Java by Train

Ahead of us was an eight hour train ride across the island of Java from Jakarta to Yogyakarta. The night before, we had procured our train tickets…. that is, a gentleman from the Crowne Plaza schlepped across town to broker them for us. It sounded like an ordeal that we were better off avoiding. “Executive” level tickets were sold out, leaving “Economy” as our only option for the first leg of the journey.

The train station in Jakarta (a secondary station where the economy and local lines run) was gritty, but no worse than anything you’d encounter in India. As our 0745 departure approached, we started paying closer attention to the trains arriving. The local lines that had subway car type seating were easy to rule out, but as other unmarked passenger trains arrived on our track we were concerned that we might not be able to identify our train. When one arrived that seemed like a candidate, we approached a local man waiting on the same track who had been unabashedly gawking at us for the entire time we’d been there. We asked him if this was our train and showed him our ticket, and he replied that it was the next train. Well, the next train arrived about 0740, and we asked him again: “Is this ours?” to which he nodded and smiled without hesitation.


The only markings on the train were the numbered cars. We ran down to car five, and found our assigned seats (6 a,b,c). Many of the seats were getting occupied by people boarding the train, but our seats remained empty. We jockeyed for overhead space to secure our backpacks and got settled in for the journey. We all agreed that for an “economy” fare, the setup was pretty decent: the seats were well padded, there was an overhead fan and a nice breeze from the windows…. totally doable. We enjoyed the ride for a bit, an urban landscape of shacks and dilapidated buildings covered in graffiti sweeping by, slowly transitioning to rural farms and flat sweeping rice paddies.


Maybe an hour and a half went by and a few stations out we made a stop where a lot more passengers boarded. A woman and her daughter came up to us and said that we were in their seats. “Say what?” … A guy next to Ashley double checked our tickets and nodded, delivering the potentially quite unfortunate news: “You’re on the wrong train. This is the ‘business’ train and you need the ‘economy’ train.”


Well, the first thing to do was of course to give up our seats to the lady. But then what? The train was already out of the station. Before we had much time to think about it, a local man a few rows ahead got up and told us to follow him. We followed him up to one of the front cars of the train where there were several soldiers and police officers. There was an open table with benches and they offered that to us. After inspecting our ticket they said that the train we were supposed to be on was the one right behind us and that we could get off at the next stop and wait for that one. However, when we got to the next stop (about 30-60 minutes later) they said it would be ok to just stay on the business train if we wanted to. They said the “economy” train was nicer, with real A/C and such…. kind of a weird concept, as it appears “business” is a lower class than “economy” from what we understood. The face price on the business tickets was less, so it made sense.


We decided to just stay on the business train rather than risk screwing things up again in a really big way at some random train station in rural Indonesia. It made for an interesting train ride and we talked with a few soldiers and police along the way. We also met a military academy student who wanted to practice English and we all chatted a while. The scenery across Java was really beautiful, slowly transitioning into hilly terrain with mountains in the distance and occasional tunnels. A number of guides recommended the train ride from Jakarta to Yogyakarta as a worthwhile trip for the views alone, and I have to agree. That being said, when the eight hour journey came to an end, we were all pretty glad to get off that train in Yogyakarta. As we disembarked there, the man that originally helped us passed by and said “You made it!” with a pat on the shoulder.

The train station had phones available for use like in India where you just pay after the phone call is done for the minutes used to an attendant. That was very helpful to let the people at Manohara (our hotel) know we’d arrived 30 minutes early. We rode to our hotel (actually on the Borobudur grounds, about an hour drive) without incident, and it was a real relief to be met with welcome drinks and first class service. After a little dinner, we were all out for the night, pretty exhausted. We needed to be up for the sunrise tour, ready to go by 0430, so it was good to get to bed early for once on this trip.

For a transit day, it sure felt like a lot happened.

3 thoughts on “Java by Train”

  1. Haha it was funny u had to give up your seats. It sounds like something it only happens in Mexico.

    1. Indonesia is like Mexico! It is very strange, because even Mike says it feels like we are in Mexico when we are in Indonesia!

  2. You know, I think the initial guy that helped you out purposely had you board the wrong train….seriously, he seemed to know where he was going and I’m sure he just wanted to play around anyway…

    Just imagine what it would’ve been like if you got off! What if the train coming wasn’t yours!? Trapped in Indonesia!? No thanks!

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