Travel Diary #22: 2 weeks in Java with our kids

Sunrise at Borobudur in Java with kids

After 6 weeks in Bali, of which we spent 3 with our friends, we say goodbye to them and fly to Surabaya on Java. We have two more weeks to discover Java with our kids before we leave Indonesia and fly to Kuala Lumpur.

Read more: The complete guide to Kuala Lumpur with kids


The city of Surabaya

Surabaya is the second-largest city in Indonesia but must of all just a stopover for most tourists. However, because we are tired, we decide to stay there for three days and then move on to the Bromo volcano.

We stay in the Ikiru to Live guesthouse where we are treated to a delicious breakfast every morning. The room is basic but spacious and clean.

Surabaya is not very touristy, but nice to walk around. Especially for us, because we find many Dutch influences and words.

House of Sampoerna

It sounds a bit like a haunted house in an amusement park, but in reality, it is a big tobacco factory. The old buildings have been nicely restored and the cigarettes are still being rolled by hand every day. We can take a look at the factory halls where hundreds of women are rolling thousands of cigarettes.

Admiring the old colonial posters in the Sampoerna factory
Hanne is admiring the old posters in the colonial Sampoerna tobacco factory

It’s nice to walk around the building or the museum and to breathe in the old colonial Dutch atmosphere. At the factory, you can also request a free ticket for the bus that takes you on the Heritage Trail. The bus with accompanying guide will take you to different places in the city, completely free.

Kids on the free Surabaya Heritage Track Bus
The girls are ready to go on the vintage bus of the Surabaya Heritage Track

Every day there is a different route. On ours, we visited an old Dutch bank, the old post office and a Christian church. Not really the ultimate highlights but it does give a good look at the Dutch influence that prevailed here. Nice trip!

Expedition to the Bromo volcano

The reason why we flew to Surabaya is that the city is one of the access routes to the Bromo volcano. But even from here, it is not easy to reach Bromo by train or bus. So we decide to take a taxi that drops us right at our Homestay at the Bromo volcano.

After a long journey, a lot of climbing and 100 turns, we arrive at our Homestay. Our driver’s car just barely makes it. Our homestay was very cheap and that translates to the room. It is super basic and smells a bit damp. But the old lady who runs this guesthouse is so friendly and totally makes up for it! Really a local experience.

Because we’ll visit the volcano at sunrise the next day, we have some time left. So we decide to visit the Bromo Forest area just next to our guesthouse, which soon results in some hilarious photos of Heleen cycling through the trees and swinging through the forest.

On a bike in the air in Bromo Forest Area Java
Heleen having fun on one of the attractions at Bromo Forest Area

But then it starts to rain heavily for hours! Fortunately, we can go back to our homestay between two showers where we are served some super tasty food. Time to go to bed, in the morning we have to get out at 4 am…

Our journey to Bromo

It is one of the best-known photos of Indonesia, even the cover photo of the Lonely Planet. Three volcanoes in a row in a surreal landscape coloured orange and red by the rising sun. We have been looking forward to seeing this picture in real life for a long time.

It poured all night so it was a short sleep. Not really awake yet, we are picked up by our guide who doesn’t speak a word of English. But we get to ride in a real jeep and it rattles on all sides. Hanne in euphoria!

Soon the euphoria turns around, however, when we realize that due to the fog and rain, we are not able to see a meter ahead. All the windows condense and the view is almost nil. Even more, due to the large rainfall, there has been a landslide blocking the road.

We have to take a detour and drive along a steep muddy path with a steep abyss next to us. Occasionally, we feel the jeep slip away and for the first time this trip we are terrified. The driver cannot see and almost blindly drives onto the path. Our destiny is no longer in our hands, but we cannot go anywhere. Fortunately, we arrive on the main road unscathed and continue to the viewpoint. What a start to the day.

Sunrise over Bromo volcano

Arriving at the lookout point we climb up the stairs. In front of us, we see the three volcanoes of the Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park. What a fantastic view!

Family with kids enjoying view over Bromo and Tengger
Although not the famous view, it was still fantastic to see the three volcanoes and fog in the valley from here

Two downsides, however… Although it has stopped raining, the sun stays behind the clouds as we expected. No sunrise. And the driver also dropped us off at the wrong viewpoint. It’s still very beautiful, but the three volcanoes are not aligned one after the other. It can’t spoil the splendid view, however. One of the highlights of the trip.

After sunrise, we drive even closer to the crater through the volcanic plain of Tengger Semeru. So much fun with a jeep, especially now that we have good visibility and no abysses!

Kids having fun with the 4WD jeep tour in Tengger Bromo Area Java
Our girls love to be driven around in a real jeep around the Bromo volcano

Unfortunately, due to increased volcanic activity, we are not allowed to walk on the ledge. Still, we can walk to the foot of the smoking mountain and with our last bit of battery remaining, we fly the drone over the volcano. We just managed to have one picture, but it’s a good one!

Drone Shot of the Smoking Bromo Volcano on Java
The breathtaking view on the Bromo volcano seen with the drone

Our journey back from Bromo to Surabaya

Back at our guesthouse, we decide after a few hours to return to Surabaya. It keeps raining and it is so damp and cold in our room. We are looking forward to a warm bed with a little more comfort. Despite the super sweet lady, we leave one night early.

Our previous driver was the son of our hostess, but his car is still broken. Now it turns out that her other son is of service and we soon regret it. He drives down the mountains like a crazy guy, so fast that Yuna has to throw up. Although we tell him to drive more slowly, he clearly does not realize what he is doing wrong and just continues.

While driving, he almost falls asleep 3 times, he wants to take a local, very winding road to avoid the toll and he drives downright dangerous. In retrospect, we should have gotten out but we had already paid a lot of money for this ride and there are few other options.

Once we arrive in Surabaya, we notice that the hellish showers of the last 2 days have flooded the streets. Half a meter of water and the cars and scooters just drive through.

But we have enough for now, so we decide last minute to leave Surabaya and go straight to the train station. Although we are awake from 4 am, we still take the next available train to Yogyakarta, a journey of 4 hours. The children sleep on the train, we work a bit. And around 10 pm we arrive in the Via Via guesthouse. What a relief …

Relaxing and playing at the Via Via Guesthouse in Yogyakarta
After a long journey, we can relax the next day by the pool


Via Via

Via Via is a Belgian organization that has travel cafés in Belgium but also abroad, including in Yogyakarta. We immediately feel at home here.

We sleep in their guesthouse, located at a side street of the “Jalan Prawirotaman” and eat in their fantastic restaurant where they have a “sandwich smos”, which is a typical Belgian thing. After months of travelling through Asia, this tastes fantastic! They even have their own bakery with all kinds of goodies.

Eating Broodje Smos in Via Via Restaurant in Yogyakarta
Enjoying a typical Belgian ‘Broodje Smos’ for the first time in months

The guesthouse and restaurant are located in a backpacker neighbourhood with a lot of eateries and the best ice cream salon in the area, Tempo Gelato.

During our stay here, we have something to celebrate, being 17 years together. So we treat ourselves to dinner in the slightly more expensive but fantastic Mediterranea Restaurant by Kamil. One tip, don’t forget to call ahead. We were lucky but only had 1 hour to eat something.

We still have a few days left here but Yogyakarta already has conquered our hearts. In total, we will stay here for 10 days with a few trips in between and a stay at Borobudur. After Borobudur, we return to Yogyakarta to celebrate Yuna’s birthday! We could not have found a better way to spend our last days in Indonesia.

A bike tour around Yogyakarta with Via Via

Via Via Jogja also offers a lot of trips. One of them is a bicycle tour to the villages and rice fields just outside of Yogyakarta. And we’re lucky, they also have bicycles for children! Will they still be able to ride one after so many months?

Kids Bike Tour Via Via Yogyakarta Java
We had lots of fun riding bikes again in Yogyakarta with Via Via

Fortunately, after a few busy streets, we quickly end up riding in small alleys and between the rice fields. The only thing we have to watch for now are crossing chickens … but we have two supervisors who take care of our safety.

Our first stop is at the Krupuk factory. They still make artisanal crackers from fish and shrimps. First, make the dough and then cut and dry everything in the sun. Interesting to see and after a few tastings, we continue our journey.

Guy working in a local krupuk factory near Yogyakarta
It was fascinating to see the way locals make krupuk

Next stop is a small house where they still make soybeans tempé in an original way. The children help to fill the banana leaves with the mixture. After baking them, we can taste the delicious tempé.

Everywhere we go, we see Mount Merapi on the horizon. One of the most active volcanos of Indonesia, the last big eruption was in 2006. It’s very intriguing to see an active volcano in the background while riding your bike.

During the rest of our journey, we learn to bake bricks in the traditional way and plant our first rice plants. What a fantastic experience this trip was! We can really recommend it!

Planting Rice with our kids in Yogyakarta Java with Via Via Tours
We had the most amazing day with Via Via tours such as planting this rice together with the locals

The Kraton

In the centre of Yogyakarta is the Kraton, a walled palace of the sultan who still lives there. There is also a nice museum and musical performance. But most of the time we’re busy being asked to go in a picture with the teenagers from the school classes who are visiting.

Traditional Ceremony at the Kraton in Yogyakarta
Local people performing in traditional clothing at the Kraton in Yogyakarta

On the way to the Kraton, we are accosted by someone who claims that it is closed (it is May 1st, Labour Day so it could be true). Instead, he takes us to a beautiful Batik painting gallery. We read in advance that this is a well-known trick to lure you to buy batik and yes … a few hours later we return to our guesthouse with some beautiful Batik paintings! Unbelievable that we fell for the trick even knowing about it!

Trying the Batik process at Yogyakarta in Java
Hanne is testing the Batik process with hot wax

Prambanan temple complex

With the kids on the back of the scooter, we drive to Prambanan. It is very hot again, so a little overheated we arrive at the complex where it is still fairly quiet.

Prambanan Temple Complex Java Yogyakarta Drone
The grand Prambanan Temple complex

There are several impressive Hindu temples and we keep the largest and best-known one for last. First, we eat and drink something because it is so hot and humid again. The temples remind us of Angkor Wat but the complex is a lot smaller.

The main temple is beautiful and after the necessary stairs and pictures we decide to drive back to Via Via. Definitely not to miss if you are in the area.

Family walking in front of the Prambanan temples on Java
The Prambanan complex was amazing to visit


Borobudur, the most famous temple complex of Java, is a few tens of kilometres away from Yogyakarta. Most tourists visit it at sunrise and leave with a tour from Yogyakarta. Which means they have to leave at 2 AM or 3 AM.

We choose to tackle everything in a more relaxed way and book the Lotus 2 guesthouse a few hundred meters from the complex. Our room is very comfortable and large with a view over the rice fields from our own terrace. We stay here for 3 nights and that way are able to visit the area in a relaxed way.

Drone shot of the Borobudur complex by sunset
The remarkable temple complex of Borobudur in the morning

The Ramadan

Although, quiet … It is 2 o’clock at night, 150m from our guesthouse is a mosque and it is the start of Ramadan. When the first chants start, we almost fall out of our bed. It feels as if there is a sound system in our room. And then again at 6am … And we were already so tired from all that travelling!

On the other hand, it is special to experience Ramadan together with the Muslims. The manager of our guesthouse tells us a lot about how they experience it themselves and what the customs are.

The temples

Visiting the temples at dawn was our ultimate goal, but you have to pay quite a bit for it. With that special ticket, you can enter the complex at 4 am together with a lot of other tourists, and you see the sunrise in full glory. Apart from the extra costs, we don’t want to get up that early again. The children are tired, especially after our adventures at Bromo.

After researching online, we discover that if we arrive at 6 am (normal opening time) and run up the temple fast, we can just catch the end of the sunrise. Heleen is already in the starting blocks as soon as the gate opens. Me and the kids opt for the slower approach but are still on time for a fantastic view on the top floor of the temple with the rising sun in the back.

Golden Hour Early Borobudur Java
Get up early to catch the golden hour and avoid the crowds at Borobudur in Java.

The fog is still hanging low between the hills, Mount Merapi is smoking in the background and the first sun rises above the beautiful stupas around us. What a magical moment! And the big advantage, the early tourists are leaving but the schools and large groups still have to arrive. We visit the temples in a wonderfully quiet and well-rested way.

What a fantastic Buddhist complex! One of the nicest we have seen! A real gem!

A tour with tofu, clay and batik

After a day of temples and some rest, we do a tour in the Borobudur neighbourhood on the recommendation of our guesthouse. During this trip, we visit a tofu factory and we will make our own pottery!

Borobudur Tour Making Pottery with kids
Yuna chose this tour for her birthday and loved making pottery

Yuna has chosen this trip as a gift for her birthday, which is in a few days. And she loves it (Hanne as well)! After making pottery, the kids can also paint batik themselves. However, a hot drop of wax that falls on Hanne’s foot almost causes her to faint. For her, the lesson ends a little earlier and Yuna can make two paintings.

Again a nice day, although the tour we booked at the Via Via guesthouse was even more special.

Saying goodbye to Indonesia

After a few days in Borobudur, we return to Yogyakarta for our last two days. And to celebrate Yuna’s birthday. Especially for her, we have booked a fantastic guesthouse with a nice swimming pool.

Our room or apartment actually, at Tiga Lima Homestay is fantastic. We have a full floor with a kitchen, living room and two bedrooms. Feels great after all the smaller guesthouses that we had.

On her birthday she can choose what she wants to do. Waffles for breakfast, swimming in the pool, a ride with a rickshaw and shopping, of course. She had a wonderful day and it was also our last in Indonesia!

Our girl celebrating her birthday at Tiga Lima Guesthouse in Yogyakarta
She had the best birthday with waffles, shopping and swimming.

The next day we fly to Kuala Lumpur to stay there for a month. School the kids, work on our online businesses, relax and especially plan our return to Belgium where we want to surprise the entire family. They don’t know we’re coming home after 11 months …

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Discover our 2 weeks in Java Indonesia with kids

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