Cost Review of a Gansu Province China Family Vacation

After 2 long years in China, we had the pleasure of hosting our first family visitors, my parents. Since they traveled halfway around the world to come and see us, I took a week off of work, so we could travel slowly and experience China.

Originally, my parents wanted to visit places all over China. They just didn’t realize that China is nearly the same size as the US and places are not at all close to each other. After much discussion about slow travel, we settled on traveling to Gansu, since Mrs. Atypical and I had not been there yet.

Gansu offered another out of this world experience that only China can. Gansu is located in the Northwest of China, not really close to anything, and that was the whole point. We wanted to escape the crowds, escape the smog, escape the dreary weather, and enjoy China for what it can really offer.

Gansu on a Budget

Our trip started out in Jiayuguan after arriving by plane. Because my parents traveled around the world to come and see us, Mrs. Atypical and I decided to treat them to the plane tickets. The rest of the cost of the trip was split 50/50, so let’s see how we did.

Flights

Plane tickets to and from Jiayuguan went for $985 for 4, which is not too bad of a deal. We even traveled over a holiday weekend in China and the ticket price didn’t reflect a holiday price. For less than $250 each, we were able to get round-trip, one-stop tickets.

To purchase tickets in China is a slightly different process than in the US. The general advice to buy early to get good deals does not apply to China. If you buy more than 6 weeks out, the prices are higher. The prices start to come down at 6 weeks out and stay about the same price all the way up to one week out from the date of departure.

We use Ctrip to book our flights in China because it is a Chinese company and gets the best prices available for China. Their site is even in English, so it is easily usable for those of us that cannot speak Chinese. Because the on time departure and cancellation rate is pretty high in China, Ctrip also will call or message you about flight cancellations or delays. One time they called me over 4 hours in advance to tell me that the flight had been cancelled.

Our trip to and from Gansu went off without a hitch. All of our flights were on time and the flights were smooth. We did not have much for a view, and we were spread out throughout the cabin, but it got us there and back on a reasonable budget.

Transportation

On our trip in Gansu, we traveled by van with a private driver, by taxi, and by train. The private driver really is just a taxi driver that charges you a fixed rate for the day based upon how far away you plan to go. We found our private drivers when we took a taxi from the airport.

Drivers

Every driver was very excited to get to drive the foreigners!

This was both good and bad. The drivers obviously thought they could rip us off because we were foreign. The first driver of the trip, took us to see the Jiayuguan fort of the great wall, the first pier of the great wall, and a restored section of the wall that goes up into the mountains. It was a beautiful day of exploring and he charged us a measly 120 RMB for the privilege.

Not all of the drivers were so kind and genuinely happy to see us though. The next driver, in Zhangye, took us an hour away to see Mati Si, a Buddhist temple carved into a cliff face. He charged 300 RMB for the trip, but when we said we wanted to hang out longer and hike some in the beautiful park, he told us, that the 300 RMB was only for a half day and we would need to fork over 200 RMB more for him to sit there and do nothing. So we did not get to hike. We headed back to town because our driver was ripping us off and we were not going to deal with him anymore. He wanted to drive for us the following day, but we found a different driver through networking with the driver from Jiayuguan.

The next driver was the most pleasant and easy going driver I have ever seen in China! They are generally super aggressive, but our new driver drove safely. He drove us out to the beautiful Danxia Rainbow Mountains of Zhangye and sat around for however long we wanted for a flat day rate of 200 RMB. He was so nice and easy going that we used him for the rest of our time in Zhangye, which would be 3 more days. He drove us to the “Grand Canyon” of China, and to another Danxia location past the rainbow mountains.

Our last driver was back in Jiayuguan where we would fly home from. He really stuck it to us in the end with pricing, but I bargained him down. He was very happy to take us around all day to see various sights, and even took us to a wonderful Buddhist temple that we hadn’t seen in our research of the area. We didn’t bargain the price ahead of time, so in the end he had the upper hand when it came to leave at the airport. Because we did not bargain up front, we ended up paying 300 RMB for him driving us around town. The other 3 locations that we paid 300 RMB for the day (~$45), were much farther away from town, so I felt it should have been 200 RMB.

Lesson learned. Always negotiate flat-rate driver/taxis up front where you have the bargaining power and can choose someone else. If they do not want to negotiate and will not run the meter, someone else will. Just choose someone else.

Trains 

We took the train from Jiayuguan to Zhangye and back. The train was pretty nice and ran on a very regular schedule, so we could just show up to the train station and book our train for an hour later. Trains in China are very regular between towns and are on a set schedule. Unlike China’s airline system which always runs late, China’s train network is always prompt.

Our train ride to Zhangye cost a total of 150 RMB (~$22). We got 4 seats all together. Seats together don’t really matter. Everyone just gets on the correct car and then shuffles around. It is a little cramped in regular class seats, definitely not how we would travel cross-country like many of the Chinese do. The trip was pretty nice and took about 2.5 hours. During that time, the train staff took the opportunity on a captured audience to try and sell a bunch of garbage to us.

I don’t know about you, but I am extremely opposed to marketing like that. Whatever they sell is always priced high and I simply do not want to listen to their incessant jabbering. The problem truly lies with the consumers, though. If no one would buy any of the garbage they sell on the train, then they would not try to sell anything, knowing it is a waste of time. Capitalism has taken over, even in a communist country!

The return train ride from Zhangye was a bit more eventful. Because we traveled over Qing Ming, China’s Tomb Sweeping Holiday, the train was full and the only tickets they had left were standing tickets. I really didn’t want to stand on a train for 2.5 hours. Seeing no other options, we purchased 4 standing tickets for the same price as coming to Zhangye. Upon boarding, several young Chinese guys got up from their seats and offered them to us. They had been on the train since Beijing and were headed all the way to Urumqi. That is a 3-day train ride! Suffice it to say, they were tired of sitting and took the chance to walk around and go smoke in the smoking area of the train.

All in all, the trains worked out very well for us and were very cheap. If you can travel by train reasonably, it is the way to go in China. They run on time and are cheap. Two of my favorite things.

Touring Destinations

Gansu Province is off the beaten path of most people touring around China, but it has tons to offer. We saw 6 distinctly different beautiful locations while staying in only 2 cities.

The Great Wall

The first destination was the Great Wall. No trip to China is complete without seeing the great wall. Seeing as Mrs. Atypical and I have been here for 2+ years and have not seen it, it was a good opportunity with my parents’ arrival to go and see it. The Great Wall is a very impressive work, though the parts that you see in pictures nowadays that look beautiful are all restored. The actual wall looks like a mounded pile of dirt running off into the distance after centuries of erosion.

We toured the Jiayuguan Fort of the Great Wall on the first day in town, which set us back 400 RMB. I thought the price was kind of high for just seeing the fort, but on the drive back to the hotel, we were informed by the driver that the ticket is also to see the first pier of the great wall and the restored section that runs up into the mountains, and it is good for 2 days! All of these locations were spectacular and very unique.

Jiayuguan Fort
Entrance to the Great Wall fort in Jiayuguan.
great wall
A restored section of the great wall heading up into the mountains.
great wall
Beautiful wall up in the mountains of Gansu

Mati Si, Horse Hoof Buddhist Temple

After seeing the Great Wall, it was time to head to Zhangye to see the more natural scenery. The first stop on that leg of the trip was to see Mati Si, a very cool Buddhist temple carved into the side of the mountain. It is unbelievable the amount of excavation it took to build such an intricate network of tunnels. The craziest part was the statues that were inside and trying to figure out how they got there without cranes and modern construction techniques. I guess the ancients were smarter than we realize.

Mati Si set us back another 300 RMB for the 4 of us.

Mati Si temple
The Mati Si Buddhist temple outside of Zhangye.
Mati Si
The temple is carved into the side of the mountain.
snowy mountains
Beautiful view of the mountains from outside of Mati Si

The Rainbow Mountains

The highlight of the trip and the primary driver of going to Gansu was the rainbow mountains. The full name of the park is Zhangye Danxia Landform Geological Park. Mrs. Atypical found pictures of the out-of-this-world scenery while in the US and knew that we needed to see it before finishing our time in China. The park lived up to the hype with beautiful hues of red, yellow, grayish, and white that look like they are painted on the rocks.

It is not unreasonable to think that while in China, this is faked and actually painted on the rocks to make it a larger tourist attraction. However, we also saw the same coloring, albeit, less pronounced outside the park in untouched areas so we know the rock formations are real.

The rainbow mountains park cost 300 RMB for the 4 of us as well, and was worth every penny for the experience. To make the most of it, we stayed there for as long as possible, since the park is not too big.

rainbow mountains

rainbow mountains

rainbow mountains
Erie sky above the rainbow mountains.

Pingshanhu Grand Canyon

We found the Pingshanhu Grand Canyon gem while riding in a cab. I saw a picture of it in a brochure and figured it would be a cool place to go and visit. The rocks have formed pillars and a canyon snakes between them, even though there is no water in it now. Maybe the area was left behind by glaciers receding from the past ice age. Nevertheless, the canyon is there and we were able to hike down into the bottom and experience the natural maze of passageways through the canyon.

Again, we tried to spend as much time there as possible by bringing lunch with us and following all of the paths around. The drive to get here was 1.5 hours, so I wanted to stay at least 3 hours to make it worth the drive time. We ended up touring the park for 5 hours before heading home.

This was the most expensive location of the trip at 520 RMB for 4 people. This price, I thought, was too expensive. The park is new, so price should be low to attract visitors. It is not easy to get to either, so they are not going to get too many tourists just passing by. Part of the ticket entrance was a mandatory 30 RMB bus fee charged per person. I tend to disagree with “mandatory add-ons” because I could walk in if I wanted to. This park the bus fee was probably needed because it was 10 km from the entrance to the actual grand canyon location.

Nevertheless, the Pingshanhu Grand Canyon was a cool destination and I would recommend it if you have extra time.

Pingshanhu Grand Canyon

Pingshanhu Grand Canyon

Camel
Saw this camel on the way to Pingshanhu Grand Canyon. Looks like they farm camels out in this area.

Danxia Binggou

The 2nd danxia location we went to was Binggou Danxia Scenic Area. This was another very cool location just 10 km farther down the road from the rainbow mountains area. The topography here looks like sandstone pillars. We headed there in the morning of our last day in Zhangye and it did not disappoint. The scenery was out-of-this-world again! The only downside to the park was that several of the paths were closed to traffic for now.

Binggou Danxia Scenic Area was a good deal with the entrance fee only 240 RMB for the 4 of us. It again included a mandatory bus fee despite being able to walk, but it was cheaper than everything previously, so I can’t complain. Most people combine the rainbow mountains danxia and the Binggou Danxia in a single day, which would be 540 RMB for 4 people, but you would save the transportation cost to the rainbow mountains. Since we had the time, we just went to one location per day and enjoyed it.

Slow travel allows you to actually get to experience the places you go to. Too many people rush from place to place trying to “see it all” and end up missing the real experience.

Binggou Danxia
Cool columns at Binggou Danxia.
Binggou Danxia
Dried up river bed at Binggou.
Binggou Danxia
Amazing views like this were everywhere at Binggou. The paths were built to the tops of some pillars to give a 360-degree view of the surrounding park.

Jiayuguan Temples

The last day of our trip was spent touring around Jiayuguan. We headed to the Weijin Tombs early in the morning, only to be disappointed by how small the place was. There are ~1000 tombs scattered around the area of ancient warriors and noblemen, but there was only one tomb that was open to the public. We paid 124 RMB for the 4 of us to spend less than 30 minutes looking around.

After the tombs, we really didn’t have an idea of where to go, but our driver for the day ended up taking us to Wenshu Grottoes which was another Buddhist temple complex built on the side and into the side of a mountain. The place was extremely ornate and we had it mostly to ourselves for exploring.

The coolest thing here was getting to walk through an area where they were building new statues and seeing how they are constructed. The statues start off as a scarecrow of hay and then are molded with mud/clay to the correct shape before painting.

The Wenshu Temple cost 168 RMB to tour which was steep considering Buddhist temples are generally free to tour. However, the price was worth it for the beauty of the area and the kindness of the monks that lived there.

Wenshu Grottoes

Wenshu Grottoes
Built along and inside the mountain, the Wenshu Grottoes sit with a view of the beautiful glaciers in the background.

Housing

We stayed in hotels for this trip with a budget of $20 per room per night. We stayed within this with no problem. The only problem we had was booking with Qunar. Qunar is another Chinese booking site like Ctrip, however, they recently removed their English version making it much less useful. Our issue with Qunar was that we booked a hotel that told us upon arrival that they do not take foreigners. All foreigners in China have to register with the local police wherever they stay and many hotels do not understand the process, so they just say the don’t take foreigners. After calling the manager and having them come in, we were shown up to our rooms, in the hotel that “did not take foreigners.” Our rooms were massive suites for ~$20 per night.

After our room confusion in Jiayuguan, we booked using Agoda, which specifically states whether the hotel takes foreigners or not. We stayed for 4 nights in a hotel in Zhangye for ~$11.50 per night per room. This hotel was certainly not a high standard hotel, but it did the job since we weren’t spending much time in it anyways.

The last hotel in Jiayuguan was again $20 per night and was the worst of the trip. Our room did not have a window, nor did it have AC or fan mode. The room was roasting hot and Mrs. Atypical and I slept poorly. At least it was the last night.

Overall, we learned that booking with Agoda is the way to go in China. They have a wonderful selection of hotels in China and the pricing is about the same as on Chinese booking sites while being much easier to use for English speakers.

Food

Last, but certainly not least, we ate very well in Gansu. If for no other reason, everyone should travel to China to experience the food culture. The food in China is amazing and is as diverse as the country is big. The selection is so much more than we see at Chinese restaurants in the US.

We ate wonderful noodles and fresh bread one day, and lamb stew and lamb ribs the next. The variety was endless! My only word of caution: most food in China is spicy. Be ready for intense flavors that are nothing like you have tried before.

Total Cost Breakdown

We spent a total of $1,956 on a week long trip for 4 to Gansu including flights. After subtracting my parent’s half of the cost, the Atypical family’s travel cost was $1,471 because we paid for all of the flights as a gift for them coming to see us.

GansuExpensePercent
Activities$297.4815%
Housing$212.1211%
Food$177.519%
Transportation$1,268.7665%
Total$1,955.87

GansuPie

Gansu2017BarChartIn Conclusion

We had a spectacular trip to Gansu province with my parents in tow. We got to see lots of cool places and traveled slow enough to get to experience Gansu. If we had more time, we would have loved to bring the bikes and ride from place to place, which would have saved more money, but travel has to be designed around everyone.

Have you ever traveled in China? Let us know, we may be able to help.

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Travel cost review of Gansu China. Budget travel and slow travel through a beautiful unknown region of China.

Travel Slow, Travel Cheap, Travel Forever

Why do so many people feel they need to rest when they get back from vacation?

The problem with vacation and travel in general is we are going about it all wrong. We have a set amount of time, say one week, and we try to jam as many activities and as much sightseeing as possible into our limited time. This creates a great environment for stress and high cost.

The solution:

Travel slow, travel cheap, travel forever.


So what is slow travel?

Slow travel is going to fewer places and really experiencing them. When we traverse quickly from one place to another we miss out on all of the cool little things that make a place interesting. Slow travel is about spending the time to see the little things, to talk to the locals, and to experience life as locals.

When we travel slowly, we get to spend more time doing and experiencing and less time traveling. The travel part of traveling, the bus rides, plane flights, train rides, etc. is enjoyed by few. When we decide to travel slowly, we are consciously deciding to spend more of our vacation experiencing and less of our valuable time away getting transported from place to place.

The pace of slow travel depends on the person and the constraints on vacation time. If we had the choice, we would go to places for 1-3 months at a time to really get to know them. Currently, work constrains us to a max of about 2 weeks on a vacation, so our itinerary gets cut back a lot. If we tried to fit in everything and “see a whole country” in 2 weeks, like we did in Greece, then we get to spend half of our time traveling, and the other half recovering from that traveling.

Slow travel does not only apply to the retired

Even a one week vacation can be spent traveling slowly. If you choose to go to just one place, then a one week vacation to another country or another city is enough time to get to enjoy yourself and not feel like you are flying from one place to another.

Sure, 1-3 months per location would be preferable, but one week allows for time to get to explore the back streets, and the local cafes if you are not rushing from one place to the next. In a week, you can start to develop a routine and enjoy the relaxation.

Everybody takes week long vacations. Most of us have at least 2 weeks of vacation per year in whatever job we have. If not, maybe we should reevaluate what is important to us. We can work with our bosses to get entire weeks or 2 weeks in a row for a longer trip. Don’t let limited vacation time discourage you from enjoying the experience of slow travel.

I talked with my boss and my boss’s boss recently about vacation and needing more for traveling while we are living in China. 3 weeks is simply not enough time to travel while we are living abroad. After talking with them, they offered to allow me to take at least one additional week of vacation over the year and also to work a little extra to accrue more if needed. You will never get more time off unless you ask. The worst they can say is no.

There is time for slow travel, even if you have a job with little vacation.

Slow travel is cheap

The entire premise of slow travel is minimizing your time traveling, so you can experience a place. Travel is expensive. So by minimizing our time traveling on planes, buses, trains, taxis, etc. then we are lowering the cost of our vacation substantially.

Our recent trip to Indonesia, is a perfect example of this. We toured by bicycle, which I still consider slow travel, even though it is moving most days. Despite traveling by bicycle our biggest cost on the trip was transportation and travel. That includes travel hacking our way to cheap plane tickets (~$200) for the 2 of us. Travel hacking saved us $600 on flights alone.

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As you can see, transportation was the largest cost. If we extended the trip another 2 weeks, than our transportation cost would remain the same while becoming a smaller and smaller percentage of overall trip cost.

The longer you stay in a single place or move about by free transportation, the cheaper your trip will be. Plane flights are always a major expense, unless you travel hack your way to cheap or free flights. The only way to truly minimize your travel cost is by minimizing your travel time and to travel slowly.

Conclusion

The question you have to ask yourself is this:

Why am I traveling?

Am I traveling to get photos of all the sites to show to my friends and family? Or am I traveling to experience a new place, experience a new culture, taste new foods, experience wonderful scenery, and learn a new way of life?

Asking yourself these questions will let you know if you are ready for slow travel. If you just want to maximize your photo opportunities at all the well-known tourist attractions, then fast travel is for you. However, if you want to experience life in a new way, then slow travel is the best way to reach your goal. Slow travel will allow you to travel forever!

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slow travel, frugal travel, cheap, forever

2 Weeks in Paradise: Cost Review of Indonesia

One of the benefits of living abroad as an expat in China is the Chinese New Year’s holiday. We were able to spend 2 weeks off on a wonderful vacation bike tour in Indonesia because of a week long holiday mandated by the Chinese government. I spent one week of my vacation and we were able to travel for 2 weeks. Chinese New Years (CNY) goes along with the lunar calendar and is the annual lunar new year. It is between mid-January to the end of February each year and lasts at least a week of festivities for the Chinese. It is also the largest human migration annually in the world, as lots of Chinese head to their home towns to visit family and celebrate another new year.

We took our chance to escape the chaos of China and the huge migration by leaving before the new year stared and returning after the government mandated holiday. This allowed us to miss some of the crowds.

How did we decide to travel to Indonesia?

We were planning a trip to Thailand to go visit Chiang Mai and the elephant sanctuary that is located there. However, when I learned from my Chinese co-workers that Thailand is a major travel destination for the Chinese, we changed our plans and set our sights on Indonesia.

Who knew, when we started planning this trip, that Indonesia is the 4th largest country in the world behind:

  1. China                     (1,376,830,000 people)
  2. India                      (1,289,690,000 people)
  3. United States       (323,675,000 people)
  4. Indonesia             (258,705,000 people)

The vast majority of the inhabitants of Indonesia’s 17,508 islands live on Java, the main island, and our destination for our 2 week adventure.

 Bike Touring to Save Cost

We brought our coupled tandem road bike with us. This was our main form of transportation once we arrived to Indonesia. We used it to tour various sites around Yogyakarta and also used it to travel across Indonesia and eventually end up in Bandung at the end of the trip where we took a bus back to the Jakarta airport.

Bringing your own transportation on a trip really frees you up to explore on your own terms.

  • It is free, since it takes no fuel.
  • It also allows you to see the countryside and stop at any location you want.
  • You get to interact with locals instead of blowing by them.
  • It is a great conversation starter.

Like the view on the side of the road where it says no stopping? Go ahead and stop and take a picture of the scenery before you continue on your way.

Mt Merapi

There are certainly downsides to bike touring:

  • It takes longer to get places than on motorcycles or buses.
  • If you are tired, the last thing you want to do is ride your bike 50 km one way to go see a sight outside of the city you are staying in.
  • While having a “real job” and a set vacation time, you “waste” valuable days riding from one place to another.

The negatives are outweighed by the positives of freedom and choice. We get to explore on our own terms.

We were able to save hundreds of dollars on bus and motorcycle rental fees by bringing our bike and traveling the way we did. One destination, Sri Gethuk, a beautiful waterfall outside Yogyakarata, certainly had no buses going to it. The only way to get there is by motorcycle or bicycle, and we were able to go on our own schedule and get to experience it.

Sri Gethuk

Bike Touring Across Java

We started our trip in Indonesia with 4 days in Yogyakarta. While here we got to explore a number of very cool sites. The first was a small waterfall that is reminiscent of the Antelope slot canyons in Arizona called Luweng Sampang. Riding there was a brute of a bike ride with a 20% climb that was over 2km long. After getting there, the riding was all flat, so the day was relaxing besides the beginning. We were able to jump off the waterfall into the canyon below, only after watching some of the locals do it. After refreshing in the water, we headed to Prambanan to see the Hindu temple complex. There were actually multiple temple complexes at the site we got to see.

We also spent a day riding over to Sri Gethuk to visit the waterfalls and the cave. This was another 40 km ride there and 40 km ride back over steep difficult terrain. The waterfall was definitely worth it, since I got to swim and enjoy the water for an hour. The last day in Yogyakarta was spent eating pizza, relaxing and then checking out some more local temples. We had big plans for seeing other places, but our fatigue held us back. That is the one downside to travel by bike. When you get tired, you really do not want to go anywhere but to eat.

Borobudur

Leaving Yogyakarta we headed up to Borobudur on the bike and explored for the day. Borobudur was a very cool and unique Buddhist temple. Another benefit of the bike is there are no parking fees, usually. Borobudur was one of the tourist traps that we went to see in Indonesia. It is renowned as the world’s largest Buddhist temple, which we can attest to is 100% misleading if not completely disingenuous. Many of the Buddhist temple complexes in China put the size of Borobudur to shame, however, it was a very cool place nonetheless.

Borobudur

Dieng Plateau

After a day at Borobudur, we continued on to Dieng Plateau, where there is lots of volcanic activity. The ride to Dieng was extremely difficult. We found out in Yogyakarta, that the hills and mountainsides in Indonesia are dangerously steep. After reviewing the route, we thought it would be okay on the way to Dieng. We were wrong. The hills were still super steep and we were super tired by the time we reached the bottom of the 1000m climb up to Dieng. We rode around until we were able to find the bus up the mountain and loaded up our bike on the bus rooftop, in order to reach Dieng. We prefer to ride, but when the time comes to call it quits, we have started to accept it.

We found a little homestay in Dieng upon arrival that happened to be our cheapest accommodation of the entire trip. It ran us 75,000 IDR which is equivalent to $5.62, quite the steal. Granted this certainly wasn’t a luxury accommodation, but it served our needs of a roof over our head and a bed to sleep in. Exploring the plateau, we saw a beautiful green volcanic lake, multiple temples, and a very cool volcanic crater that reminded me of the small ones at Yellowstone in the US. All of these locations charged to go see, them and I felt like I was getting nickel and dimed to death. In the end, their charges were equivalent to $1 or less for most of the locations, so it wasn’t very expensive.

Dieng Lake

Enjoying Pangandaran

Leaving Dieng Plateau, we spent 2 days riding across the country to Pangandaran, so we could live in the lap of luxury at $13 per night for a secluded beach inn. Our ride across the country started with more of the steep craziness, but we were able to make it to Purwokerto in one day, where we couldn’t find a place to stay except for 450,000 IDR ($36). We felt ripped off here, but it was a very nice place and we were able to dry out our clothes after being soaked for a couple of days from rain.

We also hit up the local bike shop for parts and repair. I can fix all my own gear, however, when parts break, there is no other option. My front derailleur cage broke and we needed a new one. At the shop, I was able to get a new one and get it installed along with adjustment of the disc brakes. The bike was not responding well to Indonesia and needed these parts to feel safe riding in the mountains.

Riding from Purwokerto to Pangandaran was a very nice ride besides the one crazy mountain (not steep) where the drivers were all over the road and seemed intent on running us over. We got rained on for several hours, but it was still a beautiful ride. We arrived to our beach paradise, and decided in the end to stay here for 3 nights. Given no schedule we would have stayed longer, but we still wanted to make it to Bandung at least.

We had a very nice day on the river with a guide company taking us up and floating down the Green Canyon. This included jumping off 15m high cliffs along with floating through rapids. It was a beautiful experience and one of a number of experiences that are budget friendly in Southeast Asia. I prefer no-cost fun on the bike, but trips for adventure excursions are still very fun.

The next day we spent a day lounging around on the beach and exploring the mangrove forest. It was very nice to just hang out and relax after several long days of bike riding. The fatigue we built up so far on the trip was starting to get to us. I got to spend my birthday lounging on the beach enjoying the clean air, beautiful water, and quiet surroundings.

Pangandaran Beach

Riding and Exploring Bandung

We were sad to leave Pangandaran, but the roads were calling and we were rested. The ride from Pangandaran to Tasikmalaya took us along back country roads that should have been very nice pavement had they not all been washed out from the heavy rains. We managed to stay upright the entire time, but the roads were doing their best to throw us off. We climbed up several mountains under the beating sun to reach Tasikmalaya. We feasted on roadside fried goodness on our way and made it to town after 94 km and running out of water.

The next day was our last ride of the trip. It was an okay ride to Bandung. We were on the “major” highway, highway 3. It was only a 2 lane road and was not supposed to be steep, but the 2 mountain passes we went over certainly qualified as steep (10-15%). It would have been a lot nicer of a ride, but the clouds were up and visibility was low. Also, the final push to Bandung was through unending suburban sprawl, which is no fun to ride through. In the end, we made it to our hotel in Bandung and set about figuring out an activity for the next day.

We found a volcano to go hike up, Tangkuban Parahu. It is the most popular volcano in Bandung, and is a terrible ripoff for foreigners. It cost less than $2 for locals, but the cost for foreigners is 10x the local cost! We still trekked up there on buses and by foot, refusing the many offers of additional transportation. The crater at the top was very cool and the views from the top were second to none. In the end, I felt stabbed through the heart at the time for 10x local cost, but we spent a total of $144 on entrance fees and attractions for 2 weeks, which is not too bad at all.

Tangkuban Parahu Crater

Our last day in Indonesia involved riding our bike to the bus station, packing it all up and then taking the bus back to the airport to fly out the following morning.

Cost Review of 2 Weeks in Indonesia

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Transportation Costs

We flew in and out of Jakarta on our adventure to Indonesia. Because of CNY, flights are usually astronomically priced during those weeks, so we had our first foray into travel hacking and flying on rewards points. During our investigation into living in China we were flown over to China by the company multiple times and we were able to rack up 56,000 rewards miles on Cathay Pacific. Nearly enough points to fly both of us round trip to Indonesia. The tickets for this trip were supposed to cost $400 each, but by using rewards points the cost was $90 in fees. We also had to purchase points, which is a major rip-off at $60 per 2000 miles, for a total round trip cost for 2 people to Jakarta, Indonesia from China of $210. I did not see us using the Cathay Pacific points anytime soon and they were set to expire as well, so purchasing points to travel made sense in our situation and it worked out for the best.

Along with the round trip flight to Jakarta we also were scammed into a higher cost in-country flight from Jakarta to Yogyakarta (Jogjakarta locally). When I went to book the $35 flight in Indonesia, it would not accept any foreign credit card. I had to book via a travel agency raising the cost to $50 per ticket. This is one of the drawbacks to traveling on a schedule set by work. If we had time and freedom, we would have just arrived to Jakarta and then booked the ticket to Yogyakarta.

Our trip worked out to be more expensive than I expected, but very cheap in terms of time-limited vacations. 40% of our cost was transportation, and of that 40%, 92% ($467) was just to get to there and back. This goes to show, that the longer the trip is, the cheaper it is per day. Our trip was 40% transportation cost, almost entirely spent on getting there and getting home, so if we had doubled the trip length, transportation cost would drop to 20-30% of trip cost depending on increases of food, housing, and activities.

Housing Cost

We paid on average $20 per night for accommodation for a total trip cost of $297. $20 is the upper limit of what I like to spend per night on accommodation in locales in Southeast Asia and it affords pretty nice hotels. We got ripped off a couple of times because we were staying in a tourist trap and because we didn’t book ahead. We learned to book at least a day ahead using Agoda to secure the cheapest cost and to find the lowest cost hotels in a city/town. Our favorite stay in Pangandaran in a small house by the beach, with included breakfast and the sound of geckos all night was $15 per night.

Food Cost

Food in Indonesia left something to be desired. Everything was fried, which is pretty good when you start, but after awhile gets old. One thing I will never get tired of though, is a dinner cost for 2 of $2.25. No the food is not exquisite, but it is not bad either. Indonesia does spicy right. Just one dab of their hot sauce is burn your face off spicy.

Want a fried hush puppy? Here is a handful of fresh chilies to go with it!

We had an “expensive” seafood dinner one night for Mrs. Atypical with tiger prawns and fresh fish for a total cost of $18. In the end everything was very cheap in Indonesia. Even though the meals were usually not enough to fill us up, we could stop at a convenient store for snack foods and still be way ahead on cost, even compared to China.

Activity Cost

Activity cost in Indonesia is outrageous when compared with the local prices. As a foreigner, you can expect to pay 3-10x the local price to go see any and all attractions. They believe because we are foreigners, we have lots of money to spend and they all want a part of it. Our big ticket items here were Borobudur temple complex ($39 for 2), Prambanan temple complex ($35 for 2), and Tangkuban Parahu volcano ($30 for 2). The one high ticket activity we paid for, that I thought was worth it was the Green Canyon float trip with lunch ($34 for 2). All the other locations we visited were just nickel and diming us, instead of outright scamming us.

Souvenirs/Goods Cost

We like to bring back something to remember each country we travel to. Since we are on the bike, these items must be small and not break easily or we will never get to enjoy them at home. We were able to pick up 3 pieces of Batik art for ourselves and our family in Yogyakarta. The first one, we paid the same as the next 2, and they were all the same size! This goes to show, that the sellers are really just out there to scam us as best they can. The quality on all of them were the same and they were beautifully made and colored. The total cost for these was $60 and the rest of our goods cost was in fixing the bike and attempting to fix our broken camera. Our wonderful Olympus E-M10 camera had its shutter freeze shut at Borobudur, so we went more than half of the trip without our nice camera.

In Conclusion

We had a fantastic and relaxing trip to Indonesia. Living in the high stress environment of full-time employment working for the man, coupled with living in a city when you are country-folk, leads to a desire to escape. Indonesia filled that desire and then some. We were able to relax and enjoy ourselves for 2 weeks all on a reasonable budget.

We spent a total of $1,264 over the course of 2 weeks on this trip, which worked out to $74 per day. This is a sustainable forever travel budget, and I still feel it was on the expensive side with transportation cost so high. In the future when the Atypical Life family reaches personal and then financial freedom, we will be able to explore the world on our own terms at our own speed.

Have you been to Indonesia? Let me know about your trip and costs and we can learn from each other.

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Indonesia, Java, Borobudur, cost review, finance, budget