Adventures in Indonesia: Public Transportation

Bus and Boat Adventures in Indonesia

There are two fail-safe sensory overloads for the traveller who wants to learn about a new place: going to the local supermarket, replete with its adventurous, exciting foods and people watching, and taking public transportation, with all of the delays, break-downs and random farm animals that comes with it. A perfect example? My cargo ferry ride in the Philippines, starring 41 water buffalo, several chickens and over 2 days of delays. Moving on from the Philippines, there was plenty of public transportation in Indonesia, meaning no shortage of misadventures for the taking. This included a 30-hour trip back from Flores after the disastrous boat ride from Lombok, through the centre of Sumbawa. Following in the footsteps of that epic journey, other public transportation routes within Indonesia piled on the hilarity.

public transportation in indonesia
Your usual scene: goats, motorbikes, cars, and boats.

What I Learned While Taking Public Transportation in Indonesia

1. Indonesian slow ferries are as on time as Filipino slow ferries. That is, they are never remotely on time.

2. Indonesian slow ferries have a secret weapon: a raised, square platform covered in a green, rugged carpet. Located at the back of the ferry, it provides a perfect opportunity to lie down and a much more comfortable option than the hard, plastic seats everyone else seemed to occupy.

3. If you have a ticket for a seat in a minibus, it does not mean you will sit in the minibus. Chances are, you will sit atop it.

bus ride in sumbawa, Indonesia
View from atop the minibus ain’t bad though
Riding on the roof of a bus in Indonesia
“You mean you want us to go up there?”
public transportation in indonesia
They are laughing because of the tourists on the roof of a bus, one of whom (me) is holding a goat AND taking their picture.
bus in indonesia
Love this photo because of the shadow of our bus, silhouetted in the bottom left — including me taking a photo!


4. The ticket collector does not see the fact that you are sitting on the roof of his minivan as a deterrent to obtaining your ticket. Laughing hysterically at him when he asks you for your ticket as you speed toward Bima in West Nusa Tenggara does not make him go away. Ignoring him does.

5. Tree branches hurt a lot more when they hit you in the head at 60km/h

6. Smashing your random, perverted Indonesian neighbour in the ribs with your elbow whilst he fondles your thigh on a night bus is an effective way of getting him to stop, fast.

7. As a tourist, using the toilet on a night bus is not acceptable. “No can!” we were told. However, if you are a local, blowing your nose on the curtains in front of the bus attendant is perfectly fine.

8. It is completely normal to stop for food at 4am on a night bus and you are a crazy tourist for not eating with the rest of the bus. AREN’T YOU HUNGRY? (No, you’re not. Just tired.)

9. Indonesians love “Sweet Child of Mine” but do not love it when you and your friends decide to sing along with the song as it blares on a ferry loudspeaker. Unimpressed Indonesian passengers are unimpressed.

10. Sitting on the roof of a public bus with your arm around a (disturbingly nonchalant) goat and a chicken in your lap will make any other public transportation seem extraordinarily boring.

Very important lessons, all of them.

For more misadventures in transportation stories, see the full list of ridiculous stories here


7 thoughts on “Adventures in Indonesia: Public Transportation”

  1. This is hilarious. You make us all want to do stupid things like ride on top of a bus, just like you do. Safe travels!

  2. You shouldve seen the look on a Spanish couple who’d be our companions on a 4 day trip from Lombok to Labuan Bajo when they were about to board the 12 seater minibus! And they did not even have to sit on the roof! I have enjoyed your writings *especially the indonesian part* as it’s exciting to see my country from your perspective!

    1. Thank you for your comment. Everyone has a different threshold of acceptability when it comes to adventures in transportation but I think they have been the most colourful and fascinating parts of my trip – and definitely some great stories to tell. Thanks for reading!

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  5. #6: Hilarious!

    I was kind of wishing to see the picture of the water buffalo and the chickens in one frame…

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