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A Review of Indonesian Transportaion

In a country of bemos, ojeks, negotiable prices, and ever-changing timetables, determining the quickest and cheapest method of transportation can be quite a challenge. If you read on a seemingly official website or bulletin that a bus is to depart at a particular time, this is no guarantee of being accurate or of there being a bus at all. Flat tires and breakdowns are frequent, and as personally experienced during our trip between Pangandaran and Jakarta, drivers may simply become “too sleepy” and refuse to continue driving. Travel by boat can be just as much of a gamble, although more reliable scheduling exists for ferries departing from major city ports. However, bad weather frequently delays crossings and, with safety a minor concern, boats are often filled beyond capacity and prone to capsizing. The same ferry, Rafelia II, which carried AJ and Taylor across the Bali Strait, recently sunk with 81 on board shortly after leaving Banyuwangi on the eastern tip of Java (news story).

Bemos (mini buses) and Ojeks (motorbike taxis) are undoubted the easiest way to explore a city, with the latter option most suitable for individual travelers. Traveling in a group of three, we found it the easiest to still rely on Bluebird taxis and auto rickshaws to ferry us between points in the city. Having used Uber extensively in the states, we decided to test its service in both Kuta, Bali and Jakarta, with rather poor results. During several attempts we watched the estimated pick-up time grow larger as the vehicle icon on the map screen moved further from our location. During one of our more successful attempts with the service, the driver’s phone lost connection at our drop-off point, so we agreed to pay in cash, only to receive a notification later that we had in fact been billed through the Uber app (after contacting Uber directly we were refunded for the trip, but nevertheless it was an added inconvenience). Perhaps, a faster alternative to Uber, would have been the up-and-coming service Go-Jek, which operates much in the same way as Uber, but uses experienced motorbike drivers to shuttle people, food, and other goods throughout the city. This service comes with the added advantage of being able to squeeze between taxis trapped in Jakarta’s notorious rush hour traffic. Unfortunately, we never had the opportunity to test this service, but it’s presence in the city was everywhere and we’ll definitely be downloading the app on our next visit.

During our short time in Lombok, Bali, and Java, we traveled by land, water, and air, experiencing the wonders of Indonesian travel. While times, routes, and prices are always subject to change, we figured it may be beneficial to share some of our more successful transit experiences and advice.

Air:

Wings Air and Lion Air provide insanely cheap flights between 79 destinations in Indonesia, so if you’re willing to ignore the airlines’ dismal safety rating and the fact of it being listed on the EU aviation blacklist, both these budget airlines may be well worth looking into before arranging for a long bus/ferry journey between cities.

Tiket is your best bet for booking regional flights throughout Indonesia and to select international destinations in Southeast Asia.

Kuta, Bali to Kuta, Lombok

Originally the plan was to leave Kuta by taxi (approx 100.000rp) to Padang Bai Harbor, and catch the public ferry (4-5 hours) to Lombok, from where we’d take a mini bus, or taxi, the rest of the way to Kuta, Lombok. These public ferries make scheduled crossings every hour, 24 hours a day, costing 40.000rp per ticket available only at the ferry terminal. After reviewing our plans with the helpful staff at Palloma Hotel, we were informed of the budget flights operating from Denpasar to Lombok International for less than 150.000rp ($11) on Wings Air. With a flight time of less than one hour we opted to fly instead, spending the remainder of our afternoon by the hotel pool. Upon arrival to Lombok Airport finding a taxi to complete  our journey was relatively easy, costing 80.000rp for a 45 min taxi ride to Kuta.

Train:

Java has a fairly well developed rail network with online booking and self service check-in kiosks at the station, although didn’t test this service and chose to purchase tickets in person (note: you must present your passport for ticket purchase). The main station in Jakarta is Gambir (map), located opposite the National Monument on southeast corner. Seating options are divided into three classes Executive (Eksecutif), Business (Bisnis), and Economy (Ekonomi), although it is common for some train to only offer eksecutif class seats. Schedules and pricing available online.

Jakarta – Yogyakarta

We decided to travel by overnight train from Gambir (as the journey saved us a few dollars by avoiding an added night of accommodations, although for the same price ($20-25) AirAsia and Lion Air operate several daily flights between Soekarno–Hatta International airport (CGK) and Adisucipto International Airport (JOG). Our Eksekutif class seats reclined further than expected allowing us to catch up on some sleep before arriving in Yogyakarta 8 hours later at 4am. From the station it’s a short walk to many guesthouses and hotels.

Bus:

Buses in Indonesia can be a nightmare. Not just because of the hassle involved in finding the right ticket, bus, and price, but also for the ride itself. It’s not uncommon for buses to be over crowded, full of people, crates, and livestock, with drivers plummeting down the road at breakneck speeds. Prices vary greatly between routes, although for trips less than 1 hr on public transport it shouldn’t cost more than 15.000rp. As a tourist, prices will always vary, and when taking a public bus it’s always best (when possible) to ask local before you begin your bartering process on board. Pariwisata (tourist coach) buses are readily available to connect you between destinations and most have A/C, an added comfort often well worth the extra rupiahs.

Yogyakarta – Wonosobo – Dieng Plateau

For this journey from Yogyakarta to the Dieng Plateau we chose to public transport, both for the experience, and the 50.000rp we hoped to be saving in the process. Jombor station, located 15 minutes north of Yogyakarta city center (map), required a taxi to reach by 7:00 in the morning from downtown Yogyakarta. From here, finding the first departing bus to Wonosobo was simple; the bus we were looking for had “Wonosobo” labeled on the front of it. This ride took under 2 hours and cost 30.000rp, although this should have been much less. We were the last ones to exit the bus on the streets of Wonosobo from where it was another hour long bus ride to Dieng Plateau. 

Pangandaran to Soekarno–Hatta International Airport (CGK)

Bus: Pariwisata buses labeled “Gapuraning Rahayu” depart from Pangandaran Bus Terminal (map) at 19:00 and 21:00 each evening for 95.000rp to Terminal Kampung Rambutan (map) in southern Jakarta. In our experience, despite a ”break-down” and being herded onto another bus, we arrived in South Jakarta around 04:00. Once at Kampung Rambutan, signs direct you to the Damri bus stop 50 meters away. The Damri (40.000rp) begins operation at 05:00, and takes approx. 40 minutes to reach the airport.

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