There are many islands/cities/regions within Indonesia that were recommended by online reviews and by other travelers that we didn’t get to see, mostly because of the time/cost of transportation to those places. For this reason, we consider Indonesia to be a bit unexplored (by us) and worth a second look someday.
Transportation between the islands that we did visit (Bali, Gili Trawangan & Lombok) still left a lot to be desired, took several hours longer than promised, and was generally exhausting. Going from Ubud, Bali to Gili Trawangan – we left the hotel at 6:45am (waking up at 5:45am to get ready/packed), but didn’t arrive at the island until 6pm – an all-day, 11-hour journey to go to the next island over – and which encompassed a cramped minivan taxi, a slow ferry, a really cramped minivan taxi, and finally a wooden longboat. Each involved waiting, confusing directions/instructions, and constant attempts to take our money for “porter services”, which in one case involved picking up Rachel’s carry-on size suitcase on the beach and moving it 10 feet onto the long-tail boat right in front of us.
I think our interactions with the local populace (taxi drivers, salespersons, etc.) were far more taxing than in other countries. Either they were more persistent in trying to make the sale, or they had pre-conceived beliefs about tourists, which meant they acted suspiciously of tourists and treated us with some measure of disdain. All of this made us more easily agitated.
At one point, while in Ubud, Bali, we saw some workers putting down fresh asphalt to repair the damaged street edge. All of the elements were correct; I just found it interesting that everything was done by hand, by local workers (male & female), which meant that the heavy pollution involved in asphalt production was on-site inside a mixed residential/commercial area instead of somewhere off in some small, rural community, as is often the case in America. The fresh asphalt edge was still sticky when walked upon an hour later. Reminded me of the days when I worked as a construction inspector back in 2005. Though I imagine, with few worker protections save for a handkerchief over one’s mouth/nose and a pair of gloves, most (if not all) of the workers will/do suffer from lung problems.
We spent a lot of time in Indonesia just relaxing, compared to other countries. I think that we were both tired of traveling. The constant movement from place to place, every 3-4 days, is wearying. Of course, hot and sunny weather coupled with long, sandy beaches makes for a great place to relax.
I remember that when we were in India (Udaipur), we had run into a couple travelers who were doing something similar but were on the tail-end of an 8-9 month trip. One of the things they mentioned is that they felt like even though they spent a month in Indonesia, they still didn’t have enough time there. After going there and spending almost three weeks there, I can see why. We spent most of our two and a half weeks travelling between three islands which were pretty fun (though by the time we got to Indonesia, we were a bit beached out!). But, the next time we go to Indonesia, I’d like to explore Sumatra, Yogyakarta, the Komodo Islands (where the famous komodo dragons – lizards really – roam freely) and all of Indonesian Borneo since we enjoyed the Malaysian side so much. However, as Samir mentioned, the transportation to get to these areas was not great and would have taken a while unless we flew which was just not in our budget or patience level at that point.
In terms of food, the Indonesian food got to be a bit boring – there is only so much nasi goreng or mie goreng (fried rice and noodles respectively) and variations thereof that I could take. The Balinese food was much more interesting – LOVED Balinese sambal! Yummy!
Overall, Bali is an anomaly in Indonesia. They have their own language (though the other islands did as well), food, culture, and most significantly, are predominantly Hindu rather than Muslim (like the rest of Indonesia). Though we noted that Balinese Hinduism was different then Hinduism in India from the deities they worshipped to the festivals they held important (though they also knew the Gaitri Mantra). We noticed that in Malaysia as well – we were in the Cameron Highlands and there was going to be some major Hindu festival the day after we left that neither Samir nor I had ever heard of or the deity the festival was far. We also thought it was interesting that the signature Balinese dish was suckling pig (kind of a subconscious or conscious affront to the rest of the Muslim country?).
I liked how each of the islands we went to had its own character. You can see an obvious Hindu influence in Bali from the beautiful floral and food offerings that literally lined the streets in front of houses and businesses, the elaborate cremation ceremonies, the Balinese family style housing compounds and of course the dancing and food. Lombok is known for its wood carvings (so Samir and I finally picked up some souveneirs and got two wooden masks – a couple) and its fascination with Geckos. The Gili Islands are more tourist islands where very few locals actually live. All three had gorgeous beaches and friendly people in common however. I was always amused by the people calling out as we walked by – ‘you’re Indian? We love Shah Rukh Khan and Aishwariya Rai!’.
Would definitely love to go back to Indonesia one day when we weren’t so tired of moving from city to city or so beached out, though we had some great relaxation time in Indonesia (I loved waking up in the mornings at our hotel in Nusa Dua and having tea and fruits in a bathrobe on our balcony overlooking the beach with Samir – priceless). Plus, would love to go see the famous Borobudur temple outside Yogyakarta, especially with fresh eyes, spend more time in Ubud, explore the rest of Bali and do some more diving!
A few side notes:
1) These escape route from flood signs, everywhere on the islands, were a little unnerving at first!
2) In Asia in general, we’ve seen the most interesting things carried on motorbikes from squealing live pigs to a washing machine. Another favorite – hard to see since I took with my phone but those are huge balloon animals!
3) These offerings of food, flowers and light (usually a diya/candle) were everywhere in Bali.
4) What tourism brought to Gili T – a market for ‘magic mushrooms’ that promise to ‘take you to the moon!’