At the crater's edge

After more than nine hours of driving, we finally reached Arabica Homestay in Bondowoso, East Java. Its name is derived from the coffee beans growing in the plantation in which the guest house is located.

Most visitors use Arabica Homestay as a base to explore Kawah Ijen (one of the two volcanoes that we had planned to conquer in that weekend trip).

Kawah Ijen volcano is famous for its turquoise- coloured acid crater lake. We took about an hour and a half to hike up to the viewpoint.

It was a steep hike that had us panting and wheezing in the early morning. By the midway point, sulphur fumes and smell began to fill the air. Things got worse the further up we went, and it came to the point where masks had to be deployed. Fumes were swirling all around us. Soon we could barely see half a metre ahead, and our eyes were stinging.

We retreated back down to an outcrop of rocks and waited patiently.

About half an hour later, the fumes dispersed as the green crater lake peeked out of the smoke. Elated, we continued down the now visible crater rim path, and finally reached our viewpoint.

Right at the edge of the crater lake below, grey-white sulphurous fumes belched out of a crevice. Yellow sulphur stained the entire surroundings. Incredibly, beside the lake below is a sulphur mine. From our viewpoint, we could see sulphur miners trudging up the steep path from the mine towards us.

From there, we hit the road again for about seven to eight hours before reaching the highlight of our trip - Mount Bromo, one of the top tourist attractions in East Java.

The access town of Cemoro Lawang, which sits conveniently on the edge of the caldera, is the perfect base for visits to the volcano. The sunrise outing the next morning began at an unearthly 3am but even with such an early start, when we reached our viewpoint atop nearby Mount Pananjakan, we were somewhat disappointed to find that all prime viewing positions had been taken up.

So, what's the draw? Imagine a smoking volcano surrounded by a huge open plain that is the caldera. Wispy mists then swirl around the volcano in a seemingly divine setting, and just as the rising sun cast its golden rays onto the mists and volcano, you would then understand why this is a top tourist activity.

The sight was simply breathtaking.

Before the sun got too high and too hot, we hopped onto our jeep and proceeded down to the caldera plain itself.

We could have then taken a horse ride across this plain to the base of the volcano itself, but we chose to walk instead.

From the base all the way to the volcano crater, a staircase was built to allow tourists to comfortably climb up to the rim.

And once we reached the top and peered over the rim, we saw smoke billowing forth from a seemingly bottomless crater. As everyone gleefully took photos of themselves at this amazing location, it was easy to forget that this spectacular sight is a destructive force of nature, and that we were indeed fortunate to have such a close encounter with it.

Getting there

- The nearest airport to Mount Bromo is Surabaya. Several airlines fly there from Singapore including Jetstar, Air Asia, Tigerair and SilkAir. Many travel agencies based in Surabaya can arrange transportation and tours to both Kawah Ijen and Mount Bromo.

Traveller's tips

- Face masks are essential, especially for a visit to Kawah Ijen.

Your clothing would also smell of sulphur after the visit, so you may want to pack it separately afterwards.

- Wear comfortable covered shoes for walking.

- There are two popular viewpoints for sunrise for Mount Bromo, and both get crowded. Start very early in order to get to the best viewing spot, especially for the one termed "Viewpoint 1".

- For those who wish to extend their holiday, many agencies also arrange trips that extend to and end in Bali.