Having visited Indonesia numerous times and fallen in love with its beaches and people, I am often surprised by how few people in the U.S. have visited the Asian archipelago, even those that have traveled extensively in South East Asia. Access isn't an issue as you can easily reach Jogyakarta, Jakarta or Bali with regular flights from the U.S. via Singapore, Kuala Lumpur or Bangkok. As an Australian, I have always considered Indonesia my personal vacation playground, kind of a Southern Hemisphere Caribbean, except without the hefty price tag. If it is absolute indulgence and sheer luxury on a budget you are after, it is hard to look past Bali -- it's the epitome of the relaxing tropical vacation with a cultural/spiritual twist.
I am allowed to be biased and say that my personal favorite airline is Singapore Airlines (closely followed by other Asian-based airlines) and if you are going to fly long haul to Indonesia, you'd best do it in style with exceptional service, comfortable planes and extremely edible food (yes there is an airline that serves decent food!). Singapore Airline's vacation arm, Asian Affair Holidays (tel. 800/742-3133; www.asianaffairholidays.com) has a "Spectacular Bali Value" package that includes round-trip airfare from Los Angeles or San Francisco on Singapore Airlines, arrival and departure transfers, five nights' accommodations at the deluxe five-star Nusa Dua Beach Hotel & Spa Resort (in a superior room) or at the five-star Nikko Bali Resort (in an ocean view room), buffet breakfast daily and a full-day tour to either the Kintamani volcano, the mountain area of Bedugul or the Besakih Hindu Temple. As an added bonus, travelers coming from New York pay the same rate as their west coast cousins. This special promotion is priced at $1,080 plus taxes per person based on double occupancy and must be booked by November 15, 2006. Valid for travel from now until December 5, 2006 and again from January 6 to March 31, 2007. If you are traveling solo, the rate is $1,360.
Asian Pacific Adventures (tel. 800/825-1680; www.asianpacificadventures.com) offers a 15-day Indonesia Cultural Odyssey tour that visits Bali, Borobudor and Toraja. The trip begins in the cool highlands of Torajaland on Sulawesi, one of the world's most peculiarly shaped islands and home to a diversity of traditional societies. The Torajan people are famous for their highly ritualistic ceremonies, ceaseless funeral feasts and uncommon methods of burial. Visit villages where all the houses look like ships or trek to outlying burial sites to see cliff-side graves, hanging graves and even children's graves embedded in trees. Continue on to Yogyakarta, Java's cultural heartland and the seat of the island's oldest and most venerated royal court. Visit a pottery village and see leather puppets, silver and batik workshops and art galleries. Or go to Indonesia's liveliest shopping street -- the remarkable two-mile-long Jalan Malioboro. Travel to the spectacular Buddhist temple of Borobudur, built between 750 and 850 A.D. This massive stupa in the form of a three-dimensional mandala features over 1,500 pictorial relief panels and incorporates almost 90,000 square feet of stone surface making it the largest ancient monument in the southern hemisphere. On the island of Bali, relax on the pristine beaches in the north and visit inland Ubud, where Bali's finest dance, theatre and puppetry performances are staged. Visit numerous temples and culturally and archaeologically significant sites. Tour dates for 2007 are May 12 to 26, July 21 to Aug 4 and October 6 to 20. The land-only price starts from $2,880 if six people are in the group and goes up to $3,190 if there are only two to three participants. Internal flights within Indonesia and your international airfare to Denpasar are additional.
Access Trips (tel. 888/580-TRIP; www.accesstrips.com) has designed the ultimate tour for surfers who wish to experience the very best of Bali and Java for 13 days of surf travel paradise. The "Bali & East Java Surf Trip" starts with the easy breaks at Seminyak, and then explores beaches along the Bali coastline. The next stop is on the island of Java, where you'll spend five days surfing secluded beach and reef breaks in a spectacular national park. Stop off for two nights at a traditional fishing village that offers a long, smooth beach break and delicious seafood. In addition to incredible surfing and high-quality instruction, you'll enjoy luxury accommodation, free massages and daily yoga lessons. The trip is priced at $1,800 per person land-only and includes nine nights' accommodations (five nights in beachfront hotels, one night in a luxury villa and three nights in a deluxe bungalow), daily level-specific surfing instruction (with a maximum instructor-to-guest ratio of one to four), eight days of surfing, breakfast daily, four lunches and four dinners provided by a personal chef, all transportation (land and boat) including airport transfers, sightseeing visiting temples, markets and volcanoes plus optional workshops. Trips are operated once a month between May and October, 2007.
Outer Edge Expeditions (tel. 800/322-5235; www.outer-edge.com) takes you beyond the normal tourist confines of Bali and the big cities of Indonesia and introduces you to tribal Indonesia with its series of expeditions to remote locations including West Papua (Irian Jaya) on the outer edges of Indonesia. Their "Journey Into the Stone Age: West Papua" is a 22-day cultural exploration and trekking tour where participants travel by charter plane to remote regions and visit villages with little to no western contact. Explore the indigenous Kombai, Yali and Dani cultures where customs and dress have remained relatively unchanged for centuries (except for the fact that both the Yali and Kombai were fierce headhunters until just 20 years ago -- thankfully that practice has now ceased). The tour is also privileged to participate in a rare sago feast where clans gather for festivities. Land prices for this tour in 2007 started from $3,790 per person if there are six participants and go up to $4,190 if only two people made up the group. 2007 dates are March 17 to April 7, May 26 to June 16 and September 29 to October 20. You can also choose to split this journey up and only do the Highlands or Lowlands sections at reduced prices.
The "River, Trails and Village Life" is a 13-day cultural exploration, white-water rafting and trekking tour that takes you to some of Sulawesi's most magnificent locations. Go rafting down the Sa'dan River on class four rapids in the remote hinterlands of Tana Toraja, trek to distant Torajan villages to see ancient megaliths, effigies to ancestors and unique Torajan houses and stay with villagers in traditional houses. Departure dates in 2007 are April 25, June 27 and August 15 and land-only prices are from $1,790 for four to six guests or $1,890 for two to three participants. International airfares are additional.
If you are planning on traveling independently (rather than on a tour), you may want to consider purchasing your airfare and accommodation separately. Bali has a plethora of accommodation options at prices that may make you believe that there is a zero missing. Several websites exist to assist you make online bookings for hotels and private villas ranging from $20 per night (including breakfast) to a $1,000 a night. A few websites to check out include:
Early 2007 round-trip airfares to Denpasar, Bali from Los Angeles through Travelocity (www.travelocity.com) range from approximately $970 to $1,300 including taxes. Flights go via Hong Kong, Singapore, Seoul or Taipei. ASAP Tickets (tel. 800/677-2943; www.asaptickets.com) lists round-trip airfares to Bali from New York in mid-January, 2007 ranging from $1,080 on Singapore Airlines via Singapore to $1,160 on Japan Air Lines via Tokyo. Angel Travel (www.angeltravel.com) has round-trip fares to Jakarta, Surabaya or Denpasar from January 1 to March 31, 2007 on Cathay Pacific via Hong Kong from $910 form Los Angeles or San Francisco, and $1,125 from New York.
Talk with fellow travelers on our Indonesia Message Boards.