Travel Tips & Links
Our (Hopefully) Helpful Hints for Traveling in Indonesia, Links to Image Galleries, Slideshows, Videos, Dive Operators & Other Stuff
You need a visa to enter Indonesia. Visas for 30 days or less can be purchased, on arrival, at any Indonesian international airport (ie Jakarta, Denpasar on Bali, etc.) The cost of a visa for up to 30 days is US$25.00. It is best to plan to pay this fee in cash - US dollars are greedily, er, happily accepted.
For stays exceeding 30 days, to a maximum of 60 days, travelers must obtain their Indonesian visa before arriving in Indonesia. The best way to obtain the visa is by visiting the Indonesian consulate in your city, if the city where you live has one. If there is no consulate, then it would be prudent to ask your travel agent how to best go about obtaining the visa - this will likely entail sending your passport to the nearest Indonesian consulate, so leave yourself ample time to apply for and obtain your visa before departing on your trip.
In addition, Indonesian immigration policies stipulate that to be eligible for a 30 day tourist visit visa, issued on arrival in Indonesia, your passport must be valid for at least six months after your planned arrival date in Indonesia. Be warned that they can, and will, refuse admission to the country if your passport does not meet this requirement.
Some of our group received a very rude surprise upon arriving in Indonesia - even though their passports met the validity requirements stated above, they hit a roadblock when there was no blank "visa" page in their passport upon which to affix the Indonesian visa form. In US passports, all but the last three blank pages have the word "Visas" printed at the top of the page. The blank pages are otherwise identical.
In Mike Southard's case (arriving in Bali), he stonewalled the officials and refused to pay the usurious amount of money they were requesting to "make the problem go away" (which was, quite simply, to affix the visa on one of the several blank pages available in his passport, or glue it over an expired visa from another country he had visited). Eventually, they caved, pasted the form over a previous one, and rubber stamped him.
In Robby Greenwood's case (arriving in Jakarta, with a tight connection to the flight to Ambon), he had a very tense time indeed. He was offered two choices, neither of them very savory: One, go back to Singapore (through which they had transited) and apply for a new passport (or have blank visa pages added to his existing passport) at the American Embassy there. As Jamie, his traveling companion, said: "Yeah right, that'd take three weeks". Or, two, pay US$200.00 to make the problem "go away". As Jamie tells it: "The guy was very 'helpful' and 'accommodating'. He offered to 'help' us for $200.00 but had to clear it with his 'boss' first. He WAS the boss. I doubt very much he was even talking to anyone of authority on the other end of his cell phone. It was probably his wife - telling her to get dolled up...they're dining out in style tonight! It was a very unpleasant business." In the end, Robby felt he had no choice but to pay the money - he and Jamie were otherwise going to miss their flight to Ambon, and so miss the departure of the Archipelago Adventurer II.
They get you coming and going in Indonesia, and given the low cost of living in the country, they are really sticking it to the tourists with quite hefty visa and departure taxes. I am not clear whether the departure fee is charged at all Indonesian International Airports when departing the country, but it certainly applies at Denpasar Airport in Bali. Be prepared to pay IDR150,000 (about US$15.00) when departing from this airport. It is best to plan to pay in Rupiah, so keep this amount in reserve in your trip funds.
There are numerous currency exchange booths lined up in the Arrivals hall at Denpasar Airport on Bali. It's best to bypass them, and instead make use of one of the several ATMs also located in the Arrivals hall (just after the Immigration booths - beside the baggage carousel). ATMs consistently give the best exchange rates while traveling, with the limitation that they can only spew out so many Rupiah at a time, so you may need to make several transactions if you are trying to obtain your max daily withdrawl imposed by most banks of US$500. Some machines will dispense US dollars, but transacting in Rupiah is generally a better option in Indonesia. You will feel very wealthy indeed when you see your bank balance (given in Rupiah) on your receipt in the hundreds of thousands, or maybe even millions ;^). If you need larger amounts of cash, or for some reason are adverse to getting your money from a machine, it is advisable to go to a currency exchange facility in town, away from the usurious moneychangers in the airport.
ATMs are widely available in all touristed areas of Indonesia - Mary even managed to find one on Ambon, which is not a tourist mecca (other than for intrepid muck divers ;^). I have always preferred to make smaller, more frequent ATM withdrawls when traveling than to carry around a big wad of cash, with the risk of it being stolen or lost.
Tips for resort staff, live aboard crew etc are best given in cash, in either Rupiah or US dollars. Apparently, when the tips are charged to your credit card, the intended recipients often never receive their fair share. There is a bit more information on tipping on Indonesia a little further down this page.
Indonesian Rupiah, at time of writing (February 2009), exchange at a rate of IDR11,700 to one US dollar. We found it best to just round down - so IDR10,000 becomes one US dollar, for the sake of easy conversion (and hey, you'll be spending a bit less than you thought ;^). The bills of the currency are colored (like Canadian dollars), so it is not difficult to manage the money, once you get past the big numbers. You will know you are in a tourist target-friendly establishment when you see prices quoted in US dollars, or Rupiah without all the zeroes. It is best to pay in Rupiah whenever possible, as the US prices are typically calculated on IDR10,000 to one US dollar, and as I noted above, the exchange rate is actually quite a bit more generous than that.
Some of our group also had a bit of trouble with Indonesian authorities when they attempted to bring in more than one litre of alcohol. Indonesian Customs only permit one litre per person of wine, beer or spirits, and Customs officials are constantly on the lookout for donors, er, perpetrators ;^)
Mike Southard attempted to bring in two bottles of wine and a bottle of Patron tequila and got nabbed. The official who stopped him suggested that for US$50, he could bring it all in. Mike smiled politely, negotiated giving him a bottle of the red instead of the money, and they called it even. Mike feels sure that the official enjoyed the nice bottle of wine later that evening with his wife.
None of our group had any issues bringing in cameras, although several of us brought more than one. There is a long thread on Wetpixel discussing issues that several people have had with Indonesian Customs authorities when trying to bring in more than one camera, even for personal (non-professional) use. Consider yourself warned.
Also, you will know you have been marked for luggage inspection when you see a chalk X on one or more of your bags as it gets kicked out on the carousel. The bags are marked as they are unloaded from the luggage carriers onto the conveyer. Some folks have apparently quietly wiped off the chalk marks, so as to avoid inspection. I would not want to get caught doing that, nor smuggling anything for that matter. The stories of those who did, and got caught, are harrowing...
Indonesia is a huge island nation archipelago (at last count, over 17,000 islands comprise the country), and as such, Indonesians get around their country by (tippy) ferry crossings and, for longer distances, by flying. There are at least three national airlines in Indonesia - Garuda, Lion Air and Merpati. Between them, they offer a network of flights connecting the island country. Be warned that none of these airlines has a very comforting safety record - old equipment, short runways (in some locations), towering volcanos and turbulent tropical storms make for sobering crash statistics. But if you want to dive some of the more remote locations of Indonesia, you are going to have to suck it up, buttercup, and get on a local carrier.
Buying tickets on Indonesian airlines from outside the country is a difficult exercise. The very best way to make reservations is on arrival, at a local ticket office, where prices are much more reasonable than buying from afar - as an example, our daughter recently bought a ticket from Bali to Jakarta on Lion Air, for about US$30. Unfortunately, buying a ticket locally is not very practical if you are on a tight schedule and/or need to get to one of the islands to meet your live aboard at a certain time, on a certain date. The live aboard booking offices (at least of the two companies we've used) can make the inter-island flight reservations from you - probably much more easily than your travel agent can from North America, but you should expect to spend a significant upcharge for your ticket.
Also, be warned that baggage allowances on these carriers are not generous, and they apparently love to ding the tourists - be prepared to pay overage fees for your dive bags - when confronted with a fee, you can try to negotiate. I suspect that more often than not, overage fees end up in the check-in agents' pockets.
If you are like most North Americans, you expect that public bathroom facilities will be of the same variety you have at home, where toilets (with seats), relatively clean, TP, and paper towels are the norm. In Asia? Not so much, unless you are in a nice hotel, live aboard boat, or high end restaurant.
Most public washroom facilities take a bit of getting used to. You will rarely see toilet paper - the sewage facilities in Indonesia (and Thailand, amongst other Asian countries) are not geared to consume paper products of any kind, only human waste, so even if toilet paper is offered it must be discarded in the waste bin (bundling it is a nice idea ;^) and not in the toilet.
If you are lucky, a washroom will have a western-style toilet (a seat is a bonus - so work on your quads before you go - they come in handy for positioning yourself over the bowl ;^), but often it is a "squatter" style toilet, which is a ceramic pan with two footrests, and a hole in the center. You crouch (squat) over the hole in the pan, do your business, and then either use a hose with spray attachment (this can get messy if you are not careful - you learn quickly to spray down, not up ;^) or in many cases, a ladle and bucket of water, to wash off your bits. Then you hang to dry. The ladle and water is also used to "flush" the toilet, as there is no water supply directly to it. It takes a bit of getting used to, but if the Asians can handle it, so can you...
You will also not often find paper towels or electric dryer for drying your hands (you should consider yourself lucky if there is even running water for washing hands). So, it is a good idea to carry sanitary hand wash and wipes with you when traveling in Asia.
This is another delicate topic, given the cultural inequities of the practice.
Tipping, up until the quite recent influx of North American tourists, was not the tradition in Indonesia. God knows, the Australians and the Japanese are not prone to tipping ;^), and in Bali, for many years, the vast majority of visitors came from these two countries. Enter the Americans (see, another thing we can blame you for, in addition to global warming and rap music ;^), who in their infinite generosity, started dropping nice big juicy tips on all Indonesians they met. So now, when an Indonesian in the service industry encounters anyone with a North American accent, they expect a tip, whereas they will not expect one from an Asian, an Aussie, a Kiwi, or a European (although some do now begrudgingly tip, because of the expectation, but no where near the amount of North Americans).
Tipping by North American standards (15 - 20%, even for marginal service) is considered by many in the know to be excessive. A tip will always be appreciated by the recipient, but generally a more modest tip is all that is recommended when traveling in Indonesia - a few dollars (in Rupiah) on top of a nice meal in an Indonesian restaurant, and 5 - 10 % of the cost of a live aboard trip owned and operated by Indonesians. The crew of boats owned and operated by US companies (ie Aggressor/Peter Hughes) likely expect tips more in line with what folks pay on North American itineraries (ie Caribbean).
"Ubud is the cultural center of Bali. It is full of temples, artists' galleries and fine restaurants. Things to do include hiking through rice fields, taking cooking classes at one of the fine restaurants, strolling through the local market and sampling the strange food and drink, attending traditional dance performances, and visiting the Monkey Forest. A tip regarding the monkeys and bananas - the lady who sells the bananas at the entrance told us "if a monkey asks for a banana, you must give him one" and it is good advice.
Samhita Garden was a spectacular place to stay. We rented a large private villa with a walled courtyard with private pool and gazebo for $175/night. It was a definite splurge, but well worth it. Also, the cooking class we took was awesome. It was at Casa Luna, a local restaurant, and it included a tour of the local market. I would say that anyone who likes to cook would love the class."
Bargaining is the local custom in Bali - and other than in a few western-owned boutique-style stores in the resort towns, bargaining when shopping is not only possible, it is expected. I have not shopped in any other part of Indonesia, but I suspect it will be much the same, as it was for shopping in Thailand.
One of the things that we learned while shopping in Ubud and Sanur, in open markets, is that is not appropriate to touch merchandise that you are not seriously considering purchasing. Once you show any interest in an item at all, the vendor will start the game:
"You like?" or "Velly good quality!"
Then you might reply "How much?"
The Vendor will make busy with their trusty handheld calculator, feverishly punching this and that, and then turn the calculator so you can see the result - it will likely be some ridiculous (for Indonesia) amount. A word of caution - you might be thinking: Man, is that cheap!, but the game has just begun, and if you settle for this price, even if you think it is a deal (compared to prices at home), you will be disrespected for not bargaining for your buy.
So you might say "No - that is too much". And the vendor will reply "How much you wanna pay?"
This is the tricky part. You don't want to give such a ridiculously low number that you insult them, but you don't want to give such a high number that you are paying too much, and that there is no wiggle room for more bargaining. I typically start at about half, or a bit less – at least a few bucks less (in Rupiah) than I want to eventually pay, so I have room to come up a bit, and vendor can save face. You punch your offer into the proferred calculator (in Rupiah) and give it back.
Vendor will moan and groan and say, “No, no – too little”, and then will punch in a number likely about half way between their original price and what you offered and show it to you. You can hold firm with your original offer if you really are not willing to pay more than that, or at this point up your offer another dollar or two (in Rupiahs). The vendor will likely protest, and repeat their last number, at which point, I have found it quite effective to say “thank you, but too much for me ”, and start walking away. You can expect that if your offer was not insulting or less than the wholesale price they paid for it, the vendor will come running after you momentarily and say “okay, okay” to your offer, or offering it to you for a dollar or two more than your last offer. If you really hit the bottom price that they can sell at and still make a bit of profit, you might even get a begrudging compliment – “You very good bargain”.
It is very bad form to bargain for an item, have vendor agree to your price, and then walk away, so as I have suggested, you should not enter into a bargaining session unless you are prepared to buy the item in question. It is okay to walk away if you and the vendor can not come to an agreement on price – you will know that you are too low though, if they do not chase you.
Personally, I know these people have next to nothing, and so I do not grind them for the sake of a few bucks. I just play the game, as they expect and respect, and then walk away happy with getting something made in Indonesia, without paying Pottery Barn’s or Williams of Sonoma’s ridiculously inflated retail prices for the same stuff.
I have not bought fine art in Ubud, but I would imagine that bargaining is expected, although it might be done more discreetly than the crazy process in the markets. Much of the art is sold directly by the artisans out of their ateliers, which line the streets. There are also galleries, where I would think you would be paying a premium for any piece of art, as the gallery owner has overheads and is likely taking a hefty commission for selling.
Typically, bargaining is not appropriate at hotels, restaurants and bars, where there are set prices. Our daughters did quite successfully bargain a better-than-advertised rate for room and breakfast in guesthouses in various locations around Bali, including Ubud.
Well, it's finally a wrap - we all hope you have enjoyed reading this bigass report and sharing our Indonesian adventures, and we also hope that you have found the information within to be helpful, entertaining and informative. Despite the minor hassles that some of us experienced on our journey, we all love diving in Indonesia and eagerly anticipate our planned return trip together in Spring of 2010.
Contact information for each contributor is located at the bottom of this page, should you wish to get in touch with any of us.
This Indonesia Travel Tips Article Text © Judy G — January, 2009
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