Everything starts in Bali

Kuta to Padangbai

57 km, 2.5 hours

Ferry to Lombok 5 hours

Regardless of whether you want to ride in Bali, you are probably going to arrive there. The great majority of international flights arrive at Denpasar, and there’s a lot more bike rental companies there compared to any other place in Indonesia. If you plan to rent, it’s the logical place to start.

If you decide to ship a bike, it will arrive at Surabaya (Java), which is about 12 hours riding time from Bali, plus a one-hour ferry crossing. It’s not so hard to get the bike freighted between the two locations – the cost will be around $200.

If you intend to ride in Borneo, Surabaya is a good starting point because ferries shuttle between there and Banjarmasin (Borneo) a couple of times per week. There are not many international flights that arrive in Surabaya, but frequent shuttle flights between Denpasar and Surabaya.

My route was Bali to Dili, so I had to start at one or the other! I was able to get a bike delivered to my hotel in Bali, so that made the decision easy.

The Ferry leaves from Padangbai every hour, although there are options to get speedboats. This must be the easiest ferry onboarding in Indonesia – none of the pushing and shoving that’s common at other ports.

Note: this was the only time on the whole trip I was asked for my international driver’s license.

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The ferry from Bali to Lombok is quite spacious. We secured a cabin for the trip, which gave us some respite from the ubiquitous smokers.

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Lombok – a pretty little island

Bansal Harbour to Mataram 27 km, 1:00

Mataram to Kayangan Harbour: 79 km, 3:30

The ferry trip was over 5 hours but that included an hour after loading in the harbour at Padangbai. We left the Kuta hotel at around 9 am and arrived at Mataram just after dark.

Lombok has pretty rural countryside that’s easy to see while riding the main roads. To be fair, Bali does too, but it also has a lot more traffic. Lombok is much more pleasant to ride.

The city of Mataram seems to have only a small number of hotels. The Astiti hotel is very convenient for motorcycle travel.

Our trip to the ferry harbour at Kayangan the next day was delayed by heavy traffic at a town market along the way, and a lunch break. It could be done in well under 2.5 hours.

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Astiti Hotel in the main street of Mataram. The motorcycle can be parked right outside your door, which really helps with unloading (and security).

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Refreshment break tropical style. No plastic bottles to pollute the environment … hooray!

 

 

Sumbawa – seems OK at first

Kayangan to Pototano ferry: 1.5 hours

Potatano to Dompu: 280 km, 6:30

Dompu to Bima: 60 km, 1:45

Bima to Sape: 45 km, 1:00

Sumbawa is a very traditional Islamic island and it is quite undeveloped compared to the others on our trip.

Potatano to Dompu was our longest day of the whole trip – too long. It was even worse because we didn’t like Dompu when we got there. Dompu is probably an OK city, but we were travelling during Ramadan and we were determined to find accommodation out of range from the call to prayer. After assuring us that their hotel in Dompu was peaceful, we expressed our disappointment to the staff when four different mosques started up with the loud-hailer prayer at 4:00 pm, and none of them was more than a few hundred metres away.

We had already done two laps around the city looking for a hotel and dismissed any that were obviously too close to a mosque. Don’t get me wrong … I’m told the call has its own beauty, and I’m fine with folks admiring that. However, at 4:00 am, I do struggle to find that beauty.

We packed up and checked out. And I had been feeling smug about my expert navigation and route planing getting us there before dark. I asked some local riders for their advice about a peaceful hotel and they directed me to the resort, some 30 km back towards Pototano.

I think the resort was near Kambu, but don’t have an accurate record (we were travelling in the dark, with no clear idea of where we were going).

After the rigours of this day, we set a very modest target: Bima, which was only 60 km beyond Dompu. We planned to have an easy day and relax there. That worked out even worse than Dompu. There are no Western-style hotel in Bima (I am not at all precious about my accommodation, but some things are just not worth it). The first establishment had a hole in the roof. I asked some local riders for advice – they said there was only one other hotel. See the picture below for an idea of what it was like…

Dinner was biscuits and coke because there were no restaurants or cafes (warungs) open. We checked out at 5:00 am and I never want to go back to Bima. But it was not the low point.

We were aiming to get the 9:00 am ferry at Sape and were there in plenty of time. Unfortunately it didn’t leave until 4:00 pm, and the ferry terminal is a dismal place to wait. If you are lucky enough to find a seat in the shade, it will soon be spoiled by non-stop fumes from burning plastic. Unfortunately that’s the only way to dispose of drink bottles.

The grand new mosque in Sape is built alongside the only access road to the ferry harbour (it’s a just a few hundred metres away). Since we were stuck there for the day I headed off to get some basic bike maintenance. The shop is just 700 metres away so I didn’t wear long sleeves. Rotten luck and rotten town planning: while I was there, the mid-day call to prayer began. In support of that, the dignitaries lowered a boom gate across the road and padlocked it, thus preventing my return to the ferry harbour.

There was zero shade and nowhere to wait except in the middle of the road. I was fine with the idea of pushing the bike past the mosque rather than riding, but there was no alternate path. This is an surely an odd form of worship. Anyway I decided against heat stroke and determined to push my bike over the barrier. It was about 300 mm high and I was pretty sure I could get the front wheel on top of it, to be followed somehow by he rest of the bike.

My planing wasn’t really necessary. The barrier collapsed and the bike was past it before I had any time to react. I hastily continued pushing for another 50 m, before riding the rest of the way to the harbour and blending in.

Note: avoid Sape harbour at prayer time.

Note: ferries are erratic – if you get stuck overnight at the harbour, there’s a little hotel just 200 m outside the terminal (and inside the dreaded boom gate).

 

Small beach resort 30 km before Dompu, complete with guard crab outside the room. When we saw the place at first light, we realised it was actually a very scenic and peaceful beach-side setting.

disgusting hotel in Bima

Disgusting hotel in Bima

 

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Lovely rural scenery between Dompu and Bima. Sumbawa roads had the least traffic of any island that we visited. It is a a brilliant riding destination – as long as you can find somewhere nice to stay.

last chance hotel at Sape harbour

Last chance hotel at Sape harbour. If the last ferry for the day is cancelled, you could stay here.

Flores – what a contrast

Sape to Labuan Bajo ferry: 6.5 hours

Labuan Bajo to Bejewa: 264 km, 8:30

Bejawa to Moni: 195 km, 5:45

Moni to Maumere 110 km, 3:30

Maumere to Larantuka: 139 km, 3:45

The Sape ferry is scheduled for 9:00 and 4:00 pm departures, but these times are at best a rough guide. There was no morning ferry on our departure day, although there were hundreds of people already waiting when we arrived at 7:00 am.

It didn’t leave at 4:00 pm either – more like 7:00 pm.

It was around 2 am by the time we cleared the ferry terminal at Labuan Bajo. I got a good price online for the luxury Silvia resort, which is about 5 km out of town. What a silly strategy! The last 2 km is through heavy roadworks – to the extent that it’s not clear where the road goes, or if it is still a road versus a quarry. And the hotel has no signage, despite being 400 m down a steep driveway, off the roadworks. And nobody answered the phone.

Happily we met a lone local rider and asked for directions, otherwise we would not have found it. Lesson: don’t book accommodation in advance. The ferry is too unreliable. If you arrive late at night, you need a hotel near the ferry terminal.

We stayed in town the next night and pretended we were part of the happening scene, which is certainly a thing in LB. It is the latest “undiscovered” destination. In fairness, it has a lot going for it – the town and harbour are stunning, plus there’s a constant buzz of tours heading out to Komodo and snorkelling reefs.

From Labuan Bajo to Bejewa was just a transport run, mostly through heavy rain. There’s lots of roadworks, which leaves a slimy film of mud over the hairpin bends. The trusty Yamaha Scorpio saw us through safely – I was really impressed.

We arrived soaking wet just on dusk and took the first hotel, which was the Edelweiss. It’s a bucket shower type establishment and the tap could not be turned off. Combined with the wet clothes, that caused a fog in the room that would have stopped us from watching television, if it had one. Our clothes were still soaking the next day. I complained that it was not a “VIP” room and received a partial refund. The halls and stairs are remarkable – I think Escher may have taken inspiration from them. Eating plain rice for breakfast in soaking clothes became even more memorable when another guest loudly cleared his nasal passages every minute. I began providing running commentary and expressing my admiration, which seemed to confuse him, although his wife got the message and translated it via a dig in the ribs. Funny how chewing your own snot at the table is not considered offensive in some cultures.

Happy days when we arrived at Moni and stayed in a sparkling new guest house, then sat at the nearby bar veranda surveying the small village and surrounding rice paddies. Moni is the “base camp” for pre-dawn trips to Mt Kelemutu. There were a lot of foreign tourists, considering that it’s a long way from anywhere. We seemed to be the only ones who arrived by motorcycle, although our innkeeper said a group of Australians had passed through the previous week riding “huge KTM” bikes.

We did the Mt Kelemutu run – it takes maybe 40 minutes to ride to the car park, then another 30 minutes walk to the summit. Back to the lodge for breakfast then headed off the Maumere. At just over 100 km, it was one of our easiest days. We headed out of town and stayed at a beach resort (see the sunset dinner photo). At $60 per night it was a little pricey by Indonesian standards  but for huts right one the water, with a hot shower, who’s complaining? The resort has a dive shop and various all-day snorkelling trips, but we weren’t there long enough to investigate.

Note: the ferry terminal at Maumere has no roll-on / roll-off vehicle ferries (according to staff there, and the schedules).

Maumere to Larantuka is … WOW! What a ride! Huge coastal vistas with turquoise sea, volcanic cones with cloud halos, all the while sweeping through banana trees, palms and rice paddies. We did not see another Western tourist after Maumere, and not many there either.

And finally into Larantuka, the final stop for Flores. Except for a day trip to the island of Adonara, which is only 500 m across the straight. That straight has the most savage tidal current – some of the chug-chug fishing boats could only make headway by zig-zagging (see the attached video).

We stayed at small resort of Beachfront Padi Dive Resort, operated by Chris and Maria Foster. Chris is a commercial diver but takes guest snorkelling when he’s not off diving around the world. There are spectacular coral reefs almost on their doorstep.

We took a ferry to Adonara island and did almost one complete lap (but cut through the middle and mapped a road that is not on Open Street Maps or Google). After getting “backroaded” by a street celebration, we got lost and took several bad turns. Open Street Maps did not have some of the roads, so it was dead reckoning and asking a  lot of questions. We got the last private ferry off the island just on dusk, which is a good thing because I didn’t see any hotels on the island.

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Labuan Bajo, view from the hotel veranda in the back from the main street (there are many similar hotels). Motorcycle access is via a completely different road at the back, quite a long ride.

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Dragon porn. It’s shagging season at Komodo (June-July).

 

Sunset near Labuan Bajo

Sunset near Labuan Bajo. It is a very big day trip to visit the dragons and take in some snorkelling on the way back.

mount kelemutu

Mount Kelemutu, just after dawn. Most people set off from the town of Moni around 4 am to get the summit in time (it’s about a 1.5 hour trip, with riding and hiking)

dinner at maumere

Seafood dinner on the beach at Maumere – $20 each. Not too shabby?

You wish you were here. Maumere to to Larantuka.

on the way to adonara

One of several ferry routes from Larantuka to Adonara. This crossing is about 20 minutes but some smaller boats are more direct.

last ferry back from Adonara

Lucky last boat back from Adonara to Larantuka. Turnoff from the main road to the boat jetty is obscure  – blink and you miss it.

ferry harbour near larantuka

Ferry terminal at Larantuka is about 5 km out of town, back towards Maumere. The boarding is quite civil compared to Sumbawa.

vip class to larantuka

This is VIP class on the ferry. The trip is about 12 hours. It’s tolerable until the toilet starts overflowing after about 3 hours. One enterprising young man unplugged the air conditioner so he could recharge his phone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kupang – the “other” Timor

Larantuka to Kupang ferry: 16 hours

Kupang – Atambua: 280 km, 7:15

Atambua – East Timor border: 20 km, 0:45

East Timor border – Dili: 120 km, 3:45

This border crossing can go very badly wrong if you don’t plan it properly.

  1. Visa on entry is not available at the East Timor border crossing. You can get one in Kupang at the East Timor Embassy, where it takes three working days to process. Some nationalities do not need a visa – research it before you leave home. I spent six months planning the trip and it was an intentionally tight schedule. We didn’t have three days to wait for a visa to be issued in Kupang and the folks at the East Timor office in Sydney were kind enough to assist, so we had our visas authorities before we left.
  2. Get your vehicle export permit in Atumbua! You can’t get it at the border (the photo below shows the building where you can get it).
  3. Indonesian-plated motorcycles can cross into East Timor without a carnet, but they travel under a 10-day temporary import permit. The Indonesian customs office keeps the registration card (STNK) until the bike comes back. It must come back the same way. This takes some considerable planning for a one-way trip.
  4. The East Timor border control closes at 4:00 pm. You will need about an hour to get through the Indonesian and East Timorise formalities.
  5. The East Timor customs control recently moved into a new building which is not signposted (as at July 2017). It’s about 1 km from the Indonesian customs office.

The ferry crossing from Flores to West Timor is still entirely within Indonesia. There is a land border to make the international crossing from West Timor to East Timor.

I suspect that anybody who finally makes landfall at Kupang after travelling from Bali will have pretty much the same reaction: “Yee Haa! No more ferries!”.

We lashed out an extra IDR100,000 for the VIP upgrade, which meant we had “lie flat seats’, as they say in the airline industry. However, on the ferry that’s all they do. They just lie flat, all the time. Ours were pretty close to the toilets, which inevitably got really stinky.

Here’s an interesting observation: when folks wash themselves with a bucket after using “squat” toilets, quite a lot of the water spills on the bathroom floor. Then runs out along the deck. Just saying …

Tip: Don’t get on a ferry wearing riding jeans and motorcycle boots. Without getting into “too much information”, consider the mechanics of using a squat toilet when you can’t get your jeans below your knees. You can of course remove the boots, if you don’t mind standing barefoot in the slurry on the floor.

The VIP area of the ferry is air conditioned, and it’s worth it. I was still sweating but it was much worse outside the tinted door. One of the four air conditioners was broken, and another stopped working when a civic-minded young man unplugged it so he could recharge his phone.

The ferry arrived at Kupang about 2 am. There’s not much opened in town then – I think the Silvia Hotel might have been the only option. Happily is was a decent establishment – nice buffet breakfast and a very welcome pool.

The ride to Atumbua is mostly not scenic. It’s one that just keeps going, and going. The season much have been quite dry because the farms were mostly drab and dormant. We stayed there at the Hotel King Star, which has been through a few historical epochs. It must have been truly grand in its colonial heyday. The upper level including dining hall was closed for renovations when we were there, so maybe it will majestic again some day. The ground floor has already been done and, to be fair, the room was vast and well decorated.  But … mosquito screens! They were full of holes. We fumigated the room and went for a walk while the mosquito hoards decided what to do.

Out departure from Atambua was seriously delayed by the “fixer” guy who showed us where to find the Finance Ministry office (see photo below). All I needed was the darned address! The paperwork for vehicle export has to be obtained here. This is only relevant if you are riding an Indonesian-plated motorcycle. Foreign bikes will be travelling under a carnet, which you would have obtained before leaving home.

It was late afternoon by the time we finally cleared the border crossing. Shortly after, we were stopped at a roadside check where they wanted to see the bike registration card, which we had just been forced to leave with the Indonesian customs. Fortunately they were satisfied with the temporary import certificate.

The road to Dili was a mix of lovely new and almost deserted highway, and typical dirt plus broken pavement Asian regional road. Sadly there was no warning when transitioning and it was tempting to speed up on the good sections, only to be suddenly confronted with potholes, mud and broken pavement.

We rode for about two hours in the dark, and we were very happy indeed to see the city lights of Dili. First stop Burger King, OMG what a treat.

Finance Ministry shop front (Atambua, West Timor)

Finance Ministry shop front (Atambua, West Timor

Finance Ministry break times (Atambua, West Timor)

Finance Ministry break times, long break on Fridays (Atambua, West Timor)

Kupang night market

Kupang night market

Kupang to Atambua 1

Kupang to Atambua 1

Kupang to Atambua 2

Kupang to Atambua 2

East Timor

I usually avoid Western fast food when I’m travelling (at at home, too). But after two weeks of Indonesian style food from roadside cafes, the Burger King in Dili was an overwhelming temptation. Just once … forgive me.

The next contrast between East and West Timor is accommodation: it is inexpensive in West Timor (and most other places in Indonesia), but fiendishly expense in East Timor. Considering that it is a poor country, this makes no sense.

We visited the Museum of East Timorese Resistance in Dili. In the language of a professional travel writer it might be described as “moving”, but I’m going to say it was a full-on Kleenex experience. Australians were largely oblivious to the suffering of our near neighbours, and we were deeply complicit in the Indonesian invasion of 1975. 

Since the invasion, our support for the ravaged nation has been so inadequate that they have effectively become another Indonesian province anyway. Indonesian is spoken more widely than English. East Timor had to invoke protection from the United Nations to prevent Australia from encroaching on its borders, a matter related to valuable gas deposits. The experience left me deeply ashamed.

As a traveller I try to support local businesses. In East Timor this means getting away from foreign-owned hotel and businesses. We headed off to Mount Remelau, the highest mountain in East Timor. The ride from Dili to Maubisse took about 8 hours. This was greatly affected by roadworks along the way, with the bike plowing through heavy mud almost up to the footpegs in places. This was the only time the Yamaha Scorpio was really not up to the task: the front guard became clogged with mud and made the front tyre perpetually slick. I was not really able to steer, I could only maintain control by balance.

The riding experience was at times pure white knuckle, passing less than a metre from heavily loaded 10-tonne trucks, and having only limited steering control. One truck in front of me kept losing control up steep inclines and at one stage spun around completely so that it was facing back down the hill. I was afraid to get close enough to pass until it was delayed by other traffic.

Maubisse is about 15 km down a cobble-stone road. Very, very rough. And in the steady rain the stones became slippery, so it wasn’t an enjoyable stage. We were very happy to reach Moubisse late in the evening.

Its’ the usual deal to catch sunrise at Mt Remelau: get up at 3 am and start hiking. It is quite steep. My riding jacket was the only “warm” clothing available so I had to wear that. It soon became too hot, then very inconvenient when I had to carry it. Tip: take a sweater.

We also took a day trip from Dili to Atauro Island. We went on the smaller passenger-only fast ferry, but returned on the larger roll-on / roll-off ferry. Actually the trip takes about two hours either way. I decided not to take the bike because there are hardly any roads. Tip: buy the ferry ticket the day before. Only spruikers have tickets available on the day of travel.

Atauro has snorkelling, all of two minutes boat ride from the resort. The operator, an ecologically-minded expat Australian, said the corals were rated by a German dive magazine as one of the 10 best snorkelling reefs in the world. Do it!

It’s been said in a myriad of other blogs and travel stories but I will say it anyway … there’s no nightlife in Dili. If rockin’ joints or dance clubs are your thing, you will be disappointed. That’s not what East Timor is about.

Nice road and lovely views, hills above Dili

Nice road and lovely views, hills above Dili

Mr John and family at Moubisse

Mr John and family at Moubisse

Waiting for sunrise at Mt Remelau

Waiting for sunrise at Mt Remelau

Sunrise, after a long cold wait

Sunrise, after a long cold wait

 

01 Ho Chi Minh City to Cu Chi Tunnels

Everything happened at once

Our plan originally allowed for a day trip to the Cu Chi tunnels near HCMC, a famous Vietnam War site. The tunnels were used as underground communities as well as a means of evading and attacking Western soldiers during the war. This trip would have been perfect to get accustomed to the bikes and riding on the “wrong” (right) side of the road.

Due to an airline schedule change and some confusion about our rental date, we didn’t get the bikes until the night before we set of “for real”. We decided to do the tunnels on the way to Phnom Penh, which made for a 13-hour ride, plus time at the tunnels.

The first 400 metres from our hotel to the service station was pretty confronting: strange bikes, not familiar with traffic customs, full luggage kit, wrong side of the road. And in my case trying to get GPS, sports camera and intercom working. Challenges are good.

We followed a tour guide to the tunnels, but after that we were on our own. I had the tracks loaded in Locus navigator app on my Samsung Galaxy S5, using Open Street Maps. Tracks had been created using a combination of Google Maps and Garmin “Base Camp”.

First disaster: my USB cable had failed and we arrived at the tunnels with my S5 nearly flat. I had backup routes using Here+ maps on a Nokia Lumia 920 Windows phone. I soon discovered that the Here+ maps refused to work unless there is a language-appropriate voice navigator file installed. There’s no option to continue without voice navigation (which I never use anyway). With no Vietnamese voice navigator installed, it just displays an error message and quits. What a f*ked up design.

I did try to give feedback to Here about this problem, but they only provide a facility to “request features” these days, and it doesn’t go anywhere unless it gets enough votes.  So if 10 hipsters request favourite music track sharing, it will happen, but a showstopper navigation defect will not get any attention. The Nokia / Here maps used to be a good option for adventure travellers, but not anymore.

In 2010 I used the Nokia Navigator (pre-smartphone) with Nokia maps and it worked OK. The maps had lots of big grey blanks for parts of Borneo, but so did Garmin at the time. At least it didn’t give retarded error messages. I even managed to record tracks and navigate by running two apps at the same time.

Anyway, back to 2016 … we cobbled up a new charging arrangement for the S5, using gaffer tape and a very short spare cable. However, it was useless for the first hour so I asked for a lot of directions and took a lot of wrong turns.