In many ways, Indonesia really is an easy travel destination. Such a large number of people speak English that getting information is quite easy. There are, however, a fair share of scams and rip-offs too. It’s one of those places that can make you feel incredibly at ease on minute and very annoyed the next. It’s a growing market, as many people start to leave Bali to explore other parts of the country, and I hope this travel information does help.
The official language of Indonesia is called Indonesian, or Bahasa. Bahasa is really closely related to the languages spoken in Malaysia and Singapore as well. In comparison of some other places in Southeast Asia like Vietnam, Bahasa is actually quite easy for foreigners to pick up. Below are some quick words you might use.
- Terima Kasih = Thank You
- Ayam = Chicken
- Nasi = Rice
- Mie = Noodles
The official currency of Indonesia is called Rupiah. The notes are pretty large denominations starting at 1,000 and going all the way to 100,000Rp. It’s extremely easy to change US Dollars, Euros and British Pounds. You can do so at the many currency exchanges in almost all towns. However, be careful and count all the money they give you before leaving. A common scam is to count bills twice, which gives you half the amount of money you should have. Also, bring your own calculator as they can be fixed to give them a better rate. Moreover, you should know the rate before you go so you don’t get ripped off.
When spending money in Indonesia, try to get rid of some bigger bills if you have them. Quite often, street vendors and small restaurants don’t have small change. So, any time you go somewhere that should have lots of change, do your best to pay with a big bill, even if you have correct change.
There are ATMs all over the country and on nearly every street. The usually accept Mastercard, Visa, Maestro, and Plus. Some of the machines have “50,000” written on them meaning they give 50,000 notes and usually a maximum limit of 1,500,000Rp. Other ATMs say “100,000” and give out 100,000 notes and usually a maximum of 3,000,000Rp.
Getting around Indonesia
It’s fairly easy to get around Indonesia, but it can often be slow moving. Even on Java Island, the most populous island on the planet, most of the highways are narrow 2-lane streets packed with cars and people. It means that travel can be slow. Moreover, the drivers are insane and impatient. If you can, take the train which is very good where available in Indonesia.
- Bus and Mini-bus: You can get around on bus and mini-bus for quite cheap. These buses are almost always without A/C and generally pretty tight for bigger “western” bodies. It’ll cost you about 10,000 an hour to go this way.
- Tourist Shuttle: This is a nice comfortable way to go if you can’t take the train. These shuttles leave from hotels and guesthouses and will drop you off at a hotel in another town. These shuttles are especially handy for getting from Bali to Java. It’ll cost about 15,000 an hour to go this way.
- Train: This is the best option and comes with lots of variety on price. The executive class trains are really nice and will cost about 30,000Rp an hour. There are also business and economy classes. There is always food being served on the trains and there are electrical outlets in the higher class trains.
- Taxi: It’s actually pretty decent value to take a private taxi in Indonesia over medium distances. You can expect an hour long trip to cost about 150,000-200,000Rp. If you’re going on short distances in town, be sure to only use taxis that have working meters. If they say their meter isn’t working, it’s because they are trying to rip you off for a higher price.
- Bicycle and Tuk-Tuk Taxis: In some towns, like Yogyakarta, there are lots of bicycle taxis. They’re good for short trips, but if you’re going a fair distance, they’re actually more expensive than car taxis. Tuk-tuks swarm around Jakarta, but you’ll find smaller ones that are closer related to the bicycle taxis elsewhere.
Types of Accommodation
With tourism taking hold of Indonesia, you’ll actually find a really wide variety of hotels. From fancy 5-star hotels to guesthouses. The one thing you’ll always get is really helpful service and a propensity to try to sell you tours. Still, the accommodation in Indonesia is great, and nice value too.
- Homestays: The homestays are usually the cheapest accommodation. But, you should know that quite often they aren’t actual homestays, but just rooms in a house. It’s not like you’ll be sitting and having dinner with the family, although that might be the case in some smaller destinations. Expect to pay about $7 a night here.
- Guesthouses & Losmen: The next level up, guesthouses are really the way to go. You’re not going to get fancy rooms in most, but you’ll get a bed, and sometimes A/C and hot water. Depending on what extras you’re getting, it’ll be between $10-20 a night.
- Hostels: Hostels are decent in Indonesia, but I find them to be grossly over-priced. You’ll pay about $6-8 for a dorm bed and $15 for a private room. In my opinion, you’ll get better value at the guesthouses and if you’re looking to meet other travellers, it’s still possible.
- Hotels: It’s still really decent value to stay at a hotel, starting at about $25, but aren’t as personal as the guesthouses or homestays. You’ll definitely have more comforts, though. The hotels range from simple to 5-star and luxury.
- Apartments: It’s quite easy renting an apartment in Indonesia. A good place to start looking is on AirBnb and Pandabeds. You’ll usually get great value.
The food in Indonesia is very good. I’m a big fan of the peanut curry sauce they use quite often, but I also love the noodles. You get variety, but it’s not extreme. Moreover, it’s very cheap so you shouldn’t spend too much. In many cases, it’s not worth visiting restaurants as the street stalls have more flavourful food for cheaper. Here are some examples of the food.
- Satay Ayam: Chicken on skewers usually dipped in the peanut sauce. Not too spicy, but has a bit of a kick.
- Nasi Goreng: A dish of fried rice with an egg that is so traditional down here.
- Mie Goreng: The same as Nasi Goreng except it’s served on noodles instead of rice.
- Soto Ayam: Chicken soup.
- Gudeg: Beautiful chicken dish served in Yogyakarta. Soaked in jackfruit.
- Sucking Pig: Beautiful meal if you like pork. Can be a bit spicy.
Budget Ranges for Travellers in Indonesia
Indonesia really does cater to everyone’s budget. You can travel for dirt cheap, or you can live extravagantly. I’ve divided the budgets for travel in Indonesia into 4 categories
- Super-Budget: If you’re running around on peanuts, you can probably do so for about $20 a day in Indonesia. Couchsurfing and taking the bus will mean a lot of savings. Food, is so very cheap at the street vendors that it’ll only cost about $5 a day, max.
- Budget: In this range, expect to pay about $35 a day in Indonesia. You’ll stay at guesthouses, take the train and the occasional taxi. You’ll eat 2 meals a day at street stalls and one at a restaurant. It’s fairly comfortable at $35 a day.
- Mid-Range: If you’re a mid-range traveller you can probably expect to pay about $50-$65 a day. Stay at cheaper hotels, take taxis and tourist shuttles, and don’t miss out on any attractions.
- Luxury: The thing about luxury travel in Indonesia is it can cost a lot, but it doesn’t have to blow you away. It depends what you want. If you’re just planning on staying at a beach resort the whole time, you might spend $130 a day. If you’re exploring the whole country, you’re going to be spending a whole lot more, perhaps as much as $200 a day.
Health and Safety
Indonesia is a safe travel destination, but you do have to keep your head up for a couple of things. Political turmoil is always possible, so keep your ear to the ground for that. Avoid any protests if you see them. There isn’t a real theft problem, but don’t be careless. It’s fine to walk around at night in most places, it should never be an issue.
For female travellers concerned, Tiffany never really had any issues. However, she did get the constant calls from local boys and it was pretty annoying. On one occasion, outside the ferry terminal in Banyuwangi, a couple older guys got a bit grabby hands with her. Other than that, I can’t imagine Indonesia being a difficult destination for women to travel. From a health standpoint, it wasn’t easy to find tampons, but they do exist at pharmacies, but are very expensive.
In terms of health, the water is safe to drink from the tap in only a few places. For the most part, stick to bottled water. Most hotels have giant bottle that you can re-fill your bottle with. Remember when buying water bottles that so many of these things end up in the rivers, be conscious of that and do what you can to not over consume bottles.
Using Cell Phones in Indonesia
It’s pretty easy to get your cell phone up and running in Indonesia as long as it’s unlocked. You’ll need to go to a stall and pick up a sim card. I got a SimPati card with telkomsel and it was good. They cost about $2 and the person that sells it to you will need to activate it. They might also need to cut it down to fit your phone. Once you have credit on it, you can top it up by visiting this stalls. Visit the menu on the phone and you’ll be able to get things like data packages put on the card. I got 3GB of data for 60,000Rp which is about $5. It’s good value. International calling is a bit expensive, but not horrendous.
In Indonesia, they use the standard European plugs in most places. However, they are pretty good about having multiple adapters handy. Most places have power bars with all the type of plug holes built it. It makes it pretty easy. If you don’t have an adapter, don’t buy one at home, you can get them for really cheap here instead.
Renting a Car or Scooter
It’s pretty easy to rent a car in Indonesia, but you need an international license. You can usually rent a car for about $30 a day, and there are lots of places selling.
If you want to rent a scooter, it’s incredibly easy and cheap. It’ll cost about $5 a day, $20 a week, and $60 a month. Be warned that you do need an international driver’s license, and police in places like Bali target tourists because so many drive illegally. You can rent scooters from nearly any hotel or guesthouse in Indonesia.
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