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How can you get the most out of your Indonesian holiday, save money and get to know local cultures and local people? Stay in a homestay!
Homestays are accommodations offered either in a local person’s home, or in a home-like setting.
Why Stay in a Homestay?
One of the best things about staying in a homestay is that your money goes directly to local people, which has a positive effect on their lives, and can have a positive effect on the environment. Some communities in Indonesia rely on slash and burn agriculture to survive, and tourism can provide an alternative source of income to reduce the threat of deforestation.
Homestays can often help you hire a car and driver, or offer you transportation in between cities or from the airport. They can also organize tours for you or connect you to local tour guides.
View from a Homestay in Indonesia
Favourite Homestay Indonesia
My favorite homestay is in Batuputih, North Sulawesi, near Tangkoko Nature Reserve. Ranger Homestay is located a few minutes’ walk from the park entrance. Sakar, who formerly worked with English-speaking NGOs, served as our driver and nature guide during our short stay. He and his daughter Fiona showed us the wonders of the forest: black tail macaques, cuscus, hornbills, tarsiers, and miscellaneous exotic birds. They welcomed us into their village, and even invited us to a family wedding. Ranger Homestay felt like our home away from home, in this small seaside village.
Tangkoko Nature Reserve, Indonesia
What to expect when you stay in a homestay
Accommodations are similar to how local people live. In Indonesia, this typically means the furnishings will be sparse (the mattress may be on the floor and dinner may be served on a rug), the toilet may be a squat toilet, and showers may consist of dumping a small bucket of water over your head. While these accommodations might be outside of your comfort zone, you can relax knowing that you’re being taken care of by a local family. Meals are usually included, which is a great way to try out local dishes. Most of the family will probably not speak much English, but don’t worry if you don’t speak Bahasa Indonesia – there is probably a younger relative who speaks good English.
Definitely bring cash. The local ATM might not work, and the homestay will only take payments in cash.
If you’re coming from a cooler climate, bring a sarong or bed sheet. Don’t be surprised if your room comes without a blanket, or with a very thick blanket. It’s best to bring your own sheet for covering up.
In the beautiful small towns of Indonesia where homestays are common, the nightlife can be quite sleepy. Bring a book, a deck of cards, an iPad loaded with movies, or other evening entertainment.
And definitely don’t forget your sense of adventure, and your curiosity! Homestays are a great way to get to know local people and to understand their way of life.
Heather is an American living in Jakarta, surviving the macet and trying to get the most out of life in “the big Durian.” She loves traveling around Indonesia and writing about her discoveries here, and at OurInternationalLife.wordpress.com
While Bali and Jakarta are high on most people’s must-see lists in Indonesia, the culture, mountains and waterfalls of North Sumatra were calling my name more than the beaches and cities crowded with heaps of tourists. By getting off the beaten track, I wasn’t only able to get a deeper feel for the country; I was able to leave my own impression on the nation as well.
Although my destination was only 40 miles from the Medan airport, crude roads and the occasional bovine traffic jam meant that getting to Berastagi took around 2 hours. The public transportation system also meant that this time was spent in the back of a crowded van painted with such vibrant colors that I could have sworn its original use was for transporting clowns.
Finally arriving at my destination, I found myself facing a dusty street lined with shops that seemed to be acting as venues for card games and lively conversations more than actual retail outlets. The fronts of houses were worn and many featured badly chipping paint, but their inhabitants carried a friendly and pleasant air that floated through the streets.
Mangosteens at Berastagi Market, Sumatra
Almost immediately after getting out of the van, I was greeted with a lively wave by a fit man of 30. He looked upon me with kind eyes as if he was looking upon an old friend. After a brief moment, he introduced himself as Abdy Sitanggang, my host from Nachelle’s Homestay. My mind then clicked back to the endless emails we had exchanged prior to my arrival. Abdy had always been enthusiastic in his communication and was even more so in person. This seemed to be something the man carried in endless supplies as he immediately began to urge that we take off and explore the traditional market. Eager to see something that still excited a local, I promptly agreed. Pleased with my decision and bursting with pride, Abdy began explaining that as “Berastagi” means “rice store”, the town’s market is vital to its 40,000 residents.
I quickly found this importance to be far from an exaggeration as the moment I entered the market; I was met with open-air stalls, bursting with vibrantly coloured fruits and lively chatter. Abdy’s excitement fit right in as he bounded towards a large pile of round purple fruits topped with fluorescent green leaves. “Do you know what these are?” he asked excitedly. I made a guilty face in response; fearful my lack of knowledge would come as a disappointment. However, Abdy smiled on to explain: “they are mangosteens,” winking at the stall owner and taking a fruit off the top of the pile “see how this one is purple and squishy? That means it is the tastiest,” he explained as he peeled the purple skin to reveal a white interior.
Traditional Market, Berastagi, Sumatra
I then took off to explore the market on my own and while wandering past a shop bursting with cheery flowers, I heard a group of school children call out “miss, miss” from behind me. When I turned towards the group, they began fiddling with their hands and whispering nervously to each other. Finally, one of the girls was pushed to the front of the pack and asked it I would practice English with them. I wasn’t going to deny them something as simple as my time, so I agreed. With this, the kids immediately began rummaging through their school bags to pull out notebooks filled with perfectly handwritten English phrases.
Their meek demeanours immediately vanished and I received inquisitions about things like: “what is your favourite colour?” and “do you like Indonesia?”. As I had only just arrived in the country, I told the kids they were my favourite part of Indonesia and was met by beaming faces.
The region offered more than traditional marketplaces however, and the next morning, Abdy and I embarked on a trek up Mount Sibayak, a stratovolcano three miles out of Berastagi, at 3am the following morning to reach its peak for sunrise. We headed towards the summit in the pitch dark while being guided only by a small flashlight. Despite having summited several mountains in the Canadian Rockies, all of my previous climbs had been during the day and trekking at night was a completely different experience. Despite my hiking boots, the lack of lighting meant I almost lost my footing on several occasions and instead of the usual treetop vistas, the sky was the main attraction, hosting the largest collection of stars I had ever seen.
The peak offered more surprises as we were greeted by groups of local children also eagerly awaiting the view with more zeal than I thought was possible for anyone to have at such an early hour. When the sun began to peak over the horizon, the sky erupted with pink and orange light. With each passing minute, more of the landscape was revealed and surrounding mountains seemed to appear from out of thin air.
Sunrise at Berastagi, Sumatra
Once the sun had fully risen, I began my descent back down. The trail was incomparable to what I had experienced on my way up as I could now see the dense foliage and sharp outcropping of sulphuric rock that surrounded it.
My final excursion then took me to Lake Toba. Abdy explained this site as a caldera from an ancient volcano, which over time became inactive and flooded from a stream flowing down the tallest waterfall in Indonesia. This Sipiso-piso falls drop down a height of 360 feet before releasing their waters into the largest volcanic lake in the world at 702 square miles.
After trekking around the falls and witnessing the water rush powerfully off the cliff-face, Abdy took me to the small village of Tongging for lunch along the lake’s shore. Here, we entered a bright blue building overhanging right into the lake. There was a selection of tables, but I opted for a seat on a mat by the windows in order to get a full view of my surroundings. Rugged green mountains met trees with bright violet flowers before plummeting into shimmering turquoise waters. With a slight haze in the distance, the lake seemed to extend infinitely into the horizon.
Shops at Lake Toba, Sumatra
As much as I wanted to gaze simply upon the calm waters and breath the clean, crisp air, Abdy pulled me away to introduce me to “the best cook on Lake Toba”. To my bewilderment, this cook turned out to be a spunky young girl of 13, Lina. Despite her young age, she lived up to her title, giving me a full demonstration on how to catch, cook and season Tilapia to perfection.
The process began by using a large net to remove the fish from their pen. Then, a couple of incisions were made and rubbed with lemon juice, onions and curry paste. Once the fish had been fully coated, Lina then placed it in a pan a top a wood burning stove to grill for about 5 minutes on each side. Once the fish was prepared, we all sat down to enjoy our creation. Although full sets of cutlery were put out, Lina and Abdy dug into their saucy fish with bare hands and I decided to dig right in as well. While enjoying crispy and spicy mouthfuls of fish and picking out a surprisingly large amount of bones for such a small animal, Lina asked in broken English about my favourite colours and what I liked most about Indonesia. Clearly wanting to practice her English, I told her my favourite thing about the country was her fish and asked her about her favourite colours and what she liked most about Indonesia. Without hesitation, she replied: “I like to teach nice people like you how to cook fish here”.
Tilapia fish at Traditional meal, Lake Toba, Sumatra
We continued to chat as a gentle lake shore breeze wafted across the restaurant. I looked out over the lake and couldn’t help but get caught in the infinite aquatic beauty that extended around me. As I admired the crystalline waters and the lush arbours mountain-scape, I realized the landscape wasn’t the only besieging allure at Lake Toba. There was also a kind, welcoming beauty in the new friendships that were forming.
Despite coming from upbringings half a world apart, I was able to create honest connections with Abdy and Lina. Since my visit, I’ve kept in contact with both of them and have come to see that it only take a few days to lay the foundation for a lasting friendship.
I had come to Sumatra to hike volcanoes in the middle of the night and visit waterfalls. While I accomplished both these feats, neither was the highlight of my journey. Instead, the new friendships I made took centre stage and opened my eyes to a whole new aspect of travel.
Each year on the full moon of the 5th lunar month, thousands of Buddhist monks gather at this Indonesia’s UNESCO World Heritage Site to perform a colorful, spiritual ceremony that celebrates the Enlightenment of the Buddha. The ritual climaxes in the lighting and release of over a thousand lanterns from the 8th Century temple into the moonlit night.
Though only 1% of Indonesia is Buddhist, this wonderful spectacle in this unique setting promised to reveal another key to understanding Indonesia’s fascinating history and identity; I set our sights for Yogyakarta so we would not miss it. The Universe then collaborated by connecting us to a Yogyakarta woman who invited us to join her and her friends for the ceremony. We were to meet at her house, number 10C, at 11 a.m. on 25 May 2013.
Waisak in Borobudur, Indonesia
On the morning of the ceremony, I rose at 4 a.m. unable to chill my excitement. Until Lola woke up, I studied the pictures and read the histories of Vesak / Waisak of Borobudur, of the Buddha–everything I could Google. I triple checked the camera, the memory cards, and the battery life. At 9 a.m. I pushed us out the door in case we should get lost.
The taxi dropped us in front of a broad one-story house that was once white. It sat amid a neighbourhood of apartments but had a spacious corner lot overgrown with knee-high weeds. A great banyan tree, fat and intricate with fateful roots dangling from its branches, obscured the house. Separating the property and the street was a cement and rusted metal fence. We walked up the side street to the gate and read the address, “10.”
Statues and Street Arts, Yogyakarta
Back on the main street, we searched for 10C without success. We walked three blocks and with sputtering English asked a shop attendant. He shook his head. We pointed to the address on the torn paper where I had scribbled it. He shook his head again, pointed to his address, “22B,” and pointed back toward the squat, obscured house. The clock’s minute hand rolled on.
Back at the dilapidated house, I pushed the squeaky gate open and went to the door. Green algae grew on the stone entrance. Cobwebs covered the door’s hinges. I knocked, waited, and knocked again. Nothing. Lola said we should check the back.
I dodged the hanging banyan roots and turned the corner to the opposite side. It was all weeds and grasses, clouded windows, and vigilant lizards. There were no side entrances, no mailboxes, and no 10C. Vesak was floating into the sky without us.
Fruit sellers, Yogyakarta
As we rounded the corner to return to the street, a small hunched woman with tan skin and the sun shining on her white, pulled-back hair stood with her hand on the gate. Seeing us, her crinkled face showed confusion. We stopped, put our hands together at our noses, and bowed our heads. “So sorry,” I said. “Excuse us; we are lost.”
A warm smile overcame the tan face. Bahasa words came from her mouth.
“So sorry,” I said again, bowing my head, “no Bahasa.”
Her smile brightened. “What are you looking for?” she said in crisp English.
A gentle and inviting presence seemed to surround her. We approached with smiles of our own. The strong tropical sun rays reflected a pale blue tint in her cataracts. Her thin, delicate hands embraced our forearms as though she wished to speak through them. Her name was Anna.
She asked our names and origins and reasons for being in Indonesia. As she spoke, she looked up at us, smiled, laughed, and squeezed our forearms. “Is this your daughter?” Anna asked.
“She’s my wife!” I said laughing.
Lola said, “Thank you so much!”
Anna covered her mouth and laughed. “I’m sorry,” she said, “but she looks so young.”
“And I look so old?” I said with a smile.
“No, no,” said Anna, laughing, smiling, squeezing our arms. “Oh, please, won’t you come inside?”
People of Yogyakarta
Anna sat us in her main room upon solid ornate wooden chairs. The floor was rose marbles that desired a polishing. The yellowing plaster walls had carved-wood art and photographs of children and men in suits from the 70s. The house seemed to hold stories and memories of a happy home of children and parties.
Soon the radiant Anna returned with a wooden tray and tea for us three. She asked about our families and how we met and told us about herself, always smiling and reaching those thin, delicate hands toward us. Anna would get going on a topic and mid-sentence forget the English word. Then she would bend over laughing, and when she sat up, she would wave her hand and ask a different question.
She told us about her travels as a young woman with her husband, an English Literature lecturer, through Europe and Australia and America. She spoke five languages, including Japanese, which she had learned during the Japanese occupation, a time she disliked recalling. Her three children were married, and each had children of their own in Jakarta, Melbourne, and “Ohio…maybe Ohio…I never can remember the name of that city.”
More people of Yogyakarta
When we finished our tea, Anna asked again what we were seeking. “Address 10C,” said Lola. Anna waved a hand and said it must be near because she was number 10. Then she stood and escorted us to the gate.
We thanked her a dozen times. Lola hugged her and asked if we could take her picture.
Anna covered her hair and forehead. “Oh, no,” she said smiling, “I’m not made up.” Then she grabbed our forearms once more and said, “I think you’re a lovely couple. You will last a long, long time.” Lola hugged her again. We thanked her once more and stepped outside the gate.
As we walked toward the main street, Anna waved both of her thin, delicate hands goodbyes. Then she returned to her house.
It was almost noon, and we still had not found 10C. The only place left was the alley down the side of Anna’s house. At the end of the alley was an apartment complex. The mailboxes read “10A-S.”
Our host, Zita, waved off our apologies because the group was still incomplete. Two others had not arrived from Bandung.
Tubers at Pindul Caves, Yogyakarta
At 1:30, the others arrived, but we had to drive across town to get them. At 2:30 we were finally leaving Yogyakarta, heading away from Borobudur. Zita and her friends wanted to take us to the Pindul Caves first.
A heavy rain started to fall as we mounted inner-tubes and floated a river through the bat-friendly cave. At 6 p.m. we headed down the mountain in the driving rain. We cleared the traffic-choked Yogyakarta at 7 p.m.
At 8 p.m., still in traffic, still listening to the tropical downpour on the car windows, Zita received word that the ceremony had been cancelled due to rain.
The next morning Lola drooped her sympathetic eyes and asked if missing Vesak had upset me. “Vesak happens every year,” I said. “Yesterday, Yogyakarta showed us its heart through the kindness of a lovely woman.”
A traveler can get caught up on the bucket list. The temples, the palaces, the shows–they can display a place’s majesty and tradition, but its soul can only be found in unanticipated encounters with its unique people.
“So what should we do today?” I said.
“Wander and get lost,” said Lola.
M. Myers Griffith writes fiction, poetry, and travel literature. His published work includes poems, contemplative essays, and travel tales. Mr. Griffith earned a B.A. in Latin American Literature and a Master of Public Health. His decade as an international public health professional makes him uniquely adept at understanding and describing social and cultural phenomena. M. Myers Griffith can be found at Asia Sketches.
I joined a group of rock climbers to Siung beach out of curiosity. Through approximately three hours journey from Jogyakarta, we arrived at a white sand beach surrounded by cliffs. We did outdoor rock climbing in oppose to the usual indoor climbing or wall climbing in Indonesia.
We headed directly to a shelter where climbers usually stay. It’s mbah (grandpa/grandma) Wasto’s house, Kedai Panjat Moroseneng. He built parking area, a big hall with small rooms, toilets, and warung. I heard that mbah Wasto was the first man that greeted some climbers and offered a place for them to rest.
White Sand at Siung Beach, Yogyakarta, Indonesia
As there are more tourists coming to Siung beach, some people established their business by following what mbah Wasto had started. Still, you would not find electricity or network service here. I think this is a perfect escape from the hectic city life.
You can feel the breeze while drinking Es Kelapa Muda. You can swim with the fish in the pristine water. You can even see the Milky Way on the clear night sky! Especially for rock climbers, this is heaven.
Rock at Siung Beach, Yogyakarta, Indonesia
Siung is claimed to have 250 climbing routes! There are eleven sectors (named alphabetically) with various grade from 5.9 to 5.13b. I tried an easy route in sector D (5.10). It was a real torture for a novice like me, but if you’re a rock climber, you’ll be done in five minutes and ready for the next cliff.
Outdoor Rock Climbing Must Do Routes
Rock Climbing at Siung Beach, Yogyakarta, Indonesia
According to climbers’ suggestions: 1. Kuda Laut (5.11/9 bolts), which means sea horse. It has a sea horse-like stone on top of the route. 2. Arek Soro (5.13b/6 bolts+anchor), one of the hardest routes. 3. Who Are U (5.11d/5 bolts), another hardest one. 4. Pacaran (5.9a/4 bolts), that has beautiful view of the beach and eighty meter cliffs on sector F. 5. Vertical Orgasm (5.11/8 bolts), the highest cliff, around one hundred and twenty meters height.
So, what are you waiting for? Plenty of cliffs to conquer in Siung for your rock climbing holidays!
Siung Rock Climbing Travel Guide
How to get there
Bus from Prambanan market to Piyungan then transfer to another bus to Tepus and then transfer one more time to Purwodadi. It costs around IDR 5,000 each. Proceed with ojek from Purwodadi to Siung Beach IDR 10,000 – 15,000.
Some bus drivers will offer you direct drive to Siung beach for IDR 200,000 – 250,000. If you can split the cost with your friends, that would be more convenient. If you have fixed schedule, maybe you can make an appointment for pick up. BUT, remember that you may not be able to contact them since there won’t be network service available.
Rent a car for IDR 200,000 – 250,000 per day and use GPS.
Siung Beach, Yogyakarta, Indonesia
Where to stay
Mbah Wasto offers free space but you just pay for your meal of around IDR 8,000 each meal. Or camp by the beach.
What and where to eat
If you stay at Mbah Wasto, you are lucky as they cook very good local food. The sambal is one of the best I’ve ever tasted. If you camp by the beach, then you will have to eat your own food or buy from warung
Make sure that you bring all the equipments you need. Contact a guide if necessary.
The blend of curiosity and courage brings Eva to travel and explore exotic places. She believes that traveling is a journey of learning, a wide opened door into experience and wisdom. Got lost so many times made her decided to share more information on her travel blog and established an outdoor tour guide service in her hometown. Find Eva at her travel blog – Traveling and Discerning.