Our experience in travelling by train in Java

View from my train window

The rail network in Indonesia is not very large. You can only find trains in South Sumatra and in Java. These two Indonesian islands have all their major cities linked by the rail system.

Travelling by train in Java

The Indonesian train company is the state-owned PT Kereta Api. Tickets can be bought on the internet, up to 90 days in advance, but if it is up to two days before the date, they no longer sell online and the purchase must be made directly at the train station.

The official website is www.kereta-api.co.id, but as it is not in English, we had to use google translate to be able to choose our tickets, however, at the time of payment they did not accept any of our cards.

Then we looked for an alternative way to purchase our tickets. " The man in seat 61" - www.seat61.com - always has the solution when it comes to train travel around the world. He suggests using www.tiket.com, which is in English and accepts international cards payments. The price of the tickets were the same as the official website, but they charge a minimal fee for the service - Rp 7,000.00 (USD 0.52) for two tickets.

We bought our tickets in advance, because we were afraid to wait until arriving in Indonesia and not find a place. The process is fairly simple once you understand the following information:

• Trains have names and numbers for different times. Our train from Jakarta to Yogyakarta, for example, that leaves at 8:50 am and has a scheduled arrival time at 4:52 pm, is called Taksaka Pagi 52.

Trains were on time

• The classes are economic (ekonomi - Eko), executive (eksekutif - Eks) and first class (bisnis - Bis).

Executive class

• When you are booking your tickets, you will see a letter in front of the ticket class, such as Eks (A) or Eks (H). This is a subclass, and refers to the position of the wagon in relation to the locomotive, and the further away from it, the more expensive it will be, as it will be quieter and safer. The letter (A) is for the wagon farthest from the locomotive, but it does not usually follow the alphabet and may be that the other letters after (A), are (I) and (J), for example.

• The seat number is reserved, but you can choose where you want to sit during the purchase.

• It is important to know which station you need. In Jakarta we left from Gambir station (GMR), but there are also Patar Senen (PSE) and Tanah Abang (THB) . In Yogyakarta, Tugu Yogyakarta (YK) is the main one. In Malang we found several options when buying the ticket, but Malang (ML) was the one we used.

Once you have chosen your tickets, you will then need to fill out the online form, with your name, email, passport number and phone number. Then you make the payment.

I received an email confirming the purchase and asking to collect the tickets at least one hour before the departure time, at the station.

We also received a mobile phone message, as a reminder, on the day before travelling.

We made two train trips in Indonesia. We went from Jakarta to Yogyakarta and then we went from Yogyakarta to Malang. The two trips went quite smooth and the process of picking up the ticket was very easy. Simply enter the reservation number (which was in the e-mail or mobile message sent to us) on one of the station's machines and the ticket will be printed straightaway, with your name on it. There was no queue to use the machines, so the whole process was very fast.

Jakarta to Yogyakarta

Gambir station, in Jakarta, is quite small for such a large city. But it had snack bars (kfc and starbucks among others), wifi, cash machines and toilets.

The platforms are upstairs and it is for passengers only. It is necessary to show your ticket (which is nominal) and your passport to get there. We thought the station was well organized and signposted.

Passenger only

Our train arrived at the platform about 20 minutes before departure and left at the scheduled time, which was 8:50 a.m.

We travelled in business class and even though the train looked a bit dated, it was quite spacious, the seats were comfortable and it had air conditioning. I advise you to bring toilet paper and to not wear sandals during the trip, as the bathrooms got flooded and were quite dirty.

The seats were confortable

As soon as we left, a woman started asking who would want to have lunch. There were three choices on the menu, but none were vegetarian. We ordered just one dish, and it cost Rp 38,000.00 (USD 2.85). The food arrived around 11:30 a.m.

After an hour or so, the landscape changed from an urban environment, into a landscape of rice plantations. It was very beautiful! We could see the different stages of the rice culture. Sometimes the land was still being plowed, manually, sometimes the rice, still small, being replanted and other times it was a field already nearing harvesting time.

City backdrop

Rice plantations

More rice plantations

From our train window we could have a peek at the life of those people. Sometimes working the land, alone, other times working in a joint effort.

Preparing the land

Replanting the rice

The train was fast, stopped at only 4 stations throughout the trip. It took about 8 hours to cover the 512km trip. It was delayed by about 10 minutes only.

Our ticket cost Rp 290,000.00 (USD 21.75) per person, including the online purchase fee.

From Yogyakarta to Malang

Our train was the Malioboro Ekspres, which departs from Yogyakarta at 7:30 a.m. and has a scheduled arrival time for 3:37 p.m. However, it was definitely not an express train. It was very slow, stopped several times and took exactly 9 hours to make the 391km route. It arrived almost an hour late.

Yogyakarta station

The Yogyakarta station has some snack bars and a grocery store. We bought some food for the way, but they sold drinks and "nasi goreng" (fried rice) for breakfast and lunch on the train.

Nasi Goreng

Our business class ticket cost Rp 210,000.00 (USD 15.75) per person.

Was travelling by train worth it?

It depends. There are a few points to consider:

We could find tickets from Jakarta to Yogyakarta, with Air Asia airline, from USD 47.00. Our train ticket cost USD 21.75. For two people the total saving would have been USD 50.50.

However, you also have to consider the time. While the journey would have taken only an hour by plane, it took us a whole day by train.

If you need to save money, but do not have a lot of time either, you can travel overnight. This would even save you a hotel night. But I know I would not be able to do that. I need my beauty sleep to be able to function the next day.

I think each person needs to analyze how the cost and time would affect their trip.

I love travelling by train. I chose to go by train because I wanted to see the landscape passing through the window. And it really was worth it. Indonesia is incredibly beautiful! We passed spectacular landscapes of rice fields, mountains and some cities. We have seen a little of the everyday life of the Indonesian people. We travelled with the locals and so we were able to have more contact with them. And this is priceless!