Shutterstock.com
Updated 4 months ago

Due to stubborn traffic jams and urban chaos, getting around in big Indonesian cities is no easy feat. However, in terms of transport options, you'll never be far from a means to (eventually) get from A to B. Read this article to find out more.

The most common forms of transportation for short journeys in Indonesia are private cars, taxis, bemos (public minibuses), ojeks (motorbikes), and becaks (pedicabs). A rail network only really exists on certain islands, such as Java, where it is generally reliable and efficient. For longer journeys, domestic flights departing from most major cities tend to be quite affordable, but if you'd rather stay closer to land, boat rides can be a convenient means of island hopping.

You won't be short of ways to get around in Indonesia — from metred taxis that are readily available in big cities, to a dokar, which is a horse-drawn, two-wheeled cart that can be found across the archipelago. However, the mode you choose will depend on your location, budget, and time restraints, as some means of transport are arguably more comfortable, quicker, but more expensive than others.

Below is a breakdown of some of the most popular means of transport.

Ojek

Ojeks are motorcycle 'taxis' that carry passengers. They are found hanging around most terminals or main sights, as well as flagged down at junctions. Due to their nifty size, it's a great way to dart ahead of the traffic in Jakarta, and they are also particularly popular in Bali.

Practice your bargaining skills by agreeing on a price before accepting the ride, or if you can't be bothered to barter, then consider using the smartphone app called Go-Jek, which allows you to order an ojek in major cities at a fair price.

Bemo

A bemo (also sometimes known as an angkot, taksi, opelet, mikrolet, angkude or pete-pete depending on the area of Indonesia) is a van or a minibus that has had all its seats replaced with benches that run down either side of the van so that passengers face each other. Conditions can be rather cramped as drivers tend to wait until their bemo is full before leaving and they're happy to cram in as many people as can fit.

Most bemos operate along a standard route but will pick up and drop off people at any point on this journey.

Due to their basic stature and modus operandi, they are relatively cheap and small enough to negotiate narrow roads, but it's best to only jump on if you have low denominations of currency in hand, as sometimes it can be a hassle getting correct change, and drivers are known for trying to overcharge foreigners. To avoid being ripped off, it's a good idea to ask a reliable source in Indonesia about the actual tariff or try to see what other passengers are paying.

Becak

Traditionally, a becak is a three-wheeled bicycle with a passenger seat up front, which evolved from the hand-pulled rickshaws of yesteryear. Like a clove cigarette or a wayang kulit puppet, the becak has become a bit of a symbol of Indonesia. Styles can vary from city to city, and nowadays there are motorised options with small engines, which make them a noisy option, but they are still a cheap way to get around.

The becak is banned from the main streets of some large cities, but they're great for roaming the backstreets. Just be sure to agree on a price with the driver before you climb on and, if there are two passengers, be sure to agree on a price that covers both people or you might be in for some squabbling when you arrive at your destination.

Bajaj

A bajaj is often referred to as a motor rickshaw or tuk-tuk in other countries, and they can squeeze in up to five passengers, depending on size and luggage. Years ago, they used to be an extremely popular means of transport in Jakarta, but their numbers have started to dwindle quite drastically.

There are now natural gas-powered and electric bajaj that are more environmentally friendly and less noisy than the traditional diesel-powered variety.

Dokar and river taxis

The dokar is a horse-drawn carriage and was a traditional mode of transportation in Jakarta that is becoming harder to spot. Nowadays, they are most commonly used to transport goods between markets.

Back in the day, before bajaj, becak, and ojek became popular, the residents of the capital travelled along the many canals and rivers in a variety of boats. Nowadays, there are still some perahu penyeberangan (river taxis), which are used to cross the river from a major road to the villages on the other side of the waters.

Bus

Apart from on Java and Bali, large buses aren't used much as a means of city transport, but there is an extensive bus system in Jakarta, which is affordable (just watch out for pickpockets).

Taxi

Taxis are a surprisingly affordable and convenient way to get around if you can avoid rush hour. If possible, try to always take a metered cab, which are readily available in major cities, and make sure that the meter (argo) is turned on. Otherwise, be sure to bargain and agree on the fare before setting off.

Bluebird Taxis offers services in big cities and tourist areas, the drivers use a meter and usually can speak some English, and you can order a taxi over the smartphone app.

Additionally, you can always use Grab Car, the South East Asian version of Uber but at a more affordable price. However, please note that Uber is banned in various parts of the country, as is Grab Car.

Rent a car or motorcycle

If you want to have more independence and flexibility, then it may be a good idea to rent (or even buy) your own car or motorcycle while you are living in Indonesia. It is possible to rent a motorbike on a short-term basis and, on islands like Bali, it is not only extremely easy to do so, but there are so many rental motorbike shops available that it seems to be the norm for expats to rent them.

If you wish to rent on a long-term basis, then be sure to negotiate the harga terbaik (best price). The longer you rent a bike, the cheaper it can be, and you can drive a harder bargain depending on the season. Just be sure that a helmet is included and that the compartment below the seat locks securely.

Alternatively, you can simply hire a car and driver for a day — or for a longer period — whenever the need arises. This can be particularly handy when looking for a place to live. Renting a car with a driver doesn't cost much more than renting a car on its own, and if you haven't driven in Indonesia before, it could save you a lot of stress on the roads.

We do our best to provide accurate and up to date information. However, if you have noticed any inaccuracies in this article, please let us know in the comments section below.