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Getting around Indonesia

Trains and planes

Travelling by minibus (angkot) in Indonesia

When travelling throughout Indonesia, visitors can choose from an array of different forms of transport such as bus, train, ferry, becak, minibus and ojek. Of all the forms of transport in Indonesia, minibus, otherwise known as angkot, seems to be one of the least frequently used by foreign visitors to the country — which is a shame as catching an angkot is a cheap and fun way to see a city.

White and green with a yellow pin stripe? Surely this goes from Riung to Dago!

White and green with a yellow pin stripe? Surely this goes from Riung to Dago!

The term “angkot” is derived from the the words angkutan kota, or city transportation, and is used to describe the little beat-up minibuses that terrorise the streets of most cities in Indonesia. In some cities the term angkot is replaced by terms such as bemo, mikrolet and sudako, but the underlying principle of this form of basic transportation is the same — a small bus with no fixed stops that travels along a pre-determined route. Generally these minibuses will travel to and from terminals that often offer connections to destinations further afield. The great thing about this is that if you need to get to a train station, intercity bus terminal or other transportation hub, it’s likely that an angkot will be heading that way and it’s just a matter of asking someone where the nearest angkot departs from.

Contrary to popular belief, this angkot is not heading to Los Angeles. Maybe from Lindungsari to Arjosari.

This angkot is not heading to Los Angeles. Maybe from Landungsari to Arjosari.

The process of catching an angkot is easy. Firstly determine which angkot you wish to catch by looking at the names of the destinations written across the windscreen. Usually these destinations will be in the format of place name abbreviations such as “Caheum” to denote “Terminal Cicaheum” or “ADL” to denote “Arjosari, Dinoyo, Landungsari”. Whichever way the destination is displayed on the front of the angkot, a local will be able to help you decipher it. To get the angkot to pick you up simply stand on the side of the road and wave your arm. Your friendly angkot driver will do anything possible to cut across traffic to stop.

Once on the correct angkot, the fun starts. The conditions inside angkots are cramped especially when filled to capacity and beyond. The Indonesian obsession with getting sick from the wind means that quite often the windows will be shut tight despite the interior of the angkot being as hot as Hades. Smoking is officially banned on angkots, but this doesn’t stop some old timers lighting up much to the chagrin of fellow passengers. If you have a big bag, be prepared to carry it on your lap.

The seats in angkots are simple benches suited more to the Indonesian body shape

The seats in angkots are simple benches -- perhaps suited more to the average Indonesian body shape.

Getting off the angkot is an exercise in itself. If you want to stop the angkot anywhere along its route, simply yell out “kiri!” which means “left”. Or you can let out a “kiri depan!” (“left in front”) or even a “kiri kiri!” Whichever you choose, just say it loud enough so that the driver hears it.

At this point you need to negotiate your way between the masses of tangled legs filling the aisle of the angkot. After stepping on countless toes as you make your way to the door, but sure to duck on your way out: the number of times we have smashed our heads in the hurry to exit the angkot has led to a slightly deformed skull — at least the locals get a great laugh out of it. It’s at this stage that payment should be made through the passenger-side window. Bank on a seven kilometre journey costing about 3,000 rupiah and a kilometre journey costing 1,000 rupiah. Everything in between will be 2,000 rupiah give or take — it’s an incredibly cheap way of getting around a city.

Unfortunately there are no seabelts on an angkot

Unfortunately there are no seabelts on an angkot.

Catching an angkot is a great opportunity to chat with locals going about their daily business, whether that be a trip to the market or returning from the office. Angkots are also the favoured location for street performers who ride around the city trying to scrape together as many coins as possible from the public — 500 rupiah is the going rate.

Angkot drivers are incredibly keen to get your business and will help as much as possible to get you to your destination by offering advice on connecting angkots, directions to your hotel and by dropping you off as close as possible to your final destination without you having to know exactly where you are going.

Sought-after by some, despised by others, the front seat divides opinion

Sought-after by some, despised by others, the front seat divides opinion.

We can’t sing the praises of the angkot and its brothers the bemo and mikrolet enough. It’s a cheap and fun way to get around town and hassle free once you overcome the initial confusion of which one to catch. Want to know more about angkots? Ask us in the comments.

About the author:
Adam gave up a corporate career in 2009 and left Australia for the hustle and bustle of Southeast Asia. He now lives in Indonesia, where as well as writing for Travelfish.org he plays around with www.pergidulu.com.

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