Indonesia is the largest island nation in the world. It is really an archipelago of over 17,000 islands and almost as many cultures. So it is no wonder that once we started reading about it we wanted to visit.
We spent a total of 28 days and £2200 travelling in Indonesia, which blew our budget to pieces. Of that sum, we spent 15% on accommodation, 20% on food, 40% on transport and 24% on activities and 1% on miscellaneous costs. Without our liveaboard and diving course, we would still have a little more money in the bank.
Arriving into Indonesia we recieved a free visa exemption valid for 30 days (extendable via an agency for 60 days). We heard there is also a 30 day visa which can be extended to 60 days easily, but we didn’t try it. If you really want to see a lot of Indonesia then a longer visa is defintely worth it. For us 30 days to cover three islands was very rushed.
Indonesia’s currency is the Indonesian rupiah and the exchange rate during our visit was £1 to 19,000 rupiah. We found getting money from an ATM easy and the machines do not charge any fees. ATMs either give you 50,000 or 100,000 rupiah notes, as stated on the machine. Paying with the big notes is not a problem unless it is for small amounts and vendors have to give you lots of change. Most of the accommodation shops and restaurants run on cash so it is best to carry cash with you. We had a few Malaysian ringgit to exchange, but money changers had very poor rates. We would advise to change money in a bank (we used CBI) as they have much better rates, but be sure to know the rate before you go. Most cheap places (if you can pay by card) charge a 2-3% fee so it is better to pay cash.
Java by train
Java is the easiest and most convenient island to get around, which is handy because it is also pretty big. We used the railways to travel almost everywhere and despite Ramadan approaching, we managed to book tickets just a few days in advance. We found the Indonesian railways site best for timetables, but we used tiket.com to book our tickets as their website is in English and accepts international credit cards for a small fee. We travelled by all three classes (eksekutif, bisnes and ekonomi) and all of them were comfortable and air conitioned. The indonesian rail system requires all passengers to have proof of identifcation to purchase tickets and enter the platform area. When you book a ticket in advance you must check in at the station and get your orange boarding pass printed. You can do that easily at self-service machines. Have some photo-ID handy because it is checked with your ticket before you get to the platform. We also used a local train (pramek) between Yogyakarta and Solo and even that was good and super cheap (40p) for the hour long journey.
Other than the trains, there are buses, taxis, Grab and Go Jek. Buses work well for the shorter journeys and we used them to get to around Yogyakarta (transyogya) and to Borobodur temple. There are ‘buses’ between Probbolingo and Cemoro Lawang to access Mount Bromo. From the train station get a yellow bemo to the bus station (5,000 per head). Connect with other tourists to try and share a bus into the mountains. If you miss the wave you will have to wait for hours until the next train arrives
Taking the ferry between Banyuwangi, Java and Gillimanuk, Bali was a piece of cake. There is no need to book in advance as ferries run very frequently (every 15-30min)and cost just 6,500 rupiah per person.
Getting around Bali was an expensive headache, which we don’t wish to repeat. Most of the locals own motorbikes nowadays so the bemo network is in decline. A few of the touristy areas such as Mount Batur and Ubud have banned apps such as Grab, Uber and Go-Jek so drivers are not able to pick you up unless you walk out of town. From Gillimanuk there are buses to Denpasar (75,000 rupiah), Singaraja (35,000 rupiah) and Amlapura and fares are agreed on the spot. If you fancy travelling along the less travelled north coast, plan an extra day to wait for a bus in case you miss the only departure that day; usually in the morning. For reliable transportation we used Perama’s shuttle bus which can be reserved online and we also heard good things about Kura Kura in the Denpasar area. Perama runs services along the south and east coast and goes as far as Tulamben and Amed in the north. Fares are reasonably expensive but bus standards vary.
After a lot of research we discovered that Flores relies on a network of travels (shared taxis) and buses, but also one real bus company called Gunung Mas. They charge between 90,000 and 110,000 for a journey between towns including hotel pick up and drop off, but you need to ring them to book it. We read a lot of advice about hiring drivers but the cost was just a little too much for two people coming in at 600,000 rupiah per day (per car; notper person!). Instead a 3-5 hour local bus journey costing 40,000 – 60,000 rupiah fitted our budget better.
On arrival at Maumere airport we were mobbed by taxi drivers, who were all part of the same mob conspiring to take tourists on tours or get them into shared cars. We ended up in one of these shared cars and it wasn’t too bad, as long as you haggle hard (walking away to the bus station is a good tactic). Also always ask other tourists how much they pay since they seem to put people together in one car. If all else fails take a bus.
We found the pimped out buses easy to hail down in Moni, but unfortunatley they drop you outside town in Ende, Bajawa and Ruteng. This helps the bemo drivers earn some money too, but it is really just a pain in the arse that you have to haggle them down to a reasonable price. Sometimes the buses drive you into town but that might depend on their route and where they have to go to deliver goods. When leaving these towns you have the option of booking a bus ticket through you hotel or making your own way to the bus station to save a few rupiah. We never paid more than 5,000 for transport between the bus terminal and a town. Rates seem to be fixed and are 40,000 between Maumere and Moni and Moni and Ende. Longer legs between Ende, Bajawa, Ruteng and Labuan Bajo cost 60,000 from the terminal. The drives will ask for more at first but succumb to the stated rates if you know them. Our drivers were generally good.
Indonesia has an ecletic mix of cuisines and each island has it’s own dishes.
On Java we would recommend Gado Gado (steamed vegetables with peanut sauce), Nasi Goreng (fried rice), Martabak manis (crumpet sandwich filled with chocolate/nuts/banana). The average main dish cost around 15-20000 rupiah while drinks were 3-10000 rupiah. So you will have plenty of money to try all the different dishes even on a budget.
We found Bali significantly more expensive with mains in a warung starting around 25,000 and going up to 100,000 rupiah. The selection of food is much more international but cheap Indonesian food can be hard to find but they do exist. We enjoyed the return of pork to the menus and recommend trying Babi Guling (suckling pig) and Nasi Campur (rice with mixed vegetables). Bali has a coffee culture with the world’s most expensive coffee advertised everywhere, and an average cup costing between 30,000 and 80,000 rupiah. We steered clear of Kopi Luwak (civet coffee) as we find it totally unethical to keep civets in tiny cages and feed them coffee berries to excess.
The food on Flores was of a good standard but sometimes finding a less touristy restaurant in the evening can be hard. We recommend eating at local warungs as much as possible. We found we could eat for 15,000 rupiah, but some touristy places charged Bali level prices. There are a few specialities to try such as Moni cakes and Flores coffee. In Labuan bajo we enjoyed real bread for the first time in a while and there are loads of western restaurants.
Accommodation across Indonesia varies widely, both in price and quality. We found Java had the highest standards on a budget, while Bali was overpriced and often poor. Flores is a law unto itself and we couldn’t quite work out why accommodation was more expensive than the other islands. There are not so many budget options and we found our cheapest option was a double room with breakfast but a cold shower costing 150,000 rupiah. Some towns have no budget options and rooms start around 250,000 rupiah and go up to 500,000 rupiah (Ende). On average we spent 130,000 rupiah per night for the two of us.
Indonesia is famous for volcanoes, beaches and brilliant diving. We recommend:
- Borobodur temple (sunrise or not) is an amazing pyramid of history and buddhist tales. Look at the weather forcast before you decide about a sunrise tour. Fees for sunrise (and sunset) are higher and not worth it if is too cloudy or raining.
A volcano – our favourite is a close call between Mount Kelimutu and Mount Bromo. Both have real atmosphere and good hiking.
Diving somewhere either Bali or Komodo. If (like us) diving a shipwreck is on your bucket list, the USAT Liberty wreck at Tulamben is a great shallow wreck. If you want a challenge, you will definitely find it in Komodo national parkwith plenty of currents, along with Manta rays, sharks, turtles and much much more.
Learn a little Bahasa Indonesia
Good morning – selamat bargi
Good afternoon – selamat sawryi
Thank you – Terima kasih
You are welcome – sama sama
Indonesia is incredible and huge. We zoomed through Java, Bali and Flores in 28 days, but it was worth all the early mornings and long journeys. One thing we recommend is to spend a lot more time (get a 60 day visa). We would have loved to see the wildlife of Borneo and Sumatra too but just ran out of time. The food, landscapes/seascapes and people are colourful, diverse and worth exploring. Thanks to this and despite our experiences on Bali, Indonesia is our favourite country in SE Asia and we would be more than happy to come back and explore.