Thursday, 7 March 2019

Indonesian Adventures: Planning the Trip


Back in October, my partner Pete and I spent a couple of weeks exploring Indonesia. We had been plotting a trip to Asia for a while and eventually settled on Indonesia due to the enormous diversity of the different islands, the opportunities to trek and dive and see wildlife (hello Komodo dragons) and the chance to immerse ourselves in a new culture. 

Over the next few weeks, I'll be posting stories and pictures from our adventures, but I thought I'd start off by sharing the planning process and a few things that we found useful to know.


Firstly: Indonesia is huge. Way bigger than you imaging.  So in a couple of weeks, you absolutely cannot go everywhere. Each different island and region has its own draws and experiences to offer which is wonderful, but means that if you're planning to visit, you really need to narrow things down a bit and decide what's most important!

For us, we were looking for opportunities to go trekking, and somewhere we could go diving, as we both has our PADI open water diving certification. We also fancied climbing a volcano if possible, and I was adamant that we had to go to Komodo as it was a life goal of mine. A further consideration was that I had previously visited Java and was pretty keen to venture to somewhere completely new. In the end, we decided to travel to three places: Sumatra, Bali and Komodo, which ticked all the boxes for us but meant that we wouldn't be travelling every single day.

Actually, our trip was pretty action packed as we squeezed every last drop out of those 2 weeks of holiday, but it really depends how much you want to do.


It's worth noting that, as a teacher, I can only travel in school holidays. That's not a problem, but does mean that things can often be a bit more expensive and potentially book up more quickly if everyone is aiming at the same couple of weeks for things. It also means that while I am grateful for the amount of holiday I get, I don't pick when they are, so I can't choose to travel in the best season, for example. If you do have the choice and flexibility, it might be worth investigating when the best weather is, what wildlife you might see at different times of year, and when off-season is if you want so save a few pennies.

When it came to booking flights, we found it to be most cost-effective to book a return flight from the UK to Singapore first and foremost, and then island hop within Indonesia from there. This had a couple of added bonuses: we could spend a night in Singapore to start to acclimatise and lose the jetlag, and we left straight from work on Friday evening to maximise our holiday.

Visiting several different islands necessitated a number of little hops by plane. We found that it wasn't always possible to fly direct between islands, so it was worth considering different routes or trying out different days for flexibility. The flights we took were often with tiny little airlines we'd never heard of (it's a good idea to check them out before booking) and they rarely included luggage, which was an extra cost.  Skyscanner is your friend for finding flight options, but it doesn't tell you when you're going to get slapped with luggage charges, so keep in mind that the cheapest flight doesn't mean the cheapest flight.


With our itinerary roughed, out we booked a couple of things in advance, using the Lonely Planet guide to identify interesting things to do, and I researched through different blogs.  The best way to find accounts and reviews is simply through googling; I don't always get on so well with Trip Adviser, but it can be helpful for an overview.  A longer blog post will often give you more insight into the experience.

Indonesia is a cash economy; lots of local businesses don't have the infrastructure to take payment by card, or will charge steep fees for doing so.  We booked 3 things in advance: a couple of days trekking in Sumatra, a couple of diving days in Bali and a boat for three days in Komodo.

The diving didn't require any pre-payment. For Sumatra and Komodo, I had to pay small deposits, but both requested the money in cash on arrival. And booking took place over email; again local companies tending not to have fancy websites.  It's good to support locally owned and run operations where possible so that tourist money is genuinely going into the economy, and a little bit of research will usually tell you if a company's request to send money is genuine. I think it can seem strange to those more used to slick, western-style booking operations to just send a bit of cash through Paypal, but that is how Indonesia works. We also took the attitude that if we lost our deposits, it wasn't the end of the world, and didn't part with tons of money.


Even though Indonesia is a cash economy, it doesn't mean that getting hold of cash is easy.  We took a fair chunk with us which turned out to be useful as, on the occasions when we could find ATMs, they often didn't work, or were empty. They also tend to be older, magnastripe machines which many banks refuse as they aren't secure. To get around this, using a cash card such as Monzo is a great idea - and Monzo came to our rescue more than once as it's all app based, you can load your card whenever you like, and you can enable magnastripe withdrawals for short periods to be able to use older ATMs. Plus if the card is lost or stolen, you can instantly freeze it and transfer your money back.


Most importantly, we kept some time to ourselves to just explore and have fun. Part of the joy was to be able to spend some quality time together and experience a new place and a new culture. We packed pretty light, discovered new areas, laughed a lot, tried new food, had the odd hiccup and had to just bump along with the pace of Indonesian life.  And it was the most wonderful trip.


I will be writing a number of posts about our Indonesian adventures, and I'll link them all back here as they're published, if you'd like to read the full story! These photos are just a little taster of some of the things we've seen (but I've saved my favourites for the real posts)


You can find the first instalment of our adventure here:
Singapore
Trekking and Orangutans in Sumatra
Sumatran Jungle Camp
Rafting in the Sumatran Jungle
Diving in Bali
Hiking Bali's Mount Batur
Tegallalang Rice Terraces
Kisses xxx

P.S. We're now busy planning our next trip and it's going to be a big one!

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