As with everything in Indonesia, the major centres are quite well serviced but transport infrastructure deteriorates very quickly once you leave the main tourist trail so getting from A to B can be an adventure in itself. Let’s look at the options:
Indonesia has an extensive flight network linking most of the bigger islands in archipelago and they are pretty well serviced by a multitude of domestic airlines. Garuda, the national carrier, and AirAsia connect the bigger airports like Denpasar, Bali with Jarkarta, Yogyakarta and Surabaya in Java. LionAir, including its subsidiaries Wings Air and Batik Air, is a medium size carrier. Then there are smaller carriers such as Trigana Air, Sriwijaya Air and TransNusa Air just to name a few. Generally speaking, the smaller carriers don’t have online booking facilities, or if they do, they’re not particularly good or don’t accept foreign credit cards so making a direct booking can be a challenge. However, most flights with most Indonesian carriers can be booked online through tiket.com. We’ve now used them several times without a problem. Alternatively, once you’re actually in Indonesia most travel agents can arrange tickets for you.
Indonesia has a reasonably good train service linking most major cities in Java and Bandar Lampung with Palembang in Sumatra. Train times and fares can be found on the Indonesia Railways website www.kereta-api.co.id but they only accept Indonesian credit cards so you can’t actually buy tickets with them. Fortunately www.tiket.com have filled the void for foreign credit card holders. Otherwise, just buy your ticket at the station. A top link for everything related to train travel in Indonesia (or anywhere else for that matter) is The Man in Seat 61.
Indonesia has an extensive bus network connecting most cities and islands (with ferry connections between). Long distance bus routes are generally serviced by economy (non-air conditioned), executive and VIP/luxury, which is about the same standard as a standard coach in the west. Most buses depart from bus stations which aren’t always conveniently located so you may need to use a taxi or other public transport to get to or from. Tickets are best purchased at the bus station on or before the day of travel during peak season.
Locally referred to as “angkot,” minibuses are used extensively throughout Indonesia. In bigger centres they’re used for intra-city travel, in smaller and more off the beaten track locations, minibuses connect towns and villages. More often than not, minibuses often connect to bus stations and ferry terminals. Just like at home, minibuses display the destination across the windscreen although there are exceptions to every rule. To catch a minibus, just hail the driver from the side of the road. In small towns, you can usually find one at the market area.
Bemo’s – Technically minibuses, but we feel they’re worth mentioning separately. Like minibus’s bemo’s have a route to follow but it may only be running up and down the same long street and sometimes the driver will deviate from it to suit his passengers. Bemo’s are quite often “retired” angkots pensioned off the longer routes once they reach a certain age or state of disrepair. Many bemo’s are quite beat up with missing windows and doors which is probably why most foreigners are reluctant to use them. Admittedly it took us a few trips to Indonesia to try one but now we use them regularly. Not only are they cheap and convenient, it can be quite a novelty riding around in a bemo with the locals. Like minibuses, just hail the driver from the side of the road.
PT National Shipping Indonesia (commonly called Pelni) is the national shipping company providing passenger and cargo services between most of Indonesia’s inhabited islands. Most islands have a minimum once monthly services, others several times monthly.
Most Pelni vessels offer several classes of travel. Classes 1 – 4 are cabin classes which accommodate between 2 to 8 people. Economy class comprises of dorm style accommodation with mattress pads provided. Depending on the vessel, other facilities include restaurant, cafeteria, kiosk and a small mosque. The better ones have a movie theatre and dance stages.
Before you get too excited, we need to point out that Pelni ships aren’t the cushy cruise liner you might be imagining. Most of the vessels have seen better days and during peak season can be horribly overloaded. Passages can be slow and tickets often cost more than much faster and more direct domestic flights. The current president of Indonesia, Jokowi has announced plans to revive and revitalize Pelni with modern cruise ships geared to foreign tourists but it will be sometime before the improvements are visible on the water. In the meantime, Pelni is probably best reserved for intra-island travel where flights aren’t an option or you’re taking your transport (such as a scooter) with you. Prices and schedules can be checked on the Pelni website but you’ll need to use Google’s translate option.
It’s worth noting that most islands are also serviced by local ferry, small boats or speed boats. These services tend run far more frequently than the Pelni ships and often on demand so they’re a very viable option for island hopping between neighbouring and nearby islands. Information about boats and schedules in almost impossible to obtain outside the region; you’re best option is to head down to the local harbour and ask around.
Taxis are available in most cities and towns. Most airports have a taxi desk just outside the arrivals terminal which operates on a set price per destination basis. Purchase your fixed price fare at the desk, then head to the taxi rank with your voucher. Around town, the better hotels and resorts also operate taxi desks but it usually costs more than if you simply hail a cab yourself. Always, always check that the taxi has a metre before you hop in and make sure the driver turns it on. If he tells you it’s broken it’s probably a scam so hop out and get yourself another cab. Around Bali and Jakarta, Bandung and Surabaya in Java the Bluebird taxis are a pretty safe bet. They even have a mobile app for online bookings.
If your budget will run to it, hiring a car with a driver for a single journey, a day or longer is the premo way to get around. In the past, a private car could be hired for as little as US$40 a day but since the Indonesian government reduced petrol subsidies, prices have crept up a little. In really off the beaten track places, private cars are scarce.
A motorbike taxi “ojek” is one often one of the most convenient ways to get around. In out of the way places, it might be your only option unless you’re prepared to wait around for the twice weekly minibus. Ojek’s usually hang around busy street corners, bus and train stations, markets and anywhere else that is remotely busy. In some place you might find an ojek sign nailed to a tree or shopfront.
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Throughout Bali and other touristy places, hire scooters are readily and cheaply available. Most hirers don’t ask and don’t care if the hirer has a valid licence or any particular riding ability. Unfortunately, inexperienced riders and chaotic city traffic don’t often mix well and many a holiday has been cut short after a nasty fall or accident and yes death! The risk is somewhat reduced on quieter country roads but the roads are often in a much poorer state so it’s a trade-off.
Legally, all motorbike riders in Indonesia are required to have a valid motorbike licence – no different to home! Foreigners should have an international drivers licence appropriately endorsed for the motorbike class of vehicle. Without it you’re essentially breaking the law, something Indonesian police have been known to use to their advantage. Foreigners on scooters are very obvious and an easy target for the local constabulary, who will often demand an on the spot “fine.” If you get pulled over three times in a single day (don’t laugh, it happens!) it can get expensive. The other thing to keep in mind is that most travel insurers will not cover costs associated with damaged goods, injury or god forbid, death resulting from a motorbike accident if the driver is unlicensed.
There’s no doubt riding around on a scooter can be great fun but it’s not without risk. The bottom line is be honest with yourself about your abilities and weigh up the risks before you embark down this road. And please, please always wear a helmet.
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