Indonesia is the paradise you are looking for
When I first visited Indonesia in December 2015, I had already been to Thailand and Costa Rica. That's relevant because I had already seen paradise.
Thailand is one of the best countries you can visit in search of amazing beaches and the luxury of a low cost adventure. The real meaning of holidays is uncovered when most of the big troubles that can arise in your trip can be solved for less than 50€. In such a context, you can truly relax and enjoy.
Only downside is that Thailand is such a big tourist destination that it's hard to escape the western world and it feels a bit "less authentic".
Costa Rica is an expensive paradise, but an espectacular one. Guanacaste is so breathtaking, the kilometers of shores without any people in sight. Your budget needs to triple, but the images you'll take home will be worth the bill.
So when I spent 3 weeks in Indonesia in December 2015, I knew what cheap and costly paradise were. Which allows me to confirm you that Indonesia is the paradise you need in your life, and here's why.
First, you need months to travel around Indonesia. We are talking about over 13.000 islands to explore, and many of them are still not big touristy attractions. You can visit as many times as you want and you'll find something new for sure. This is unlimited paradise.
Secondly, when you arrive to Indonesia, you suddenly discover what diversity actually is: in a country with 260 milion inhabitants, 6 recognised religions co-exist rather peacefully. You'll find yourself taking a yoga class while hearing the sound of the call for prayer from the nearby mosque in the background.
The currency surely helps to have a hell of a holiday - the Indonesian Rupiah is pretty weak against the Euro. Which truly sucks for locals, but allows you to relax and fully enjoy paradise. The fruit juice to start your morning will cost you 0,50€ and dinner, if you eat like the locals, very hardly will be over 3€. Homestay rooms are around 5€ the night per person, sometimes including breakfast.
And on top, you probably don't understand the language and that for me guarantees the bliss. Once you understand what is going on, it gets harder to disconnect. The happiest years of my life in Berlin where the years I didn't understand most of what was said and done in German: you might think that makes life harder but not really. You cannot get angry about stuff you don't know about.
There are of course downsides, such as pollution, heavy traffic, an overuse of plastic and careless management of waste. The feeling you need a mask to cover your nose when driving around in a moped. The prettiest beaches destroyed with garbage. The fact that Indonesia burns almost every year to make space for palm oil production and those fires increase dramatically the CO2 in our planet. That this is only possible through a corrupted system.
But let me show you the good side of paradise.
First stop would be Bali. You've probably seen many pictures and heard lots about it. My photos are in no way the best out there, since I've avoided the picture perfect resort beaches of Nusa Dua in my two visits to Bali. Instead, we have made Sanur our HQ.
We really liked Sanur on our first visit because every time we went to the beach, most tourists were local Indonesians. The streets might be dirtier and the food stalls more dangerous for your belly, but the vibe is one of true life outside of the touristy bubble.
On our first visit, we found a newly opened aparthotel with excellent rates. A cute room with a kitchen in the porch, with breakfast included, and an awesome pool. 10€ the night in total for 2 people.
Our best memories from both visits to Sanur come from the night market: a bunch of stalls next to the main road with the most local dishes and prices.
There not enough pictures I could make of this little food wonderland.
And of course this is my favourite part 😂
We had some friends in Kuta and Nusa Dua so we paid a couple of visits to the most famous areas and well, if you are looking for an upscale Bali experience or the fun and crazy life in Bali, go ahead and stay a week around there. I don't consider them "the real Indonesia", but they are surely fun and beautiful.
If you are into amazing landscape, yoga and healthy food, Ubud is your Mecca in Bali. It's a cultural retreat surrounded by rice terraces and famous for its Monkey Forest. Without any doubt one of the most terrifying experiences for me in all my trips: being in a temple with monkey statues and thousand of monkeys.
Not that I don't like them, but they can get very aggressive and steal ANYTHING that they find interesting. In my case, I had a monkey almost stealing my iPhone and trying to rip my dress apart when I didn't let him. I've seen monkeys stealing water bottles from someone's hands or backpacks, taking away their glasses and breaking them into 2 pieces, just to toss them away 3 seconds after. Which if you ever wore glasses in your life, is a pretty horrible prospect during your holidays.
In our second visit this year we could see a bit more about Ubud and found a couple of great spots, like the trekking path to see rice terraces. Not that one day trip is enough for Ubud: next time we go, we'll stay the week. Even more now that we found the best flat white in Bali!
We also visited Uluwatu, which is a huge temple on a cliff facing the sea. It's a pretty spectacular view and worth your trip, for the temple and the beaches nearby.
Once we were done with our 9 days in Bali, we headed to the Gili Islands for New Year's Eve. These famous 3 tiny islands next to the much bigger island of Lombok were supposed to be the big highlight of Indonesia. The trip from Bali to Gilli Trawangan was already a warning of what was about to come: we had a bunch of really drunk Australians in our boat at 1 pm, and once we finally arrived, one of them decided to stand up and pee on the front empty seats as people were disembarking. When he was done, he had no better idea than to sit on his pee. TRUE STORY.
The party never stops in Gilli Trawangan, and we should have probably moved our asses to Gilli Meno or Gilli Air in our search for romantic and calm spots, but oh, we didn't know better. All Gillis are surrounded by amazing water and no motor vehicles are allowed. You move by foot, bike or horse, your choice. Gilli Trawangan is the biggest of the 3, but you can cover the whole coast of the island in a 40-minute walk, so by foot is fine.
We had a blast in terms of sunsets and turtle spotting. I don't think I've been as ecstatic in the water as I was when I first spotted (and stalked) my first big turtle. Such a moment!
But what was definitely the highlight of our trip was Lombok. Being an island with a majority of Muslim population, the development of Lombok has been much slower, to not say almost non-existent. While in Bali western tourists can go crazy, party up and get drunk as hell, in Lombok things are much calmer.
End result is a huge island with amazing beaches and almost 0 tourist industry. Half my heart belongs to Lombok. Sorry, Berlin. In one of our days driving on the motorbike from beach to beach, I realised paradise had a name and now that I knew, I couldn't unsee it anymore. Things changed for me in Kuta Lombok forever.
But of course nothing could stay perfect. I decided to take a surf lesson and on my third standing wave I hit the sole of my right foot real hard on the ground. I kept with my lesson for 2 hours, but when I went to lunch I couldn't ignore the pain anymore. I couldn't walk the rest of my trip, and not for the next 3 weeks back in Berlin. Until this day when I wake up and take my first steps in the morning, I remember Lombok.
So my few last days in Yogyakarta and Jakarta were a bit of a torture: so much to see and I had to stay put in the hotel or walk around like a flamingo...
In this second visit to Bali in December 2016, we chose to chillax instead of touring around. We found a cute apartment with kitchen and pool in Sanur for 340€ for 21 days in total. And our goals these days, after 6 weeks driving in a van touring New Zealand and Australia, were to sleep, eat, do exercise, write, read and work on our projects.
Bad timing that my Mac broke down in Cairns - we were binging on Narcos and my computer ran completely out of battery. It never charged again, and we tried EVERYTHING. We ruled out the battery damage and after looking everywhere in Bali for someone competent enough to repair it, we concluded it was the logic board. (UPDATE: After 2 weeks, the replacement of the logic board didn't come, the mac now charges but doesn't start. Now looking for a way to repair it in Cambodia...)
End result: my work and blogging have depended on Cihan's pauses. So I've been mostly reading, watching The Good Wife, writing from my iPhone and sunbathing in the pool.
I know, I can't complain.
We've done very few outings: the above mentioned Ubud day trip, a morning in the Tegenungan waterfall, the visit to Tanah Lot and a short incursion to Canggu en route to Tanah Lot.
The waterfall in Tegenungan is definitely worth a day trip, but probably is not as awesome during the rainy season - as locals say it, it will look a bit like brown sugar. The current is really scary, so it won't be a peaceful bath, but the fun is guaranteed. Be aware that you will pay an entrance for the lower part and an extra entrance if you want to go up. We paid both of them and we didn't regret it!
The temple of Tanah Lot is a true tourist trap. A beautiful one indeed, but I'm not going to lie. We paid 60.000 Indonesian Rupiah (4€) to walk through the equivalent of 3 streets of shops to finally reach the path to the temple. We had timed out our visit to arrive in low tide in order to access the temple - but you can only take pictures of the temple, not really go up.
I understand it's a sacred place and I'm happy we checked it out. But don't expect a mystical experience: the crowds and the rubbish on the beach won't help.
Nevertheless, our trip to Tanah Lot gave us an excuse to check out Canggu and I can only say: OMFG. Hipsterism is taking over the world and Canggu is living proof of that. The contrast with the aesthetics of Indonesia is more than stark: it's hard to feel in the same country. It's Ubud with a beach and hipster surfers, cafes, shops, co-working spaces and restaurants. Quinoa and avocado heaven, my kind of heaven, but there are way too many posers to handle.
I would definitely give Canggu a second chance in any next visit, even if it's 3 times more expensive than Sanur. But at least I'm now mentally prepared - and very curious.
In these 3 weeks it has been challenging to find good food. Quinoa here is 20€ per kilo, everything is based on rice and noodles, and of course, fried. The fruit juices mess up with my tummy and a visit to the supermarket is 3 times more expensive than eating out. That's the only dark spot in this amazing place, but a really hard one to ignore.
We're leaving now Bali on our way to visit friends for Christmas and New Year's Eve in Cambodia. If we could stay here 6 more months, we'd be VERY tempted. That's how much we enjoy Bali.
But the world is waiting and we know for sure that we will be back to Indonesia as soon as possible. Not only because it is cheap, also because I have to admit that Indonesia feels like home. And home I mean in this case El Salvador: the same fruits (coconut, mango, pineapple, avocados galore), the same destroyed streets, very similar smells, clothes and kind people. Minus the danger factor: San Salvador is a very dangerous city to visit, while the rest of the country is rather safe. And also minus the language: is like going back to my childhood without understanding a thing on the streets, which for me is just perfect.
For the next visit I hope to go to Flores, Nusa Penida and Nusa Lembongan, visit some volcanoes, Sulawesi and who knows, maybe even Borneo. That's quite the bucket list, I know!
Did I convince you to visit Indonesia?