One of the benefits of living abroad as an expat in China is the Chinese New Year’s holiday. We were able to spend 2 weeks off on a wonderful vacation bike tour in Indonesia because of a week long holiday mandated by the Chinese government. I spent one week of my vacation and we were able to travel for 2 weeks. Chinese New Years (CNY) goes along with the lunar calendar and is the annual lunar new year. It is between mid-January to the end of February each year and lasts at least a week of festivities for the Chinese. It is also the largest human migration annually in the world, as lots of Chinese head to their home towns to visit family and celebrate another new year.
We took our chance to escape the chaos of China and the huge migration by leaving before the new year stared and returning after the government mandated holiday. This allowed us to miss some of the crowds.
How did we decide to travel to Indonesia?
We were planning a trip to Thailand to go visit Chiang Mai and the elephant sanctuary that is located there. However, when I learned from my Chinese co-workers that Thailand is a major travel destination for the Chinese, we changed our plans and set our sights on Indonesia.
Who knew, when we started planning this trip, that Indonesia is the 4th largest country in the world behind:
- China (1,376,830,000 people)
- India (1,289,690,000 people)
- United States (323,675,000 people)
- Indonesia (258,705,000 people)
The vast majority of the inhabitants of Indonesia’s 17,508 islands live on Java, the main island, and our destination for our 2 week adventure.
Bike Touring to Save Cost
We brought our coupled tandem road bike with us. This was our main form of transportation once we arrived to Indonesia. We used it to tour various sites around Yogyakarta and also used it to travel across Indonesia and eventually end up in Bandung at the end of the trip where we took a bus back to the Jakarta airport.
Bringing your own transportation on a trip really frees you up to explore on your own terms.
- It is free, since it takes no fuel.
- It also allows you to see the countryside and stop at any location you want.
- You get to interact with locals instead of blowing by them.
- It is a great conversation starter.
Like the view on the side of the road where it says no stopping? Go ahead and stop and take a picture of the scenery before you continue on your way.
There are certainly downsides to bike touring:
- It takes longer to get places than on motorcycles or buses.
- If you are tired, the last thing you want to do is ride your bike 50 km one way to go see a sight outside of the city you are staying in.
- While having a “real job” and a set vacation time, you “waste” valuable days riding from one place to another.
The negatives are outweighed by the positives of freedom and choice. We get to explore on our own terms.
We were able to save hundreds of dollars on bus and motorcycle rental fees by bringing our bike and traveling the way we did. One destination, Sri Gethuk, a beautiful waterfall outside Yogyakarata, certainly had no buses going to it. The only way to get there is by motorcycle or bicycle, and we were able to go on our own schedule and get to experience it.
Bike Touring Across Java
We started our trip in Indonesia with 4 days in Yogyakarta. While here we got to explore a number of very cool sites. The first was a small waterfall that is reminiscent of the Antelope slot canyons in Arizona called Luweng Sampang. Riding there was a brute of a bike ride with a 20% climb that was over 2km long. After getting there, the riding was all flat, so the day was relaxing besides the beginning. We were able to jump off the waterfall into the canyon below, only after watching some of the locals do it. After refreshing in the water, we headed to Prambanan to see the Hindu temple complex. There were actually multiple temple complexes at the site we got to see.
We also spent a day riding over to Sri Gethuk to visit the waterfalls and the cave. This was another 40 km ride there and 40 km ride back over steep difficult terrain. The waterfall was definitely worth it, since I got to swim and enjoy the water for an hour. The last day in Yogyakarta was spent eating pizza, relaxing and then checking out some more local temples. We had big plans for seeing other places, but our fatigue held us back. That is the one downside to travel by bike. When you get tired, you really do not want to go anywhere but to eat.
Leaving Yogyakarta we headed up to Borobudur on the bike and explored for the day. Borobudur was a very cool and unique Buddhist temple. Another benefit of the bike is there are no parking fees, usually. Borobudur was one of the tourist traps that we went to see in Indonesia. It is renowned as the world’s largest Buddhist temple, which we can attest to is 100% misleading if not completely disingenuous. Many of the Buddhist temple complexes in China put the size of Borobudur to shame, however, it was a very cool place nonetheless.
After a day at Borobudur, we continued on to Dieng Plateau, where there is lots of volcanic activity. The ride to Dieng was extremely difficult. We found out in Yogyakarta, that the hills and mountainsides in Indonesia are dangerously steep. After reviewing the route, we thought it would be okay on the way to Dieng. We were wrong. The hills were still super steep and we were super tired by the time we reached the bottom of the 1000m climb up to Dieng. We rode around until we were able to find the bus up the mountain and loaded up our bike on the bus rooftop, in order to reach Dieng. We prefer to ride, but when the time comes to call it quits, we have started to accept it.
We found a little homestay in Dieng upon arrival that happened to be our cheapest accommodation of the entire trip. It ran us 75,000 IDR which is equivalent to $5.62, quite the steal. Granted this certainly wasn’t a luxury accommodation, but it served our needs of a roof over our head and a bed to sleep in. Exploring the plateau, we saw a beautiful green volcanic lake, multiple temples, and a very cool volcanic crater that reminded me of the small ones at Yellowstone in the US. All of these locations charged to go see, them and I felt like I was getting nickel and dimed to death. In the end, their charges were equivalent to $1 or less for most of the locations, so it wasn’t very expensive.
Leaving Dieng Plateau, we spent 2 days riding across the country to Pangandaran, so we could live in the lap of luxury at $13 per night for a secluded beach inn. Our ride across the country started with more of the steep craziness, but we were able to make it to Purwokerto in one day, where we couldn’t find a place to stay except for 450,000 IDR ($36). We felt ripped off here, but it was a very nice place and we were able to dry out our clothes after being soaked for a couple of days from rain.
We also hit up the local bike shop for parts and repair. I can fix all my own gear, however, when parts break, there is no other option. My front derailleur cage broke and we needed a new one. At the shop, I was able to get a new one and get it installed along with adjustment of the disc brakes. The bike was not responding well to Indonesia and needed these parts to feel safe riding in the mountains.
Riding from Purwokerto to Pangandaran was a very nice ride besides the one crazy mountain (not steep) where the drivers were all over the road and seemed intent on running us over. We got rained on for several hours, but it was still a beautiful ride. We arrived to our beach paradise, and decided in the end to stay here for 3 nights. Given no schedule we would have stayed longer, but we still wanted to make it to Bandung at least.
We had a very nice day on the river with a guide company taking us up and floating down the Green Canyon. This included jumping off 15m high cliffs along with floating through rapids. It was a beautiful experience and one of a number of experiences that are budget friendly in Southeast Asia. I prefer no-cost fun on the bike, but trips for adventure excursions are still very fun.
The next day we spent a day lounging around on the beach and exploring the mangrove forest. It was very nice to just hang out and relax after several long days of bike riding. The fatigue we built up so far on the trip was starting to get to us. I got to spend my birthday lounging on the beach enjoying the clean air, beautiful water, and quiet surroundings.
Riding and Exploring Bandung
We were sad to leave Pangandaran, but the roads were calling and we were rested. The ride from Pangandaran to Tasikmalaya took us along back country roads that should have been very nice pavement had they not all been washed out from the heavy rains. We managed to stay upright the entire time, but the roads were doing their best to throw us off. We climbed up several mountains under the beating sun to reach Tasikmalaya. We feasted on roadside fried goodness on our way and made it to town after 94 km and running out of water.
The next day was our last ride of the trip. It was an okay ride to Bandung. We were on the “major” highway, highway 3. It was only a 2 lane road and was not supposed to be steep, but the 2 mountain passes we went over certainly qualified as steep (10-15%). It would have been a lot nicer of a ride, but the clouds were up and visibility was low. Also, the final push to Bandung was through unending suburban sprawl, which is no fun to ride through. In the end, we made it to our hotel in Bandung and set about figuring out an activity for the next day.
We found a volcano to go hike up, Tangkuban Parahu. It is the most popular volcano in Bandung, and is a terrible ripoff for foreigners. It cost less than $2 for locals, but the cost for foreigners is 10x the local cost! We still trekked up there on buses and by foot, refusing the many offers of additional transportation. The crater at the top was very cool and the views from the top were second to none. In the end, I felt stabbed through the heart at the time for 10x local cost, but we spent a total of $144 on entrance fees and attractions for 2 weeks, which is not too bad at all.
Our last day in Indonesia involved riding our bike to the bus station, packing it all up and then taking the bus back to the airport to fly out the following morning.
Cost Review of 2 Weeks in Indonesia
We flew in and out of Jakarta on our adventure to Indonesia. Because of CNY, flights are usually astronomically priced during those weeks, so we had our first foray into travel hacking and flying on rewards points. During our investigation into living in China we were flown over to China by the company multiple times and we were able to rack up 56,000 rewards miles on Cathay Pacific. Nearly enough points to fly both of us round trip to Indonesia. The tickets for this trip were supposed to cost $400 each, but by using rewards points the cost was $90 in fees. We also had to purchase points, which is a major rip-off at $60 per 2000 miles, for a total round trip cost for 2 people to Jakarta, Indonesia from China of $210. I did not see us using the Cathay Pacific points anytime soon and they were set to expire as well, so purchasing points to travel made sense in our situation and it worked out for the best.
Along with the round trip flight to Jakarta we also were scammed into a higher cost in-country flight from Jakarta to Yogyakarta (Jogjakarta locally). When I went to book the $35 flight in Indonesia, it would not accept any foreign credit card. I had to book via a travel agency raising the cost to $50 per ticket. This is one of the drawbacks to traveling on a schedule set by work. If we had time and freedom, we would have just arrived to Jakarta and then booked the ticket to Yogyakarta.
Our trip worked out to be more expensive than I expected, but very cheap in terms of time-limited vacations. 40% of our cost was transportation, and of that 40%, 92% ($467) was just to get to there and back. This goes to show, that the longer the trip is, the cheaper it is per day. Our trip was 40% transportation cost, almost entirely spent on getting there and getting home, so if we had doubled the trip length, transportation cost would drop to 20-30% of trip cost depending on increases of food, housing, and activities.
We paid on average $20 per night for accommodation for a total trip cost of $297. $20 is the upper limit of what I like to spend per night on accommodation in locales in Southeast Asia and it affords pretty nice hotels. We got ripped off a couple of times because we were staying in a tourist trap and because we didn’t book ahead. We learned to book at least a day ahead using Agoda to secure the cheapest cost and to find the lowest cost hotels in a city/town. Our favorite stay in Pangandaran in a small house by the beach, with included breakfast and the sound of geckos all night was $15 per night.
Food in Indonesia left something to be desired. Everything was fried, which is pretty good when you start, but after awhile gets old. One thing I will never get tired of though, is a dinner cost for 2 of $2.25. No the food is not exquisite, but it is not bad either. Indonesia does spicy right. Just one dab of their hot sauce is burn your face off spicy.
Want a fried hush puppy? Here is a handful of fresh chilies to go with it!
We had an “expensive” seafood dinner one night for Mrs. Atypical with tiger prawns and fresh fish for a total cost of $18. In the end everything was very cheap in Indonesia. Even though the meals were usually not enough to fill us up, we could stop at a convenient store for snack foods and still be way ahead on cost, even compared to China.
Activity cost in Indonesia is outrageous when compared with the local prices. As a foreigner, you can expect to pay 3-10x the local price to go see any and all attractions. They believe because we are foreigners, we have lots of money to spend and they all want a part of it. Our big ticket items here were Borobudur temple complex ($39 for 2), Prambanan temple complex ($35 for 2), and Tangkuban Parahu volcano ($30 for 2). The one high ticket activity we paid for, that I thought was worth it was the Green Canyon float trip with lunch ($34 for 2). All the other locations we visited were just nickel and diming us, instead of outright scamming us.
We like to bring back something to remember each country we travel to. Since we are on the bike, these items must be small and not break easily or we will never get to enjoy them at home. We were able to pick up 3 pieces of Batik art for ourselves and our family in Yogyakarta. The first one, we paid the same as the next 2, and they were all the same size! This goes to show, that the sellers are really just out there to scam us as best they can. The quality on all of them were the same and they were beautifully made and colored. The total cost for these was $60 and the rest of our goods cost was in fixing the bike and attempting to fix our broken camera. Our wonderful Olympus E-M10 camera had its shutter freeze shut at Borobudur, so we went more than half of the trip without our nice camera.
We had a fantastic and relaxing trip to Indonesia. Living in the high stress environment of full-time employment working for the man, coupled with living in a city when you are country-folk, leads to a desire to escape. Indonesia filled that desire and then some. We were able to relax and enjoy ourselves for 2 weeks all on a reasonable budget.
We spent a total of $1,264 over the course of 2 weeks on this trip, which worked out to $74 per day. This is a sustainable forever travel budget, and I still feel it was on the expensive side with transportation cost so high. In the future when the Atypical Life family reaches personal and then financial freedom, we will be able to explore the world on our own terms at our own speed.
Have you been to Indonesia? Let me know about your trip and costs and we can learn from each other.
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