Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Budget Traveling in Beautiful Places: An Update from Indonesia

When Eric and I first got to Indonesia, I felt mislead.  I had heard stories about how cheap it was to travel through Indonesia.  Other travelers had spent weeks and months going through Java and Sumatra.  At something like 9400 rupiah to the dollar, it seemed that we would live well on our backpacker budget.  However, we struggled to find any hostel that fell within our $20 per day limit, even on the outskirts of towns in Bali.  As we counted up our daily expenses, I grumbled that Indonesia was the most expensive country we'd been to yet. 

A pleasant homestay that cost us $27 per night and had hot showers.
When we got to the Gili Islands, we found rooms within our budget, but without hot showers.  We started to look at other guest houses and homestays that had warm water, and I began to realize that while Bali and the Gili Islands are too expensive for our limited budget, you can find amazing accommodation and food for much less than what you'd pay in the US or Europe. 

The Foreign Correspondents Club in Siem Reap costs the same as an expensive hotel in the US,
but it's a short walk from hostels that charge $1 per night for hammocks.
When we were in Siem Reap, the hostels cost less than $10 per night, but the nice hotels still charged upwards of $250 per night.  The price range was wider than what you'd see traveling through the United States, but the top end was still intact.  On Gili Trawangan, you could get incredible resort rooms for less than $100 per night.  For someone taking a couple weeks of vacation, Gili is a place where you don't need a lot of money to have a beautiful place to stay and delicious food.

Satay and a view
An example: Eric and I checked out of our guesthouse one morning with the plan to head to the island Lombok.  After looking into our boat options, we decided we'd rather go the next day.  Though we'd stayed in a decent place the night before, we wanted a bit of an upgrade for our last night on the island.  We'd seen other places that looked newer for the same price.  As we walked around, we found rooms that were nice and above our budget, but with cold water only.  Others within our budget were basic, with beds and questionable plumbing.  After a few tries, we ended up in front of the Exquisite Hotel right on the main street.  It looked way above our price range.  "Let's ask anyway," said Eric.  "Why not?"

We headed past some construction up the long walkway.  Through an open door to our right, I saw what I assumed was the reception area.  There was a small pool and a white building.  As we walked in to ask about prices, I realized that this wasn't the reception desk - this was one of the private villas that made up the Exquisite Hotel's accommodations. 

This fell into the category of "Are you kidding me?"
Despite my instincts to run before they realized I was a backpacker and laughed me out of the enclosed garden, Eric asked about their pricing.  The staff member told us it was 700,000 rupiah per night, or roughly $75.  We thanked him and walked back to the main road.  Eric looked back at the hotel and I could see him calculating.  "Wait here," he told me.  "I'm going to go offer him 500,000."

After conferring with the manager, we checked into our little villa with a private pool that cost us 550,000 rupiah for the night, or $59.  It was triple our budget, but damn, it was worth it.  For a couple on vacation or a group of friends who wanted to go somewhere tropical for a week, it's an incredible price for what you get.  The hotel was still doing some construction, so if you visit next year, the prices may have spiked.  But $100 a night for a private villa with your own pool?  I can't imagine finding that in the US or Europe.

There were fresh flowers on the bed and on the bathroom sink.
Our deck, where I would have sat sipping a fancy coffee if we'd stayed longer.
Eric and I spent the rest of the day reading and swimming in our pool, commenting every few minutes that neither of us could believe we were staying there.  Indonesia may be stretching our budget, but for a short stay you can find something beautiful for a reasonable price.

"Goodbye pool.  I'll miss you."
Have you found great deals while traveling?


  1. That pool villa looks beautiful!

  2. Replies
    1. It's definitely worth the long flight from the US. I took about a dozen photos just of the pool.