I’ve been wanting to travel to Indonesia for quite some time now and finally made it happen! Indonesia has been a place of interest for a number of reasons. Just for some background information: Java, an island in Indonesia is the most populous island in the world and Indonesia as a whole is the 4th most populous country in the world. On top of that, it’s the most populous Muslim majority country. I should also mention Indonesia has a wealth of natural resources, making it a very important country for the rest of the world.
I’ve traveled to a lot of countries in Asia but all of them have either been Buddhist or Hindu states, never a Muslim state and I was interested how a country like Indonesia would compare (or contrast) to the places that I’ve already been to. I think when people think of Muslim countries, a lot of times they think of the Middle East but in fact, the most populous Muslim majority country is not in the Middle East but in Asia. Anyways, I just find Indonesia an interesting country and was excited to finally visit.
One of the best ways to travel is by connecting with someone that is from or living in the place that you’re going. I’ve said it a million times before and I’ll say it again. I LOVE COUCHSURFING. If you don’t already know someone living in the place you’re traveling to, then CouchSurfing is amazing! Connecting with locals really gives you a different perspective than hopping from hostel to hostel will ever give you. I do like meeting international travelers and I enjoy that aspect of traveling as well, but I think I’ve learned the most and have had the best experiences when interacting with someone who actually knows and has experienced life in the place you’re visiting. I could go into all of this philosophy about how travel and connecting with people different from you makes you more tolerant and opens your mind but I think you know what I mean.
Getting to and from Indonesia
ANYWAYS. I live in Vietnam so travel within Asia is usually pretty convenient and cheap if you look out for deals and plan ahead. I’ve found that Google Flights is the best when it comes to searching for flights. I usually use Google Flights when searching for flights but certain budget airlines like AirAsia and VietJet, (JetBlue and SouthWest Airlines when traveling in the States), you’ll need to do separate searches on their websites to see what prices are like. Expedia is also great because you can book a flight and cancel if you need to. I know people use this option if they just need proof of flights but haven’t finalized their plans yet.
Ultimately, I was able to find tickets through Tiger Air for about $200 roundtrip from Saigon to Bali (Denpasar). If I had booked a little earlier, my flight could’ve been as cheap as $150. I traveled from April 27-May 7 which is off season and at the tail-end of rainy season so it was a pretty good time to travel to Indonesia and the weather held up for the most part.
Indonesia offers a 30 day visa exemption for 169 countries including the U.S. There is also visa on arrival available at major airports such as in Jakarta and Denpasar for those who need to get a visa. Keep in mind that visa exemptions cannot be extended so if you are hoping to extend your visa, you’ll need to get a visa on arrival rather than a visa exemption.
Travel within Indonesia
Domestic travel in Indonesia can be quite affordable.I flew into Bali from Saigon since it was the most affordable. Then I purchased separate plane tickets to and from Bali and Yogyakarta (also known as Jogjakarta or Jogja). Most of my time in Indonesia was spent in Jogja. You can find affordable flights within Indonesia with AirAsia and Lion Air. My roundtrip ticket to and from Bali and Jogja was about $80 but if you can be flexible on dates, you can tickets for much cheaper.
While in Jogja
I have two friends in Jogja who were kind enough to host me. Without them, I would’ve had a very different experience in Jogja. They really know the ins and outs of the area. If you don’t know anyone in Jogja I heard that Indonesia is a good place to CouchSurf which isn’t the case in other Asian countries but apparently in Indonesia, you might have more luck. So I wish I could give some advice on accommodation but I just don’t know.
However, I can tell you what I did while in Jogja.
Things to do in Jogja:
Temples – Besides the famous Borobudur (world’s largest Buddhist monument) and Prambanan (largest Hindu temple in Indonesia) temples, that are located outside of Jogja, there are also many smaller temples scattered throughout the area. My friend took me on a cycling tour that totaled 42 km where we passed by the Prambanan temple, went into the Plaosan Temple as well as the Sambisari temple. All the temples have an entrance fee. I didn’t go into Prambanan but the entry fee is abou $20 USD. Smaller temples such as Plaosan and Sambisari should only be a few dollars.
Climb a mountain – There are a bunch of mountains near Yogyakarta. For example, Mount Merapi and Mount Merbabu are near Jogja (a few hours’ drive). Mount Merapi is an active volcano that most recently erupted in 2010. Mount Merbabu is a dormant volcano and is directly adjacent to Mount Merapi. We decided to hike Mount Merbabu since it’s an easier hike than Merapi and also has a view of Merapi.
We got a group together, one of whom is very familiar with the mountain, rented a car, and headed out to climb Mount Merbabu. There are two routes that you can take. One is starting form the northern slope (Kopeng) and the other one is the southern slope (Selo). We decided to hike Kopeng because the hike is easier than Selo. It took us about 2 hours to get from Jogja to the Merbabu base camp where the Selo trail starts. You should register at the small National Park Office and pay a fee before starting your hike.
This hike is really steep. And a lot of the trails are pretty eroded so if it’s raining or the ground is wet, it’ll be quite slippery on the way up. The last 3 kilometers are REALLY steep and hard so be prepared. And because the trail is very steep the way down is a little treacherous and hard on your knees. There are definitely parts of this hike that you’ll need to do some scrambling as well. The hike is 6 km one way, which doesn’t sound long, but it’s a hard hike so give yourself enough time and be prepared.
We wanted to make sunrise at the peak so we started our hike at 1:30 a.m. If you do this, be sure to bring a headlamp with extra batteries and warm clothes because it can be quite cold at the top. We didn’t make it to the very top for sunrise but we had a really good vantage point to watch the sunrise. The sun rose at 5:40 a.m. and after resting and regaining our energy we did the final push to the top. We got to the top at about around 8:30 a.m. We spent a good amount of time enjoying the glory of finally making it to the top, took pictures, and rested. Then we made the long journey back down the mountain. I got back down to base camp at at 12:30 p.m. The hike was exhausting but completely worth it. I’m so glad we were able to watch the sunrise. After getting back to Yogyakarta, we all went straight to bed since none of us had slept the night before.
Explore the center of the city – You can check out the Kraton which is the Sultan’s palace. There are a bunch of different parts of the Kraton with different entrance fees. I went to the residence and their happened to be a shadow puppet show happening when we were there. Unfortunately, the show wasn’t very interesting. There are a bunch of little exhibits and it’s a little confusing to know where you should go and there aren’t plaques on everything, but it’s an interesting place if you have time, you can check it out.
Malioboro area – This is a big shopping area that’s popular not only with international tourists but with Indonesians as well. Be weary of pickpockets and be prepared to bargain but there’s lots of batik, souvenirs, and other goods if you’re in the mood to shop. Even if you’re not, it’s interesting to walk around.
I stayed with friends while in Jogja who are involved in the community there so I participated in Thursday Night Run hosted by the Jogja chapter of Indorunners. So if you’re a runner, or even if you’re not, this is a fun activity to meet Indonesians. There are three different groups depending on your skill level. Beginners- which was a walking/running 4 k run. Intermediate- which was a 5 km 30-35 minute run. And Advanced which was a 10 km run. I also went to a couple of my friend’s classes since she teaches at one of the universities in Jogja and that was a really fun experience. I teach in Vietnam so it’s always interesting to me to meet students from different countries. In general, I love interacting with people and love finding out about people who live in different places and hearing their feelings and experiences.
I also did a homestay in an arts community which was very cool. The community was founded by one dad and his sons have continued his work after he passed away. It’s a school as well as a community to practice arts in the area. While there, we played gamelan, a traditional musical ensemble in Java and Bali. We also participated in “nature dancing” which is one of the brother’s speciality that he teaches to other people. Basically, it’s dancing freely with basic concepts that relate to nature like feeling the earth, hearing the wind, and so on. We probably danced for a couple hours and it was a really relaxing and meditative.
I spent a total of 7 days in Jogja and definitely could’ve stayed for longer. One thing I wish I had more time for was to check out more batik and handicrafts. Since I had a few more days in Indonesia and would have to fly out of Bali to get back to Vietnam, I decided to spend a few days in Bali.
While in Bali
I’ve heard lots of good and bad things about Bali. If I had more time, I would’ve liked to explore some of the nearby islands such as Lombok or the Gili Islands but since that requires quite a bit of travel time, and I only had 3 days in Bali, I decided to stay on Bali proper.
I looked around a lot for places to stay while in Bali and ultimately found a post on Airbnb. For whatever reason there are a lot of listed guesthouses on Airbnb that I wasn’t able to find anywhere else. I ultimately decided to stay at Rocky’s Place in Bingin beach. I wanted to get away from the main craziness of Kuta. Bingin Beach is on the Bukit Peninsula in South Bali. It’s about an hour away from the airport and near the Uluwatu temple.
Bingin beach is super lowkey and known for its surfing. I was there in May and it was relatively empty. Definitely a great option if you’re looking for a quiet getaway. If you’re not a surfer, which I’m not, there’s not much to do but that was perfect for me. If you’re looking for massages and yoga, that’s also easy to find. Otherwise, just enjoy the beach. Rocky’s place is at the bottom of a cliff and it isn’t easy to find. There are some signs but if I had not been picked up by Rocky, I would’ve easily missed his place.
I really loved Kelly’s Warung along Bingin Beach. It’s a great option for food and smoothies. I also frequented the warung right next to Rocky’s called Nyoman and Nyoman. They had affordable food and was a great option for breakfast and lunch. They also have rooms, if you’re looking for another place to sleep. Any place you go though, the view is incredible. If you walk up the cliff there’s Cashew Tree which is a popular place to eat. Some nights have special events too.
I was traveling alone and Bingin Beach was a great getaway. Everyone there was very friendly. I met some super friendly surfers while there that took me into their group. So even though I was a lone traveler I had some awesome people to hang out with.
Getting into Bali
Flying into Bali can be crazy. The second you walk out to the public part of the airport you’ll be bombarded by “taxi guys” trying to give you rides. I had a one night stay in Bali between my transfer to Yogyakarta and was ripped off by one of these guys. I know I was getting ripped off but it wasn’t worth it to me to argue since it was late at night and I just wanted to get to my hotel. I’ve been told though there is an actual taxi stand that has fixed prices to places in Bali. Many hotels and guesthouses will also offer transportation so remember to check first with your hostel/hotel/guesthouse. Some places offer free transfers and if they don’t prices can be comparable to taxi costs. When I stayed at Bingin Beach, Rocky’s place provided transportation for 300 rp, which is more expensive than a taxi but I was willing to pay a little more to make things easier for myself. I’m glad I did too since Rocky’s place is difficult to find.