A beginner’s guide to train and ferry travel in Indonesia
After having traveled through India by train, I must say I enjoy traveling by train, since it isin my opinion the best way to see a country through the eyes of a local. I have been planning a trip to Indonesia for a quite while now, and so I decided to summarize my findings regarding train travel in Indonesia, in this post! Trains are said to be cheap, however comfortable and air-conditioned, making it the ideal way to get around. An excellent train system links all the main cities on the part of Java (including Jakarta, Bandung, Yogyakarta, Solo, Surabaya, Probolinggo, the stop for Mount Bromo, and Banyuwangi, the ferry terminal to go to Bali. These days the bookings are computerized, and the tickets can be booked up to 90 days in advance. Trains in Indonesia run on narrow-gauge 3′ 6″ tracks, but are pretty fast and usually pretty punctual… The Indonesian name for train is “Kereta Api”, literally translated as “fire carriage”. The train operator in Indonesia is PT Kereta Api, and the ferry operator is known as Pelni.
How to Buy Train Tickets Online
You could use the official Indonesian Railways (Kereta Api Indonesia or KAI) website www.kai.id, but unfortunately it’s currently only available in Indonesian. You canuse the journey planner to check train times and fares, and you can use a translate plugin in your browser to translate anything you don’t understand.Keep in mind that only Indonesian credit cards are accepted on this site.
Alternatively you can also use an easier way to check times and fares, offered to you by the same agancy: tiket.com. This website is recommended if you speak English. It is a reliable ticketing agency which connects directly to the Indonesian Railways (KAI) ticketing system and therefore can be trusted. They only charge a small convenience fee of around 13,000 rupiah. The booking is possible as from 90 days ahead, and the tickets can be bought online until the day before. Before you start, make sure you have passport numbers and the exact names of each passenger with you.
Jakarta: if you type Jakarta, the only station you’ll be prompted for is Jakartakota, the historic 1929 terminus that’s now only used by local trains. For Jakarta you should type Gambir (GMR), Jakarta Pusat. Gambir is Jakarta’s central station used by the best Eksekutif & Bisnis class trains to most destinations you can go. If the trains from Gambir are full or if you prefer to travel in Ekonomi class, try the station Pasar Senen (PSE), the second station in Jakarta, and also pretty centrally located.
IMPORTANT : CREDIT CARD ACCEPTANCE
At the end when you want to pay for your tickets, your non-Indonesian credit card may be rejected. Don’t panic, but use the online chat to get instructions on how to proceed. The person you are connected to, will tell you to email them a photo of your credit card and passport. Do not include the back of your card or don’t tell them the card’s CVV code! They will usually reply quite promptly with confirmation that they have white-listed your credit card. You will need to start the booking process over from scratch though, but once white-listed you are set to book as much or as often as you want.
After the payment is doen, you will be sent an email with a printable booking confirmation in attachment. You will find an alphanumeric booking code, as well as a QR code. Print this out and take it with you. If you don’t have a printer, don’t worry. The alphanumeric Indonesian Railways booking reference is all you need to get a boarding pass in the station. Keep in mind you cannot board the train with the Tiket.com confirmation, you must get a boarding pass at the station with it!
Buy Train Tickets Locally
Indomaret Convenience Stores
- Many Indomaret convenience stores and some other chains as well, such as Alfamart, have touch-screen terminals for selling you various types of tickets, including train tickets. You’ll find Indomaret stores almost everywhere around, and it’s often easier to buy your train tickets here than to go to the station.
- When you find the touch-screen terminal, touch i-tiket, following Kereta Api, to bring you to the train ticket part. The language is in Indonesian, but it’s pretty easy to work out. A journey planner appears: enter from, to & date of travel.
- Remember that in Jakarta the main station is Gambir (GMR), in Yogya the station you will probably want is Tugu Yogyakarta (YK), in Solo the station is Solobalapan (SLO), and in Surabaya the station you usually will need is Surabaya Gubeng (SGU). Unless you’re going to or from Jakarta or Semarang in which case you want Surabaya Pasar Turi station (SBI).
- Enter the number of passengers. Dewasa means adult, which here means anyone aged 3 or more. Infants means any passenger under 3.
- Click Next and you’ll see a list of train/class/price combinations. Sort the results by departure time to see them in a more logic order. Use the filters to see only the class you want, e.g. Eksekutif. If you see more than one price for the traino you want, simply pick the cheapest one. Then click Next.
- If you now see the passenger details screen, it means your tickets are available! If you get an error message in Indonesian, it means the option you chose is sold out… Don’t panic, but simply go back to the previous page and select the next price level or a different train or class. Repeat as many times as necessary until clicking Next gets you to the passenger details screen.
- Enter the passenger names and passport numbers. HP number means Hand Phone or mobile phone number. Just leave this blank if you don’t have an Indonesian mobile phone number.
- Once you have entered the passenger details, click to continue. A small paper ticket will be printed out below. Take this to the cash desk and pay for your train tickets in cash. You will get a reference number, which you will use to get a boarding pass from the check-in counters at the train station!
Buy tickets at the station
- Usually it’s not that difficult to buy tickets at the station only a day or two before the actual departure, or even on te day itself sometimes, although trains can be busy. So be prepared to travel in another class or train if your first choice is fully-booked. During the most busy periods of the year however the trains get fully booked many weeks ahead. The two most busy periods include the period around Chinese new year, and especially the Islamic national holiday of Idul Fitri (Eid), at the end of the Ramadan.
- Always remember to take your passport with you, and if you’re buying more than one ticket you will also need the passports for the other passengers!
- Fill out an order form first. At most of the train stations you’ll find a desk with pens and blank booking forms near the ticket windows. Fill in a form with your required journey, date, class, number of passengers and passenger names & passport numbers. It will save time at the ticket window, or the ticket servant they may send you away if you haven’t filled one out yet.
- Self-service machines: major stations may also have one or more self-service touch-screen ticket machines. They will probably also only be in Indonesian, but they are easy enough to use as the process is pretty straightforward, and almost identical to using the touch-screen terminals in Indomaret convenience stores as mentioned above. You pay with rupiah banknotes here.
Pick the right ticket window. These words above each ticket window may help you find the right one:
- Loket = ticket counter
- Pemesanan = Ticket booking = regular ticket window for buying tickets, often followed by the classes sold at that window.
- Pembatalan, pengembalian = cancellations, refunds = ticket window for ticket changes & refunds.
- Penujalan haru ini (Go Show) or Penjualan langsung (Go Show) = tickets for today including Go Show tickets. Go Show tickets are discounted tickets only sold within 2 hours of train departure, if seats remain available.
- Tutup = closed!
Some major stations have separate booking windows for long-distance tickets. At Surabaya Gubeng there’s a reservation center for long-distance tickets on the left side of the station, separated from the short-distance ticket windows near the entrance to the platforms. Jakarta Pasar Senen has a reservations center for long-distance tickets closest to where you drive or walk into the station driveway.
In the most important stations, a boarding pass system has been introduced since 2016. If you buy a ticket more than 3 days in advance, a blue ticket will be given to you. You will nit be able to board the train with this blue ticket, you must use it to get an orange boarding pass in exchange at one of the self-service check-in counters at least 10 minutes before departure of your train. If you buy a ticket at the station less than 3 days before departure, they’ll give you the orange boarding pass directly and you can board the train with this orange ticket directly. In smaller stations, you can often board the train with the blue ticket…
To get an orange boarding pass, just go to one of the touch-screen Check-in counters at the station entrance, and either scan the QR code or type in the booking reference. Your booking will appear on the screen when you do. Hit print and the printer will print your boarding passe(s). No passport or ID is needed at this time. You can do this at any time between several days before departure right up until a few minutes before your departure. Keep in mind, you can only get boarding passes at the station where your journey starts, not at other stations.
There can be an ID check before accessing the platforms: you will be asked to show the boarding pass as well as your passport at the ID check desk at the entrance of the platforms. This is done to eliminate ticket scalping, and to keep the system safe from scams.
Eksekutif, Bisnis & Ekonomi classes explained
Which class should I choose? KAI trains have 3 classes, Eksekutif, Bisnis and Ekonomi class. Many of the best trains are Eksekutif class only, and it’s unusual to find all 3 classes on one train. The best class is ofcourse Eksekutif, with reclining seats. It is perfectly acceptable to travel in any class, even Ekonomi. All classes should have sockets where you can charge your phone or laptop.
EKSEKUTIF CLASS is air-conditioned, and provided with individual reclining seats, 2+2 across the carriage width. Seats usually face towards the driving direction, but can be rotated to face either direction by depressing the foot pedal on the aisle side. There’s a small table attached to the wall by each pair of seats, with two power sockets underneath, European 2-pin type.
BISNIS CLASS is air-conditioned, but with non-reclining padded seats, 2+2 across the carriage width. Seats normally face forwards, but have a walkover back that can be pulled from one side of the seat bottom to the other so the seat can face either way. There’s a small table on the wall, again with two power sockets. Bisnis class is a perfectly acceptable and decent alternative if Eksekutif class is fully booked or if you want to save money.
EKONIMI CLASS is air-conditioned, provided with non-reclining padded seats, mostly 2+3 across the carriage width. Seats are usually arranged in face-to face bays, of 4 or 6 seats grouped. There’s usually a drinks table on the wall, with two power sockets underneath. Many trains are Ekonomi class only, and it’s perfectly safe and comfortable to use Ekonomi class trains if the timings suits you bette or when other trains are full. A few Ekonomi trains are now equipped with modern cars with 2+2 reclining seats, notably on the Jakarta-Semarang-Surabaya route. They are similar to Eksekutif class, but with significantly less legroom.
Taking Luggage on the Trains
Luggage regulations on Indonesian trains are simple: you take your bags with you onto the train, and place them in the overhead compartments, just above your own seat. These racks take anything up to a backpack or a medium sized suitcase. If you have larger suitcases or when you have difficulties lifting your bags, you can also put them in the gap behind the rearmost seats at the rear of most carriages.
Kereta Api Indonesia (KAI) introduced a 20 Kg luggage allowance per person in all classes since early 2016. KAI is pretty serious about this limit, and luggage may be weighed before boarding if it looks heavier than allowed… If you do have more than 20Kg of luggage, you will have to pay an excess baggage fee at the departures gate. The cost is Rp 10,000 per extra Kg in Eksekutif class, Rp 6,000 in Bisnis class, and Rp 2,000 in Ekonomi. You can go up to 40Kg.
When you pay attention, at Jakarta Gambir you may find a little desk with electronic scales next to the departure gate for payment of excess luggage fees. KAI apply the 20 Kg per person limit to the total of all passengers travelling together, so if there are two of you and one has a 15 Kg bag and the other 25 Kg, that’s also just fine! They also seem to apply the 20Kg limit to your main bags, without paying too much attention on handbags or that daypack you’re wearing on your back.
KAI also has a maximum size limit for your luggage and you may see airline-style displays near the departure gate. The allowed size is 70cm x 48cm x 30cm. Fortunately they don’t seem to bother with this, as long as you stay within the 20Kg limit.
Food and Drinks
Every long-distance train has a catering car in the center of the train, with a counter selling tea, coffee, water, soft drinks, some crisps and various types of microwaveable tray meals, typically with rice and chicken.
Some language tips perhaps:
- Ayam = chicken
- Nasi goreng = fried rice
- bakso = meatballs
The catering carriage usually has one or two rows of seats with tables. There is however no need to go look for the catering car, as a refreshment trolley will pass up and down the train as well. Orders for tray meals may be taken and brought to you later once they are heated. A typical tray meal costs around Rp 30,000. Also, you are free to take your own food and drink on the train.
- TOILETS : all cars have one or two toilets, sometimes basic but usually reasonably clean. They should also have an extra toilet roll, some soap and water. The most modern cars have two western-style toilets, when the older cars have squat toilets.
- SMOKING is not allowed anywhere on a KAI train, although you can smoke on the platform at station stops.
- CARRIAGES are numbered by class, usually starting from the front. So car 1 is usually the first car behind the locomotive. If the train has two or more classes, numbers are repeated in each class, with an Eksekutif car 1, 2 and 3, and a Bisnis car 1, 2 and 3. So don’t mistakenly board Bisnis if your seat is in Eksekutif!
- SEAT numbering is similar to planes: the rows numbered typically from 1 to 13 in Eksekutif, or 1 to 17 in Bisnis and the seats in each row lettered A, B, C, D across the car width. A and D are the window seats, and the aisle is between seats B and C. In most Eksekutif cars there are a couple of exceptions to this rule and the numbering can be different.
- CHOOSING A SEAT: it is best to choose mid-car seats, avoiding rows 1-2 in any class, rows 12-13 in Eksekutif or 16-17 in Bisnis, as the ride is smoother mid-car. Also you will get a better view of the scenery if you’re not up close to the forward bulkhead and (in Eksekutif class) the distracting bulkhead TV screen! Sit back, and enjoy the ride!
Times and fares for key routes
Click on the links below to link to the mentioned routes on seat61.com.
- Jakarta – Surabaya
- Jakarta – Bandung
- Jakarta – Yogyakarta & Solo
- Yogyakarta – Solo
- Bandung – Yogyakarta & Solo – Surabaya
- Surabaya – Probolinggo – Banyuwangi (for Bali)
SUMATRA AND BALI
- Ferries to Borneo, Sulawesi & Papua
- How to travel by ferry between Singapore or Malaysia & Indonesia
- How to travel overland between Europe & SE Asia
If you have any tips, questions or remarks, don’t hesitate to put them in the comments below. Oh, and have a safe trip!