Jumping Shot at Borobudur, Indonesia

Indonesia Travel Tips

Compared to Australia and New Zealand, we found travelling in Indonesia a bit of a challenge. For a start, we were dealing with a completely new language that neither of us spoke; we were travelling huge distances by often dubious public transportation, coping with strange new foods and an unfamiliar currency – that’s all part of the fun when it comes to travel though, right? When you are heading to a new country though it’s nice to have some insider tips; if you’re planning to travel Indonesia we’ve put together some tips to help you make the most of your trip.

Jumping Shot at Borobudur, Indonesia

Andrew jumping for joy at Borobudur Temple in Indonesia

Our Top Indonesia Travel Tips

Here are some of the things we wish we’d known before we decided to travel in Indonesia:

  • Ideally, don’t start your trip in Jakarta unless you’re prepared for what awaits you. As you can see from our nightmare stay in this sprawling city, we had a tough time. For an easier start, look into arriving in Bali.
  • Always use metered BlueBird, Xpress or Gamya taxis to avoid being ripped off. When we arrived at airports we were often tackled by aggressive local drivers who wanted to charge us expensive fixed prices and would insist that BlueBird taxis don’t operate from the airport. That’s a lie – in actual fact the local drivers intimidate the metered taxi drivers away to force travellers into paying unfair prices; we witnessed this firsthand. We also got stuck out at the beach a couple of times due to local drivers operating an expensive racquet and threatening any BlueBird drivers who dared pick up from the area. Whenever this happened, we’d usually walk ten or fifteen minutes away from the area and find a BlueBird to hail down in the street.
  • To avoid taking taxis to or from the airport entirely, get the Damri. These local buses are incredibly cheap and cost less than a couple of pounds for journeys as long as two hours. Look out for the Damri bus stop at the airport, which is usually located near the taxi rank. Once again, local drivers won’t want you to use the Damri; we were told a few times that we’d missed the last Damri when we knew full well there was one due to arrive soon.
  • It’s often cheaper to fly than catch boats in Indonesia.  We found it much cheaper and faster to fly from Java to Bali and from Bali to Lombok then it would have been to get the boat. For instance, we were quoted £40 per person for a return ticket on the fast boat from Bali to Lombok but we managed to fly return for only £27 per person. The cheapest domestic airline we found was Merpati.
  • Book in advance to visit Komodo Island. We were keen to visit Komodo Island but we didn’t make it in the end because we left it too long to book flights and the trip became unaffordable. We were adamant that we didn’t want to get a boat from Lombok or Bali to Komodo after reading how dangerous they can be in this post by Adventurous Kate, who got shipwrecked on her journey to the island. On investigation, we found that boat trips were pretty expensive anyway and when we first arrived in Indonesia we saw cheap domestic flights online to Labuan Bajo – the jumping off point to Komodo – for only £70 return per person. Unfortunately, we left it too late to book the flights and within a couple of weeks they had quadrupled in price and we wrote the trip off as simply too expensive.  
  • Book flights at the airport. While some domestic flights in Indonesia can be booked online, frustratingly, you can’t use a western credit card to book flights from local companies like Merpati. We tended to go to the airports and shop around at the ticket counters to get the cheapest prices and pay in person.
  • Don’t buy combined bus and boat tickets. Our hotel in Lombok organised cheap combined bus and boat tickets to the Gili Islands for us and we were dropped just short of the harbour and hounded by the tour company, who wanted us to book expensive return trips with them. This went on for about 45 minutes before we lost our cool and demanded they give us the boat tickets we’d paid for; we then walked the rest of the way to the harbour. It’s a much better idea to get a metered taxi to the harbour and buy your boat ticket from the office there; it’s cheaper and less hassle then dealing with shiesty drivers.
  • Don’t buy malaria pills in Indonesia. We didn’t buy any anti-malarial pills before we left the UK because we foolishly believed we could get them cheaper in Asia. In actual fact a trip to a medical clinic to have a necessary third Hepatitis B shot and get a couple of weeks’ supply of Larium tablets (which we felt conned into buying) cost us around £100 – it would have been cheaper had we done all that in the UK. As a side-note, you don’t need anti-malarial pills for visiting Bali or Java but many doctors recommend them for Lombok, Flores and the Gili Islands – we know that lots of travellers chose not to take any at all though.
  • Be prepared for airport taxes – these range from £1.65 to £10 per person and cannot be avoided; they’re just another way to get extra cash from tourists.
  •  Look for accommodation on arrival to save money. If you can handle trudging around with your backpack searching for rooms then this is the best way to find somewhere nice in your price range. We found that many guesthouses, hostels and hotels in Indonesia don’t advertise online or have a website anyway so it’s best to search in person – this allows you to haggle over the price of the room too, we got some good discounts by doing this. If you plan on staying somewhere for more than a couple of nights you’re also likely to get a bit of a discount.
  • Catch a shuttle bus between Kuta and Ubud. This is cheaper than a taxi and should only cost IDR50,000 (£3.33) – buses can be arranged from your hotel easily.
  • Be aware of rabies. The disease is prevalent in Bali so be careful (especially if you visit the Monkey Forest). We were glad that we’d had our pre-rabies vaccines before we left the UK – although we’d have to get more shots if we were bitten by a rabid animal; it gave us peace of mind.

Do you have any Indonesia travel advice?

  • Rob
    Posted at 21:10h, 21 July Reply

    Wowser, seems like you had to learn the hard way! I think most travellers have been in this situation at some point or other, I definitely have!

    I remember being in Bangkok where me and my friends got some ‘friendly advice’ off a local. He persuaded us to go and see the black buddha which was only open one day a year! Wow how lucky were we, he hailed us a tuk tuk and off we went in an overpriced journey to see the black buddha, which by the way was the worst statue ever next to a fridge in someones house, he then tried to persuade us to go to every single suit shop in town. Fleeced!

    Thanks for sharing your tips and hope your changes to travel put a spring back in your step 🙂

    • Amy
      Posted at 04:00h, 22 July Reply

      Ha – that’s an awesome story Rob! When we were in Thailand in 2009 we also got taken to a suit shop and it was a nightmare – our escape came at the price of a loofah (the cheapest thing in the shop!). We’ve definitely been feeling more springy since we left Indonesia that’s for sure – it was a great learning curve for us though.

  • Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)
    Posted at 03:23h, 22 July Reply

    Great tips guys, and very timely seeing as we’ll be landing in Bali (not Jakarta, phew!) in under a week! I’m so excited, but of course, there’s always that initial adjustment phase when you arrive in a new country where you can’t take anything for granted and you have to learn everything all over again. Hopefully these tips will help us get a leg up and help us ease the transition to Indonesia.

    We definitely want to head to Komodo while we’re in Indonesia, so thanks for all the good tips about flights. I have read about an overland bus & ferry route from Lombok you can take that costs about 350,000IDR, but of course takes 26 hours as well… I think that we might wind up going this route since that looks to be cheaper than any flights I can find online, but I suppose we’ll wait until we’re actually in Indonesia to see for sure. We’ve not had to buy any plane tickets at the airport since we started our travels, but I guess Indonesia is a beast all of its own! If we find ourselves at a loss, I’ll certainly be sending you an email so you can be our Indonesia fixers! 😉

    • Amy
      Posted at 03:57h, 22 July Reply

      The overland bus and ferry sounds like a good option; I look forward to reading about your trip to Komodo since we never made it there ourselves. If you’re not too tired when you arrive at Bali airport, it’s worth checking around the ticket counters to see if they have any cheap flights to Labuan Bajo – you might get lucky. Definitely send us an email if you get stuck and we’ll try to help! If you want to head to Kerobokan in Bali check out Dana Guesthouse; it’s pretty cheap and Putu, the guy who works there is really helpful. Have fun!

  • Adam @ PergiDulu
    Posted at 07:17h, 22 July Reply

    Some good tips here. Just a bit of a correction I guess. The boat from java to Bali costs about $1 per person. It’s also cheap from Bali to Lombok if you use the public boat. It’s when you look at fast boats that it gets more expensive. Even then you can haggle the price to about 200,000 from Padang Bai to the the gilis.

    I always think of Indonesia as an advanced travel destination compared to the rest of Southeast Asia because of transport! Always a challenge!

    Look forward to reading more of your journey in Indonesia!

    • Amy
      Posted at 08:36h, 24 July Reply

      Hi Adam, thanks for that extra tip and price info. we only really looked into the fast boat option but the public boats sound great for really budget-conscious travellers. Indonesia has been the most difficult country we’ve been to so far for transport, food and well, everything really!

  • Matthew
    Posted at 05:18h, 07 August Reply

    Thanks for great tips! Got any tips for traveling to other Western countries, i’d love to hear from you

    • Amy
      Posted at 08:37h, 07 August Reply

      Thanks – we’ll add more tips from all the countries we travel to, Europe is set for summer 2014.

  • Rachel
    Posted at 10:48h, 09 December Reply

    I’m sorry that you had a difficult time traveling in Indonesia. It sounds like you had some frustrating experiences. I’ve been living in Indonesia for over four months now and have found outside tourist areas people are very friendly and forthcoming. Only once did a shuttle driver clearly rip me off. Otherwise people are very concerned about creating more regulations to dispel the stereotype of Indonesians. I think most places in the world there are people who will take advantage of those not in a position of power. I’ve certainly encountered that in the United States.

    I guess I just wanted to say that I’m saddened because I find the people I’ve met in Indonesia to be very friendly and wonderful. I came to Bali for vacation and have met tourists who are constantly on the defense because they’re afraid of being ripped off, and that creates a barrier between them and the locals. (And you should know even Indonesians have to pay the airport tax.) Of course, speaking the language does help me build a connection with those that I meet, but I hope if you come to Indonesia again that things will be easier.

    • Amy
      Posted at 11:34h, 09 December Reply

      Hi Rachel, thanks so much for your comments, it’s great to hear that you’re having such a positive experience. Indonesia was the first Asian country we travelled through and I think this definitely influenced our experience there; culture shock and starting our journey in hectic Jakarta affected us a lot. A year on we’re now living and working in Vietnam and we’re having a great time, partly because we’re now used to Asia but also because we’re working in the local community and getting to know people who live here. I think if we were to go back to Indonesia now we would have a much better experience.

  • Don Mosley, Jr.
    Posted at 05:36h, 05 March Reply

    This may be ideal, the only part I hestitated about is the series of medical treatments that includes needles! Scared of an injection that actually injects a disease or several to devour a another desease that hasnt happened. Plus, my copay is $90 per visit. Ouch, thanks big o!

    • Amy
      Posted at 11:00h, 05 March Reply

      I can see what you mean! We’re lucky that we get some vaccinations for free in the UK 🙂 Have a great trip!

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