Crazy Taxi Surabaya: Bus Edition

A P5 bus pulls into the Purabaya Station.

You often hear that in some parts of the world, driving is way worse because road rules simply don’t exist. We can now say with confidence that we’ve experienced this in Indonesia, and although this isn’t our first road-bound brush with death (looking at you Colombia/Ecuador/Peru), this one is particularly amusing. Our example comes courtesy of Surabaya, a major city on the island of Java.

The Crazy Taxi hero of our story is the P5 bus, which we took from Purabaya Bus Station to the train station Pasar Turi as part of our return from Mount Bromo to Jakarta. After brushing past hordes of taxi drivers, we managed to find our hero sitting peacefully under the P5 sign in the intercity bus terminal.

Hanging out in the P5 bus, waiting to go. It’s got some ripped seat leather, some cracks on the dashboard…but I’m sure she runs just fine.

She may look a bit run down, but it’s just the façade. Once the driver and conductor got on board, she roared to life and we were on our way. The driver, of course, drives the bus. The conductor collects payment for the tickets (6,000 IDR as of April 2017), but then proceeds to take on a whole new role.

Uh…sir, what are you doing? We are on the highway, you can’t get off here.

Like that guy in that super-popular 90’s song, he hangs out of his best friend’s ride and hollas, but what he’s hollering about is which traffic lane is free. It turns out driving the bus in Surabaya is a two person job, mostly because the driver is doing EIGHTY kilometers an hour while everyone around us is going no faster than sixty, all in a vehicle with less handling than your childhood schoolbus. The conductor yells whether the lane is clear, and the driver uses this info to weave like a MADMAN through traffic. For example, here’s us using the emergency lane to bypass traffic:

Thought when this first happened: “This is now how I imagined I would die.”
Thought when this happened the twentieth time: “I wonder if our train back to Jakarta will have a snack bar.”

And if you want a video experience, including lane-splitting, tailgating, and traffic-weaving, here you go:

So there you have it. The driver-conductor dynamic duo enables P5 to Crazy Taxi around Surabaya. We made it 11 km in 20 minutes in a bus at the start of rush hour. I don’t even.

Bromo to Probolinggo to Surabaya: a primer on Indonesian driving

Our driver from Cemoro Lawang to Probolinggo, standing intrepidly on his ride.

If you’re at Bromo/Cemoro Lawang and need to get back to Jakarta, the only feasible route (as of April 2017) is through Probolinggo and Surabaya.

Your first step is to catch a minivan from the center of Cemoro Lawang that will take you down the mountain for ~40,000 IDR ($3.00 USD). On paper these vans leave every hour, but realistically they leave when they’re full (about 13 people). It will help you to recruit others going down so you’ll leave sooner, or you can all agree to pay your driver more money to leave earlier.

Somehow I don’t think this thing has AC, WiFi, OR Bluetooth.
I claimed shotgun, but without seatbelts I don’t know if I can recommend that to you.

If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, then there weren’t many good intentions to be had when they paved the road down to Probolinggo. It’s bumpy, windy, and your driver will go fast. Buckle up (if you can) and enjoy the ride. You’ll pass tons of adorable little villages, where at midday uniformed schoolchildren crowd the streets as they walk home for lunch. Whizz past them and fear for their safety with drivers like yours on the road.

Someone having a bad day with a ditch.

In Probolinggo, the van driver will drop you on the street across from the Probolinggo bus station. Ignore everyone trying to help you with your luggage, signs advertising bus tickets (there’s a markup), and men trying to call you over and go straight into the bus station. The bus you want will say Surabaya, but you can double check by asking other people on the bus for Surabaya.

Okay, time to play guess-the-real-ticketseller! Which guy down there will give you a REAL bus ticket?

Now here comes the hard part: ONLY pay the ticket collector once the bus is moving. Ignore the guy or pair of guys that board the bus and tell you to pay for a ticket from them. Do not hand over money for the official-looking bus ticket in their hand. It is a scam targeting foreigners and that is a fake bus ticket. If they get angry at you, stay calm. If they yell at you to get off, get off the bus and stand in front of it. The real bus driver will have a laugh at the scammers’ failure and usher you back on the bus. ONLY hand over your money once the bus is moving, and give it ONLY to the guy you see all of the locals paying. And check your change, as he may try to shortchange you. A ticket from Probolinggo to Surabaya cost 20,000 IDR ($1.50 USD) in April 2017, and you can always ask ‘harganya berapa di Surabaya?’ (“How much to Surabaya?”) to a person next to you.

Did you guess the man in a striped shirt with a ponytail? You win! But check your change.
Why yes, this is our bus passing a semi carrying a shipping container, passing another truck carrying construction supplies. Truck-ception, whoaaa.

Phew. Made it to Surabaya? Then you’re past the difficult part. You’ll likely be dropped south of city proper at Purabaya Bus Station, and it’s up to you to take a bus to the train station or airport. There is a WONDERFUL info booth in the bus station where the staff know some English, so politely decline the taxi callers and make your way there. As of April 2017 the bus to the train station was the P5; it cost 6,000 IDR ($0.45 USD) for a ride and took about 30 minutes. We had no scam problems, but it’s literally crazy taxi bus edition, so sit at the front for the 90 km-an-hour ride of your life along Surabaya freeway.

Taxi drivers trying to wave us down at the Purabaya Bus Station. Ignore ’em, unless you’re in a hurry. Even then, the bus is going to be (disturbingly) fast.
A P5 bus rolls into Purabaya Bus Station.
The driver’s ed test: what’s wrong with this picture?

You’ll get off on the West side of the train station, which as far as we could tell had no actual entrance. You’ll have to find your way around to the other side of the station with a map or asking the super-nice locals. There aren’t really cheap street eats at the train station, but there are a couple of cafés and minimarts nearby. After buying your tickets, head over to stock up on snacks for the overnight ride back to Jakarta.

You made it to the train station alive! The train from Surabaya to Jakarta will be a breeze, but bring an eye cover–they never turn the train lights off.
A beautifully-domed mosque near the train station. You may want to offer a prayer of thanks to whatever you believe in for making it here alive.