Indonesia: Sumatra to Java Island-hopping

Leaving Kalianda on the beautiful island of Sumatra today for a little Indonesian island-hopping by bus, ferry, and another bus to Jakarta, on the densely populated island of Java.

Sorry for the poor-quality scanned 35mm film photos. My negatives and prints are in awful condition, from decades of less than optimal, storage.

Leaving Sumatra

After over a month of fantastic exploring through Sumatra, sadly, it’s time to move on to another exciting destination and continue the island-hop. This time to the island of Java – pronounced Jawa in Indonesia.

For the world’s 6th-largest island, travel through Sumatra is not a walk in the park and more often than not, intrepid. So far, travel has been challenging.

Kalianda to Bakauheni

Taxi from Kalianda to Bakauheni, Sumatra, Java, Indonesia, SE Asia

Leaving Kalianda in a taxi this morning – taxis are cheap and plentiful – hoping that today’s journey is better than yesterday. Almost kissed the ground with relief on arriving back to Kalianda from Anak Krakatau!

The 30-plus-kilometres through southern Sumatra canvases lush and picturesque vistas, for our final Sumatran good-bye.

Bakauheni to the Port of Merak

Arrive at Sumatra’s busiest port Bakauheni, unscathed from the taxi ride – always a bonus as Indonesian taxi drivers are not the safest.

Buying our tickets for the 2-hour ferry ride, decide to treat ourselves and pay a few dollars more for Business Class seats. In 1998, ferries from this ferry terminal, leave every half-hour.

Huge velour comfy seats await in Business Class of this intra-island route connection ferry. Without too many passengers on this level, this is luxury.

Ferry from Kalianda to Bakauheni, Sumatra to Merak, Java, Indonesia, SE Asia

Today, the almost becalmed sea across the Sunda Strait between Sumatra and Java is kind.

Up to 26-110 kilometres wide, the Strait links the Pacific Ocean with the Indian Ocean via the Java Sea.

Important during the 16th-century because the Dutch East India Company used this Strait as a portal to the Spice Islands.

The 2-hour ferry journey proves comfortable and uneventful on entering Jakarta Bay in Java, the world’s most populated island.

Jakarta Bay, Merak, Java, Indonesia, SE Asia
Macassar Schooner called Pinisi entering Jakarta Bay.

A welcomed surprise for travel in Indonesia, but also because last month’s violent racial riots targeted foreigners. Read a 2018 update in the Jakarta Post of the 1998 atrocities. The unrest is also a reason for spending more than one month in Sumatra, to wait until things simmered in Indonesia.

Port of Merak to Jakarta

The next leg of the journey today is to head to the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, some 80-kilometres away.

Public bus from Port of Merak to Jakarta, Java, Indonesia, SE Asia

Finding a public bus, luckily a couple of vacant seats are available in the cramped bus.

As soon as a breeze flows through the bus, all the windows are slammed shut, making the trip stifling hot and unbearable.

Meeting a friendly local, he helps us get off at the right bus stop to then take a taxi to Jl. Jaksa – Jakarta’s 400-metre hotel route road, which also offers backpacker accommodation.


The chaotic noise, aromatic and pungent odours, and whirling pace of this massive city Jakarta hit the senses like a brick wall. This city is intoxicating.

For the countless beggars lining Jakarta’s streets and alleyways, endless stalls selling everything imaginable cluster and overrun the same paths. Needing more cash, I mentally prepare for another banking experience…


Unfortunately, no bank in Jakarta is willing to exchange Australian Dollar Travellers Cheques (remember these?) for Indonesian Rupiah, or any currency. And, contrary to advice from our Australian bank before leaving Australia.

On phoning American Express and quoted a rate, we need to go tomorrow for the transaction. But of course, on arriving, today’s rate is less – banks! At least we’re cashed up again with wads of Indonesian Rupiah – literally wads of cash. A millionaire for the first time. Sadly, the bundle is only equivalent to a couple of hundred Australian dollars.

Exploring Jakarta

Established in the 4th-century and steeped in a plethora of colonial history from the 18th-century, decide to spend several days exploring Jakarta even though this city functions at an insane pace.

Tasting the local divine delicious dish of Gado-Gado (peanut sauce salad) – easily, available street food – to die for, addicted! The scrumptious Sate Ayam (satay chicken) and Nasi Uduk (coconut rice) combination are also addictive. But, enough of food and onto exploring Jakarta…

Jakarta Bahari Museum

Several warehouses in the old Sunda Kelapa harbour district turned into museums, including the maritime museum Jakarta Bahari, offers a venue to explore colonial history in Jakarta.

Jakarta Bahari Museum, Sunda Kelapa, Kota, Jakarta, Indonesia, SE Asia
One of the oldest colonial buildings in Jakarta

Close to the impressive Jakarta Bay waterfront, take a day to wander through unique history and to enjoy the district.

Built during 1652-1771 and used by the government until converted to a maritime museum in 1977, the museum now houses models of ancient traditional wooden boats, actual dutch canons, and Indonesian seafaring history.

Sunda Kelapa – Kota

Following a stroll through Indonesian maritime history, why not stop at the port of Sunda Kelapa?

Forming a part of the Kingdom of Sunda in 1527, the port was established in the 12th-century. Although, believed to have existed as Sundapura in the 5th-century.

Sunda Kelapa, Kota, Jakarta, Java, Indonesia, SE Asia
Open marine cesspit

The Pinisi design is impressive and based on centuries-old traditional Indonesian timber designs. Traditionally, the Pinisi is built on the beach with logs that originate from Celebes (Sulawesi forests) and Kalimantan in Borneo, then transported to boat building sites.

Sunda Kelapa, Kota, Jakarta, Java, Indonesia, SE Asia
Massive Pinisi bow

The incredibly high and steep bowsprit carries several sails and great for light winds or ploughing into heavy seas. Centuries of re-design replaced the boat’s aft design to house a substantial bridge and living quarters for the crew.

Sunda Kelapa, Kota, Jakarta, Java, Indonesia, SE Asia

These heavy workhorses are built as cargo ships that plough around the islands of Indonesia, transporting goods.

Sunda Kelapa, Kota, Jakarta, Java, Indonesia, SE Asia

Roam around Sunda Kelapa to glimpse a taste of Indonesian local life…

Sunda Kelapa, Kota, Jakarta, Java, Indonesia, SE Asia
Sunda Kelapa home with a view

…before returning to the madness of Jakarta.

Leaving Jakarta

The Kereta train to Yogyakarta departs tomorrow night and scheduled to arrive around 7am. This is Indonesia in 1998, so anything can happen. Hoping the train is on time and the journey is safer than Indonesia’s treacherous roads…

Visit Nilla’s Photography for more global images. More posts at Image Earth Travel.

12 responses to “Indonesia: Sumatra to Java Island-hopping”

  1. LuLu B - Calabrisella Mia Avatar

    Interesting island. Those boats look like they’ve been through a lot!

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Yes it is and has a lot to offer a traveller. These boats plough the waters continuously – they’re amazing.

  2. 100 Country Trek Avatar

    These are great memory photos.We were in parts of Indonesia but not there.. hope to return when we can.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      It would be great to return, but crazy times right now so not sure when I’ll be back.
      Indonesia is so close to us here in Australia. 😉

      1. 100 Country Trek Avatar

        Lucky you. Flying from Canada to Indonesia is a long haul flight. 🙃

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Exactly! Asia for us is luxury. ☺️

  3. PattyConnects Avatar

    Hi Nilla,
    Still on my wish-list to visit Jakarta, since my biological grandparents were originated from there.
    Hope all is well and sending a big hug again.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hey Patty,
      I’m sure you’ll get there in the future – would be wonderful to trace your roots.
      Sending a hug back and hope all is well with you.
      Nilla xx

  4. wetanddustyroads Avatar

    Your photo’s almost look like paintings – I had to look twice! I see you’ve really tried and tested all forms of transport on this trip … felt quite relieved when I’ve read about the business class seats, but then, oh dear, back to the cramped buses ☺️.
    It’s great to read about this journey back “in the days” … I had to laugh at those travellers cheques and it brought back memories (I’ve always arranged these for my boss back in 1999 when he used to travel overseas) 😄.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thanks, guess it’s the condition of the photos – not great but then again, maybe a new medium? 😉
      Travelling through Indonesia in 1998 was certainly challenging but I do prefer this type of travelling.
      The travellers cheques were so painful back in the day, not to mention the commission that Amex used to ‘steal’!

  5. the eternal traveller Avatar

    It sounds like the business class seats were worth the extra cost. What a treat!

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Ha, ha, they definitely were Carol! it’s great to spoil yourself on a rough trip. 😉

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