Indonesia was a destination I dreamed of visiting for years. The seed was planted a while back when my Dad pulled out his atlas, opened it to a map of Indonesia and pointed to Komodo Island. “Let’s go here. We walk around the island, quietly weaving in between wild Komodo dragons. We use a trident to ward them off in case they attack. If they bite us, we’re dead.” It sounded like something out of an action movie, I couldn’t think of anything quite as terrifying, adventurous and exciting as that. A few months later I spoke to a woman who told me she had just returned from a holiday in Indonesia where she hiked a volcano for four days.
In my mind Indonesia was as wild as wild gets. I pictured volcanoes erupting everywhere, luscious jungles with bursting waterfalls and prehistoric dragons killing locals on the regular. I’d fade into my imagination, picturing myself running from an erupting volcano by jumping off a waterfall. Or walking through dense jungle on high alert for Komodo dragons hiding, waiting for the perfect moment to attack.
Turns out its actually not like that. Shocking, right? Indonesians do in fact live very peaceful, non Komodo dragon filled lives. However, I will mention that while traveling Indonesia, two volcanoes erupted (Mount Bromo and Mount Rinjani). I met a group of people who actually HAD TO RUN when Mount Rinjani erupted in mid-hike, they literally ran for their lives. While inquiring about volcano hiking at a tourist agency I asked about the erupting volcanos and before I could finish my sentence the tour guide shrugged and said, “no problem, no problem.” “No problem” was the response given to everything in Indonesia, used mostly when things were very much a problem.
With that said, if you are interested in experiencing the adventure and excitement of Indonesia but are unsure of how to tackle it, allow me to share my itinerary with you and provide you with some tips for traveling this beautiful country!
My itinerary for one month:
Kuta ⇒ Canggu ⇒ Ubud ⇒ Banyuwangi (to hike Mount Ijen) ⇒ Ubud ⇒ Gili Trawangan ⇒ Gili Air ⇒ Senggigi ⇒ Boat tour from Lombok to Flores
Kuta is about 98% Aussie. It’s the equivalent to Ibiza for Europeans or Cancun for Canadians and Americans. It has very little Indonesian culture and a lot of bars, clubs, tattoo parlours, McDonalds, Starbucks etc. Its a great starting point to ease into full-blown Indonesia and meet other travelers. Its chaotic, exciting and buzzing with things to do. It also has all the comforts you would get in Australia or Canada at a fraction of the price.
Do: take a surfing lesson and spend the evening clubbing at Sky Garden. Rent a scooter and drive down to Uluwatu to get a great view of the sunset behind Uluwatu temple or spend a few days surfing some of the best waves in the world.
TIP: If you don’t want to rent a scooter then install the app GoJek on your cellphone. It’s basically the Indonesian form of Uber and you pay the local price, no need for haggling. It’s the cheapest way to get around. You get the choice of hiring a car or a scooter from them as well. I got around solely on bumming rides off backpackers or using GoJek.
Canggu is coastal town on the South Eastern part of Bali. Its a popular surf town with a more tame party atmosphere and a cool surfer-hippy vibe. I liked it here. I stayed at Canggu Surf Hostel and met so many great people, highly recommend staying there! Everyone is super welcoming and friendly. It has a great inclusive type atmosphere which is ideal for solo travelers.
Do: take a surfing lesson and chill out on the beach. Go to Old Mans restaurant for a drink in the evening, all the backpackers end up here.
Ubud is a dream come true to writers, yoga lovers and entrepreneurs. Elizabeth Gilbert wrote about Ubud in Eat Pray Love and it is now one of the most famous places in the world for a yoga holiday. They also have tons of vegan, gluten free, organic and vegetarian restaurants. Ubud is also a great hub for all the other activities in Bali, its easy to take day trips to the surrounding areas. I highly recommend staying at Jero DiBisma homestay, it’s located in the center of Ubud and run by the sweetest, most beautiful family. The woman, Ayu, was so kind and caring and went out of her way to help me with anything. I left my suitcase (including my beloved laptop) here when I went trekking Mount Ijen in Java. This is how much I trusted them.
Do: Monkey Forest (even if you hate monkeys, it’s worth it) and Campuhan Ridge walking route. Rent a scooter and check out Mount Batur and lake Batur, Goa Gajah Temple, Holy Spring Water temple and Bedugul Temple. I recommend doing the whitewater rafting tour ($25AUD) and/or a cooking class ($30AUD). Also check out Yoga Barn for their free community classes at 5:30pm every evening – they talk about everything from yoga philosophy to astrology to informative health talks. So great!
TIP: One of the most heartbreaking parts of traveling Indonesia is how much garbage is scattered on the streets, floating through waterfalls, on volcanoes – basically everywhere. As tourist we should strive to do our best in reducing our waste and throwing away our rubbish in the appropriate bins (obviously!). The biggest problem I found was plastic water bottles because we cannot drink out of the tap. However, in Ubud, I found a place where you can fill up your water bottle for a small fee. It’s at Pondok Pekak Library Center. They charge 3,000-8,000 IDR (depending on the amount) which is actually less than buying a new water bottle!
I only came here on a two day trip to hike Mount Ijen and to be honest there’s not much else to do in the area. It’s shocking how little tourists there are in Java compared to Bali, it felt way more raw and authentic. The locals are incredibly friendly and amused by foreigners. I was constantly smiled and waved at, little kids would point at me with a big smile and say “tourist!” this was the only English word they knew. Java is predominately Muslim so its wise to dress a bit more conservatively than you would in Bali. I stayed at Panorama homestay before hiking Mount Ijen and highly recommend it. An Aussie man and his Indonesian wife own it and they are great, reliable and trustworthy people. It’s perched on a hill with a magnificent view of the harbour and they even have their own pool. I spent the equivalent of 10AUD a night and had my own room!
Do: Hike mount Ijen. If you’re coming from Bali, don’t buy a tour. Instead, find your own way to Banyuwangi (use GoJek) and stay at a homestay near Mount Ijen. Every hostel and homestay will provide you with information on trekking and offer a tour at base price. It cost me only $60 AUD for transportation there and back to Ubud, two nights stay at the hostel and a guide for hiking Mount Ijen (this is recommended if you want to see blue flames and plan to stay alive). In Bali they were selling it to me for $160, and that didn’t even include accommodation. Cha-ching!
The Gili Islands
These islands off the west coast of Lombok are picture postcard perfect. Clear blue waters, snorkeling and incredible sunsets. They have no cars or scooters on them, only horse drawn carriage and push pedal bikes. It feels as though you’ve gone back in time. Gili Trawangan (known better as’Gili T’) is the most popular of the Gili islands and has most active nightlife, it’s the Gili version of Kuta. The next one is called Gili Meno and is famous for honeymooners (I gave this island a pass). Gili Air is the more chilled out, calmer island. I imagined Gili Air to have small intimate groups of people hanging out together, playing guitar and singing Jack Johnson kinda tunes. Instead, it was a lot of empty clubs playing bad techno music. Maybe it was because everyone was comatose on the beach tripping out on magic mushrooms, I’m not too sure. I found it a bit difficult to meet people and felt quite lonely here to be honest.
Do: Go to Gili T if you want to party your face off, Gili Meno for a romantic escape with your partner and Gili Air if you want to chill on the beach and sip a magic mushroom milkshake.
I’m going to try my best to not be bias in my review of Lombok but I just had so many bad experiences that the whole area was painted in a bad light for me. I found Lombok to be the most visually spectacular of all the islands in Indonesia that I saw (other than Gili Laba). It was absolutely incredible but the people were the absolute worst. I was endlessly ripped off and looked at only as a dollar sign. It didn’t help that I stayed at a horrible homestay called LaCasa (don’t go here, you’ve been warned! ) where I was actually yelled at and harassed by the owner (a psychotic Frenchman). I was in tears and ready to fly home to Canada after it. But that was only my experience, maybe (hopefully) yours will be a more pleasant one.
Do: Take a scooter ride along the breathtaking coastline and stop at a secluded beach of your choice along the way.
TIP: If you know you want to stay longer than one month in Indonesia, before going through immigration, ask a security guard where you go to pay the visa fee. It’s a little stand before the immigration counter. For most countries (Canada, US, Australia, most European countries etc) you get a free 30 day visa on arrival but if you want 60 days without having to leave the country then you need to pay $30USD upon arrival. If you fail to do this after the immigration officer stamps your passport you must leave the country and re-enter before your visa expires to get another 30 days.
I went on a 4 day boat tour from Lombok with Wanua Adventures (read about it here) which ended at Labuan Bajo in Flores. For some reason I imagined the place would be filled with spectacular empty beaches on every corner but I was very wrong. It’s a harbour filled with scuba diving shops and boat tour companies. No secluded beaches in sight. I stayed two nights in a small, smoldering hot tent in Bajo View which was not the most ideal setup, especially after four days being aboard a boat.
Do: Book scuba diving or snorkeling trips from Labuan. Book a tour to see Komodo and Rinca Island. In the evening have dinner at the fish market on the harbour. It’s delicious, fresh and cheap!