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Trip Report JAVA & GILI ISLANDS: Trip Recap + Tips

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INTRO
By way of introduction, Glen and I are from Washington DC, currently living in Abu Dhabi, UAE. I post on this forum both to record memories of our travels and to share experience with other travelers, as I myself find reading TRs helpful when trip planning. And for an easier read, it's meant to be more a recap than a travelogue :)

ITINERARY
This visit to Indonesia was encouraged by our friends, an American couple teaching in Surabaya, Indonesia's second largest city. They suggested spending time in Yogyakarta, Central Java's cultural capital, then Surabaya and a weekend in the Gilis, a trio of islands off the coast of Lombok (same area as Bali minus the mass tourism). We planned for 12 days, factoring in a day each way to fly in and out of Jakarta.

Some general info ...

FLIGHTS & TRAINS: booked low-fare domestic flights on Garuda (rather than Lion Air due to better safety record), and train tickets online via a third party site: http://flights.indonesiamatters.com/train-tickets/

AIRPORT & VISA: heard many horror stories of Jakarta's Soekarno-Hatta International Airport from longtime expats, but found it efficient to get through without long queues. Getting a visa on arrival ($25 for Americans) took five minutes and lets you skip passport control.

COSTS: To simplify conversions, we counted 10,000 rupiahs = $1 USD, though the exchange rate was ~12,000:1. Basically, just dropping four zeros for a rough dollar price. Some examples of what things tend to cost: taxi minimum charge 20,000 (~$2), half-day driver & car to temple sites 600,000 (~$60) (less if not booked thru hotel), one-hour massages 400,000 (~$40), etc. As with anywhere, hotel food & drink is nearly double that of an outside restaurant, and up to six times more than street food, while taste is toned down for the tourist palate and nowhere as authentic or flavorful.

FOOD: Indonesian food is spicy like South Asian cuisines (chili being a main crop) and often heavily sweet. Traditional dishes include Gudeg (jackfruit stew), Soto (noodle & rice soup), Nasi Goreng (fried rice), Rendang (beef in a creamy spicy paste), and Indonesian fried chicken, short ribs, and of course satays. The cuisine is too sweet for my taste, but for us Rendang is the stand out dish.

SEASON: We went in January, during rainy season that runs half the year from Nov-Mar. It rained usually in the afternoons, leaving mornings and evenings mostly clear, making it convenient to schedule temple treks and sightseeing early in the day with strong chance of sun yet cooler temperature than later in the day.

Writing this report as we go (today is a third through the trip), an details for each city will follow below ...

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