What we remember the most of Langkawi is no doubts our kayaking trip in the Kilim Karst Geoforest Park, a nice breath of fresh air, after one month plagued by the haze in Malaysia obstructing our view and our lungs. While the visibility was still not perfect, it was still an enjoyable trip in between the mangrove forest. We were supported on this excursion by Junglewalla, o local company made of biologists rather than ordinary travel guides. After they picked us up around 10am, we were driven to Kubang Badak region, about half an hour away from our accommodation in the city and out of the boundaries of the protected UNESCO World Heritage Site and natural park. Incredible to say, after so many years travelling, it was our first real attempt at kayaking so that we had to be taught all the basics by our guide Hemir, and that later we would have put into practice also in our amazing kayaking trip in Cheow Lan Lake.
Other two guests joined us for this fantastic experience, and once we wore our safety jackets we were ready to go. But exactly while we were entering our kayaks, Hemir told us that a couple of days before, a crocodile had been seen in the area, after over two decades they were missing! It didn't matter it was probably escaped from a not far away nursery, since our heartbeat started to race anyway.
But once we started we just relaxed seeing that we were totally protected with our guide in front and a boat from the company guarding our backs.
Our kayaking experience seen from our mobile
Not only it was our almost first time kayaking, but it revealed to be even more complicated because we had a double kayak and we couldn't manage to coordinate our movements. Eventually me and Oti decided to take turns rather than lag behind, paddling just one at a time so that we eventually could manage to keep our kayak straight.
It was essential to stay close to our guide Hemir, since he was such a wealth of knowledge that we didn't want to miss anything! He gave us so many information about the local fauna and about the activities of their companies, involved also in night patrolling against poachers that he really deserves a great review!
While approaching the sandy banks, we could see many mudskippers, a strange animal that is considered to be a fish, but can stay also out of the water on the sand while looking for food.
A mudskipper in Langkawi island
Its peculiar characteristic are the eyes that are found on top of the head rather than on the sides. Next to the mudskippers there were also plenty of small crabs, some having bright blue colours, others with one pincer much bigger than the other. We were explained that the reason is that the crab is truncating one of its pincer, that later grows back in a smaller size, to grow the other much bigger and attract partners!
Macaques living in between the mangroves and the water There were also the never missing macaques in the forest, that we discovered to eat the same food that humans do, so that they can be mimicked in case you are castaway! And there were of course also many eagles, considered to be the symbol of Langkawi island itself.
An eagle flying in between the Mangroves
After about 90 minutes we finished our kayaking trip and were transferred to a local restaurant for the lunch. And the best part of it was not the food itself, but the possibility to listen to more insights of the naturalistic protection of Langwawi as experienced by Hermet and Junglewalla. We were even told unofficial news about very rare animals "secretly" inhabiting the island, and struggling for their survival. After the mangrove tour and the restaurant, we concluded the day with a short hike to a local fresh water pool, where we took a refreshing swim, and we made ourselves ready to dive again into the Malaysian haze!
Davide enjoying a refreshing bath
Disclaimer: While our kayaking trip was sponsored by Junglewalla, our experience and opinions were totally honest and sincere.
With no doubts, the prize for the most spectacular and diverse trek we did in Indonesia goes to Gunung Rinjani in Lombok Island. And that's a quite impressive record, considering that we have climbed several volcanoes in Indonesia and all of them have a distinctive feature making them unique. Just to name a few: Gunung Merapi, said to be the most active Volcano in the world; Gunung Bromo, the most famous and perfect for postcard pictures; Gunung Kelimutu and its three differently colored lakes. As you probably understood, Indonesia is a paradise for hiking lovers!
View from the top of Gunung Merapi in Java
Our Gunung Rinjani trip, was a long awaited expedition that we had planned several weeks in advance, as we are not used to do. We didn't want to miss it, being the second tallest volcano in Indonesia, with 3726 meters (12,224 ft) and one of the most impressive to climb. So we decided to savor this experience slowly instead of rushing and taking the fastest option available and we booked a 4 days 3 nights package with Adi Trekker at convenient conditions. We usually travel independently, but since a guide was said to be mandatory to access the Rinjani National Park and engage in the long trek, we relied on the services of a company that we found to be reliable, offering us also porters, food and camping equipment.
A typical porter along the Rinjani route, with a basic outfit, flip-flops and bamboo baskets
Reaching Lombok Island and preparation for the trekking
We arrived in Lombok Island hitchhiking from Bali and getting a free ride on the back of a motorbike to enter the ferry for free, before sharing the price of a local minibus with other visitors to reach Senggigi at dark. After our adventurous approach on a shoestring budget to Lombok Island, it was funny to find a private transfer organized by Adi Trekker, waiting for us in Senggigi. In just a few minutes we left our role of low cost backpackers to fit inside the one prepared for us of spoiled tourists. We arrived at dark at the base camp of the company not far from Senaru Village, one of the access points to Mount Rinjani, and slept in a close by hotel. The room was basic but clean and comfortable, and in the rush of the morning, while getting ready for our expedition, we even managed to eat the tastiest pancakes of our 1 year in Indonesia!
After breakfast we joined a pick up truck already full of other hikers and workers, and reached the starting point of the trek on the side of Sembalun village, where another crowd of trekkers, porters and guides were already waiting to unleash their legs.
Beginning of the trekking, Mount Rinjani on the background
We were introduced to our guide and the two porters we were assigned, and while we were getting the privilege of using a real toilet for the last time in the next 4 days, they took care of all the bureaucracy.
Off we go!
The beginning of the hike was quite easy with a mildly ascending terrain and an easily recognizable path passing through orchards and grassland, so that we didn't have to focus too much on the route. Our attention was grasped mostly by the people on our way, both visitors and workers. There were so many hikers that we couldn't believe it, considering that a multi-day trek in Rinjani Volcano is not the cheapest activity in Indonesia. We were forming at times a continuous single line as the eye could see, and we were wondering the reason for a compulsory guide, since it was so easy to follow the path or the other trekkers. Given that we were climbing right after the Ramadan festivities, that might have been the reason for so many hikers.
Trekkers aligner along the path to the summit
The porters: the “angels” of the Rinjani Trekking
But mostly we were intrigued by the porters and their outfits, most of them wearing just Flip Flops! Yes, that's not a mistake, just bare, simple flip flops that you would expect to see in Bali's beaches but not here. Not to mention that some of them were even trekking barefoot!
One of the porters hiking with flip-flops
A porter hiking barefoot
This was actually my first trekking where we had porters: since 2009 when I hiked for weeks around the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal without porters or a guide, I've always been questioning myself what would be the best moral decision. To hire the porters so that they could have a job, or not to, because it's a form of modern slavery?
A line of portern on Rinjani volcano
Still no answer to my moral question. For this time we just made sure that we would carry by ourselves our own luggage, leaving them no extra weight than what was given them by our Hiking Company. And of course they had no technological backpacks, all of the porters were using those typical Indonesian carriers made with 2 bamboo baskets, that you have to balance on one single shoulder. From time to time they were switching side while walking, in order to rest the aching part before switching again, and so on until they couldn't bear it anymore and needed to stop for some serious rest. So just imagine climbing a steep slippery path, barefoot, with dozens of kilos on your shoulders and no help from you hands because they are busy balancing the weight... that's their daily life along the Rinjani Trekking! Honor to them.
Hiking through the Savannah
The first part of the trek is going through a Savannah like environment, with the mountains visible at the horizon but partially hidden by the clouds, showing their bumpy feet below this thick curtain, with little vegetation and a sandish ground.
View from POS I
After about 1 hour and a half we reached POS 1 Pemantuan at 1.425 meters, the first organized stop. There were just a couple of shelters, totally underestimated comparing their capacity with the multitude of people left unprotected. Other than that just and an out-of-order toilet that nobody would ever wish to use.
Arriving at POS I
Shelters and toilet at POS I
After a short stop we started again our way up, and more and more people were crossing our way from the opposite direction carrying fishing lenses, some of them so young to look below 10 years old, and of course alone and without a guide.
A kid coming back from Segara Anak lake after fishing
We would later realized that many locals from the surrounding villages go to Segara Anak Lake fishing on its rich waters.
Camping meals along the route of the Rinjani Trekking
About half an hour later we reached already POS 2 Tengengean at 1510 m where most of the groups were already preparing their lunches.
Arriving at POS II
Tourists were gaily relaxing while porters and guides were working hard to create something tasty out of the few ingredients they did carry.
Porters preparing a camping lunch in Rinjani
Be sure to communicate in advance your dietary requirements to your company and ask not to use “Motto”, internationally known as MSG, a neurotoxin widely used in Indonesia to add taste to the food and ask not to exceed with chemical tastes so common in the industrial noodles abused by most of the companies along the route.
Porters invading every spot available to cook While going a little bit further in research of our lunch spot, we were impressed of the unbelievable view: a never-ending line of trekkers aligned along the bridge that seemed like waiting for their meal at a wedding reception, but without a proper dress!
Trekkers aligned along a bridge waiting for their lunch
There were trekkers everywhere, and every single hideout was taken by the porters with an improvised camping kitchen, trying to screen the fire from the wind.
Trekkers sheltering their camping kitchen in the grass
Camping Kitchen in Gunung Rinjani
The porters were quite organized, carrying not only food and utensils but also tarps to put their guests at ease while sitting in a clean surface. But being the sun so strong and no permanent shelters available around, we were wondering how it came that nobody thought about building a temporary shelter to protect them from the sun! At least we were privileged to have also camping chairs in case we wanted, but we found laying on the ground to be more welcoming to rest our muscles already proven by the first hours of trek under the heat.
Oti resting on the tarp
Good news is that there were several saplings planted around our lunch spot with a “technological” dripping irrigation system made with a broken plastic bottle, so that in the future there might be a chance to find a nice shade.
Irrigation system at our lunch spot
Garbage management in Rinjani Volcano
Everywhere along the route, but mainly in the camping areas and in the official POS, you'll see a big problem with garbage: many people, mostly local hikers but not only, just throw things around or in the “best case” burn the garbage in open fires, so that while you are eating your meal you are also breathing the toxins of the smoke.
A pile of grabage next to our lunch spot
I had to argue with a guide of another company, that should be of example to its guests, because I saw him throwing in the nature first an aluminum can and just 2 minutes later a used napkin. But it was also nice to see along the way some more sensible local hikers collecting all their used plastic bottles to take them back down.
Local hikers carrying all of their garbage
So make sure to speak with your company about Garbage Management: the best solution is for your porters to collect all the waste that you are producing and bring it back to the base camp! Our helpers were luckily quite accustomed with this procedure.
Reaching POS 3 and beyond
After lunch we went back to the route and we started getting closer and closer to the feet of Rinjani with an ever changing landscape.
Our first lunch while trekking along the Rinjani route
What really amazed us of Rinjani trekking was the big diversity of its ecosystems, passing from Savannah, to Rainforest, to desertic land, with rivers of consolidated lava totally covered in flowers.
Lava flow frozen in timeThe lava filling the river bed
About half an hour of walk later we passed another small shelter, POS 3 Pada Balong, at 1770 m with just a few people taking advantage of its shade while most of the trekkers were going forward towards their goal.
Hikers resting next to a shelter
Another small shelter was actually located just 10 minutes later, with more “customers” stopping for a rest. It was really interesting to see local hikers being so strict with their prayers, and in a hidden hideout some devote Muslims genuflecting and praying directed towards the city of Mecca.
Muslim trekkers praying in the ashes of the volcano
We were still at the beginning of our expedition but we already had the change to experience with our own eyes so many peculiarities and interesting facts! Looking in front of us the path was about to get steeper, and we were gathering our energies before facing the road to reach the ridge of the crater of Gunung Rinjani.
After grassland, the path starts to rise
Disclaimer: While our trek in Mount Rinjani was donated by Adi Trekker, everything we wrote in this report was our first hand experience and our sincere opinion about it.
After 2 days passed in Kao Shok National Park, with the second one spent mostly kayaking in Cheow Lan Lake, in a continuous amazement, before exploring a local cave and some of the jungle, it was time to welcome our last day in this unforgettable settings.
Davide and Oti enjoying the longtail boat ride on Cheow Lan Lake
Sunrise call for Wildlife spotting in Cheow Lan Lake
The still but animated jungle offering shelter to many animal species was awakening to another day of life.
We woke up deeply rested and relaxed while listening to the not too far away call of the Gibbons, functioning as a natural alarm in the jungle. We got ready and before breakfast we went for our first activity, wildlife spotting. It was planned as early as possible with departure at 7 am to maximize our chances of having a glimpse of local fauna.
We start out tour in our longtail boat
It was definitely the best moment of our stay, landscape wise. The light was dim, and the surroundings silent. The perfectly blue and clear sky mixed its presence with the karst formations towering the water and the still but animated jungle offering shelter to many animal species was awakening to another day of life. We were guided by boat along the coast of the lake as close as we could get to the vegetation, and from time to time stopping to shut the noise of the engine and waiting to see if any wild animal would dare to make us a morning present.
Oti looking at the jungle to spot wildlife
In the meanwhile the sun started to appear over the limestone cliffs, and the warm rays began a process of evaporation over the surface of the water creating a magical atmosphere. The mist, the contrast of the light behind the trees, the still water: a perfect combination for a postcard and an everlasting memory of our trip.
Amazing sunrise in Cheow Lan Lake, light passing through the jungle
Our efforts to spot any of the shy inhabitants of the rainforest was still not paid off, and after less than one hour we were back to our accommodation. We had wrong expectation about wildlife spotting, hoping for some elephants or tigers to show up. As specified before, you should know that if the main purpose of your trip is wildlife spotting, you should ask for a tour reaching the beginning of the lake in Klong Saeng and Klong Nakhawildlife sanctuaries where all the animals were moved after the valley was flooded.
Vegetation coming out from the water, no grazing land left
Also it looks like we were in a period of “Artificial high tide”, since the water level of Cheow Lan Lake was left high not to flood Surat Thani. When the flow is lowered during the dry season, there are patches of green land coming out on the sides, where it's supposedly easier to spot mammals. Despite the temporary disappointment of not spotting any animals, we were still really glad we had the chance to experience the lake at its maximum beauty with the magical light of sunrise.
One of the views in Cheow Lan Lake it was worth waking up for
Guided kayaking in Cheow Lan Lake
After breakfast we went for our last organized activity, the guided kayaking. For us was no big deal, now that we were feeling confident with our skills kayaking and we had explored on our own most of the surroundings. Just one week before we were total beginners with kayaks and now we were pretending to be experienced athletes. But for our adventure companions it was the first activity of this kind, a quite exciting and safe setting for a kayaking premier.
Our adventure companions kayaking for the first time
Somehow our guide didn't consider that they were total beginners and he started paddling leading the group without giving any instruction, so that Oti, that only one week before was struggling in the Mangrove forest in Langkawi, now played the role of the “master” and tried to teach them the basics of the movements.
Oti leading the kayaking group in Cheow Lan Lake
It was an easy trip, following our guide mostly in the middle of the lake rather than close to the bordering jungle where we could have had more chances to spot wildlife. It's true that there are still some groups of Dusky Leaf Monkeys living in the small islands, as our guide Poo told us, but according to the animal calls, the “party” was going on on the coast. So eventually me and Oti stopped on the back of the group and decided to transform into sweet water pirates and “deserted” the group to enjoy the last hour left of this incredible environment. In the meanwhile our guide was leading the group too much in front, unaware that we were left behind, and we had no possibility to announce him our decision. Me and Oti decided to go forward with our resolution and to split up so that each one could follow his own instinct.
Bautiful landscape reflecting on Cheow Lan Lake
I soon started to chase the Gibbons' calls first on one side, then on another, with no success. After so many times we were in the Jungle in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand over a period longer than one year, while we heard their calls constantly, we spotted the Gibbons only two times, both in Kalimantan. The first time was while we were in Tanjung Puting National Park to see the Orangutans, and the second time still not far from the same reserve, where in a local house a Gibbon was kept in chain as a pet. It was such a piety to see in chains this shy but elegant dancer of the tree tops, now relegated to a life as thrilling as the one of a stuffed animal! Once again our efforts to spot wildlife were not paid back, but we invested the precious time left of our adventure to fill our body up of every breath of this magical jungle, every sight of the jagged cliffs and we took mental shots of the unique emotions we felt in Cheow Lan Lake.
Kayaking back towards the floating resort at the end of our adventure
Our experience in this special flooded reservoir full of contrasts, where amazing beauty was created from an insane abuse over the environment, was finished. We went back to Ratchaprabha Dam still in an ecstatic state, before being transferred to the closest bus station 15 km away and starting to think of our next destination.
The cameleon we spotted while hiking the day before
Was it worth to visit Cheow Lan Lake?
We would suggest unreservedly to anybody visiting Thailand a trip to Cheow Lan Lake and we have to thank for our experience “Limestone Lake Rainforest Tours” that organized our trip in the lake and in Khao Sok National Park and deserves a good review. The company was well organized and precise, communication was easy and straightforward, plus all of the staff we met during our stay, drivers included, were speaking English. We didn't find the activities to be adrenaline filled, but that might be a plus for more relaxed visitors. Considering that we were invited to join an existing tour that wasn't customized for us, we can't complain about this aspect. Our guide Poo was a nice and friendly man always present to make sure we didn't have any wish unfulfilled.
Disclaimer: While our visit in Cheow Lan Lak and Khao Sok National Park and our stay in the raft house were sponsored by Limestone Lake Rainforest Tours, everything we wrote in this report was our sincere opinion representing our experience.
“Cameron Highlands” is the most recommended destination on the lips of the busy people of Kuala Lumpur as well as the favorite weekend getaway for the more chilled citizens of artsy Penang. Here, the local tourists come to experience spring, at an average temperature of 20 degrees, but also to balance their dusty buzzing city life with the country side of the ever green rolling hills, the birth land of strawberries, flower farms, and famous tea estates.
Famous Malaysian Tea Plantation
The place was discovered during British occupation in 1885 and inspired the Brits to develop the area into orchards, tea plantations, nurseries, as well as resorts, golf courses and other touristic attractions. Here the visitor gets the chance to see Rafflesia, the biggest flower in the world, while in season, and also to meet the Orang Asli, the indigenous people of the area.
Tanah Rata: the modern Malay approach on British legacy
View of Tanah Rata city center
We arrived in Tanah Rata, the administrative center of Cameron Highlands at a pleasant altitude of over 1400m. In order to match the cool weather and highlight its British heritage, this hill resort is packed with new hotels attempting to mix traditional British architecture features with modern practicalities, as well as 60 years old colonial buildings as a result of the 2 centuries long British occupation. Many stands can be found along the road with local products like honey, strawberries or the almighty spiky Durian fruit. This scenic resort creates an interesting cosy atmosphere when the sun shines high, and mixed feelings at times when the gray clouds take over.
It was few days before Hari Raya Haji national holiday, a celebration that marks the completion of the Hajj pilgrimage at Mecca and commemorates the test of faith Ibrahim had to take on God's command in the old times.
With this important Muslim celebration just days ahead of us, the area was flocked with local tourists, almost everything was fully booked and the rhythm was slowed down by the traffic jam. Lucky us, we had a nice quiet place to rest, away from the crowd.
A homelike spot surrounded by woods: D'Native Guest House
D'Native Guesthouse Colonial Building
We stayed in a simple mansard nicely organized for guests, in an old colonial building from the '50s named D'Native Guesthouse. The best part about this place was the location. It was surrounded by forest on a hill, far enough from the noise of Tanah Rata but close enough to walk to the city. We were very lucky to escape the crowd in a very busy weekend which happened to be the Hari Raya Haji, National Holiday, and have a "homey" atmosphere to relax in the evenings after hiking and sightseeing. On the property there were also bamboo huts for guests, paying respect to the Malaysian original tribesthrough their names, which was nice.
The front side of D'Native Guesthouse Courtyard
It was a friendly atmosphere both inside the mansion and outside in the big yard animated by guests cooking at the bar's kitchen and barbecue pit, others sharing fire juggling skills and songs plus some sweet naughty puppies playing between themselves until exhaustion. The owner, Krish, made every night a bonfire and once he even cooked for all of his guestsvegetarian food and invited everyone to gather for dinner around the fire, just like a big family. I was surprised to meet so many laid-back long term nomads, from far away places, sharing crazy stories from their travels and their open plans for the future. This cozy place with its warmhearted people had a peaceful vibe about it.
Spacious Living Room inside the main building
Submerged in the jungle. Our fist visit to the Tea Factory
(Be aware of trek path no. 9A!)
After a cozy night in D'Native Guest House, recovering our energy lost from the previous long hitchhiking rainy day, we headed south of Tanah Rata, to do a 1 hour long jungle trek. The hiking path we chose was referred to as track number 9 and after a few hundred meters was splitting in track 9 and track 9A. Robinson Waterfall
Until this point we passed along some rural houses, we prepared long sticks to boost our confidence while surpassing some stray dogs and stop for a few moments to take a picture (just documentation, nothing worth going on purpose for) of Robinson Waterfall on the opposite side. The track was slippery, not steep, mostly flat but the sticks still proved to be useful. We had our Lonely Planet guide with us, and the suggestion we found there was to take the path 9A, since the path 9 had a closed door in front, and seemed to go along a water pipe, not scenic at all.
Waking along the path 9A submerged in the jungle with no open view, but just an explosion of green was fine for us. We did many jungle treks before, we were actually expecting a view on this occasion, but hey, being in nature, sweating green out of your pores, breathing the humid air, watching the bees and the huge millipedes making sketches on the soil and jumping fallen trees along the way is great too!
Just a glimse of the narrow path 9AThe trail 9A is neglected
Soon the path narrowed down, after a while became clear we were the only curious tourists adventuring an abandoned trail after a very long time, and all magic started to be a little bit too much for us: the jumping became crawling under the huge fallen trees on a 20 cm wide path, no root or branch support while sliding the very slippery soil, no place for our feet except one in front of the other, fighting vegetation trying to make space for our bodies to cross, we just hurried up in hope for a sign. Finally a pink note came across, advising a “farm escape” 100m away. Following the trail we did end up in a farm, still confused where were the other 300m to complete the trail. To conclude, the track path no. 9A is not enjoyable!
Our lucky sign
Huge jungle millipedes slowly crossing the trail
Happy to escape the narrow trail 9A, we headed towards the paved road and luckily after just few minutes hitchhiking, a car took us to the BOH tea estates just 5 km away. Once arrived, the factory was still open for visitors offering brief free tours of the tea manufacturing process. The technology used, dated back to 1928 (!) and the bright tea leafs were passing 5 stages of production.
The inspiring electric-green tea leavesThe first process was Withering, where the leafs are exposed to hot air to reduce their moisture up to 65 %. Rolling comes next, where machines break the leaves to expose their juices for the following stage: Fermentation, where the flavor is formed. Here the crushed leafs are exposed to oxygen, changing from green to coppery color. Next comes Drying through hot air between 140 – 160°C, and the last stage is Sorting according to particle size which makes the different sorts of tea, and their particular qualities on the market. The tea lesson was short but great, the view point of the tea plantations was spectacular, so we returned happy and satisfied to Tanah Rata in thelate afternoon.
The tea plantations strech as far as the eye can see
Check out our Cameron Highlands part 2 and be part of our adventures hiking in the jungle of Brinchang Mountain, visiting the mossy forest and getting lost in the endless tea labyrinth of the famous BOH tea estates!
Oti enjoying a warm tea on the ridge of Mount Rinjani
Gunung Rinjani is a myth among hikers and while it's one of the highlights of most of the trekkers travelling in Indonesia, Mount Rinjani is still an active volcano and deserves some respect. That's why you should make sure to choose a reliable company that will turn this multiday trek into an unforgattable experience.
Located in Lombok island, with its 3726 meters (12,224 ft), Gunung Rinjani it's second only to Volcano Semeru in Indonesia for altitude. It's also one of the most spectacular and at the same time demanding hike you can do in Indonesia.
Since we have lived and travelled for 11 months in this amazing country, we can share our knowledge of the place with many tips on what to ask to your tour company before starting your trip and how to select a trustable one. While on this piece we focus on how to choose a reliable travel agency to accompany you along the trek, If you want to have more details about the hike itself, read also our report about our experience trekking in Mount Rinjani (soon to be published).
It's not easy to understand before experiencing it which companies are reliable and which are not, before having met anybody from the team. Good that nowadays there is Internet, so that it's easy to verify if a company has good or bad reviews on the web. The best places to search for such information are the forums of Lonely planet and TripAdvisor: be careful thought, because some of the posts or reviews are fake or paid, so use your brain to select the helpful content from the advertisements. Another good source of information is given by blog reports, easily found with a Google search, that are usually more impartial and descriptive.
Compare prices from different companies, to understand which one fall within your budget. From our experience while scouting for a Rinjani Trekking tour, we can say that once you bargain and you bring down the cost to its minimum, the prices are quite similar between different companies, so that it might not be of primary importance to choose according to the prices.
But it's still important to ask for a quote at least to 3 different companies, to understand the real market price and make sure they are not overcharging you.
To give an idea, a 4 days 3 nights trek to the summit, should cost around 300$ per person, including guide, food, National Park permits, pick up at arrival and transfer at the end of the tour, and usually one night in a guesthouse before the trek would start.
The beginning of the hike from the side of Sembalun village
For low budget backpackers, that price might still not be affordable, and the possibilities to reduce it are essentially three:
- Share the tour with other people, better if other travellers met in advance, or if not try to ask to your Travel Company to add you to an existing group;
- Reduce the number of days that you will spend on Gunung Rinjani and the extra services: the hike to the top can be done also in 2 tight days (more days is better of course to enjoy your time rather than hiking in a rush), and the best part is until the crater, so you might also choose not to reach the summit. Propose to arrange your own transportation and accommodation before and after the trek, but consider that there is no public transportation to the base camps, so if you are not comfortable with hitchhiking, hiring a private taxi, might turn out to be more expensive;
- If you have your own camping equipment, you can hire a guide (According to Lonely Planet a guide is mandatory) to reduce all the extra costs: you will still need to pay for the guide, your food and the guide food, the entrance permit, etc. so evaluate well if it's worth or not the hassle. Also consider that you'll have to carry all of your own weight: camping gear, food, water, clothes, etc.
Hikers having lunch along the path leading to Gunung Rinjani ridge
The best would be to pay the total amount of money on the spot, where it's possible to directly meet the company staff and verify its existence: while I've not heard of any scam in Rinjani National Park, it's not uncommon in other parts of Indonesia to be asked for payment by fake companies that magically disappear, in particular while visiting Komodo National Park.
Paying the total amount of money once in Senaru village, might not be totally feasible if you want to book in advance the tour: so make sure to pay only a deposit to a reliable tour company, and pay the rest the day you start the trek.
Local it's better
There is no need to buy overpriced tours abroad from foreign tour companies: you would pay 5 times the values of the tours to obtain the same services, that will be catered by the same companies you could have hired locally.
Not to have bad surprises, before starting the hike ask for an official program to be signed by both parts as a contract, so that you know exactly what you are paying for. In example all the companies refer to 4 days 3 nights trips, but you should be aware that the last day usually consist of just a few hours in the morning.
The most commonly chosen tour is the 3D2N starting from Sembalun village and ending in Senaru Base camp. If you want to take it easy, spend more time at the hot spring and you can afford it, then it's a good idea to choose the 4D3N hike.
Natural hot spring pool immersed in an amazing scenary in Rinjani
At the same time is good if there is some flexibility and the program is not set on stone, so that the length of stay in each area and the camping locations can be changed according to your tiredness, weather and crowdedness. In example according to the program provided to us by our tour company Adi Trekker, we were supposed to sleep the last night on the ridge of the lake towards Senaru, but we eventually slept in a beautiful forest a couple of hours away, completely alone and far from the crowds.
The silent forest where we camped for one night
We were eventually really happy about this change, but if we could turn back time we would ask also to stop for lunch on the ridge, where we were supposed to sleep, rather than in the forest since we didn't have too much time to enjoy the view of Segara Anak.
But of course make sure that every change is first discussed and approved by you.
A good guide means a good trek
There is nothing that can influence the good or bad outcome of your long awaited Rinjani Trekking as your guide.
Usually each company collaborate with several different guides: some on them stick just with one agency, while others act as freelancers and move from one to the other according to demand. This means that choosing a reliable firm might not be enough, if they assign you a "second choice" guide.
Ask to your company for their best leader, say that you are flexible and can postpone a few days if he is already busy, and maybe ask for a direct phone contact so that you can call him in advance to verify that he is fluent in English, friendly and experienced.
Less important is the choice of the porters, since they usually don't interact too much with the guests, and mostly don't speak English.
One of our porters carrying our equipment
Food and Drinks
You should discuss with your referent before leaving not only about the quantity of food, but also about the quality.
Are you vegetarian? Do you like spicy food? Do you prefer local Indonesian recipes, or Western food? Are you ok with rice at breakfast? Are snacks included? What about drinks? Is there any fruit?
Remember to mention that you don't want any "Motto" (MSG) to be used in any of your meals: it's a neurotoxin widely used in Indonesia to add taste to the food.
Also instant noodles are eaten on a daily basis in Indonesia: while they are good camping food in the sense that they are light and fast to cook, the condiments usually contains many chemical additives, flavors and colorants. So ask to reduce their employment or at least to use just the noodles and not the industrial seasoning powders.
A tasty meal cooked by Adi Trekker's team
You should make sure also about the quantity and quality of the water. Bottled water is usually brought for the first day, and then the following days the bottles are refilled in clean water sources along the way. We had plenty of water for the first days, more than 3 liters each one, while we had to ration it the last half a day because of the distance from a clean water source.
Make sure that potable or boiled water only is used for cooking, and porters and guides (that will be also your cooks) are comfortable with the practice of washing with soap their own hands after going to the toilet: that's unfortunately not really common in Indonesia despite left hand is used to cleanse after going to the bathroom.
One of the many Camping kitchens along the route
Camping gear is what will make you pass warm and comfortable nights even at 2700m of altitude (The highest altitude you will sleep at) far away from civilization, and restore your energy for another day of hike to the top. So definitely not a point to be overlooked!
Make sure that the tent provided is big enough, waterproof and resistant, and ask how many people will be sleeping in each one and if you have to share it with a stranger if it's not a private tour.
Ask what type of camping mats will be used: standard camping mats in Indonesia are thin and hard. Our company and some of the others, were using instead custom made thick and comfortable foam mattresses, that looked more like a bed mattress than a camping mat.
Interior of our tent with thick matresses and plenty of space
The sleeping bag needs to be warm enough to pass a comfortable night at 2.700 meters (At this altitude even in a tropical country temperature can drop below 5°C). Make sure before starting the trek that the sleeping bag smells good: this means that it was washed after the previous guests used it. If this is an essential requirement for you, ask for it in advance to your Tour Company.
We were actually really satisfied with the equipment of Adi Trekker, with big and spacious tents that could welcome 2 guests and their luggages, and high enough to easily dress up inside. To be sincere it looks like all of the companies shop at the same store, because 90% of the tents were looking alike.
A beautiful sunset seen from Rinjani Volcano. On the foreground a series of tents looking alike
Apart from the standard equipment, there are also useful extra things that you might want to ask for.
The most important is probably the "toilet tent". It consists in a curtain with a zipped opening, sustained by vertical tubes. It gives some privacy in camping locations where there is no vegetation to hide and too many people to find an hidden spot. Looking around for a place to poop without a toilet tent might be even dangerous, since the walls of the crater are quite steep.
Our tent with "private balcony" over Lake Segara Anak, and our toilet tent on the left side
Having a toilet tent is also good for the environment, since a small hole is dig in the ground and "human waste" is then covered with a thick layer of earth to let it decompose safely.
That's what is happening if you don't have a toilet tent
There is a big environmental problem on Mount Rinjani, not only with garbage, but also with human excrements and toilet paper that are totally covering some hidden spots of the Volcano. It's your responsibility to choose a Company that is respecting nature!
As extra equipment our company brought also a tarp to used on the ground for meals and 2 camping chairs to relax during stops.
Relaxing on our camping chairs and enjoying the view
We were surprised to see that almost nobody brought extra tarps to build a temporary shelter and protect from the strong sun during breaks: that's something you might want to request specifically.
On Gunung Rinjani there is a huge environmental problem. In particular during peak season there are so many people and not all of them respectful of Mother Nature, so that trails and camping grounds get totally littered. This is due mainly to local Indonesian groups hiking independently that know nothing about ecology and throw garbage everywhere. But unfortunately also some tour groups don't take seriously this environmental problem.
Another group camping next to a mound of garbage
I had to complain myself with the guide of another agency, after first seeing him throwing an aluminum can in the grass, and later some used tissues just in front of their guests and with no regret whatsoever.
This was probably one of the strongest points of our Trekking Company, and we were happy not to be responsible of the environmental pollution. First thing when we arrived at the base camp of Adi Trekker before starting the trek, after listening to our ecological concerns, Adi showed us some big bags of garbage, that were collected during the hikes and brought back down by the porters and disposed at the company headquarter.
Another littered section of the camping area next to the ridge
The other environmental problem, as we have already mentioned, is related to human defecation, so make sure to ask for a toilet tent and that your team is digging a small hole for you.
Final choice of your tour company
As a last step, after you have shortlisted a number of companies, go back to the first point and search for the names of the companies and for the names of the owners of the agencies on Google and try to find out if there are any bad or good experiences that can help you to select the best option to enjoy Rinjani Trekking.
View of Lake Segara Anak from the summit of Gunung Rinjani
Our experience with Adi Trekker
Adi Trekker is a relatively young but experienced Trekking Company with its headquarters in Senaru village. Adi is the owner of the business, and has many years of experience as a guide before starting his own business. He took good care of us since the first moment we arrived, and we felt respected and served properly. He is fluent in English and has a good sense of humor: his approach was to make us feel at ease since the first moment and treat us like friends rather than strangers.
Adi Trekker is working with 11 different guides, but unfortunately we cannot suggest any specific one. In fact at the moment we went hiking it was high season right after Ramadan festivities and all of their guides were busy with other guests. Since we were tight on time and we couldn't postpone more our trek, we were assigned an "unofficial guide", Adi's brother, that is usually not accompanying paying guests.
Adi Trekker focus on providing private tours at the same price as shared tours, not to create unhappiness between guests having different needs and hiking at different paces. If you also feel like trusting Adi Trekker and having a memorable experience, you can find the updated contacts directly on their homepage.
Disclaimer: Please note that while we were offered a special economical treatment by Adi Trekker to take part to their 4 days 3 nights Rinjani Trekking package tour, everything we wrote in this article represent the reality of our experience.
Passengers filling up every inch of the Pelni ferry
The idea of travelling by ferry in Indonesia can be frightening for first time visitors, given the high amount of accidents happening on Indonesian waters and news coverage. But the state owned company Pelni has revealed to be safe for the last 30 years or so, as we explained in our previous article about the safety of Indonesian ferries. Embarking on a long trip by ferry in Indonesia, means to be able to experience real life as locals do, what they eat, how they behave and socialise and much more. Still wondering if adventuring or not in this adventure? What a better way to decide than seeing our photographic report from our ferry trip with Pelni? In these shots are pictured the conditions that we experienced travelling from Labuan Bajo (Flores Island) to Java and what you could generally expect to find while travelling with Pelni during high holiday season. The first approach to the ferry in Labuan Bajo was a little bit shocking: while we got closer to the boat we started seeing an undefined mass from far away and we thought it might have been a new design of the boat. After getting closer we actually realized that those, were hundreds of people already standing in line, even thought we arrived at the harbour two hours before the departure. People in Indonesia have an early start and while we were still sleeping and dreaming of golden beaches and fresh coconuts, they were already active and lining up for their vital space!
Hundreds of people queuing to board the ferry
When we got closer to the ferry, as much as the mass in front of us would allow, and with the help of the zoom of our camera, we realized that also every inch of the Pelni ferry was covered in human bodies, and we started to tremble and question if buying an economy class ticket had been the right choice.With an unimaginable long line to board the boat, you might think that time would never pass and to easily get bored. But there is plenty of entertainment while waiting to board the ferry and there is no extra entrance fee to enjoy it. An involuntary acrobatic show using archaic lifting equipment is performed by the vessel crew, while setting up the movable staircase to allow people to go out and come in.
The boat crew doing acrobacies to lower the passenger ladder
Once people start flowing from top to bottom, the crowd waiting below gets excited and it feels like being at the stadium cheering for your favourite team. At every slip of a foot, the audience start to roar and demand for more excitement. Old women are helped to descend, huge luggages are handed down and kids brought to the bottom by the crew as superlight dragonflies. Then it’s the turn of a pretty Indonesian girl having some troubles to descend the stairs because of her shoes. Demanding for help, a man soon reach her, and at the wows emitted at the unison by the crowd, she answers with a single elegant movement, throwing the object of her annoyance, her slippery shoes, on the enthusiastic audience one after the other.
A woman is helped to descend the stairs
The flow of people is never-ending, and for each passenger there is an equal or bigger number of boxes finding their way down to destination. If you are still wondering why people are standing in line for so long, it’s because there are no assigned places, and available tickets are heavily oversold (if legally or not it’s still not clear to us). So even thought supposedly everybody in the economy class should be assigned a bed in large mixed dormitories, the reality is that available beds are much fewer. Compared to queues in India, Indonesians are much more relaxed and respectful, but you still have no chances to compete.
Passengers getting off at the harbour
Eventually we managed to enter, and we definitely lost hope to find not only a bed but even a minimum space to lay our camping mats. Every spot and every passage was just full of people or luggage. Or both. In all of this mess there are also passengers continuously coming and going as well as ferry clerks trying to give away one more ratio of their Nasi Goreng while shouting its price.
Every available floor space is soon taken
A minusculus portion of food included for free with the ferry ticket
We eventually gave up on the idea of finding some space and decided to resort to our emergency solution and go where not even Indonesians dare to venture: the fervent hot and uncovered rooftop, that the tropical Indonesian sun had been hitting for many hours. We eventually understood how a sunny side up egg feels while it is being fried, but at least we found our spot of “privacy”. And thanks to the minimal shelter provided by our tent, we felt like we were in a luxury accommodation and regarded with envy by our frying companions.
Our refuge on top of the boiling roof
It won’t take much time until local people will transform the ferry into a moving landfill. Luckily our tent was helping us somehow to keep at least the garbage away.
Oti resting under our tent
A pile of garbage next to an Indnesian family sleeping
During our sea trip with Pelni there was a serious lack of space and it felt almost suffocating. But on the other side Indonesian people are really friendly and the youngster cannot wait to socialise with the rare foreigners travelling in the cheapest class.
A group of friendly Indonesians
A tight passage in between lines of people
A local man looking amused at my camera
Not only every single inch of space in the Pelni ferry is taken, but you have also to mind you head while walking! Feet are hanging down from every balcony and overhang, creating at times interesting compositions for a shoot.
Passengers sitting on different levels
Temporary exhibition of Indonesian shoes
It was really funny to track Indonesian passengers and discover their creative (and dangerous) places to stay. Beyond the metal railing there was an extra couple of meters before the edge of the floor, that was systematically occupied by the people and transformed in temporary shelters. Where there were no people, there were plenty of boxes.
Temporary shelters after the railing
Backpacks, suitcases and boxes piled on the edge of the boat
Even the safety boats were all occupied and apparently looked like some of the comfiest places to be. With little people venturing in such a risky place, the squatters could even have a proper meal, sitting like in a “Warung”.
A safety boats squatted and used as a cabin
Indonesian people are really adaptable to any situation and rarely complain. But we were mostly impressed in several occasions by their ability to sleep in every condition, no matter the amount of noise, light and dirt. So while a youngster strum his guitar, thinking of western idols, a few millimeters away divided just by a thin metal wall, stand many bodies lying down motionless, comfortable in their discomfort.
People intent in various activities during the trip
Men hanging out on the aisle of the boat
The ferries of Pelni are travelling on long distance routes that takes weeks to complete. They do call at several harbours on the way, so if you won’t get off at the first stop, you’ll be able to see at least one of this intermediary stops. What we experienced at the beginning of our trip in Labuan Bajo, we could see now from another point of view. And so while the ferry approach the pier, you start seeing the same crowd of people below and people getting active.
The Pelni ferry is approaching the harbour
There is a mob to get to the small ladder going down, and it’s a mystery how those hundreds of people carrying any kind of good on their heads, could safely flow through that small passage.
Passengers getting off the boat with huge loads
A sea of people and luggage moving towards their destination
When Pelni is calling at each harbour it’s also the occasion for trade, so that temporary markets appears from people’s luggage and a simple cloth can transform the hot cement in an inviting shop window. The boxes that served until five minutes before as containers, were now used as emergency hats to protect the heads of the sellers.
Local woman with a funny hat, selling knives
A temporary market below the ferry showing a picturesque society
In between all of this bustle there was also space for emotions. Two women bursting in tears after meeting each other again, and we making up stories about their lives and relations. Their modest dresses and hijabs were not enough to hide their emotions, exposed to the audience of the ferry loaded with thousands of people looking at the show of Indonesian society unrolling below their eyes.
Portrait of two Indonesian women exposed in a private moment
Travelling by ferry in Indonesia is not for the faint hearted, but after all it’s a marvelous occasion to experience local life, and peep through the habits and culture of this mild and friendly people. Watching them interact in the ferry, trade at every stop, and relax in conditions inconceivable for any western human, it’s a show in itself, more entertaining enriching than looking through the window of an airplane. Pelni has revealed to be a safe way to travel in Indonesia, and a great occasion to learn something more and take memorable photos!
Photos and Website Copyright - Davide Vadala', All rights reserved. Website designed by Davide Vadala'. Illustrations Copyright - Otilia Lefter You can share the content "as it is", non-commercially (There are no ads or income whatsoever on the page where it is shared), mentioning the author and linking to our website. For commercial use, contact us
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