Stretching across 17,000+ islands, Indonesia is the fourth most populous country in the world. This archipelago spans from Sumatra in the west to Papua in the east and is home to a large variety of different ethnic and cultural groups. Each island varies from one another, from its landscape, religion, architecture, and character, providing travelers with differing experiences from one island to the next.
With so many islands and varying things to experience, we picked three islands to spend our time in: Sumatra, Java, and Bali.
We split up our time in Indonesia into two parts. Our first jaunt into the country had us fly over from Penang, Malaysia to Medan, Sumatra spending 1 week on the island before returning back to Malaysia. When we arrived at the Medan airport, we hopped into a taxi to take us to the bus terminal. Crammed into the back of a bemo, we traveled along a bumpy, dirt road north to Bukit Lawang for about 4 hours. We stayed for only 2 nights in an extremely rustic room that only had 3 walls, a mattress on the floor, and a shared (squat) toilet with a bucket for a shower. We definitely weren’t in Malaysia anymore!
Our reason for staying in Bukit Lawang was to be able to see the Sumatran Orangutans. We did a ½ day private trek to the Orangutan reserve followed by a guided hike through the jungle. The following day we decided to travel via tourist van (meaning plush seats and AC) south to Danau Toba, the largest lake in Southeast Asia. We stayed for 4 nights in a double, ensuite room (with cold water) with views of the lake on Samosir Island. We spent a full checking out the island by rented motorbike, visiting the Stone Chairs, Batak Museum, and a dip in the natural hot springs. The rest of the time we simply just relaxed, ate some great food, and hung out with other travelers.
Our second trip into Indonesia came after we had finished travelling through Malaysia and Singapore. We flew into Yogyakarta on Java from Singapore and spent 4 nights in a family run guesthouse in a double, fan-cooled, ensuite room (included breakfast on their roof top terrace). We visited the Kraton Palace, Taman Sari (the Water Castle), and took a day trip to Borobodur and Prembanan. We then hopped on a bus and traveled the long distance east to the Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park, where we came face-to-face with Mt. Bromo, an active volcano set within a desert-like plain. We stayed in a simple double room with shared bathrooms for 2 nights. We hiked up Mt. Bromo and stared down into its belly, and the following morning we woke up around 4am and hiked Penanjakan, a nearby mountain, and watched the sun rise over the volcanoes. We could have hired a jeep to do both activities in one day, but we decided instead to hike it ourselves and save money.
From Mt. Bromo, we travelled by minivan/bus/ferry/bemo combination over to Lovina on Bali. This trek proved to be long, uncomfortable, frustrating, and not how it was “sold” to us in the least. But we made it to Bali, where we spent two incredible weeks soaking in the Balinese culture, the slower pace of life, and excellent Balinese fare. We started up in the north in Lovina where we stayed for 3 nights in a large double, fan-cooled, ensuite room (included breakfast). We rented a motorbike for a day and cruised around the northern part of the island, and relaxed with the locals at the Air Panas Banjar Hot Springs.
We then took a minivan over to Tulamben on the east coast and stayed only one night at Dive Concepts, whom we did two scuba dives with the following day, including the famous Liberty Wreck. We then headed inland to Ubud, the cultural center of Bali. We stayed for 8 nights in our own little villa (part of a family run complex) complete with an outdoor-style washroom (with hot water!) and breakfast every morning. We rented a motorbike and explored the Gunung Batur area on our own, wandered through the rice paddies, ate a lot of delicious food, bought a ton of souvenirs, and shipped an 11kg parcel home.
From Ubud we took a minivan down to Kuta, located on the southwest part of the island. We stayed for 2 nights in double, fan-cooled, ensuite room (included breakfast) in the main backpacker district. We rented a motorbike and checked out Uluwatu for a day, and learned how to surf with Pro Surf School. On our final day in the country, we did unfortunately get into a motorbike accident (getting cut off by a car and loosing control on the gravel). No one was badly hurt, but the shinny new bike from our guesthouse sustained some major scratches. Luckily our guesthouse owner was very understandable and accepted 200,000 IDR for the damage (included in our miscellaneous travel costs below).
So, once again, to break down our costs, I’ve split our spending into these categories:
- Visas: the cost to get into the country
- Accommodations: places we stayed
- Transportation: everything from buses within a country and to another country, to bicycle/motorbike rentals, to ferry rides, and subway fares
- Food: everything we ate and drank
- Sites: entrance fees to museums, temples, ruins, day trips, overnight trips, cooking courses, and even a scuba diving course
- Entertainment: seeing cultural performances, going to the movies, etc
- Laundry: laundry was available everywhere we went for very affordable prices, we really didn’t feel like washing our clothes in the sink
- Miscellaneous: all our souvenirs, massages, parcels shipped home, and toiletries
Prices are shown for two (2) people and are in Canadian Dollars, unless otherwise specified.
Indonesia (Sumatra, Java, Bali): 28 Days, $61.25/day
($1 CAD = 8,500 IDR)
- Visas: $100 USD (Since we entered Indonesia twice, we had to pay for 2 separate 30-day visas, $25/person)
- Accommodation: $334.12
- Transportation: $280.24
- Food: $529.53
- Sites: $125.48
- Entertainment: $0.00
- Laundry: $9.47 (had it done 3 times)
- Misc: $336.32 (the highest from all 7 countries, see below*)
- Total: $1,251.85
So in total, we spent $1,251.85 for 28 days, averaging $61.25/day.
Big-Ticket Items: Visiting the Orangutan Sanctuary and ½ day hike in Sumatra ($53), our day trip to Borobodur and Prembanan ($70), doing 3 scuba dives in Bali (2 for Arienne, 1 for Tristan, $90 in total), and mailing an 11kg parcel home ($90).
Our cheapest accommodation was our 3 walled, rustic abode in Bukit Lawang, Sumatra (60,000 IDR, or roughly $7.00/night) and our most expensive accommodation was the 2 nights we stayed at Mt Bromo (135,000 IDR, or roughly $16.00/night).
*Our miscellaneous costs were highest in Indonesia mainly because of the amount of souvenir shopping we did, the bike scratches, and the large parcel we sent home. But this category also included the departure tax we had to pay in Sumatra and Bali for flying out of the country. Prices vary depending on where you’re departing. From Sumatra we paid 75,000 IDR/person and from Bali we paid 150,000 IDR/person.
Speaking of flights, we flew with Air Asia and the prices are again listed for two (2) people:
- Penang, Malaysia to Medan, Sumatra (return) = $246.67
- Singapore to Yogyakarta, Java (one-way) = $255.13
- Denpassar, Bali to Darwin, Australia (one-way) = $167.78
- Total Flights: $669.58
Grand Total for Indonesia: $1,921.43
Indonesia was one of those places that we wished we could have had more time to travel through. You could easily spend a few weeks at a time on each of the islands we visited alone, not to mention all the other places we didn’t even get to. After traveling through more modern, and developed countries like Malaysia and Singapore, we had to adjust once again to rougher roads, simpler accommodations, and negotiating for “fairer” prices on things. But that being said, I welcomed the opportunity to “rough it” again before moving on to Australia and New Zealand.
One challenge that we encountered across all three islands was transportation. Similarly to our experience in Cambodia, it seemed people would tell us what they thought we’d want to hear, instead of just saying what the experience would be like. Prices were always higher for tourists, especially if we tried to use the same transportation as the locals. However, we had to remind ourselves that poverty is still widespread across Indonesia, so for many people, our tourist dollars is all that they can rely on.
The standout island for both of us was Bali. The culture, the people, and the food, were intoxicating. While it’s probably the most touristed Indonesian island, especially in Kuta (which we wouldn’t recommend you spend much time in anyways), it still manages to exude an incredible charm. Before setting out on our backpacking trip, we had planned to spend a month in Bali, renting a place and just living the life. But as our trip went and we were spending longer in places than we’d thought we would, we only had 2 weeks on the island. But having already been there and getting a good feel for the place, you better believe we’ll be making that 1-month (or more) stay a reality in the future.
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This post is part of a 7-day series on travel costs through Southeast Asia. Tomorrow I’ll breakdown the costs for traveling through Singapore and wrap up the series.