Java and Bali: Exploring Music and Culture of Indonesia

Posted by Adventure 16 | 02.01.2018

by Laurel Grinnell, Adventure 16 Assistant Manager/Merchandising Manager, San Diego Store 

Royal Palace in Yogyakarta, Java

Royal Palace in Yogyakarta, Java


This summer (June 23 - July 15, 2013) I spent just over 3 weeks in Indonesia: half the time in Java conducting music research for my own studies*, and half the time in Bali on holiday.  Being that I’ve been to Indonesia twice already, I came into it with very little planning. I had several ideas of fun things to do, business to accomplish, and people to see, but I knew that if I planned too much, I would just spend a lot of time waiting around. In Bahasa Indonesia, its called “jam karet,” or, “rubber time;” appointments and schedules are always flexible.

*I play many styles of gamelan (the Indonesian word for orchestra, essentially). I was specifically studying Central Javanese gamelan which was developed and refined in their royal kingdoms in the 19th century. There are literally hundreds of Javanese gamelan groups around the world and several great ones here in San Diego. I play all of the instruments in the orchestra but am currently studying the kendang (drum) who also basically acts as the conductor of the group, controlling tempo changes as well as communicating to and reacting with dancers. I also teach the Javanese gamelan class at SDSU with my teacher from Yogyakarta."

Yogyakarta, Central Java, Indonesia


One of two things I had planned was my reservation at my hotel in Yogyakarta. I had a cute little room right next to the pool for only $10 a night and I could come and go as I pleased. My goal here in Java was to meet up with my teacher (who is Indonesian but teaches Javanese gamelan music in California), conduct interviews with some select Indonesian students of his, collect gamelan notation and photographs, and record concerts of his original music performed by he and his peers. It took 4-5 days before I was able to connect with my subjects and make appointments, so I spent them adventuring in ways I hadn’t in my previous visits. One morning, I rented a scooter and rode 45 minutes out to Parangtritus Beach where the under toe is too strong for swimming and you can get a horse and buggy to sweep you up and down the shore.
horse and buggy on the beach
Buggies for hire on Parangtritus Beach, Southern Java

Another day, I rode out to Mt. Merapi, Yogyakarta’s nearest active volcano that erupted in 2010, and hiked a few miles up from the Museum and Visitor’s Center for an incredible view of the bustling city life below. It felt so good to escape into the mountains, even if for only a day, and get away from the very crowded and loud city life. Not to mention a break from practicing my broken Bahasa Indonesia.

Laurel with volcano in background
Merapi volcano

One of my favorite activities I had the pleasure of attending in Java was accompanying my teacher to Surakarta (a neighboring city in Central Java) to visit the graves of his relatives. My teacher was raised in the kraton (royal palace) in Surakarta, which entitles him to special privileges at the cemeteries and an opportunity for me to witness a unique cultural tradition.

gongs A the Royal Palace in Yogyakarta, java
Wayang Golek performance at the royal palace in Yogyakarta, Java        


Bali, Indonesia


sun setting on the beach
Kuta Beach at Sunset                               

The second thing I had planned was arriving to Bali in time to pick up my boyfriend on a scooter from the airport to meet me! We knew we wanted to visit Amed, a small village on the east side of the island, to go snorkeling for several days and we knew we wanted to spend several days in Ubud, the “cultural center” of the island. We spent our first night in Kuta to get our bearings, which I would not recommend. Kuta is ridden with snobby tourists, tourist prices on everything, and was way too crowded to enjoy. I typically like to stay out of tourist areas because I love getting as authentic of a cultural experience as possible: local food, modest living quarters, and more friendly people that don’t get in your face at every moment possible. We decided to pay a driver to take us to Amed the next day and visit some tourist spots along the way; including a gamelan factory, Klungkung - the last royal palace of Bali, and a bat cave temple.

Laurel at the bat cave temple
Laurel at the bat cave temple

Our destination in Amed was to die for! We had a personal bungalow that overlooked the edgeless pool that seemingly emptied into the vastness of the Bali Sea and beyond. We stayed in this small fishing village for 4 days and spent most of each of them jumping from the pool to snorkeling, pool to snorkeling, soaking up the tropical waters and the underwater view showcasing the wide spectrum of fish and coral.

person on scooter in the coutry around Amed, Eastern Bali
A scooter ride in the country around Amed, Eastern Bali

We eventually made our way to Ubud, after visiting Mt. Batur, the highest and most venerable volcano on the island, the ancient water temple, and the monkey forest. In Ubud, we caught up with some old buddies of mine, enjoyed delightful traditional Balinese cuisine (lots of coconut, peanuts, and fried fish!), saw a number of music and dance performances, and visited wood carving and painting galleries. The only thing on this whole trip that I could complain about was getting home as we were held up for over 24 hours because of a typhoon in Taipei. Other than that, perfection!

sunset with volcano in background
The sunset in Amed with Bali’s highest volcano, Batur   

A traditional wayang kulit shadow puppet show in Ubud, Bali
A traditional wayang kulit shadow puppet show in Ubud, Bali 

Traditional Balinese Cuisine
Traditional Balinese cuisine with coconut, peanuts and fried fish 




Technical Clothing: I like to keep my travel apparel really simple and low bulk, that’s why it’s a no-brainer to bring all my favorite Icebreaker merino wool pieces. I brought several tops, a dress, skirt, etc. They are my favorite for at home and around town, but especially for traveling The anti-microbial feature means I can sweat all day and not stink, they are quick drying, which is great for washing and drying overnight, and they are super breathable. If you haven’t gotten on the merino-wool-boat, you’re missing out big time.

Footwear: My Chaco Flips are my favorite and ONLY footwear choice when visiting Indonesia. It is typically very hot in Java and Bali, so my feet stay cool. When it rains, it is not usually for very long, and my flips and my feet dry out really quickly. Being that they have a PU sole, they offer enough support for me to wear them all day,

Accessories: After Bite. After Bite! After Bite!! Insect repellant is a must, but you know, sometimes they still find a way to getcha! In those instances, After Bite will save you and all your fair-skinned friends. 

Funny Bathroom Sign Indonesia
Typically, toilets in Indonesia are just squatters, so sometimes natives don't always use Western toilets "properly".




When traveling to any tropical destination, even if you intend to stay in nice hotels or homestays, I recommend bringing along Sea to Summit’s Coolmax Adaptor bed liner with Insect Shield repellant. I have found that bugs always seem to get where they’re not supposed to be, and sleeping in a super lightweight, low bulk bed liner with built in insect repellant will help keep the bugs at bay. 

It is very easy for Indonesian people to spot foreigners in the marketplace, and believe me they plan to take full advantage of the fact that we likely have a very different concept of shopping and how much things should cost. You can assume that when you ask the price of a product in the marketplace, you will be quoted a price at LEAST twice as high as you would expect to pay if you were a local. Don’t be afraid to barter low or even walk away if you don’t think you’re getting a good enough deal.



Highlight of the Trip


I know this sounds cheesy, but the highlight of my trip this year was getting to spend half of it with my guy. Ya ya ya, I like spending time with him and we have fun together and all that, but I hold a very special place in my heart for Indonesia and its culture and arts. Having written my Master’s thesis on gamelan music and focusing much of my professional musical life on the tradition, it meant a lot to me that my guy could also enjoy the culture, the arts, the people, the food, etc., and we could have a great time too.

[Feb. 2018 update: The trip must have worked its magic. Laurel is now married to "her guy" Brook, and together they have an adorable 15-month-old son named Cedar.]


Originally written in August 2013 by Laurel Grinnell, Adventure 16 Apparel Buyer