Solo hiking: Dieng Plateau

The call of solo hiking has been getting louder and louder recently. Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to have groups of friends to go on adventures with and never really had the chance to go solo, until now.

The Dieng Plateau is an area in central Java, a so-called ‘hiker’s paradise’. So of course, I had to go and check it out. There are a number of mountains in the area, however I had heard that Gunung Prau is fairly simple to navigate and has the best views.

Getting there

I took a train from Jakarta Gambir station to Purwokerto station and got a cheap homestay for the night, before catching the bus to Wonosobo and from there a shuttle to Dieng.

The return train cost about Rp500,000 (including an executive carriage on the way there, this could definitely be a couple of hundred cheaper!), The bus to Wonosobo was Rp30,000 each way and the Dieng shuttle Rp20,000 each way. It did take a long time. 5 hours on the train plus about 4 hours on the buses, however the scenery on the way up to Dieng was absolutely spectacular! Just be aware, you could be squeezed into a tiny bus with 20+ people on it! I’d say this was part of the fun and where I first got chatting to other hikers.

From Dieng I walked up to one of the base camps where you check in to hike the mountains. I’m not going to lie, I found this next part incredibly frustrating to begin with; at check in you have to unpack your bag and they take away certain items- plastic bottles, wet tissues, toothpaste. In my mind, it’s common sense that you bring your trash back with you, but of course that is not the same for everyone. You also have to leave some ID (and therefore must come back to the same place, which is annoying if you are planning a round trip, although this still possible). You pay an entrance fee of Rp15,000 and you can borrow any kit you’ve forgotten!

The route itself is very clear, I had been told it would take about 3 hours to reach the top, however my estimate is it only took about an hour and a half (although I did mission it up for fear of losing daylight and having a borrowed tent I had never put up before!). The route is mostly through wooded areas, so relatively cool and shaded, with some excellent views of the surrounding mountains on the way up!

However, the first big treat came once I reached the peak. The mountain flattens out at the top and is fairly narrow, so there are a few spots along it with 360° panoramic views. And I happened to time it perfectly for an unreal sunset.

By around 6.30pm the sun is down, so I cracked out the headtorch and carried along the ridge, past a few groups of campers to a small, flat mount with a small group of tents. The tent went up drama free, which is always a blessing, and I cooked some ramen noodles. What followed was an exceptionally cold night. I had two sets of everything on, plus a lightweight sleeping bag. It was not enough. My advice for anyone climbing would be to take a thicker sleeping bag than you’d expect. I have a thin summer bag for beach camping, but I was wishing for my UK bag! You’d be best off with a comfort range of -2 to +2. And of course it was cold; the sky was perfectly clear, with an almost full moon and an unreal ceiling if stars. The moon was so bright I had trouble sleeping!

However, come 4.45 my little alarm went off and I jumped up to make some coffee (easiest early start I’ve ever had- I was so cold I just wanted to get moving!). The skyline in the east had only a faint orange glow when all around the sounds of the call to prayer began to echo eerily in the valleys below. I’ve never heard anything quite like it, haunting and strange but also very calming? I’ve heard the call to prayer many times, but so many floating up the mountain in unison is something else entirely.

I found a spot away from other people to enjoy the sunrise- further along there is a spot with many more campers, I hadn’t actually noticed until the sun rise, when a huge cheer arose from the next hill!

Once the sun had popped above the horizon, I ran along the top of the mountain for the view I was looking forward to the most; of the two other big volcanoes here, Gunung Sindoro and Gunung Sumbing. I ran across some small peaks and ended up at a secluded spot with perhaps one of the best views I have ever seen.

After admiring the view and having a little cry about how awesome nature is, I headed back to eat and pack up the tent- however I had to stop to have a look at something I’ve not seen in over a year since moving to Indonesia… FROST!

Yes, frost. At the equator. The Dieng Plateau experiences frost during the dry season (July & August mainly). At around 2500 MASL I was quite surprised! No wonder I had literally been freezing all night…

One thing to be aware of while traveling in Indonesia is the photo crazy nature of the place. I was the only foreigner on the mountain, which was cool. Many people wanted to stop and have a chat, all very surprised at seeing a solo foreign female, many seeming impressed or just thinking I was damn crazy! But this does mean an innundation of photo requests. At this point, I am starting to understand that Indonesian people are, on the whole, waaaaay more sociable than us in the UK (and that’s coming from someone considered a VERY sociable person), so the idea of wanting to have some time alone isn’t really considered by most, it seems. I lost count of how many times I was asked (or not asked) for a photo, but I met a couple of cool groups of people this way, so there’s always a bright side!

Once packed I decided that this was my chance to have a bit of a run down the mountain and tagged along with another trail runner all the way down. Back at the base I asked where would be good to stay the night and was offered to stay in their bunkroom for free!

I ended up spending the night eating tempe goreng and learning Javanese/ teaching English! If you are or have been travelling in Asia, you are probably already well aware that your love life is the first thing people will ask about, so my favourite part was learning how to say, “Boyfriends are a pain in the ass!”.

The following morning I headed down into Dieng town to have a look at the temples. They’re small, but cheap to visit and if you’ve ever been to the big ones near Yogjakarta (Prambanan and Borobodur), the contrast here is that they are a lot more peaceful.

This place is a little off the beaten track for foreigners as it’s not as easy to get to, but it’s so cheap and beautiful that I’d definitely recommend a visit! For those less interested in camping there are plenty of homestays and enough amenities to make a trip comfortable. You’ll meet plenty of Indonesian tourists here, so a few Bahasa Indonesia phrases will get you a long way!

The only negative, from a personal point of view, is visiting the crater, Kawah Sikidang, which has been changed from a natural landscape into a sulphurous theme park. I have no idea why you would choose a volcanic crater to make a motocross track, a children’s play park and a market, but that’s what they’ve done here. I’ve been to many volcanic craters while in Indonesia and this was by far the worst. It was also difficult to get to, I ended up accidentally hitch hiking (you’d be surprised how often that happens) and it just wasn’t worth it.

Skip it and stick to the good stuff, cause those mountains, sunset & sunrise are something else!

Kit list

  • Lightweight tent
  • Lightweight sleeping bag (-2 comfort)
  • Layers! It was way colder than I anticipated!
  • Camping stove
  • Reusable water bottles- single use plastic bottles are not allowed!
  • Dry tissues (no wet wipes!)
  • Head torch
  • ID
  • I used my trail runners, but any trainers/hiking boots would be fine
  • Food and coffee- mainly to warm you up!

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