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10 Questions: Cycling In Indonesia


Arriving in Chiang MaiChris & Liz cycled across Indonesia in 2010, as part of their bicycle tour from New Zealand home to the UK.

When they arrived in Indonesia from Australia, their first impression was of a country full of sensations.

“To demonstrate the brain-overload experienced daily, here is what Indonesia is like: lush green hot hot hot traditional ‘hello mister’ fans scooters rice sweat black tea sweeping satay ayam beautiful hand crafts innovative food markets rich mosquitoes rubbish stray dogs blue warm water…” they wrote on their Bike About website.

In this edition of 10 questions, Liz and Chris share the highlights and daily routines of bike touring in Indonesia, including a diverse landscape and being adopted by local families for an evening.

1. How would you describe the sensation of cycling in Indonesia, for someone who hasn’t been there?

Indonesia is a big country made up of many different islands. We cycled in Bali, Lombok and Java during our 2 months. Depending on where you are, you can have busy roads and pollution or quiet country lanes with paddy fields on each side. Wherever you are, the country is full of smiles.

Smiling Faces

2. Was there one stretch or section of your trip that was really wonderful cycling?

The best part was going to Lovina from Ubud. It involves a big climb but at the top we got given free oranges in a topical rain shower and had a beautiful ride down the hill into Lovina. We did not have time to cycle much in Lombok but we reckon that would have been really beautiful and quiet. There is a lot of exploring to do off the bikes too. We tended to cycle to places and then explore the local area: temples, trekking, volcanoes, ballet and chilling with the locals.

matahari beach liz1

3. Traffic in Indonesia is sometimes described as hectic or even aggressive. What was your experience?

IMG_4860We describe the traffic in Indonesia as 360 degree traffic. Java was the busiest but Bali and Lombok were not so bad, especially away from main roads. Any previous road rules you may have learned really don’t apply so be patient, watch and learn. Overall, common sense does prevail.

The traffic is made up of trucks, demon driving coaches, bemos and scooters, old rickshaws and slow bicycles, as well as pedestrians and chickens. Everyone beeps when they overtake. This can seem aggressive but it is to tell the person ahead that they are overtaking. It is a free-for-all and anything goes, however if you stay away from the main highways it can be very pleasant and enjoyable.

4. How do local people view cyclists?

In Java we were a constant curiosity and often had our photos taken in the small ‘warungs’ restaurants by the side of the road. Where there are more tourists there is less interest, especially in Bali where companies offer bike tours. Many local people use bikes to get around but also to carry rice and crops on the back of their bikes. Travelling through villages, we were greeted regularly with shouts of “Hello mistairrrr!” and big smiles. The Indonesian people really are welcoming and friendly to visitors.

5. Where did you sleep?

We spent most of our time in guest houses or hotels, which you could find in most towns. We also camped in police stations, football pitches, outside shops and even got invited to sleep in peoples houses. Camping is a strange concept and people were worried we would get cold or the tent would leak when it rained.

Typical Indonesian guesthouseMost of the accommodation was very clean. The cheap end was often basic with squat toilets and a bucket to wash with. The mid to high end tended to have more western facilities and showers. Prices varied from 50,000 Rupiah (cheapest) to 350,000 Rupiah for air conditioning, big room, bath, hot water, swimming pool and breakfast.

6. What is the food like, and could you travel in Indonesia without a stove?

We were never far from food. We loved the local food, mostly rice based and we would hunt out the cheapest Nasi Goreng for about 10,000 Rupiah (their national dish) or eat chicken satay by the side of the road. You pay more in the posh or western restaurants as you get good service, a wider choice and fancy presentation. You don’t really need to take a stove as there is always a warung (basic restaurant) in most towns. We did cook a bit to start with but food went off quickly in the heat and it never tasted as good as the locals made it. It was nice, however, to have the stove to snack on instant noodles and to make tea and coffee at a fraction of the price that you buy it for. Indonesian coffee is Chris’s favourite so far.

7. You took ferries and trains with your bikes. How easy is it to get your bike on public transport?

Taking the bikes on the ferries between the islands was easy. They have a rate for bicycles and you leave your bike in the bottom of the ferry with the cars. It’s useful to have some straps or bungees to secure the bikes. We never had a problem with stuff being stolen but took our valuables with us on deck. For the long ferry (28 hours) Java to Singapore the bikes and all our stuff were in the same communal room, we did not pay extra for this and there were no issues with the bikes.

We only took one train, it was quite easy once we worked out which section of the train the bikes needed to go on. You pay extra for the bikes but there did not seem to be a set price. We managed to barter for this and did hear of some people not even paying. You can get different class trains. We took first class; much more expensive but the only available one at the time we wanted to go.

IMG_4945

8. What is your most treasured memory of cycling in Indonesia?

We were looking for a place to camp and since we were surrounded by paddy fields that were no good for camping, we took a trip down a side road. Eventually we got the message across that we wanted somewhere to put our tent for the night. A kind woman said we could camp in her garden but the rest of the villagers were worried about us getting cold and wet. We were whisked into the house and told that we could sleep there.

More and more people turned up until it seemed half the village was there, wanting to see who the people on bikes were. Liz was ushered off to have a shower and Chris set about cooking some food. He soon had an audience of over 30 people watching him cook rice and vegetables. It was like live Masterchef. “Better than TV,” said one of the men! All the children sat cross legged on the floor watching his every move.

It was very funny because the rice took ages to cook and Chris kept trying it and then putting it back on the stove. Rice is eaten everyday here, at most meals, so they were watching with interest. One lady seemed to be telling Chris how to cook it. Chris replied wittily ‘Nasi Goreng English’ and she seemed happy with that but she did throw out the rest of our long beans as she said they were old. Another lady in the morning gave us fresh beans before we left.

IMG_5057

9. And the biggest challenge you faced?

There was not one big challenge that stood out. Generally Indonesia is an easy and lovely place to travel. We learnt some of the local language and that was really useful. In the non-tourist areas, hardly anyone spoke English. We did get annoyed with the traffic in Java but eventually got used to it. In Jakarta, the capital, Chris had to convince a prostitute that he was already taken.

10. What’s one essential tip that everyone considering a bike tour in Indonesia needs to know?

You only get a one month visa on arrival. Plan your route so you can be in the right place to extend your visa and explore more. There is so much to see. Go with the flow!

Thanks to Chris & Liz for answering 10 questions and providing the photos.

If you’d like to answer 10 questions about a favourite cycling destination, read the guidelines and then get in touch.

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16 Responses to “10 Questions: Cycling In Indonesia”

  1. Ignaz-Philip Dama L. says:

    Dear Chris and Liz,

    My eyes tear happily and my heart shivers joyfully while reading your story about passing Indonesia, specially Java Island.

    I’m a local bike tourist, not yet finished exploring Java, the Island where I was born. Everything of Java and the people along the road that you described do remind me a lot of my own experiences.

    The year 2010, when you passed it, was the year I explored the whole are of the provinces of Banten and West Java. I’ve heard people mentioning that some fully loaded bike tourists had passed before me. It feels great to know that you are some of them. Superb.

    Wish you all the bests for your next trips and journeys; and a TAILWIND, of course! :)

    Hati-hati di perjalanan, dan salam sukses selalu!
    Dama

    • Sandra Paramayuda says:

      Dama,

      Any favorite route in Java? I am planning to go visit my family in Jakarta soon. Would love to bring my road bike and do some rural bike ride including maybe climb some mountain.

      Thank You!
      Sandra

      • There are many. When you have arrived, you can ask local bikers about that. If you still need my help, contact me b damabening@gmail.com.

      • joe says:

        Pelabahn Ratu to Pangandaran along the coast was the best part of my tour across Java. If you look at the Nelles map you just follow the road closest to the coast. Some tough days but completely wonderful·

  2. Liz Wilton says:

    You have a wonderful country, thank you for you kind words.
    Chris and Liz

  3. Jeff says:

    Good read! I lived in Jakarta for 4 years and remember much of the same types of hospitality and warmth you describe. We would be mountain biking and get lost and look for trails back and the locals would always give us the main road to “help” us out. No, no! we want to take a footpath or motorcycle trail. Always fun.
    I have a website and group of active cyclists which I link above. If anyone wants to ask for help on a short trip or a long tour they are welcome to use the resource. All advice is free!

    Jeff

    • Daniel says:

      Hi!
      Seems like a very nice trip, thanks Chris and Liz for the information!
      I would like to go on a bike road trip during February and March, but as I decided quite spontaneous I don’t have anything planned by now. I tought of eventually fly to Jakarta and make my way going direction Lombok, and fly back from Bali!
      Jeff, would you have any recommentation, or information on resources I can use?
      I am not sure the bike I should use, could it be a good idea and possible to buy/rent one in Jakarta and to give it back / sell it on Bali?
      Thanks for any hints! Daniel

  4. chris says:

    would love to bring my Raleigh Chopper MKII over from the UK, I live in Indonesia,,, it costs so much to use the likes of UPS or ParcelForce,,, how to get it here? if I fly with a baggage allowance of just 23KG,,, I would have to pay $13 per KG over weight, then customs? will want to charge me for “importing ” my own bike ?

    • Jeff says:

      There should be no import on a bicycle if it is obviously used. Bringing in a new bike would cause problems but a used bike should be ok. I have many people who have come in with “lightly” used bikes that haven’t had problems.

  5. Ken says:

    Chris & Liz – thank you for such wonderful information. I am planning a similar trip – but I want to travel with flying. How did you get from New Zealand to Indonesia. Did youi fly? If not what boats did you take and how was this organised?

  6. Hi Ken

    We wanted to do the same but it does take quite a lot more planning and effort and potential cost. We flew from NZ to OZ then from OZ to Bali. Not to fly your options are.
    Check out the freighter companies in the area, they are expensive but do opperate.
    Sail – boats do move between the islands and you can sometimes get passage as crew. There are websites where you can sign up for this or you can hang about at the marines for months making friends until you get lucky. Making freinds and asking people is a big help with this Rob Lillwall got some really random boat rides on his trip just through persistance. I also know Oli Broom manged to do Indo to OZ by boat on a cattle ship. If you do sail make sure you get the right time of year or a huge boat. They is a hurrican seasson!
    Have fun and let us know how you get on!
    Check out this page http://www.bikeabout.co.uk/countries/indonesia/index.shtml for some more info on our site. Hope to get our Indo Langauge pod cast up there eventually!

  7. Will says:

    I love to hear that someone biked here its not many how will do it. I have been here for 11 years and the smiles are so important to me, if you get here next time try east indo its a anther world

  8. Daniel says:

    Hi Chris and Liz!
    I already posted a few weeks ago. I would go on a bike road trip to indonesia in february, starting from Yogyakarta and going through the east of Java heading towards Lombok.
    Do you have any recommendation on the route. I want to avoid using main roads, because of going on alternative roads would be nice, and quieter because of traffic.
    If you have any hints, I would be very thankful! Daniel

    • Hi Daniel it really depends on time, we took more main roads as we had limited time on our visa. Your best bet is order a paper map work out how much distance you want to cover each day. Decided if you want to camp or hotel. Decide what you want to see. Then pick smallest roads that allows you to do all the above.

      This is our route and stuff we like Enjoy.

      http://www.bikeabout.co.uk/countries/indonesia/index.shtml

      I think the velomads http://www.velomad.com/ did more small rds than us.

      • Daniel says:

        Thanks Chris!
        I changed my plans, as I will start in Bali and going to Lombok and Flores from there..
        What maps were you using then, some road map you bought right there, that covers small – but still ridable – roads?
        Best wishes from Europe!
        Daniel

  9. Damien says:

    Hi Daniel
    I can recommend the Reise Maps World Mapping Project Series, available from Omnimaps. They have a 1;800,000 scale map for the Lesser Sunsa Islands (covering Bali, Lombok, Sumbawa, Sumba, Flores, Timor, Alor & Wetar). Based on my experience cycling Sulawesi, the Reise maps are accurate and use actual town, rather than the district names used by Google and some other maps. Reise maps also give a fairly good idea of likely road conditions sealed, unsealed etc and alternatives from the “main” highways. Alternative routes though, are pretty limited in the Lesser Sundas once off Bali and Lombok.
    Good luck with your tour.
    Damien

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