The following are some of my thoughts, experiences, opinions, but most importantly TIPS from what I've learned while traveling through Indonesia for 11 days (Barely scratched the surface).
1. Face it, You hate that backpack!
I call backpacking, going to a country(s) with limited personal effects, for an extended period of time, no plans set, taking it day by day, scheduling destinations as you go along. While meeting people and joining or gathering advice on things to do and staying in basic accommodation or camping just to experience the culture, beauty and people of where ever you end up.
With that being said. It does not mean you have to have a huge backpack, a 70liter nuisance that you're continuously trying to figure out things to get rid of and make it lighter. I had a few trips lugging one, they were ok, but i didn't put much in them because i didn't want to hurt my back. So what, I'm old. I met so many people who wished they did not have that giant "extra person" to carry around. On my trip to Indonesia (having just left Australia and NZ for several months), I used a carryon sized rolling bag (waterproof hardshell Samsonite) and a smaller waterproof backpack. A week into the trip I bought a day bag/purse that I shouldn't have, but i needed something for my DSLR. Keeping in mind, you can have a "bookbag sized" backpack and a rolling bag in most airlines for free.
Your day bag/back pack should be something you can always carry and has all the necessary materials for a day trip. While your en route, it may be filled with extra things, but when you to your destination for accommodation, should be able to store those extra items with your rolling bag and carry on with the rest of your day.
2. Bring "quick dry" and water proof everything!
I had a few quick dry items on both of my southeast Asia treks. Turns out they are what I wore the most and other things remained in my luggage untouched. I had one pair of pants that unzip above the knee and turn into shorts and a pair of yoga pants (which are the comfiest because they breathe and are great for long train/bus rides). There's nothing like carrying around wet clothes after a surprise torrential rain pour, or the things you hand-washed two days ago. You can get laundry done at your accommodation, but they usually need a full 24 hours to get them back to you because most times of the year its too humid in Bali for things to dry in less that 24 hours and 99.9 % of these places do not have dryers. They rely on the sun and air dry everything. If you're like me and hop around to different places day to day this is a nuisance.
My back pack came with a rain cover which was in a pouch tucked into the bottom. It worked for the occasional drizzle, but when the rain got heavier, everything got drenched. Almost ruined my new DSLR! Carry waterproof (NOT water resistant) everything, from your bags/luggage to your shoes.
Kathmandu, Northface, Uniqlo, Nike, are good brands, but can get pretty expensive. Believe me its well worth the cost because they last a long time.
3. Water- The smell test
In most southeast Asian countries, notably, Indonesia, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, etc. You are told not to drink the water, do not use the ice, and don't even use it to brush your teeth. Well I'm (still here) to tell you that while i never drank the water, except for a few choice times in nice restaurants). When it came to things like brushing my teeth/handwashing, I did a "smell test". If the water coming from the faucet did not smell dead/like a sewer, then i used it. Not to drink, but at least to brush my teeth. I know there could still be cooties in it, but I'm sure most people reading this have had worse things in their mouths.. hehe
My accommodation were hostels/hotels/homestays* between $9-13NZD or $8-11USD (95,000-130,000 rp). I rarely stayed at a place for more than one night or booked a stay more that 3 days in advance. I used booking.com because it was easiest to book in NZD since all of my income for the previous year was in New Zealand currency. There were no fees. Also, just the reservation portion is done through the site because you can not pay for most places online, you have to pay cash on arrival. This was a good thing in most instances, however it was possible to get to a place and realize the rate you could negotiate would come out cheaper if booked straight through reception. I chose each place depending on what i wanted to possibly see in the area. For example, In Yogyakarta, I chose a homestay close to Borobudur, a temple I wanted to see when I got there on the first day. The second day i moved to a place that was walking distance to the train station since (i usually catch an early morning train.) I also chose places, as most people do, depending on reviews. This is when I realized that there are many reviews written by staff or possibly just locals who are friends with the owners of the building. A good way to filter through this is to look at the country or flag next to the person writing the review if they're from Indonesia, don't even read it. Try to figure out what the main streets are in the area you are traveling to. Choose your stay based on that and try not to choose what looks like it may be a side street, because usually it will probably be in a back alley with no lights and trouble lurking in the shadows!
Places i recommend
Krowi Inn (surabaya)
My Studio (surabaya)
Yonda's. In Sanur (on the road behind Mercure)
Kawah Ijen guesthouse- Banyuwangi
- Ashrams- If you have any interest in joining or just have a general curiosity in the Hari Krishna Religion. Stays at Ashrams are a way to stay for free. It is required, (with good reason) to attend at least one of the ((sessions)). A bed and food is provided and you will meet people from all over the world who are positive and loving.
- Farm stay- These can be an amazing experience. Just do your research and check each before making the commitment and flights.. There are a few options and types. Some farms offer stays in exchange for farm work, but most offer stays in exchange for help with teaching English to students, usually already in middle-high school. They can offer accomodations as well as fresh food from their farms and other minimalist staples.
This site will help you find options in and around Bali.
This site will help you find some options around other areas of Indonesia
5. Things you should get used to if you're on a budget:
- Wet room bathrooms: in most stays, a shower and toilet in the same room, you may or may not be provided with a towel, toiletries or hot water. Prepare. Its not THAT cold! Sometimes you can get a towel from reception if it is not provided
- Sleeping in a mixed male/female dorms: Yes it happens, yes they will snore. Invest in a GOOD pair of earplugs if this is something you can not deal with, or just pick another place. There are plenty of places with private rooms for the same price, but once in a while...
- Don't expect much from that "free breakfast"
Its offered everywhere. Its almost always the same. If you're like me and don't actually eat pancakes, but you'll eat almost anything because its free, its for you. You will get one banana flavored or plain pancake in most places, or toast with your choices of butter, jam and chocolate sprinkles to decorate. All places offered complimentary Indo coffee/tea and often filtered water.
6. Let it GO!
- Things are going to happen in your travels that may not immediately understand, make you feel down or even want to go home. Try not to lose sight of why you are on this adventure through this beautiful country (or anywhere for that matter). Whether its to experience the culture, learn to dive, enjoy the weather, find a wife... Whatever it is never mind these things:
- People are going to stare. Not like the few seconds stare. I mean like as long as you're in their presence/anywhere else in the world you'd think they were gonna attack you stare. Right in the face. An expressionless gawk that will make you uncomfortable, especially if you are on public transportation and you can't get away. The best way to deal with this is just a simple "Helloooo". Crazy right? It's usually just curiosity. However, as much as you may want to say fuck off or other expletives. Guess what? 99.9% of the time, they will not have a clue what you are saying. So just... say hello.
- Locals and sometimes other Asian tourists will try to sneak pictures of you... Let them. Who cares really? I've taken pics of them after noticing. As I am writing this there is a lady sitting next to me taking selfies trying to put me in them.
- Depending on who's reading this... Children, with their gross innocence and lack of home training, will point and laugh. I know, this may sound weird, but i've had it happen to me several times. Also yelling "Black, black, black...) Just... Let it go.
7. Restaurants and eating out
If you order a bottle of wine, make sure it is opened in front of you. If you order a bottle and it comes opened already, send it back. I'm pretty sure there was water added to my last one!
I'll never tell anyone not to eat street food. However, if you go into a place and the food is sitting out in bowls and looks like its been there all day. Don't eat it. On the other hand, If it will be reheated and served I have eaten it once or twice and I'm still alive.
The most served dish and all i ate for the first 3 days (other than the free pancakes) is nasi goreng. Which translates to fried rice. Its a variation of cabbage or green beans, Ayum (chicken) and sometimes a slice of egg.
Mie Goreng- same as nasi but with fried noodles instead of rice. I also ate some sort of bone marrow dish, hundreds of eggs and lots of kepalana (coconuts).
8. Bartering and making purchases
Its something that is hard to get used to but absolutely necessary in most places you go. Any place where the prices are not listed you will have to indefinitely. If you are in a place, whether it is an accommodation, tour booking office, bus station, and there are prices listed, barter barter barter! I have a short list of the average cost of most items so that you can know where to start your bartering price. I wish I had seen a list like this before starting, i could have saved at least a million RP!
The one question that will leave you stuck is "How much you want to pay?" This always gave me the deer in headlights look. I. Had. No. Idea.
When I made purchases i always tried to convert in my head what the item would cost in USD and what it was worth. It kept me from purchasing lots of things. I did find that although I had (and you do too) this idea that in Indonesia everything would be considerably cheaper! Living on $20 a day! Ha! This is possible if you're really frugal, eat very basic food, can go with out buying anything besides your stay and search out a meal from a street cart. This was not feasible for me on most days because I like to eat pretty healthy and I moved around a lot on buses.
Always look for an open ticket office. Go to the window and ask for the bus you want. You may have to do some bartering there too. If there are no ticket agents in office than here's where it gets tricky. Random men who are sitting around the station will always approach you. Only if necessary, get a ticket from them and start at 5000rp if it is a distance 2 hours or less (google maps estimate). No matter what price they quote you cut it AT LEAST by half and start you barter from there. Ask about a/c and toilets if you are expecting a long journey. A 2 hour trip on google is not necessarily a 2 hour bus ride. Mine turned into 6 with no bathroom breaks! They will stop every few minutes to pick up people, vendors will get on and try to sell drinks and food, musicians will hop on and sing. There is much less of this on an air conditioned bus and much less stops, but they will cost a bit more. I learned the hard way, however If you have the time, it is only worth experiencing once the cheap no a/c way!
*My route through Indonesia
I did not get to spend enough time in the country, I would have liked to see a bit of Sumatra....
Flight 1-Bali, Denpasar. Taxi to stay in Kuta, Bali-> Bus to stay Sanur, Bali -> Bus to stay Ubud, Bali-> Bus to Ubeng, Bali, transfer to bus/ferry for Gilimanuk, Bali to stay Banyuwangi, East Java-> Bus to Surabaya, East Java. Train to ... Special Region of Yogyakarta->Train to stay Jakarta, West Java. (Flew from Jakarta to Malaysia)
**Last 2 cents:
As a foreigner, you are a target. Your are a walking dollar sign. There is VERY little genuine help from someone who doesn't want anything from you. This is a country full of poverty. You will not get a free ride from a local without an ulterior motive. If they take you to a place that is free entry or their "favorite restaurant", its because they get money for taking you there! I am not saying this as a completely bad thing, I've just met some pretty naïve tourists.
My favorite items on hand:
Tiny (but powerful) flashlight
Baby wipes travel pack size- you can buy more later. I like unscented
Zip lock bags- i love to save things for later, they ALWAYS come in handy (prevent liquid spill disasters)
Small bottle of hand sanitizer
Indonesia, is often thought of as a destination for just beaching and mountain treks, however, being a predominately Muslim country, I found it should be a destination for Muslims from other countries to visit. Traveling throughout the country i found that there are many things that would be particularly exciting and of interest to many of my devout Muslim friends in the US. There are breathtaking masjids. Most, if not all restaurants or warungs are Halal. There are prayer rooms in hotels, public restroom areas, and many public buildings. I went on a few treks where there were young Muslimahs in small groups or pairs going on treks to waterfalls and beaches. Seeing these women enjoying the country as much as I was, I thought maybe I could create a buzz for a destination that many in the US at least have probably never thought about exploring.