Thursday, January 10, 2008

Bogor - The Garden and the Rain City of Java


On my 5th day in Jakarta, while I was coming out of my hotel room, the concierge asked me if I’ve visited outside the state. Truth to tell, I wanted to go somewhere out of Jakarta (which isn’t exactly a city but a province, thus Jakarta’s head of government is a governor). Though a little wary of the random horror stories I've heard about Gambir (the main train station), I was willing to find out.

Ummi, an Indonesian friend, gave the impression that most Jakartans would rather avoid the trains, “especially the ekonomi, commuter train”. She said, “I only ride train for long distance. It's the coal train (KA)one, not KRL. You might want to travel in executive class (with AC) because the business class doesn't have AC. Do not - ever - ride the economy class. Best choice would be the rapid train (the train name starts with Argo)."

Upon arriving at the station, it was hard not to notice the incandescent green and yellow-green panels, brightening up the chaotic place. There was a surplus of policemen in the area. Ticket inspectors roam during the ride so tickets have to be kept and presented for inspection. Buying a ticket was systematic, and though I wasn’t sure if I had the correct platform, all I had to do was ask the local commuters, five of them enthusiastically offered a variety of replies. The thing about Jakartans is that, once they get wind of your being a tourist, they feel protective against the big city’s perceived dangers.

Ekonomi tickets to Bogor costs Rp3,000 and its a 1 ½ hour ride by train. There’s one every 20 minutes between 6 AM and 7 PM. I took the Pakuan Express train, a business train that sets you back Rp13,000. It leaves Gambir hourly (6:30 AM to 6 PM). The carriage was a huge fully air-conditioned car. Though it doesn’t have the impeccable spotlessness and glisten of Malaysia’s KLIA Express, it is more serviceable than our decrepit PNR trains. We’d pass by a major university station (one of the 3-4 stops of an express train). Upon arrival in Bogor, the "Rain City", I had to get down the tracks instead of an elevated platform.  
Outside the station is a street with considerable hustle. There are sidewalk vendors and Angkots, a small fierra-FX hybrid, ply the streets (Rp2000). As the road got wider, we reached a roundabout. I got off at the other side for my destination - the Bogor Palace and the Gardens. Interestingly, the gardens is said to be patterned after London’s Kew Gardens who shares the same architect and planner. Verdict: It's the perfect place to unwind, a green lung of a city with a surplus of angkots roaming narrow streets. But the Kew Gardens it isn’t.

On Bogor, Ummi shared, “That's a nice place. Bogor is called the 'Rain City', because it's the home of the rain; it often rains even during the dry season. It’s also the current President's private residence. He and other top retired generals have big houses in the Cikeas area.” Lonely Planet likewise refers to Bogor as the "Garden City".

In Bogor Gardens (Kebun Raya), you could hang down your hat. It has gigantic trees lining the paved lanes; a lake filled with water hyacinth; a royal palace (Istana Bogor) with a replica of Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid. Unfortunately, their “Little Mermaid” is out of reach. The whole graden grounds could be checked out in two hours.

Before going back to the train station, I passed by the Ramayana Mall, a medium-sized shopping center that’s more upscale than Plaza Bogor’s tiangge commercialism. I bought scarves at Rp17,500 each (down from the original selling price of Rp30,000). I got my mother a blouse (Rp75,000) as well as several shirts for my brothers. By 2 PM, I got hungry so I went to Moka Hoka Bento and ordered a delectable meal at Rp32,000. Once I got recharged, I decided to walk along Jalan Juanda.

I found a stall selling handicrafts and got interested with a tribal mask that set back by Rp50,000 – but I was pleased with myself. At the Soeharto Hatta Airport, the same mask was worth Rp150,000.

I was told that there’s a Robinson’s nearby, but I had to catch my train. I headed towards the Post Office to drop my postcard (Rp5,500 for stamps). Thereafter, I hopped onto an angkot again, not quite sure if this was going to the train station. Then I met a serious-looking guy named Fadil who took the time to accompany me to the train station; bought the express (economy) ticket for me, and even offered me a bottled water. He has been a texting friend ever since. (Fadil works at a chicken poultry whose boss is Filipino.) Once back in Jakarta, I got a text message from him asking if I found my way back; and that he was sorry he couldn’t help me further. How nice is that?

This is the Eye in the Sky!

The Little Mermaid fronting the Istana

Istana Bogor

Solitary walks

As an update:

Tourists can now head straight to Bogor from the airport via a DAMRI Bus, which are airconditioned and very comfortable buses. The trip takes 3 hours. This cuts the several connections when you're heading to Jakarta’s Gambir and taking the train to Bogor. Consequently, the business class train service has been scrapped altogether so people taking the train would have to make do with the economy train which isn't so bad. The ride is short and it’s fun rubbing elbows with the more hospitable locals.

Gigantic trees with roots I could hide behind.

Water hyacinths flourish at the lake of Bogor Gardens.

Bogor Market

At the Moka Hoka Bento in Ramayana Mall.

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