The first time I visited Indonesia was a few years back and that too, it was only Bali. With my recent visit, I not just managed Bali but a bit of the rest of the country. While I cannot claim to know the country with these visits, I definitely can share a few travel tips for Indonesia. Should you be planning a visit, these travel tips for Indonesia will definitely help you plan better.
From places to stay to practical tips about currency, packing and food, I have tried to cover them all as a travel guide for you. So here, goes –
My 10 travel tips for Indonesia.
1) Plan beyond Bali
Bali has almost become synonymous with Indonesia. It is not surprising that if someone says they are going to Indonesia, they are basically traveling to Bali. While Bali is an extremely enjoyable and one of the must-visit destinations of Indonesia, do try to include places beyond Bali.
Indonesia has over 17,000 islands, diverse cultures and something for everyone – no matter what interests you. If you are heritage and culture buff, you can include Yogyakarta as a possible destination along with Bali. Or alternatively, for a wildlife and nature buff, Flores with the famed Komodo islands is a great option. And then, there are the unexplored islands of Sulawesi and Gili Trawangan– which has the best of both and which I have added to my wanderlist :D.
The best way to visit these destinations is to use the internal flights in Indonesia. You can pre-book them using the Skyscanner app. These flights are generally, limited in terms of frequency and capacity. You will find that flights within Indonesia are fairly affordable too.
2) Visa for Indonesia
For around 169 countries, Indonesia has a FREE visa on arrival option. You can check the list of these countries here. The visa is valid for 30 days and all you need is a passport that is valid for at least 6 months. Also, keep your return ticket handy, in case the passport official at the airport asks for it. The entire process is quite smooth.
In terms of any airport tax – there is a fee that we foreigners, have to pay. However, most airlines add this to the ticket price. I did not have to pay anything extra when I landed at Bali.
3) Making sense of the Indonesian Currency
Among all the travel tips for Indonesia that I have shared, this one is by far, the MOST important. Indonesian Rupiah is a really confusing currency. Every travel guide to Indonesia tells you that Indonesia is a fairly inexpensive country. The first time I dealt with the currency, I felt that this statement was a myth. I mean how can a Balinese Massage of IDR 150,000 be called cheap? Well, the reality is that IDR 150,000 means INR 750 (USD 11.50).
As per the exchange rate today –
1 USD = 13,000 IDR
I Euro = 14,360 IDR
I INR = 195 IDR
In Indonesia, most people refer to the denomination less the last three zeros. So, if a shopkeeper tells you that a particular item costs you “20”, it does NOT mean IDR 20. He means it costs “IDR 20,000”. Similarly, when he says 200, it means it costs IDR 200,000. It is extremely essential that you confirm and reconfirm with the shopkeeper on the price he means. Use the calculator, by all means, to communicate and beware of people who try to fleece you owing to the difference in currency.
Currency exchange is best done in USD. You get a better exchange rate. However, remember to carry only USD notes that are after the year 2000. They do not accept the older notes. There are various exchange centers in Bali and the bigger towns. The rates are generally displayed on digital boards in front of the shop. I also, realize that you can bargain for a better rate with some of these centers.
In the bigger cities, I found it easier to use the credit card. I did not get charged anything additional. 3% is the credit card fees that is added to your bill by the vendor but if you negotiate well, they give you the same as a discount. In the smaller towns like Ende and Labuan Bajo, you might not be able to use your card a lot. Hence, load yourself with cash for these towns. Exchange centers are quite easily found here and the rates are the same.
4) Local SIM card in Indonesia
I have never been so confused about the local SIM cards in other countries as I have been in Indonesia. The combination of the Indonesian currency and non-standard rates for a SIM card is what gets you in a tizzy. It is here that I hate to admit that we got cheated. As soon as we landed, Rutavi and me almost picked up two SIM cards at the airport. Fortunately with some good sense prevailing, Rutavi suggested that we pick only one as a trial. We were charged IDR 450,000 for the Simpati card which gave us 12 GB of data and incoming calls.
Thrilling Travel Tip: Simpati as a brand is recommended as it is suppose to have the best reception across Indonesia, even on the smaller Islands.
However, what we did not realize till we met the locals and the other bloggers was that we had paid three times the price that the SIM card was actually available for. What was worse was that there was no standard rate for the SIM. Some of the bloggers paid IDR 250,000 for it and some even more. The vendors across Bali seem to be selling it at different rates too. Thanks to our Malaysian friend David, we found this shop in Seminyak who charged us IDR 125,000 for the same card.
Thrilling Travel Tip: If you are head to Komodo, you will find the same price for the same SIM card (12GB data) at the Labuan Bajo airport. For 5GB data cards, the price was lower at IDR 70,000]
Note in the picture, the SIM card does give you a rate of IDR 50,000 plus another IDR 50,000. Adding the service tax of 10%, you kind of come to this same rate. However, none of the vendors really follow this and charge you higher. Remember that you need to bargain well when it comes to picking up the Local SIM. And yes, do not buy at the Bali Denpasar airport.
5) Packing for Indonesia
Keep a packing list of clothes and accessories ready. Besides your clothes and accessories remember to carry the following – Bug Spray, Sunscreen and some Aloe Vera gel for a little after sun soothing. Aside from this, remember to carry a universal charger. Everywhere in Indonesia, you will find these kinds of electric sockets.
I forgot my universal charger and got stuck with no charging point for mobile or camera or even laptop. Thanks to my fellow blogger Lucie who had an extra one that I managed 10 full days in Indonesia.
Another tip is to keep in mind the baggage restrictions on internal flights. Remember I mentioned that they are limited in terms of capacity. Most of these are ATR aircraft and you are allowed only 10 kgs of check-in baggage and one piece of hand baggage. Sigh!
6) Hotels in Indonesia
Bali, Yogyakarta and Jakarta have hotels of all budgets and facilities. However, when it comes to Labuan Bajo, Ende and the smaller places, there are limited ones. Remember to book well in advance to get a hotel of your choice. All these are available online on Skyscanner for you to evaluate and book. Most of these hotels are quite tourist friendly and are a good source for local information.
Thrilling Travel Tip: In Bali, avoid booking in Kuta which is filled with tourists. Instead take a hotel in Seminyak or Nusa Dua.
7) Food in Indonesia
Bali was an absolute foodie’s delight. From seafood to tasty vegetarian options, there was enough in Bali to try out. Being a vegetarian, I did not find it difficult at all. I definitely recommend the Gado Gado, Nasi Goreng and Misi Goreng dishes. Also, sample their Sirsak fruit juice – quite an unusual non-alcoholic fruit drink. Being an extremely tourist friendly destination, you can even find Western food and Indian food restaurants in Bali. However, when you head east to the Flores islands, vegetarian options do get limited.
I developed a taste for their seaweed dish – Capchay (pronounced as Chap-chay) and tofu. :). It was not bad to be honest, and since I was having fun, the food did not really bother me.
8) Shopping in Indonesia
From cute little caps to tiny idols of Ganesha and dragons to the colorful dream catchers, Bali markets beckoned us with their lively spirit and colors. However, when you go street shopping, be prepared for some obnoxious prices. The vendors quote double the actual prices. So, you must bargain on the street shops. A better option would be to head to some of these smaller shops or the ones at cultural centers. These guarantee you quality products as well as reasonable pricing.
Once you are in East Indonesia, shopping is not so great. There isn’t anything specific that I would recommend buying from here. However, if you like Rutavi head to Yogyakarta, you are bound to go berserk. Take a look at her blog post to discover how much and what all, you can shop in Yogyakarta.
9) Local transport in Indonesia
With bigger places like Bali, where distances are huge, you may need to hire a cab to get between points. This time on, thanks to Skyscanner, most of my internal transport requirement was taken care of. However, I recall from my last visit that we had ordered some radio cabs with the help of our hotel. Given my last experience, I checked with the local team this time on to get the name of Bluebird cabs as the most recommended across Indonesia. You can call them through their toll-free number and you generally get a taxi within 10 minutes. Keep enough cash to pay the driver. Again, you need to pay by the meter.
Another option in places like Bali is to rent a two-wheeler as my fellow blogger Shrinidhi discovered. You can get complete details of how to rent and what to expect through this post here. I would even recommend this in smaller towns like Labuan Bajo and Ende where the distances are not much. It is easier to use two-wheelers or explore these towns by foot.
10) Respect the local sentiments
Indonesia is a culturally diverse country with three different religions being practiced. While you will find Hinduism prominent in Bali, when you head to the other parts like Flores, you will find a lot of Muslims and Christians. Remember to be sensitive to their cultural sentiments – for example, do not offer alcohol to the Muslims or pork to the Christians. When in Bali, remember to dress appropriately when visiting a temple by covering your legs and shoulders. It is always a good idea to read up a little about these customs before heading to Indonesia. It is not just about being sensitive as I discovered, but also, delighting the locals by thanking them in their language. Suksma (Thank you in Balinese) and Themakasi (Thanks in Bahasa) to Lucie for introducing me to this delight. Loved seeing the joy on the faces of the locals when I thanked them in their language.
Well, that is it from me on the travel tips for Indonesia.
So, are you already packing your bags to head to Indonesia?
P.S: I was a part of the Bloggers’ trip organized by Skyscanner .