Our 10-days trip to Indonesia was not exactly planned. Nick got a last minute work assignment in Jakarta so we met there first. We spent the weekend together in Jakarta and I toured around the city alone while he was working during the week. We then extended a few days to visit Bali. We didn’t plan much prior to the trip. Rather we did a “plan as we go” style trip, only planned what to do for the next couple days. It turned out this worked pretty well as we could adjust our trip to our needs.
Places to visit: If you have limited time, skip Jakarta. Jakarta is a huge city with 30 million residents but there’s not a lot to see as a tourist there. The old town and city center may worth a day trip but it’s not anything special that you don’t see in other places. Instead go to more interesting places like Bali. Or better to some less touristy places as Bali could be crowded (Locals recommended Lombok, which is the island next to Bali). Though we enjoyed Bali even it’s a bit touristy. If you do go to Bali, plan 1 week as 4-days stay is kinda tight. There are a lot to see and no need to be hurried. People also suggested West Java but we didn’t get time to visit there this time.
In general Indonesia is a destination for its natural beauty. Like a lot developing countries in Asia, art and culture are not its specialty. All most all the museums we visited are fairly empty and not well organized. In the cities, there are not much historic buildings preserved. Economic development always has higher priority than preserving the history.
Food: Indonesian food seems a mix of Thai and Indian. Majority meals are deep fried first then cooked in sauces. Generally food is heavily spiced with curry and spicy pepper. Probably not one’s cup of tea if you don’t like spicy food. Most of the meals are meat and fish, paired with little vegetables. Overall I would not call Indonesian food gourmet dishes. I am not a big meat lover so I found it was hard to find a local restaurant serving light cooked meals. But there are lots Thai and Vietnamese restaurant where I could get light meals like Pho.
Local produced fruits are cheap. We got mangosteen for Rp50,000 ($3.5) for one kg (~2 lbs). Mango, banana and durian are cheaper. But imported fruits like apple, orange and figs are very expensive, close the Whole Foods price in US. Fruit juices are very popular, but I didn’t like them as much as usually it was thickened with some kind of additives and sugar. There’s not a lot alcohol choice. Local beers are very light and inexpensive, about Rp50,000 ($3) for small glass. Tap water is not safe to drink so we got bottled water for drinking.
Cost: Things in Indonesian are relatively cheap, except of course in the high-end hotels and shopping malls where you pay US price. You can bargain in most street vendors and souvenir shops. A nice dinner meal in local restaurants generally cost Rp200,000 ($15). We didn’t stay in any local B&B but we saw some nice ones in Bali around $50 a night. I would think the cost in Indonesia is close to Thailand.
Transportation: Like most developing countries in China, traffic is a pain and one of the worst places I visited. The infrastructure just can’t handle the cars and motorbikes and there’s simply no way around it. So plan your trip with added traffic delays always.
There is no good public transportation in Indonesia. There’re some in Jakarta but it’s confusing for a tourist to figure out the bus station, bus routes and different buses to take. Easiest way to go around is to take a taxi. Most taxi uses meters and cost is usually very affordable. Motorbike is very popular. Make sure to setup Grab and/or GoJet mobile app before you travel to Indonesia. They are the most popular apps for a shared taxi or motorbike. In Bali, hiring a private driver is a good option if you are planning a day tour. Cost is around Rp500-600,000 (around $50).
People: What we were impressed the most was how nice the local Indonesians were. Not just in the 5-star hotels and restaurants, but everywhere we went. It seems it’s built into their culture that people treating others well. Everywhere we went locals treated us nicely with dignity. Each time we asked help the locals will take their time helping us, often beyond our expectations. In our trip we never saw any tourist trips, which are common in other places we visited like China or Bangkok.
Safety: We had some concerns before our trip. Indonesia is a predominant Muslim country so it’s very conservative. But we didn’t feel unsafe in our entire trip. Other than we see women wearing headdresses, I didn’t see much difference comparing with Thailand or even China. One thing we noticed is there are checkpoints everywhere. Security uses metal detector and sniffing dogs at all shopping malls, hotels and office buildings. This is probably the result from bombing attacks in recent years.