Sunday, 22 December 2019

2019 travel costs for Thailand

Back on my 2011 travels, I included a breakdown of travel costs for Thailand. I thought it might be useful to update those costs for my 2019 trip, as I spent 3 weeks in SE Thailand in July, a month in north and northeast Thailand in October, and 9 days in SW Thailand in December.

One caveat, my travel style has always been more flashpacker than backpacker, and is probably even more so, now I'm middle aged. I like AC. I hate share bathrooms. For convenience, I've broken the Thai portions of the trip down into different sections, as the costs do vary a little (with the islands costing noticeably more than the mainland).

Peninsular towns (Songkla, Phattalung, Nakhon Si Thamarat, Surat Thani, Chumphon, Prachuap Khiri Khan, Hua Hin, Trang, Satun): average costs per day = £26.29 (1045 THB)

Accommodation average £17 per night (675 THB)
  • Songkla - 1175 THB (£29). Songkla is very popular with domestic tourists, and I was there over a weekend, meaning most places were fully booked. I therefore had to take a more expensive room that I normally would.
  • Phattalung – 730 THB (£18.25) 
  • Nakhon Si Thamarat – 495 THB (£12.40) 
  • Surat Thani – 490 THB (£12.25) 
  • Chumphon – 622 THB (£15.50) 
  • Prachuap Khiri Khan – 570 THB (£14.25)
  • Hua Hin – 744 THB (£18.50)
  • Trang – 502 THB (£12.50)
  • Satun – 590 THB (£14.75)
Food and drink: average £5.50 per day (217 THB) – mostly cheap restaurants and a few food stalls, but no alcohol. Sample costs might be:
  • 30 THB for khao gaeng (curry rice) at a market stall
  • 20 THB for an iced coffee at a stall
  • 60-70 THB for an iced coffee at a fancy coffee shop
  • 90 THB for khanom jeen (a noodle dish), a sharing-sized side of goong tod (fried shrimp fritters) and an iced tea at a small restaurant.
Sightseeing is pretty cheap, as museum fees are generally not excessive (perhaps 100-150 THB) and that wandering around and visiting wats is largely free. Average £0.68 (27 THB) per day.

Transport is also affordable: I used a mix of trains and minibuses to move between towns, with  sorngtaews, the occasional taxi, or often just my feet to get around in town. Intercity train journeys varied between about 20 and 100 THB, depending on the distance (3rd class). Intercity minibuses varied between 80 and 180 THB. I typically spent an average of £1.62 (64 THB) per day.

Northern and NE Thailand (Chiang Mai, Chiang Dao, Thaton, Mae Salong, Chiang Rai, Phayao, Phrae, Phitsanulok, Dan Sai, Chiang Khan, Udon Thani, Nong Khai, Nakhon Phanom, Mukdaham, Ubon Ratchathani): average costs per day = £25.64 (1026 THB).

Accommodation average £14.43 per night (577 THB)
  • Chiang Mai - 500 THB (£12.50)
  • Chiang Dao – 500 THB (£12.50) 
  • Thaton – 400 THB (£10) 
  • Mae Salong – 700 THB (£17.50). Paid extra for a room with a view of the tea fields.
  • Chiang Rai – 600 THB (£15) 
  • Phayao – 690 THB (£17.25)
  • Phrae – 700 THB (£17.50)
  • Phitsanulok – 535 THB (£13.39)
  • Dan Sai – 400 THB (£10)
  • Chiang Khan – 720 THB (£18)
  • Udon Thani – 590 THB (£14.75)
  • Nong Khai – 575 THB (£14.34)
  • Nakhon Phanom – 500 THB (£12.50)
  • Mukdaham – 952 THB (£23.80). I'd been roughing it in southern Laos for two weeks, so decided to treat myself to a plush hotel for a couple of nights.
  • Ubon Ratchathani – 425 THB (£10.65)
Food and drink: average £6 per day (240 THB) – mostly cheap restaurants and food stalls, plus a few fancy coffeeshops and the odd "nice" restaurant, but no alcohol. A bowl of khao soi (Chiang Mai style noodles with beef or chicken) or a stir fry on rice is typically between 40-60 THB.

Sightseeing is pretty cheap, as museum fees are generally not excessive (30-100 THB). Some of the more popular wats charge up to 100 THB entry fee as well. But I spent more time wandering about towns and hiking into the countryside around the town then visiting paid-for attractions, so my average spend was only £1.13 (45 THB) per day.

Transport is also affordable: I used a mix of coaches, minibuses and sorngtaews to move between towns, with a quite mobile schedule - I spent 4+ nights each in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, but most places I stayed only 2 nights, with a couple I only stayed a single night to break up a longer journey. Average spend was £2.31 (93 THB) per day.

Island sites (Ko Samui, Ko PhaNgan, Ko Lanta, Ko Ngai): average costs per day £35.80 (1424 THB)

The islands vary enormously in terms of cost. On some of them (I'm looking at you, Ko Ngai), expect to pay mid-range-and-up prices for basic, cold water fan-cooled rooms. Other islands offer some very good value rooms, especially as soon as you move one row back off beachfront properties. Average £18.36 per night (730 THB).
  • Ko Samui – 800 THB (£20) - bungalows one row back off the beach
  • Ko PhaNgan – 600 THB (£15) - small hotel one row back off the beach
  • Ko Lanta – 520 THB (£13) - bungalows a 4 minute walk inland from the beach
  • Ko Ngai – 1335 THB (£33.35) - beachfront property, but I was in one of the cheap bungalows at the back.
Food and drink is also more tourist-focused, and more expensive. Average £9.40 (374 THB) per day. If stopping by a small Thai restaurant anywhere near the beaches or touristy areas, expect to pay a minimum of 120-150 THB for a basic curry, rice, and water (double that if you're eating in your hotel's restaurant, or in a very touristy area). If partaking of international food, expect a minimum of 250-300 THB pp, excluding drinks. Still probably cheaper than back home!

Fees for diving and snorkeling trips, boat trips, etc., can add up pretty quickly, but swimming, walking on the beach, and snoozing in a hammock are all free :)

Ferries to or from the islands are usually fairly tourist-focused, so expect to pay a minimum of 300 THB every time you to from the mainland to an island, or from one island to the next (and some of the other islands I didn't visit are considerably more expensive to reach, with ferries costing 800 or 1000 THB per person). So if you're planning on doing a lot of island hopping, your costs will mount horribly quickly.

So, that gives you a rough idea how much you might spend, assuming you travel as a solo flashpacker.

Tuesday, 10 December 2019

2019 travel costs for Laos

I visited Laos for the first and second time this year. I crossed from NE Thailand into Laos at Vientiane in October 2019, and spent three nights in Vientiane, then up to Luang Prabang for 6 nights. Then I visited again spent in November and December 2019, crossing into Southern Laos from Cambodia, and working my way north through the 4000 Islands, Pakse, Savannaket, and Thakhek, to cross back into Thailand at Nakhon Phanom. Here is a brief run-down of my spending on these trips (as a solo flashpacker).

Although not as expensive as Cambodia, Laos is still a bit more expensive than Thailand, with loads of fancy French restaurants and patisseries to tempt you into going over your budget. I spent an average of £40 / $48.50 USD per day (about 1480 THB. By comparison, I spent about 1000 THB a day in northern and NE Thailand).

Accommodation often hovers around the $20-22 USD mark for standard, decent places with AC. Exchange rates vary a lot from place to place, so these are all approx.
  • Vientiane – $22 (210,000 kip)
  • Luang Prabang  – $20 (180,000 kip)
  • Don Khone (part of the 4000 Islands) – $33 (300,000 kip). There were loads of cheaper, more backpackery places available on the islands, especially on the more touristy Don Dhet, but I decided I wanted to splurge a little on a nice place in a quieter part of the islands. 
  • Pakse – $29 (260,000 kip)
  • Savannaket – $22 (205,000 kip)
  • Thakhek – $22 (200,000 kip) - exchange rates change a lot, so these are all approx.
Food and drink: average $17.23 USD (£13.13) per day in the north (a lot of tourist-oriented restaurants, a lot of fancy pastries and croissants, and a few high end meals at expensive restaurants) and $9.90 USD (£7.54) in the south. Sample costs might be:
  • $3.37 (30,000 kip) for a croissant or pastry, and coffee or tea
  • $7-7.50 (60,000-68,000 kip) for a baguette and juice or coffee
  • $14.50 (130,000 kip) for a three-course lunch in a nice French restaurant
  • $5-6.60 (45,000-53,000 kip) for a curry, rice, and water at a tourist-oriented small restaurant
  • $2.25 (20,000 kip) for a plate of local food in a small (non-touristy) restaurant
  • $1.15 (10,000 kip) for noodles at the market
  • $0.50 (5000 kip) for a large bottle of water in a touristy area
Sightseeing: average $5.85 USD (£4.50) per day.  Sample costs include 10,000 kip ($1.12) donation at a small temple, 20,000-50,000 kip ($2.25-$5.60) entry to museums or tourist sites, 85,000 kip ($9.55) for a half-day boat trip out of Luang Prabang, and 200,000 kip ($22.50) for a full day kayak trip out of 4000 Islands. Remember to budget for souvenirs (all those beautiful hand-woven textiles are sure to catch your eye....)

Transport: average $4.90 USD (£3.80) per day. Coaches or minibuses between towns typically cost around $3.50-$11 per trip, depending on the distance, and tuktuks and taxis around town tend to charge tourist prices, so expect to pay $3 for a short trip, and $6-7 for a longer one (such as from Luang Prabang or Vientane town centre to the airport). Arriving in Luang Prabang, the airport taxis even put me and another tourist in the same taxi, and charged us both full fare!

So, that gives you a rough idea how much you might spend, assuming you travel as a solo flashpacker, and like your French pastries as much as I do.

Friday, 29 November 2019

2019 travel costs for Cambodia

I visited Cambodia for the first time in November 2019, and thought it might be useful to share how much it cost (as a solo flashpacker).

First off, Cambodia is harder to do cheaply than neighbouring Thailand. You will often end up paying more to find decent accommodation, and it can be harder to find street food (certainly, the street food is less accessible). Although I found cheap local noodle places in some places, in others those sorts of joints were either few and far between, or seemed (to my fastidious Western eyes) quite decrepit, so I didn't necessarily feel comfortable eating there. Plus all those fancy French restaurants and patisseries are quite tempting....So I ended up going considerably over my budget, and spent an average of  $66.67 USD (£50.61) per day.

Accommodation average $31 per night (£23.59). Siem Reap has an enormous number of hotels and dorms, across all price points. At the price I was paying, expect a nice room in a small hotel with a pool. Phnom Penh has a lot of quite dodgy, cheap places. I splurged for a midrange hotel, so I could be assured a pleasant stay, away from the noise of the city. Sihanoukville should be avoided at all costs (the town has been turned into a massive construction site and garbage dump, with almost all the old backpacker-friendly places gone). The islands are nice, but very expensive (I guess that's supply and demand, now Sihanoukville has been destroyed, there are very few places left for beachgoers to visit). Kampot, Kep, Kratie and Stung Treng have more of the old backpacker vibe going on, with plenty of good-value accommodation available.
  • Siem Reap – $24.
  • Battambang  – $20 
  • Phnom Penh – $34 
  • Sihanoukville – $40 - arrived too late to want to go to the islands, so spent a night in town. That was a mistake.
  • Koh Rong Samloen – $69 for a perfectly average bungalow joint. Decent place, but about twice what I'd expect to pay for something similar on the Thai islands.
  • Koh Rong – $52
  • Kampot – $17
  • Kep – $20
  • Kratie – $15
  • Stung Treng – $15
Food and drink: average $17.68 USD (£13.42) per day. A lot of tourist-oriented restaurants, a lot of fancy pastries and croissants, and a few high end meals at expensive restaurants. Sample costs might be:
  • $3.50 for a croissant and coffee for breakfast
  • $2.75 for an iced coffee in the Angkor archaeological park
  • $5-11 for a meal at a tourist-oriented cafĂ© or small restaurant (ie., a veggie bowl and smoothie, or a sandwich and iced coffee, or a curry and rice). Expect prices at the lower end of the range in the more backpackery sites, and the upper end on the islands or Siem Reap
  • $33 for a fancy afternoon tea at a 5 star hotel
  • $1.25-$2 for a bowl of noodles at a local place
Sightseeing: Angkor will be your main sightseeing cost, and isn't cheap, but is well worth it. A three day pass will be sufficient for most people, and costs $62 USD. Add on to that the cost of a tuktuk or driver to get you to/from, and around the site. I was told the going rate was $12 a day, but I found the drivers typically asked for $15-20 (I agreed $15 each time, so may have overpaid a bit, but I figure a man should make a decent wage for his time). 

Other sightseeing costs: $8-15 each for the big museums and sites in Phnom Penh, $1 to $5 for small museums and art spaces outside of the capital, $13 plus tips for a pepper plantation tour (including hotel pickup), $20 for a snorkelling trip, $14 for a full-day bus trip up Bokor mountain, and $10 for a half-day cooking class.

Transport is also generally affordable, with a large number of coach companies plying routes between towns. I tended to use the more expensive coach companies (typically $8-15 per trip), with better reputations for reliability and quality of buses, but don't expect too much. Even the more expensive companies frequently break down, or arrive an hour or two late. I moved around a fair amount, and spend an average of $7.50 pd, including the cost of hiring tuktuks for the day to visit Angkor Wat, and a few tuktuk taxis to get across town.

So, that gives you a rough idea how much you might spend, assuming you travel as a solo flashpacker, and like your French pastries as much as I do.

Friday, 4 October 2019

Slow boat from Thaton to Chiang Rai

To get from Thaton to Chiang Rai, you have only a few options if you aren't driving yourself.

You can take a sorngtaew to Mae Chan, then change to another sorngtaew to get you to the highway leading to Chiang Rai. You may have to change again at this point. The drivers are typically very helpful and will ensure you get the right connection, but you should expect this trip to take at least 2 hours, possibly 3.

Your second option is to take the tourist boat. It leaves every day at 12:30, weather and number of passengers dependent. The boats won't run after heavy rains have swollen the river (as there are some - usually very minor - rapids), and they also need a minimum of 4 paying passengers (400 baht per person). In low season, there are often not enough passengers, so you'll have to pay for the extra ticket(s) if you want the boat to go.

The trip took about 3 hours when I did it, and passes some pretty scenery, but the boat has only slightly padded benches, so it is a bit hard on the bum.

In Chiang Rai, the boat docks at the CR Pier, by the Maefarloung Alley bridge, about 3km NW of the clocktower in the centre of town. There may be the odd unofficial taxi driver waiting at the dock, but you can also walk into the centre in 30-40 minutes.

There was only one taxi waiting when my boat arrived, so I let the other couple on the boat take it, and I walked into town (as I needed to stretch my legs - and let the feeling return to my butt - anyway)

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

A temple and monastery in Thaton

Next up in my tour of Northern Thailand is Thaton, a small riverside town about 175km NE of Chiang Mai.

It's a pretty setting, on a bend of the Kok river, just a couple of kilometers from the Burmese border. The town boasts a large number of hotels and restaurants for such a small place, and presumably is (or once was) a popular stopping over point for backpackers, as well as hosting visiting tour groups from China, and weekending Bangkokians.

The riverfront, with Inter View Guesthouse in the centre

However on my visit, during a midweek in early October, very few tourists were about; many of the hotels were either closed, or almost deserted (I was the only guest at my small guesthouse).

The main attractions in the town are visiting the hilltop temple (Wat Tha Ton), relaxing with a meal and a beer at one of the riverfront restaurants, or taking boat trips down the river towards Chiang Rai.

Night falls over the monastery and bridge

I was actually a wee bit disappointed by my climb to the temple. You climb up through 9 levels of the hill, through forest, encountering various buildings and shrines at each level. Before visiting, I'd read the Travelfish description which mentioned paths and staircases that connected the levels, past pretty gardens and multiple viewpoints. Those paths and staircases don't appear to exist - at least not any more - or I'm dumb and somehow missed them both going up and down, so 90% of the climb is actually along the road.

Great views from part way up

There are three access routes from the town to level one. The only one still in use is the road access, just west of the 7-11. There are also two old staircases, but neither is maintained. The first one is reached from the small road that runs along the riverbank, across from the police office. You'll pass a couple of houses, then see a run-down gazebo / shelter. Next to that is a small overgrown path, that leads through long grasses to a staircase that winds up through a fake rock grotto to emerge at the Goddess of Mercy statue on level one. One section of this staircase has been overgrown with a massive vine, so necessitates careful foot placement, but the rest of the stairs are largely accessible.

I do not recommend trying the third approach, which is the one signposted from the road. You'll see the blue and white sign (in English and Thai) posted on a wall east of 95 Coffee and almost opposite the phone shop, half hidden by a street food vendor. It directs you down a small alleyway, past a gym, to a staircase. The staircase looks quite overgrown. I decided to climb it anyway.

I'm an idiot.

The third approach

As I climbed, it just got more overgrown. I wished I'd brought a machete by the time I emerged at the base of the dharma school, where the giggling novices thought I was hilarious for coming up that route.

(They thought it was even funnier when I then stopped and spent 5 minutes removing about a hundred burrs from my clothing).

The dharma school on level one

Level one also includes a coffee shop, a gold chedi, a large carpark, and several other monastery buildings. A short flight of stairs at the uphill end (or a short road) leads you to level two, with a small ordination hall and a few small bungalows for monks.

This is where the steps end. From here, it's road all the way up.

Level three is home to a large seated Buddha. Four is home to the meditation centre (topped with another big Buddha), and five to seven is primarily a residential area for monks. Eight is the main pagoda, a flashy and modern afair filled with donated artifacts and stupendous views. This level also includes a large carpark, a friendly cafe (they gave me free drinking water, when I turned up drenched in sweat from the climb), and several large dragon/ naga statues. Note: Travelfish is wrong when it says the pagoda is on level five.


The views and some of the structures are very impressive, but I was disappointed in the lack of maintained footroutes; I guess everyone goes up by car or motorbike these days, so the staff and monks no longer bother maintaining them.

A seat with a view, on level eight
Still, the views are worth the effort. Just don't use the third route.

Tuesday, 24 September 2019

2019 travel costs for Indonesia, including Java, Bali, Lombok and Komodo

Having spent August and September 2019 travelling around Indonesia, I thought it might be useful to give some ideas of costs, if your travel style is similar to mine (I travel solo, and I'm more flashpacker than backpacker. I like AC. I hate share bathrooms. I don't need anything "fancy" but I try and avoid staying anyplace that is decrepit, dirty, noisy, or has a rock-hard foam mattress). 

For convenience, I've broken my Indonesia travel costs into main areas: Central and East Java, Bali, Lombok, and Komodo.

Java: average costs per day = £27.35 (493,000 IDR)

Accommodation average £14.24 per night (256,700 IDR). The more touristy places are (as you'd expect) a bit more expensive. But the towns that see few foreign tourists have very good value hotels.
  • Yogya – 275,000 IDR (£15.28)
  • Borobudur – 385,000 IDR (£21.39) 
  • Solo – 143,000 IDR (£8) 
  • Semarang – 264,000 IDR (£14.67): I picked a hotel in the business district, so not a cheap tourist hotel
  • Surabaya – 264,000 IDR (£14.67): very nice, midrange hotel
Food and drink: average £5.79 per day (104,300 IDR) – mostly cheap restaurants, but no alcohol. I ate very well in Java. Sample costs might be:
  • 25,000 IDR (£1.40) for a plate of noodles and a fresh guava juice
  • 28,000 IDR for a bubble tea in a shopping mall, or a coffee in a Western-style cafe.
  • 58,000 IDR for a nice meal in a nice restaurant
Sightseeing is mixed, WRT costs. The big famous temple sites, like Borobudur and Prambanan, are all quite expensive (350,000 IDR pp), but all that wandering around is free. I spent an average £4.37 (79,000 IDR) per day.

Transport is also very affordable, and good quality: I used a mix of trains and buses to move between towns, with city buses or just my feet to get around in town. Intercity train bus or journeys varied from 8000 IDR (train from Yogya to Solo, about an hour away) to 105,000 IDR (train from Semarang to Surabaya), and city buses typically cost around 3500 IDR (£0.19) per ride. I typically spent an average of £2.50 (45,000 IDR) on transport per day.

Bali: average costs per day = £28.12 (506,992 IDR).

Accommodation average £15 per night (270,400 IDR)
  • Pemuteran – 200,000 IDR (£11.11)
  • Lovina – 350,000 IDR (£19.44) 
  • Tulamben – 300,000 IDR (£16.67) 
  • Amed – 400,000 IDR (£22.22)
  • Sanur – 250,000 IDR (£13.89)
  • Padang Padang Beach on Bukit Peninsula  – 240,000 IDR (£13.38)
  • Kuta  – 219,000 IDR (£12.16): I'm not a big fan of Kuta, but I'll stay in the south part of town if I have a morning departure flight or an evening arrival flight, as I can simply walk to/from the airport and avoid the airport taxi mafia.
Food and drink: average £7.56 per day (136,000 IDR). Bali has a wide range of food available, from cheap "local" restaurants and hawker stalls, to swanky beach-front bars, high-end international restaurants, and fancy coffee shops selling salted caramel brownies. I tended to not bother with the swanky bars or the high-end restaurants, but I did indulge in a few nice deserts! Sample costs (excluding alcohol) might be:
  • 60,000-125,000 IDR (£3.33-6.94) for a meal at a tourist-oriented restaurant off the beach.
  • 100,000 IDR (£5.50) for coffee and cake at a tourist-oriented restaurant on the beach.
  • 25,000-30,000 IDR (£1.39-1.69) for babi guling (roast suckling pig and fixin's on rice) at a small, local restaurant.
  • 15,000-18,000 IDR (£0.83-£1) for a veggie nasi campur (rice with assorted dished, like curries, on top) from a hawker stall.
  • 25,000-30,000 IDR (£1.39-1.69) for a bubble tea.
  • 5000-7000 IDR for a large bottle of water, depending on where you get it.
Sightseeing: Scuba or snorkel trips add up quickly, but apart from that sightseeing is pretty darn cheap (in most places, the beach is free). I spent an average of £2.11 (38,000 IDR) a day, which worked out as one full day snorkelling tour (500,000 IDR), and few small donations at temples during the trip. On Bukit, the beaches may have entrance fees (about 15,000 IDR pp).

Transport infrastructure is quite poor on the island; the assumption seems to be that all locals will have either a motorbike or a car, so there are few public buses, and those that do exist often run dual pricing for tourists. Where there are no public buses / bemos, you're stuck with very expensive taxis (although the gojek type taxi apps have helped reduce the prices to something more reasonable), or a few tourist shuttle buses. I spent an average of £1.56 pd (28,200 IDR) on transport, with using local buses to get between the ferry from Java and Pemuteran, or between Pemuteran and Lovina (both 50,000 IDR), bemos from Lovina to Tulamben (via a change at Singaraja) for 100,000 (tourist price), and the Perama Shuttle from Amed to Sanur (175,000 - not cheap but these shuttles tend to be safe with helpful drivers, so I regularly use them in Bali), plus taxi apps to get to and from Bukit from Kuta (about 100,000 each way).

Lombok: average costs per day = £38.60 (695,790 IDR). Let's just get this out of the way: Lombok is considerably more expensive than Bali, and most of the time, you'll be paying more for worse quality. The Gilis have always been popular with the Bali crowd, but the rest of Lombok only got very popular a handful of years ago ("It's what Bali was like 20 years ago...."), which means a lot of tourists, but somewhat limited tourist infrastructure, and a developing industry trying to make as much money, as quickly as possible (and you can't blame them for that - if I lived in a relatively poor island, and all these rich tourists started flying in, I'd be trying to grab me a piece of that pie, too!).

Accommodation average £19.67 per night (354,667 IDR). The main Gilis (I stayed on 2 of the 3) have a mix of inexpensive bungalow joints (some more backpackery than others, normally off the beach), mid-range resorts, and expensive on-beach places. Mataram and Senggigi are big enough to have accommodation at all price points, with some good value places available. The "Secret Gilis" (and this also applies to some of the other places new to mass tourism) are still developing, and targeting a more upmarket tourist than their established northern cousins, so accommodation tends to be pricey there. Finally Senaru is still trying to recover from the earthquake, and is still fairly quiet, so hoteliers will be delighted to see you, and prices are low.
  • Gili Gede (one of the "Secret Gilis") – 600,000 IDR (£33.33). Gili Gede is a very small island with a few fishing villages, obviously very poor, with a handful of not-cheap bungalow operators scattered around, and a fancy new resort and marina under construction on one side of the island. 
  • Mataram – 300,000 IDR (£16.67) 
  • Gili Air – 300,000 IDR (£16.67) - a decent bungalow joint with pool, just off the beach.
  • Gili Meno – 250,000 IDR (£13.89) - your standard bungalow joint, just off the beach.
  • Sire Peninsula – 400,000 IDR (£22.22) for an eco-lodge on the north coast.
  • Senaru – 300,000 IDR (£16.67)
  • Senggigi  – 210,000 IDR (£11.67)
Food and drink: average £8.90 per day (160,000 IDR). Outside of the Gilis (which has a variety of international foods), the dining scene isn't well established. I ended up eating in tourist-oriented restaurants (with identical menus) more often than I would have liked, but it was sometimes hard to find much else. I'm guessing, to be honest, that because the island has traditionally been quite poor, there often isn't much of a local restaurant scene, and I'm assuming most locals cook at home, with the exception of a few stalls selling grilled chicken and the like. So outside of the main cities, like Mataram, most restaurants and cafes you come across are predominantly for tourists. Sample costs might be:
  • 40,000 IDR (£2.22) for a meal at a small local restaurant (in Mataram).
  • 60,000-70,000 IDR (£3.33-£3.89) for a place of food and a non-alcoholic drink at a typical off-beach tourist restaurant.
  • 85,000-125,000 IDR (£4.72-£7) for a plate of food and a a non-alcoholic drink at an on-beach tourist restaurant.
  • 255,000 IDR (£14) for a three course meal (excluding alcohol) at a fancy on-beach restaurant.
Sightseeing: I spent an average of £2.07 (37,000 IDR) a day, which worked out as a cheap snorkelling tour (150,000 IDR), hiring a guide for a half-day's hiking to visit several waterfalls in the Senaru area (250,000 plus 100,000 tip) and a few small donations at temples.

Public transport is rare (there are theoretically bemos running a few routes between towns, but in reality they are quite infrequent, so you could end up standing at the side of the road for hours, trying to catch one), so expect you'll mostly be using taxis to get around. Between towns, your accommodation may be able to arrange a share taxi with other tourists. I spent an average of £5.38 pd (97,000 IDR) on transport. Sample costs include 350,000 IDR for a taxi from the airport to  Gili Gede (organised by my hotel), 24,000 IDR for an ojek trip across Mataram, 120,000 for a taxi from Mataram to the ferry port for the Gilis (booked using an app), 14,500 IDR for the ferry (including the small port fee), 210,000 IDR for a taxi from the Sire Peninsula to Senaru, and 250,000 IDR for a share taxi (shared with another tourist) from Senaru to Senggigi. From Senggigi, there is a bus to the airport (which goes through Mataram en-route) for 35,000 IDR.

Komodo: average costs per day = £51.63 (930,674 IDR) - woo-boy! 

I only spent a few days on Flores, visiting Komodo, so I only stayed at one place, right on the waterfront. It was very overpriced (£27 per night - 488,000 IDR) for a very average room, with peeling wallpaper and a damaged pipe that continually sprayed a fine mist of water all over the bathroom floor. Talking to other tourists, most of the other places in town didn't seem much better, although there were apparently some nicer places on the other side of the town (beyond the airport).

Food and drink: average £9.50 per day (171,000 IDR). The restaurants scene is very much designed for the wealthy international tourists - expect high-end Italian restaurants, coffee shops serving vegan sandwiches, and I even saw a Starbucks.

Sightseeing: The main boat tours seem to all be pretty similar in price. I paid 400,000 IDR, not including the park entry fees (which were another 350,000 IDR). I wouldn't worry too much about shopping around, or worry about where you should book, as very often (near as I can tell), everyone gets jumbled together into a handful of boats at the port. So take anything they tell you about the size of the boat, or the number of people per tour, with a massive handful of salt.

Transport: Apart from a taxi to the airport on the day I left (50,000 IDR), I didn't use any transport as Labuan Bajo is pretty small (I actually walked to my hotel from the airport on the day I arrived - I used a taxi on the way back, because the airport is on top of a big hill, and momma didn't raise no fool).

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Worth the trip

Komodo and the neighbouring islands are beautiful, with great snorkeling. The area is expensive to visit, the gateway town (Labuan Bajo) is awful, and it's also a long way from most of the other places you'll probably want to see (meaning it's a very long boat trip, or a climate-crappy flight from everywhere else). 

But it is fantastic.

The standard itineraries include Padar Island (known for a view point you can climb to, and a pink sand beach), Komodo Island (where you'll be taken for a walk to through the forest and brush to spot some dragons, and then end up at the island's cafe where half a dozen more dragons will be sleeping in the shade of the building, attracted by the cooking smells), and a snorkeling site (which could be manta point, or off a beach, depending on the weather and sea conditions). 

I didn't take many pictures, as I was too focused on enjoying myself to mess about with my camera for most of it, but here are a few:

Padar Island

Wildlife on Padar Island

One of the famed Komodo Dragon beasties

Monday, 16 September 2019

Nuke it from orbit; only way to be sure

Sometimes a place leaves you a bit cold. You don't really get the vibe. The payoff isn't quite worth the effort. It's fine, it's okay, but it's not really you, you know?

Labuan Bajo is not that place.

Komodo is the local cash-cow, and boy, is the town milking it. They seem to have abandoned all attempts to cater to a more diverse group of tourists (such as backpackers, or domestic travellers) in favour of focusing entirely on midrange and wealthy American tourists.

Want to stay in a dorm? That's 250,000 IDR (about £14, or $19USD). Want a private room? That will be £26 ($35 USD). The wallpaper will be peeling, the bed will be hard, and the bathroom with flood 4 hours after you check-in.

But you're checked in, so it's time to grab some food. Where to go?

There are fancy-pants Italian restaurants, vegan cafes selling avocado wraps, and cupcake bakeries. There are tourist-oriented Indonesian restaurants, selling toned-down versions of Indonesian food for the Americans (minus the chilies). There's a fucking Starbucks.

What there doesn't appear to be is anywhere the locals go to eat (you're guessing these places must be some place outside of the town centre).

But it's time to have a good night's sleep, and things will look more positive in the morning....

Labuan Bajo harbour looks almost attractive in the setting sun.

1:00am, you're startled wide awake by the loudest horn you've ever heard, from one of the ships in the Labuan Bajo harbour. It sounds like an airhorn in your room with you. 

But you finally, once your racing heart slows down, get back to sleep.

1:30am -- another air horn.

1:45. 2:30. 3:00. And on and on it goes. 

So you start the next day bleary eyed, but you know it's going to be a better day, as you're doing a boat tour to Komodo and the neighbouring islands. 

And it is wonderful -- the scenery is smashing, the lizards are neat, and the snorkeling is pretty darn good (more on this in my next post).

But the travel agents are deeply dishonest: whatever they told you about the boat size, the max number of tourists on your tour, which fees are included and which are extra: it's all lies. Everyone gets herded together at the port, and shoved at random onto a couple of massive boats. There will be no life jackets on the boat, and if you ask if there are any, the staff will mock you to your face.

But, it's still a great day out, despite the assholes.

Labuan Bajo harbour from my hotel room.

The following day, main attraction of the Labuan Bajo area done, you figure you'll see some more of Flores while you're here. Travelfish tells you share taxis run between the main towns, and that your hotel (or any travel agent) can sell you tickets.

But when you ask your hotel, all you get is a bored "no." So you try a travel agent. And then another. And another. No one can (or will) sell you a ticket, or give you any information on any service of any kind. So you can't figure out how to get out of town.

I arrived in Flores thinking I'd probably stay a week to ten days. I left after 3 nights, and was very pleased to be leaving Labuan Bajo.

Sometimes a place leaves you a bit cold.

I fucking hated Labuan Bajo.

Friday, 13 September 2019

Watching the weather

My final stop on Lombok was Senggigi, on the west coast.

It doesn't have a terribly good reputation these days ("promises a lot but is mostly a bit of a dump," according to Travelfish). The beaches are no great shakes, and the "town" is mostly just a sprawl of tourist-themed development along a few bays, without ever feeling like there's a there there..

But there are patches of bright sky among the clouds.

There are some very good value places to stay (mine had big shady balconies, and a terrace and restaurant built overlooking the sea). There's a decent posh grocery store with a good selection of imported food (for when you've been missing cheese, wine, and strawberries). And there's also a nice seaside temple (Pura Batu Bolong), and half-decent sunsets.

And sometimes, that's all you need for a couple of days.

Pura Batu Bolong, as a storm rolls in

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

After the earthquake

 On 5 August 2018, a magnitude 6.9 earthquake struck North Lombok. 

More than 500 people were killed, and hundreds of thousands were displaced as the shallow earthquake damaged or destroyed an estimated 80% of buildings in the worst affected areas.

When I visited Lombok in September 2019, most areas had been repaired and rebuilt, but I noticed there were still a handful of abandoned and collapsed buildings in northern areas, including on the Gilis. You probably remember the Western news media focusing heavily on the Gilis in reporting the story, all the young tourists trying to get off the island and complaining about waiting for rescue.

But other areas in northern Lombok were hit much worse, and one of those areas was the backpacker hub of Senaru.

A village built along one of the ridges immediately north of Mount Rinjani, it had become a popular base for tourists wanting to climb the mountain or go hiking or treking in some beautiful scenery. 

The earthquake flattened large parts of the town, and that put the tourist industry on hold, depriving many locals of their livelihoods at the same time it damaged their homes and property - a double whammy.

So I knew I was going to try and visit, to put some money into the local area. And I'm really glad I did.

Quite a few hotels, guesthouses and restaurants were open for guests, having repaired or rebuilt quickly. And the scenery is spectacular.

I stayed at the newly rebuilt Pondok Guru Batki, which like most accommodation is built on the eastern side of the ridge, offering fabulous views across the steep valley towards Mt Rinjani. I spent several happy hours sitting in the garden, enjoying the views and watching the monkeys scamper through the trees in search of fruit.

View from my guesthouse towards the various peaks of Mt Rinjani

Looking along the ridge from my guesthouse

My guesthouse organised a guide to take me on a tour of the area. We hiked through the jungle and alongside a stream, scrambling at a few points across large broken boulders and clambering over fallen trees (the path had been badly damaged in several places during the quake, and as a middle-aged woman with crap balance I was quite glad to have a strong young man to offer me a steadying hand in a few places) until we reached the magnificence that is Tiu Kelep waterfall. 

Tiu Kelep waterfall - simply magnificent (but tricky to reach on your own)

There was almost no one else there (just one other Western couple, who were leaving as we arrived). You could swim in the hole at the base of the falls, but I didn't (I knew we had a lot of hiking still to do, and I didn't want to have to do it in damp clothes) but I can easily envision spending an hour relaxing there, if you're of a mind.

We then hiked back to Sedang Gile, a smaller waterfall nearer the road, which has been developed for visitors. It's easy to reach along a paved path and stairway, and near the base of the falls they've built a selection of picnic tables and small stalls selling drinks and snacks (like yummy fried bananas!). There's also toilets here, FYI.

Sedang Gile waterfall - smaller but still an attractive place to relax

After the waterfalls, we hiked to a traditional village, which welcomes tourists in exchange for donations. You can sit and chat, via your guide as a translator, with some of the village elders, and drink tea or coffee, while chickens run about your feet.

Finally, we went for a long walk through rice paddies and fields, while my guide talked about growing up in the village. We ended up outside the guide's house, where he introduced me to his wife and sweet-as-a-pea six year old daughter, and proudly showed me around his small orchard and vegetable patch. 

It was a great half day, and stretched until out for about 6 hours (as he could see I was interested).

When you're travelling on a budget, it can be tempting to try and skip the additional cost of a guide (I accepted the requested fee without any haggling, and at the end added a generous tip as I knew the village's economy was struggling, plus my guide was great). But often, it really pays off to hire a local.

Although I could have visited Sedang Gile and the traditional village on my own (they're both easy to reach by road), I really doubt I would have made it to Tiu Kelep on my own (I would probably have either gotten lost, or assumed I was going the wrong way when I got to the scrambly bits, and turned back). Plus I never would have learned as much about local life, without someone to talk to. Best 350,000 rupiah I spent on the entire Lombok leg of my trip.

After all that walking, it was time for a (very) late lunch. Or (very) early dinner. Lunner, I guess.

I stopped in at a little restaurant my guide had recommended, with extensive views over the valley and farmland, and ate lalapan ayam, a dish of assorted raw vegetables with sambal terasi (a tomato and chili sauce, here made "not spicy" with only one chili for the wimpy westerner) and ayam bakar (grilled chicken).

And my new friend, who sat at my feet, meowing and watching me eat the entire time, until I finally ran out of will power and shared my chicken with her.

Views from Warung Dedi Tioq Angen

Tasty lalapan ayam

My demanding dining companion