If you want to have the opportunity to see the final stand of the Javan rhino, you have to first make it to their home in Ujung Kulon National Park. You would think a national park relatively close to Jakarta on the most populous island in the world would be easy to get to. Think again! It took me hours to research how to get from Jakarta to Ujung Kulon National Park and nothing I found gave definitive answers.
I did figure out that I needed to get to Taman Jaya, and the best jumping off point was the Kalideres bus station in Jakarta. Other than that, it was pretty unclear how exactly to get there. I knew I could get there by private taxi or moto-bike, but those options would be five to ten times the amount of taking a bus.
Kalideres bus station
My adventure started with a Grab taxi to the Kalideres bus station from my hotel. I stayed at the Swiss-Belinn Airport Hotel. The benefit of this place is it is both near the airport and close to the Kalideres station, so you do not have to venture into downtown Jakarta unless you want to. The hotel also kept my belongings I was not taking to the park in storage for free. I also stayed there two nights after returning.
My Grab ride dropped me off at Kalideres without incident. Immediately upon exiting the bus, I was surrounded by hawkers wondering where I was going. A really nice lady who worked security approached and introduced herself and also asked where I was going. I told her I wanted to go to Taman Jaya via Labuan. She walked me to the correct bus and told me it would be 20,000 Indonesian rupiah. This is about $1.50 in usd.
Shortchanged on the bus to Labuan
I only had 100,000 rupiah notes, so I gave that to the bus dude that was collecting the money. He did not give me any change back. Sometimes the bus money collectors will give change back later because initially they might not have enough small bills to make change.
Later, I looked at the money collector and saw he had a fat wad of all types of bills. I asked if I could get my change back. The bus dude could not speak English, so he had the nice girl next to me tell me there would be no change.
The nice lady at the bus station gave me her WhatsApp, and during the bus trip messaged me to ask how much I paid. I told her I paid 100k and the dude would not give me the change back. She called me and asked to speak to the bus guy. He sheepishly gave me back 50k.
Indonesia bus travel tip
I guess it is not uncommon for bus drivers to take advantage of tourists. I have taken a lot of bus trips in a lot of developing nations, but Indonesia is the first place this took place for me, and it happened more than once. My advice to prevent this is to know in advance how much the bus is and then have exact change. If you do not have change, stop in at a convenience store and buy a pack of gum or some snacks.
The girl sitting next to me seemed impressed that I was able to get some change back. I knew that I still was due 30k, but I was not going to press it. It was not worth the conflict. My neighbor said that he does that to all the foreigners. My WhatsApp friend asked that I take a picture of the bus license plate and send it to her, which I did.
Enjoyable bus trip
I enjoyed looking at the scenery out the bus window. It was your typical bus trip in a developing country with many stops and delays. When we stopped, impromptu musical groups would enter the bus and play songs and then ask for a donation. There was also no shortage of food options with street vendors entering the bus intermittently throughout the trip to sell fruit, juice, water, and snacks. I took advantage of this and bought some water and jackfruit.
Confusion at Labuan
Unfortunately, the bus did not drop me off where the bus to Taman Jaya left from. The bus dropped us off on the outskirts of Labuan and the bus to Taman Jaya left from the market in the town. I had to get a ride from a moto-bike driver into town. He explained that I missed the bus. He then offered to drive me for 400k. I am pretty sure he was not telling the complete truth. Later, I found out that buses leave up until 4 p.m., but I am still not completely sure about this. I decided I did not want to wait and took up the moto-bike’s offer and left with him.
Moto-bike trip was worth it
Looking back on this adventure, I am so glad I took the trip with my moto-bike driver. It was an amazing experience holding on to him while we buzzed through small seaside villages on the way to Taman Jaya. He took a more direct route than the bus. In each village, villages would wave and smile as I passed by.
We passed through recent tsunami damage and the road was in horrible condition. We sometimes drove less than five mph as we bumped through some of the worst maintained roads I have ever been on. At one point we actually by-passed the road and drove a couple of miles on the beach. I asked if this was due to tsunami damage, and my driver nodded.
A tsunami rolled through this area and killed around a thousand people. The event was made infamous due to hitting a wedding where a local band was playing and rolled right through their performance killing everyone but the lead singer.
It was sad seeing this devastation and a little scary knowing it could happen again. The cause of the tsunami was volcanic activity offshore, so it was unpredictable and sudden. Tsunami warning signs on the road pointed to escape routes in case another dangerous wave made an appearance.
Finally arrived in Taman Jaya
My moto-bike driver deposited me at a homestay right on the edge of the national park. I stayed here for two nights before returning on the third. I will write about my Ujung Kulon experiences in a separate post.
Return through Serang
On the way back, I took the local bus to Serang. I did this at the recommendation of my guide. I took the 4 a.m. option as there would be virtually no traffic and the bus would be cooler at this time. This was a much better route except for the fact the bus came 30 minutes early. Good thing I packed the night before.
The bus dropped me off at the bus station in Serang, so there was no need for another connection to make through a moto-bike. Another perk of this route is it did not follow the coastline, so we avoided the horrible roads.
I was deposited at the bus station in Serang and easily found the connection back to Kalideres in Jakarta. The bus from Taman Jaya to Serang was 40K and from Serang to Kalideres was 20k.