I understand the irrestible allure of Bali. Sitting here at Cafe Pomegranate in Ubud, I see why the head of Bali tourism was once quoted as saying “we are all loving Bali to death.” There’s just something about the island that beckons tourists from around the world. Nicknamed as the Island of the Gods, the verdant rice paddies extend in all directions, the renowned friendliness of the Balinese people greets you at every turn, the pops of color from Hindu flower offerings rest on every corner.
Perhaps Bali’s tourism hit a record high in the wake of Elizabeth Gilbert’s best selling novel, Eat Pray Love. Virtually overnight, the island transformed into a mecca for lost, single and soul-searching women. The “Eat Pray Lovers,” as I love to call them can be found roaming the island in a sort of hopeful daze. Walking solo with a camera in hand, a guidebook glued to the other; women flock to Bali now to find themselves.
As an Eat Pray Love enthusiast myself, I happen to love the trend. Any excuse for women to find strength and empowerment beyond their comfort zones is enough for me. Coming from a city like New York, which—like Bali is a symbolic place for dreamers—I know what it’s like to project every wish on a physical place. People flock to Bali for spiritual awakening the way artists flock to New York City for opportunity.
Here I am in Bali writing at a cafe in Ubud—a cliche if there ever was one. I don’t mind one bit. After weeks of traveling around Indonesia, I can say with certainty that there is more to this country than the Island of the Gods. Bali eclipses Indonesia the way New York City eclipses the rest of New York State. There is more to Indonesia than just Bali. From the jungles of Borneo to the rustic beaches of Wakatobi—here’s 3 places to visit in Indonesia BEYOND Bali.
Admittedly, my knowledge of Borneo was limited. Borneo was always one of those far flung destinations I saw on National Geographic specials; the epitome of exotic and unattainable. To then find myself on a riverboat in Borneo was surreal. Borneo and neighboring Sumatra are known as being the only places in the world to see orangutans in their natural habitat. Tanjung Puting National Park protects the animals and is home to famed research center, Camp Leaky, which actively studies orangutans in the area.
I traveled by riverboat into the depths of the Borneo jungle towards Camp Leaky. No tourist traps, no hidden animal cruelty, no scams. A visit to Borneo is to see animals the way it should be—free and in the wild.
GETTING THERE: Flights depart daily for Jakarta and Surabaya. Current airlines operating services into Palangkaraya are Garuda Indonesia, Sriwijaya Air and Lion Air. For my visit to Borneo, I traveled with Orangutan Trekking Tours. The guides proved knowledgeable, the company eco-friendly and for two days in the jungle, we had everything provided to us–including a riverboat (where you will spend the night), all meals and of course, trekking to the orangutans.
WHAT TO EXPECT: Be prepared for mosquito covered mattresses, no showers, dirty knees and jungle heat. This is not the sort of excursion to find luxury accommodations. If you’re expecting margaritas on an air conditioned river boat, think again.
TRAVEL TIPS: Bring repellent, clothes to get dirty and stay hydrated! In Borneo, you will be sweating a lot.
Komodo is one those rare destinations that remains far flung and relatively untouched. The way Borneo is home to orangutans; Komodo is the only place to see Komodo dragons outside a zoo. Komodo National Park extends across numerous islands–some inhabited others not–where park guides offer walking tours through Komodo territory.
While threatening, Komodos spotted on my walk appeared lazy. In fact, they reminded me of my fat, tabby cat Peeps back in New York as they languidly lay on fat bellys under the hot sun. Of course, the animals are dangerous and local guides keep you at a safe distance from them at all times.
GETTING THERE: You can reach Komodo by flying to Labuan Bajo airport. Transnusa Airlines directly connects Labuan Bajo with several major cities in Indonesia, such as: Denpasar, Kupang, Ende, and Mataram.
WHAT TO EXPECT: Expect ample hiking when visiting Komodo. Whether taking a guided trek in Komodo National Park or hiking to the top of Padar Island for a scenic view. You’ll also be using speed boats to get from island to island, so if prone to sea sickness, bring medication!
TRAVEL TIPS: Komodo is one of the few areas of Indonesia with a higher rate of Malaria. Bring plenty of mosquito spray before going. Wear long pants and shirts at night and–if comfortable–take Malarial pills leading up to your visit. Most accommodations are in Labuan Bajo with boat operators taking travelers to the nearby Komodo National Park islands.
I remember working in an office and searching Google images for picturesque wallpapers to use as my desktop screensaver. The photo was always the same–a white sand beach, swaying palm trees, crystal clear waters and coconut drinks. Arriving in Wakatobi was like stepping into the screensaver of my old work computer. Wakatobi is a national park and mecca for divers; home to the largest barrier reef in the world, second only to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.
I am not a diver (although snorkeling is still fantastic) and so my experience on Wakatobi was focused on the beaches and local Bajo people. The Bajo are an indigenous group of people who live on the ocean and rely entirely off the sea. Some Bajo live their entire lives without actually touching land! Bajo villages are a series of wooden homes, walkways and schools lifted above the water by hand constructed stilts.
WHAT TO EXPECT: Wakatobi is what Bali must have looked like before tourism hit and hotel chains popped up. The island is rustic and low-key. The finest accommodations on the island are a series of private, wooden bungalows facing the beach. When arriving in Wakatobi, expect to be off-the-beaten path. Expect limited to no wifi, no ATMs, no convenience stores. Bring what you need and expect to disconnect.
TRAVEL TIPS: Because Wakatobi is more rustic, bring whatever you need (medication, money and other comforts) before heading to the islands.
Yes, Bali is incredible. I’m currently solo traveling in Ubud and have spent the entire day at a rice paddy-facing cafe just soaking in my surroundings. Yes, Bali is worth a visit. The island is spiritual, beautiful and welcoming. Is Bali all there is to Indonesia? Definitely not. Bali is simply one corner of the massive, colorful jigsaw puzzle that makes up this country. If flying across the world to Indonesia, make sure to step off the beaten path and see Indonesia beyond Bali.
Have you explored Indonesia beyond Bali? Share your travel experiences below! Make sure to Enter the Wonderful Indonesia contest to win a FREE TRIP to Komodo!
*Special thanks to the Indonesia Tourism Board for inviting me to Wonderful Indonesia!