Indonesia Travel Tips
January 26th, 2014 Today is our last day in Bali before headed back to Japan, and we're trying hard not to think about the fact that our vacation is almost over. We were up pretty late last night chatting about anything and everything, so we slept in some this morning. We ate our first breakfast outside the hotel (the buffet breakfast here was included in the price, so we made good use of it), and chose a pancake place here in Kuta called Flapjaks. Naomi had bananas foster waffles, and I had barbecue chicken pancakes. Both very tasty, and quite affordable.
We did some shopping at one of the open-air markets near the beach here, and Naomi wrapped up her shopping list for Indonesia with some batik fabric, a woven table cloth, and a few more pairs of "happy pants", both for herself and as gifts for some friends.
Now we're back in our room, enjoying the sound of the fountain, the warmth of a shady courtyard, and the creativity that seems to happen so easily here. Not much else in the way of plans today, except possibly some more market browsing for anything that catches the eye, and also a planned meet-up with a friend of Naomi's from high school that works at a hotel here in Bali.
Since there's not much more narrative for today, and since this is, in fact, a travel blog, I'll include some travel tips for Indonesia that we learned over the last two weeks.
1. Tourist visa: travelers from many countries are eligible for a visa-on-arrival (VOA), which is some cases (such as ours) can be purchased at the ticket counter of the departing airport. The cost was $25 each in cash, and was quick and easy. On the plane over we filled out our customs declaration card and immigration papers (less than 10 minutes), and we were all set when we arrived in Jakarta. The visa is good for 30 days, and renewable for another 30 with a couple days of paperwork at a local immigration office. There are fines and possible jail time for overstaying your visa, so if you want to extend, make sure you do it early to avoid any hassles.
2a. Transportation in Sentani: this was somewhat limited, unless you know people. We ended up renting a Kijang (small SUV) from the guest house we stayed at for two days, and borrowed a friend's motorcycle for another two. There were car rental places in town, but we never checked for rates or what type of vehicles were available. In town, there are just heaps of taxis for getting from one side to the other, and very cheap. The fare is 3,000 rupiah (about $0.30), and to get one just look for a white mini-bus and wave at them from the side of the road. They'll stop, and you tell them where you want to get off. Pay at the end. Tipping is optional and not at all expected. Another possibility if you want to go somewhere off the main road is an ojek, or motorbike taxi. You'll see these guys standing around their bikes at many intersections. Tell them where you want to go, climb on the back seat, and away you go. Ask for the fare upfront, and pay when you get off.
2b. Transportation in Bali: you have a few different options here. There's the Bali Taksi company, in nice-looking blue cars, that will drive you around town for a modest price ($5 from the airport to our hotel). It's not the cheapest form of transportation, but it is pretty easy. They cruise around downtown Kuta and honk at tourists to get their attention. Just make eye contact or wave, and they'll stop on the side to pick you up. Most speak pretty good English and are very familiar with all the usual places tourists want to go. Another option is to hire a driver for a day. I don't have any specific recommendations here, but your hotel staff will be able to set you up with one. They typically run between $50 and $60 for the entire day, and will be at your disposal. This is better for longer trips out of town when you don't want the hassel of driving and navigating yourself, or you plan on doing a lot of shopping and want to make sure you have space to carry it all. You can also rent a car and do your own driving, but I don't have specifics on the price for that. I'd guess somewhere in the $20 to $30 a day range. The option we chose here in Bali was to rent motorbikes, and I'd have to say this is by far the funnest way to see Bali, if you're comfortable driving, don't mind getting lost, are able to cope with crazy traffic, and like stopping often to see the sights, take pictures, or browse the many shops and markets.Again, there's places all over Kuta renting bikes, and you'll see the signs out everywhere. We paid 70,000 rupiah (about $6) per day for ours. You technically need an international driver's license, but we weren'tasked about it, and I'm told that a valid license from most other countries will suffice even if you're pulled over for something. We paid up front for ours, didn't have to leave a deposit or our passport or anything (although I've heard some places ask for that), and had a great experience with it. Be warned, however, that the gas tank will likely be absolutely empty when you get it. Make sure to buy some gas from a local shopkeeper before you try going too far. Unless you're lucky enough to find an actual gas station, you'll be buying it out of one-liter alcohol bottles for around 7,000 rupiah a liter. Even on our back-road trip to Ubud, we saw these places everywhere, so don't worry too much about running out of gas. They're easy to spot since the bottles are lined up out front of the store on a wooden rack. No English required to purchase. Just point and use your fingers to show how many you want.
3. Food: especially in Bali, there are simply a million places to eat at. Don't get stuck eating just at your hotel. Go out and try new places. Your options range from Irish pubs to Indian restaurants to pizza joints, to Japanese ramen, to traditional Indonesian foodwrapped in a banana leaf and newspaper for take-out. Be adventurous, explore, and remember that just about everything here is absolutely delicious. If you find you don't like what you're eating, it was probably so cheap that you can just move on to another place and find something that suits you better. Local favorites are "nasi goreng" (fried rice, often with a fried egg on top and some sides), "mie goreng" (fried noodles with chicken or beef, also with a fried egg), "pisang goreng" (deep fried bananas, often found at little road-side food stands or being sold off the back of a motorbike), "rendang" (slow cooked beef in a coconut stew served over rice with spicy "sambal") and "soto ayam" (mildly spicy chicken and glass-noodle soup). Most menus are either in English, or are bi-lingual, especially around tourist areas like Kuta and Ubud. If you're not sure what something is, just ask. There's almost certainly at least one person who speaksEnglish that can help you out.
4. Shopping: there's a whole range of shopping places in Bali, from Polo and Chanel to little off-street shops (tokos) and open-air markets. In the smaller places, haggling is OK, but the prices are usually so cheap that you might feel bad trying to get it even lower. You'll typically get great deals if you buy more than one item from a shop, as they like to offer "special price" if you show an interest in multiple items. We found Ubud to be more expensive that Kuta, with a very similar selection of items. If you're looking for something a bit different than what's offered, and have the time, ask if they can make exactly what you want. Most people are very helpful and will do a lot to make a sale. For more specialty items, ask around at your hotel or in any shop, and you'll probably be pointed in the right direction.
There's a lot more I could share, but this is already getting long, and half the fun is exploring for yourself. If you're at all hesitant about vacationing or visiting here, just remember that very, very many people speak at least some English, are super friendly and helpful, and will go out of their way to make your stay pleasant. Remember to return the favor with smiles, tips (when appropriate), and spending a few extra minutes to chat with those who help you out. Many people want to practice their English with a native speaker, and if you're willing to engage with them, you'll have a great time and enrich your understanding of this beautiful country and its people.
If you have any specific questions, leave them in a comment and we'll do our best to answer from our experience here.