I shoestring-backpacked round Indonesia (Timor, Flores, Sumbawa, Lombok, Bali, Java and Sumatra) 20 years ago and would like to return next year for a 4-week holiday with my husband and 4 kids, preferably to Lombok and Flores.
My main question is: can anyone tell me how much the country has changed since then (infrastructure, technology)? Would you recommend doing the shoestring version as we did 20 years ago (we are avid [tent] campers and don't need much luxury other than a cool mandi).
Many thanks to anyone who can help me ;)
#1 escampur has been a member since 20/7/2010. Posts: 1
Hi escampur - I made a few trips to Bali, Java and Sulawesi 15-20 years ago - and just spent 2 months in Bali, Lembongan, Penida, Lombok, and Flores at the end of last year.
IN terms of technology (assuming you mean internet cafes, free wifi) - it was readily available in Bali and Lombok - often for free in restaurants. It was also available in some parts of Flores but not as readily as on the other main islands - I only came across one Wifi in Flores (in Labuanbajo). There were a couple of small internet cafes in Lembongan (crappy connection speeds!) - and I didn't see any on Penida (although I was only there for 2 days and didn't bother looking).
In terms of transportation: given that you are taking 4 kids, you might find the easiest (and fairly economical) way of getting around in Bali and Lombok is to hire a car. Roads are very drivable in most places in both islands. We hired a jeep for a week in Lombok to give us flexibility, but public transportation was readily available through the island to all the major places of interest. I can't remember prices off the top of my head (but can look them up when I get home) - but car hire is generally more expensive in Lombok than in Bali.
In Flores, public transportation probably hasn't changed much since you were there! We had planned on taking public buses, but found it very frustrating sitting around waiting for them to fill them up, etc. Depending on the ages of your kids, you might find that the buses push the boundaries of everyone's tolerance, with respect to lack of comfortm the heat, and the time spent waiting, waiting, waiting for the bus to fill up with people. They still pack the people in, along with the chickens (dead or alive), goats and people on the roof. Then you have to put up with people hurling the entire journey and tossing the little plastic bag out of the window every 5 mins. (I swear there is a trail of small yellow plastic bags along the roads in Flores).
A popular way of getting around Flores is to hire a driver (with or without a guide). We did this for some of the trip to avoid the frustrating bus rides. It's quite costly comparatively, but would be ideal for your large family. As far as I know, it's not possible to hire/drive your own car.
You will find plenty of cheap and reasonably OK budget accommodation throughout the islands that I mentioned. Rooms were all fairly good and reasonably priced.
In short - I would say that you can still easily and comfortably do the shoestring option. Transport options outside of Bali/Lombok will just depend on how much you are willing to put up with! I'm not sure how you will get on finding 2-3 bedroom guesthouses - so assume you will need to book 2-3 rooms at each place.
Hope this helps in some way. Happy to answer any other questions - and hopefully others will jump in to share their thoughts!
PS - A personal recommendation is to go to Lembongan for a few days. You can catch a small boat from Sanur beach, and it takes maybe 45-60 mins to get there. It's a lovely small island, very friendly people, hardly any cars, but you can hire bicycles and motorbikes to get around to explore the island, and there's plenty of exploring to be done on foot as well. It's very quiet and laidback - I loved it. Suggest you look into the Secret Garden as a place to stay. :-)
lizzy's description of indonesia would hold pretty much true for the changes in thailand over the last two decades as well. the closer you are to major population centers, the less you'll recognize the place. but as you get more and more out into the boonies, it will seem like you are in a 20-year time warp.
i'd also second lizzy's comments about transportation and getting around. particularly that you'll be travelling with children in tow, if you can at all afford it, i think you'll be much better off hiring your own vehicle rather than trying to cram the six of you onto public buses. there is always room for 8 more isn't just a joke. the buses get really crowded and never arrive on time. your own transport will make getting where you want to go so much easier, plus you'll have plenty of room for your stuff, get to stop when you want, and most important with kids in tow, take potty breaks when you want. you'll also save time, which will help you make the most of the 4 weeks you have.
the best part is that just like 20 years ago, the indonesian food will still be great, the Bintang beer cold and cheap, and the smiles genuine. sounds like a wonderful time. have fun.