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Indonesia Travel Tips: Things To Know Before Visiting

Indonesia is a Southeast Asian country that’s the largest archipelago in the world, spanning over 7,000 km from Banda Aceh in Sumatra to Merauke in Papua. Consisting of over 17,000 islands, it’s a popular tourist destination known for its rich and diverse culture, stunning beaches and natural beauty. Here are some tips that are worth knowing before your visit.

Download the Grab or Gojek app

Grab and Gojek are popular ride-hailing apps that have transformed the urban landscape of Indonesia. In metropolises such as Jakarta, you’ll see numerous Grab and Gojek drivers wearing branded jackets and helmets, taking passengers to their destinations.

Grab bike rider with passenger in Jakarta, Indonesia.
A Grab driver and passenger in Jakarta. Photo by Afif Ramdhasuma on Unsplash.

Not only are they convenient, they’re also cheap. Generally you have the option of booking a car or bike. There are pros and cons of both.

Car: If you value comfort and space, booking a car is preferable. However it’s more expensive than booking a bike and traffic can slow down your journey.

Bike: This is the cheaper option and has the benefit of being able to cut through a lot of traffic. However in congested areas, it’s not particularly pleasant to breathe in vehicle fumes.

Here’s a quick price comparison with Uber.

If you want to take a trip from Canggu Beach to Seminyak Beach in Bali, it’ll cost around $6 by car and around $2 by bike. A journey of a similar distance (8km), from Golden Gate Park to Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco will cost around $20.

Generally drivers should have a helmet for themselves and for passengers. Although it may be tempting not to wear a helmet for short distances (e.g. if you don’t want to mess with your styled hair!), in cities like Jakarta, drivers can get fined by police if a passenger isn’t wearing a helmet. For safety purposes, it’s always recommended to wear one.

Grab and Gojek also have features other than ride hailing such as food delivery, which is convenient if you want to order some food but don’t want to leave your hotel or hostel.

Wear a mask & long sleeves when taking a bike

As we’re on the topic of ride hailing, you may notice that a lot of Grab and Gojek drivers wear long sleeves, and some even wear gloves. This may seem counterintuitive at first, however you’ll soon understand why if you book a ride on a hot day. The sun can be particularly punishing in Indonesia, and if you’re waiting at a traffic light or stuck in traffic, you’ll certainly feel the heat on your arms. So if you have a light, long-sleeved shirt, it’ll be useful to wear it for bike trips when the sun is particularly strong.

Also depending on which part of Indonesia you visit, wearing a mask can be helpful to protect you from pollution in heavy traffic. Of course, not all masks are created equal, but simply wearing a mask can provide a sense of comfort if you’re on the back of a bike and stuck in traffic. Generic masks can be found in mall supermarkets or in convenience stores such as Indomaret and Alfamart, and higher quality ones can be found in pharmacies such as Guardia and Century. You can also order them online on Shopee, Tokopedia and Lazada.

Crossing the road is a skill

In Asia, there’s an art to crossing the road. And in Indonesia, there are a specific set of actions that are worth keeping in mind. If you need to cross a busy road with a steady stream of traffic, and there are no traffic light crossings nearby, here are some pointers:

  1. When you decide to step onto the road, make sure there’s considerable space between you and any oncoming vehicles.
  2. Vehicles should slow down as you cross, however it’s important to gauge the speed of oncoming vehicles. Even if there’s a wide distance between you and them, they might not want to stop if they’re driving at high speed.
  3. When you step onto the road, raise your hand to around hip height towards any oncoming vehicles as you cross. This will increase your visibility and register with them that you’re crossing, so they should slow down.
  4. Again, don’t cross if there’s little space between you and the vehicles, and if they’re moving at high speed.
  5. If you’re still uncertain, stick with the locals. Try to stay near a group of people crossing the road at the same time as you.

Download a digital wallet, bring a debit card or pay by cash

Indonesia is transitioning from a cash-based society into one that’s more digital payments focused, however cash is still widely accepted. The most popular digital wallets are GoPay, OVO, ShopeePay, DANA and LinkAJA. Bear in mind that as a tourist, you may experience some issues when registering with some of these digital wallets. For example, as shown in the images below, LinkAJA may not accept certain foreign payment cards with which top up your account. Also OVO requires you to go through a verification process if you want to make transfers to other account holders. If you’re a tourist, the verification process might take longer than expected.

As a backup, in case you have these issues with Indonesian digital wallets, it’s useful to bring a debit card that works in other countries on your trip. Some cards work internationally without an issue, and for others, you may need to notify your bank of your travel dates so they don’t flag international payments and ATM withdrawals as a security breach. And speaking of ATM withdrawals, it’s useful to bring a card that doesn’t charge a fee each time you take out money.

Download a translation app and learn a little Bahasa

Although English is widely spoken in nearby countries such as Malaysia and Singapore, it isn’t widely spoken in Indonesia. The main language in Indonesia is Bahasa Indonesia. It’s worth learning a few phrases such as selamat pagi (good morning) and terima kasih (thank you), and downloading a translation app for times when communication might be an issue.

When selecting a translation app, try to find one that allows you to download the whole translation file of a language so you can use it even when offline.

In some places, for example at a coffee shop in a mall, staff may recognise that you’re a tourist and might speak with you in English.

Bring your passport if you’re buying an Indonesian SIM card

This is a quick point. When you’re buying a SIM card in Indonesia, you’ll need your passport in order to register it.

Double-check the conditions of your visa

Two Indonesia visa on arrival and landing permission passport stickers.
Indonesian Visa On Arrival passport stickers.
Indonesia Visa On Arrival receipt.
Visa On Arrival receipt.

If you need a visa to visit Indonesia, it’s worth double-checking the conditions. For example, if you pay for a Visa On Arrival that lasts for 30 days, it may be a ‘single entry’ visa. This means that if you stay in Indonesia for a few days but then visit a nearby country such as Malaysia, Singapore or Vietnam, you’ll then need to pay for another visa if you return to Indonesia.

That would be frustrating if you have permission to stay for 30 days in Indonesia but only end up staying for a few days and then have to pay again if you decide to return. If your visa is a single-entry one, it may be preferable to stay in Indonesia for a bit longer so you can use up the days you have on your visa and then travel to other countries you may have planned to visit on your trip.

If Indonesia is on your bucket list, check out our article on Amazing Things To Do In Jakarta.

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