Now that we've traveled through Indonesia for two months (plus a 2-week visit a year ago), we learned the necessary basics day by day that helped us throughout our stay in this country and made our lives much easier. Here's a list of what every first-timer in Indonesia should know:
Travel by “Bemos” or scooter. Bemos are one of the best and cheapest ways to move around when you are in a city. They’re shared minivans that will stop anywhere in the city and sometimes even travel between cities, and are typically yellow minivans. When you see one, raise your hand and they’ll stop for you and ask you where you want to go. The cost is around 5,000 rp per person (depending on the distance, this may vary slightly) and you should always clarify this before you hop on. If you want a taxi, use “Blue Bird taxis” and always ask them to use the meter. If they refuse to use it, look for another taxi. Lastly, you’re able to safely drive a scooter, then do that. In many cases, this is the best option.
Download Traveloka. Traveloka is a great application to use in Indonesia, as well as other countries in South East Asia. You can use it for a number of different things, like booking flights and hotels and topping-up data on a local SIM card; we used it mainly to book train tickets. The app is super useful and will save you the time and money of having to go to the station just to buy tickets.
Food. When talking about food, there are two things that you have to learn from the moment you step foot in the country: “nasi goreng,” which is fried rice, and “mie goreng,” which are fried noodles. Other useful words/phrases are “ayam” (chicken), “Gado-Gado” (a common Indonesian salad, which is a mixture of steamed vegetables topped off with a delicious peanut sauce), “pisang” (banana), and “tidak pedas” (not spicy).
Expect traffic. The traffic in some cities is horrible, and on the island of Java is where we experienced it the most. Whenever you plan on going somewhere, just make sure you plan trips with more than enough time. Also, “bemos” and public buses don’t always have an established schedule, and many times leave only when they’re full, so keep that in mind.
Wifi (or lack thereof). Finding a reliable internet connection in Indonesia can often be difficult. For this reason, we recommend that you to buy a SIM card (if you’ve got an unlocked phone) for the time you plan on visiting. There are three main telecommunications companies, all of which we used: Telkomsel, Indosat, and XL. Although their coverage is going to be different depending on the area you’re in (ask around!), we found that Telkomsel seemed to have popular approval, better coverage, but to be more expensive. XL was what we found to be the cheapest and fastest option, and in our month of usage, never gave us any reception issues.
Pay here. If you need to purchase something online for use with local companies (like using Traveloka to top-up data for your SIM card or to purchase a train ticket), your foreign credit cards likely won’t work. However, there’s an option to pay at any nearby “Indomart” or “Alfamart” (convenience stores) that you will find almost anywhere. Just show the cashier the code provided by the Traveloka app and make the payment in cash.
Bargain, bargain, bargain. Bargain for everything from renting a scooter, to finding transportation (public or private), to buying clothes at a market, to booking a room in a guesthouse. The only time that we don't really bargain is when buying food or at stores with fixed prices. Either way, just try! Most of the times you’ll have some fun and save some money in the process!
Bring toilet paper. Always bring toilet paper or wet wipes with you! In most places, you won’t find any kind of paper to use after you going to the bathroom – just water and nothing to dry off with.
Bring appropriate clothing. Although you generally won't have any problems with clothing (we didn’t), some places are more conservative than others in Indonesia. Do a little bit of research before your trip to pack appropriate clothing. People here are pretty respectful, but you may feel a little uncomfortable in some places if you aren’t well-prepared.
Scarcity of outlets. Most rooms only have one AC outlet (especially the more affordable rooms), and it’s usually located 5-feet up the wall, making it difficult to just connect something in to charge. Make sure you pack an extension cord if you want to comfortably charge your devices. We brought this one, have used it everyday, and haven’t had an issue thus far.
The most important phrase. “Terima kasih,” or thank you, will almost always bring in smiles, easier bargaining, and appreciation from locals. Upon saying this, you will almost hear “sama sama!” (you're welcome) in return.
We hope these tips help you on your visit to this amazing country!