Bus Travel In Java

I left Candi Mundut and Borobudur two days ago and returned to Jogyakarta (also known as Yogyakarta but locally called Jogja) by bus. This reminded me that I haven’t shared with you the experiences I have had on public buses in Java.
My longest bus trip so far was from Jember to Malang which took roughly 6 hours. It began at the bus terminal which are usually found slightly out of the city centre and need a short ride by bemo. You can also flag a bus down from anywhere along the side of the road which is very convenient. This morning I checked out of the homestay behind Candi Mundut, pulled my pack to the nearby road which was only 100m and then waited not even 5 mins by the side of the road. The bus had ‘Jogja’ written on the front, so I flagged it down. To flag a bus or any public transport in Indonesia, you hold your arm out in front of you with your hand palm down and lift your fingers up and down sort of in a scratching motion. Never do it with your palm face up! Very rude! In Indonesia public buses do not generally run to a schedule; they run when they are full.
So back to my Jember bus trip…. As soon as I got out of the bemo, people rushed over to me trying to guess where I was going by giving me suggestions. At first I used to be worried that their intentions were shady and that maybe I would get ripped off in some way, so I would try to find the bus myself without giving too much away, but now I tell them straight up where I am going and someone will shake their head knowingly and take me straight to the next bus, usually chatting all the way after taking my pack from me and wheeling it for me.
Because the Jember to Malang trip is quite long, my pack went in the baggage section under the the bus. I then hopped on and fortunately chose a spot just about the luggage door so could keep an eye on my bag every time the luggage section was opened. Because the bus was only half full, we all sat in our seats waiting for more passengers while the bus driver enjoyed a break to stretch his legs and go to the toilet. While we were waiting, a fellow jumped on the bus and began singing while playing his guitar. He was quite good. After he’d sang a few songs, he then in very polite Indonesian wished us a safe journey and then suggested to all the passengers that they may like to donate some small change in appreciation of his performance. He then removed an empty chip packet from his pocket and walked up the bus aisle offering it to every passenger. Most gave him coins and a few gave him Rp1000 (10c). As I think getting up and singing in front of a bus full of strangers take a lot of courage, I gave every singer at least something but generally Rp1000. Here are some photos of some of the singers:


Not long after he got off, a lady then got on and she too then sang a couple of songs before giving what turns out to be the standard spiel wishing us a safe trip etc etc. She then offered everyone her empty lolly packet but coming so soon after someone else she barley got 2 or 3 donations! Her voice too wasn’t the best, quite husky and not much range. Maybe she was nervous? There is no way I could get up and do it so I take my hat off to her for giving it a go!
No sooner had she got off then the food sellers descended upon us. People carrying baskets full of drinks and snacks. Whatever they thought would appeal to the passengers they would call it out over and over. Tahu, tahu, tahu (Tofu,tofu, tofu) – a very popular snack here served with chili. The snacks are so cheap. I bought along the way some delicious ginger lollies, a packet of fried broad beans and some salak (snake snake fruit).


Soon afterwards, the bus driver and his offsider (he collects the money and also is the person you tell when you want to get off) jumped on the bus and we were off. The funny thing was that we waited for at least half an hour at the terminal for extra passengers but as soon as we got to the terminal exit, several people jumped up from where they’d been sitting in the comfort of a warung enjoying something to eat and drink and flagged the bus down! We were soon full!

Whenever we stopped next, at an intersection or at another bus terminal, more sellers would jump on and the previous ones would jump off and race to another bus that had also stopped. There was a constant stream of people serenading us on our journey, one even brought his own PA system, one brought a ukulele and another played a hand made drum! It was rarely quiet. If the singers weren’t singing, then Indonesian dangdut music was blaring through the overhead speakers.

But what I found the funniest of all were the people who got on carrying huge bags filled to the brim with multiple packets of one type of a processed food. They would start at the front of the bus and put one packet on the lap of each passenger sitting in the aisle seat. Most people left it sitting exactly where it was put. Then the seller would return to the front and collect them all again. Once or twice the passenger sitting next to the window was also given one but usually it was just whoever was sitting in the aisle. If you wanted it, you paid, if you didn’t, you ignored him totally while he removed the food packet off your lap on his return trip! I liked it because the price was set and it also gave me time to look at what it was.The funniest time though was when several sellers got on the bus at the same time while we had stopped at the bus terminal in Probolinggo. At one point the lovely lady sitting next to me was on her phone with her handbag on her lap and she had 3 sellers come past, one after another. She totally ignored each them as they each passed putting something onto her handbag. If the packet of food threatened to slide off, she would steady it with one hand but other than that she totally left them alone. Then one by one, the sellers came by again and each would sort through the packets on her lap to reclaim the one that belonged to them! I loved it!
Here are some sellers and singers sitting at a warung waiting for a bus:


At one point a group of teenage university students got on the bus and made a beeline for me. They stood in the aisle and asked if I minded if they practiced their English as they rarely get the chance to do so with a native speaker.
Bus travel is constantly entertaining and never dull! Indonesians must be bored out of their mind when they take a long-distance bus trip in Australia!


3 thoughts on “Bus Travel In Java

  1. Wow Cathy it sounds like to have been having a great time. Can’t wait to get over there and experience some of this. Your blog is fantastic. Love reading about the things you have been doing. Keep it up.

  2. Pingback: Jalanan ; A Movie About Busking in Jakarta | Indonesian Teacher Reflections

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