For years I was so strongly advised against riding the trains around Jakarta, and down to Bogor, that I avoided them: pickpockets, filthy, broken-down cars and a continuous assault by various sorts of destitute folks seeking spare change.
Blind beggars, street musicians (some of whom are extremely talented and fun-loving, as documented in my YouTube series on KONSER KERETA KELAS KAMBING, or ‘K4’ for short), physically disabled children scuttling along the floors, moving trash about with brooms.
Then I became broken-down and filthy as well, so I started riding the trains, which turned out to be great fun (bicycle and monkey optional).
That era is history. In the past decade or so KAI, the state railway company, has made dramatic improvements in service, with clean, modern, air-conditioned and boring trains. All used hand-me-downs from Japan, of course, and they’ve brought along the Japanese boredom with them.One excellent service you might be interested in is the recently-renovated line from Bogor-Paledang Station, just across the road from busy Bogor Station, all the way to Sukabumi and beyond to Cianjur. KAI has put on a stout German diesel with six cars, running three times a day — and it’s no longer the holiday-in-Buchenwald jamming together. Each carriage has 40-60 seats, with three-by-three seating in Economy and two individual airline-type seats in Executive. Well, not exactly ‘Executive’ but ‘Eksekutif’ which is a bit more modest.
No more exciting rides on the roof, alas.
Sukabumi is an undiscovered (for most folks) part of West Java, which is quite charming for first-time visitors, as the train circles through heavy second-growth jungle straight out of Bogor, rounding ominous Gunung Salak (or, as the locals jokingly nickname it, “Gunung Sukhoi”). It stops first at a nothing wide spot in the road called Maseng, then onward to Cigombong, Cicurug (the author deplanes with his stash of western food but no monkeys, alas, as animals are now verboten on the trains), Parungkuda (no horses in sight), Cibadak (ditto for the rhinos), Sukabumi (meaning “loveland” though it’s a bit of a shabby, shophouse town) and onward to Cianjur, whence the adventurous can take a bus up through Rajamandala to Bandung.
There are actually some pleasant natural areas around Sukabumi, including Situ Gunung, with its ice water waterfall; most of the areas are detailed on the web.
You can also get to Pelabuhan Ratu from Cibadak, and be swept to your death by the popular undertow, which still takes away dozens of cavorting Indonesian non-swimmers every year, and there is, in addition, easy access to the white-water runs at Cikidang.
It’s great to be able to avoid the Road of Death from Ciawi, which has been the principal reason for the lack of tourist traffic to that part of West Java. Aqua “galon” trucks pound great craters in the road, which is jam-packed twenty-four hours a day. Lido, a pleasant-enough vacation site along the way, has gone bankrupt several times for lack of access.
This part of West Java is just a worthwhile day trip from Jakarta, and numerous cheap thrills are available, though you’ll pretty much have to have an Indonesian speaker along for the ride. It’s more fun than the doomed west coast, with its ghost hotels (Anyer, Carita, Labuan), which were popular in the 1990s but now entail a terrific struggle through traffic, down the (normally under repair) Korean-built toll road to Merak.
It’s best to order up tickets beforehand online, and the convenient www.tiket.com only nicks you a nickel for charging on ATM cards, credit cards, etc. Tickets are customarily sold out, particularly on weekends, so ordering beforehand is a wise move. Show up at the window with the info printed out and they’ll buzz you up a ticket from their printer on the spot. You have to have some sort of ID, however, to board.