding pass system and the ride is very comfortable. Just remember to bring a jacket (you need one anyway for Mount Bromo) as the air conditioning tries to put you in cryogenic stasis.

Entrance fee to the mountain is a whopping 220.000Rp (15 euro) for foreigners and 10.000Rp (0.70 euro) for Indonesians so we opted to take a backdoor horse trail to avoid these costs and buy some souvenirs from locals instead. This trail took us into the eerie sand flats surrounding the volcano where the environment is absolutely surreal. Before we reached Mount Bromo we had to cross a small desert shrouded in mist, as we passed the remnants of an old mosque. You can hear Bromo`s roar growing louder as you approach, turning into a deafening thunder once you arrive at the rim of the crater. The smell of sulfur is overwhelming and if not for the awesome and raw beauty of it all, it feels like you have arrived at the gates of hell!


The next morning we got up at 5 in the morning to catch the famous Bromo-sunrise, resulting in a cool intro of our Indonesia movie (see here).





Once back in Surabaya we spend our last days here with Ed & Sue and after paying a lot of extra money for the customs clearance, storage/demurrage and cargo manifest re-addressing we finally got our cars back. We had slain the so-called Shipping Dragon! Suffice to say: we were very happy. But the total costs of shipping from Cambodia to Surabaya added up to 4000 euro for 2 cars, and it took almost 1 month… Ouch.

Back on the road again!


We decided to take the touristic route via Southern Java towards Sumatra, which meant we said goodbye to our China-crossing buddies Ed & Sue, who took a direct route to Sumatra as they had visited most of Java already.


We expected after leaving busy Surabaya that we would be treated to open roads and wide views of rice fields. Unfortunately this was not the case. The ‘main’ roads throughout most of Java (and southern Sumatra as we later found out) are lined with often improvised houses and little businesses, blocking the views of Indonesia`s beautiful landscapes. Even worse, most roads were just as busy as in Surabaya city with endless lines of trucks and mopeds weaving through the traffic. Because of all this, our daily average speed almost never reached above 30kph and death-defying overtaking is the name of the Indonesian driving game. Pretty exhausting if you are like us and want to keep your car in 1 piece! Check out our Indonesia video to get a glimpse of our experiences.



Our first goal was to reach the city of Yogyakarta, next to which lie the marvelous Borobudur temple complex and one of the world`s deadliest volcano`s: Merapi. It took us 2 days to get there and during our trip we found out that finding a quiet place to park the car for the night is virtually impossible in overpopulated Java. However, people are generally very friendly and don`t mind us parking our car somewhere. Most are just very interested in us and getting some peace and quiet is therefore pretty rare.


We did find a wonderful spot on the slopes of mount Merapi amidst fields of red hot chili peppers and other produce. Volcano slopes are very fertile due to the ash deposited on them and thousands of Indonesians risk their lives every day working and living in the “blast zone” of Merapi.  The view of the mountain was spectacular, check out the pictures below! 

The next day we headed for the Borobudur temples which are magnificent, but they cannot compare to the awesome beauty of Angkor Wat which we visited in Cambodia. Yes, we have become very spoiled J



Half the mosques give wannabe Muezzin`s of around 10 years old the opportunity (and great honor) to announce morning prayers. These kids tend to go full throttle on the microphone once given the opportunity and it sounds, to put it mildly, not very pleasant. And this happens 5 times per day, starting at 6am taking up to an hour per session... We really started to miss the melodic Iranian Muezzins.

To the coast


From Bandung we headed south to the coast in search of some nice beaches but this proved pretty difficult. We did find very nice viewpoints of the rugged Indian Ocean coast, and as population density went down the views on the rice paddies also improved a lot! We parked in the jungle near the entrance of a small national park where we quickly raised a crowd of people around the car. They got bored after a while and we could spend the night in relative peace.

The jungles of the park should contain a large group of gibbons and the next day we geared up to take a short walk through the jungle. However, this being off-the beaten track Indonesia, our peaceful walk was disturbed by a some 20 guys on mopeds following us, so we turned back as the chances of spotting Gibbons had been reduced to zero.

The road along the coast towards the Java-Sumatra ferry was very beautiful and the next day we found a great spot to camp at a recreational site run by a young guy. It was kept clean (rare for local recreation sites) and the views of the Sunda strait between Java and Sumatra lined with fishing rafts were beautiful. The shower / bathing facilities were classic Indonesian; a big tub filled with water with a small bucket. You scoop some water from the tub and poor it over yourself to get a good rinse. It is important not to jump in the tub and bath in it (as a former colleague of Jeroen did when visiting his Indonesian parents-in-law for the first time JJ). These tubs store several days’ worth of clean water also to be used by other people!  

Island hop


Saying temporarily goodbye to Java we boarded the ferry to Sumatra. Quite the experience getting on board as the ship didn`t lay completely still and a moving ramp can be tricky to get on to. The boat trip gave some great views of both islands. Arriving in Sumatra we got what we wanted, at least for the first few miles. Beautiful rice paddies with hardly any buildings spoiling our views. Also, because the region inhabitants mainly follow the Hindu religion, the small towns and villages are filled with beautifully designed private Hindu temples.

We found a nice hotel where we could sleep in the car for a small payment, close to the Way Kambas national park, one of the last sanctuaries for Sumatran Tigers, Elephants and Rhino`s. It holds a huge amount of wildlife and the best way to explore it is by boating through the interior. We met a Hungarian sea-kayak instructor who frequently visited Sumatra in search of wildlife and we decided to take him along on a short safari on the parks roads. The rangers had to accompany us for a nominal fee (for our protection, against the wildlife… Riiiiight). Once we arrived at the center of the park we were allowed to wander through the jungle on our own, which was pretty exciting because we often had to cut our own trail through the jungle and the grounds were littered with fresh Elephant dung. Less exciting were the massive leeches we had to remove from our legs after the walk J

The boat trip the next day was the highlight of our Indonesia adventure. Lots of exotic birds, rare monkeys, deer and even a salt water crocodile. We came close enough to a herd of wild elephants to smell them (much like a zoo) and to see the trees move as they quickly retreated into the jungle upon our arrival. 


For once, failure is an option


After Way Kambas we started moving into northern Sumatra, but gradually the roads became very congested again, with deep potholes and lined with houses and other buildings blocking our views. The travelling became very tiring and after 3 days we decided to break off our attempt to reach Atjeh in the north of Sumatra. We envisioned more peace and quiet in Sumatra which we value a lot, but this proved impossible in this part of Indonesia. Since we are free to choose whichever route we like, we decided to head to the western coast of Sumatra and travel downwards back to Surabaya to put the car on the boat to Canada.



Our travels to the west coast took us through the interior over the very beautiful Barisan mountains where the traffic was much less intense. The interior of Sumatra is less populated than the coast due to the lack of level and fertile farming grounds. And where there are no people, wildlife thrives, so we could see monkeys in the trees and snakes on the side of road, with some great views of jungle covered mountains. 

Once at the western coast of Sumatra, we were treated to one of the most beautiful beach camp spots we have come across during our travels. In the evenings we were treated to the most spectacular sunset of our trip!

The quick way back to Surabaya


In the mean while we were discussing with our shipping company how to get the car to Canada. It turned out they had a container available to ship out from Surabaya on the 23rd of April which would take 30 days to cross the pacific to Canada.

This sounded good and we took the fast toll roads back to Surabaya, avoiding Jakarta altogether and travelling the toll roads along the northern coast of Java. The contrast with the other roads in Indonesia could not be bigger. Almost no traffic, meaning no hair-raising incidents every 10 minutes, yay! Except for 1 idiot who wanted to give Jeroen a high five while driving 90 kph…. really??

Once back in Surabaya we checked into the same excellent-value-hotel and started cleaning the car, as we knew Canadian customs could be very picky about dirt under the car and in the tire grooves. We heard of a German who got send back to Germany after dirt was found under his car.... ouch. By the time we were done (5 days later), the car had a new underbody coating, freshly painted sidesteps and roof box, tailor made seat covers in the color of the car, and the inside and the outside of the car were thoroughly cleaned. The car was ready to ship... we thought...

On our drive to the container loading point we decided to get one last car wash. The guys were curious why they needed to clean an already clean car. Apparently they thought it a challenge to find any dirt on the car and they were good, very good. Balancing on a lift clearly not designed for the weight of our car these heroes pulled another 5kg of mud and dirt from under the car! A big tip was in order and after some handshakes and thank-you`s we drove off to the container loading point. Over a very dirty road. NOOO! At the docks we got another bucket of water and cleaned the car again. Then had to drive the car into the container... through some mud... So we cleaned it some more. It really seemed impossible to ship a clean car from these docks but we did the best we could, strapped her down and chugged her up, and locked the container. Fingers crossed!!


We enjoyed a last night in Surabaya and the next day (after getting our incorrectly stamped Carnet de Passage back… Really, how hard can it be?!) We slapped on our backpacks and took a flight to Malaysian Borneo!



From all the countries we have travelled through, Indonesia appeared to us to have the lowest environmental awareness and the biggest difference between the rich & poor. It also suffers from religious fanaticism and open discrimination against the rich Chinese middle class and gay people. Traffic has been the most terrible of our trip so far, with infinite congestion on every road except the single toll road the country has. See our dash cam video featuring the appropriate Magnetic Man`s ‘Getting Nowhere’ song.


But the people were friendly, interested and helpful to us, despite our Dutch colonial past. The food is amazingly good and there is a raw and immense beauty in the volcanic landscapes of the islands we have travelled through. Stick to the tourist sites and you will have a great vacation. Rent a car and drive through Java and Sumatra and you will discover the real Indonesia with some pretty low ‘lows’ and some very high ‘highs’!


Malaysian Borneo   (21 April – 29 April)



With our car on the boat we were free to explore some regions hard to reach by car, we decided on Borneo, Hong Kong and Japan, from which we would fly to Canada. We started by taking a flight to Pontianak in Indonesian Borneo, where we wanted to take an overnight bus to Kuching at the Malaysian (north-western) side. The only problem was that the international bus station was 10km out of town and there were no taxi`s available… 




We therefore walked a bit through the city and in a desperate attempt to hitch a ride on a random bus parked on the side of the street. It happened to be filled with students who were eager to – you guessed it – take a selfie with us! We could get a ride in exchange and these lovely people even shared some food with us. A very nice experience before saying goodbye to Indonesia.

In Kuching Jeroen lost his wallet, whether it was lost in the streets or got stolen is uncertain but what was certain is that the car papers and his driver license were in there... As we have done many times before on our adventure, we quickly changed our plans and decided to skip our Japan backpacking plans and go back to the Netherlands to get new papers.

Malaysian Kuching was a lovely city by the way, much more laid back than Indonesian cities and their police officers were very helpful in getting a ‘lost items report’, although Jeroen had to type it himself J


The main attraction of Kuching is a little bit outside of the city; a nature reserve for recovering Orang Utan apes. The place was magnificent and with set feeding times it was not hard to spot the gentle giants and shoot some great pictures!

We loved the jungle boat tour in Sumatra so much that we arranged to spend another day on the water in the Kuching jungle. We spotted salt water crocodiles, many birds species, monkeys and a magical firefly show. The funniest was the Proboscis monkey, also known in Indonesia as the “Dutch monkey” because of its big nose and beer belly J

Meeting the Spanish episode 5 


From Kuching we took a flight north to Kota Kinabalu to meet up with our Spanish friends again, who were shipping their car from mainland Malaysia to Malaysian Borneo. They would arrive the next day and we spend our day visiting a salt water crocodile farm, see pictures below! We also enjoyed a wonderfully authentic (and very romantic) Italian dinner at the seashore. 

It was marvelous seeing Javi and Ines again. We could spend 2 days in tropical paradise together before our flight to Hong Kong. We visited a mangrove forest and spend a whole day snorkeling around the small Islands on the coast of Kota Kinabalu. We`ll let the pictures do the talking!

Hong Kong  (29 April – 3 May)  


To Hong Kong! As Jeroen had never been here, Nicolette could be his lovely guide. The small city-state isn`t the total chaos we imagined it would be, but that`s probably because Phnom Penh easily takes the chaos trophy J If you stay a bit away from the tourist traps the city is also pretty affordable and by taking the various ferries we could see a lot in the few days we had to spend here. Real highlights were eating in a completely packed Chinese lunchroom where no tourist ever comes, seeing the nightly skyscraper light show and visiting lovely Cheung Chau Island to witness their famous Bun festival. Some advice to all South-East Asia travelers, Hong Kong can easily be added to any SE Asia trip and we can highly recommend it!



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