in Indonesia have improved dramatically over the past years, but traffic
has also increased and driving is a hazardous affair.
Trucks and buses, minivans, swarms of motorcycles piled with goods or
carrying a family of four, ox-drawn carts, horse-drawn carts, bicycles,
pedicabs (becak) and pedestrians of all ages compete in what is at times
a crazy battle for tarmac, where the biggest and fastest rule.
Rental cars and motorcycles are available in many major cities, and
a number of different types of buses run cheap and regular services.
Trains are very slow. A first-class Bima night train leaves Jakarta
in the late afternoon, reaching Surabaya early the next day. From Surabaya
you transfer to a Mutiara train to Banyuwangi on the eastern tip of
Java (7 hours) and then take a bus to Denpasar. The whole trip takes
30 hours. It is safe and cheap, at under $40 non-AC, second class.
Night Express Buses ( Bis Malam )
These buses leave in late afternoon and go all night, and often well
into the next day. When bis malam cross from island to island, they
go on the ferry. The fare includes simple meals.
The better buses have a bathroom, loud video and arctic air-conditioning:
the other reason you brought a sweater. The key to successful bis malam
trips is sleep. Choose the best bus available as the price difference
is usually not very great and comfort for the long trip is essential.
Most buses have televisions and show videos, often followed by music.
You are likely to be the only one who is annoyed by the volume, but
a cheerful suggestion that the music be turned off (dimatikan) will
at least get it turned down to the point where earplugs can block out
the rest. There are also karaoke "sing-along" buses-for masochists
and anthropologists only.
The seats to avoid are in the very front and the very back. The back
seats are raised up over the engine and don't recline, while front row
seats give you too intimate a view of what the driver is doing. You
can also buy two seats, which will make sure you don't get squashed.
The price is cheap enough that most budgets can handle two fares.
On many buses, you can reserve one day ahead. Tickets are sold at the
bus terminal or by bus ticket agents and travel services or ask if your
hotel or losmen can make the bookings for you. There are usually several
buses going your way. Shop around to see what you can get.
The trip from Jakarta takes about 27 hours. The night buses leave the
Pulo Gadung terminal in Jakarta at 3 pm and arrive in Denpasar (Ubung
terminal) at sunset the following day. The one-way fare is about $25
non-AC and $35 AC. Similar AC buses leave for Denpasar from Surabaya's
Bungurasih terminal, fare $11; and from Yogyakarta for $20: both one-way.
The major advantages of these rattling buses is that they are extremely
cheap, run every few minutes between major towns, and can be picked
up at the terminals or any point along their routes. This is also their
biggest disadvantage: they stop constantly to pick up passengers.
If you depart from a terminal, find a seat near a window that opens.
Try not to share this breeze with passengers behind you; they are likely
to have a strong aversion to wind for fear of masuk angin (the wind
which enters the body and causes a cold).
The seats are very small, both in terms of leg room and width. You and
your bag may take up (and be charged for) two seats. This is fair. But
be sure you're not being overcharged. Ask someone what the proper fare
is to your destination before getting on. A few words of Indonesian
are indispensable for asking directions. People are generally very eager
to help you.
Buses depart throughout the day from Ubung terminal in Denpasar for
Yogyakarta, Surabaya, Jakarta, and many other destinations. Bus company
agents are located on JI.Diponegoro in Denpasar. Lorena and simpatic
Transport, JI. Diponegoro, has tickets to all destinations.
Called either mikrolet or travel, these come in two varieties: old and
hot (sit by a window and keep it open) and the newer, much revered,
L300 van with air conditioning. Even the L300 gets a lot of engine heat
and at midday can still be sauna-like, especially if the air conditioning
is broken and the windows shut.
These 8 to 11 passenger vans connect major cities and deliver you right
to your destination. Sometimes they also pick you up. They usually travel
during the day, though on longer routes they travel at night like the
bis malam. Express minibuses are slightly more expensive than bis malam
but more convenient. Buy tickets at the mikrolet / travel office; they
do not pick up passengers along the way.
a Car or Minibus in Bali
This can be the best way to handle a land tour as you have the freedom
to stop whenever things look interesting and the flexibility to try
out some less traveled routes. This can also be an economical alternative
if you can fill up a van. The minibus can take up to 7, but you need
extra space if you are to be in it for a few days, so 5 passengers is
The quality of both the driver and the vehicle will figure heavily in
the pleasure of your trip so don't be shy about checking both out before
striking a deal. Your driver should be responsible and have a personality
that won't grate on you in the long haul. If he knows the area you will
be driving through and can speak some English, so much the better.
The air-conditioning should work well enough to overcome the midday
heat and the vehicle should be clean and comfortable.
Travel agents and services can arrange these charters. For going to
and from Bali count on paying between $30-$40 a day for an AC van, excluding
fuel. You also pay for fuel, so distance is a major factor. Most of
the rest goes to the owner of the vehicle, and only a tiny percentage
left for the driver. It is understood that you will pay for the driver's
meals and accommodation both while he is with you and on his journey
back home. If the driver is good, a tip of Rp 10,000 per day is appropriate.