I’ve always wanted to publish my best tips on how to travel like a local in Indonesia, and when a friend of mine shot me a text announcing he’s jettisoning off to Bali in the fall (insert jealousy here), I decided there’s no time like the present. I also feel that Indonesia is still one of the most underrated destinations in Southeast Asia. You can certainly travel across Indonesia in luxury and style, but consider a more modest approach. With my tips, you may just fall head over heels for this corner of the world.
- Visas: Visa-on-Arrival is permitted for Canadians & Americans (Check Indonesia’s government site for other passports) – Visas cost $35USD, are only good for 30 days, you MUST pay in cash, and you must have exact change. And most importantly, make sure your passport has at least 6 months validity or you could be denied entry.
- Best time to travel: May, June & September are both the shoulder and dry season
- Daily Budget: On a backpackers budget $40USD ($50CAD) & $125USD ($160CAD) for higher end
- Travel Planning: If you’re traveling in the peak months like July and August, you should book ahead. There are plenty of sites like Traveloka that will give you great rates. If you’re traveling in the shoulder months, you can be more spontaneous, depending on how much time you have.
- Where to fly into: There are daily scheduled flights into Denpasar (Bali), Jakarta, Surabaya (East Java), Medan (North Sumatra), Semarang (Central Java) – It all depends on where you want to start your adventure.
- Travel Insurance: People who travel without travel insurance are insane. Period. I never travel outside of Canada without it, EVER! Indonesia may be a developing country, but your fees are often charged in USD and it’s not cheap – So don’t take the risk.
Okay, on to the fun stuff – How to travel like a local in Indonesia!
Eat Street Food
There’s a reason why this point makes it onto every “how to travel like a local” list, it’s because it’s true. You’re not going to go all the way to Bukittinggi in Western Sumatra to eat at a McDonalds right? Of course not. You are a cultured, adventurous, foodie who wants to try every single version of Soto Bangkong (chicken soup with intestines, spring onions and quail eggs) you can find.
Take a Cooking Class
Rice may be a staple in Bali, but it’s prepared and cooked daily with as much pompous and ceremony as we bestow upon our Thanksgiving turkey. Head up to Ubud and spend an afternoon at one of the local cooking schools. You will shop for ingredients alongside locals, and learn the complexities and nuances of Balinese cooking – Yum!
Bintang t-shirts, bikinis and booty shorts may be acceptable for the beaches of Bali (a predominantly Hindu Island), but not everywhere. It’s important to remember that 85% of Indonesia practices a moderate form of Islam. Now I’m not saying you have to break out your burka ladies, but you should be respectful and cover-up. For women, consider long shorts (sorry, no cheek ladies), a long skirt, pants or a dress, with no cleavage and shoulders covered. Gents, pants or shorts are fine, T-shirts instead of tanks are better, and avoid anything with offensive imaging or lettering.
Explore Rural Areas
Indonesia is home to some heavily populated cities and while they are exciting, they’re only part of the story. Indonesia is still very much a nation that relies on agriculture, the hardworking farmer and laborer. Hop a plane to Sumatra, and make your way to Samosir Island. You will love the quintessential rice terrace scenes and the locals make for great local guides on culture and history.
Explore on Two Wheels
Just about everyone who’s been to Southeast Asia has a terrifying motorbike story. You almost died in Vietnam, maybe you crashed in Thailand, we all know the tales. Indonesia definitely has its fair share of insane drivers, but if you want to travel like a local in Indonesia, you rent a motorbike. Once you get away from the cities, motorbike is the quickest, and most cost efficient form of transport.
Experience Indonesia Rituals
Indonesia has some pretty spectacular festivals. “Mekotekan” is a war-like Balinese ceremony that occurs every 6 months (or 210 days) days. Residents of Munggu village assemble to perform a collective ritual to rid the village of bad spirits. In Magelang (Eastern Java), the annual Waisak festival commemorates the life, death and spiritual enlightenment of Buddha Gautama.
Embrace Eastern Medicine
There is a reason why Eastern cultures have lower mortality rates, and tougher immune systems. Many Indonesians still turn to traditional medicines such as spices, extracts and natural herbs to treat their ailments. Now I’m not saying you should abandon western medicine altogether, but for things like cuts, sunburns even upset tummies, if you’re going to travel like a local in Indonesia, why not be treated like one. Plus, it’s a fascinating way to learn about Indonesian culture and philosophy around health and wellness.
Traveling like a local in Indonesia or anywhere in the world is the best way to tap into local culture. So now that I’ve armed you with some tips, it’s time to start planning. Remember, if you’re going during high season (July or August), plan ahead by using a site like Traveloka.com to check availability. If you’re visiting during the off season, it’s always a good idea to book your first night or two to get oriented, and then hit the road for some unforeseen adventures!
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