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Java Bali Tour: Visit Indonesia

If you’re inspired by reading about the Indonesian islands of Java and Bali but haven’t visited these amazing islands, this Java Bali tour could be just right for you.

Lynda Bransbury is offering very reasonably priced places on her Java Bali Heritage Tour in December 2012-January 2013. I met Lynda while I was studying Javanese gamelan music and she was studying puppetry in Solo, Central Java. You can read more about her tours in this interview or head straight to her own website.

MountainsHere are the juicy details:


27 December – 12 January 2012

17 nights in Java & Bali £770 single room; £612 if 2 people share

13 nights in Java £481 single room; £373 if 2 people share

7 night tour of Central Java £270;

Come and experience the wonders and beauty of Java and Bali for 17 nights. Vibrant tropical vegetation, lush rice fields, impressive volcanoes, sacred and ancient sites, dating back to Hindu Buddhist times.

BorobudurEach country has its own rich, cultural heritage. Traditional performing arts and rituals remain a vibrant and valued part of daily life. The 17 night study tour (13 nights in Java and 4 nights in Bali) combines visits to the major historical sites from the Hindu Buddhist past, including the World Heritage Site of Borobudur Temple, with opportunities to see traditional dance, ritual and performance. You can also take part in workshops led by internationally recognized Javanese artists in sound, movement, meditation, traditional dance or shadow puppets.

We visit Javanese mountain villages where the traditional way of life has hardly changed in generations, and stay overnight in village houses. You get to see traditions, performance and farming practices that tourists rarely see.


Lynda Bransbury at or telephone (+44) 873 812 664 for more information or to book a place. See

Balinese dance

5 Rules for Riding a Motorbike in Asia

I had never learnt to drive a car in the UK, let alone ridden a motorcycle. Moving to Indonesia, however, to a place with limited public transport, this was clearly going to be the best way to get around. I learnt in one session with a friend, and four years on I’m still alive. This are my personal rules for survival when riding a motorbike in Asia.

The motorbike is a popular form of transport in many parts of Asia

The motorbike is a popular form of transport in many parts of Asia.

1) Learn Quickly
Riding a motorbike is not difficult. Most of the challenge comes from other road users or the road itself. Find somewhere flat and uncrowded and spend an hour or so getting used to controlling the bike.

2) Wear a Helmet
It’s easy for us to forget about safety when we’re travelling or on holiday, particularly somewhere without enforced laws on helmet use. This may seem like a boring rule, but despite being fun, riding a motorcycle is not the safest way to get around. Do you really want a head injury, especially if you are somewhere without ambulances, let alone high quality medical care?

Helmets can be fun too

Helmets can be fun too.

3) Know your Bike’s Limits
My experience of riding a motorbike in Asia has been one of weaving in and out of traffic, avoiding pedestrians and rickshaws piled high with goods, as other people weave around me. When you’re entering the opposite lane to overtake a big, slow truck you need to know how fast your bike will accelerate so you can clear the truck before the traffic in the opposite lane reaches you.

Love your bike - give it a good clean

Love your bike – give it a good clean.

4) Go with the Flow
Before I learnt to ride a motorbike, a friend gave me a very useful piece of advice. She said that whereas elsewhere we might drive in a relatively straight line, just turning at corners, in Indonesia you should smoothly follow the flow of the traffic. Actually she demonstrated what she meant by swaying her body from side to side; it’s hard to convey in writing.  Basically, relax and go with the flow.

5) You’re Never the Craziest Driver
No matter how fast or how crazily you’re driving, remember there is always someone driving faster and more crazily than you. When I’ve been in a hurry to get somewhere I have driven very fast, in areas where the speed limit is generally ignored. Every time, there is someone weaving in and out of traffic, over- and undertaking, much faster and more crazily than me.

Or you might just get stuck in the traffic, as Asia’s cities become more congested.

And a couple things I learnt the hard way:

1) Automatic scooter-style motorbikes do not go up steep hills with two heavy people on them. Don’t try it or you’ll end up walking like I did.

2) You will at some point become one of those people carrying ridiculous amounts of people, objects or even furniture on your bike. Moving house by motorbike is not as unusual as it sounds.

South Sulawesi: Transport Prices and Durations

These journey times and costs are accurate from my June-July 2012 trip. At this time the MakassarToraja road was being renovated and resurfaced. This made the journey slower, but once the roadworks are complete, the smooth, wide road should speed everything up.

Makassar streetFor the Makassar-Toraja and Toraja-Makassar legs of my trip, I took air-conditioned executive buses, which were very comfortable. Litha & Co has buses departing throughout the day, with the last departure at 10pm; you should arrive at the terminal in plenty of time to ensure you get a ticket because the buses do get full. Bintang Prima’s buses were slightly more luxurious than Litha & Co, but both buses had powerful air-con, reclining seats and adjustable footrests. Both stopped for lunch and a few other times along the journey.

If you want to travel from Tana Toraja all the way to Pantai Bira in one day, you can either hire a car for the whole journey, for which I was quoted prices over a million rupiahs, or you can do as I did and rent your car from Makassar. My rental car with driver met me at the bus terminal on my arrival in Makassar and we arrived at Pantai Bira later that night. If you don’t want to fork out for car rental you’ll have to break your journey with a night in Makassar.

Travelling anywhere by public car, expect to squeeze into half a seat as they normally take ten passengers. From Pantai Bira to Makassar, ask your hotel to book seats in a public car a day before you want to leave.

Journey Duration Cost
Makassar airport to city centre  Under 1 hour Rp. 100,000 fixed price to Zone 1 destinations
Bus Makassar to Tana Toraja (Litha & Co) 9 hours including stops Rp. 90,000
Public car Makale to Rantepao Under 1 hour Rp. 5,000 (shorter journeys cost less)
Bus Tana Toraja to Makassar (Bintang Prima) 9 hours including stops Rp. 100,000
Private car hire Makassar to Pantai Bira 6 hours including stops Rp. 600,000
Public car (kijang) Pantai Bira to Makassar 6 hours including stops Rp. 50,000
Taxi Mallengkeri bus terminal to central Makassar Rp. 36,000
Taxi central Makassar to airport Under 1 hour Rp. 80,000


Flores Travel Times and Prices

If you’re planning to see a lot in a short time, it can be a good idea to find out how long each journey will take. Knowing the approximate price for each leg of your trip can help with budgeting. Here are the journey durations and prices for each leg of my Flores trip.

These journey times are accurate for my trip, however, the trans-Flores highway is a two-lane narrow road that twists and turns through the mountains. Journey times can be affected by many factors, including broken-down vehicles in the road, landslides, rain, damaged road surface and cows wandering into the middle of the road.

Travel on the Flores roadI travelled by minibus and public taxi, which meant I was collected from my hotel and taken directly to my next hotel at the destination, thus cutting out the hassle of bus terminals and local transport to and from them. Public buses, where you can travel alongside chickens and pigs, will be cheaper. Hiring a private car with a driver will set you back at least Rp. 500,000 per day.

Journey Duration Price (Rupiahs)
Maumere airport to town (by airport taxi) 15 minutes Rp. 50,000
Maumere to Moni 3.5 hours Rp. 50,000
Moni to Ende 3 to 4 hours Rp. 35,000
Ende to Bajawa 3.5 hours Rp. 50,000
Bajawa to Ruteng 4 to 5 hours Rp. 70,000
Ruteng to Labuan Bajo 4 hours Rp. 60,000
Labuan Bajo town to airport (by motorcycle) 15 minutes Rp. 10,000

All prices are in Indonesian Rupiahs. I use for currency conversions, though there are many websites providing this service. At the time of my trip in April 2012, US$ 1 was approximately Rp. 9,000 and £1 was around Rp. 14,000.


The Island of Flores: An Introduction for the Inquisitive Traveller

Flores, located in eastern Indonesia, just east of Sumbawa, Rinca and Komodo islands, is a paradise island of forested hills, volcanoes and beaches. Although the major guidebooks all cover Flores and some tour operators offer trips to this island, Flores sees far fewer visitors than many other Indonesian islands; it is an absolute jewel of an island, waiting to be discovered by the mainstream tourism industry.

People of Flores

Flores has many regional languages and strong local cultures, still very much alive today. With travel limited by the mountainous terrain the local peoples have retained their individual languages and cultures much more than in other places I have visited. To speak to someone from a different ethnicity, the national language, Indonesian, is used. Unlike much of Indonesia, which is the largest Muslim country in the world, Flores has a Catholic majority, with many people following thWeavers of Nuandarie religion quite strictly.

I found the people of Flores to be honest about information such as prices, and genuinely helpful, which was a welcome break from the tourist rip-offs and downright dishonest conmen in certain other parts of Indonesia.

Traversing the Island

With a long shape, measuring 450km from east to west, Flores has only one main road, a two-lane bendy asphalt strip that weaves through forested hills and mountains and along the south coast, covering over 600km with its twists and turns. Most travellers choose to enter at either the eastern port of Maumere or at Labuan Bajo in the west, both of which have airports, and travel in a west or east direction, exiting via the other port. Ende, located on the south coast in the middle of the east-west route also has an airport, offering another port of entry.

Due to the twisty nature of the road, it can easily take an hour to travel only 30km, and the journeys easily cause motion sickness. The road is fairly quiet and there are certainly no traffic jams! As an independent traveller you have several transport options. You can hire a car and driver for around Rp. 500,000 per day, which may work out well for groups. Travelling alone as I did, however, this becomes too expensive. You can hire a motorbike, but if you aren’t used to riding on twisty mountain roads this would be a very tiring option. There are public buses where you ride amongst the chickens, goats and pigs that are being transported. This is definitely the cheapest option, but if you want something nicer, try bemos. These are minibuses that ply the same route (there is after all only one main route, with two directions).

Kelimutu Coloured Crater LakesEven more pleasant, however, is going by “travel”. Here in Flores the word “travel” is used to refer to public cars, just like ordinary cars, but with yellow number plates, which are allowed to pick up and drop off passengers. You can avoid traipsing to and from bus terminals and order a “travel” to collect you from your hotel and take you to your hotel at your destination. Essentially you get to travel by comfortable car, with other passengers, for a fraction of the price of hiring your own car and driver. This was my chosen form of transport to traverse the island.

My Route

According to Wikipedia Flores has a population of 1,831,000, much of which consists of villages and hamlets spread across the island. Entering at Maumere, Flores’s largest town though it’s really not very big, it is possible to go east to Larantuka, or head west to Moni, which is what I did. Paga makes a nice place to stop for a rest by the beach, to eat grilled fish, freshly caught.

Moni is the village with accommodation that is closest to Kelimutu. These coloured volcanic lakes are justifiably at the top of every visitor’s must-see list for Flores. The fresh air and picturesque countryside may tempt you to spend a few days relaxing in Moni, visiting nearby villages, waterfalls, hotsprings and more.

The next destination for many visitors is Ende. I chose not to spend the night in Ende, but in changing cars there I was able to see its black sand beach. People will tell you to go there to see the blue stones on the beach, but I saw loads of them collected in piles by the roadside as I headed towards Bajawa and they didn’t seem that special.

Traditional Ngada HousesIt is worth spending time looking around the Bajawa area, which offers an array of sights. I trekked up to Wawo Muda volcanic lakes and visited traditional Ngada villages, both of which I highly recommend. There is also a hot spring at Soa where you can bathe in the waters, and the town of Bajawa itself is worth a look around.

After Bajawa I stopped at Ruteng for a night, and stayed at a Catholic convent. If you have time and transport there are sights to be seen in the mountainous countryside around Ruteng which is in the Manggarai ethnic region, including terraced rice fields.

The final leg of my journey was to Labuan Bajo in the far west of Flores, an entry or exit point for most visitors to the island, and starting place for tours to see the famous Komodo dragons lizards on the neighbouring islands of Rinca and Komodo. I’ll be covering Flores in more detail in forthcoming articles, so follow if you are curious to know more about this jewel of an island.

Travel Plans for April

That exciting feeling of buying plane tickets has happened again! The parting of money in return for the excitement of a forthcoming trip. These are my travel plans for April; let me know if you have any tips on any of these places.

I’ll be flying out of Surabaya so I hope to have a day or two to explore that east Javanese city first. From there I’m headed to Flores, one of the Indonesian islands that makes up Nusa Tenggara, east of Bali and Lombok. It’ll be the furthest east that I’ve travelled in Indonesia. I’m flying into Maumere in the east of the island, exploring the length of the island and leaving from Labuanbajo in the west. Then I’m off the Bali to review the Viceroy Bali for Worldette. After that it’s time for a relaxing break before returning to Java.


My time in Flores will be limited to eight days but since I’m happy to be travelling most of the time, that’s no problem. I enjoy the idea of being able to do short trips within Indonesia, since I am here anyway, instead of feeling like I have to backpack around for months. If I was in the UK I wouldn’t hesitate to take a short break in Europe, without feeling like I had to see all of a particular region, so I’m trying to do that here.

I’m planning to see Kelimutu, since everyone says it’s amazing. These colourful volcanic crater lakes are Flores’s most popular attraction. And I will stop at places including Ende and Bajawa. I’m interested to see what the local cultures are like, and as always when I travel, I want to talk to people about their lifestyles. Have you been to Flores? Where would you recommend?

How about Surabaya? I’ve heard people say many things about this East Javanese metropolis, including that there is nothing worth seeing there. Tales of traffic jams abound. Yet I am curious, having visited many other Javanese cities, to see how it shapes up. Have you visited Surabaya? Any tips?