Indonesia is a vast country, the 15th largest in the world and includes many islands. Depending on the length of your trip, and because tourists can get visas of one month maximum, it will require difficult choices to explore its beautiful beaches, underwater wonders, unique wildlife such as the Orang -Outan or Komodo Dragon, countless volcanoes, lakes, rice fields and ancient temples. The food is not unpleasant and the people are lovely. If Bali is more touristy and expensive, Java and Sumatra are extremely cheap and it is quite possible to sleep in a bungalow with sea view for a few euros. The festive backpacker will also find his happiness in Bali and the Gili Islands. Here are our tips to help you plan your trip to this country which is one of our favorites in Asia.
WHEN TO GO to INDONESIA?
The best season is summer (July-August), whether in Bali, Java and Sumatra. Attention in September-October, avoid Sumatra because forest fires are very common and pollute the air. In addition, they bring a fog, the “haze” that mess up the best views of the island. Living in Singapore, which is not very far from Sumatra, the “haze” of Sumatra was doing the headlines for a month, depriving us from the sun, preventing us from enjoying outdoor activities and forcing some even to wear a mask.
OUR BUDGET IN INDONESIA
For an idea of the budget:
- In Sumatra: we spent about 450€ for 15 days, so about 30€ per day. What was the most expensive were some guided tours (the jungle) and domestic flights. Sumatra is the largest island of Indonesia and the plane is the fastest way to go from one point of interest to another when you have limited time. We usually stayed in the most expensive rooms (with attached toilets and hot water) but in very basic hotels (except the last night in a 4 stars hotel), and we ate local.
- In Bali / Gili / Java: we spent 900 € for 15 days, so about 60 € per day (double compared to Sumatra!) Bali is the most expensive (about 70 € a day). As we traveled as a couple, we have always stayed in private rooms: it is possible to reduce the housing budget by staying in dormitories. This budget includes accommodation in very cool guesthouses in general and some hostels (but also a 3 star hotel), the typically local food (but also some other more expensive occasionally restaurants like sushi or French cuisine), a lot of beers and all activities like a day of diving in Bali, few organized tours to Mount Bromo, Kawah Ijen, a trip to Bali, and many other paid visits (especially in Bali).
Here, you will pay in Indonesian Rupees (IDR), with an exchange rate of about 15,000 IDR per euro. So, when you withdraw money from distributors, expect to receive a hell lot of notes !
Here is how your expenses will look like:
1) Visits: This is one of the most important cost items, especially when you go on organized tours, which is sometimes the only option (Mount Bromo, Kawah Ijen, Bukit Lawang for Orang-Utan: € 70 for a day and a half).
- Sumatra: It is common to take domestic flights in Sumatra to save time. The price of flights is not very expensive, we got flights at 30 € or a bit more expensive. There are night buses but it seems really long, uncomfortable and exhausting. For most trips, we took private vans as we were a group of 4 or 5. It is often the fastest way, more comfortable and not really more expensive if you can fill the car.
- Bali: The situation is quite different in Bali which has the advantage of being small. Because trips are short and the island is very touristy, local buses are also very rare and thus you have most often to use taxis or tuk-tuks, more expensive, and you will have to negotiate well.
- Java: The island is big but it’s pretty easy to get around by bus or local train for a pittance. The train is faster. Between Jakarta and Yogyakarta, it cost us € 10 for 7 hours of train! The bus takes 12 hours for the same journey. It is also possible to take domestic flights, for example, the same costs about € 40 for an hour of flight. Some destinations are more difficult as Mount Bromo and Kawah Ijen, where you will have to take on a tour.
- Sumatra: There is almost no youth hostels, but you will find correct and perfectly located guesthouse rooms (huts facing the sea in Pulau Weh, Batak houses facing Lake Toba, guesthouses in Bukit Lawang) for about 100,000 Rs per night or € 7 (and for 2 people)! Housing prices are incredibly cheap, especially because the competition is tough on some old tourist destinations but now deserted by travelers. In less touristy towns where you may need to stay to get to your destination, like Banda Aceh or Parapat, hotels are often quite crapy and you will have to pay around 175.000 Rs for a “deluxe” room to get a relatively clean room, with a private and hot water bathroom.
- Bali: There are many very nice hostels, particularly in Ubud and Kuta that are favorites of backpackers, at affordable prices. For double rooms, it is 15 € -20 € for the basic and € 30 for the nicest guesthouses (including swimming pool).
- Java: Double rooms in hostels or guesthouses in Jakarta and Yogyakarta cost between € 18 and € 25. Dorm is about 6 €.
4) Food and Alcohol: The local street food is extremely cheap. It is quite possible to eat a rice and chicken dish for less than 1 €, be it Java or Sumatra. You will also find many small restaurants for tourists and backpackers, which necessarily cost a bit more, but are still very cheap (less than € 5). Note that in Pulau Weh (Sumatra), beers are hard to find and expensive, since the island is Muslim and very conservative.
how to MOVE around INDONESIA?
Your mode of travel will depend mainly on the island where you are.
- The cheapest will always be the local bus, but you will hardly find it in Bali, for example.
- The train is a pleasant and inexpensive option for some routes, we have only found trains in Java.
- In larger islands like Sumatra, you will be forced to take internal flights if you are limited in time, with local companies often blacklisted as Garuda and Lion Air.
- The van with driver and tours will sometimes be the only option, for example in Bali or to visit sites such as Mount Bromo.
- Once at your destination, whether in Bali, Java and Sumatra, we recommend you to rent scooters to get around the area, rather than taxis or Tuk-Tuks. This is the best and also the least expensive way to visit Indonesia.
ENGLISH IN INDONESIA
English is spoken well enough in Bali but less in Sumatra. The official language is Bahasa Indonesia, which is very similar to the language in Malaysia. Local appreciate being thanked in their language, with “Temakasi” to which they reply “Sama same” (you’re welcome).
VISIT RELIGIOUS sites IN INDONESIA
Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world and religious sites are therefore generally mosques.
Only the island of Bali is Hindu, and each family has its own small temple in their garden. The island is filled with temples!
You will find some ancient Hindu or Buddhist temples in Java, remainings from the Hindu past of the country.
To enter a Hindu / Buddhist temple, you must remove your shoes and cover your legs and shoulders, but tourists often get temple clothes at the entrance of the monument.
To enter a mosque, you should cover your whole body and head with a veil or headscarf. For the most tourist mosques (such as Banda Aceh, Sumatra), the guards at the entrance will provide everything you need.
TELEPHONE AND INTERNET ACCESS IN INDONESIA
The country has a very good Internet. You can simply access them via Wi-Fi, available in most restaurants and hotels, but we recommend you to buy a local phone card including the internet because it costs almost nothing and you will get internet anywhere, anytime!