This post was last updated on June 30th, 2020 at 06:00 pm
Because of the many islands that Indonesia has, you will need to use various means of transport during your journey. It takes some time to travel between different islands. The way you travel depends largely on your budget and preferences. Because the country is so huge and some islands are far apart, traveling is different than, for example, in Vietnam or Laos. You won’t get to see all that Indonesia has to offer if you’re only using a scooter or a bus.
Transport in Indonesia
Given the large distances and the many islands, you will have to use the boat and the plane more frequently to see the most of Indonesia. Of course, you have plenty of other choices on the islands themselves; from minivans to scooters. On the larger Indonesian islands, you will find every type of transport.
Buses in Indonesia
The bus is probably one of the best ways to see Indonesia. Buses run to every corner of the country (except in Papua) and are often also cheap. Just like other Asian countries, the same rule also applies here; the bus won’t leave until it’s full. In this case full really means packed to the brim.
Advice – In the high season it doesn’t hurt to reserve seats.
Buses are cheap and easy to book. There are some disadvantages; they are quite slow, tight, and often just frightening. Tickets are sold on the departure day or in advance on popular routes. You can buy tickets at the bus station itself, on the bus, at your accommodation or at tour operators in the city.
Food and Drinks
A bus trip on Sumbawa, Java, Sumatra, or Sulawesi can easily take up to 10 hours. Therefore, make sure you have enough food and drinks with you. There will be stops on the way, but the food they sell is often of lesser quality.
There are a lot of buses in Indonesia. The local buses are often the cheapest but also the least comfortable. Not to mention a bus trip in Indonesia can easily take up to 12 hours. In terms of transport in Indonesia, the bus is the easiest option to get from A to B if you stay on one island.
These buses can be seen as the local buses; they run a standard route and are often crowded. They are the cheapest buses but also the ones that are the least comfortable.
There is often no air conditioning, the buses are old and they are very slow. That’s because they often stop to drop people off or pick them up. There are some benefits; they are bizarrely cheap and you always experience something along the way. Even if it is just a local that stares at you for 10 hours!
These buses are also called patas in Indonesia, not to be confused with shoes. They look a bit like the economy buses but these buses only stop at bus stations and do not pick up anyone along the way.
The express buses also often have airconditioning on board, which is nice when you’re going for a long journey. Often, you can also reserve seats for these buses. This is not possible with economy class buses.
Airco Buses (VIP Buses)
These buses are the most used by tourists. They are also called VIP buses. They drive in large numbers and the price varies per bus company and route. The buses are often equipped with a lot of luxuries such as TVs, toilets, seats that can be moved back, air conditioning and food. Some even have Wi-Fi onboard.
You need to book these buses in advance. You do this at your accommodation, a tour operator in the city or at the bus station where the bus leaves. The VIP buses are more expensive but a lot more comfortable and faster.
Minivans in Indonesia
A typical Asian phenomenon is a minivan, or minibus. Every country has them and everywhere they are called differently. In Indonesia, they also call them bemos. In Kalimantan, they call them taksi, in Sulawesi they are called Pete-Petes and in Flores they are called travel.
Minivans are used everywhere. They can take you from one side of the city to the other or through the country at 10 a.m. They are faster than buses and sometimes cheaper. You can often negotiate rates. Here are some tips;
- Most minibuses run a standard route. They pick up people along the way.
- Drivers wait until their van is completely full. Don’t expect them to leave earlier.
- They are called minivans for a reason; there is hardly any room for luggage.
- On Bali, it’s better to take a motor-taxi (or rent a scooter yourself).
Minivan drivers try to make foreigners pay more. It is best to ask someone what the normal rates are such as the staff at your accommodation. Harga biasa means ‘normal price.’
The minivans are pretty cheap. Bargaining, therefore, is not very necessary.
Planes in Indonesia
With more than 6,000 inhabited islands you have a lot of distance to cover if you want to see everything. You can, of course, take the boat but for those who have less time this is not an option. A boat from Lombok to Flores, for example, takes around two days.
Fortunately, aviation in Indonesia has undergone a strong development in recent years. Domestic flights have become a popular means of transport among tourists and Indonesians. That is why airplanes are increasingly being used as a means of transport in Indonesia.
Fares depend on the airline, ticket type, and travel date, but are usually good considering the distance traveled and the time you save.
A flight between Bali and Jakarta, for example, costs around 500,000 IDR (US$36). Between Bali and Flores it costs around 700,000 IDR (about US$50). The boat is undoubtedly cheaper, but it will take longer.
The most commonly used airlines in Indonesia are AirAsia, Garuda Indonesia and Lion Air.
Boats in Indonesia
Boats have been a great option for transporting in Indonesia for centuries. If you have enough time you can choose to travel by boat. It is a great way to see the area!
Various services operate between most islands. Sumatra, Java, Bali, Nusa Tenggara, and Sulawesi are all connected by regular ferries, which is ideal for island hopping.
The best place for up-to-date information on these routes is the local Pelni office which should have full timetables for all ferries.
The boats usually stop at each port for a few hours, so you have time to take a quick look around. Keep in mind that they change departure times up to a week in advance without warning. You can book a cabin with your own bed or just sleep on the deck.
Prices can be very cheap if you opt for the economy class. Are you going for a more expensive place to sleep (with your own bed)? Then taking a budget airline is probably cheaper.
There are many different options if you travel by boat. Boats sail between the islands, but also on rivers and lakes. Just about every type of boat can be rented in Indonesia. A few options:
If available they are a great alternative to the slow ferries that connect many islands. You will find these fast boats a lot around Bali and Lombok that connect all the islands with each other.
This is a long, narrow boat powered by an outboard motor. You see them a lot in Asia, especially in Thailand. They have seats on both sides of the hull. They are mainly used in Kalimantan.
The Indonesian Becak
In addition to scooters, Indonesians have another popular means of transport, called the becak.
The becak is one of the best-known options in terms of transport in Indonesia. They are traditional bicycle taxis that are painted in the most unusual colors. In addition, they also decorate the becak with flags, lights, and beautiful drawings.
Driving a becak is a feast for the eyes and also dirt cheap, although it is slightly more expensive than the bus. Try them quickly because the government does not think the bicycles fit in with their renewal of Indonesia.
The becaks are seen less and less, especially in the cities. Fortunately, you can still find them in the smaller villages!
Prices can always be negotiated. Make sure you agree on a price before you get in! If you negotiate well, you pay around 2,000 IDR to 5,000 IDR (US$0.14 to 0.36) per kilometer (0.6 miles).
Scooters & Cars in Indonesia
Just like in most other Asian countries, scooters are an indispensable means of transport in Indonesia. Everything goes on the scooter, whether it fits or not. You don’t have to be surprised if there are entire families on one scooter. Scooters can be rented everywhere and it is a nice way to discover inner regions.
Officially you need an International Driving Permit (IDP) to drive a scooter or car. In practice, they never actually ask about this. You are often NOT insured if you cause an accident.
Indonesians drive on the left side of the road, although that is not really clear on some roads. The traffic is quite chaotic, except for smaller islands, so know what you are getting into before you rent a scooter. You can rent scooters all throughout Indonesia. Pay attention; wearing a helmet is mandatory!
The prices for renting a scooter vary per region. You will pay more in the more touristy areas.
Expect around US$5 to $10 per day excluding gas. A motorcycle will cost up to 100,000 IDR (about US$7) per day. You can rent them from tour operators or at your accommodation.
Renting a Car in Indonesia
A small 4WD is the easiest to rent and use in Indonesia. You can rent one for around 100,000 IDR to 300,000 IDR (about US$7 to $21) per day, depending on the region where you rent a car.
It is very common for tourists to rent a car with a driver.
If you want your own personal driver it will cost around 400,000 to 1,400,000 IDR (US$28.75 to $100) per day, again, depending on where you are. In Bali you pay around 600,000 IDR (US$43) per day for a car with a driver. Renting a car is very handy if you are traveling with a small group. You can also rent a van and let your hotel arrange a driver.
Trains in Indonesia
Traveling by train in Indonesia is possible but very limited. The train does not run on every island, which means that it is less suitable for transport in Indonesia.
Islands such as Bali and Lombok are major tourist attractions, but trains do not run there. The bus, car and scooter serve as the main means of transport here.
Sumatra or Java
Traveling by train is only possible if you are staying in Sumatra or Java. Especially in Java it is great to travel by train. It is possible to travel from the West (Jakarta) to the East (Banyuwangi) and visit major cities such as Bandung, Yogyakarta, and Surabaya.
Keep in mind that trains are mostly overcrowded during the holidays. In addition, the train is often no faster than the bus or minivan.
There are three classes on the train; Executive (luxury trains with air conditioning), Business (without air conditioning), and Economy (without air conditioning and often overcrowded).
The Ojek is the easiest and one of the most special ways of transport in Indonesia. You can find and rent them almost everywhere. Ojeks (or ojegs) are actually just scooter taxis.
They can be found at bus stations and markets, or just around the streets. They take you from point A to B very quickly, especially in busy cities like Jakarta. In addition, they are very cheap.
They can also be rented for sightseeing. Please note that they cannot carry a lot of luggage. So don’t come with 3 suitcases or bags, although they will probably find a solution soon enough!
Do you have any special experiences with transport in Indonesia? Let us know in the comments below, we’d be happy to hear from you!