A lot of people have asked me for suggestions regarding what to do while during their travels in Indonesia, specifically those in Java and Bali. Consequently, I have sent a lot of emails of compiled recommendations and ideas, so I figured, why not put them all out as a blog post?
Now, realize that this list is for the first time traveler to Indonesia, and is designed for someone who does not speak bahasa Indonesia, would feel nervous trying to figure out how to go snorkeling in Bunaken, travel on a Klotok in Kalimantan, or surfing off the Gili Islands. This is the beginner’s guide, if you will.
So, here is my list of things to do and where to do them. It spans both the island of Java and the Island of Bali, and is centered largely around things to do in Jakarta and Jogjakarta (cities which are both on the island of Java), and Kuta and Ubud (which are both on the island of Bali). Cheers!
In Jakarta, there really isn’t a lot to do in regards to interesting tourism. Sadly, this city is a sprawl of traffic and pollution, so you really have to want to go someplace. However, if you have a day or two to burn, I do have some suggestions for how to spend your time. (There are, of course, many other things to do in Jakarta. I just see these as the most iconic and most interesting options.)
Places to stay: Obviously, there are a lot of places to say in a big city like Jakarta. In Central Jakarta, I have only ever stayed at the Aryaduta Hotel, which was clean and had an amazing breakfast buffet.
National Monument: “MONAS” (Central Jakarta)
The National Monument is an iconic structure in central Jakarta. You can visit the grounds for a photo shoot or wait in line to go to the top. While I have not personally experienced the wait and ascent, I have been told it is a hot and sweaty affair, with a lot of people crammed into one lift. Consequently, I think it would be best to simply visit the grounds, take a view photos, and move on. If you want to visit some other locations in central Jakarta such as Batavia or Pasar Jalan Surabaya.
Pasar Jalan Surabaya (Central Jakarta)
An antique and knickknack market in central Jakarta, this street is a cool place to look at some real antiques, practice bartering, and get a knickknack or two.
Kemang (South Jakarta, Java)
I live in Kemang, so I feel slightly biased in recommending that people spend time here. However, Kemang has its own reputation as a hip, expat-friendly area, and I couldn’t agree more.
If you spend time on the main road that loops through Kemang (conveniently called Kemang Raya), you will be able to eat at the iconic Eastern Promise or Murphy’s Irish Pub, buy DVDs for only 7000RP, and drink some of the best coffee in Jakarta. If you get a bit more adventurous, you can even find a flower market and the Ayam Bakar cart (night time only). Hop in a Bajaj if you can’t catch a taxi: everything is close, so don’t worry about the distance.
Getting there: You can fly into Jogjakarta from Jakarta at a very cheap price using Air Asia or, if you have an Indonesian bank account, Lion Air. Alternatively, you could take the train from Jakarta into Jogjakarta. I have never taken the train to Jogjakarta myself, but I did have a positive train experience going from Jakarta to Bandung.
If you are trying to get the most out of a brief stay in Jogjakarta, then I would focus on the two most interesting and well known temples: Prambanan and Borobudur. There are also a lot of other old sites of temple and palaces, but I think Borobudur and Prambanan take the cake.
Borobudur (UNESCO World Heritage Site)
I would recommend going to Borobudur in the morning, at sunrise. Gates open at 6:00 and it will be filled with tourists by 7:00. If you want to beat the crowds of school children, you can pay more for a sunrise tour (about 20 USD) which I think also comes with breakfast and a cool batik souvenir. The tour departs from the ticketing location (attached to the on-location hotel) at around 5:00 am, so be sure to set your alarm!
(I have a KITAS, and so I tried to cheat the system and get there really early to buy a ticket at a cheaper price from the main (local tourist) office, but they won’t sell you normal tickets until 6:00 and the guards won’t let you up the temple if you haven’t payed for the sunrise tour. Even so, I would recommend waking up early and avoiding the big crowds and hot sun.)
Prambanan (UNESCO World Heritage Site)
If you visit Borobudur in the morning, relax during the heat of the day and go to Prambanan at sunset. Prambanan, a Hindu temple, is very different from Borobudur, even though they were built in the same century. If you time your visit well, you can also purchase tickets for the evening performance of the Ramanya Ballet, which tells the story of Rama and Shinta. The ballet itself has Prambanan in the background, so if you see the temple at night it is a quick trip to the ballet nearby.
Hotels usually are very helpful for booking tours and drivers for situations like these. However, if you want to go without a tour guide, it would be just as easy to order a taxi and travel that way.
Maliboro Market is a Jogjakarta must! A massive market on Maliboro street, and it stretches down the covered sidewalks. There is always the potential for a con (a lot of “want to come see this art exhibit, one night only!” situations) but it is a great place to buy trinkets (key chains, batik, sarongs, etc.). You can haggle, which is fun, or go into one of the stores where the prices are on tags and set. I bought an all leather bag for my camera for 30 bucks, so there are some deals to be had if you know what you want.
My favorite hotel in Jogja was the Royal Amberrukmo. It had a fabulous breakfast and wonderful service. (Also, a lovely pool.)
A lot of people picture Bali as this untouched paradise of rice and volcanoes, but that is not the case. In my experience, most people experience the chaos of Kuta before enjoying the peace of the Ubud.
Kuta is a much more of the classic party side of Bali: one of the “must sees” but not where I would really want spend lots of time. The beach isn’t very nice, and you have to watch your bags to make sure nothing gets stolen. Traffic can get crazy, so I would recommend hiring a driver for the duration of your stay in order to avoid being stuck for a long time, looking for a taxi. Plus, a driver may be able to recommend more isolated spaces in the tumultuous hubbub of Kuta, making your stay a bit more enjoyable. If you are more adventuresome, you could rent a motorbike. However, you need to be confident in your driving skills, and be prepared to potentially have to deal with motor bike issues while traveling.
If you want to surf, it’s easy to find an instructor, as there are numerous companies that will teach you how to ride a wave for a range of prices. However, by simply walking on Kuta Beach, you will be asked if you want to surf. While some of these could be scams, I have friends who have had good experiences surfing with found-on-the beach instructors.
Kuta also has some cool markets. My favourite is near Beachwalk Shopping Mall. Bargain hard!
Ubud is much more idyllic, with rice fields and less traffic. (Think more along the lines of “Eat, Pray, Love”– the Indonesia section of that film was shot in Ubud!)
In Ubud, you can visit the monkey forest. It’s a cool experience, but can also be a bit dangerous due to how friendly the monkeys are. They will steal the flip flops off your feet and the sunglasses off your face, so try to hide all of your important items deep in pockets or purses.
While in Ubud, I would also recommend taking a bike tour! It’s relaxing and mostly downhill. If you go with Bali Eco Cycling, they will take you to a great place for breakfast (think banana pancakes, fresh fruit, and other Indonesian breakfast items) that overlooks a volcano, a tour of a place that features a variety of spices and Kopi Luwak, a special kind of coffee that is pooped out of a civet cat, and they will tour you around a classic Hindu house complex, which is simultaneously humbling and intriguing. They finish off the tour with a bunch of delicious Indonesian food.
Many other biking tour companies will take you on a similar trip, and I myself have been on the tour twice. However, I liked Bali Eco Cycling the best.
In addition, I recommend going to see the sunset at Tanah Lot temple— the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen! If you come before the tide comes in, you can go out to a temple that becomes detached from the mainland as the tide comes in.
Another version of this post appeared on Clapway! You can check it out here: http://clapway.com/2014/12/17/your-week-in-indonesia123/