Exotic vegetation, tropical beaches, exquisite food bursting with flavour and friendly people…what more could you ask of paradise? If you are searching for bliss, look no further than Indonesia.
Most travellers will be familiar with the popular tourist utopia of Bali. But look beyond and you will find so much more. 18,000 islands worth more in fact! Each island offers a little something unique. However, you can guarantee that one thing remains the same throughout. That is the warm welcome of Indonesian people.
Friendliness is part of the Indonesian culture. You can expect to feel right at home here. In turn, Indonesians expect that tourists will return the respect. Travellers should be courteous at all times. Show your appreciation by taking the time to learn a few cultural considerations.
Body language and gestures which may seem innocent at home can offend in Indonesia. For example, using a single finger to point appears rude. Instead, indicate with your thumb or entire hand.
Speaking of hands, Lefties beware! Indonesian locals consider the left hand impure. This relates to the local habit of using the left hand for certain dirty activities. Use only the right hand when eating and when shaking hands.
Having an open attitude will go a long way in Indonesia! Smile! Smiling, even at strangers, is very common in Indonesia. Returning the smile will make a good impression. On the other hand, body language such as crossed arms or hands on the hips will give the impression of anger or hostility. Choose your stance wisely!
With thousands of islands worth of territory, Indonesia is an incredibly large country. It shares land borders with Malaysia, Papua New Guinea and East Timor. It is also very close to Singapore, Thailand and even Australia! With all those islands, the country is divided into three time zones. Western Indonesian Time is seven hours ahead of UTC. Central Indonesian Time is eight hours ahead and Eastern Indonesian Time is nine ahead.
However, despite its size, Indonesia remains fairly consistent with weather. The archipelago lies near the equator and boasts warm temperatures year round. There are only two seasons in Indonesia: wet and dry. The wet season occurs between October and March, while the dry season runs the remainder of the year. Tourist activities are best enjoyed during the dry season.
In keeping with the laid back reputation, Indonesia makes travel practicalities fairly easy. Travellers will need a passport and a visa. However, the visa can be acquired on arrival for around 45 AUD. These visas are valid for 30 days from arrival.
Indonesia uses the Indonesian Rupiah as currency. On average, one Australian dollar will buy you 9,150 rupiahs. For the best rates, change money on arrival. Credit cards are generally accepted in major cities and ATMs are widely available. Be wary of card skimming and always protect your pin numbers! Use cash where possible and make sure to track your records.
Tipping isn’t generally expected in Indonesian culture. However, Indonesian wages are very low and many people struggle to make a living. Including a small tip, such as 10%, is always appreciated. In some highly touristed areas, service providers may expect some sort of tip from tourists, whom they may perceive as wealthier. Occasionally, restaurants may add a tip into your bill.
Getting around Indonesia is not as difficult as it may seem, despite the varied islands. However, delays and mechanical issues are common, so bring a healthy dose of patience. To travel between islands, you will generally use boats or ferries. The ferry system is extensive and you can use it to cross the entire archipelago. Keep safety in mind when selecting a ferry. Government run chains are the best. Otherwise, look for larger boats with visible safety equipment.
If boats aren’t your thing, no fear! Discount or reasonably priced airlines have flights hopping between the islands regularly.
If you are crossing an island between major cities, trains and buses are your best option. Trains are comfortable and convenient. Unfortunately, the train service is mostly limited to Java and Sumatra. For other areas, take the bus.
For local city and village transportation, you have a variety of choices. Each makes for a unique experience! For example, you might sample a horse drawn carriage, called a dokar. Or perhaps you can try a becak. These pedal powered cabs may take a little longer but what better way to take in the island? Need more speed? Hail a motorcycle taxi, called an ojek!
Indonesia has thousands of islands and thousands of things to do or see! Whether you are looking to relax or party, see lush landscapes or enjoy some culture, Indonesia satisfies. But since you can’t possibly see it all, there are a few experiences that travellers just can’t miss.
Australia’s close proximity to Indonesia makes this a popular tourist destination. When planning your trip, make sure to include a few of the country’s best cities. You might start your visit in the capital, Jakarta. This city has a long history as a melting pot of cultures, such as Malay, Chinese, Arab, Indian and European. Visitors will find that these influences create an exotic experience of architecture, entertainment and delicious cuisine.
For the history buffs, the city of Surabaya provides plenty to explore. Known as the “City of Heroes,” this city played an integral role in establishing Indonesian Independence. Stroll through town and take in a variety of historical monuments.
If food is what you are looking for, Medan, the capital of North Sumatra, is the perfect place for you. Delight your senses with sticks of satays and plates full of nasi padang! But remember, Indonesian cuisine is notoriously spicy. Be warned!
Prefer to simply sit on the beach instead? Head on over to Kuta. This popular hangout for Australian tourists is part of the Bali party scene. Spend your nights dancing and your days lounging blissfully in the sun by the water.
But if simply sitting by the beach is too boring, you may prefer to visit Manado. This city is a popular launching point for visiting the reefs of Bunaken. Grab some gear and dive in for exquisite diving, snorkelling and kayaking.
Other popular places to visit in Indonesia are the Tropical Sumatran Rainforest and Krakatoa. And let’s not forget the equator! In Pontianak, tourists can straddle the world with one foot in each hemisphere. When you have finished hemisphere hopping, don’t forget to take in the nearby equator monument.
In the Sumatran Rainforest, the more adventurous can spend several days trekking. This World Heritage Site is home to ten percent of the world’s flowering plants! Trekkers will have the chance to encounter some of Indonesia’s exotic wildlife, such as elephants, rhinos and even tigers. This is also one of the few remaining places to see orang-utans in their natural habitat. If trekking sounds too adventurous for you, why not relax in an eco-lodge instead?
Krakatoa is a great example of something beautiful arising from something devastating. In 1883, the Krakatoa volcano erupted violently. The force of the explosion and the destruction of the subsequent tsunamis left two-thirds of the island devastated and more than 36,000 people dead. Yet when the dust settled, a new volcanic island emerged, called Anak Krakata, meaning “Krakatoa’s child.” This lush new island now features a marine park and tourists enjoy fantastic snorkelling, diving and beaches.
Speaking of nature, travellers to Indonesia should be sure to catch one of her most famous residents—the Komodo dragon! This fascinating creature is endangered and only found on a select few Indonesian islands. Tour groups arrange visits for dragon viewing with trained guides. However, don’t be tempted to go dragon searching alone! The Komodo dragon is the largest living species of lizard and can be quite dangerous. Reaching sizes up to 70kg, this predatory lizard bites and can cause blood poisoning with its saliva for unwary tourists.
If you are interested in learning more about Indonesia’s other residents, of the human variety, consider a visit to Baduy village. This ancient tribe has remained isolated since the mid 1500s! If you are curious to see a historical culture unaffected by modern developments, the Baduy can be visited in the jungles of west Java. However, these visits absolutely require enlisting a tour company. The country hopes to maintain the Baduy’s privacy and isolation, so access to the tribe is carefully regulated.
Another way to appreciate Indonesian culture is through art. One of the most famous examples of Indonesian artwork is batik. An artistic practice spanning centuries, batik plays a central role in many Indonesian traditions. Special techniques are used to decorate cloth using wax and dye. Travellers can admire the vibrant patterns or can participate in creating their own. Yogyakarta is a particularly good place for a hands on batik experience.
People come to Indonesia for a variety of reasons. Some come to party and Bali offers plenty of that. Affordable, with Full Moon parties and all night dancing, what’s not to love?
Others visit Indonesia for the incomparable surf scene. There are great waves at any time of year and the weather is always pleasant. In the west, the Mentawai islands offer up a surfer’s paradise, but the surfing in Bali and Lombak excels too!
Still other people visit Indonesia for relaxation and spirituality. Spas, yoga centres and meditation retreats can be found throughout the country. The spiritually minded traveller will enjoy an abundance of striking temples set against lush, tropical backdrops. Chant with monks at the Buddhist Temple Borobudur or explore the unique setting of the Hindu Tanah Lot Temple.
While Indonesia is a welcoming and relaxing tourist destination, there are nevertheless some health and safety concerns. Travellers should take all of the usual precautions for traveling in new countries. Be cautious when eating unfamiliar foods and avoid purchasing meals from street vendors. In restaurants, make certain that food is properly cooked and take care when eating produce that may not be clean. Avoid drinking water from the tap and always make sure that bottled water comes still sealed.
Indonesia is a tropical destination. Beside the beautiful beaches you also have mosquitos! Make sure to take the proper precautions against mosquito-borne illnesses such as malaria, yellow fever and dengue fever. Use a strong DEET-containing insect repellent and check that screens in hotels don’t have holes.
Many tourists come to Indonesia to party and there is no reason that you shouldn’t enjoy yourself! But do so wisely! Make smart decisions and guard against mishaps. Know your limits when it comes to alcohol. The drinking age country wide is 21 and minors should avoid consuming. Only drink beverages purchased at reputable bars and preferably prepared where you can see. And of course, don’t even think about drinking and driving…OR drinking and swimming!
Speaking of driving, many tourists enjoy exploring the islands on rented motorbikes. Make certain that you have the necessary motorbike skills before setting out to explore. Many companies are eager to make a sale and may be cutting corners when it comes to safety. Check your bike carefully and don’t forget a helmet!
While most Indonesians are friendly, there are always some people who have less honourable intentions. Pickpocketing is common, particularly in heavily touristed areas. Smart travellers will leave their valuables at home or locked in the hotel safe. If you must carry valuables with you, take care in crowds and watch for straying fingers. Cafes and internet hotspots are particular areas of theft, so never leave your belongings unguarded.
Unfortunately, occasionally crime in Indonesia can be more sinister than petty theft. Several high profile terror attacks have targeted Indonesia’s big tourist destinations in recent years. Travellers should always be aware of the current geo-political situation. Check www.smartraveller.gov.au for up-to-date information before you leave. And always be mindful of your surroundings!
All of that beautiful scenery and lush foliage is what attracts visitors to Indonesia. However, those mountains and that fertile soil are there because Indonesia is a land of volcanoes and earthquakes. In case an earthquake should occur, stay calm! Stay indoors or move to an area clear of overhead hazards. Getting onto your hands and knees is a smart way to maintain your balance without losing mobility. If possible, protect yourself by seeking cover under something sturdy, like a table.
By taking the proper precautions, Indonesia can be any traveller's paradise!