Mount Bromo > Indonesia > TheRoamingNoodle

Chasing Volcanoes in East Java | Asia’s Hidden Gem

Java is truly an island with a thousand waterfalls and no better place to start exploring them than in Malang. Oh did I mention it’s home to active volcanoes?!


After a grueling eight hour train ride from Jogja I finally arrived in Malang bruised and battered. In recent memory I haven’t had a travel day this bad since that overnight boat ride from Koh Tao to Surat Thani in Thailand, but this took the cake. Traveling on a whim usually means last minute bookings where you sometimes strike gold, cheap first class tickets, or strike out completely, lowest class on the slowest train. By no means am I a travel snob, any way to get there I’m game, although riding eight hours in a sardine can stuffed to the gills with people sitting three kids to a lap on seats meant for two full size adults wasn’t my first choice. But here we are!

Once the train stammered to a stop and all of us unloaded, painstakingly slow, you can see the mass exodus into the busy streets of Malang, East Java. Hastily I turned on my Google Maps and plot a walking trek to stretch my legs after sitting for an eternity towards MADOR Malang Dorm Hostel. First thing I notice on this walk is the ever colorful neighborhood clad in blue on one side of the Jembatan Brantas Bridge while the opposite sported the spectrum of the rainbow. These neighborhoods will have to wait as my main mission was to check in for a long shower!

Malang was prized by Dutch colonists for its mild highland climate, but honestly I think it has everything to do with the local scenery. This became a stop mainly for the multitude of waterfalls lining the regions to the north and southeast and also to hike Mount Bromo, another active volcano. Malang made a great basecamp for a few days back on the road and I was enthralled with just having some me time after a few weeks with new friends.

A full night’s rest under my belt I woke up to a simple breakfast of toast with almond spread, Javanese coffee and a list of destinations to tackle. I rented a scooter from my hostel and plotted my destinations for the day:

  • Coban Putri
  • Coban Rondo Waterfall
  • Grojogan Sewu Waterfall
  • Banyak Hill

I set off on the 22km trek solo towards my first stop: Coban Putri. The ride didn’t prove itself entirely difficult to get to even though I almost ran out of gas at the beginning. I swear they always give you these things on empty. The roads leading up the crest of the hill was laden with potholes and giant rocks that you could’ve sworn cratered the Earth at one point. However, my amazing scootering skills amassed during my stay abroad had me avoid any calamity, or rather hilarity of eating shit.

laden with potholes and giant rocks that you could’ve sworn cratered the Earth at one point.

Coban Putri > Indonesia > TheRoamingNoodle
A Phan in the hand.

If you go up then you must also come down is generally the rule, but not before we take a quick stop to soak up the views. Did I mention I did this vista soaking standing in a hand made from weaved branches outstretching over a cliff? For some reason you can find these little platform all over SE Asia from the looks of it and I just happen to stumble upon one. You do have to pay a small fee to snap a photo or two, something I could live with considering I had the gatekeeper be my photographer for this occasion. Honestly, it was a service in teaching some basic photography skills in return for some epic images to last a lifetime, or until I accidentally format my SD card, again.

With the side trip finished I continued the rest of the way down the hill towards Coban Putri only to find myself the only tourist in the whole joint. Scooter parked I took a quick scan around at the twin waterfall leisurely rushing down and collecting into two pools of water below. A few locals and their families taking in the morning rays, coffee in one hand and snacks in the other, camera phones out snapping away. A good moment for people watching but one can’t help but wonder if they were being watched as well.

  • Coban Putri > Indonesia > TheRoamingNoodle
  • Coban Putri > Indonesia > TheRoamingNoodle
  • Coban Putri > Indonesia > TheRoamingNoodle

I traversed up one side of the waterfall to snap a few photos, letting the mist hit my face to cool me off. I couldn’t help but noticed two kids having the time of their lives at the base of the waterfall. Sometimes simply joys like swimming in the morning underneath a waterfall makes life worth it. There was a platform that I climbed atop and watched the people from up above. Coban Putri wasn’t a dazzling location, but rather soothing with the winds tousling the treetops and the hypnotic sound of the falls in front. There were worse places to start the morning.

Coban Putri > Indonesia > TheRoamingNoodle
Seriously, a great place to the spend the morning.

From here it was only another 17km towards Coban Rondo Waterfall though the travel time took almost an hour due to twisty roads. I welcomed this though as I can explore at my own leisurely pace, something I’ve missed in recent weeks. Though to be completely honest I got lost quite a bit getting here. Everything sorts of blend in after awhile; the roads, the tree lines, hell even the tea hills all looked the same. A tumultuous twenty minutes later I found the entrance to the road that eventually led to the waterfall, and wouldn’t you know it was in front of me the entire time!

Coban Rando was livelier than the Coban Putri with scooter after scooter zooming pass and in turn me passing a half dozen vans carrying patrons. At least I was going the correct way, this time. Finding a spot to park was a bit more of a challenge, squeeze in wherever you may fit! Yes, it’s a park, kind of. More like a amusement park, minus the rides, but they did have a maze field for some reason? Had it not been for my attire and huge camera you would have thought I was a local like everyone in the crowd.

Excited at seeing pretty much no backpackers here I realized maybe this was a hidden gem, all getting lost aside of course. The notion of going to where mostly only locals frequented has always been a tough goal to achieve, but I was happy to finally see something not many who don’t live here saw. And what a fantastic waterfall Coban Rondo proved to be!

  • Coban Rando > Indonesia > TheRoamingNoodle
  • Coban Rondo > Indonesia > TheRoamingNoodle
  • Coban Rando > Indonesia > TheRoamingNoodle

The waterfall stretches a couple hundred feet into the air, producing such a note that is so distinct to this particular place. I passed by dozens of families all adorning bathing suits swimming in the runoff that led up to the base of the pool that collected. Everyone of them having a great time outdoors, frolicking in nature and having picnics with a spread envious of all hungry bellies, mine included. The mist though proved to be too much for me to continue shooting that I opted to enjoy the views of the people, especially the three gentlemen that stood shirtless in their soaked jeans posing for a photo. You can be cool, but you’ll never be this cool.

I always prided myself in my good sense of direction but heading off towards Grojogan Sewu Waterfall I was COMPLETELY lost. Granted this 14km ride shouldn’t have derailed me as much as it did, but as the backpacking gods as my witness I nearly killed my damn self! In my defense Google Maps thought I wanted to head to the TOP of the waterfall so it sent me on my merry way up the side of a mountain into someone’s cliffside farm. Do let me remind you the tires of the scooters are bald and the fact that I was riding a scooter and not a dirt bike did not aid in my survival.

Grojogan Sewu > Indonesia > TheRoamingNoodle
Where else can you get any closer?

After thinking things through and not dying being high on my list I turned my scooter around. This was probably the most logical choice I’d made all day to be frank. Once at the base I recouped my thoughts and pondered where this entrance could be. Alas much to my dismay I rode past it on my way up the cliff. The guys manning the gate kind of chuckled at my sight as they saw me riding back and forth for quite a bit. Hell I would have laughed at me too.

The walk to Grojogan Sewu Waterfall was a quick one, a much easier affair than what I’d just endured. Grojan Sewu wasn’t as spectacular as the first two, though I’d made a plan and I stuck to my guns by coming here. The height wasn’t that tall so the water that raged on was immensely powerful because it had a much greater outpour. If you stood underneath it I bet it would feel like the battering of a high pressure car wash, or the very least rolling down your windows as you went through.

Lesson here: always venture on the riskier side of things for your rewards could be better than.

Banyak Hill was my last stop of the day while heading back towards. This picturesque hilltop filled with cafés, small eateries, outlook points, and even a paragliding office.In short it was the perfect spot to end a waterfall filled. I grabbed a quick bite and some juice to replenish before heading towards the highest point to overlook the valley below. The sun was setting behind the hill as the paragliders took off one by one into the sea of houses that laid in the valley.

  • Banyak Hill > Indonesia > TheRoamingNoodle
  • Banyak Hill > Indonesia > TheRoamingNoodle

Looking on I was crushed that I didn’t eve know this was offered here for I would have no qualms jumping at the bit. I soaked in the sights along with others at the triumphant takeoffs and the defeat felt when the chute doesn’t open all the way. No worries kids as everyone was safe in their adventure here. I stayed a few moments longer before eventually calling it a day and heading back into town thoroughly drained.

My phone promptly went off at a ripe 12:15AM later that morning as I groggily pummeled the off button. Why do I do this to myself, I thought. I tossed and turned for another several minutes before deciding it was time to throw on my trekking clothes to meet Marie out front. We didn’t wait long at all before hearing the all too familiar sound of a Toyota Land Cruiser, a classic at that, roll up to the front of the hostel.

She was red in color, two doors in nature, and a whole lot of sex appeal. It clunked along in its stride, was super uncomfortable, had no real backseats, so loud you couldn’t take a nap, and worse yet the smell of diesel leaked into the cabin. For me this was heavenly, for Marie this was pure torture as she sat in the back, rolling around in most corners. Our Land Cruiser’s final destination was to be Mount Bromo, an active volcano and part of the Tengger massif, in East Java, Indonesia.

One of the best morning views anywhere this side of the Milky Way.

First stint of our drive was unremarkable, but things started happening when we got closer to base. Seemingly out of no where we took a left, or was it a right, onto some sand patches from the main road and continued on. Sometimes we’d get stuck in the deep sand and all hopes looked lost. Our tour guide, not his first rodeo, just hammered along the gas until the 4WD system kicked in, rocking us out of our predicament. At the same time I saw plenty of people riding on scooters that inevitably ate so much shit as they crossed the sand pits. Reminder that road going tires, scooters or not, do not work well in sand, and work even LESS when you are riding two-up. The scene was pretty much Mad Max from behind the headlights.

Our tour guide, not his first rodeo, just hammered along the gas

With the aftermath behind us we joined up with an impromptu group of other 4X4 and formed a convoy that ascended up the windy mountainside roads. In the darkness all you could see was a stream of red tail lights in front and a steady beam of LED headlights from the the rear with the star filled sky above. The switchbacks weren’t my favorite as it was constantly gas, gas, brakes and not in that order. I felt incredibly bad for Marie for sitting in the back being thrown around like a sack of rice.

Mount Bromo > Indonesia > TheRoamingNoodle
Got caught admiring the scenery.

After 30 minutes of this torture we finally made a stop on the side of the mountain road where our guide announced that we’re here. Where here was unbeknownst to me, still collecting my thoughts from all the side to side motion of the drive, my brain is scrambled. It was only 3:30AM and the sun wasn’t coming up for another few hours so both of use, Marie and I, opted to sleep a bit more in the car while our guide went to hang with his buddies.

An hour later I woke her up deciding now was the appropriate time to get our lives in order. The viewing pavilion was a short walk passing a few cafes along the way. There were hundreds of freezing patrons all looking for something warm to eat and drink, ourselves included. We parked ourselves in the darkness against a railing amongst all the chatter that surrounded us. I was crossing my fingers that the spot we chose was not going to be a dud, but time will tell.

  • Mount Bromo > Indonesia > TheRoamingNoodle
  • Mount Bromo > Indonesia > TheRoamingNoodle

The shadow of Mount Bromo in front of us the first light broke to our left, from the east. Pale yellows and oranges started to bleed into the sky where light purples have already claimed their stakes above. You can tell that there was excitement in the air from everyone in attendance for the show. The stars slowly started to fade out of the sky as it became more illuminated with warm colors from the sun. Reds were now entering the foray, a dance of all the colors that culminated into one spectacular band across the morning sky.

Mount Bromo > Indonesia > TheRoamingNoodle
“Hey, you guys looking for a ride?”

Everyone in my field of view became a silhouette in the foreground as I turned my attention back to Mount Bromo, now visible. With the first morning’s light the active volcano showed itself in a blue hue, as the sun began to rise higher in the horizon. You can start to see trail lights from people way in the valley, letting us know we weren’t the only ones awake at that hour. Pockets of onlookers can be seen everywhere in the foreground with the more light being introduced to the picture.

  • Mount Bromo > Indonesia > TheRoamingNoodle
  • Mount Bromo > Indonesia > TheRoamingNoodle
  • Mount Bromo > Indonesia > TheRoamingNoodle

The sun now peeking over the horizon casts its warm light finally onto Mount Bromo. Watching the light spectrum change from a dormant blue hue into a warm beast with smoke ever rising from its crater was amazing to see. Every minute that passed more details came to life, it was a moment you felt infinitesimal to happenings around you. Nature is a true wonder and we are fortunate enough just to bask in her glory.

Properly drunk from the lack of sleep we bid adieu to the pavilion and made a trek back to the Land Cruiser. Next for us was to ride in a convoy back down towards the base and head over to the range itself. Riding down in daylight hours was quite fun as you can see everyone in their rigs having a great time while others hanging about on top. It was a party that needed no libations other than life itself.

  • Mount Bromo > Indonesia > TheRoamingNoodle
  • Mount Bromo > Indonesia > TheRoamingNoodle
  • Mount Bromo > Indonesia > TheRoamingNoodle

Once parked Marie and I made a very, very long walk towards the staircase that would lead us up to the rim of the volcano. If you fear the walking you can opt for a horse ride as these are a thing here. Also, mind the trails of poop because, yea, they poop a lot.

A face mask or covering is very recommended here as the dust is constantly blowing.

Climbing the stairs was a cakewalk after climbing Mount Batur on Bali that I welcomed the challenge. Hundreds of steep steps later you arrived at the very top of the crater where smoke can be seen rising from its center. There’s seeing volcanoes and then there’s standing on the rim of an active one. We left the crowds and walked the ridge past the taped off section because why not? I would say you wouldn’t want to fall off either side if you find yourself this far away from the crowds.

Mount Bromo > Indonesia > TheRoamingNoodle
Waiting with anticipation for the show.

The blessing of getting away from the masses was the eerie silence of it all. You can stop just about anywhere and listen to the wind howl while smoke rises. This is where the mask comes in handy from the distinct stench that emanated from the crater.

Both of us have been up for twelve hours at this point and properly exhausted we called it a wrap for the adventure. On the drive out of the park I couldn’t help but notice just how much this place reminded me of scenes from Jurassic Park. Being in the middle of the valley with the clouds rolling in a part of me was thinking a tetradactyl was going to swoop down and pick me up for a ride, or a snack. This attests to how raw and real the natural beauty of this island still remains.

Mount Bromo > Indonesia > TheRoamingNoodle
Straight from Jurassic Park.

The next day it was my turn to wait for Marie before setting off on another adventure. This time around it was only us two with a 150cc scooter at hand, the biggest scoot I had to rent so far on this trip. We had good reasoning for getting a larger displaced scooter as we’re headed off to Tumpak Sewu waterfall some near 70km away. One look at the Google Maps at how twisty the roads were I knew a bigger bike for two-up was the only way. Did I mention it was raining the entire time? Where was the Land Cruiser when you needed it?

Tumpak Sewu Waterfall > Indonesia > TheRoamingNoodle
Disheartening with so much fog in the way of the views.

Our journey was quite long, around two hours, and awfully cold. We were both drenched despite our best efforts at a jacket and poncho. I won’t lie that a few corners of the twisty bits got me a little anxious, but I dug into my dormant race bike skills and remembered to stay calm. Lucky for Marie she had no idea how many times we nearly died out there, ha.

Lucky for Marie she had no idea how many times we nearly died out there, ha.

After a few stops to warm up and stretch the frozen bones we finally made it to our destination. Though we could’ve been lost on Silent Hill for all I knew. Seriously, you couldn’t see more than ten feet in front of you. On a clear day you would be able to see the dozens of falls converging into a semi-circular location with the active volcano, Semeru, in the background. With thick clouds, rain and fog you couldn’t see the forest for the trees. But after the journey we weren’t going to turn around just yet. We got some coffee and hung about figuring out what to do.

Marie, not one to leave empty handed, asked my thoughts on just heading down into the valley, braving the rain and whatever may come. Risk life just to get a glimpse of the waterfall? Yes! Had she not said a thing I would have gladly gone back to town, but her adventurous nature egged me on. We paid our tab and without a guide in sight we forged onwards down a muddy path, hopefully to something epic.

I can’t remember anything in recent years that proved to be as sketchy or treacherous as the climb down into this valley. Maybe having a guide was the right idea I thought, but we in the thick of now. Don’t expect any steps or hand rails, all you’ll see are makeshift bamboo platforms, Fisher Price toy grade ladders, and ropes that help guide your way, kind of. You’ll face many sheer drops and cross a waterfall or two before you eventually reach the bottom. I couldn’t say exactly how long it took us to get down, but I was just glad neither of us had a slip or fall. I remembered a local woman doing the same trek as us in sandals, bless her soul.

The fog was thick deep in the valley. Felt as though you were walking in a cloud on the ground. The valley’s high walls let you know just exactly how deep down you were. We kept walking towards the sound of raging waters, turning bend after bend, being in continuous awe of all the green that surrounded us. Once we turned a corner we were met with a raging river. All of the day’s rain caused quite the obstacle to overcome.

Calling it fast moving was an understatement, one false step and you’ll be taken under. Turning back now after coming so far was out of the question. I gave a look to Marie, gauging her facial expression, realizing going back was an afterthought for her. I hiked up my shorts, threw my shoes across the way, and took the lead in our group of two. The water was frigid, the least of my worries, but after a few steps it was up already up to my thigh. Its force was tremendous as I was tossed around finding stability on the slippery rocks.

“Was it worth it?”

A few locals who had already crossed came back to form a human link that stretched out to me which stretched to Marie. Altogether we heaved and pulled until both of us were safely across. I looked at them to give my utmost gratitude for not letting us get swept away in that current.

With my wits about me I pointed my head up towards the sky while my face was covered in the misty dew of the waterfalls. I can still hear the deafening roar of the water raging over the cliffs every time I close my eyes. The rain let up just enough while we were in the valley that the fog cleared away from the falls. I was left flabbergasted when the views came into sight. There truly was what felt like a thousand waterfalls all surrounding you. It was a magnificent scene, rain or shine, that proved its worth for all the trouble it caused getting to it. It was surreal to think a place like this even existed on our planet.

surreal to think a place like this even existed…

I took a look at Marie and asked if it was all worth it; riding in the rain for two frigid hours, getting bamboozled for photos by the locals, a treacherous climb down and making it narrowly across a raging river. She simply smiled back back and said “definitely!” I was beaming with the same sentiments.

Tumpak Sewu Waterfall > Indonesia > TheRoamingNoodle
Where the Wild Things Are.

With only a few hours remaining of my time in Malang before I was off I decided that morning to visit the neighborhood I pass on my way in. Looking down from a Google Map’s perspective you can tell the town went all out in creating a tourist attraction and the same time add a vibrancy to the area. Both neighborhoods separated by a bridge was only a short walk from my hostel making this an on foot journey before my indefinite departure.

I first ventured into the Blue Village quite aimlessly. The small corridors of tin houses were still quiet as the morning was unfolding. I caught glimpses of toddlers running around in their pajamas, one would throw a smile my way revealing half eaten rice in their mouth. There were murals of lions depicted as soccer stars amongst a myriad of others down scooter cladded side streets. The tin houses did a great job at muffling out the rambunctious morning traffic just twenty yards off in the distance.

I perused the quiet alleys and back ways, eventually finding the entrance and a lady waving me down for a fare unpaid. Nothing is free in this world, but I was more than happy to pay the small fee to have a nice leisurely stroll that morning. I bid her farewell with a wave and a smile, sometimes all you can do with a language barrier, and made my tracks across to the other side.

A hop and skip later I soon find myself at the entrance of the opposite neighborhood greeted with an eager looking ticket lady. She had such a cheerful smile that I was more than happy to pay, again, the fare and gain entrance into Kampung Warna Warni Jodipan. Yea, I know that was a mouthful but so is the colorful village you’re about to step into.

Kampung Warna Warni Jodipan > Indonesia > TheRoamingNoodle

Laid out in quite the same fashion as the blue neighborhood you couldn’t help but get a sense that this was being a little extra. The colors are more vibrant due to their variety of the spectrum but no less unremarkable. Its alleys decorated with colorful umbrellas hanging from above. Masks bearing intricate facial expressions in front of little makeshift stores. Various patterns are painted along the corridors every which way you turned. I was truly and utterly lost in here as it reminded me of a corn maze, but with tin roof homes. All the alleys and corridors with their so many shade of color added to the “weren’t I just down here?” confusion. Though, honestly there are worse neighborhoods to get lost in than this one.

Certainly more people out frolicking here than its counterpart given the time of day I arrived. Loads of local out in front of their homes smiled as you walked by, kids playing in the creek that separated the other half of Warna Warni, and shop owners motivated by a potential candy bar sell, which I gave into later. I even ran across a few kids just hanging out on the stoop talking the morning away. It was just great to be around something so lively even if it were a man made tourist attraction.

Kampung Warna Warni Jodipan > Indonesia > TheRoamingNoodle

Full warning if you want to cross the footbridge to the other side there will be another fee to be paid. Though, I am sure all the proceeds go to the upkeep of the vibrant neighborhood.

With my trip to the neighborhood finished I grabbed a quick lunch nearby before heading back to my hostel. I’d spent a bit more time in Malang than I initially wanted to, partly because there was so much to explore and still so much left, but I couldn’t get a ticket out of the city at all! The trains were all booked up and the only thing available was a night bus to Banyuwangi by way of Bali. I grabbed the last seat as soon as I could which meant leaving in a haste, but my time in Malang was truly at the end of the line.

I was ready for what would be the last stop officially on my Java Island adventure. Secretly though there was still Mount Ijen for me to tackle on my way off the island and I couldn’t wait to scale another volcano!

3 comments on “Chasing Volcanoes in East Java | Asia’s Hidden Gem”

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