For tourist the beaches of Bali, Gili, Lombok and the pristine lagoons of Raja Ampat islands have been the mainstay of travel itenaries along with a temple trip thrown in the middle at Java or Ubud. But for a keen traveler this nation of 16,000 islands has much more to offer.
1.Visit a coffee plantation
Indonesia is fourth largest coffee producer in the world and most of the Java and Bali island hills have plantations. In Ubud visit the Teba Sari agro plantation or Wedang Sari plantation. It’s a one-stop shop to taste the coffee flavours available in Indonesia. Like any other plantation tour, this one starts with a short walk around showing the spices and coffee trees including the civet cats which is used for Kopi Luwak. And then it ends at the café where a whole range of coffee, tea, chocolate and coconut liquor served for tasting. So just this tour and to know which coffee/tea you want to order during your stay in Indonesia. Also its a good place to buy Kopi Luwak because its less expensive here and most places in the city sell the blended version.
2. Homestay in Ubud
To enjoy Ubud’s culture, food and shopping from morning till midnight staying close to the Ubud palace helps. Many homestays and villas are available, if you book early. It’s a a great way to feel the Balinese lifestyle. The monkey forest is within walking distance so is the traditional art market. The pavilion next to the palace holds dance shows every night. Eateries around here serve both Balinese and Western cuisine with equal expertise.
3. Take a trip to the volcano
13% of worlds’ volcanoes are in Indonesia and most of them have been active even in this century but they are still accessible through hikes. The most common hikes are Mt Bromo and Kawah Ijen in Java since they are the shortest though not the easiest. While seasoned hikers and adventure seekers try the three day trek to Mt Rinjani in Lombok or a ride and hike to see the colour changing lakes on Mt Kelimutu in Flores, other tourists prefer to go lunch at cafes at Kintamani and look at Mt Batur from a safer distance.
4. Stay off an island
Islands have sister islands called ‘Kecil’ which mostly have just one resort or one village. Plan a visit to the Komodo islands, stay in a sister island off the main island of East Nusa Tengarra. Seraya Kecil Secret Beach Resort (blog coming up) on airbnb provides the such an island stay. An hours’ boat ride from the main island and the airport, complete with paddle boats, snorkeling gear, private beach hammocks, customized food menu and island tours arranged by the resort manager, this stay is as exclusive as it can get!
5: Take a train ride
A train ride through the coffee plantations and rice terraces is a great way to see Java. Lots of services run between Jakarta, Surabaya and the port town of Banyuwangi and they are always on time. Indonesian trains don’t have sleeper class so its better to take a 6-7 hours day ride enjoying the countryside view. Buying train tickets is easy, most supermarkets like Indomaret or Alfamart sell them but you to take that ticket and scan it in a big box machine at the station to print your boarding card. Other than Jakarta, most train stations have counters that open at 9:00 am and no queues so one can walk in a bit early and buy train tickets for immediate travel. We didn’t find any difference between ‘bisnis’ or ‘exekutif’ class coaches as both have recliner seats, big windows, food on board on sale and AC running on maximum power.
6: Bintang and other brews
Bintang is the name synonymous with beer in Indonesia but one should look out for the other brands. Born in 1929, Bintang is served all across this country with fried peanuts and melinjo crackers but don’t forget to try Stark and Prost. Stark is a premium craft beer having many options such as dark wheat, lager, ale and also IPA.
7: Rock’n roll live
Much like its neighbour Philippines, Indonesians love international rock music and the professional groups do a good rendition as well. In Ubud, a few venues across the football field on the Jalan Monkey are worth going for a dose of live music. In Kuta, when the Legion street comes alive at night with discos, pubs and night lounges start playing high voltage electronic music, there are some venues like Crusoe’s Island which hosts some of the best live performances. Most bands take requests so you would never be disappointed with the choice of songs.
8: Watch a dance performance
Take time out to see a dance performance but you need to know where to find the performance schedule. To begin with, the palace holds dance performance for which tickets are sold much in advance. Reach the venue an hour early to get seated in the front since there are no seat numbers allotted. Lotus Café on the Jalan Raya Ubud also has a ticketed performance. They have a beautiful lotus pond and stage setting just beyond that. Ubud community centre or Balai Banjar Ubud Kelod on the Monkey forest road next to the football field is another venue and they put up posters of the schedule on the main entrance. Lookout for a Gamelan performance here as it’s rare to find one, most places hold Barong and Kecak dance shows. Kecak dance can be seen best at Uluwatu Temple from 5-7 pm every evening.
9: Try the fresh fruit gelatos
There are gelato parlours are all over Bali and they are very good. One gets to try the local fruit flavours like Banana, pumpkin-papaya, dragonfruit, passion fruit, avocado, mango, lime and coffee flavours and its very cooling on the hot afternoons while walking down the beach or shopping lanes.
10: Forget Chicken and try the duck
Balinese rice terraces are full of ducks running around as ducks are helpful in clearing up weeds and pests in the farmlands. This rice-duck farming system has allowed the lightweight tall Balinese ducks to flourish and it’s widely used for it’s meat. Fried crispy duck or Bebek Bengil is a must try in Bali. Another variety is Bebek Betutu or duck steamed and slow cooked in Balinese spices as the meat turns soft and falls off the bone.