The night before your tour of the Dieng Plateau region, your guide will ask if you want to trek or drive–both tours take roughly the same amount of time, though many people aren’t interested in hiking for a solid seven hours. The driving tour is a totally valid option and will let you see the highlights of the region . . .
But if you choose to trek the Dieng Plateau, you will see so much more. After a dark, pre-dawn ascent, you’ll make friends with the other hikers at the top of the hill. Perhaps you’ll sit down and watch the sunrise while you trade snacks and stories with your new friends.
If you choose to drive, the driver will pick you up from the bottom of the hill and drive you to your next destination, the volcanic crater. But trekking will take you into the nearby village, where you’ll walk past the small markets that women set up in front of their houses. You’ll make friends with the villagers as you snack on Indonesian treats at the markets. Kind old women will ask your guide to translate compliments into English for you–“She says you are very beautiful”–and inquisitive children will smile shyly and wave at you.
And if you walk through the village, you’re sure to meet plenty of other people too. You’ll be welcomed into the community as passersby stop to chat with you. Some of your new friends will ask for a picture with you.
But if you’re not being driven to the crater, then you’ll have to get there by walking to the outskirts of the village, veering down a dirt road, and then cutting through a field with no indication that there’s a path. You’ll see some of the most stunning scenery you’ve ever witnessed. Your guide may point to the plants growing in the terrace fields and tell you that they’re mango trees. You won’t realize he was joking until he laughs and tells you they’re actually potato plants.
Later, you’ll probably still believe him when he points out a “marijuana” plant.
A drive to the crater would take less time, and you would have the privacy of tinted windows as well as an air-conditioned break during your journey. But if you choose to wander through the fields, you’ll spend that time waving and smiling at the farmers. You could even stumble across a small patch of wild raspberries, which your guide might pick and offer to you.
After you visit the crater, you’ll continue walking, and you’ll eventually be led to another big hill to climb. On the driving tour, you’ll stop by the color lake and see it from nearby. But if you’re walking, your guide will be the paragon of patience as you climb the hill, even on the twelfth time you have to stop or slow down to catch your breath. He might be nice enough to give you an incentive to work for–when you get to the top, you can all share that mango you bartered for during sunrise.
The driving option would have allowed you to rest in the car between stops. But if you walk, you’ll instead rest on a sunny patch of grass at the top of the hill that overlooks the color lake. You’ll bask in the mid-morning heat as your guide teaches you about Javanese mysticism and tells you about the meditation cave by the lake that is only open to the few remaining believers of the religion.
And after taking in the views from above, you’ll take a different path to get down the hill. If you choose to walk, you’ll find yourself pushing through dense layers of vegetation on your descent. You might wish you had a machete to hack your way through the thick bushes, and you’ll certainly be glad you aren’t wearing sandals and shorts.
Your next stop is the Arjuna temple complex. Your driver could easily take you to these Hindu ruins. But if you trek, you’ll cross fields and vegetable patches that will make you feel as if you’re a hobbit venturing out of the Shire on a grand adventure.
No matter what option you choose, your tour will end eventually. But if you’ve chosen the walking tour, you’ll have spent your morning becoming immersed in the region and you will have been rewarded with spectacular views, delicious snacks, friendly interactions, and the adventure of a lifetime.
So if you find yourself in the Dieng Plateau with a choice between driving around the area and hiking through its terrain, I think you’ve figured out by now which option I recommend.
*All photos in this post were taken by Josh.