On a map, the Indonesian island of Java doesn’t seem that big, stretching only 1000km from east to west or 1050km by road from Banyuwangi (where the ferry from Bali disembarks) to Jakarta. But when you consider the average speed on the roads is a lowly 30km/h, those distances are very long indeed, especially if travelling by bus. The fastest way to get around is definitely to fly, but if you want to visit multiple destinations along the way, like I did, than it’s better to travel around Java by train. And fortunately it’s a great train system, far more comfortable than travelling with a budget airline and miles ahead of the buses.
About Booking Online
Tickets for trains in Java are easy to book online. Skip the official train website, which isn’t in English and reputedly only accepts Indonesian credit cards. Instead, head to Utiket.com, which I found easy to use. The most expensive and comfortable class is Executive class, above Business class, with some trains being purely Executive class. As I wasn’t booking that far in advance and was travelling close to Eid Fitr (when many Indonesians return home), only the most expensive Executive tickets remained available. Even so, the prices only varied between $13 AUD from the Banyuwangi to Probolinggo train (a 4.25 hour journey) up to $35 AUD for the Malang to Yogyakarta train (around 7 hours). For more help with booking and planning, head to the ever-reliable The Man in Seat 61.
The Executive Class Carriages
The biggest stand out of the Executive class carriages are the comfortable reclining seats. There’s a huge amount of legroom, a foot rest, and I don’t know how centimetres the seats recline, but it’s a long way! It’s more like old-school business class seats (before they went lie-flat), a far cry from the squished seating in most economy class flights, particular Indonesian budget airlines.
Additionally, there’s chilly AC, airline-style blankets (for night time trips), chargers next to seats, and a TV screen showing mainly family movies at the end of each carriage. (Although the volume was quite low so it was hard to follow if you don’t read Indonesian subtitles.) Customer service staff regularly passed through the carriages taking and delivering food orders (with the meals similar to airline offerings, though they tasted better than they looked). The one down side? The toilets are far from Executive class, with just squats provided.
Business class carriages aren’t too dissimilar, also offering AC but without reclining seats. As long as it’s not overnight or you’re looking to nap, it would still be fairly comfortable. Economy class carriages meanwhile are rather hot and basic.
Bali to Jakarta in 3 Train Trips
First up, I was meant to be taking a 4.25 hour train trip from Banyuwangi (where the ferry from Bali disembarks) to Probolinggo, before visiting Mt Bromo without a tour. Unfortunately, my experience didn’t get off to the best start, with the train cancelled due to flooding further down the line. The customer service agent at the train station seemed very apologetic, providing instructions on a later alternative train from which I could transfer to a bus. In an attempt to get to Probolinggo as early as possible, I instead took a bus the whole way. It turned out to be a very crowded and slow experience, getting me there no earlier than if I’d taken the later train. Lesson learnt? Long distance buses in Indonesia are to be avoided!
My later train trips both went to plan. After taking a bus for the short trip from Probolinggo to Malang, I then took a 7 hour train trip from Malang to Yogyakarta (home to the beautiful Borobudur and Prambanan temples, plus some great street art). After a few days in Yogyakarta, I then continued my train journey from Yogyakarta to Jakarta (about 7.5 hours).
Waiting for the train in Malang, I got to wait in an AC Executive waiting room. The former train arrived exactly on time, while the latter was only 15 minutes late, both far more punctual than most buses would have been. Meanwhile, I was reclined in comfort, either reading, writing, taking a nap or just watching the scenery pass by: a mixture of verdant farm fields, small towns and clusters of houses, and mountains rising in the distant.
One Final Surprise…
And in case you were thinking of riding on the trains without a ticket… (Tickets are not checked when boarding, just periodically, like on European trains). Each time the ticket inspector in his peaked hat came around, he was accompanied not just by two regular guards who stood at each end of the carriage, but also a guard armed with an assault rifle!! I’m not sure of the real reason why, but it’s one way to prevent fare evasion!
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