Indonesia. Such a vast, gorgeous, mystical and exotic country. Thick jungles, volcanos, white sandy beaches, pristine waters filled with coral, abundance of sea life, ancient temples, orangutans, coffee pooping creatures – it’s a paradise for any kind of traveller. Being so exotic and wild though, it also has some dark sides and hides risks that most people prefer not to talk about.
I travelled in Indonesia (Java, Bali, Lombok and the Gili islands) solo for 2 months and I absolutely loved it. Fascinating country and amazing people. As any other country it has some grim aspects as well and it’s good to be aware if you want to have a nice time. The information below concerns Java, Bali, Lombok and the Gili islands.
Beware Of The Taxi Mafia
Yep, no joke, the locals do call it mafia and from what I’ve seen on Bali, it qualifies.
The car transport options in Indonesia are either the local taxi mafia, Bluebird Taxi (the official taxi company), Uber, Grab (the Asian version of Uber) or Go-Jek.
Mafia taxi drivers can be extremely pushy, will follow you around, ask you loads of questions, give you false information (there is no bus, etc.) and give you a ridiculously high price. When you refuse and try to walk away they might block your way as well. This is scary even if you’re in a group so imagine being solo.
They’ve occupied the zones around bus and train stations, main tourist attractions and hotels. I saw with my own eyes how a bunch of those taxi mafia drivers jumped on a Bluebird taxi car, screaming and banging on the car, because the driver was going to pick someone up from their zone – the bus station.
Bluebird taxis are official, use meter, you can order them though an app and are cheaper compared to the mafia. Still, to me the price feels a bit steep, being a budget traveller in a cheap country.
If you want a fare price though, Uber, Grab and Go-Jek are your options. The only problem with them is that they’ll often decline orders from and to bus and train stations, or main tourist attractions. Alternatively, they’ll offer to drop you off further from your destination at a more hidden location. The reason behind this? Fear.
The taxi mafia in Indonesia works as any other mafia – they’ll trash the car, beat the drivers, and on occasions – the passengers as well.
If you’re at a bus station, train station or in an area with huge “NO UBER. NO GRAB” signs, walk away, find a safer place and then order your car.
Mind Yourself & Stay Out Of Trouble
I don’t want to scare you, but unfortunately there are still many cases of tourists being attacked, found dead in the fields or gone missing forever around Bali and Lombok. There is a documentary called “Bali, The Dark Side of Paradise”, which will tell you some pretty grim stories.
Foreigners don’t have much rights and, God forbid, you need help from the police. As one of the expats in Bali I spoke with said – “It’s beautiful as long you stay low profile and have enough financial cushion to get you out of the country fast“.
There’s also been reports of tourists being attacked with machetes and robbed at dark, while driving motorbikes on country roads. At Kuta Lombok the people from my homestay warned me to be in the village before dark exactly because of those cases.
Now, I am by no means saying – it’s so dangerous, don’t go. I was there, I loved it and I’m safe and sound. All I’m saying is – be aware and mind yourself. Even though it’s a dream holiday destination, Indonesia is still a developing country, so wherever you go, ask for any safety precautions and be careful.
Stollen Bike Scams
The most convenient way to get around the islands is on a motorbike. It’s also the most convenient way for scammers to make a dollar.
First of all, you are required to have an international motorbike driving license, which most people don’t (me neither). Thankfully, I’ve never been pulled over, but from what I’ve heard, the police use this opportunity to make something extra from bribe. The amounts can vary, but what I was doing was to keep something like 100,000 IDR in my wallet and the rest of my money elsewhere. If the police stop me and ask for money – this is all they can get (born and raised in Bulgaria, I know how to deal with corruption).
Another scam is for the bike owners to charge you for damage you’ve done and give you a crazy price for it. Guilty or not, you’ll most probably have to pay, but at least make sure you check the damage cost in a proper shop before paying.
Worst off all is the stollen motorbike scams on Lombok island in which the police are also involved. Most bikes on the island don’t have insurance or even license plates, and you’ll be required to leave your passport when hiring. Now, you might get pulled over by the police, who’d claim the bike was stollen and ask for a bribe to let you go, or the bike might actually disappear. If your bike is gone, you’d be forced to pay for the old junk an amount that can get as ridiculous as 10,000,000 IDR (750 USD) or you can’t leave the island.
If you have enough time, you can try filing reports in the central police station and make some noise around it. Sometimes the bike mysteriously appears and sometimes you just have to pay the money. In any case calling your embassy is pointless as they can’t do anything for you.
How I know all that? On my first night at Kuta Lombok my bike disappeared from the spot where I’d left it, which made me read a few blogs and forums. What I read gave me a sleepless night and almost a heart attack. Long story short, the bike was found hidden in a garage the day after and I had to pay 50,000 IDR “parking fee”. It was an obvious scam, but having in mind the alternative, I happily paid the money. I returned the bike and changed the homestay the same day (DO NOT STAY AT Ramay Homestay in Kuta Lombok!).
Good news is that there’s a few things you can do to prevent such scams:
- Rent the bike from a reputable homestay or hotel and avoid the dodgy places on the street.
- If the bike has no plates ask for one that does and say you have to go to another town (if you’re in Lombok, say Mataram). They’ll give you a bike with plates and papers, which will give you extra security.
- When renting ask if they charge for dents and scratches. If they do, always take pictures, or even a video, of all the existing damage on the bike. Make sure that the person renting it to you is also visible.
- Pay the ridiculous beach parking fees on Lombok and keep the ticket. Those guys may or may not be involved in the scams, but by paying the parking fee you’re pretty much paying them not to steal the bike.
Respect The Dress Code
This is a MUST if you’re going to the immigration office, any other official entity or religious site. You will not be allowed in otherwise. You should keep it in mind even when just moving around, depending on the area you are in.
Kuta Lombok and Bali seemed to be most relaxed about it, but it’s a different story if you’re in Java or Sumatra for example. Ladies, you should be even more careful about it. It’s for your own peace of mind and security. Shorts and tank tops draw way too much attention (the kind you definitely don’t want) if you’re away from the popular beach destinations. Being a tourists draws enough attention to you already, especially if you’re a blonde solo female.
While I was going for dinner in Yogyakarta, a local on the street tried to grab my crotch and ran away. It was either because of the tube top revealing my shoulders (legs were covered) or he just wanted to greet me Trump’s style. Dunno.
After this incident however, I stared covering my legs, shoulders and even head at times, irrespective of the heat and the amounts of sweat I was shredding. This definitely changed the attitude and restored my sense of security and my confidence.
If you travel in a group, or especially with a guy, things will be different. If you’re a solo female however, I’ll highly recommend covering up and blending in.
Prepare For The Selfies
In the less touristy places in Indonesia Tourist = Attraction. Local boys, girls, men and women will stop you to ask for a selfie. They’ll shout to you “Misteeeer” (irrespective of your gender) and run to you with their cameras. Sometimes you’ll notice them secretly taking pictures of you.
Now, at first this is kinda cute and I was taking selfies with them as well, but at some point it just became too much. It’s a constant harassment, which made me feel really bad for the celebrities. I couldn’t enjoy a walk, a meal or even a temple exploration because of this. I paid the outrageous $25 USD to visit Borobudur (the biggest Buddhist temple in Indonesia) and couldn’t even experience it as I was chased by the locals. Not cool.
The only thing you can do about this – have loads of patience, stay calm and smile for the camera 🙂
Polish Your Bargaining Skills
Price tags or set prices are very rare outside of the hotels and bigger restaurants. When you ask for the price, chances are that the people will give you a number 2-3 times higher to what they’re willing to sell it for. For many tourists the inflated prices are not an issue, but if you’re a long term traveller on a budget, you’d be closer to your money. Even if the budget is not a problem, I still don’t like the idea of being ripped off and paying European prices in Indonesia does feel like it.
In many local home stays you can negotiate the rate of the room, especially if you’re staying 1 week or longer. Same applies for bike rentals and sometimes local restaurants as well (called Warung).
How much you bring the price down will depend on your bargaining skills, but in any case don’t overdo it. The locals need to make a living too.
Indonesia And Animal Cruelty
This has nothing to do with your survival in the country, but it’s something I feel strongly about.
As a developing country Indonesia doesn’t know much about animal rights. We however, can make a difference by being aware and not supporting certain businesses.
One of the most expensive coffees in the world, Kopi Luwak, is being produced in Indonesia. The coffee beans are eaten, partially digested and pooped out by the Asian palm civet. In the past those cute animals were roaming free, but nowadays people captivate them, keep them in small cages and force feed them, so that they can produce more of the precious poo. If you decide to visit one of those farms, please make sure it’s a place where the animals are free and treated correctly.
In many places you’ll see horses being used for transport – either for a ride or with a cart. Usually the poor animals are overworked, underfed, left in the heat for the whole day without water, beaten, you name it. As much as the local communities are trying to improve this, it’s still an issue. If you’re so lazy that you wouldn’t walk, please use a more humane means of transport. A sustainable bicycle cart for example – the person chose to do it, it’s eco-friendly and you still support the local community 🙂
Despite the flaws and potential dangers, Indonesia is one of my most favourite places in the world! It’s absolutely fascinating and the people are lovely. Wherever you go there, I hope this information will be useful and you’ll have a great time! If you know of some other dangers travellers should be aware of, please share in the comments below 🙂