The ferry is the ideal option for slow travellers who want to avoid hop on and hop off a plane whenever possible and who want to see more of Indonesia than the famous Bali.
There's something idyllic about moving slowing on the ferry. Budget travellers will find it a lot more affordable than any other type of transportation to go from one island to another. (Indonesia has about 18,000 islands)
The thing is that you might have a very stressful experience with the ferry in Indonesia if you don't know what you are doing or you are not prepared for the next step. We were there and had done that, and now we want to share our experiences so that you can avoid being in a wrong place and doing the wrong things.
Take the public ferry from Java to Bali: Short and sweet
- Ports: Ketapang (Java) - Gilimanuk (Bali)
- Length: 45 minutes for the ferry
Our ferry from Java to Bali was a probably the best. It was relaxing and incident-free. We got on at Kepatang port near Banyuwangi (East Java) and got off at Gilimanuk (West Bali) in under one hour. The ferry was massive, as it’s for both passengers and vehicles. Its size and its slow speed gave us a bit of assurance as Indonesian public transport doesn’t exactly have the best safety record.
We met a friendly couple on the ferry, other travellers from Europe. We talked about places we have been and wanted to go. It made the journey much faster than it seemed. The sea was calm. It wasn't too hot either, for a day in May in this part of the world.
All in all, it was a pleasant ride. However, it only took us to the most western point of Bali. As we booked our first few nights in Sanur, a beach spot down south and further east, we needed to take a bus onwards. It was when the troubles arrived.
As soon as we got off the ferry and walked out of the port, we were surrounded by taxi drivers and bus touts. We were still with the other couples, and they also lodged in the south of the island, so we first tried to order a taxi together. I don’t know if it was because that we had three white people in the group or that all four of us sucked at haggling, we couldn’t get an acceptable deal with any taxi driver.
We then headed further out towards the bus station. At this point, bus touts were offering us seats. The price they shouted out varied massively, which made the whole thing very confusing. We lost the other couple to a bus that looked both knackered and dirty. As all the windows were open, we reckoned it didn’t have air-conditioner and decided we should hold out for a better option.
Eventually, we got inside the bus station, got on a bus where the conductor and the driver told us two different fares. We paid the lower one, felt good about ourselves and settled down. Little did we know the bus took a good five hours and the air conditioner failed at times leaving us in a sealed, hot, and humid container. We had to slow down to a snail speed many times as the road congestion was as severe in parts of Bali as in Java. Once, the bus went to a full stop and we took a break for fifteen minutes while the driver and his conductor got blessed near a god-like tree. Religious rituals like that were something we would see all the times in Bali.
When dusk started to gather, we got dropped off on the side of a street in Denpasar. It didn’t look remotely like an official bus stop. We got more offers from tuk-tuk drivers, but Ian was fed up with haggling, so he ordered an Uber. The driver picked us up in a hurry, saying that he wasn't supposed to pick up passengers at that spot, but we were too busy enjoying the luxury of his car to pay much attention. There came more traffic jam and stand-still time before we finally arrived at our Airbnb. It was dark, and we were dog-tired.
To do it well
Sit back and relax or chat with other travellers
Learn to haggle or arrange pick-up with your hotel
Taking the public ferry from Bali to Lombok: Beware of Lembar Port
- Ports: Padang Bai (East Bali) to Lembar (West Lombok)
- Length: 5 hours
Lombok is a relatively new travel destination compared with the nearby Bali or Gili islands. Travellers tend to go straight to one of the Gilis from Bali (if they want to travel further at all). But if you look for going off the beaten path, even slightly, you can check out Lombok. Personally, I think Lombok has more of a character than Gili Islands, but travelling Lombok has its difficulties due to its newness to tourists. For us, it started right the minute we arrived at its port - Lembar.
There are a few options to cross the Lombok Strait to travel from Bali to Lombok.
You can take a speedboat, and the trip would be around three hours. Different companies depart and arrive at various ports in both ends. The price varies depending on with whom you book and how early your booking is, but it could be from $30 to $45.
If you are on a budget or prefer travel slowly or had a thing against speedboat (which is our case), you can take the public ferry. Ferry-crossing takes around 5 hours. The journey is longer, but the fare is one-tenth. You get on at Padang Bai in Bali and get off at Lembar in Lombok.
When Ian and I got on the public ferry that day, there were only a handful of foreigners in a hundred people or more. I didn’t think twice about that until we got off the ferry five hours later. As soon as we stepped foot into the island, and had some phone signals, Ian called for a Blue Bird taxi, one of the few reliable services according to our research. It took him a good few minutes to get connected to a driver.
By that time, we were out of Lembar port and started to collect a group of followers. Some aggressive-looking touts tried to get us to go into their vehicle. As there were only a few other foreigners, we stood out, and they wouldn’t take "no" for an answer. Soon, we realised that they were not just aggressive in their looks but also verbally.
When they overheard Ian talking to the taxi driver on the phone, arranging a place to meet outside the port, they changed their tactics from persuading to threatening. Some left on their bikes after having told us that they would find our ride. Others stayed back to make sure we didn’t get away. As the taxi driver only gave us a vague meet-up point: a petrol station, I had to stop a few times and asked some locals. Most people didn’t speak English. When I found one boy that did, a tout threatened him to silence. “You talked to me!” He demanded.
We didn’t budge and kept walking away from them. As there were two of us and it’s was still light on the street, we fell like we had options. When we got far enough from the port, the touts got desperate and started swearing at us. I was suddenly deaf and mute with a stony face, but my heart leapt when I saw a Blue Bird taxi at a petrol station.
Our driver got out of his car, pushed us inside as soon as possible while looking nervously over his shoulder. The touts looked angry, but they didn’t move to further actions, and we got away. Later on that night, I googled Lembar port and quickly found similar stories, only with even more aggressive touts and travellers who had to take refuge at a police station. Apparently, Lembar was run by gangsters.
It’s not only about onward transportation but also ticket sales. When we left Lombok to go back to Bali, our taxi driver dropped us at a random spot, 10 minutes away from the port. While we walked to the port, multiple ticket touts closed in with lies like “the public ferry isn’t running” or threat like “You must buy tickets with us”. It’s no way as unpleasant as the arrival, but it’s still irritating. Never again, Lembar!
To do it well:
Pick a time that allows you to arrive early in Lembar
Prearrange pickup through the hotel or with a reliable taxi group
Do not lose your nerve
Taking the public ferry from Lombok to the Gili Islands
- Ports: Bangsal (Lombok) - Gili Air - Gili Meno - Gili Trawangan
- Length: 2 hours
There are also a few options to get from Lombok to one of the Gili islands. If you are in a big group, you can charter a private boat. Alternatively, you can turn up at Teluk Nara or Teluk Kodek ports and get a seat on a speedboat. The journey takes about half an hour. The actual price depends on how private you want to be, how early you book and how well you haggle. However, you are likely to pay ten times more than the public ferry.
If you want to take the public ferry, it leaves from Bangsal. It took about two hours if you go all the way to the last island - Gili Trawangan. You need to buy the ticket, which cost less than a dollar, at the official Bangsal ticket office. Don’t believe any tout who says they can sell you one because they can’t.
At Bangsal ticket office, you can also get tickets for a shuttle boat. It’s a bit more expensive but travel a bit faster. We took the shuttle boat on the way to Gili, the public ferry on the way back, and I preferred the latter because I am not in a good term with either speed or water. Actually, we first took the speedboat leaving Gili Trawangan for Lombok as we didn’t buy our ticket in advance and we missed our slot with the ferry. The sea was choppy, and the boat was way too fast for our liking, so we got off after ten minutes, at Gili Meno, spent the night and waited for the ferry the next day. That was how much I dislike speedboat. There’s a back story for it, which led to Ian asking me to marry him, but it’s for another post.
To do it well
Pick the most suitable option and get to the right port
Be flexible with your plan
There are a few reasons why we opt for public ferry whenever we can, but one of them is our concern for safety. If you choose a private service provider, do your homework as many are dodgy companies with a history of full of accidents. A few Google search, you will quickly find stories of boats being capsized and passengers being abandoned by their crew when an accident happened. Indonesia is a beautiful country, but getting around its many islands is a hassle. Do your research, know what you get yourself into, and probably learn to swim if you haven’t.
Before you go, don't forget to check out our post on the best Indonesia dishes. I don't know about you, but for us, the delicious local food makes up for all troubles on the road, or the sea.