During the 1800’s man decided to make his world smaller by going farther and faster, hence they built trains to connect distant places to one another. Fast forward to the 21st century and trains are still present, everyday I see one rumbling above my head hoping and praying it wouldn’t break down and inconvenience millions of commuters. When I went to China, we took the bullet train and sped past the Chinese countryside at an ear-popping speed of 300km/h. In Indonesia we also decided to take their trains to visit multiple cities for two reasons: affordability and the experience to see the countryside. 

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Inside Gambir Station just before leaving for our trip to Yogyakarta

Thanks to the blog site: the man in seat sixty-one I learned all that I needed to know about traveling around Indonesia by train. Mark Smith’s site was really helpful and gave a lot of tips on which trains to take, what classes to buy, and also which internet sites to buy tickets from. Alongside seat sixty-one, I also used Indonesia’s tiket.com to find out more about train schedules and stations, which really helped in planning the places we would be staying in.

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The train lines covering the entire Javan Island

After attending the wedding of our friend in Cawang, last April 24, we went to Jakarta’s main train station, Gambir, to purchase tickets. In Gambir we tried to make heads and tails of the ticket purchasing system, eventually we figured it out: we took a number for our line, filled out the reservation forms for each city we were traveling to; as well as the train names, times and dates. When our number was finally called, we showed the reservation forms and our passports, confirmed all of the details, and shelled out IDR 600,000+ (Php. 2,100) for our tickets to Yogyakarta, Bandung and back to Jakarta.

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Inside the executive class carriage, where seats can be rotated to face each other

On the day of our departure we arrived in Gambir 30 minutes prior to our departure, which was at 8am, and spent the time looking for our train. We entered the departure area but not before showing our tickets and our passports as well, likewise, the staff in Gambir were also helpful showing us directions of where to go and which platform to stay in. At around 7:55, our train arrived and we boarded the executive class carriage. By 8, our train promptly departed and we were on our way.

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Thanks to Google Maps I had an idea of where and how far we were from our destination

The trains in Indonesia are divided into three classes: ekonomi, business, and eksekutif class. Mark Smith recommended that we take the eksekutif class for three reasons: reclining chairs, footrests, and legroom, which were all important given the distances we needed to travel throughout the trip. Getting to Yogyakarta from Jakarta and Yogyakarta to Bandung were 8 hour train rides and those three factors were a big plus.

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From time to time we’d get hungry or thirsty, good thing there’s always a restaurant or store in the station

As the trains sped through the Indonesian countryside we would while the time catching up on some reading or using the pocket wifi to do some light internet browsing. But most of the time we spent it asleep only waking up to a sudden jostle from the travel, the tap of a conductor, or the 5-10 minute stops in certain stations along the route.

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Spend the time catching up on news from home, watch the countryside, or go to sleep

During the times that I was awake, I was lucky enough to see the beautiful Indonesian countryside. There was nothing but green landscape on both sides, from time to time I would spot rice terraces in abundance or provincial houses with their signature red tiled roofs. The most breathtaking moments of the trip were high up in the mountains where I’d see the valley below. If I am lucky, I would see the bridge the train crosses and like a scene from The Adventures of Tintin, it was both exhilarating and scary at the same time. Exhilarating because of the height and the beautiful view but scary because there were no visible rains and one miscalculation can send us plummeting.

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The laid back and cozy atmosphere of Yogyakarta train station

In the three times I rode the train, we always left and arrived at the appointed hour, we were never late on all three occasions. The feeling of leaving and arriving on time was an unbelievable experience and I can only wish the habit would be brought here. Another thing that amazed me were the train stations, instead of cramped and dirty stations, there was an air of cleanliness and orderliness in the stations we were in. We could relax, grab some food before our departure or even a massage. The only stress I got from the whole experience was finding our train and the stops we’d be getting off in.

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Departing for Bandung
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Bandung greeted us with torrential rain and cold winds

Riding the trains in Indonesia was truly a memorable and worthwhile experience, sure I would do my best to take my bathroom breaks during stops because the comfort rooms were not to my standards but those little things were forgivable. The convenience of traveling to different parts of the country comfortably and without any hassle is something I wish our country would do and revive.

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The train ride can get very cold, best to wrap up during the trip

Tips

  • It’s better to buy the tickets in the train station because it’s way cheaper than buying it online. 
  • Always look after your belongings.
  • Bring a jacket or shawl, the train can get super cold.
  • Know where to get off, Google Maps was a big help, though the PA system in the train will also announce the station you’re in, it pays to be extra attentive and aware.
  • For ladies, use the washroom at your own risk, the toilet is the squat type. 
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Who knows where we’re headed next

The Man in Seat Sixty-one

Check out his website here.

 

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