1 Month Backpacking Indonesia! From East Java to Bali
Updated: Jul 22, 2020
In May 2018, my two friends and I decided to take a one month backpacking trip to Indonesia. In order to be prepared for the journey, I performed tons of research about as to what I should expect. This post goes over my route and experiences in each major location of the trip, along with basic facts everybody backpacking Indonesia for one month should be aware of. The major locations of this route, in order, are as follows: Jakarta, Yogyakarta, Malang, Kuta, Nusa Penida, Ubud and Gili Trawangan.
Flights Originally we planned to have to pay about $1,000 for our flight from JFK Airport in New York to Jakarta. Fortunately, through searching and waiting, I was able to find tickets for only $660. The flight consisted of about 22 hours in the air in total, split up by two layovers, which averaged about 5 hours each. So be prepared for the incredibly long trips there and get used to them, as you will be covering a lot of ground during your time in Java and Bali. You will need to take two flights within Indonesia as well. The first flight will be from Malang, Java to Denpasar, Bali and should cost about $60-70. The second will be back to Jakarta from Denpasar and will be about $100-120. The tickets for these flights are also easy to purchase, as there are multiple travel retailers in each location. Tickets can also be purchased online using the website or app, Tiket, or any website you prefer. Tiket is an Indonesian ticket company that can be used for planes and trains, as well as hotels.
Grab (Uber) Upon arriving in Indonesia, we were greeted by dozens of taxi drivers dying to take us to our destination. However, we knew about the Grab app, which is essentially Indonesia's Uber. Grab rides are tremendously cheaper than taxi's and we used Grab just about every time we went somewhere. I highly recommend Grab as it's much cheaper and seems a bit more safe.
BEWARE: Grab is very frowned upon by the taxi community and there are locations where Grab is "banned," even though they will pick you up from almost anywhere if you are lowkey enough. One Grab driver told us that taxi drivers smashed his windows once for picking somebody up in a busy taxi area. For this reason, some Grab drivers will tell you to meet them a bit further down the street, away from the busy taxi areas.
Trains When travelling between the major locations of Java, trains were the way to go.
Jakarta → Yogyakarta (8 Hours) Yogykarta →Malang (8 Hours)
Jakarta (1 to 2 Days)
Upon leaving the airport, you will have to take a taxi, or a Grab, to you're place of stay. I rented an Airbnb but there are plenty of hostels and hotels in the area. Things to do in Jakarta are very limited, which is why I recommend staying only one to two days. While we were in Jakarta, we visited the National Monument, as well as an art gallery and a few museums.
We were more interested in getting on with the more cultural part of our trip, which begins in Yogyakarta, so we purchased our train tickets at the train station that day and boarded the morning train at around 6:45 a.m.
Yogyakarta (3 Days)
After the eight hour train ride from Jakarta, we finally arrived in Yogyakarta. We stayed in a beautiful Airbnb for only $20 a night. There was an housekeeper who lived with his family in a smaller home on the property. Yogyakarta, and most of Java, is where you will experience the most authentic Indonesian culture of the whole trip. This includes how the people act, the food, and the religion.
Day 1 in Yogyakarta
We began our first full day of our one month backpacking trip by catching a Grab to Prambanan Temple. Tickets cost about $18 but you can pay about $30 to get both Prambanan and Borobudur Temples, which we did.
The structures were much larger than I expected with incredible detail. They were open to climb up and go inside and there were many structures differing in size to explore. We enjoyed our time here but were in a bit of a rush to get to Goa Pindul before the sun set. After Prambanan, we had a Grab take us to Goa Pindul which was nearby, but traffic made the car ride over an hour. Goa Pindul is the site of a cave that has a river flowing through it. We paid 200,000 IDR ($15) to take a guided tour through the cave on tubes in the river. In the cave, there were different types of rocks and formations, bats littering the cave roof, and a spot to cliff jump.
After flowing out of the cave, we put our tubes in the back of a truck and got dropped off at another spot in the river, where we flowed down with our guide and cliff jumped again for about another hour. The guides were great and taught us a lot about the area. Be sure to tip them for their efforts.
Our Grab driver also waited for us the entire time, as this place is fairly deep in the jungle and there's next to zero traffic nearby. Be sure to have a plan of getting back, like asking your driver to wait. They will often be very happy to help.
Day 2 in Yogyakarta We got a late start to the day and spent the entire day at Borobudur Temple, the largest Buddhist Temple in the world. Every brick that supports the structure is intricately chiseled, creating massive 3-dimensional scenes throughout the entire temple. I felt a feeling I've never felt before here, a feeling of pure bliss but also deep emotion. The temple gave off an unexplainable energy, one that left all three of us speechless for many moments as we walked around and up the temple. I'm happy that we spent the day here, as I had no interest in rushing once I saw the temple's beauty. This temple is a must see in Yogyakarta.
After spending all day at Borobudur Temple, we went straight to the Yogyakarta train station to purchase tickets. That night, we took another eight hour train ride, from Yogyakarta to Malang, and arrived in Malang around 3 am.
Malang (2 to 3 Days)
Malang acts as a launching point for those wishing to visit the famous Mount Bromo. Aside from this, Malang doesn't have too much to offer, and I'm sure there are other places to stay near Bromo if you have a preference. I stayed here as I knew a couple who lived in Malang, who we roomed with for 3 days. They knew people who organized a trip for us to both Mount Bromo and Madakaripura Waterfall in the same day. However, it is fairly simple to find other agencies who will be happy to help you book your trip to Mount Bromo.
The only way to access the viewpoint of Mount Bromo and Bromo itself is by way of Jeep. Don't get the idea that you can simply catch a Grab to the mountain whenever you feel, as I did... you can not. You must book a tour with a guide who owns a Jeep. Our entire tour, which included pick up at midnight, Mount Bromo viewpoint for sunrise, Madakaripura Waterfall, hiking around the crater of Mount Bromo, and drop off, cost me about $70 which was probably the most expensive thing I paid for all trip, and was well worth it.
Walking around the rim of the active volcano with gorgeous surroundings was incredible. We waited to hike the mountain until after the crowd from the sunrise view had diminished, but I'm sure it is epic no matter what time you hike it.
After sunrise at Mount Bromo, our guides drove us to Madakaripura Waterfall. We reached a site where the Jeep was no longer allowed to go further and we were taken further up the path by the locals by way of motorcycle. They dropped us and our tour guide off at the beginning of a hiking path, where we now had to hike in the jungle a bit to reach the falls.
We reached the falls after about fifteen minutes of hiking and it was astonishing. It was way higher than I expected it to be and the volume of water falling from this massive cliff was immense. We actually went swimming in the lake of water created from the falls.
The trek through the jungle and the multiple waterfalls you pass along the way are all amazing parts of a somewhat sketchy adventure. We were also the only people exploring the falls and had them all to ourselves the entire time. We left the area of the falls and got in the Jeep back to Mount Bromo where we hiked to the top, and were also some of the very few people who were up top. After seeing both Mount Bromo and Madakaripura Waterfall in the same day, we were ready to move on with our trip. We were easily able to purchase plane tickets from a local booking shop in town to Denpasar, Bali from Malang.
Bali - Kuta (3 Days)
You should expect to arrive in Denpasar, Bali by about Day 8. Bali is where the trip starts to become more vacation and less culture. Our time in Bali begins in Kuta, the party city of Bali that is located right near the airport. We rented an Airbnb that was located within walking distance of Legian Street, the main road where all the nightclubs and restaurants were located. This proved to be very convenient as traffic in Kuta is crazy and we went back to our room multiple times during the night.
Kuta acts as party central for young adults trying to dance, drink, and have a great time. There are plenty of nightclubs and bars along the street to explore. We mutually decided the Sky Garden was our favorite club in Kuta, though it has a 200.000 IDR ($15) entrance fee. If you are looking for a more relaxed scene, the towns of Seminyak and Canggu are located close by. I have heard these to be much more relaxing, although, I have never been to either.
**IMPORTANT** Kuta is a crazy party town, which usually invites trouble. Locals will attempt to take advantage of drunk foreigners who aren't aware of what's going on. Be prepared to be offered magic mushrooms, weed, and cocaine from nearly every person standing on Legian Street. Though this town might be tempting you with a good time, don't EVER purchase anything from these people. Many times these people selling drugs are undercover cops looking to fine or lock up foreigners who don't know any better. There will be a time and place to get into these substances if you do so choose, but this is not it. Another important warning brings attention to the presence of pick-pocketers. They lurk on the streets waiting to see someone drunk and alone to take advantage of. My friend Evan chose to walk home from the club alone one night. Unaware of his surroundings, a man came up behind him, reached right into has pocket, and took off running with his iPhone. Remember to be aware of your surroundings and try not to walk around alone if you can help it.
Nusa Penida (1 or 2 Days)
Nusa Penida is a smaller island located off the coast of Bali. This island offers a range of things to do, including numerous beaches, lookouts, and even a temple in a cave. The tour that we signed up for was for one day and cost about $45, but this island has much to offer and there will be time to spend an extra day if you choose to do so. You will need to book a tour to get around the island.
To get to the island, from Kuta, you will need to get a ride to Sanur Beach. Here, you can purchase your fast boat tickets, or your guide will purchase them if you signed up for a tour in advance. We booked our tour through Visit Nusa Penida the night before with no issues. The fast boat is about a 30 minute ride to the island and will be a very wet ride with very beautiful views if you choose to sit on top.
What does Nusa Penida have to Offer?
This island offers a wide range of sites and things to do. Our 1-day tour covered four major sites: Angel's Billabong, Broken Beach, Kelingking Beach, and Crystal Bay Beach. These sites are the perfect spots for photos, as well as a relaxing day spent in the water. Keep in mind, Broken Beach is simply a stunning landscape, and not an actual beach that you can go on. Also, we didn't get the opportunity to walk down the T-Rex's neck onto Kelingking beach (pictured), but really wish we had, so if you think that's something you'd be interested in, try to do so. All in all, Nusa Penida is a necessary addition to your itinerary while you are in Bali.
If you have time and are interested in staying an extra day, this island has much more to offer. Though I didn't experience the other side of the island myself, I know of multiple attractions others have really enjoyed on the island. On Day 2, you will be interested in seeing The Thousand Island Viewpoint, Atuh Beach, Pura Goa Giri Putri Cave, Nusa Penida Treehouse (Rumah Pohon) and much more! If you'd like to stay an extra day, I'm sure you could speak to your tour guide about the specific places you'd like to see, and they will organize an efficient route for the day and night.
Uluwatu Temple and Beach (1 Day)
When you get back to Sanur Beach, you will have the option to stay wherever in Bali you choose. You can either go back to Kuta, stay in Sanur (as we chose to do), or advance on to Ubud. However, during your time around southern Bali, I highly recommend taking a day trip to Uluwatu Temple and beach. The monkey filled temple sits on the edge of a cliff overlooking the ocean, located towards the bottom of Bali.
After walking around the temple, be sure to visit the uncharted Uluwatu Beach, about a 30 minute walk from the temple. Upon reaching the "beach" you will walk down steps and enter a cave-like beach. Do not be disappointed, as this is not the real beach. The beach can only be reached when the tides pull the water away from a hole in the cave, and you will have to hurry through the hole and around the rock structures before the waves come back in. The beach is incredibly secluded and it was easily the best beach I've visited in Indonesia.
If you plan to stay on the beach until sunset, as we did, make sure to have a plan for getting home. There will not be many Grabs in the area, and if you eat dinner in Uluwatu, there probably will be none when you are finished. Either plan to leave shortly after sunset or book a place to stay near Uluwatu.
Bali - Ubud (3 or 4 Days)
Ubud... What to say about Ubud? We had originally planned to stay in this wonderful town for two days, but instead ended up staying for four. Ubud is a peaceful break from the rowdy party vibe of Kuta and is place where culture and spirituality are greatly emphasized. This area is the perfect place to experiment with your inner self, your chakaras, spirituality, and of course.. YOGA.
What to do in Ubud? Try Yoga There is a wonderful spot in Ubud, called The Yoga Barn, where people of all skill levels can participate in a variety of Yoga courses. The Yoga Barn is like it's own little serene world in the middle of the city where everybody seems to be one with themselves. The atmosphere is like none other and the classes were just as good, also not too pricey. I highly recommend checking this place out while you are in Ubud.
Visit the Sacred Monkey Forest The Sacred Monkey Forest is located within walking distance of The Yoga Barn. You will know when you've arrived as the entrance and the surrounding streets are littered with monkeys. I did not actually go inside but if this is something you are interested in, it is close by and only 80.000 IDR (~$5.50).
Campuhan Ridge Walk
The Campuhan Ridge Walk is a nice nature walk located in the city. It's not too long, not amazingly beautiful either but still a very nice walk if you have time. Towards the end of the trail there is an incredibly nice lady selling beautiful hand-painted wooden eggs. I got one for only 60.000 IDR (~$4.50) and they are great souvenirs for friends and family back at home.
Visit Tegallalang Rice Terrace
The Tegallalang Rice Terrace is a beautiful rice farm that encourages people to walk through and take pictures. Here, you will meet a few rice farmers and have the chance to try authentic rice snacks straight from the farm, that the farmers create. There is also a large rope swing that swings over the terrace to give you beautiful views. Make sure to add this place to your destinations in Bali.
On our last day in Ubud, we stopped at a small shop in town to book our fast boat tickets to Gili Trawangan for the next day. For only 250.000 IDR (~$19) we got a one way fast boat ticket to Gili T, picked up from our place in Ubud (Eden Estate), and dropped off at the port where we boarded our boat.
Gili Trawangan (5 Days)
After lots of travel and sightseeing for that last three weeks, it is finally time to enjoy the "vacation" part of your trip. Gili Trawangan, or Gili T, is a tiny island off the western coast of Lombok and is part of a trio of small islands off this coast. Here you will spend long days on the beach and long nights at the bars. There are great places to lay up at the beach all down the eastern side of Gili T. The island is also well known for it's scuba diving, including a famous statue located underwater, in between Gili T and Gili Meno. For the nighttime, there is a large selection of different bars and clubs, all with different vibes about them. Sama-Sama is a reggae bar, Ombok is a beach bar, and Jiggy's is a night club where alcohol is shoved down your throat. There is a place for everyone on this island to enjoy themselves.
Oh, remember when I said there would be a place and time for you to partake in illegal substances if you do so choose? Welp, this is that place and now is that time. There is no police force on the island so there are pretty much no rules. There are homemade shacks located off the beach that sell "Magic Mushroom Shakes" openly. There is nothing to worry about when partaking in these substances, as pretty much anything on the island goes. So, if you do wish to do something along these lines, do it on this island where there is very little threat of getting punished. Don't risk ending up in Hotel K (a notorious tourist prison in Bali), because you decided to buy some shrooms from a stranger off the street in Kuta.
If you are looking for a more laid back scene, the neighboring two islands, Gili Meno and Gili Air, would be more up your alley. They are both just as great during the day time, but have a bit of a more relaxed night time vibe.
The island also isn't much more expensive than anywhere else in Indonesia, as I have previously read. I paid 250.000 IDR (~$19) per night for my own room with a bed and bathroom. The food is also very good and fairly priced.
Getting Back Home
When your time on Gili T comes to an end, you will need to take a fast boat back to Bali, most likely Padang Bai port. You will then travel back to Kuta, where you will stay however long you have left, until you take your flight from Denpasar back to Jakarta. You will then fly from Jakarta back home.
Alternatively, you can book one way tickets, one to Jakarta and one going back home from Denpasar. I found it cheaper to book a round trip ticket but you might be able to find a good deal and save yourself some time.
Komodo National Park
If you have time, or would like to make your time spent in Gili T, Ubud, or any other location, shorter, I recommend doing some research on Komodo National Park. I had originally planned to visit this stunning park, but ended up spending extra time in Gili T, as I would have had to rush both locations to fit them in. Padar Island is a must see if you visit. Do some research on this location if it seems interesting to you.
My round-trip flight, which included two layovers, cost: $660
Excursions/Tourist Attractions (Temples, Bromo/Nusa Penida Tour, etc.): $250
Housing: about $15-20/night (Can range more depending on your sleeping preferences)
Transportation: Domestic Flights ~$180, Trains & Grabs ~$150
Food: about $15-20/day (Can range more depending on eating habits)
Other spending (Tipping, Alcohol, Nightclubs, etc.): $300-400
Total Trip Cost: about $2600
This is about the amount I paid for 1 month backpacking in Indonesia. This amount definitely could be less if you choose to eat less, sleep in hostels instead of Airbnb's, and go out at night less. I must admit we spent a majority of our nights out drinking and eating, which can quickly add up. Watching your spending can make this trip much more affordable than what my cost came out to.
The main religion of Indonesia is Muslim, consisting of about 87% of the population. Ramadan is a major religious holiday in Indonesia last from about the end of April to the end of May. During this time, clubs and restaurants may close early, loud prayer chants will be heard throughout the night, and most citizens will not eat or drink for the daylight hours.
Gambling in Indonesia is illegal, so don't go walking 3 miles to the Hard Rock hotel thinking there will be a casino there, like we did... there is not.
If you've never ridden a moped before, be careful if you plan on renting one to drive. Traffic in Indonesia is hectic, and mopeds can be tough to get a hang of quickly. Be sure to practice driving before getting on the road and make sure you are comfortable.
Drinking age is 18 and drugs are incredibly illegal
The citizens of Indonesia are some of the kindest people I've ever met, no need to feel unsafe in this country.
Many parts of Java do not speak English, so I highly recommend practicing some basic Indonesian before you go.
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