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5 Weeks: Bali, Sulawesi and Maluku Islands

  • eik362

    Joined Travelfish
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    Location Australia
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    Hi All,
    I've read a lot of your itinerary posts and they have all been so helpful!

    I am a 20 year old, inexperienced, solo female backpacker. I am fairly adventurous (however, as stated above, very inexperienced!). I love diving, trekking, and small rural villages with minimal tourists. I am not a big partier, however wouldn't mind having a drink with fellow travellers.

    I am planning a trip for 5 weeks that will start in Bali to explore the rural areas. I then want to go to Makassar in Sulawesi and make my way up to Manado. Next I want to explore Ternate and Ambon in the Maluku Islands before heading back to Denpasar for my return flight home. Can anyone please advise to whetherthis is possible in 5 weeks?

    Plus is this a relatively safe plan for a solo female?

    Thanks in advanced!

    #1 Posted: 10/4/2012 - 00:42

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  • alexalex_23

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    Hey!

    Funnily enough I am in the exact same situation! I am a 20 year old female, solo, inexperienced, backpacker. I am heading to Bali then to Sulawesi and Maluku for 3 weeks on June 15 this year.

    I have been to Bali before with three girlfriends and found it perfectly safe. I am sure that Sulawesi and Maluku would be the same if not better due to less tourists.

    I believe you will be perfectly fine to fit all of that in within the 5 weeks.I am hoping just to pass through Bali as I have been there before and I am hoping to get from South to North in Sulawesi and then back through the Maluku Islands in 3 weeks.

    One thing you should take into consideration is whether you are flying around or catching a boat such as a Pelni liner. I am going to catch a Pelni ships as they are much cheaper. I have heard that they are slow and run fairly infrequently but for me that is part of the fun!

    I am also keen to do some diving in Sulawesi. What dates are you travelling perhaps we can meet up if we are going to be in Indonesia at the same time :D.

    Best of luck with it all!

    Alex

    #2 Posted: 10/4/2012 - 02:06

  • alexalex_23

    Joined Travelfish
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    Hey!

    Funnily enough I am in the exact same situation! I am a 20 year old female, solo, inexperienced, backpacker. I am heading to Bali then to Sulawesi and Maluku for 3 weeks on June 15 this year.

    I have been to Bali before with three girlfriends and found it perfectly safe. I am sure that Sulawesi and Maluku would be the same if not better due to less tourists.

    I believe you will be perfectly fine to fit all of that in within the 5 weeks.I am hoping just to pass through Bali as I have been there before and I am hoping to get from South to North in Sulawesi and then back through the Maluku Islands in 3 weeks.

    One thing you should take into consideration is whether you are flying around or catching a boat such as a Pelni liner. I am going to catch a Pelni ships as they are much cheaper. I have heard that they are slow and run fairly infrequently but for me that is part of the fun!

    I am also keen to do some diving in Sulawesi. What dates are you travelling perhaps we can meet up if we are going to be in Indonesia at the same time :D.

    Best of luck with it all!

    Alex

    #3 Posted: 10/4/2012 - 02:07

  • SBE

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    Hi eik362,

    Sounds like you're thinking of working your way from Makassar to Manado overland. That would involve VERY long and uncomfortable bus rides. It takes at least 3 full days (72hours) to get from Makassar to Manado if you do it non stop I believe. If you break up the journey you're still going to get dropped off in dodgy towns like Poso in the middle of the night. Believe me, you wouldn't enjoy it much if you were on your own.

    Tip # 1: By all means go to Rantepao by bus to check out Tana Toraja from Makassar. Interesting culture there and also the opportunity for some good treks. The journey time is relatively short (about 8 hours) and they stop for lunch and afternoon tea en route. Very nice scenery and the buses to Rantepao are comfortable as well. North of Rantepao the buses are old and clapped out and overcrowded so it's a lot less comfortable. Journey times tend to be much longer too (eg17-18 hours from Rantepao to Poso). Rantepao has some fairly inexpensive guesthouseswhere you'll meet fellow travelers and many locals speak English there too...unlike small rural villages with minimal tourists where nobody will speak any English! Try and learn some bahasa indonesia before you go anyway, it'll come in very handy wherever you go.

    Tip#2: Go back to Makassar by bus and fly to Manado from there. You'll save a lot of time doing this and it'll be a LOT more comfortable!

    Tip#3 If you want to include the Togeans you could fly to Gorontalo and get the ferry from there instead of spending two uncomfortable days getting to Ampana by road from Rantepao. There are two ferries a week from Gorontalo to Wakai. From Ampana I think there's one almost every day except Fridays.... it's getting to Ampana that's the hard part.

    The diving in the Togeans isn't as good as it is in Bunaken but the islands are very pretty with nice beaches. The Togeans get mobbed in July and August, severe shortage of accommodation then, and prices go up of course, but it should still be OK in June and it's a good place to meet other travelers. I'd try and get there in early June though, before the major hordes arrive.

    Bunaken gets more tourists as it's simpler to get to but it's still quite laid back. Above water it's not as beautiful as the Togeans (lots of trash) but the diving and coral is better there.

    I haven't been to Ternate but I have been to Ambon. The latter doesn't have that much going for it as a tourist destination from what I've seen of the place. I think you could fill 5 weeks easily with just Bali and a bit more of Sulawesi. I suppose you could add Ternate if you really want to because it's relatively easy to get there from Manado but it'll add to your costs. Can't say if it's worth it or not, but I'd leave out Ambon myself, unless you're planning on going to the Bandas.

    @alexalex

    "I am hoping to get from South to North in Sulawesi and then back through the Maluku Islands in 3 weeks."

    Blimey, there's no way you could do all that in just 3 weeks, especially if you aren't planning on flying anywhere!

    I've traveled on Pelni a few times and I wouldn't dream of spending more than 12 hours in ekonomi class, especially if I were travelling on my own. Those ships are so overcrowded that you need to stake out a spot to sleep/sit on deck, or on a stairwell or wherever there's a free piece of floor. There are no chairs for ekonomi passengers and the ekonmi sleeping area is downstairs in the bowels of the ship. It's always absolutely full but I wouldn't want to sleep down there anyway. Pelni ships are dirty, noisy and the ekonomi restrooms are filthy...you have to fight to get on and off the ship because there are so many people shoving and pushing on the gangplanks... particularly bad in large ports such as Makassar. Spending half my allotted vacation time on a Pelni ship is not my idea of fun.

    Pelni ships are also notorious for pickpockets. As a foreigner you'll stand out rather as a good target for their attention. How do you plan on keeping an eye on your backpack if you need to use the toilet? First class Pelni cabins (twin share, private bathroom, TV that sometimes works) aren't bad if you don't mind the swarms of cockroaches, but a berth in a first class cabin usually costs more than an air ticket does.

    "I have heard that they are slow and run fairly infrequently but for me that is part of the fun!"

    Pelni ships are actually pretty fast compared to other ferries but the distances are huge so getting anywhere takes a long time. Infrequent? Yes, they are. There's generally only one going in the direction you want every couple of weeks or so! It's not unusual for them to be 12 or more hours late. Once I just caught one that left 2 hours before the scheduled time though which was highly unusual. People who missed that ferry had to wait two weeks for the next one. Indonesian rubber time means you need lots of time and three weeks is definitely not lots of time. You'd need about 2 months to do what you're planning.

    Here's the Pelni schedule for the next month or so.

    http://www.pelni.co.id/

    Look at what days of the week they are in a particular port and use a calendar to try and figure out the probable June/July schedule is. I bet you'll discover that it's logistically impossible to get where you want to go in 3 weeks using Pelni.... but better to realize that now than getting stranded on Bandaneira and missing your flight home!

    Bali isn't at all typical of the rest of Indonesia BTW. Bear in mind that Bali is a mass tourist destination and everything is set up to make things easy for tourists. In places with fewer tourists it's a totally different story!

    #4 Posted: 10/4/2012 - 10:20

  • eik362

    Joined Travelfish
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    Location Australia
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    Wow, thank you so much for your help and thoughts SBE! I will definetly be using those tips. Do you think it would be a better idea to arrive in Ambon and go straight to the Banda and Kei Islands instead of spending much time in Ternate and Ambon?

    Alex, it would be great to meet up! Private message me so we can discuss itineraries etc.

    Cheers,

    Em.

    #5 Posted: 10/4/2012 - 19:49

  • tezza

    Joined Travelfish
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    One of the nicest rural areas I've been to in Bali is Sideman in the eastern rice fields. It is not too far out of your way if you are going to Padangbai to catch the slow ferry to Lombok on your way east.

    However you may find Ubud suits your wants more - the town although touristy is very artistic and the surrounding countryside has rice terraces etc almost up to Sideman standard. There are hundreds of inexpensive places to stay in town, lots of travelers to share a drink with and the northern rice fields walk starts within 2 minutes of the western end of the main street - most guide books will have directions. Plus Perama, the travelers' shuttle bus outfit, runs buses up there from Kuta and have others leaving to meet up with the Padangbai ferries to Lombok (including their own which goes to the Gilis and on to Senggigi near Mataram).
    Perama also run a great 3 day 2 night liveaboard boat trip to Labuanbajo in west Flores from Lombok, which includes a hike on Komodo to check the big bad lizzards.

    #6 Posted: 10/4/2012 - 20:55

  • SBE

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    Hi eik362,

    You didn't mention the Bandas and Kei in your first post so I didn't elaborate but you really need to spend time researching the logistics if you're thinking of going there.

    If you check out that Pelni link I posted you'll see that there is currently just one ferry a month from Ambon to the Bandas....the Kelimitu which is one of their older, slower ships. The Ciremai is the main ferry for that route but it looks to me as if it's out of service at the moment. According to the Pelni site there are no ships from Bandaneira to Tual at all so you'd have to go back to Ambon and fly from there. I've a feeling that flights to and from Tual are relatively expensive but at least they exist. Bandaneira's very short runway can only cope with 20 seater propeller planes and all flights from Ambon had been cancelled when I was there at the end of last year. (Something to do with a plane crash on Sumatra). I don't know if flights have resumed since then but even if they have Pelni is a much more reliable means of transport in that particular part of the world.

    Anyway, IF the Ciremai is running again when you're going, it leaves Ambon every second Saturday. It goes to Bandaneira first and then continues on to Tual (Kei islands) after a few hours. That means you'd have to spend two weeks in the Bandas before going to Tual. Did I mention you need more than 3 weeks to do this kind of stuff?!

    Going to the Bandas is not something you do on a very tight schedule with deadlines like international flights to catch. If you do want to go there then do that first and use any time you have left over to do Sulawesi and Bali.

    Do you think it would be a better idea to arrive in Ambon and go straight to the Banda and Kei Islands instead of spending much time in Ternate and Ambon?

    How are you planning to get from Ternate to Ambon? You may HAVE to spend time in Ambon waiting for a ferry anyway! If you go back to Ambon from Banda you'd be wise to leave at least 24 hours before any flights out of Ambon to allow for the ferry delays. A BBC crew doing a documentary missed their flight back to the UK last time I was there because their ferry was 5 days late leaving the Bandas.

    Good luck!

    #7 Posted: 11/4/2012 - 09:35

  • mooball

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    I'd just like to add to the discussion by saying how remote some of these places are. As a 20yo female travelling solo through some of these areas, it will be a very interesting experience indeed and because you are inexperienced with backpacking, it could be a little too far off the beaten track. Especially places like Kei. Essentially, the tourist infrastructure in these places will be zero. There will be a few hotels/losmen for local businessmen, but that's about it. Transport, food, activities will all be based on what locals need to do in their daily life, so it will definitely be a grind -- which is absolutely fantastic if that's what you're up for. But most people wouldn't try this if they were inexperienced and definitely wouldn't if they only had 5 weeks.

    I've just been travelling through Central Java which you would think is packed with tourists. I didn't see a single white person for a entire week. That means no speaking English for an entire week, eating local food, taking public buses and negotiation local hotels... without a word of English. It's not too bad if you can speak Indonesia, but when you can't, it's a drag.

    Anyway, sorry to be negative. These plans sound like great adventures. I just wanted to make the point that it won't always be fun.

    #8 Posted: 16/4/2012 - 11:29

  • busylizzy

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    I've mentioned this elsewhere, but there is a great set of podcasts available that will help you learn Indonesian. It's a pretty easy language to learn, but these lessons are great.

    http://www.learningindonesian.com/

    Speaking a bit of language will go a long way to help you get around in the more remote areas, and opens up a lot of doors and opportunities along the way.

    #9 Posted: 16/4/2012 - 15:57

  • SBE

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    I agree with Mooball. From what you say I really think rural Bali combined with Sulawesi would suit you quite well Em, given the limited time you have. It's got everything you say you want, good diving, spectacular mountain scenery, lots of rural villages, trekking opportunities and some unique culture to boot. You do need to be prepared to put up with more discomfort than you're probably used to but you're also quite likely to cross paths with like-minded tourists to have a beer with.

    Tezza's suggestion of going to Flores on a Penama boat would be an easier if more touristy option. One of my sons did a similar trip when he was about your age. He and his girlfriend at the time had 3 weeks and it was enough time for them to check out Flores as well. His girlfriend found conditions on board the boat a bit too basic for her liking though. She found sleeping on deck rather uncomfortable and didn't like having no fresh water to wash her very long hair. Also one of the other tourists on board somehow managed to sever a femoral artery and she spent hours applying pressure to the wound to try and stop the hemorrhaging. She said the tourist would have died if it hadn't happened just before they got to Lombok so she was less than impressed with the lack of safety facilities on board Indonesian boats as well.

    They both complained about the bus journeys on Flores and claim that the only decent food they had on that whole trip was on Bali.

    However my son still says that the snorkeling they did around Moyo island off northern Sumbawa while they were on the boat trip was some of the best he's ever done in his life (and he's been to the Bandas since). The best place to see komodo dragons is actually on Rinca, not Komodo, but I've been told by a very knowledgeable source that the diving around Komodo is some of the best in the world, almost as good as Raja Ampat (but not for beginners, very strong currents).

    Anyway, even if your plans to get to the Malukku and Kei islands don't work out, there are other options. Even if you only get slightly off the beaten trail in Indonesia, it can still feel like quite an adventure!

    #10 Posted: 16/4/2012 - 16:56

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  • SBE

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    And like Lizzy says, learning a little Indonesian is well worth the effort, makes things a lot easier!

    #11 Posted: 16/4/2012 - 17:04

  • eik362

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    Location Australia
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    Thanks so much for your help everyone. I appreciate it so much.

    After doing a bit more research and taking into account whatyou guys have told me, I think I am going to stick more to the Eastern Islands and leave Sulawesi and the Malukus foranother trip (plenty more travel ahead of me!).

    I think I will still fly into Denpasar and spend a shorttime exploring Bali. I then plan to island hop until I get to Flores or Alor,trying to include Komodo, Rinca, and Sumbawa. I haven’t fully planned anitinerary yet but what do you guys think would be possible in 5 weeks? I wasalso thinking about going to Lombok but I really want to get away from thetouristy scene. Is this possible there in June/July?

    #12 Posted: 16/4/2012 - 23:31

  • mooball

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    Starting in Bali and hopping across the islands to the east is a great idea and can easily be done with flying. You will see other tourists on these islands as you go east in June/July, but it will be far from touristy. Probably a great combination of like-minded individuals and local experiences. It would be easy to travel through Bali, Lombok and Flores over 5 weeks with a boat ride thrown in there to get you back from Flores to Bali.


    Just as a point of note, when I was in Maumere which is one of the biggest towns in Flores, I only saw 2 other foreigners and they were arguing in my hotel. So there are facilities, but the number of tourists thins out and it really is a nice balance. Of course, June/July might be different, but it will be nothing like Bali.

    #13 Posted: 17/4/2012 - 02:13

  • SBE

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    Most tourists use express tourist night buses to cross Sumbawa but I did it on local transport and we didn't see a single foreigner there either. Doing it the hard way on local buses is not something I'd really recommend doing though. One of the buses we took on Sumbawa was excruciatingly uncomfortable, one of my worst ever bus experiences... and that's saying something! Think legs so tightly wedged between boxes of live chickens etc that you can't move them an inch with your rucksack on your knees to make absolutely sure that all circulation in your legs is cut off for 10 hours. (And that's if you have a seat, my male companion had to stand for 10 hours). We only crossed Sumbawa by the most direct route stopping at various towns for the night along the way and to change buses. Calling it a "direct route" is a bit of a misnomer mind you because the buses on Sumbawa don't necessarily stick to the main highway. They also do very long detours to drop off livestock etc in small villages so you do get to see places that probably no foreign tourist has ever seen before while your gangrene is setting in.

    It was years ago so my memory is a bit vague but I think it took us at least two or three days to cross Sumbawa. The countryside is completely different from Lombok and Bali, much drier and far more obvious poverty. I didn't find any of the towns we stayed in particularly interesting though, and food and accommodation prices were surprisingly high. (They add on extra taxes to all your bills on Sumbawa for some reason...doesn't happen in most places I've been to in Indonesia). We'd vaguely penciled in Moyo but neither of us fancied enduring adding a detour on the local buses to get there so we abandoned that idea.

    My son did his snorkeling around Moya during his boat trip, he didn't get there overland or stay on the island. I think the only accommodation on Moyo is an upmarket resort anyway, but I'm not 100% sure about that. I'm not sure which tour company he used either, but I've a feeling it wasn't Perama. Compare the itineraries on offer before you chose your boat tour operator to see which one suits you best. Tourists tend to go from Bali or Lombok to Flores and then fly or bus back. If you do it in the opposite direction you'll probably get a less crowded boat. And if your boat route doesn't include both Rinca and Komodo (which is likely) you can always do a day trip or a dive trip there from Labuan Bajo. Day trips to other nearby uninhabited islands are also possible from there. We just wandered down to the pier and had a chat (in bahasa indonesia of course) with boat owners who were hanging about to arrange the latter but maybe the English speaking hotels and dive shops do them too.

    On Lombok most of the tourist horde heads straight to the Gilis. You could try Kuta beach in southern Lombok instead. I haven't been there but I hear it's rather a nice beach and far quieter than the Gilis. More suitable for surfing than snorkeling apparently but surfing is fun too!

    #14 Posted: 17/4/2012 - 18:11

  • SBE

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    Re the fabulous Komodo diving I mentioned. Sorry, sounds like it's all just been destroyed.

    Komodo Island, Indonesia. Coral gardens that were among Asia’s most spectacular, teeming with colorful sea life just a few months ago, have been transformed into desolate gray moonscapes by fishermen who use explosives or cyanide to kill or stun their prey.

    http://www.thejakartaglobe.com/home/fishermen-blast-premier-dive-sites-off-indonesia/512821

    #15 Posted: 22/4/2012 - 18:01

  • eik362

    Joined Travelfish
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    Location Australia
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    Oh no! That's disapointing. But flights are booked! I appreciate everybodys help. I have not yet finialised an itinerary (I usually think its best to go with the flow a little bit anyway) but I plan to spend a few days in Bali, and island hop to Lombok, Komodo, Rinca and Flores, maybe adding in Sumba depending on time and access. I have 30 days so I will just try to make the most of the time I have!

    #16 Posted: 22/4/2012 - 18:35

  • alexalex_23

    Joined Travelfish
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    Hey all!

    So it didnt take me long at all to realise how completely impossible my first trip was! Definetly wishful thinking. I am now flying to Maumere and working my way back to Denpasar. I would love to to spend a bit of time on Sumbawa yet I don't know if I will have the time as I am now wanting to climb Rinjani. Has anybody done it? I have heard it's pretty strenuous.
    Thanks for all the info!

    Alex

    #17 Posted: 27/5/2012 - 09:21

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