Lovely people, astonishing nature, cheap food. Brief, but fitting description of the main destination of our big journey this year.
Indonesia spreads on thousands of islands in southeast Asia. The most famous being Bali, Java, Sumatra and Borneo. With Merci, we were to visit Lombok, Bali and Java.
World of thousand wonders
Indonesia is a multicultural and multireligious county. Islam has the majority there, yet you can find big groups of Buddhists, Hinduists and even Christians. People speak with hundreds of different languages there even though most of them do know at least basics of Indonesian. It´s not the case with English though.
It seems as every single island is different from the rest. And if not, then at least the three we visited were. Lombok is solely Muslim, while Bali is Hinduistic and touristic. Java is a mixture of the two. Though the leading religion is Islam, most of the sights are Hinduistic and Buddhistic. We came across churches and Christian school rather often as well.
Almost all goods is many times cheaper there than it is in my country. Food, accommodation, transport, clothing, electronics, tariffs… There are very few exceptions such as National park entrance tickets and milk.
I acquired a SIM card with 15 GB of data and unlimited calls and SMS within the network (Marci) for about €10 (XL operator).
Quality of the accommodation is rather diverse. Obviously, there are super luxurious hotels to find in each tourist location but it´s just not our style. We tend to look for hostels, guesthouses and homestays – staying with locals at their place. Most of it is to be booked at Booking.com.
All the prices are between €4 and €6 for a person per night, breakfast included. That being while picking accommodation based on its rating. Trying to minimalize the costs you might pay under €4/night on average. Just don´t expect any European like luxury.
Indonesians are somehow closer to nature. Don´t be surprised to see lizards or maybe even some ants or a beetle. It never crossed a bearable line if you ask me. Warm water is also not a matter of course. On the other hand, breakfast and personal approach are. Wi-Fi connection depends on locality. It is a sure thing if you find yourself in a city, especially on Java where the connection is really fast. In the Lombok mountains and even in remote cities the connection is worse. Many times there was a Wi-Fi connection promised on booking.com, yet in reality, it meant that the owner would just create a hotspot connection for you. Based on my mobile connection such a hotspot would be really miserable.
It´s easy to travel around there – rent a scooter and go wherever you want. Renting a Honda Vario (really good scooter) for a day won´t cost you more than €4.3 on any of the islands. If you know to bargain and if you spend some time doing so you might be able to see the price drop to around €1.4. A litre of gas will cost you €0.6. Driving itself is quite an adventure there. It all begins with riding on the left side of the road. Then throw in a bunch of other bikes, lorries… Riding outside of Mataram (Lombok capital city) was enjoyable for Marci as well as for me. In cities, it was just me enjoying the ride. I caught up some skills and tricks from the locals and thanks to my courage was I able to be one of the fastest even in the most severe traffic jams.
Scooters do have its own rules there. Some of them might be written, many more are a matter of habit, I believe. Scooters can both overtake and undertake. Even in the opposite direction, if the vehicle going there has enough space to move away. One way roads mostly don´t apply to scooters either (sometimes it is even on signs, that scooters can go even in the opposite direction). You don´t even need to wait for the green light if you are to turn left on a crossroad. Watching the locals, you soon come to notice there is no rule limiting either technical or physical conditions for any load or cargo. People distribute ice cream, number of gas bombs and 5 or so pigs or people at once and many other more curious things on scooters.
The best tool for short distance moves or for travelling to/from the airport is Grab or Gojek app. These alternatives to our Uber, and hated competition to taxies, offer inconceivably low prices.
We didn´t gather much experience with public transportation. In multimillion cities it likely is usable. We only used it for two, many hours long, distance moves between important cities. Once we travelled by a junk unable to go faster than 50 km/h, the other time it was a bus with a smoking area and five seats in each row (3+2). Both having a low price, compared to what we´re used to, in common. On Java, there are trains as well. A luxury and rather a cheap ones (likely cheaper than the bus). It´s just, many are sold out days ahead and you can´t buy tickets for standing. Other than that, the rail connection frequency is rather low (just a couple a day).
Food is one of the most appealing things about Southeast Asia. You would have a hard time trying to find this much exotic fruit anywhere else in the world. Cuisine, totally different from our, is to me many times more interesting and tastier compared to the Czech one.
When it comes to food it´s similar to the accommodation. You get to find loads of overpriced restaurants cooking European version of local cuisine at the tourist places. Once you turn to one of the side alleys you´ll get to find real local warung (cafeteria, refreshments) and you´ll get to taste real local meal for what may be €1.5 for a full dish. Don´t be surprised by the spiciness though. I wouldn´t recommend taking a look into the kitchen or anywhere around you really. They don´t bother about dirt there. The chilli kills all the bacteria anyway. I only threw up once in the entire month eating in various warungs. And it was after I ate prawns which I don´t eat otherwise. Apart from that, I was fine.
Local cuisine consists mainly of chicken in any way possible, soy and tofu. The most frequent side dish is rice (Nasi). You´ll get it with both main meal and soup.
Soup is a full meal in Indonesia. It mostly is a chicken broth with some vegetable. You´ll get it with a serving of rice or noodles (Mie) and an ingredient of your choice (meat, meatballs, tofu bits…)
Lower class warungs appeared to us as the most interesting choice. Those have pre-cooked meat and other dishes laid out in glass bowls so they only cook rice for you once you have come in. Order a mix to get six or so different dished. Sometimes, they don´t even ask you what is it you want and they bring you something straight away.
To me, nature is without a doubt what attracts me to this country. If you love waterfalls you shall be in a paradise. Especially Lombok is literally covered by waterfalls. I mean, local mountains are. The mountains as they are are worth visiting themselves. You won´t find any like these in Europe. Mostly the mountains are only hardly accessible since it´s overgrown with a rainforest. There is a path leading to the top of most of them though. The most significant ones are unfortunately usually in National Parks with very expensive entry and where they force you to go with a guide. You wouldn´t find this many active volcanoes just anywhere around the world. Many of them have a lake in its crater making them really beautiful. In addition to it, it is neither physically, nor technically difficult to reach the top.
If you don´t like heights, try depts. There are tens of lovely places to go diving or snorkelling to.
The best of all are local people themselves. They are not used to tourist anywhere else but on Bali. Therefore, you can look forward to quite some attention. There´s no need to be afraid of being constantly hassled like in Afrika. We didn´t really experience any negative incident during our month stay. Sure enough, we paid a bit more then we would have to a couple times, however, the biggest thieves are official organizations and the state itself. It is them behind the incredibly expensive entrance tickets to national parks and famous sights such as Borobudur temple and Prabamban temple.
You can spend half a year travelling through Indonesia and there will still be new interesting places to discover and new adventures to experience. On top of that, it won´t cost you more than staying at home would. I have travelled a few tens of countries already and this was the best one! I think I wasn´t here for the last time.
Translated by Dan