Language, money, safety and more
I concider Indonesia to be a safe country to travel. Travelleres are most welcome and Indonesians are kind and helpful. How ever; English is not widely spoken, so if you don't speak their language: ask at the hotel for a guide or driver who can help you around.
Here is more about getting around at Java, Indonesia:
Indonesians welcome tourists, and they try hard to understand and be understood. To easily get around, learn some Indonesian language, or travel with a local guide who can help you with translations.
Bring cash. Always. Due to the value of Indonesian rupiah, most things available cost several thousand or hundreds of thousands. Usually prices are stated in thousand rupiah. For example, if a hotel room is priced 400/night, it means it costs 400000 rupiah/night.
Indonesians are incredibly friendly and helpful, and apart from the risk of being injured in traffic, it is safe to stay and travel the country. Traveling by train is the safest way to travel long distances, and it's comfortable. For short distances, and if you can forget about safety for a moment, using becak is a fun way of getting around.
Agree on the price
If price is not stated, it's important to agree on the price on beforehand.
Depending on the people you encounter, services may be more expensive if you have white skin or look rich by the way you dress. For example; you look rich out if you wear glasses or shiny shoes.
Hotels with pool (if you travel with children) and Internet costs from about 400K rupiah and up per night, and expect the service level to be outstanding!
Getting around by walking
«Jalan jalan» walking for the sake of walking.
Indonesia has heavy traffic, and the drive fast. Seemingly it's not very important with lights after dark, and high beam is only used to signal to oncoming traffic that you are in their lane. It is risky to walk along roads, and especially at night. Not everyone dares to walk across the road alone. But road crossing in heavy traffic is one of the things you ought to try when in Indonesia.
Getting around by motorcycle
Motorcycles may be the family's only means of transport, and a motorcycle easily accommodates two adults together with two or three children. Or three students. Helmets are luxury items, and it's rare to see anyone use protection in addition to the helmet.
Getting around by train
Train is a safe and comfortable way of travelling Indonesia, how ever buying train tickets can be challenging if you are not the patient type of human. And don't forget your passports. You need passport to buy train tickets even though you are on an island and travel inside the country borders. It may depend on the time of the day and year, but it easily takes half the day getting your tickets. Double check every single line of every single ticket before you leave the line. If the tickets have errors, you don't want to start behind in the line again. Since everyone buying tickets must double check their tickets, the line moves slowly. Very slowly.
The best thing about travelling by train, it that you can relax without worrying about losing your life in the traffic.
Getting around by bus
The small buses are rented out, and must have a certain number of passengers to cover the rent. There are several buses on each route, and not infrequently they race each other to come first for new customers. Other times they might just stand by waiting for passengers, and you can only sit and wait as well untill the bus has gathered enough passengers to continue its route. Mini Buses leave when they leave and come when they come. No time schedule.
There are no seat belts in buses, and they are not full before new passengers refuse to go onboard. Some have longitudinal benches, some have chair rows across and others have a mix.
If you know the Philippine Jeepneys, the difference is that the minibuses are small minivans and all the passengers are sitting inside. Not on the roof.
Although they drive all the time with the side door open, it gets hot inside. And when they also drives as fast as possible, the ride can be compared to sitting in deep fat fryer mounted on rollercoaster. It really must be experienced.
In rush hours, a conductor stands in the doorway, but else you can sit there yourself for some wind (and dust) in your face.
Not so funny, is if the bus refuses to wait for the train. We (me, wife, kids) experienced that a bus driver stood on horn and stopped the rail crossing boom from going down, and then forced the bus over the rails after all the other vehicles had stopped. The train was a few hundred meters away and moving fast towards us. The bus bumped over the double tracks with its terrified passengers. One can argue that a few hundred meters is a long distance, but it takes time to get all passengers out of a small bus if it stops, and the train moves fast. Such events are not uncommon, and causes some accidents and deaths.
Getting around by car
When I arrived Jakarta for the first time, the traffic looked like complete chaos, and when I asked a taxi driver if he uses the rear-view mirror to keep an eye on all the motorcycles that comes from behind and passes the car on both sides, he took a quick look in the mirror before he looked at me strangely: Why would he keep an eye on traffic behind?
Only what is in front is important
Indonesian drivers look straight ahead. Only straight ahead. The traffic only slows down if something comes in front of the vehicle. The only times look only to the side, is during lane changes and when they enter a major road. Since they do not look to the side, they don't stop for pedestrians crossing the road – zebra crossing or not.
Seemingly every vehicle decides how fast they want to go, and thats ok as long as they can stop for obstacles in front. If one drive slower than the other traffic, the responsibilities are handed over to the faster road users. If one drive faster the other traffic, one have the responsibility of not hitting anyone. Simple as that, and it works very well.
There is much honking in the traffic. Either to make other road users aware of their presence, or maneuvers that deviate from going straight ahead: for example passings or lane changes. The larger the vehicle, the louder the horn.
Passing of other cars
Double solid barrier lines? No problem: passing other cars in oncoming field still works fine. they just flash their lights to signal that oncoming traffic must slow down or swerve so they can finish their passing. Bigger vehicles wins over smaller vehicles, and motorcycles and smaller vehicles often turns to the road side to let the bigger ones through.
It happens that oncoming traffic flashes back when you are in their lane, and the signal means you better get back to your own side of the road – and instantly. Buses and larger trucks does not lower their speed.