It feels a bit of a misnomer to say we’ve been to “Indonesia”. It is such a vast archipelago; our visits to Bali and Java felt like they barely scratched the surface.
Indonesia is certainly a tougher nut to crack than Malaysia; the language barrier, the bartering culture and the simple fact that you stand out far more as a western tourist (certainly in Java) make for a big culture shock as soon as you step off the plane. That said, we both (Craig in particular) quite liked the sense of “otherness”; here you felt you really had come to the other side of the world.
The food was also not what I was expecting. I had imagined plentiful street food and the same variety of food I had enjoyed in Malaysia. Actually, I found Indonesia’s food a bit less varied than I had anticipated and found that street food was a bit intimidating. Was the table of people sitting by the roadside a restaurant, or would I be plonking myself amongst a family having their evening meal and be shooed away? The uncertainty put me off having a go, which was a bit of a shame.
I was also a bit disappointed by how much Ubud had been turned over to tourism; so many shops in a row sold the same things that you could see the desperation in some shopkeepers to make a sale which felt uncomfortable, and like Ubud had slightly sold it’s soul. However, I feel a bit like I can’t be too critical as, ultimately, we formed part of Ubud’s swelling visitor numbers for a brief time – however hard we tried to avoid the souvenir tat.
At times I found it exhausting. Walking along a hot, dusty, busy road being constantly hassled by taxi drivers – who you then needed to go through a protracted negotiation with for a fairly short journey – certainly isn’t an easy way to pass the time.
But it does get easier. By the end of our too-short fortnight in Indonesia, we were trying the face-meltingly spicy broth from a street cart, and Craig was cheerfully (and successfully) bartering with taxi drivers. I really wish we could have had longer to really find our groove in Indonesia, and I think we are both keen to return if we can.
I feel like I’ve been a bit negative here, and making out like I spent a lot of the trip disappointed or fed up. Actually, in the end it wasn’t disappointing at all. It was just a destination that defied expectations and pushed us a bit out of our comfort zone. And is that not exactly what we came away to do?
Indonesia lends itself well to budget travel. We set ourselves a (generous) daily budget of £30pp, and we ended up being about £60 over our final budgeted amount due to booking some last minute flights to Bali.
We certainly could have done much better; I’d like to say we used the savings from our free stay in the L Hotel to bring us in under budget but we basically spent the money on a few days of lavish eating, drinking and drunkenly building forts out of incredibly fluffy pillows instead. Sorry not sorry.