Hi there! We are Mark Schoenmakers (35) and Judith Dollevoet (29) and we absolutely love exploring the hidden gems of Indonesia. There are so many impressive places to discover right across this island archipelago.
Both of us grew up in the Netherlands, in very different parts actually. We are from small villages. Judith grew up in Millingen aan de Rijn close to the German border. Mark lived in Rijen for most of his life. It’s a small village next to the Belgium border.
We were raised with a similar background. We learned from our parents that our study was the most important thing and that we were encouraged to have a regular life. You know: good career, marriage, house, dog, kids, etc. Preferably between the age of 25 and 30.
When we met eight years ago both of us really connected on another level. Neither of us was ready for that. We were enjoying life as it was. We loved traveling and doing new things and, well, essentially living in the now.
As we were no travel influencers back then, we worked hard in our careers so we had enough in the bank to take every opportunity to travel to the most beautiful and sometimes exclusive places.
With that we kept upgrading our cameras, drones and self taught ourselves the skills needed to make it as content creators.
It helped that Judith’s brother was already a photographer. We gained a lot of creative friends through Instagram and we all inspired each other and learned from each other. From that moment on it was very much all planned and it took us three years to build our brand: @travelmonster.nl
Our Inspiration to Explore Indonesia
Mark’s grandparents from one side are actually from Indonesia. His grandmother was from Sumatra and his granddad (that he never got to meet) was from Java.
Unfortunately he doesn’t speak Bahasa as integrating in the Netherlands meant that no one was allowed to speak the Indonesian language at his mother’s home. It feels like a second home to us in some way.
When we went to Bali together seven years ago it was Judith’s first trip in Southeast Asia as well. She didn’t know what to expect but immediately fell in love with the country, with the people and the variety of things to do and see. It doesn’t take Indonesian roots to fall in love with this country.
Bali was a different place from what it is now. Even now it’s absolutely possible to find new and unknown places that people don’t tag on Instagram. Also Bali has the nicest sustainable bamboo hotels that we absolutely adore.
Classic Indonesia: Bali and the Komodo Islands
In Bali we love the north and the east where you can find the most beautiful waterfalls and a lot of them are still unknown to the public. Or they find it too much hassle to go there.
There is even one waterfall that takes you through the jungle on a two hour hike with a non-English speaking local who fights off snakes with his stick.
There are parts of the hike where you are next to a canyon and you have to hold your stick horizontally next to your body just in case you fall! Otherwise you’ll be stuck in the trees. It’s such a fun adventure.
Bali is still filled with undiscovered places that not many tourists know about. Three places come to mind for us which are still unspoilt.
We like to keep some of the hidden gems of Indonesia to ourselves because we don’t want to ruin them for now. If people ask us through an Instagram DM though we always reply. With the condition of keeping it a secret, of course.
We have also sailed around the Komodo Islands and there were many reasons why this was a highlight for us. First of all we have a love of animals and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see the biggest lizards on the planet. The lethal Komodo Dragons.
On your trip to the Komodo Islands you will see so much more. The sunsets and sunrises on Pulau Padar are something else. The island looks like it comes straight out of Jurassic Park.
And that’s not all because you will also visit pink beaches, sandbanks and much more. It’s a destination that should be on every travellers bucket list.
Hidden Gems of Indonesia: The World-Class NIHI Sumba
Sumba is an Indonesian Island currently in development and it isn’t particularly touristic at the moment. In fact, it just has two big resorts and a couple of small hotels but the island is twice as big as Bali. Sumba has the most beautiful beaches and an actual waterfall in the middle of rice fields.
We loved our stay at the #1 Luxury hotel in the world NIHI Sumba for more reasons than just pleasure. For more than 25 years the hotel has worked on building and funding the Sumba Foundation that helps to develop the island. We got the opportunity to give English classes to the Sumba kids.
At NIHI Sumba you also have the wild horses who play on the beach and in the sea. It’s definitely something you need to see with your own eyes.
Hidden Gems of Indonesia: Tree Hut Waterfall in Yogyakarta
One of our favourite things to do in Indonesia is to find hidden gems because we don’t just travel #forthegram. We really enjoy seeing all the beauty the world has to offer and showing it to people.
It’s worth saving and protecting. That is also one of the reasons why we sometimes keep things unspoiled and not share the location.
If I remember correctly we researched the Tree Hut Waterfall before and thought we found it 90 minutes from Yogyakarta. At that point we weren’t sure if we were correct but we decided to drive there anyway.
We also wanted to visit spectacular rice fields afterwards but they were just harvested so that mission failed. But that is part of what we do I guess.
When we arrived at the Tree Hut Waterfall we were the only car there. When we got to the platform it was hard to believe. It was so beautiful.
We had to wait for it a bit though and we stayed there for at least one hour because the mountain on the back was covered in fog. When it finally revealed itself it was a special moment.
In our two hour visit only Indonesian people were there. They were so friendly and when they saw our tripod they asked for our Instagram and they still follow us today. We get some messages now and then. I think the genuine connections you make from across the globe are priceless.
Hidden Gems of Indonesia: Climbing Mount Ijen
However, our favourite experience in Java was climbing the volcano Mount Ijen. But it was pretty challenging. You have a wake up call at 12:00 am in the middle of the night. Then you drive for an hour before you climb the volcano in the dark with a headlamp on.
It’s kind of slippery so you definitely need good shoes. Once you climb the volcano you can actually go into the crater and find a big blue sulfur lake there. The air is so toxic that you need gas masks to go in. There is absolutely no photo that does the experience any justice.
When you go down in the crater you will see all the headlights people wear going down the path into the volcano with a mystic smoke. When you hear yourself breathing heavily through your gas masks the feeling is unreal.
Then you will see the blue fire that is created by burning sulfur. It’s something else. And it looks like a scene out of Lord of the Rings. Once you’re up and the sun rises the lake is visible and it’s mind-blowing.
By then we had to go down but it was so slippery because we just had sneakers on. You need better shoes with more grip or it’s pretty dangerous for your knees and ankles. We were happy we didn’t have any injuries after the hike. The whole experience is definitely recommended.
Travel Plans for 2020 and Beyond
Our plan is to have a small break in Bali and maybe visit Mount Bromo in Java. Then we’ll take a short break as we have some big plans in the second half of 2020. It’s going to be less exploring the hidden gems of Indonesia this year but we are excited about seeing some new destinations.