It all started on my first day in Jogja, after a flight that morning from Bali, where I had just spent the past few weeks backpacking. Upon landing in Jogja, I went straight to my hotel – the Ibis Styles Yogyakarta Hotel. I still don’t know if they had any part to play in this scam.
Once I had checked in, I was informed that because it was only around 9am at that time, my room would not be ready until later in the afternoon. This is standard practice in the hotel industry, so I was not too worried about it. Instead, I asked the reception to call me a taxi, as I was about to embark on one of my travel dreams – the chance to experience Candi Borobudur!
My taxi came within 5 minutes, and I had arranged a return fee of 300,000 Rupiah, which included the driver waiting for me in the car park before we came home. For those of you who do not know, Borobudur is an incredible Buddhist temple but is actually located in Magelang regency, an hour’s drive from my hotel. However, much like at Stonehenge in the UK, it’s in the middle of nowhere, so you must have a taxi/bus trip back home already planned, as you will not see any other ‘random’ taxis driving past otherwise.
When we arrived at Borobudur, I kindly asked the taxi driver to wait for me in the car park, to which he agreed, and I got a good look at his face, car number, and the colour of the car! Even in a busy UNESCO World Heritage Site car park it must be easy to find him a few hours later when I had finished exploring Borobudur, right?
When all was said and done, I think I had spent around 2 hours at Borobudur, and what an amazing time I had! Undoubtedly one of the finest Buddhist temple complexes in the region, and it was delightful that I had ticked off something on my bucket list!
However, when I walked back to the car park, my taxi driver was nowhere to be seen.
It was now early afternoon, and the temperature here in Java was hitting 35 degrees Fahrenheit with near 90% humidity. It was also my first day in Yogyakarta ever, and having flown in at such an ungodly hour from Bali, I was also beginning to get rather tired and exhausted by now. Yet I couldn’t find my driver! I walked around the car park for a while, I think I must have circled it around 3 or 4 times, and even walking the outer perimeter, as some taxis were in the corner of the car park sheltering under the trees from the sun’s rays. Yet still no sign of him.
Now, I am an experienced backpacker so I have had worse than this (my taxi driver in Delhi once threatened to throw all my bags out of the car in the dead of night unless I paid him extra), but I really wasn’t in the mood for such things today.
I walked back to the Candi Borobudur Visitors’ Centre and asked a lady behind the desk if there was a taxi rank here. She said there wasn’t. At that point, I began to worry a little. Fortunately, I began speaking to an Indonesian man, roughly middle-aged, who had been hanging around in the Visitors’ Centre even from a few hours earlier when I had began my tour of Borobudur. After explaining to him my predicament, he got his mobile phone out and promised to help me. He was a really nice man, actually, and I don’t know what I would have done without his help.
Anyway, this guy phoned his friend who worked at a nearby hotel and arranged for him to pick me up and drop me back at the Ibis Styles Hotel in Yogyakarta – and he was only going to charge me 200,000 Rupiah! Now, if you remember my original taxi driver wanted 300,000 for the return trip (but I hadn’t paid him anything yet), then with this new deal it meant I would get to Borobudur and back for just the 200,000! Result!
However, it didn’t work out like that.
Later that evening, having just had some simple room service in my hotel room, I received a phone call from reception saying that the taxi driver who had taken me to Borobudur was standing in the lobby and is demanding his payment! Apparently, he was claiming that he had been waiting in the Borobudur car park all day (this must have been 8 or 9 hours since he dropped me off) and was VERY angry.
I tried to tell the receptionist on the phone that he had abandoned me and therefore the deal was off, as I had to pay another driver to take me home because this outbound taxi driver was too unreliable. I am VERY certain he was NOT in the car park. I would have spotted him if he had have been. The receptionist nevertheless reiterated that the driver is DEMANDING payment, at which point I tried to explain that ok, he took me to Borobudur, so I will pay him half of what the return fare was planned to be, which was 300,000 Rupiah. Yet again, the receptionist phoned me back a few minutes later and said that the driver wanted FULL payment. The receptionist also then laughably told me to come down and speak to him myself. I replied by saying that that wouldn’t be a good idea, in case he got aggressive towards me.
Honestly, what kind of receptionist encourages commotion like that in their own hotel lobby?
In this moment, I instantly smelled “SCAM”. However, with the possible threat of the Jogja Polisi getting involved (which probably would have meant a night in prison cell for me), I decided that the only way to resolve this was to just pay the guy what he wanted. Yet I made it clear to the receptionist on the phone, that she must send somebody up to collect the money, don’t send the taxi driver up! Thankfully they obliged, and 2 members of the hotel came up and collected my money.
It was quite lucky I still had that amount left in my wallet, really, wasn’t it? What else could I have done, accompany the taxi driver to the ATM and let him watch me withdraw more funds?
Anyway, on a morning when I was happy to be paying 300,000 Rupiah for my journey, and on an afternoon where I was delighted to only seemingly be paying 200,000 Rupiah, it was a sad, sad end to the day for me as I in total ended up paying 500,000 Rupiah for my sins – and I still believe to this day that it was some elaborate scam between some hotel staff and taxi driver. I really would interested to know if anyone else has been affected by an apparent scam like this.
There is less chance of being scammed if you travel to Borobudur the cheaper way on public bus.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, this is what I got up to at Borobudur that day!