Hi, I am flying into Singapore around April next year and want to do some exploring before I head on to Australia (and I have to leave out of Singapore - annoyingly!) I have no idea whether to head north to malaysia and maybe southern Thailand islands or to head down Indonesia way and see the volcanoes/dragons etc. (Hate to summarise 2 vastly amazing places like that but you get my drift!)
Budget is limited (were talking £500 - £1000 at a push) but time isn't especially (unless by money!). I want to get off the track and see some amazing places, meet some amazing people, cultures etc. Not really going for a party, I like beaches and nature and the simple way of life - have travelled a bit before and am not shy of getting a bit dirty or even doing a bit of work but I will be a lone female. Would really love to stay in a traditional village but have no idea if and how that is possible.
Have read fantastic things about both places and need some help deciding! Opinions are most welcome :) Thanks for your expertise!!!!
#1 ewhiting10 has been a member since 27/6/2011. Posts: 6
As much as I love Thailand, given the circumstances you describe, I think I'd lean towards Indonesia for your adventure, if for no other reason than your limited budget. Thailand just isn't the bargain anymore that it once was, and I think your money will last longer in Indonesia.
One other advantage of Indonesia is that if you will be there for an extended time, you've got a much better chance of picking up the language than you would in Thailand. I spent two month in Indonesia once, and found myself picking up words pretty easily, as it is written in romanized script and uses sounds that we largely already have in english.
I'm afraid I can't comment on the single female aspect, however, since I'm neither. But perhaps SBE or lizzy will chime in on that aspect, since they've got first-hand experience there.
Let us know what you decide. Regards.
Lots of time
Beaches and nature and the simple life
Getting off the beaten track
Seeing amazing peoples and culture
Don't mind roughing it a bit
Staying in a traditional village
Everything you say makes Indonesia seem like a better idea to me too!
In some parts of Indonesia, seeing an unattached Western female wandering around on her own is a bit like seeing a valuable buffalo wandering around with no owner so you do tend to get some unwanted male attention. Wannabe toyboys want you to take them to Bali where the roads are all paved in gold. Guys who want a wife but can't afford a dowry see you as a freebie. It's irritating more than dangerous.
The further you get from the main tourist areas the more welcoming the people become but it's like being a cross between a film star and an alien species from Mars sometimes. People aren't hostile, just very openly curious about who you are and why you're there and the concept of privacy and personal space is often lacking.
As exacto says, Bahasa is an easy language to pick up and it's very useful indeed to know some if you want to get off the beaten track a bit. Busylizzy found an excellent free lesson site a year or two ago... maybe she can repost the link.
Hi - based on your comments of budget and wanting to enjoy culture and village life, I would also probably suggest Indonesia over Thailand.
As exacto points out, picking up the Indonesian language (bahasa) is fairly easy and there is a pretty good website/podcast that you can listen to, to get you started: Learning Indonesian. Having a little bit of language goes a long way in Indo to help you have interesting encounters that you would otherwise miss out on.
Bali is the fairly standard starting point - and a good way to ease you into it. You can stick to the touristy areas in southern and central Bali, but if you away from there, you will find it quite easy to get off the beaten track, and explore the smaller villages and towns.
Just off Bali, there are two small islands worth checking out: Lembongan and Penida. Lembongan is relatively quiet, but is still geared to tourist to some extent. Penida, on the other hand, sees very few tourists - and had one of the most beautiful beaches I have come across in Indonesia.
Leaving Bali, you can head into Java (to Yogyakarta and Mt Bromo) although I suspect it's quite touristy these days. Alternatively, head into the Gilli's, Lombok and onto Flores (from where you can go do Rinca or Komodo Islands to see the Komodo dragons - a worthwhile experience! Flores sees comparitively few tourists so you always get a warm reception from locals who have not yet been worn out by chain of tourists passing through.
I have posted previously about Flores (and I think Lembongan) so do a search on this site and you should find some useful info. Alternatively, send me a PM and I can send you a link to the blog that I wrote at the time if you want to see some pics, etc.
When travelling on my own (which admittedly, I haven't done for long extended periods at a time unlike others on here) I like to mix it up a bit. I'll stay in an area that is 'busy' with people, activities, etc - then I'll retreat to quieter more remote locations. When I get bored with my own company, I move back into civilisation again.
I never felt at risk when travelling on my own in Thailand or Indonesia. I was a bit uncomfortable at one stage in Penida at one stage but it was more a case of me out of my comfort zone in being on my own at one point with no other tourists around (it was the first week of my travels!). I never once felt my safety was at risk. I think the thing to be very much aware of (in any SEA country) is the need to respect cultural sensitivities, especially in rural communities and in areas that are predominantly Muslim. Don't wear skimpy clothing or you will invite hostile stares, etc. And be sensitive to others when taking photographs.
Indonesia will give you the more cultural experience unaffected by tourism, but Thailand is also pretty fantastic, especially if you want some beach time. Again, in the southern islands, you can mix it up and go to the more popular islands (Tao, Phangan, Phi Phi, etc) to find other backpackers to hang out with, or to some of the Andaman islands (Kradan, Mak, etc) for a more quiet relaxing time on the beach. In Thailand, some of my favourite towns have been the small towns that you come across on your way to somewhere else (eg Trang, Tak, Trat...)
If you want to REALLY get off the beaten track in Indonesia or Thailand, SBE will be the one to give you some good advice!
In some parts of Indonesia, seeing an unattached Western female wandering around on her own is a bit like seeing a valuable buffalo wandering around with no owner so you do tend to get some unwanted male attention.
That reminds me of my one funny incident on Penida. A guy in uniform me pulled over as I was blatting around on a scooter and passed him. Through the car window I thought he was police in an unmarked car, so I pulled over. He got out of the car and started chatting. "Where are you from? Are you married? Do you have children?" - the usual questions. All of this was in Indonesian. Then he said something but I wasn't sure if I heard right so got him to repeat it. He did - and just in case there was a language mix-up , he confirmed it in English a well: "I love you" he said - then kissed me on the shoulder!
"That's nice" I replied, then hopped back on my scooter and high-tailed it out of there. In hindsite, I think he was the park ranger rather than a policeman! (And this declaration of love was given to a 40+ year old, not a 20-year old youngster!))
Wow! Thanks for all the help!!
To be honest I was leaning towards Indonesia but I don't know anyone who has been there and know very little about it in comparison (although maybe that is some of the charm!?). I think maybe fly into Bali and check out Java/Gili/Lombok/Flores - will defo look up those islands you mentioned busylizzy thanks!
Next question is this actually feasible on my budget and, bearing that in mind, how long would you recommend I spend there? I would have to fly back to singapore for my connection but air asia seems pretty cheap?
Lastly would you recommend I stay in hostels or a homestay type thing? I've never done a homestay and don't know how it works but I really fancy the idea of it!
#7 ewhiting10 has been a member since 27/6/2011. Posts: 6
Also, does anyone have any experience of Sumatra? Looked into it a bit and looks pretty awesome - would be out of this world to see orangutans :)
#8 ewhiting10 has been a member since 27/6/2011. Posts: 6
@Emily. Hi there. I went to Sumatra in 2005 but was accompanied by male friend who emailed me one day saying you'll love this place, get your arse here now. So I did ... usually I travel alone but with him acting as a guide you're more or less guaranteed never a dull moment.
Somehow, every single time I travel with this guy we find ourselves miraculously avoiding certain death on a daily basis, practically everything that can go wrong does ...but then some million to one chance always sorts things out.
So many crazy highly improbable things happened on that particular trip that it's hard to judge what a "normal" first time visit to Sumatra would have been like!
I doubt if you'll see tiger glaring at you from the trees next to your hut or get chased by a big fish with jutting out razor teeth for about 3 hours. Nor will you almost walk straight off a cliff in a jungle one night (good job I was there to grab him before he got airborne) Nor will you almost get mauled by an orang outan wanting a swig of your Bintang. (Usually one drinks water when trekking in the Sumatran jungle but we'd inadvertently ordered a whole case of Bintang the night before instead of just one bottle and had to get through it all before leaving next day). Nor will you find yourself strutting your stuff in a village hall with a toothless masseuse dressed in a pair of grubby shorts with a pink shower cap on her head (for modesty) to the Rolling Stones hit number..."I can't get no satisfaction". Those kinds of things can only happen to my friend.
And your bus driver probably won't be driving along while swigging beer either.How were we to know they'd collect all the unfinished dregs from 12 bottles of bintang after we'd checked out of our rooms and give it to the bus driver as a present. Your bus driver from Bukit Lawang will probably be stone cold sober and in better control of the vehicle.
What else won't happen to you. Well you probably won't stay at the GH my friend chose in Medan. My small prison cell of a room was $2 a night, had moldy walls, a concrete floor, an iron bed (can't remember if had an actual sheet on it) and a very high small window with bars but no glass ....directly opposite the main mosque. The shared bathroom was down a slimy narrow corridor and taking a shower involved standing on the non too clean squat toilet and pouring scoops of cold water over you. My friend warned me about the spy holes drilled in the walls of my room but that didn't matter as I didn't intend to get naked. I've slept in worse places but not many. Staff were super friendly though and the beer was very cheap.
Next day we wandered into the first travel agency we saw and bought a flight to Banda Aceh that was leaving in 2 hours. At the time it was theoretically impossible to go to Banda Aceh because of Muslim rebel forces so I don't know how that happened. Banda Aceh is where the ferry to Pulau Weh leaves from and we were heading there first (good snorkelling and diving).
Anyway, when I arrived at the airport I discovered I no longer had my bag containing passport, credit card and all my money. My friend called the $2/night GH and asked if I'd left it on the bar when I paid my bill. Nope, sorry. Ah...uh oh I can sense a major problem looming already and I only just got here. I sure hope I didn't leave it in that taxi. Hang on, maybe I left it on the bar stool. Friend called again.Yes it's there! We'll bring it to the airport for you. And the owner raced to the airport on a motorbike taxi and wouldn't accept a penny as a reward, not even the taxi fare.
So it was very lucky we stayed in that really grotty $2 GH in the end...not many staff in posh hotels would have been that honest and that service minded.
My friend had insisted we didn't fly Mandala because he'd almost boarded the Mandala plane that had crashed and was still littering one of the runways at Medan airport...he'd changed his flight at the last minute. (Did I mention being lucky) We flew Adam Air instead even though it was notoriously unsafe and has since had its license withdrawn ...pilots and crew have been known to refuse to board Adam Air flights. Our flight was fine of course and only cost $20. (The bus cost $10 and takes about 12 hours I think). Anyway, you won't be flying Adam Air either.
Things that might happen to you.
When we were in Lake Toba a group of youths came and sat at our table and did the usual questions...where are you from etc. and asked if we were married. No no she's nothing to do with me mate, go right ahead he said with a chuckle. (My friend is a right ungallant bastard at times). Result...an endless stream of toyboys trying their luck the whole time I was there, like swatting off flies. One even kidnapped me for a while when we did a trip round the island. My friend drives a motorbike but I don't so I rented a bike with driver. Things were fine all day until my friend decided to go back home and my driver decided to do a quick detour to see some fascinating traditional village...then another detour... and another. Friend had long gone and it was getting dark and chilly so I said OK I'm cold lets get back now. Just hug me to warm yourself he says removing his Tshirt. And no, I did not *exploit the situation* either MM ... instead the young man got a withering look and a You have got to be kidding, followed by a firm. Home. Now. It worked fine but I'm ever so good at withering looks.
Not sure if Tuk Tuk on Samosir island is still swarming with 20 year old wannabe toyboys nowadays but it's something to be aware of. They're manageable but rather irritatingly persistent and pretty dumb to boot. Totally lacking in sex appeal ... like most men with limited IQs
Getting to and from Lake Toba by minibus is not for the faint hearted, especially if you're in the front seat. I reached for the seatbelt after a few minutes only to discover it had been cut off. We spent most of the journey on the wrong side of the trans-Sumatran highway racing 2 other minibuses and dodging the oncoming traffic. At one point a policeman stopped and fined the driver for going round a roundabout at high speed in the wrong direction but that didn't make him slow down afterwards. We had completely manic minibus drivers in both directions so I think they must always drive like that. Maybe the buses to Lake Toba are a bit more sedate.
Sorry I've waffled on and haven't been much help with Sumatra have I. PM me if you like and I'll make a couple of other suggestions that might suit you better than Sumatra.
Sorry I've waffled on and haven't been much help with Sumatra have I.
That may have been the case, but my god you gave me a much-needed hearty laugh at work this afternoon!! Thanks SBE! Your adventures make my visits look like a trip to Disneyland!! :-)
And no, MM, I didn't exploit the situation. I just jumped back on my bike and gave a friendly (and slightly embarrassed) wave goodbye. The icky thing is, the guy knew where I had been staying in Sampalan so that gave me of freaky stalking kind of feeling. Never mind - it all ended well.
(Sorry ewhiting, I haven't been to Sumatra, so can't help at all with that one).
Just saw your other question about where to stay: homestays or hostels. I'm not really a hostel kind of girl, but I haven’t really noticed that many around in Indo anyhow. Mind you, maybe I just wasn't looking.
You often find family-run places where you will have your own bungalow, or at least your own room in a building that might contain 2-3 attached rooms. Sometimes they will include a basic breakfast (usually with a very, very sweet tea – yech!), sometimes they won’t. I quite like these kind of places because you have the privacy and security of your own room – but you get the feeling of a family-run homestay. How much you interact with the family/owners is up to you.
In my somewhat limited travels in Indonesia, I haven’t come across any actual homestays where you might have a room within the family home. That’s not to say that they aren’t there – I just haven’t come across them.
Sometimes you have no choice but to stay in homestays! There ARE no guesthouses for foreign tourists in some places.
It's usually very cheap to stay in a homestay too... I paid under $8/day on full board with free tea and coffee all day in one homestay last trip. Lovely family, I really enjoyed staying with them.
The downside of homestays is that personal space and privacy is often an alien concept and the living conditions can be very basic. But it's a great way to see how people live and they usually do everything they possibly can to make you feel welcome with what little they have. (These are very poor people so don't expect Western standard facilities or an international food menu)
The other downside is transport to the more remote places. It's designed for locals, not tourists, and is usually very dirty, uncomfortable, time consuming and/or lacking any visible safety standards. You have to have an extremely flexible schedule and be prepared for transport like ferries to get canceled at very short notice. Ferries can be delayed days or weeks .. or even taken out of service for months if there's some urgent repair work that can't REALLY be put off any longer. If there's a plane service then expect last minute rescheduling and cancellations too.
But I just love those kinds of places... they are safe too (except for the transport). Despite Western stereotypes I've never experienced the least hostility towards westerners amongst the largely Muslim population in Indonesia...not a whiff. (Except in Banda Aceh where Sharia law is in place...and that was only one particular individual, everyone else was very friendly as usual)
Im with SBE - no power = heaven!!! Obviously you need it when in the city but there is nothin better than being out on the road and completely free from the world! I was in Africa in 2008 and it was 2 months until I heard about the recession/crash going on. Bliss! Thanks for all the info guys - this has made me so excited and definitely made me realistic about travelling in the region - but even more determined to do it! February can't come soon enough EEK :D
#18 ewhiting10 has been a member since 27/6/2011. Posts: 6
Err February? You said April in the OP Emily! Uh oh...that changes things a bit. Weather is still a bit iffy in February, seas can be rough. (Which matters if you're on a boat for 12 hours or more)
You'd just love the Philippines MM....it's got American junk food and karaoke machines galore.
It took me a while to find an beach with a very limited power supply there. No road to it....you have to find a local with a boat willing to take you there or walk for 2-3 hours over a mountain. I'd heard that you had to carry your own food, water and booze supplies too but I didn't. I'm old and a bit lazy when it comes to lugging heavy supplies about over mountains as well as a rucksack and I figured that the locals on that beach didn't survive on fresh air alone. Sure enough they had plenty of real food (as opposed to the burgers, pizzas and donuts) and plenty of boiled water too...but no beer.
No beer didn't matter. Having no 300dB karaoke machine blasting away all night mattered....ah sleep at last, what bliss. [img]smileys/smile.gif[/img]
oh yeh dw im in africa feb-april sorry forgot to mention that lol
#20 ewhiting10 has been a member since 27/6/2011. Posts: 6
Ah sorry, it's all my fault. I read the OP wrong.
Hmm I went to Indonesia in February this year...was lucky with the travelling weather but had a couple of storms once I got there. Sometimes gorgeous brilliant sunshine mind you. (PM me with your email addy.. I'll send you some pics of somewhere I think you'll love)
i want to say that is all part of my foolproof plan but i just got lucky! :)
#23 ewhiting10 has been a member since 27/6/2011. Posts: 6