Luxury Villa Rentals Indonesia - Group Villa
Bali, Lombok, Lembongan Island…Exotic names for amazing places. Indonesia is one of the most popular destinations in the world, with numerous beautiful landscapes and unique beaches. A haven few people can resist….
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Guide for Indonesia
Indonesia straddles the Equator between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. While it has land borders with Malaysia to the north as well as East Timor and Papua New Guinea to the east, it also neighbors Australia to the south, and Palau, the Philippines, Vietnam,Singapore, and Thailand to the north, India to the northwest.
Indonesia is the sleeping giant of Southeast Asia. With 18,110 islands, 6,000 of them inhabited, it is the largest archipelago in the world. With almost 240 million people, Indonesia is the fourth most populous country in the world — after China, India and the USA — and by far the largest inSoutheast Asia. Indonesia also has the largest Muslim population in the world.
Indonesia markets itself as Wonderful Indonesia, and the slogan is quite true, although not necessarily always in good ways. Indonesia’s tropical forests are the second-largest in the world after Brazil, and are being logged and cut down at the same alarming speed. While the rich shop and party in Jakarta and Bali. After decades of economic mismanagement 50.6% of the population still earns less than US$2/day according to figures compiled by the World bank in 2009. This had come down by 6% in the 2 years between 2007 and 2009.
Infrastructure in much of the country remains rudimentary, and travellers off the beaten track will need some patience and flexibility.
According to the “Energy Access” Working Group Global Network on Energy for Sustainable Development, in 2001; 53.4% of the Indonesian population had access to electricity, and they consumed 345 kWh per capita electricity consumption (kWh/capita). In the same year the residents of nearby Singapore had 100% access, and they consumed 6,641 kWh/capita. A very large percentage of the Indonesian population remain reliant upon wood for a cooking fuel. The central government has in recent years instituted a program of LPG gas access for use as replacement for the burning of bio-mass sources for cooking.
The Indonesian people, like any people, can be either friendly or rude to foreigners. Most of the time, though, they are incredibly friendly to foreigners.
The early, modern history of Indonesia begins in the period from 2500 BCE to 1500 BCE with a wave of light brown-skinned Austronesian immigrants, thought to have originated in Taiwan. This Neolithic group of people, skilled in open-ocean maritime travel and agriculture are believed to have quickly supplanted the existing, less-developed population.
From this point onward, dozens of kingdoms and civilizations flourished and faded in different parts of the archipelago. Some notable kingdoms include Srivijaya (7th-14th century) on Sumatra and Majapahit (1293-c.1500), based in eastern Java but the first to unite the main islands of Sumatra, Java, Bali and Borneo (now Kalimantan) as well as parts of Peninsular Malaysia.
The first Europeans to arrive (after Marco Polo who passed through in the late 1200s) were the Portuguese, who were given permission to erect a godown near present-day Jakarta in 1522. By the end of the century, however, the Dutch had pretty much taken over and the razing of a competing English fort in 1619 secured their hold on Java, leading to 350 years of colonization. The British occupied Java from 1811 to 1816, and as a result Indonesians still drive on the left.In 1824, the Dutch and the British signed the Anglo-Dutch Treaty which divided the Malay world into Dutch and British spheres of influence, with the Dutch ceding Malacca to the British, and the British ceding all their colonies on Sumatra to the Dutch. The line of division roughly corresponds to what is now the border between Malaysia and Indonesia, with a small segment becoming the border between Singapore and Indonesia.
Various nationalist groups developed in the early 20th century, and there were several disturbances, quickly put down by the Dutch. Leaders were arrested and exiled. Then during World War II, the Japanese conquered most of the islands. In August 1945 in the post war vacumn following the Japanese surrender to allied forces the Japanese army and navy still controlled the majority of the Indonesian archipelago. The Japanese agreed to return Indonesia to the Netherlands but continued to administer the region as the Dutch were unable to immediately return due to massive destabilisation from the effects of war in Europe.
On August 17th 1945 Sukarno read the Proklamasi or Declaration of Independence and the Panitia Persiapan Kemerdekaan Indonesia (PPKI) moved to form an interim government. A constitution, drafted by the PPKI preparatory committee was announced on 18th August and Sukarno was declared President with Hatta as Vice-President. The PPKI was then remade into the KNIP (Central Indonesian National Committee) and the KNIP became the temporary governing body. The new government was installed on August 31, 1945. Indonesia’s founding fathers Sukarno (Soekarno) and Hattadeclared the independence of the Republic of Indonesia.
The Dutch mounted a diplomatic and military campaign to reclaim their former colony from the nationalists. Disputations, negotiations, partitioning and armed conflict prevailed between the newly independent Indonesia and the Netherlands. Several nations including the US were highly critical of the Dutch in this immediate post war period and at one stage in late 1949 the US government suspended aid provided to the Dutch under the Marshal plan. The matter was also raised by the newly formed UN. After four years of fighting, the Dutch accepted defeat and on December 27, 1949 and they formally transferred sovereignty to “Republik Indonesia Serikat” (Republic of United States of Indonesia). In August 1950 a new constitution was proclaimed and the new Republic of Indonesia was formed from the original but now expanded Republic to include Sumatra Timur and East Indonesia/Negara Indonesia Timur. Jakarta was made the capital of the Republic of Indonesia however the Netherlands and Indonesia remained in a theoretical constitutional union with Indonesia holding the status of a fully independent state.
In September 1950 Natsir and the Masyumi party led the first government of fully independent Indonesia. Sukarno returned again to the role of President and over time came to assert greater power in that role. For a time Indonesia used a provisional constitution modelled upon that of the US which also drew heavily on the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. On September 26, 1950 Indonesia was admitted to the newly formed United Nations. The 1950 constitution appears to have been an attempt to set up a liberal democracy system with two chambers of parliament. Later in 1955, still under this provisional constitution Indonesia held its first free election.
The new government was tasked with finalising a permanent and final version of the constitution but after much wrangling consensus was not reached leading to organised public demonstrations in 1958. In 1959 President Sukarno issued a decree dissolving the then current constitution and restored the 1945 Constitution. Indonesia then entered the era of Guided Democracy with the Head of State assuming stronger presidential powers and also absorbing the previous role of Prime Minister.
From their initial declaration of independence Indonesia claimed West Papua as part of their nation, but the Dutch held onto it into the 1960s, and in the early sixties there was further armed conflict over that region. After a UN-brokered peace deal, and a referendum, West Papua became part of Indonesia and was renamed as Irian Jaya, which apocryphically stands for Ikut (part of) Republic of Indonesia, Anti Netherlands. It’s now called simply Papua, but the independence movement smolders on to this day.
During the post war and Cold war period Sukarno made friendly advances to the USA, the Soviet Union and later, China. He also tried to play one against another as he attempted to develop the nation as a non-aligned state. Much to the dismay of post war Western governments Sukarno became engaged in extensive dialogue with the Soviets and accepted civil and military aid, equipment, and technical assistance from the USSR. Sukarno publicly claimed that his engagement with the Soviets was to assist in promoting the new Republic of Indonesia as a non-aligned post war state and to assist in rebuilding the nation following the Pacific war. At this time US were trying to consolidate their control over regional and strategic interests in South East Asia and Indo-china.
The US, confronted by an archepelgo apparently in the grasp of emerging Indonesian nationalism sought to gain and maintain control over the important resources and shipping routes of the region. They viewed Indonesia as potentially unstable and in a power vacumn left in the wake of the Japanese defeat in Indonesia. The Dutch, their nation ravaged by the European war were unable to fully reclaim their colony and maintain control over the rising tide of Indonesian nationalism.
The Dutch were also subject to pressure from the US and other western governments in addition to their own considerable problems at home. The US covertly supported anti Sukarno activities and operations to destabilise the the nationalist movement. In 1957-58, the CIA infiltrated arms and personnel in support of regional rebellions against Sukarno. Covert actions at this time led to the capture of an American pilot and plane. The activities involved the use of mercenary forces as well as the material and financial support of insurgents. Funding, arms, logistical support and training were provided covertly by the US to breakaway factions, right wing elements, and radical Islamist groups including Darul Islam in an attempt to gain US and western control of Indonesian nationalism. The actions were supported from the US embassy in Singapore, by elements of the US 7th fleet stationed of Sulawesi and Sumatra and with the co-operation and support of the UK government and western intelligence agencies.
The US, with the participation of other Western powers including the UK later seized upon Sukarno’s emerging dialogue and dealings with the Soviets and later the Chinese as a threat to the region. Former Director of the CIA William Colby later compared their own operations in Indonesia to the Vietnam Phoenix Program conducted in Vietnam. Indeed some of the equipment including military aircraft were later transferred onto that program. Colby further admitted directing the CIA to concentrate on compiling lists of members of the PKI and other leftist groups, Colby was at that time the Chief of CIA’s Far East Division. Cloaked by the fears and propaganda of the Cold war period the US maintained an extended overt and a covert campaign to destabilise Sukarno.
In 1965, in highly controversial and confusing circumstances involving a purported military coup, Sukarno, known for his support of Indonesian nationalism and independence was displaced by Suharto, an army general with strong anti communist views. Suharto originally served in the Japanese occupation forces supported police force, later he entered the the Peta (Defenders of the Fatherland) and went on to train in the Japanese led Indonesian armed forces of the occupation period. In the post war period it is believed he fell under US influence and patronage and with their backing he and his supporters rose in stature and influence.
In September 1965 six army generals were murdered in an apparent coup attempt. The kidnappings and subsequent murders occurred in highly suspicious circumstances and the somewhat confusing official accounts have been found to be highly suspect. A group of senior officers including the army commander Lieutenant General Ahmad Yani had apparently been increasingly at odds with an alliance of right wing officers including Suharto. The murdered officers were supportive of Sukarno and accommodating of the Presidents relationship with the PKI (Indonesian Communist Party). Subandrio, Sukarno’s foreign minister, second deputy prime minister and chief of intelligence, from 1960 to 1966 had infiltrated agents into a secret meeting of rightwing generals plotting the overthrow of Sukarno. It is believed he may have precipitated the uprising by releasing information about this but the details remain uncertain. The uprising was reported amongst units in central Java, air force units at Halim air force base and armed forces units that occupied Merdeka Square, a strategic section of the capital. The so called “30th September group” leaders claimed the forces present in Merdeka Square were to protect the Presidency from a planned uprising soon to be orchestrated by a group of generals backed by the US CIA. GeneralSuharto then reportedly subsequently quelled this action within the armed forces in a single day. The right wing officers who subsequently rose to power condemned the killings of the senior army officers and claimed the uprising involving the military units was the work of communists. As more documentation emerges from western archives it appears ever more apparent that the event was stage managed to allow Suharto an opportunity to subsequently to claim the leadership. In the early stages Suharto blamed the murders on a group of PKI inspired youths, women and “elements of the Air Force”.
The murders were later to be blamed upon the PKI, communists and the September 30th movement, ironically the same group that had claimed to have come together in an attempt to thwart a right wing coup d’état. Suharto initially claimed to support President Sukarno but then seized power himself, sidelining Sukarno, proclaiming a New Order (Orde Baru). A series of bloody anti-Communist purges was then initiated leading to the death of 500,000-2,000,000 people (estimates vary widely). The Western governments turned a blind eye to the massacres and they remained substantially unreported in the West for a considerable time. Many historians have since shed light on the involvement of the US intelligence services and to a lesser degree their mutual contacts in British, German and Japanese intelligence in the circumstances leading up to the seizure of power by Suharto and the subsequent murderous purges.
When the information concerning the widspread killings was eventually released it was shrouded in mystery. The US intelligence agencies and the CIA were later found to be complicit in supplying names and addresses of the PKI members to the Indonesian army, Suharto operatives and CIA-funded Muslim death squads, who hunted the leftists down and murdered them. Declassified US files have since shown that the US government was giving covert aid to Suharto and the death squads to conduct the widespread purges across Indonesia. Following Suharto’s rise to power US interests in the region were secured and their influence over the RI and the nation’s resourses continued into the new century.
Under Suharto from 1966 to 1997, Indonesia enjoyed stability and economic growth, but most of the wealth was concentrated in the hands of a small corrupt elite and dissent was brutally crushed. During the Asian economic crisis of 1997 the value of the Indonesian rupiah plummeted, halving the purchasing power of ordinary Indonesians. In the ensuing violent upheaval, now known as Reformasi, Suharto was brought down and a more democratic regime installed.
The former Portuguese colony of East Timor was annexed by Indonesia in 1975, but there was armed resistance to this. After decades of Indonesian rule, on 30 August 1999, a provincial referendum for independence was overwhelmingly approved by the people of East Timor. Indonesia grudgingly but still astonishingly accepted the result (although army-linked militias looted capital Dili in protest), and East Timor gained its independence in 2002.
One more violent secessionist movement took place in the devoutly Islamic state of Aceh at the northern tip of Sumatra. After decades of insurgency and abortive talks, the deadlock was broken by the 2004 tsunami, which killed over 200,000 people in Aceh. The Indonesian government and the Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka, GAM) signed a peace deal the next year, with Aceh giving up its fight for independence in exchange for being granted special autonomy including the right to enact Syariah (Islamic) law, and to date the peace has held.
In 2004 Indonesia held the first election in which the people directly elected the president and vice president. The president of Indonesia may currently serve a maximum of two consecutive five-year terms. Currently Indonesia is one of the worlds largest democracies and is going through a period of difficult reforms and re-invention following the Reformasi and the institution of a democratically elected government. To assist in the transformation from the years of centralised control under the Suharto regime the role of regional and provincial government has been strengthened and enhanced. The election process in Indonesia has a high participation rate and the nature and fabric of governance and administration is slowly changing across Indonesia. Change in the nation since the fall of Suharto has also been characterized by greater freedom of speech and a massive reduction in the political censorship that was a feature of Suharto’s New Order era. There is more open political debate in the news media as well as in general discourse, political and social debate.
Despite 50 years of promoting Bhinneka Tunggal Ika (“Unity in Diversity”) as the official state motto, the concept of an “Indonesian” remains artificial and the country’s citizens divide themselves along a vast slew of ethnicities, clans, tribes and even castes. If this wasn’t enough, religious differences add a volatile ingredient to the mix and the vast gaps in wealth create a class society as well. On a purely numerical scale, the largest ethnic groups are the Javanese (45%) of central and eastern Java, the Sundanese (14%) from western Java, the Madurese (7.5%) from the island of Madura, and Coastal Malays (7.5%), mostly from Sumatra. This leaves 26% for theAcehnese and Minangkabau of Sumatra, the Balinese, the Iban and Dayaks of Kalimantan, and a bewildering patchwork of groups in Nusa Tenggara and Papua — the official total is no less than 3000!
For the most part, Indonesia’s many peoples coexist happily, but ethnic conflicts do continue to fester in some remote areas of the country. The policy of transmigration(transmigrasi), initiated by the Dutch but continued by Suharto, resettled Javanese, Balinese and Madurese migrants to less crowded parts of the archipelago. The new settlers, viewed as privileged and insensitive, were often resented by the indigenous populace and, particularly on Kalimantan and Papua, led to sometimes violent conflict.
One particularly notable ethnic group found throughout the country are the Indonesian Chinese, known as Tionghoa or the somewhat derogatory Cina. At an estimated 6-7 million they make up 3% of the population and probably constitute the largest ethnic Chinese group in any country outside China. Indonesian Chinese wield a disproportionate influence in the economy, with one famous — if largely discredited — study of companies on the Jakarta Stock Exchange concluding that as many as 70% of its companies (and, by extension, the country) were controlled by ethnic Chinese. They have thus been subject to persecution, with Chinese forcibly relocated into urban areas in the 1960s, forced to adopt Indonesian names and bans imposed on teaching Chinese and displaying Chinese characters. Anti-Chinese pogroms have also taken place, notably in the 1965-66 anti-Communist purges after Suharto’s coup and again in 1998 after his downfall, when over 1100 people were killed in riots in Jakarta and other major cities. However, the post-Reformasi governments have overturned most of the discriminatory legislation, and Chinese writing and Chinese festivals have made a reappearance, with the Chinese New Year having been declared a public holiday nationwide since 2003. While most of the Java Chinese are monolingual in Indonesian, many of the Chinese in Sumatra and Kalimantan continue to speak various Chinese dialects.
There is no one unified Indonesian culture as such, but the Hindu culture of the former Majapahit empire does provide a framework for many of the cultural traditions found across the central islands of Sumatra, Java, Bali andLombok. Perhaps the most distinctively “Indonesian” arts are wayang kulit shadow puppetry, where intricately detailed cutouts act out scenes from the Mahabharata and Ramayana and other popular folk stories, and its accompaniment the gamelan orchestra, whose incredibly complex metallic rhythms are the obligatory backdrop to both religious ceremonies and traditional entertainment. Indonesia is culturally intertwined with the Malays, with notable items such as batik cloth and kris daggers, and Arabic culture has also been adopted to some degree thanks to Islam.
Modern-day Indonesian popular culture is largely dominated by the largest ethnic group, the Javanese. Suharto’s ban on Western imports like rock’n'roll, while long since repealed, led to the development of indigenous forms of music like dangdut, a sultry form of pop developed in the 1970s, and the televised pelvic thrusts of starlet Inul Daratista in 2003 were nearly as controversial as Elvis once was. Anggun Cipta Sasmi is a talented Indonesian singer who became a famous singer in France. Her single “La neige au sahara” became a top hit on the European charts in the summer of 1997.
Most Indonesian films are low budget B movies. “Daun di Atas Bantal” (1998) is an exception; it won the “best movie” award at the Asia Pacific Film Festival in Taipei, Taiwan (1998). The Raid, Redemption (Indonesian: Serbuan maut), and also known as The Raid was released in 2011 at the Toronto International Film Festival and has international distribution. This Indonesian action film had a production budget of £1.1 million It was written and directed by Gareth Evans (UK) and starred Iko Uwais. Evans and Uwais released their first action film, Merantau in 2009. Both films showcase the traditional Indonesian martial art Pencak Silat.
Indonesian literature has yet to make much headway on the world stage, with torch-bearer Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s works long banned in his own homeland, but the post-Suharto era has seen a small boom with Ayu Utami’s Saman breaking both taboos and sales records.
80-88% of the population of Indonesia state their religion as being Islam (Sunni) making it numerically by far the largest religion in the nation and Indonesia the largest Muslim-majority country in the world. Nevertheless, Indonesia officially remains a secular state. Although religious orthodoxies do vary across the Indonesia archipelago the strict observance of Islamic dress codes apparent in some countries is generally absent. In larger cities headscarves and overt manifestations of faith are exceptions rather than the rule. In some regional areas and the devout state of Aceh things can be considerably stricter. In fact, despite being nominally Muslim, many local stories and customs which are Hindu, Buddhist or animist in origin are faithfully preserved by much of the population.
The other four state-sanctioned religions are Protestantism (5%), Roman Catholicism (3%), Hinduism (2%) and Buddhism (1%). Hindus are concentrated on Bali, while Christians are found mostly in parts of North Sumatra, Papua, North Sulawesi, and East Nusa Tenggara. Buddhism, on the other hand, is mainly practised by the ethnic Chinese in the larger cities. There are also pockets of animism throughout the country, and many strict Muslims decry the casual Indonesian incorporation of animistic rites into the practices of notionally Islamic believers.
Indonesian national law decrees that all citizens of the Republic must declare their religion and that the declared religion must be one of the five that are officially sanctioned by the state, but after reformation confucianism is recognized (formerly is belongs to Buddhism, Protestantism and Roman Catholicism), alas not for Ahmadiyya Islam and Shia Islam. This results in obvious distortions. For example, many animist practitioners notionally call themselves Muslim or Christian for the benefit of the state bureaucracy and many Muslim in the rural area also have their traditional way of life which influence their Islam.
The festival of Eid ul-Fitr is held after the end of Ramadan and may last several days. Exact dates depend on astronomical observations and may vary from country to country.
Multicultural Indonesia celebrates a vast range of religious holidays and festivals, but many are limited to small areas (eg. the Hindu festivals of Bali). The following covers public holidays applied nationwide regardless of their belief.
The most significant season of the year is the Muslim fasting month of Ramadhan. During its 30 days, devout Muslims refrain from passing anything through their lips (food, drink, smoke) between sunrise and sunset. People get up early to stuff themselves before sunrise (sahur), go to work late, and take off early to get back home in time to break fast (buka puasa) at sunset. Non-Muslims, as well as Muslims travelling (musafir), are exempt from fasting but it is polite to refrain from eating or drinking in public. Many restaurants close during the day and those that stay open (e.g., hotel restaurants) maintain a low profile, with curtains covering the windows. During Ramadhan, all forms of nightlife including bars, nightclubs, karaoke and massage parlours close by midnight, and (especially in more devout areas) quite a few opt to stay closed entirely. Business travellers will notice that things move at an even more glacial pace than usual and, especially towards the end of the month, many people will take leave.
The climax at the end of the month is the two days of Idul Fitri (also known as Lebaran), when pretty much the entire country takes a week or two off to head back home to visit family in a ritual known locally as mudik, meaning going home. This is the one time of the year when Jakarta has no traffic jams, but the rest of the country does, with all forms of transport packed to the gills. All government offices (including embassies) and many businesses close for a week or even two, and travelling around Indonesia is best avoided if at all possible.
Other Muslim holidays include Idul Adha (the sacrifice day), Isra Mi’raj Muhammad SAW, Hijra (Islamic new year) and Maulid Muhammad SAW. Christian holidays include Christmas, Ascension Day, Good Friday, while the Hindu New Year of Nyepi (March-April) bring Bali to a standstill and Buddhists get a day off for Waisak(Buddha’s birthday), celebrated with processions around Borobudur. Non-religious holidays include New Year (1 Jan), Imlek (Chinese New Year) in Jan-Feb andIndependence Day (17 Aug).
The dates of many holidays are set according to various lunar calendars and the dates thus change from year to year. The Ministry of Labor may change the official date of holidays if they are close to the weekend. There is another official day off for workers, called cuti bersama (taking days off together), which is sometime close to the Idul Fitri holidays.
Upon arrival and disembarking from the plane, you’ll immediately notice the sudden rush of warm, wet air. Indonesia is a warm place. It has no spring, summer, fall, or winter, just two seasons: rainy and dry, both of which are relative (it still rains during the dry season, it just rains less). While there is significant regional variation, inmost of the country (including Java and Bali) the dry season is April to October, while the wet season is November to March.
In the highlands temperatures will naturally be cooler, and there are even snow-covered peaks in Papua, whose mountains can soar above 5000 meters. Bring along a jacket if planning to visit eg. Mount Bromo on Java or Tana Toraja in Sulawesi.
Since the country is very large, Indonesia is divided into three time zones:
GMT +7: Western Indonesian Time (WIB, Waktu Indonesia Barat)
GMT +8: Central Indonesian Time (WITA, Waktu Indonesia Tengah)
GMT +9: Eastern Indonesian Time (WIT, Waktu Indonesia Timur)
The nation of Indonesia is almost unimaginably vast: More than 17,000 islands providing 108,000 kilometers of beaches. The distance between Aceh in the West andPapua in the East is more than 4,000 kilometers (2500 miles), comparable to the distance between New York City and San Francisco. Laying on the western rim of the Ring of Fire Indonesia has more than 400 volcanoes, of which 130 are considered active, as well as many undersea volcanoes. The island of New Guinea (on which the Indonesian province of Papua is located) is the second largest island in the world.
Provinces are usually grouped around larger islands and include smaller surrounding islands. The listing below follows this practice, except with Bali which is treated as a separate region in Wikitravel.
|Sumatra (incl. the Riau Islands and Bangka-Belitung)
Wild and rugged, the 6th largest island in the world has a great natural and cultural wealth with more than 40 million inhabitants. Habitat to many endangered species.
The vast majority of this, the world’s third largest island, is covered by the Indonesian province. Uncharted jungles, mighty rivers, home of the orangutan, a paradise for the adventurer.
|Java (and Madura)
The country’s heartland, big cities including the capital Jakarta, and a lot of people packed on a not-so-big island. Also features the cultural treasures of Yogyakarta, Borobudur and Prambanan.
By far the most popular visitor destination in Indonesia, Bali’s blend of unique culture, legendary beaches, spectacular highland regions and unique underwater life make it a perennial favourite amongst global travellers.
Strangely shaped, this island houses a diversity of societies and some spectacular scenery, Toraja culture, rich flora and fauna, world class diving sites.
Also known as the Lesser Sunda Islands, the “Southeast Islands”, contain scores of ethnic groups, languages and religions, as well as Komodo lizards and more spectacular diving.
The historic Spice Islands, fought over to this day, largely unexplored and almost unknown to the outside world.
|Papua (Irian Jaya)
The western half of the island of New Guinea, with mountains, forests, swamps, an almost impenetrable wilderness in one of the remotest places on earth.
The following is a limited selection of some of Indonesia’s top sights.
|‘Immigration on board’
On some Garuda Indonesia flights, immigration entry procedures are conducted during the flight, which saves passengers from the need to queue to clear passport control upon arrival at the airport. More information is available here. ‘Immigration on board’ is currently available on the following Garuda Indonesia international flights:
Dealing with Imigrasi serves as a useful introduction to the Byzantine complexity of Indonesia’s bureaucracy. The long and short of it, though, is that most Western travellers can get a visa on arrival for US$25 at virtually all common points of entry (Java, Bali, etc), so read on only if you suspect that you don’t fit this description.
There are three ways of entering Indonesia:
A minimum of 6 months validity must be available in your passport and it must contain at least one or more blank pages. This same rule applies to any visa extension that may be sought whilst in the country.
One peculiarity to note is that visa-free and visa-on-arrival visitors must enter Indonesia via specific ports of entry. Entry via other ports of entry will require a visa regardless of whether you are a visa-free or visa-on-arrival national or otherwise.
It should also be noted that the days a visa holder is within Indonesia are counted with the day of entry being day 1, not day 0. This means that by 24:00 hours (12 midnight) on the night of the day of arrival you have been in Indonesia for one day. If you enter at 23:59 (11:59 PM) then 2 minutes later you have been in Indonesia for 2 days.
One scam operated by immigration officials is to claim that a 30-day visa-on-arrival means that you must leave before 30-days (ie on the 29th day or before). You can either try standing your ground (much easier if you speak Indonesian) by saying that the government is not so stupid as to issue a 30-day visa that is only valid for 29 days, or prepare in advance a 50,000 rupiah note, in a pocket that contains no other money, and slip it to the immigration official. If you show a wallet full of money they will probably want more.
Customs in Indonesia is usually quite laid-back. You’re allowed to bring in one liter of alcohol, 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 100 gm of tobacco products, and a reasonable quantity of perfume. Amounts of money carried in excess of 100 million Rupiah, or the equivalent in other currencies, have to be declared upon arrival or departure. In addition to the obvious drugs and guns, importing pornography and fruit, plants, meat or fish is (technically) prohibited. Indonesia imposes the death penalty on those caught bringing in drugs.
Indonesia Immigration maintains its own website. The Indonesian Embassy in Singapore (KBRI Singapore) also has some good information on Customs and Immigration requirements.
Indonesia allows visa free entry to the citizens of 15 countries. The nationals of these countries who are going on holiday, attending conventions or engaging in similar such activities are allowed to stay in Indonesia of up to 30 days without a visa. This type of visa cannot be extended, transferred or converted to any other kind of visa; nor can it be used as a working permit. Those visitors eligible under the visa waiver program have a visa issued at the Indonesian border checkpoints with that issuance subject to the discretion of the visa officer. The visa is not for employment and is not extendable. The citizens of the following countries are eligible: Brunei, Cambodia,Chile, Ecuador, Hong Kong SAR (Special Administrative Region), Laos, Macau SAR (Special Administrative Region), Malaysia, Morocco, Myanmar, Peru, Philippines,Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. These visas cannot be extended or converted to another type of visa. Visa-free entries are only permitted via the following ports of entry:
All visitors entering Indonesia by way of visa-on-arrival must have a return to point of origin, or onward destination ticket on their person when passing through immigration into the country (E-tickets are acceptable), or be able to present sufficient evidence of the means to obtain one to an Immigration official. This is often checked, and visitors who are unable to fulfill this requirement may be denied entry. More commonly the problem can be solved with a suitable “payment”. Transit visas are available form Indonesian embassies and consulates and may be provided at the border under some (limited) circumstances. Often airlines carrying passengers to Indonesia may decline boarding for a departure to an Indonesian entry point if this cannot be provided.
Visas on arrival can be issued to nationals of Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Argentina, Bahrain, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Canada, China, Cyprus,Czech Republic, Cyprus, Denmark, Egypt, Estonia, Fiji, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, India, Iran, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Laos, Latvia,Libya, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Maldives, Malta, Mexico, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Oman, Panama, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania,Russia, Saudi Arabia, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Surinam, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, East Timor (Timor-Leste), Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, and USA for a maximum of 30 days, generally extendable once only for another 30 days at a local immigration office inside Indonesia. Obtaining a visa from an Indonesian embassy or consulate before travelling is also possible and will allow you to go through the immigration channel for visa holders rather than the sometimes congested VOA and Visa waiver channels at the immigration check-points. Pre-issued visas for tourism, social and business visits are normally issued for a period of up to 60 days visit duration.
Visa-on-arrival are only available at the following entry points:
Visa on arrival fees: A visa on arrival is issued for a stay of up to 30 days, the cost is US$25. In general, the VOA is extendable once for an additional 30 days. This can be done in an immigration office inside Indonesia for an officially published fee of Rp 250,000, it is recommended to do this ten days prior the visa expiration date. Exact change in dollars is recommended for the VOA payments at the Indonesian border. A selection of other major currencies including Rupiah may be accepted, and any change will usually be given in Rupiah, often at a poor exchange rate. Credit cards maybe accepted in Bali, but don’t count on this service being available there, it is not normally available elsewhere. Note that some entry points, mainly at land or sea entry points, issue non-extendable VOA (ports in the Riau Archipelago being notable examples).
How to get visa on arrival: At the above airports/seaports, the following procedure should be followed to get your VoA (Visa on Arrival).
As always, there may be variations to this layout, especially at the smaller points of entry. Bank and visa counters may be placed together. Anyhow, your visa must be applied for before you reach the immigration counter.
Upon arriving, the arrival card will be detached from the departure card by the immigration officer, and you will have to keep the latter until you depart from the country to avoid any troubles later on. Make sure that the departure card is stamped with the correct number of days of your stay.
Nationals of countries not listed above are required to apply for visas through the nearest Indonesian Embassy or consulate. Single-entry visas are valid for 60 days and fairly routine if pricy at US$50-100 depending on the individual country and prevailing exchange rates. Multiple entry visas are also available but, as the issuance policy varies in different embassies and is occasionally changed, it is best to inquire at your nation’s embassy well in advance of departure. Normally, Indonesian embassies and consulates stipulate 3-4 clear working days for processing; however, applications may take at least one week to be processed.
The citizens of 15 countries need to obtain an approval from the immigration services head office, the Direktorat Jenderal Imigrasi in Jakarta. The 17 countries are:Afghanistan, Israel, Albania, North Korea, Angola, Nigeria, Pakistan, Cameroon, Somalia, Cuba, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Ghana, Tonga, Iraq. Those affected must have a sponsor in Indonesia, either personal or company. The sponsor must go in person to the Immigration Head Office in South Jakarta (Jakarta Selatan) and must produce a photocopy of applicant’s passport, a supporting letter and the applicant’s photograph. When it is approved, the Immigration Head Office will send a copy of approval letter to the applicant.
|Beware the departure tax
Travellers departing on international flights have to pay a Passenger Service Charge (departure tax) in Rupiah, so be sure to stash away enough to pay it. The amount varies by airport, but can be as much as Rp 150,000 in the airports in Bali (DPS) or Jakarta (CGK). Starting September 2012, the airport tax in Indonesia will to be included in ticket price for Garuda airlines flights. Other airlines may decide to follow the lead of Garuda but it should be understood this is an initiative of the individual airlines rather than a broadly mandated change of policy by either the individual airport operators or the Indonesian department of transport.
The three main international airports are Soekarno-Hatta (CGK) at Tangerang, Banten, nearJakarta, Ngurah Rai (DPS) at Denpasar, Bali and Juanda (SUB) at Surabaya, East Java. There are however many cities which have air links with Singapore and Malaysia which can be interesting and convenient entry points into Indonesia.
Garuda Indonesia, the Indonesian ‘flag’ airline operates to Asian destinations includingChina, Taiwan, Japan and Korea, Australian cities, Middle Eastern destinations such Saudi Arabiaand Dubai in the UAE and has recommenced services to Amsterdam in the Netherlands. The airline also has extensive code sharing agreements and this assists in providing quite good flight frequencies from airports in countries nearby to Indonesia. While its fleet still has some tatty aircraft is is improved greatly by a significant fleet upgrade programme utilising 55 newer Boeing 738-800NG series and 14 Airbus A330 aircraft for higher capacity routes with further of both those types on order. They also have new Boeing 777-300ER series aircraft on order. While banned from the EU for a while, the ban was lifted in 2009 and they have made direct flights to Europe via Dubaiin middle east since third quarter of 2010. Garuda Indonesia has outlined various plans to commence flights to major world hubs such as London, Frankfurt, Paris, Rome, Moscow and Los Angeles using the new Boeing 777 in 2015. Garuda has previously operated to several of these destinations.
Travel to Indonesia from America costs around US$1,000. As travel from most of Europe or anywhere in the USA will take over 20 hr, many flights stop in Hong Kong,Seoul, Taipei or Singapore before arriving in Jakarta. Sydney, though, is just 6-8 hr away.
The cost of flying to Indonesia from within the Southeast Asia and Pacific region has gone down a lot with the advent of low cost carriers or LCC. A similar and important development has been the offering of reasonably priced one-way fares departing Indonesia and the development of online booking and payment systems. The acceptance of non-Indonesian issued credit cards by the online booking systems of Garuda and Lion air only occurred as recently as the beginning of 2011. Among the LCC carriers providing services to Indonesia are AirAsia, which has excellent coverage of Indonesia from its hubs in Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta (Indonesia Air Asia), as well as Singaporean competitors Tiger Airways/Tiger Mandala , Jetstar Asia/Valuair and SilkAir. SilkAir is actually a full-service, full-fare regional airline, but they often have very good promotions if you book in advance. Indonesian carrier LionAir provides flights international flights between Kuala Lumpur-Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur-Surabaya, Penang and Medan and between Hi Chi Minh City, Singapore and Jakarta, and is often the cheapest option (cheaper than AirAsia and others).Australia and New Zealand are also serviced by LCC airlines including Jetstar sharing the Jetstar Asia network, Virgin Australia, Indonesia AIr Asia. Limited regional international services are also provided by other Indonesian LCC domestic carriers Merpati Airlines and Batavia airlines . Batavia is steadily growing a limited regional international route system and Merpati services routes to Kuala Lumpur and Dili in East Timor. It is worthy of note that Lion Air has engaged in a massive fleet upgrade program buying a large number of Boeing 737-900ER series and ATR72-500 series turbo props. The steady replacement of their previously rather clunky old fleet of very well used Boeing and MD aircraft is revitalising Indonesia’s 2nd largest carrier. Lion air currently operate 62 new 737-900ERs with 133 more 737-900ERs, 7 of the 737-800NG series and 201 Boeing 737 MAX 9 on order. Lion Air have announced plans to position themselves as a major regional airline when sufficient aircraft are delivered.
Ferries connect Indonesia with Singapore and Malaysia. Most connections are between ports in Sumatra (mostly in Riau and Riau Islands provinces) and those inPeninsular Malaysia and Singapore, although there is also a ferry service between Malaysia’s Sabah state with East Kalimantan on Borneo. Onward boat connections to Jakarta and other Indonesian islands are available from these ports. See the pages for each city for more details.
From Peninsular Malaysia
From Sabah, Malaysia
Visa-free/visa-on-arrival is available at all ports above except those tagged with *, which require a visa in advance, though there may be exceptions for visa-free visitors.By land
From Malaysia: The only formal way to enter by land from Malaysia is at the Entikong-Tebedu crossing between West Kalimantan and Sarawak, Malaysia on Borneo. The crossing in on the main route between Kuching, (Sarawak) and Pontianak, the capital of (West Kalimantan). As the crossing is listed only as a visa-free entry point, nationalities who do not qualify for this will have to apply for visas beforehand.
Note: It is not guaranteed that you will be able to enter Indonesia through these crossings and non-Indonesians are required to apply for visas at the nearest Indonesian Embassy or Consulate.
|Domestic airport tax
Airport tax (service charge) is paid in cash on check-in. Charges vary by airport, but Rp 25,000-40,000 for domestic flights is typical.
The only rapid means of long-distance travel within Indonesia is the plane. The largest domestic carriers are state-owned Garuda and private competitor Lion Air, but in recent years a host of low-cost competitors have sprung up, including Indonesia Air Asia, Batavia Air, Mandala, Garuda’s low-cost subsidiary Citilink and many more. Routes for less popular destinations and routes (particularly in eastern Indonesia) are served by Garuda’s little buddy Merpati, memorably summarized as “It’s Merpati and I’ll fly if I want to”, AirFast, Sriwijaya, Jatayu and more, often flying smaller planes. If you really get off the beaten track, eg. settlements in Papua, there are no scheduled services at all and you’ll need to charter a plane or hitch rides with missionaries.
Many carriers have poor on-time records and frequent cancellations, and the safety record of the smaller companies is dubious, with Adam Air, Lion Air and Mandala suffering fatal crashes in recent years. A majority of the aircraft are planes from the 1970s and 1980s, which have been flown by many previous operators and may be poorly maintained. A select a few carriers, such as Garuda, Lion Air, and Mandala among others, have recently bought brand new planes straight from an aircraft manufacturer which have replaced some of the older planes in their fleet. Still, compared to the carnage on Indonesia’s roads, a flight even on an aging turboprop is probably far safer — and far more comfortable — than travelling the same distance by bus. Garuda and Air Asia are run to international standards and are considered the safest options. Indonesia AirAsia, however, is not as cheap (except their regular promotional prices) on Indonesian domestic flights as their local competitors, and Garuda is usually quite expensive.
Prices are low by international standards, with more or less any domestic return flight available for under US$100 even on short notice, and fares for a fraction of that if you plan ahead. Many airlines, such as Merpati, Batavia, and Lionair, tend to decrease their price on the last week before flight, if the plane is not full enough – so you may try that and get cheaper fare, if you’re not on tight schedule and do not need to go during public holidays or weekends. The hardest part (but not as hard as it was just a couple of years ago) is often finding what carriers serve what route and making a booking online – while all major airlines, as of 2012, finally feature online booking service, sometimes (always for Merpati) they do not accept foreign credit cards. Plus, many flight search engines / aggregators do not know many (often all except Garuda and AirAsia) local airlines – to check if they do, try to search for e.g. Jakarta-Denpasar (the busiest route) flight and see how many of the airlines mentioned above will be found. When travelling off the beaten track, it’s imperative to reconfirm early and often, as frequencies are low and paid-up, occasionally even checked-in passengers are bumped off with depressing regularity if a VIP happens to show up. Make sure you arrive at the airport at least 2 hours before the departure time.
Of late there has been considerable improvement in the safety standards and recently Garuda Indonesia has been allowed to fly into Europe. Lion Air has reportedly inducted 178 new 737 900 ER planes which now service not only domestic but also international routes. Garuda has also changed its livery and added new aircrafts. Adam Air and few other companies have been closed and their licences withdrawn. With entry of low cost carriers like Indonesia Air Asia the cost of travel has further reduced.
Indonesia is all islands and consequently ferries have long been the most popular means of inter-island travel. The largest company is PELNI , whose giant ferries visit practically every inhabited island in Indonesia on lengthy journeys that can take two weeks from beginning to end. PELNI uses European-built boats, which are large enough to deal with rough seas, but they can still be uncomfortably overcrowded during peak seasons: ferries built for 3,000 have been known to board 7,000. This means that there are often not enough lifeboats in the event of a sinking and could pose a potential safety hazard.
Cabin accommodation classes, all including meals and private lockers, are:
Ekonomi class (around US$10/day), which is a noisy, smoky, cramped free-for-all scrum; buy a rattan mat and get in early to stake out your spot — it’s common for people to start rushing in as soon as the ferry arrives. Pickpocketing and theft are a real concern though.
In addition to PELNI’s slow boats, ASDP runs fast ferries (Kapal Ferry Cepat, rather amusingly abbreviated KFC) on a number of popular routes. Both PELNI and ASDP tickets can be booked via travel agents.
Last but not least, there are also countless services running short island-to-island hops, including Merak-Bakauheni (hourly) from Java to Sumatra, Ketapang-Gilimanuk (every 15 min) between Java and Bali and Padangbai-Lembar (near-hourly) between Bali and Lombok.
In general, schedules are notional, creature comforts sparse and safety records poor. Try to check out what, if any, safety devices are on board and consider postponing your trip if the weather looks bad. As maintenance is poor and overloading is common, sinkings are all too common on ferries run by smaller companies, so try to stick to the larger ones if possible. Food on ferries varies from bad to inedible, and journey times can stretch well beyond the schedule, so bring along enough to tide you over even if the engine stalls and you end up drifting for an extra day.
You may get hassled by people onboard trying to extract extra money under some dubious excuse. Feel free to ignore them, although on the upside, it may be possible to bribe your way to a better class of accommodation.
Scheduled travel is the ‘latest/newest’ moda of Indonesian transportation, but recently is rapidly growing inline with the new toll roads and better highways. The travel use various AC minibus with passengers from 6 to 14 persons on reclining seats and run based on ‘point to point’ routes. It means every operators have their many own shelters (points) at every departures and destinations cities. So, we may choose so many alternatives routes and may stop before destination point. From/to airport they sometimes use also small/big luxury buses (DAMRI, Primajasa and others) and is suitable for who get a lot/moderate of belonging.
The most developing route is Jakarta to Bandung with ticket prices varying from Rp.54,000 to Rp.110,000 (USD 5.5 to 11.3) depending on convenience, leg space/room and luxuriousness. Every major city in Indonesia has travel agencies including Bali.-Bali shuttle-bus operator other than Perama?
The scheduled travel ticket is more expensive than the Regular AC Executive Bus, but the scheduled travel is faster and we may choose the points (routes). For going not more than 200-300 kilometers inland please consider it compared to using trains, regular buses or airplanes. Your belonging in the scheduled travels are more safe than using trains or regular buses, but expect to pay additional fees for surfboards and big packages on the minibus. Please contact the travel agency in advance and make a booking without any payment. Usually they are waiting to book passengers until the scheduled departure time and then they give the seats to wait listed passengers, if necessary.
PT Kereta Api runs trains across most of Java and some parts of Sumatra. The network was originally built by the Dutch, and few new lines have been built since the Independence. Double-tracking of the most congested lines have been done, though, and is still ongoing. Maintenance is spotty and derailments and crashes occur occasionally.
Java by far has the best railway network, with trains connecting the capital city of Jakarta with other main cities, i.e. Surabaya both via Semarang on the north coast and via Yogyakarta and Solo through the southern main line. Bandung is connected to Jakarta by some 30 trains per day, and is itself connected to Surabaya through Yogyakarta. Bali has no railway lines, but there are trains from Surabaya to Banyuwangi, connecting with ferries to the island.
Type of service: 1. Air-conditioned Eksekutif class 2. Bisnis 3. Ekonomi classes are also available for the more budget-conscious traveler, but comfort and safety are noticeably less (due to congestion and length of travel time).
No sleeping car service is provided in Indonesia, and the best accommodation provided is air-conditioned, adjustable reclining seats in the Argo and other eksekutif class trains.
Ticket reservations can be made three months in advance, although a few generally tickets will still be available almost to the last minute. An exception is the very busy Lebaran season, in which time it is not advisable to travel due to the extremely high demand for tickets. On-line ticket reservation is available at http://tiket.kereta-api.co.id/ and the ticket fares is depends on time departure (different even in one day) and peak season or not, so seems as airplane fare ticket, but you can choose your own train seat.
Generally, trains in Java travel through scenic areas, and travellers not in a hurry should consider the length of the journey and the scenery as a bonus to his travels. One of best scenery is from Bandung to Jakarta. However, in some area theft is common, particularly on overnight journeys about 02.00a.m., so don’t open your window, because they (at least 2 persons) can take your belonging from the roof.
The major types of buses are air-conditioned bus (AC) which divides to Executive or not and non-air-conditioned bus (non-AC or “economy class”). The air-conditioned chartered buses can be rented with its drivers for a tourist group. Indonesian bus companies offer intercity and interprovince routes. The interprovince routes usually include transportation to other islands mainly between Java and Sumatra.
Bus maintenance for Executive buses is good, and drivers drive carefully, because they will pay in commission basis and should bear the cost of repair if the bus struck something. Long, overnight journeys are convinience, because we can sleep and arrive in the morning. Use Executive bus is safe and secure because the assistant driver ia always count the passengers and bus cannot pick someone in their trip. No more bus bandits in Indonesia.
Indonesian driving habits are generally atrocious. Lanes and traffic lights are happily ignored, passing habits are suicidal and driving on the road shoulder is common.
Renting a car in Indonesia is cheap compared to renting in many other countries, and fuel costs remain relatively low, despite recent fuel price increases: the fixed price for gasoline (benzine) or diesel (solar) is Rp 4,500/litre. To drive a car yourself, an International Driver Permit is required in addition to your home country issued drivers licence. Consider renting a car with a driver, the additional cost is quite low and having a traffic accident whilst driving in Indonesia will certainly spoil your trip.
Road conditions and road maintenance in Indonesia is poor, especially so outside the major cities. During rainy season, major roads in Sumatra, Kalimantan and Sulawesi are often flooded for several weeks.
Traffic is required to move on the left in Indonesia.
Becak (“BEH-chuck”) is a tricycle (pedicab) transportation mode for short distances such as residential areas in many cities. In some areas, the driver is sitting at the back of the passenger, but in some areas (like Medan) the driver is sitting on the side of the passenger. Good communication skills is integral to prevent getting overcharged on these rides. Often, sly drivers try to get some more money out of you after you’ve reached your destination, so be sure that you know how much it costs beforehand.
Note that there are no becak in Jakarta or Bali and in the other cities Becak is allowed only in limited area or street. Instead, the motorized bajaj (BAH-jai), somewhat similar to the Thai tuk-tuk, serves the same function. In some other provinces (eg. North Sumatra, Aceh) you can also find motorbikes with sidecars, known as bentor or bemo (short forbecak bermotor).
Becak is not cheap, but if you want to you can get Becak in Malioboro, Yogyakarta for a city tour package.
If you’re in such a hurry that you’re willing to lose a limb to get there, then ojek motorcycle taxis might be the ticket for you. Ojek services consist of guys with bikes lounging around street corners, perhaps identified with a colored, numbered jacket, who usually shuttle short distances down alleys and roads but will also do longer trips for a price. Haggle furiously. In some remote area with bad and narrow road/path, we can use Ojek only.
The sole official language is Indonesian, known in that language as Bahasa Indonesia. The Indonesian language has adopted a number of loan words from Arabic, Dutch, and Sanskrit. It is similar to Malay (spoken in Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore), and speakers of both languages can generally understand each other.
The main differences are in the loan words: Malay was more influenced by the English language, while Indonesian was more influenced by the Dutch language.
Written phonetically with the Latin alphabet and with a fairly logical grammar, Indonesian is generally regarded as one of the easiest languages to learn, and A.M. Almatsier’s The Easy Way to Master the Indonesian Language, a 200 page small paperback, is an excellent starting point. It can be found in any Indonesian bookstore for less than US$3.
Since 1992 the surf and language guidebook “Indo Surf and Lingo” has taught thousands of travelling surfers the basics of the language.
The language went through a series of spelling reforms in the 1950s and the 1960s to reduce differences with Bahasa Malaysia and hide its Dutch roots. Although the reforms are long complete, you may still see old signs with dj for j, j for y, or oe for u.
Unlike in neighbouring Malaysia or the Philippines, English is generally not widely spoken. That being said, hotel and airline staff generally speak an acceptable level of English, and English is widely spoken on the touristy island of Bali. In addition, most of the well-educated upper class will be reasonably competent in English.
While Indonesian is the lingua franca throughout the archipelago, there are thousands of local languages as well, and if you really get off the beaten track, you may have to learn them as well. Some ethnic Chinese communities continue to speak various Chinese dialects, most notably Hokkien in Medan and Teochew in Pontianak.
Most educated seniors (70 years/older) in Indonesia understand Dutch, but realistically speaking English is far more useful these days. Though Arabic is not widely spoken, many educated Muslims, especially those who graduated from Islamic religious institutes, understand Arabic to varying degrees.
English language TV channels are available on most hotels. MetroTV (local TV channel) broadcasts news in Chinese from Monday to Friday at 7AM. MetroTV also broadcasts news in English from Monday to Friday at 7:30AM. TVRI (state owned TV station) broadcasts news in English from Monday to Friday at 4:30PM in the afternoon. All schedules are in Waktu Indonesia Barat (WIB), which is 7 hr ahead of Greenwich Mean Time and includes the capital city of Jakarta.
Indonesia is home to no less than 167 active volcanoes, far more than any other country. Some of the more accessible for visitors are in the Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park and the Ijen Crater in East Java, Mount Rinjani in Lombok and perhaps easiest of all, Mount Batur in Bali.
Hardly surprisingly in the world’s largest archipelago, beaches are significant attractions. Aside from the obvious like Bali, there are wonderful beaches in off-the-beaten-track locations in Maluku, Nusa Tenggara and Sulawesi. In a nation of 18,000+ islands, the options are almost endless.
Indonesia has some of the largest remaining tracts of tropical forest anywhere in the world, and these support an incredibly diverse wildlife from Orangutans and other primates to critically endangered Javan Rhinoceros and Tigers, and an extraordinarily wide range of bird species. Forest areas recognised as UNESCO World Heritage Sites are Ujung Kulon National Park in West Java, and three huge parks in Sumatra, which together comprise the Tropical Rain Forest Heritage of Sumatra: Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park, Gunung Leuser National Park and Kerinci Seblat National Park.
Further east, Komodo Island is the home of the remarkable Komodo Dragon and a very diverse marine life. Close the very eastern limit of Indonesia, the remote Lorentz National Park in Papua has a permanent glacier, and is the single largest national park anywhere in Southeast Asia.
Borobudur in Central Java is the world’s largest Buddhist monument, dating from the 8th century, and nearbyPrambanan is a remarkable Hindu monument dating from just a few years later. Those two, together with the charm of Yogyakarta, make for a popular cultural combination in Central Java.
Also in Central Java, the Dieng Plateau is home to the oldest extant temples in Indonesia, predating Borobudur by some 100 years, and just north of Solo, the early man archaeological excavation at Sangiran is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In such a vast archipelago it is hardly surprising that there are some very distinct and unique cultures, often contained in relatively small areas. Bali has a unique Hindu culture, descended from the great Javanese Majapahit Kingdom in the 13th and 14th centuries. The whole island is adorned by beautifully kept temples (pura), and there is a seemingly endless procession of colourful ceremonies. Some of the better known are the mother temple at Besakih, Pura Ulun Danau Bratan, and Pura Uluwatu.
Further east, Sumba is home to one of the few remaining megalithic cultures anywhere on earth. In Sulawesi, the Tana Toraja region is famous for spectacular animist burial rites. Visiting the vast hinterland of Papua in the far east of the country requires considerable planning, an awful lot of money, and a tolerance for extremely challenging conditions. However, for those who want a true wilderness experience and the opportunity to witness first-hand cultures that have had very little contact with the outside world, it is hard to think of a better option anywhere on earth.
Indonesia has some of the best scuba diving in the world, and this is a major draw for tourists with places like Bunaken in Northern Sulawesi, Wakatobi in South East Sulawesi and Raja Ampat in Papua known worldwide. Diving off Bali is often overlooked although it is superb with daily trips to the mantas of Nusa Penida. Travel guides have been raving about the Gili Islandsalthough dynamite fishing has damaged the once beautiful reefs. Bali and the Gili Islands are Indonesia‘s most important teaching centres.
Visiting a spa is a very popular activity for all types of visitors. These vary from simply constructed huts to lavish so-called “wellness centres” in the grandest of five star hotels. There is usually an option to suit just about every budget.
If massage is your thing, there are few places anywhere which offer such high quality for such low prices. Again this could be at a five star hotel or it could be under coconut tree on a quiet beach.
Indonesia is a premier destination for travelling surfers.
The Mentawai Islands off the west coast of Sumatra feature dozens of world class surf spots. Chartering a private boat for up to two weeks is the most popular way to access the island chain, however there is a public ferry from Padang. Just to the north Nias is equally popular amongst hard-core surfers.
All Indonesia’s surf beaches are described in the beautifully photographed “Indo Surf and Lingo” surfing guidebook together with comprehensive listings of the best surf camps and surf charter yachts.
Indonesia’s currency is the Rupiah (IDR), abbreviated Rp. The Rupiah’s value plummeted during the 1997 economic crisis, but has strengthened again significantly in recent years. The trailing three zeros are often abbreviated with rb (ribu, thousand) or even dropped completely, and for more expensive items you will often even see jt(juta, million).
The largest banknote is the red Rp 100,000, which may only be US$10 but is still inconveniently large for most purchases. Next in the series are Rp 50,000 (blue), Rp 20,000 (green), Rp 10,000 (purple), Rp 5,000 (brown), Rp 2,000 (gray) and finally Rp 1,000. The Rp 1,000 note is discontinued and currently being replaced with a coin. While the new, colorful large-denomination bills are easy to tell apart, the smaller bills and pre-2004 large notes are all confusingly similar pale pastel shades of yellow, green and brown and often filthy and mangled to boot. A chronic shortage of small change — it’s not unusual to get a few pieces of candy back instead of coins — has been to some extent alleviated by a new flood of new coins, available in denominations of Rp 1,000, Rp 500. The Rp 200, Rp 100, Rp 50 and the thoroughly useless Rp 25 are being withdrawn during 2012. Older golden metallic versions are also still floating around. Bills printed in 1992 or earlier are no longer in circulation, but can be exchanged at banks. Currently the smaller coins are being withdrawn from circulation.
US dollars will be accepted by many in a pinch, but are typically used as an investment and for (very) large purchases, not buying a bowl of noodles on the street. Unlike some other South East Asian countries, you will do the vast majority of your spending in local currency and hence should carry a good supply of Rupiah, as most people will not know current exchange rates and worry about stringent rules banks and money changers impose on the condition of notes (see below). Many hotels quote rates in dollars, but all accept payment in Rupiah and many who quote in USD then seek to convert the billing into Rupiah for payment. Many will likely use a somewhat disadvantageous rate to do this. If you pay any bill in Indonesia with a credit card it will be charged to your account in Rupiah, regardless of the currency you were quoted. Aside from the US dollar, other major international currencies are also widely accepted for a cash settlement, especially in more touristy areas.
Banks and money exchangers are widely available on Java, Bali and Lombok, but can be a major headache anywhere else, so load up with Rupiah before heading off to any outer islands. Money exchangers are very picky about bill condition, and pre-2006 dollars or any imperfect bills or (ripped, wrinkled, stained, or marked in any way) will normally be rejected. Banks will most likely reject any pre-2006 US currency. Counterfeit US dollars are a huge problem in the country and as a result the older your dollars are, the lower the exchange rate. You will get the highest exchange rate for dollars issued in 2006 or later and the exchange rate drops for dollars for currency outside a very narrow range of perceived acceptability. There are even different exchange rates according to the serial number for dollars from 1996. Banks and money exchangers on outer islands are sparse and will charge commissions of 10-20% if you can find them.
In the reverse direction, money changers will be happy to turn your dirty Rupiah into spiffy dollars, but the spread is often considerable (10% is not unusual). Be very careful dealing with moneychangers, who are very adept at distracting your attention during the counting process and short-changing you as a result. As a precaution, consider bringing a friend along to watch over the transaction very carefully. Be aware of moneychangers who offer great rates. They will quote you one price, and start counting stacks of Rp.20,000 notes, and ask you to count along with them. This is a ploy to confuse and shortchange you. If they realise you are onto them, they will tell you that they have to subtract 6-8% for “commission” or “taxes”. Reputable money changers will have rate boards advertising a rate slightly below the current market rate (or need to look up the current rate first) and not charge any commission. This isn’t a guarantee you won’t get short changed though. Always count your money carefully and don’t change too much at once to avoid confusion over the large number of zeros and minimize the extent to which you can be ripped off.
ATMs (pron. ah-teh-em) on the international Plus/Cirrus networks are common in all major Indonesian cities and tourist destinations, but may be harder to come by in the backblocks. Beware of withdrawal limits as low as Rp.500,000 (~US$55) per day in some machines. As a rule of thumb, machines loaded with Rp 50,000 denomination notes (there’s a sticker on ATM often) do not dispense more than Rp 1,500,000 per transaction even in Jakarta. Those with Rp 100,000 notes can give more, up to Rp 3,000,000 (often CIMB, BII, some BRI machines, Commonwealth bank on Bali) at once. Note, however, that these notes can be harder to break, especially in rural non-tourist areas. Bank branches are generally happy to break large notes taken from their ATMs up into smaller ones at no charge.
Be careful when using credit cards, as cloning and fraud are a major problem in Indonesia. Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted, but American Express can be problematic. At smaller operations, surcharges of 2-5% over cash are common.
Living in Indonesia is cheap, as long as you’re willing to live like an Indonesian. For example, Rp 10,000 (about $1.15) will get you a meal on the street or a packet of cigarettes or three kilometers in a taxi or three bottles of water. But as a tourist it is often necessary to haggle and negotiate a minimum of 50%-70% off an initial asking price, otherwise you will spend your money quickly.
Fancy restaurants, hotels and the like will charge 10% government sales tax plus a variable service charge. This may be denoted with “++” after the price or just written in tiny print on the bottom of the menu.
While most commercial places close on Sunday in the West, it does not apply in Indonesia, being a mainly Muslim country. Most of them even have the largest visitors in Sunday (and national holidays) and shopping malls often become VERY crowded on Sunday. So if you plan to go to Indonesian malls and shopping centres, weekdays (Monday to Friday) is the best time to visit.
Saturdays and Sundays (as well as national holidays) are favorite days for Indonesians to go shopping and sightseeing, and as a result, most commercial points open 7 days a week. The notably exceptions are Idul-Fitri (Lebaran, end of Ramadan celebration), which most commercials close or open late up to two or three days afterwards (though most likely less applied in non-Muslim majority areas like North Sulawesi and Bali), and Indonesian independence day, the 17th of August. To the lesser extent, the same goes with Christmas, particularly in Christian-majority population areas (North Sulawesi and parts of North Sumatera) and in Chinese-run majority commercials (like Glodok or Mangga Dua in Jakarta), as a large number of Indonesian Chinese living in major cities are Christian.
Shopping malls and commercials open at around 10 am, and street shops (and traditional markets) open as early as 6 am, and close at around 8 to 9 pm. Twenty-four hours stores (not malls) is not uncommon in major cities.
With 17,000 islands to choose from, Indonesian food is an umbrella term covering a vast variety of regional cuisines found across the nation, but if used without further qualifiers the term tends to mean the food originally from the central and eastern parts of the main island Java. Now widely available throughout the archipelago, Javanese cuisine consists of an array of simply seasoned dishes, the predominant flavorings the Javanese favor being peanuts, chillies and sugar.
All too often, many backpackers seem to fall into a rut of eating nothing but nasi goreng (fried rice), and perhaps other commonly available Javanese dishes, but there are much more interesting options lurking about if you’re adventurous and take the trouble to seek them out. In West Java, Sundanese many fresh vegetables and herbs are commonly eaten raw. Padang in Sumatra is famous for the spicy and richly-seasoned cuisine of the Minangkabau people, which shares some similarities to cooking in parts of neighbouring Malaysia, and eateries specialising in the buffet-style nasi padang are now ubiquitous across the nation. Both theChristian Batak peoples and the Hindu Balinese are great fans of pork, while the Minahasa of North Sulawesi are well known for eating almost everything, in particular dog and fruit bat, and a very liberal usage of fiery chillies even by Indonesian standards. Tamed Muslim-friendly versions of all three can be found in the malls and food courts of many Indonesian cities, but it’s worth it to seek out the real thing especially if you happen to be in these regions. And by the time you get to Papua in the extreme east of the country, you’re looking at a Melanesian diet of taro and sago.
Due to the majority of Indonesians being Muslim, most of its dishes are considered as Halal (not containing any pork substances), though a few exceptions do exist, such as Balinese babi guling(roast pig).
Sundanese nasi timbel (rice in banana leaf) with ayam penyet(“smashed” fried chicken), sambalchili sauce and lalapan fresh veggies
Across the entire archipelago the main staple is rice (nasi), served up in many forms including:
Noodles (mi or mie) come in a good second in the popularity contest. Worth a special mention is Indomie, no less than the world’s largest instant noodle manufacturer. A pack at the supermarket costs under Rp 1000 and some stalls will boil or fry them up for you for as little as 2000 Rp.
Soups (soto) and watery curries are also common:
Popular main dishes include:
Chillies (cabe or lombok) are made into a vast variety of sauces and dips known as sambal. The simplest and perhaps most common is sambal ulek, which is just chillies and salt with perhaps a dash of lime pounded together. There are many other kinds ofsambal like sambal pecel (with peanut), sambal terasi (with shrimp paste), sambal tumpeng, etc. Many of these can be very spicy indeed, so be careful if you’re asked whether you would like your dish pedas (spicy)!
Crackers known as kerupuk (or keropok, it’s the same word spelled differently) accompany almost every meal and are a traditional snack too. They can be made from almost any grain, fruit, vegetable or seed imaginable, including many never seen outside Indonesia, but perhaps the most common are the light pink keropok udang, made with dried shrimp, and the slightly bitter light yellowemping, made from the nuts of the melinjo fruit.
Dessert in the Western sense is not common in Indonesia, but there are plenty of snacks to tickle your sweet tooth. Kue covers a vast array of traditional cakes and pastries, all colorful, sweet, and usually a little bland, with coconut, rice flour and sugar being the main ingredients. Es teler, ice mixed with fruits and topped with coconut cream or condensed milk, comes in infinite variations and is a popular choice on a hot day.
Perhaps the cheapest, tastiest and healthiest option, though, is to buy some fresh fruit, which is available throughout the year, although individual fruits do have seasons. Popular options include mango (mangga), papaya (papaya), banana (pisang), starfruit (belimbing) and guava (jambu), but more exotic options you’re unlikely to see outside Indonesia include the scaly-skinned crisp snakefruit (salak) and the alien-looking local passionfruit (markisa). Probably the most infamous Indonesian fruit, though, is thedurian. Named after the Indonesian word for thorn, it resembles an armor-plated coconut the size of a human head, and it has a powerful odor often likened to rotting garbage. Inside is yellow creamy flesh, which has a unique sweet, custardy, avocadoey taste and texture. It’s prohibited in most hotels and taxis.
The vast majority of Indonesian restaurants serve only halal food and are thus safe for Muslim travellers. This includes Western chains like McDonald’s, KFC and Pizza Hut. The main exception is ethnic eateries catering to Indonesia’s non-Muslim minorities, especially those serving Batak, Manadonese (Minahasan), Balinese, and Chinese cuisine, so enquire if unsure. That being said, the different religions are not uniformly distributed throughout Indonesia, so while it is a somewhat safe assumption that any food you get off the street in Jakarta or Palembang will be halal, this may not be so in areas dominated by other religions such as Bali or Jayapura.
Strict vegetarians will have a tough time in Indonesia, as the concept is poorly understood and avoiding fish and shrimp-based condiments is a challenge. Tofu (tahu) and its chunkier, indigenous cousin tempeh are an essential part of the diet, but they are often served with non-vegetarian condiments. For example, the ubiquitous sambal chili pastes very often contain shrimp, and kerupukcrackers with a spongy appearance, including those always served with nasi goreng, nearly always contain shrimp or fish. (Those that resemble potato chips, on the other hand, are usually fine.)
In Indonesia eating with your hand (instead of utensils like forks and spoons) is very common. The basic idea is to use four fingers to pack a little ball of rice, which can then be dipped into sauces before you pop it in your mouth by pushing it with your thumb. There’s one basic rule of etiquette to observe: Use only your right hand, as the left hand is used to clean yourself in the toilet. Don’t stick either hand into communal serving dishes: instead, use the left hand to serve yourself with utensils and then dig in. Needless to say, it’s wise to wash your hands well before and after eating.
Eating by hand is frowned on in some “classier” places. If you are provided with cutlery and nobody else around you seems to be doing it, then take the hint.
Eating on the cheap in Indonesia is cheap indeed, and a complete streetside meal can be had for under US$1 (Rp 10,000). However, the level of hygiene may not be up to Western standards, so you may wish to steer clear for the first few days and patronize only visibly popular establishments.
The fastest way to grab a bite is to visit a kaki lima, literally “five feet”. Depending on whom you ask, they’re named either after the mobile stalls’ three wheels plus the owner’s two feet, or the “five-foot way” sidewalks mandated during British rule. These can be found by the side of the road in any Indonesian city, town or village, usually offering up simple fare like fried rice, noodles and porridge. At night a kaki lima can turn into a lesehan simply by providing some bamboo mats for customers to sit on and chat.
A step up from the kaki lima is the warung (or the old spelling waroeng), a slightly less mobile stall offering much the same food, but perhaps a few plastic stools and a tarp for shelter.
Rather more comfortable is the rumah makan or eating house, a simple restaurant more often than not specialising in a type of food or style of cuisine. Nasi Padang restaurants, offering rice and an array of curries and other toppings to go along with it, are particularly popular and easily identified by their soaring Minangkabau roofs. Ordering at these is particularly easy: just sit down, and your table will promptly fill up with countless small plates of dishes. Eat what you like and pay for what you consumed.
Another easy mid-range option in larger cities is to look out for food courts and Indonesian restaurants in shopping malls, which combine air-con with hygienic if rather predictable food. In addition to the usual Western suspects, major local chains includeEsTeler 77, best known for its iced fruit desserts (es teler) but also selling bakso (meatball), nasi goreng (fried rice) and other Indonesian staples, and Hoka Hoka Bento, for localized Japanese fare. Bakmi Gajah Mada (GM) is a famous Chinese noodle restaurant chain.
A restoran indicates more of a Western-style eating experience, with air-con, table cloths, table service and prices to match. Especially in Jakarta and Bali, it’s possible to find very good restaurants offering authentic fare from around the world, but you’ll be lucky to escape for under Rp 100,000 a head.
Tap water is generally not potable in Indonesia. Water or ice served to you in restaurants may have been purified and/or boiled (air minum or air putih), but do ask. Bottled water, usually known as Aqua after the best-known brand, is cheap and available everywhere, but check that the seal is intact.
Most hotels provide free drinking water because tap water is rarely potable. Do not use tap water for brushing your teeth. Also beware of ice which may not have been prepared with potable water or kept in hygienic conditions.
Quite a few Indonesians believe that cold drinks are unhealthy, so specify dingin when ordering if you prefer your water, bottled tea or beer cold, rather than at room temperature.
Fruit juices — jus for plain juice or es if served with ice — are popular with Indonesians and visitors alike, although the hygiene of the water used to make them can be dubious. In addition to the usual suspects, try jus alpokat, a surprisingly tasty drink made from avocadoes, often with some chocolate syrup poured in!
Indonesians drink both coffee (kopi) and tea (teh), at least as long as they have had vast quantities of sugar added in. An authentic cup of Java, known as kopi tubruk, is strong and sweet, but let the grounds settle to the bottom of the cup before you drink it. Last and least, no travel guide would be complete without mentioning the infamous kopi luwak, coffee made from beans which have been eaten, partially digested and excreted by the palm civet (luwak), but even in Indonesia this is an exotic delicacy costing upwards of Rp.200,000 (US$20) for a small pot of brew.
Tea (teh) is also quite popular, and the Coke-like glass bottles of the Tehbotol brand of sweet bottled jasmine tea are ubiquitous.
The label jamu covers a vast range of local medicinal drinks for various diseases. Jamu are available in ready-to-drink form as well as in powder satchets or capsules. Most of them are bitter and drunk for the supposed effect, not the taste. Famous brands of jamu include Iboe, Sido Muncul, Jago, and Meneer; avoid buying jamu from the street as the water quality is dubious. Some well-known jamu include:
Islam is the religion of the majority of Indonesians, but alcohol is widely available in most areas, especially in upscale restaurants and bars. Public displays of drunkenness, however, are strongly frowned upon and in the larger cities are likely to make you a victim of crime or get you arrested by police. Do not drive if you are drunk. The legal drinking age is 21.
In staunchly Islamic areas such as Aceh alcohol is banned and those caught with alcohol can be caned.
Indonesia’s most popular tipple is Bintang beer (bir), a standard-issue lager available more or less everywhere, although the locals like theirs lukewarm. Other popular beers include Bali Hai and Anker. A can costs Rp.10,000-14,000 in a supermarket (sometimes, especially in 7 elevens, there are tables both inside or outside, so you can sit and drink/eat what you’ve bought) and can be as much as Rp.50,000 in a fancy bar; more usual bar/restaurant price for Bintang is Rp.25,000-35,000 for a big 0.65 l bottle, however.
Wine is expensive and only available in expensive restaurants and bars in large hotels. Almost all of it is imported, but there are a few local vintners of varying quality onBali.
Various traditional alcoholic drinks are also available:
Exercise some caution in choosing what and where to buy — homemade moonshine may contain all sorts of nasty impurities. In May 2009, 23 people, including four tourists, were killed by dodgy arak in Bali and Lombok.
Many Indonesians smoke like chimneys and the concepts of “no smoking” and “second-hand smoke” have yet to make much headway in most of the country. Western-style cigarettes are known as rokok putih (“white smokes”) but the cigarette of choice with a 92% market share is the ubiquitous kretek, a clove-laced cigarette that has become something of a national symbol and whose scent you will likely first encounter the moment you step out of the plane into the airport. Popular brands of kretekinclude Djarum, Gudang Garam, Bentoel and Sampoerna (Dji Sam Soe, 234). A pack of decent kretek will cost you on the order of Rp 9000. Note that the cheapest brands don’t have filters!
Kretek are lower in nicotine but higher in tar than normal cigarettes; an unfiltered Dji Sam Soe has 39 mg tar and 2.3 mg nicotine. Most studies indicate that the overall health effects are roughly the same as for traditional western-style cigarettes.
Recently a ban on smoking has been instituted for public places in Jakarta. Anyone violating this ban can be fined up to US$ 5000. If you want to smoke check with the locals by asking: “Boleh merokok?”.
The Darmasiswa Program is a scholarship program funded by the government of Indonesia and open to all foreign students from countries with which Indonesia has friendly relations to study Indonesian languages, arts, music and crafts. Participants can choose to study at any of the state universities and colleges participating in the program. Some foreign students from Australia, Japan, Korea, Thailand, Poland, and Nigeria study Indonesian Language and culture at Universitas Gajah Mada (UGM) in Jogyakarta.
You can find many schools offering curriculum in foreign languages (mostly are, of course, English), one of the most notable of which is Sekolah Pelita Harapan in Jakarta. Some foreign government sponsored schools can also be found in Jakarta, teaching either in English or in their foreign native language. For university education in English, one can consider studying at Swiss-German University, Universitas Pelita Harapan, or President University, all of which are located in Jakarta.
In Indonesia, salaries vary from US$70-1500/month for the local people. The sales clerks that you see at luxurious shopping malls like Plaza Indonesia earns between US$110-140. This is very small even for the Indonesians. Some adults above 20 stay with their parents to save money. Nevertheless, the main reason they stay with parents is it is considered impolite to leave parents on their own.
Expats usually earn higher salaries. An English teacher could make between Rp 7,500,000-8,000,000 (US$800-850) and that is considered high by the local standard.
Indonesia has been and continues to be wracked by every pestilence known to man: earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, terrorism, civil strife, plane crashes, corruption and crime make the headlines on a depressingly regular basis. However, it is important to retain a sense of proportion and remember Indonesia’s vast size: a tsunami in Aceh will not cause the slightest ripple on the beaches ofBali, and street battles in troubled Central Sulawesi are irrelevant in the jungles of Papua.
The crime rate has increased in recent years, but fortunately it remains mostly non-violent and guns are rare. Robbery, theft andpickpocketing are common in Indonesia, particularly in markets, public transport and pedestrian overpasses. Avoid flashing jewelry, gold watches, MP3 players or large cameras. Thieves have been known to snatch laptops, PDAs and cellphones from Internet hotspot areas.
Crime is rampant on local and long-distance public transport (bus, train, ships). Do not accept drinks from strangers, as they may be laced with drugs. Choose your taxis carefully in cities (hotel taxis are often best), lock doors when inside and avoid using cellular phones, MP3 players, PDAs or laptops at traffic lights or in traffic jams.
Do not place valuable items in checked baggage, as they may be stolen by baggage handlers. Do not leave valuable items in an empty hotel room, and use the hotel’s safe deposit box instead of the in-room safe.
Do not draw large amounts of cash from banks or ATMs. Guard your belongings carefully and consider carrying a money clip instead of a wallet.
Indonesia is one of the world’s most corrupt countries. Officials may ask for bribes, tips or “gifts” — the Indonesian terms are uang kopi or uang rokok, literally “coffee money” and “cigarette money” — to supplement their meager salaries; pretending you do not understand may work. Generally, being polite, smiling, asking for an official receipt for any ‘fees’ you are asked to pay, more politeness, more smiling, will avoid any problems.
The going rate for paying your way out of small offenses (not carrying your passport, losing the departure card, minor or imaginary traffic violation) is Rp 50,000. It’s common for police to initially demand silly amounts or threaten you with going to the station, but keep cool and they’ll be more reasonable. Also note that if your taxi/bus/car driver is stopped, any fine or bribe is not your problem and it’s best not to get involved. (If it’s clear that the police were out of line, your driver certainly won’t object if you compensate him afterwards though.)
|WARNING Indonesia treats drug offences severely. The death penalty is mandatory for those convicted of trafficking, manufacturing, importing or exporting more than 15 g of heroin, 30 g of morphine, 30 g of cocaine, 500 g of cannabis, 200 g of cannabis resin and 1.2 kg of opium, and possession of these quantities is all that is needed for you to be convicted. For unauthorised consumption of the above-mentioned drugs plus MDMA (ecstasy) and crystal methamphetamine, there is a maximum of 10 years’ jail or very heavy fine, or both. You can be charged for unauthorised consumption as long as traces of illicit drugs are found in your system, even if you can prove that they were consumed outside the country, and you can be charged for trafficking as long as drugs are found in bags that are in your possession or in your room, even if they aren’t yours and regardless of whether you’re aware of them.|
Visitors are greeted with cheery “DEATH TO DRUG TRAFFICKERS” signs at airports and recent cases have seen long jail terms for simple possession and nine Australian heroin traffickers (known as the “Bali 9″) are on death row in Bali awaiting execution. Other foreigners have already been executed for drug trafficking— but drugs are still widely available.
The most common is marijuana (known as gele or cimeng), which is not only sold to tourists but is used as food in some parts of the country, notably Aceh.
Hard drugs are common in the nightlife scene, especially in Jakarta and Bali, but also elsewhere. Ecstasy, cocaine and crystal methamphetimine are widely available and dealt with equally harshly by the Indonesian police.
It’s highly advisable to steer well clear, as entrapment and drug busts are common and you really, really don’t want to get involved with the Indonesian justice system; thanks to the anti-corruption drive, you cannot count on being able to bribe your way out anymore and escape a harsh or even far worse sentence.
Indonesia is a chain of highly volcanic islands sprinkled along the Ring of Fire, so earthquakes occur constantly and tsunamis and volcano eruptions are all too common. Realistically, there is little you can do to avoid these risks, but familiarize yourself with the warning signs and pay special heed to fire escape routes in hotels.
Crocodiles and poisonous snakes are present throughout most of Indonesia, although they are uncommon in most areas. Komodo dragons can be very dangerous if harassed, but are only found on Komodo Island and a few neighboring islands in Flores.
Attitudes toward homosexuality vary vastly. Cosmopolitan Jakarta and Bali boast gay nightclubs and bencong (transvestites and transsexuals) seem to have a special place in Indonesian culture. In staunchly Islamic areas such as Aceh homosexuals can be caned. As a general rule however, gay visitors should err on the side of discretion; while violence against homosexuals is a blessed rarity, you may still be met with nasty comments and unwanted attention.
|Break like the wind
Most Indonesians have not yet quite accepted the germ theory of disease: instead, any flu-like diseases are covered under the concept of masuk angin, lit. “enter wind”. Preventive measures include avoiding cold drinks and making sure bus windows are tightly rolled up during a 48-hour bus ride (evidently kreteksmoke does not cause masuk angin), while accepted cures include the practice of kerokan (rubbing an oiled coin over your skin) or the less socially acceptable kentut, in other words fart!
The bad news is that every disease known to man can be found somewhere in Indonesia — the good news is that you’re probably not going to go there. Malaria prophylaxis is not necessary forJava or Bali, but is wise if travelling for extended periods in remote areas of Sumatra, Borneo,Lombok or points east. Dengue fever can be contracted anywhere and using insect repellents (DEET) and mosquito nets is highly advisable. Hepatitis is also common and getting vaccinated before arriving in Indonesia is wise.
Food hygiene is often questionable and getting vaccinated for hepatitis A and possibly typhoid fever is a wise precaution. See a doctor if what seems like travellers’ diarrhea does not clear up within a few days.
The air quality in major cities, especially Jakarta and Surabaya, is poor, and the seasonal haze (June-October) from forest fires on Borneo and Sumatra can also cause respiratory problems. If you have asthma, bring your medicine and breather.
Recent years have seen outbreaks of polio and anthrax in rural parts of Java and rabies in East Nusa Tenggara. Avian influenza (bird flu) has also made headlines, but outbreaks are sporadic and limited to people who deal with live or dead poultry in rural areas. Eating cooked chicken appears to be safe.
The local Indonesian health care system is not up to western standards. While a short term stay in an Indonesian hospital or medical center for simple health problems is probably not markedly different to a western facility, serious and critical medical emergencies will stretch the system to the limit. In fact, many rich Indonesians often choose to travel to neighboring Singapore to receive more serious health care. SOS-AEA Indonesia (24 hr emergency line ☎ +62-21-7506001) specialises in treating expats and has English staff on duty, but charges are correspondingly high. In any case, travel health insurance that includes medical evacuation back to a home country is highly recommended.
If you need a specific medicine, bring the medicine in its container/bottle, if possible with the doctor’s prescription. Indonesian custom inspectors may ask about the medicine. If you need additional medicine in Indonesia, bring the container to a pharmacy (apotek) and if possible mention the active ingredients of the medicine. Drugs are usually manufactured locally under different brand names, but contain the same ingredients. Be careful about the proper dosage of the medicine.
For routine traveller complaints, one can often find medical doctors (dokter) in towns. These small clinics are usually walk-in, although you may face a long wait. Most clinics open in the afternoon (from 4 PM). The emergency room (UGD) in hospitals always open (24 hr). There are clinics (poliklinik) in most hospitals (8 AM-4 PM). Advance payment is expected for treatment.
Be warned, though, that the doctors/nurses may not speak English well enough to make an appropriate diagnosis — be patient and take a good phrasebook or a translator with you. Ask about the name and dosage of the prescription medicine, as a few doctors may oversubscribe to inflate their own cut, with antibiotics handed out like candy.
Indonesia has a low HIV/AIDS prevalence rate. However, most infections are among sex workers and injecting drug users. Always protect yourself before engaging in risky activities.
By and large (hawkers and touts don’t count), Indonesians are a polite people and adopting a few local conventions will go a long way to smooth your stay.
One general tip for getting by in Indonesia is that saving face is extremely important in Indonesian culture. If you should get into a dispute with a vendor, government official etc, forget trying to argue or ‘win’. Better results will be gained by remaining polite and humble at all times, never raising your voice, and smiling, asking the person to help you find a solution to the problem. Rarely, if ever, is it appropriate to try to blame, or accuse.
When meeting someone, be it for the first time ever or just the first time that day, it is common to shake hands — but in Indonesia this is no knuckle-crusher, just a light touching of the palms, often followed by bringing your hand to your chest. Meetings often start and end with everybody shaking hands with everybody! However, don’t try to shake hands with a Muslim woman unless she offers her hand first. It is respectful to bend slightly (not a complete bow) when greeting someone older or in a position of authority.
Never use your left hand for anything! It is considered very rude. This is especially true when you are shaking hands or handing something to someone. It can be hard to get used to, especially if you are left handed. However, sometimes special greetings are given with both hands.
Don’t point someone with your finger, if you want point someone or something it is better use your right thumb, or with a fully open hand.
Polite forms of address for people you don’t know are Bapak (“father”) for men and Ibu (“mother”) for women. If you know the name of the person you’re talking to, you can address them respectfully as Pak Name (for men) or Bu Name (for women). The Javanese terms mas (“older brother”) and mbak (“older sister”) are also heard, but best reserved for equals, not superiors.
When referring to others, it is best to mention by name rather than “dia” (“he/she”). Using their name signifies openness (so as if not to talk of them secretly) and acknowledgment.
Remove your shoes or sandals outside before entering a house, unless the owner explicitly allows you to keep them on. Even then, it might be more polite to remove your shoes. Do not put your feet up while sitting and try not to show the bottom of your feet to someone, it is considered rude. Don’t walk in front of people, instead walk behind them. When others are sitting, while walking around them, it is customary to bow slightly and lower a hand to “cut” through the crowd; avoid standing upright.
Do not stand or sit with your arms crossed or on your hips. This is a sign of anger or hostility. If a guest, it is not polite to finish any drink all the way to the bottom of the glass. This indicates that you would like more. Instead, leave about a half of an inch/2 cm in the bottom of your glass and someone will most likely ask you if you would like more.
And if all this seems terribly complex, don’t worry about it too much — Indonesians are an easygoing bunch and don’t expect foreigners to know or understand intricacies of etiquette. If you’re wondering about a person’s reaction or you see any peculiar gesture you don’t understand, they will appreciate it if you ask them directly (casually later, in a friendly and humble manner), rather than ignoring it. In general such a question is more than an apology; it shows trust.
By and large, Indonesia is a conservative country and modest dress is advisable. On the beaches of Bali and Lombok, the locals are used to foreigners gamboling about in bikinis, but elsewhere women are advised to keep legs and necklines covered and to match the locals when bathing. (Covering your hair is unnecessary, although doing so may be appreciated in Aceh.) Wearing shorts or miniskirts is unlikely to cause actual offense, but clothing like this is sometimes associated with sex workers. Men, too, can gain respect by wearing collared, long-sleeve shirts and trousers if dealing with bureaucracy, a tie is not normally worn in Indonesia.
Keeping in touch with the outside world from Indonesia is rarely a problem, at least if you stay anywhere close to the beaten track.
Here is a list of emergency numbers in Indonesia (please note that while these numbers are accessible for free from all non-mobile telephones, they may not be accessible from mobile phones [for mobile phones, you'd better use international mobile phones emergency number, 112]) :
The Departemen Luar Negeri (Deplu) or Ministry of Foreign Affairs maintains a complete searchable database of diplomatic institutions. All embassies are located in Jakarta (see that article for listings), but a few countries maintain consulates general and honorary consulates elsewhere, mostly in Surabaya, Bali and port cities (eg. Malaysia in Pekanbaru, Philippines in Manado and so on).
Text taken under Creative Commons Licence.
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Thailand guide from Wikitravel
Thailand (ประเทศไทย), officially the Kingdom of Thailand (ราชอาณาจักรไทย) is a country inSoutheast Asia with coasts on the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand. It borders Myanmar(Burma) to the northwest, Laos to the northeast, Cambodia to the southeast and Malaysia to the south.
With great food, a tropical climate, fascinating culture and great beaches, Thailand is a magnet for travellers the world over.Regions
Thailand can be conveniently divided into five geographic and cultural regions:
Thailand is the country in Southeast Asia most visited by tourists, and for good reason. You can find almost anything here: thick jungle as green as can be, crystal blue waters that feel more like a warm bath than a swim in the ocean, and food that can curl your nose hairs while tap dancing across your taste buds. Exotic, yet safe; cheap, yet equipped with every modern amenity you need, there is something for every interest and every price bracket, from beach front backpacker bungalows to some of the best luxury hotels in the world. And despite the heavy flow of tourism, Thailand retains its quintessential Thai-ness, with a culture and history all its own and a carefree people famed for their smiles and their fun-seeking sanuk lifestyle. Many travellers come to Thailand and extend their stay well beyond their original plans and others never find a reason to leave. Whatever your cup of tea, they know how to make it in Thailand.
This is not to say that Thailand doesn’t have its downsides, including the considerable growing pains of an economy where an agricultural laborer is lucky to earn 100 baht per day while thenouveau riche cruise past in their BMWs, Bangkok, the capital, is notorious for its traffic jams and rampant development has wrecked much of once-beautiful Pattaya and Phuket. In heavily touristed areas, some lowlifes have made scamming tourists into an art form. Immigration queues are often long, giving travellers bad first and last impressions. And when tourists are attacked or murdered, there is often little police follow-up.
The earliest identifiably Thai kingdom was founded in Sukhothai in 1238, reaching its zenith under King Ramkhamhaeng in the 14th century before falling under the control of the kingdom of Ayutthaya, which ruled most of present-day Thailand and much of today’s Laos and Cambodia as well, eventually also absorbing the northern kingdom of Lanna. Ayutthaya was sacked in 1767 by the Burmese, but King Taksin regrouped and founded a new capital at Thonburi. His successor, General Chakri, moved across the river toBangkok and became King Rama I, the founding father of the Chakri dynasty that rules (constitutionally) to this day.
Known as Siam until 1939, Thailand is the only Southeast Asian country never to have been colonised by a foreign power, and is fiercely proud of the fact. A bloodless revolution in 1932 led to a constitutional monarchy. During World War II, while Japan conquered the rest of Southeast Asia, only Thailand was not conquered by the Japanese due to smart political moves. In alliance with Japan during World War II, Thailand became a US ally following the conflict. After a string of military dictatorships and quickly toppled civilian Prime Ministers, Thailand finally stabilized into a fair approximation of a democracy and the economy boomed through tourism and industry. Above it all presided King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX), the world’s longest-reigning monarch and a deeply loved and respected figure of near-mythic proportions.
In September 2006, a swift and bloodless military coup overthrew populist tycoon Thaksin Shinawatra’s democratically elected but widely criticized government, exposing a fault line between the urban elite that has ruled Thailand and the rural masses that supported Thaksin. Thaksin went into exile and a series of unstable governments followed, with the successors of Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai party and the royalist-conservative People’s Alliance for Democracyduelling both behind the scenes and, occasionally, out in the streets, culminating in Bangkok’s airports being seized and shut down for a week in November 2008. Currently, things are quiet, but the political scene remains in flux and the direction of the country once the ailing King passes away is a major question mark because of the perceived inadequacy of the current heir.
Thailand is a constitutional monarchy, with the king as a very highly respected and revered Head of State. The Thai parliament is bicameral, consisting of a Senate, of which about half are directly elected with each province electing one member, and the other half being appointed by a committee, as well as a lower house which is directly elected by the people. The Prime Minister is the Head of Government, and is usually the leader of the party with the most seats in the lower house.
In practice, the king’s role is largely ceremonial, with the Prime Minister holding the most authority in government. However, the king and the royal family are still protected by strict lèse majesté laws, which stipulate long jail terms for anybody convicted of insulting the king or any other members of the royal family.
Thailand is largely tropical, so it’s hot and humid all year around with temperatures in the 28-35°C range (82-95°F), a degree of relief provided only in the mountains in the far north of Thailand. The careful observer will, however, note three seasons:
There are local deviations to these general patterns. In particular, the south-east coast of Thailand (including Ko Samui) has the rains reversed, with the peak season being May-October and the rainy off season in November-February.
Thailand’s people are largely indigenous, although there are significant minorities of ethnic Chinese and assimilated Thai-Chinese throughout the country, Muslims in the south near the Malaysian border and hill tribes such as the Karen and the Hmong in the north of the country. The overwhelmingly dominant religion (95%) is Theravada Buddhism, although Confucianism, Islam, Christianity and animist faiths also jostle for position.
Mainland Thai culture is heavily influenced by Buddhism. However, unlike the Buddhist countries of East Asia, Thailand’s Buddhists follow the Therevada school, which is arguably closer to its Indian roots and places a heavier emphasis on monasticism. Thai temples known as wats, resplendent with gold and easily identifiable with their ornate, multicoloured, pointy roofs are ubiquitous and becoming an orange-robed monk for a short period, typically the three-month rainy season, is a common rite of passage for young Thai boys and men.
One pre-Buddhist tradition that still survives is the spirit house (ศาลพระภูมิ saan phraphuum), usually found at the corner of any house or business, which houses spirits so they don’t enter the house and cause trouble. The grander the building, the larger the spirit house, and buildings placed in particularly unlucky spots may have very large ones. Perhaps the most famous spirit house in Thailand is the Erawan Shrine in Bangkok, which protects the Erawan Hotel (now the Grand Hyatt Erawan) – built in 1956 on a former execution ground – and is now one of the busiest and most popular shrines in the city.
Some traditional arts popular in Thailand include traditional Thai dancing and music, based on religious rituals and court entertainment. Famously brutal Thai boxing (muay Thai), derived from the military training of Thai warriors, is undoubtedly the country’s best known indigenous sport.
In addition to the mainland Thai culture, there are many other cultures in Thailand including those of the “hill tribes” in the northern mountainous regions of Thailand (e.g., Hmong, Karen, Lisu, Lahu, Akha), the southern Muslims, and indigenous island peoples of the Andaman Sea.
In addition to the Gregorian calendar, Thailand also uses the Thai solar calendar, which is 543 years ahead. Thus, Thai year 2555 corresponds to the Western year 2012. Thai dates in English are often written as B.E., short for “Buddhist Era”.
Some Thai holidays are still calculated with the older Thai lunar calendar, so their dates change every year.
Thailand has a lot of holidays, mostly related to Buddhism and the monarchy. Nobody celebrates all of them, except for banks, which seem to be closed a lot.
Makha Bucha (มาฆบูชา) – falls on the full moon in of the fourth Lunar month, which usually falls in February or March, and commemorates the spontaneous gathering of 1,250 people before the Buddha, which led to their ordination and subsequent enlightenment. At temples in Bangkok and throughout Thailand, Buddhists carry candles and walk around the main shrine three times in a clockwise direction.
During Chinese New Year (ตรุษจีน), Chinese Thais, who are numerous in Bangkok, celebrate by cleaning their houses and offering food to their ancestors. This is mainly a time of abundant feasting. Visit Bangkok’s Chinatown or Yaowarat to fully embrace the festivity.
Songkran (สงกรานต์) – undoubtedly the most fun holiday – is the celebration of the Thai New Year, sometime in April (officially April 13th to 15th, but the date varies in some locations). What started off as polite ritual to wash away the sins of the prior year has evolved into the world’s largest water fight, which lasts for three full days. Water pistols and Super Soakers are advised and are on sale everywhere. The best places to participate areChiang Mai, the Khao San Road area in Bangkok and holiday resorts like Pattaya, Ko Samui and Phuket. Be advised that you will get very wet, this is not a spectator sport. In recent years, the water-throwing has been getting more and more unpleasant as people have started splashing iced water onto each other. It is advisable to wear dark clothing, as light colours may become transparent when wet.
Loy Krathong (ลอยกระทง) falls on the first full moon day in the twelfth month of the Lunar calendar, usually in November, when people head to rivers, lakes and even hotel swimming pools to float flower and candle-laden banana-leaf (or, these days, styrofoam) floats called krathong (กระทง). The krathong is meant as an offering to thank the river goddess who gives life to the people. Thais also believe that this is a good time to float away your bad luck and many will place a few strands of hair or finger nail clippings in the krathong. According to tradition, if you make a wish when you set down your krathong and it floats out of sight before the candle burns out, your wish will come true. Some provinces have their own version of Loy Krathong, such as Sukhothai where a spectacular show takes place. To the North, Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, have their own unique tradition of floating Kom or lit lantern balloons. This sight can be breath-taking as the sky is suddenly filled with lights, rivalling the full moon.
Coronation Day (5 May) commemorates the crowning of the current King in 1950 (although his reign actually began on 9 June 1946 – making him not only the longest-serving monarch in Thai history, but also the world’s longest-serving current Head of State).
The King’s Birthday (5 December) is the country’s National Day and also celebrated as Father’s Day, when Thais pay respect to and show their love for His Majesty the King. Buildings and homes are decorated with the King’s flag (yellow with his insignia in the middle) and his portrait. Government buildings, as well as commercial buildings, are decorated with lights. In Old Bangkok (Rattanakosin) in particular, around the Royal Palace, you will see lavish light displays on trees, buildings, and the roads. The Queen’s Birthday (12 August) is Mother’s Day, and is celebrated similarly if with a little less pomp.
(A) Countries/territories that do not require a visa for stay up to 90 days:- Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Peru and South Korea.
(B) Countries/territories that do not require a visa for stay up to 30 days: (30 days when entering by air; by land border only 14 days)- Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bahrain, Brunei, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Laos, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Macau, Malaysia, Monaco, Mongolia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Oman, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Russia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States and Vietnam.
(C) Countries/territories that do not require a visa for stay up to 14 days or others (if indicated):- Cambodia, Ukraine.
Those with passports from countries not widely known, including European city-states, or have problems with document forgery, should obtain a visa in advance from the nearest Thai embassy. This is true even if visa on arrival is technically permitted. There are reports of tourists being detained using valid passports not commonly presented in Thailand. In addition, ask for a business card from the person or embassy which granted the visa, so they may be contacted on arrival, if necessary. Anyone whose nationality does not have its own embassy in Bangkok, should find out which third country represents your interests there, along with local contact information.
Proof of onward transit :- long happily ignored by Thai immigration, has been known to be strictly applied in some instances (Indian passport holders beware). The requirement is for an international flight itinerary – NOT train, ferry, or other departure type. Airlines, who have to pay for your return flight if Thai immigration doesn’t let you into the country, also check this and often will not let you board your flight for Thailand without it.) A print-out of an international e-ticket on a budget airline is sufficient to convince the enforcers, but those planning on continuing by land may have to get a little creative. Buying a fully refundable ticket and getting it refunded once in Thailand is also an option. Land crossings, on the other hand, are a very straightforward process and proof of onward journey is generally not required (Indian passport holders beware again… or anyone, if the border officials simply decide to uphold the bureaucracy).
Overstaying :- Overstaying in Thailand is possible with 500 baht fine per day. It is fairly simple to avoid overstaying by doing a visa run to a neighbouring country overland or via a cheap flight.
The main international airports in Thailand are at Bangkok and Phuket, and both are well-served by intercontinental flights. Practically every airline that flies to Asia also flies into Bangkok, this means there are plenty of services and the competition on the routes helps to keep the ticket prices down.
International airports are also located at Hat Yai, Krabi, Ko Samui and Chiang Mai, though these largely restricted to flights from other Southeast Asian countries. Kuala Lumpur and Singapore make excellent places to catch flights into these smaller Thai cities, meaning you can skip the ever-present touts and queues at Bangkok.
The national carrier is the well-regarded Thai Airways, with Bangkok Airways filling in some gaps in the nearby region. Bangkok Airways offers free Internet access while you wait for boarding to start at your gate.
Chartered flights from and to Thailand from international destinations are operated by Hi Flying Group. They fly to Bangkok, Phuket, Ko Samui, and Udon Thani.
Many low-cost carriers serve Thailand. See Discount airlines in Asia for an up to date list.
For a full at-a-glance list of all Thai-based carriers, see the Thai airlines section (below).
Cambodia - six international border crossings. The highway from Siem Reap and the temples of Angkor via Poipet to Aranyaprathet, once the stuff of nightmares, is now merely bad and can usually be covered in less than 3 hours. The border crossing at Poipet remains the stuff of nightmares, however. The Cambodian side is merely slow. The Thai side is glacial: travellers queue (outdoors in the heat) to reach a queue (in the Immigration building) – typically two and one hours, respectively. An alternative is to head to Hatlek/ Cham Yeam towards Koh Kong; that crossing is quiet and honest with good communication links.
Laos - the busiest border crossing is at the Friendship Bridge across the Mekong between Nong Khai and the Lao capital Vientiane. It’s also possible to cross the Mekong at Chiang Khong / Huay Xai, Nakhon Phanom / Tha Khaek, Mukdahan / Savannakhet, and elsewhere.
Malaysia and Singapore - driving up is entirely possible, although not with a rented vehicle. Main crossings (with name of town on Malaysian side in brackets) between Thailand and Malaysia are Padang Besar (Padang Besar) and Sadao (Bukit Kayu Hitam) in Songkhla province, Betong (Pengkalan Hulu) in Yala province, and Sungai Kolok (Rantau Panjang) in Narathiwat province. There are regular buses from Singapore to the southern hub of Hat Yai.
Thailand’s sole international train service links to Butterworth (near Penang) and Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, continuing all the way to Singapore. Tickets are cheap even in first class sleepers, but it can be a slow ride; the 2-hour flight to Singapore will take you close to 48 hours by rail, as you have to change trains twice. The luxury option is to take the Eastern & Oriental Express, a refurbished super-luxury train that runs along the same route once per week, with gourmet dining, personal butler service and every other colonial perk you can think of. However, at around US$1000 one-way just from Bangkok to Butterworth, this is approximately 30 times more expensive than an ordinary first-class sleeper!
While you can’t get to Laos or Cambodia by train, you can get very close, with rail terminals just across the border at Nong Khai (across the river from Vientiane) andAranyaprathet (for Poipet, on the road to Siem Reap). A link across to Mekong to Laos is open in March 2009, but service to Cambodia remains on the drawing board.
It is now possible in high-season (Nov-May) to island-hop using ferries from Phuket all the way to Indonesia. This can now be done without ever touching the mainland,Phuket (Thailand) to Padang (Indonesia).
Islands en route:
Thai portion can be done in a day.
Ferries cross from Satun in southern Thailand to the Malaysian island of Langkawi, while over in Narathiwat Province, a vehicular ferry shuttles between Tak Bai and Pengkalan Kubur, near Kota Bharu in Malaysia’s Kelantan state.
Thailand is a large country, and if sitting in a bus for 11 hours is not your idea of a fun time, you may well want to consider domestic flights. Never terribly expensive to begin with (at least by Western standards), the deregulation of the industry has brought in a crop of new operators: with a little research, it’s possible to fly pretty much anywhere in the country for less than 2,000 baht. Note that various taxes and (often hefty) surcharges are invariably added to “advertised” prices.
Pan-ASEAN low cost carrier AirAsia has great coverage of international and domestic routes in Thailand and offers steeply discounted tickets if booked well in advance; however, prices rise steadily as planes fill up. It’s often the cheapest option, sometimes even cheaper than bus or train, if booked at least a week or two in advance. They fly their (quite new) A320s from Bangkok to a number of places domestically, as well as to Cambodia, China, Macau, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia,Myanmar, Singapore, Vietnam and Indonesia. Recently, they started to display “all-inclusive” prices during booking (which, however, still do not include optional surcharges such as baggage fees). On-line booking is straightforward and can be done even using the mobile phone, but must be done at least twenty-four hours in advance; ticket sales at the check-in desk close one hour before the departure time.
Bangkok Airways promotes itself as “Asia’s Boutique Airline”, and has a monopoly on flights to its own airports at Ko Samui (now shared with Thai Airways),Sukhothai and Trat. Quite an expensive and “posh” option; however, their Discovery Airpass with fixed per segment rates can be good value, especially if used to fly to Siem Reap, (Cambodia) or Luang Prabang, (Laos). Note that the Discovery Airpass can now only be purchased from abroad.
Nok Air took to the skies in 2004 sporting lurid paints scheme with a bird’s beak painted on the nose. Owned mostly by Thai Airways, they compete with Air Asia on price and, with a fairly comprehensive domestic network, are a pretty good choice overall. They’ve run into some serious turbulence in 2008, cutting their flights by two thirds, but now seem to recover as the oil prices went down in 2009.
Orient Thai, until recently One-Two-Go, is easily the dodgiest of Thailand’s main carriers, flying a ragtag bunch of ancient planes with a poor safety record, including a crash in Phuket in 2007 that killed 90 people. The fleet has been grounded on and off, but as of late-2010 they’re flying again. Unlike most LCCs, their ticket prices don’t change much, meaning they’re often the cheapest option for last-minute flights, if you are not afraid. If you’re tall (above 6 feet), get an exit row seat unless you want to ride the whole flight with your knees resting against the seat in front.
Thai Airways is the most reliable, frequent, and comfortable Thai airline, but usually more expensive than the alternatives (look for their promotions, though). Travel agents often sell only Thai Airways (and Bangkok Airways) tickets; you can also book on-line. Thai Airways is a member of Star Alliance; all domestic flights, except some promotional fares, give at least 500 Star Alliance miles, which may (partially) compensate the price difference.
State Railway of Thailand (SRT) has a 4,000-km network covering most of the country, from Chiang Mai in the north all the way to (and beyond) the Malaysian border in the south. Compared to buses, most trains are relatively slow and prone to delays, but safer. You can pick up fruits, snacks and cooked food from hawkers at most stations.
Point-to-point fares depend on the type (speed) of the train and the class of the carriage. There are three main classes:
Pre-booking is recommended, especially for sleeper berths. Tickets on all main lines can be purchased online at SRT’s official E-Stars site ; however, only a quota of 10% of seats can be sold online, so it will often show trains as full when, in reality, there’s still plenty of space (Tip: if you get an error during registration – just remove any special characters from your registration data; you can always edit your profile later). Alternatively, many travel agencies can book tickets for a service fee (50-200 baht/ticket), or you can reserve with SRT directly by e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for a 200 baht/booking surcharge.
Full information regarding routes, timetables, and up-to-date ticket costs along with interesting videos can be found at http://www.seat61.com by selecting ‘Asia’ and then ‘Thailand’.
Thailand’s roads are head and shoulders above its neighbours Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia, but driving habits are still quite dangerous. Drunk driving, speeding and reckless passing are depressingly common, and bus and taxi drivers (especially for private companies) work inhuman shifts and often take drugs to keep themselves awake, with predictable and tragic results. It’s common for motorbikes — even police! — to drive close to the curb on the wrong side of the road. Death tolls sky-rocket around major holidays, especially Songkhran, when bystanders often throw water on passing cars and bikes. Many drivers don’t use headlights at night, multiplying risks, and it is wise to avoid or minimize overnight travel by road.
Note that unlike in its neighbours (except Malaysia), traffic moves on the left side of the road in Thailand and Thai cars are generally right-hand drive. All official road directional signs are written in both Thai and English.
Renting a car to explore on your own is a cost-effective way of getting off the beaten track, and avoids the constant hassle of haggling with local taxi/tuk-tuk drivers. Most major roads are marked in both Thai and English, and traffic culture is not as bad as some might lead you to believe. Keep a sharp lookout in both mirrors from passing traffic including 18-wheelers and scooters. Traffic on major highways follows 100-120 km/h, while smaller highways are generally 80 km/h. Gas stations are common and most Thai are more than willing to give directions in spite of any language barriers.
Drive very defensively at first and watch what the locals do. Of course, it helps if you are accustomed to driving on the left side of the road, which in itself could be enough to distract some North American or European drivers.
Buses travel throughout the country and the government’s bus company BKS (บขส Baw Kaw Saw), known in English simply as the The Transport Company, has a terminal in every province of any size. If the Transport Company’s website is difficult to read, try Sawasdee’s bus time tables.
Generally speaking, BKS buses are the best option for both price and comfort. There are also private buses sanctioned by BKS, which operate on the same routes from the same terminals with the same fares, and these are also fine. The ones to watch out for are the illegal bus companies, which operate from tourist areas (especially Khao San Road) and subsidize slightly cheaper tickets with worse amenities, schedules and safety. In particular, beware of non-government “VIP” buses, which often turn out to be cramped minivans – and you’ll only find this out after paying in advance.
The basic BKS bus types are:
Some buses may have TVs and sound systems blaring, so earplugs are well worth having, just in case. On long-haul buses, if your ticket allocates you a front seat, you may have to switch seats if a monk boards.
A songthaew (สองแถว) is a truck-based vehicle with a pair of bench seats in the back, one on either side — hence the name, which means “two rows” in Thai. In English tourist literature, they’re occasionally called “minibuses”. By far the most common type is based on a pick-up truck and has a roof and open sides. Larger types start life as small lorries, and may have windows, and an additional central bench; smaller types are converted micro-vans, with a front bench facing backwards and a rear bench facing forwards.
Songthaews are operated extensively as local buses (generally the most economical way to travel shorter distances) and also as taxis; sometimes the same vehicle will be used for both. Be careful if asking a songthaew to take you to someplace if there is nobody in the back, the driver might charge you the taxi price. In this case, check the price of the ride before embarking.
The name tuk-tuk is used to describe a wide variety of small/lightweight vehicles. The vast majority have three wheels; some are entirely purpose-built (eg the ubiquitous Bangkok tuk-tuk), others are partially based on motorcycle components (primarily engines, steering, front suspension, fuel tank, drivers seat). A relatively recent development is the four wheeled tuk-tuk (basically a microvan-songthaew) as found in Phuket.
Metered taxis are ubiquitous in Bangkok and starting to become more popular in Chiang Mai, but rare elsewhere in the country. When available, they are an excellent means of transport – insist on the meter. Beware of taxis which idle around touristy areas and wait for people. They are looking for a tourist who will take their taxi without using a meter. Always use the meter!
As is the case throughout virtually all of Asia, motorcycles (motosai) are the most common form of transport overall; the most popular type are the 100cc-125cc step-through models. These are very widely used as taxis, with fares starting from as low as 10 baht. Negotiate the fare with the driver before using his service otherwise you may be charged more than you expect.
Motorcycles can be rented without difficulty in many locations. Rates start at around 125 baht/day for recent 100-125cc semi-automatic (foot operated gearchange, automatic clutch) step-through models, 150 baht/day for fully automatic scooters; larger capacity models can also easily be found, although the rates reflect the risks – up to around 2500 baht/day for the very latest model high capacity sport bikes, such as the Honda CBR1000RR. In all cases, lower prices will apply if paying upfront for more than a week or so; in some cases, long-distance travel may be prohibited. Motorcycle rentals do not include insurance, and both motorcycling accidents and motorbike thefts are common.
Many places will rent to you without requiring a license, but legally speaking you must have a valid Thai license or International Driver’s Permit. Often a deposit will be required; sometimes a passport photocopy, or even the passport itself (don’t do this- bargain to leave some baht instead), will be requested. Helmets are normally included, but are usually ultra-basic models with very flimsy chin-strap fasteners – if you’re intending to travel by motorcycle and have a good quality helmet at home, then bring it with you. If supplied a helmet with a chin-cup (many cheap rental helmets are), slide the cup up the strap out of the way and securely fasten the bare strap directly under the jaw, as this is much safer.
Insurance is usually not included (or even available), so try to ensure in advance that the insurance you leave home with is going to cover you; alternatively, arrange cover with an insurance broker locally in Thailand. If you rent a vehicle without insurance and it’s damaged or stolen, the bottom line is that you will be required to pay in fullthe cost of repairing or replacing it. Furthermore, some travel insurance policies will only provide medical cover in the event of an accident if you hold a motorcycle license in your home country.
Motorcyclists (including passengers) are required to wear crash helmets and to keep their headlights switched on at all times. Enforcement varies widely, but in tourist areas spot checks for helmets and/or licences are commonplace. While the fines are light (typically 400 baht) the inconvenience can be considerable as offender’s vehicle is impounded until the fine is paid, and the queue at the police station can be lengthy.
Some (but not all) border crossings allow motorcycles through. At those which do, documentation including proof of ownership must be produced (with the possible exception of day visits to Payathonzu, Myanmar via Three Pagodas Pass).
Driving your own car in Thailand is not for the faint-hearted, and many rental companies can supply drivers at a very reasonable price. Prices without insurance for a self-driven car start from around 900 baht/day for small cars, and from as little as 570 baht/day for open-top jeeps; cars with insurance start at just under 1000 baht/day, and come down to around 5,600 baht/week or 18,000 baht/month.
Driving is (usually, but not always!) on the left hand side of the road. Fuel at large petrol stations is 32-45 baht/litre. Small kerb side vendors who pump by hand from drums and/or pour from bottles charge a few baht more.
Cars can be rented without difficulty in many locations. It’s worth paying a little more than the absolute minimum to use one of the international franchises (eg Avis, Budget, and Hertz) to minimize the risk of hassles, and to ensure that any included insurance is actually worth something.
More reputable agencies require that valid licences be produced: foreigners who do not have a Thai driving licence must carry a valid International Driving Permit. Even if you manage to rent a car without an IDP, not having one will invalidate the insurance and count against you in the event of an accident.
A common rental scam involves the owner taking a deposit, and then later refusing to refund it in full on the basis that the customer is responsible for previous damage; the Tourist Police (dial 1155) may be able to help. Another common scam involves the owner having someone follow the rented vehicle and later “steal” it, using a set of spare keys. Always report thefts: a “stolen” vehicle may mysteriously turn up as soon as the police become involved.
One of the Thais’ many names for themselves is jao naam, the Water Lords, and from the river expresses of Bangkok to the fishing trawlers of Phuket, boats remain an indispensable way of getting around many parts of the country.
Perhaps the most identifiably Thai boat is the long-tail boat (reua hang yao), a long, thin wooden boat with the propeller at the end of a long ‘tail’ stretching from the boat. This makes them supremely manouverable even in shallow waters, but they’re a little underpowered for longer trips and you’ll get wet if it’s even a little choppy. Long-tails usually act as taxis that can be chartered, although prices vary widely – figure on 300-400 baht for a few hours’ rental, or up to 1500 for a full day. In some locations like Krabi, long-tails run along set routes and charge fixed prices per passenger.
Modern, air-conditioned speedboat services, sometimes ferries (departure every 30 mins) also run from the Surat Thani to popular islands like Ko Samui and Ko Pha Ngan. Truly long-distance services (eg. Bangkok to any other major city) have, however, effectively ceased to exist as buses, planes and even trains are faster. Safety measures are rudimentary and ferries and speedboats do sink occasionally, so avoid overloaded ships in poor weather, and scope out the nearest life jackets when on board.
Historical and cultural attractions
Bangkok is at the start of many visitors’ itineraries, and while a modern city, it has a rich cultural heritage. Most visitors at least take in the Grand Palace, a collection of highly decorated buildings and monuments. It is home to Wat Phra Kaew, the most sacred Buddhist temple in Thailand that houses the Emerald Buddha. Other cultural attractions include Wat Pho, Wat Arun and Jim Thompson’s House, but these are just a fraction of possible sights you could visit.
The former capitals of Siam, Ayutthaya and Sukhothai, make excellent stops for those interested in Thai history. The latter could be combined with a visit to Si Satchanalai and Kamphaeng Phet, all of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Khmer architecture is mostly found in Isaan, with the historical remains of Phimai and Phanom Rung being the most significant.
In the northern provinces live unique hill-tribe peoples, often visited as part of a trekking. The six major hill tribes in Thailand are the Akha, Lahu, Karen, Hmong, Mien and Lisu, each with a distinct language and culture. Chiang Mai makes a good base for arranging these trekkings, and has some cultural sights of its own, such as Wat Doi Suthep.
For those interested in recent history, Kanchanaburi has a lot of sights related to World War II. The Bridge over the River Kwai, popularised by the film of the same name, is the most famous one, but the museums in its vicinity are a lot more moving.
Beaches and islands
Thailand’s beaches and islands attract millions of visitors each year from all over the globe. Hua Hinis Thailand’s oldest beach resort, discovered by King Rama VII in the 1920s as an ideal getaway from Bangkok. Things have considerably changed since then. While Pattaya, Phuket and Ko Samui were only discovered in the 1970s, these are now by far the most developed beach resorts.
Krabi Province has some beautiful spots, including Ao Nang, Rai Leh and the long golden beaches of Ko Lanta. Ko Phi Phi, renowned as a true paradise island, has been undergoing massive development since the release of the film The Beach in 2000. Ko Pha Ngan gives the best of both worlds, with well-developed beaches and empty ones a short ride away.
Ko Chang is a bit like Ko Samui used to be, it has a backpacker vibe, but is fairly laid-back and there is accommodation in all price ranges. If you’re looking for unspoiled beaches, Ko Kut is very thinly populated, but also difficult to explore. Ko Samet is the closest island beach to Bangkok, but its northern beaches are quite developed and hotels are pretty much sold out on weekends and public holidays.
While not as beautiful as Malaysia or Indonesia, Thailand does have its fair share of tropical forest.Khao Yai National Park, the first national park of Thailand, is the closest to Bangkok. Wild tigers and elephants are increasingly rare, but you can’t miss the macaques, gibbons, deer, and species of birds. The stretch of jungle at Khao Sok National Park is probably even more impressive, and you can spend the night in the middle of the jungle.
Waterfalls can be found all over Thailand. The Heo Suwat Waterfall in Khao Yai National Park and the 7-tiered Erawan Falls in Kanchanaburi are among the most visited, but the Thee Lor Sue Waterfall inUmphang and the 11-tiered Pa La-u Falls in Kaeng Krachan National Park are equally exciting. Finally, the gravity-defying limestone formations of the Phang Nga Bay shouldn’t be missed by anyone who stays in the region.
Traditional Thai massage has a history of more than 2,500 years. Practitioners of Thai massage operate on the belief that many invisible lines of energy run through the body. The masseur uses his or her hands, elbows, feet, heels and knees to exert pressure on these lines, releasing blockages that may exist, allowing a free flow of energy through the body. Many Thais believe that these massages are beneficial for ailing diseases and general well-being. You’re supposed to feel both relaxed and energised after a session.
Although spas weren’t introduced here until the early 1990s, Thailand has quickly become one of the highest ranking spa destinations in the world. Besides traditional Thai massage, there is a phenomenal variety of international treatments, including aromatherapy, Swedish massage and many others. There is usually an option for every budget, varying from extravagant wellness centres in the five star hotels to the ubiquitous little massage shops found on many street corners.
Thailand’s a big enough country that you can find a place to practice almost any outdoor sport. Ko Tao is becoming one of Asia’s great Scuba diving centres, while theAng Thong National Marine Park near Ko Samui and the Similan Islands also draw the crowds. One of the newest hot spots for diving is Ko Lipe, a small island that is amazingly unspoilt with great reefs and absolutely stunning beaches. Snorkeling can be done at pretty much at every beach, but coral reefs of the Similan Islands stand out as particularly worthwhile.
While Thailand does not match surf paradises like Bali, surfing does have its place. The waves are generally small, good for longboarding and those wanting to learn to surf. Khao Lak and Phuket‘s west coast beaches are among the better ones, but the best waves are to be found at the relatively unknown Ko Kradang at the west coast of Trang Province. Other surf-spots include Rayong and Ko Samui, but the waves of the Gulf Coast are less reliable.
Phang Nga Bay‘s gravity-defying limestone formations are usually seen with boat tours, but if you go sea-canoeing, you can get into areas unexplored by the tourist masses. The limestone cliffs of Rai Leh are arguably among the best in the world for rock-climbing.
Wildlife of Thailand has much to offer. From tigers and elephants to monkeys and birds, there are many new species to discover in Thailand. Adventurous and giving travelers can also look into spending time volunteering with animals in Thailand.
Golf arrived in Thailand during the reign of King Rama V one hundred years ago. It was first played by nobles and other elitists of high society, but since then, things have certainly changed. Over the past decade or so, the popularity of golf in Thailand has escalated; played both by local Thais and visiting foreign tourists and expatriates.
Meeting to the recent needs of an average of 400,000 foreign golfers coming to Thailand annually, golf in Thailand has turned into a huge local industry with new courses constantly being churned out. Golf alone is annually bringing an income of 8 billion baht into the local economy. Thailand offers over two hundred courses with high standards. Internationally renowned courses can be found in tourist-spots like Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket.
There are an abundance of reasons why golf in Thailand became so popular. First, if you compare the cost to most golfing countries in the world, membership and course fees are exceptionally low. The general low cost of travel in Thailand itself makes the country ideal for cost-efficiency minded tourists. Also, many of the golf courses in Thailand have been designed by top names in the game such as Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Greg Norman.
The official language of Thailand is Thai. Like Mandarin and Vietnamese, Thai is a tonal language (think about the difference in your voice when saying “yes.” versus “yes?” – that’s tonal) which can make it tricky for speakers of non-tonal languages to learn quickly, but despite this, everyone will appreciate any attempt you do make so pick up a phrasebook and give it a go. Thai is a language with many dialects, though the Bangkok dialect, also known as Central Thai, is used as the standard and is taught in all schools. Language schools can be found in all larger Thai cities, including Bangkok and Phuket.
In the Muslim-dominated south, dialects of Malay that are largely incomprehensible to speakers of standard Malay/Indonesian are spoken.
Various dialects of Chinese are spoken by the ethnic Chinese community, with Teochew being the dominant dialect in Bangkok’s Chinatown, and Cantonese speakers also forming a sizeable minority among the Chinese community. Down south in Hat Yai, Hokkien is also widely understood due to the large number of tourists fromPenang. Mandarin is taught in most Chinese schools while Cantonese is commonly heard in the mass media due to the popularity of TVB serials from Hong Kong among the Chinese community, so many are conversant in both, in addition to their native dialect.
The eastern Isaan dialects are closely related to Lao. In the eastern provinces of Thailand bordering Cambodia, there are various ethnic Khmer communities, known locally as the Khmer Surin, who speak various dialects of Khmer. The remote hill areas of Thailand are also home to various tribal people known as the Hill Tribes, who speak various indigenous languages such as Hmong, Karen and many others – some of these are so remote that Thai speakers are few and far between.
Sanskrit is taught to those who attend Buddhist religious schools, and many clerics as well as other very observant Buddhists will have a functional command of Sanskrit. However, it is not widely spoken, though the Thai language does have a large number of loan words from Sanskrit.
Public signage is generally bilingual, written in both Thai and English. There is also some prevalance of Japanese and Chinese signs. Where there is English, it will usually be fairly phonetic – for example “Sawatdee” (meaning hello) is pronounced just as it reads: sa-wat-dee. There is no universal agreement on how to transcribe Thai letters that don’t have an English equivalent, so Khao San Road for example is also commonly spelled Kao Sarn, Kao Sahn, Khao San, Koh Saan, Khaosan, and many other variations. Maps with names in both Thai and English make it easier for locals to try and help you.
Most Thai youths learn English in school, so many young people have a basic grasp of English, though few are fluent. Most “front desk” people in the travel industry speak at least enough English to communicate, and many are relatively fluent; some also speak one or more other languages popular with their clientele, such as Chinese, Japanese, German, etc.
Many Thais have trouble pronouncing the consonant clusters of the English language. Common confusion comes from the fact that Thais often pronounce “twenty” as “TEH-wen-ty”, making it sound like they’re saying “seventy”. Therefore it is a good idea to make use of the calculators that street vendors may offer you to avoid confusion about prices offered when buying goods.
The currency of Thailand is the baht (THB, ฿), written in Thai as บาท or บ. There are six coins and six notes:
The most useful bills tend to be 20s and 100s, as many small shops and stalls don’t carry much change. Taxi drivers also like to pull the “no change” trick; if caught, hop into the nearest convenience store and make a small purchase. Beware of 1000-baht notes, ascounterfeits are not uncommon: feel the embossing, look for the watermark and tilt to see color-changing ink to make sure the note is real.
ATMs can be found in all cities and large towns, and international withdrawals are not a problem. When using a debit card, an ATM will typically provide a much better exchange rate than a money exchange counter, and this is especially the case if you have a card that does not charge a transaction fee for overseas withdrawals (becoming common in countries such as Australia). ATMs are available at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport (BKK) after collecting your bag and clearing customs, and while it is advisable to arrive with a small amount of baht if possible, you may obtain cash from an ATM after landing as well. Since early 2009, there is a 150 baht surcharge for use of foreign ATM cards on virtually all banks’ ATMs, and as of February 2010, only Aeon appear to be holding out in not charging this. (There are also occasional unconfirmed reports of success with other banks such as HSBC or GSB.) Anyway, you’ll be notified about this fee in any ATM which charges it, so you always have an option to cancel. Yellow Ayudhya (Krungsri) ATM’s should be avoided. Not only do they charge 150 THB surcharge, the exchange rate is horrible.
One notable money exchanger is SuperRich , with branches in Bangkok at Silom, Ratchadamri, Khao San Road and Chatuchak. No fees are charged and the exchange rate is typically better than at ATMs (even before you consider ATM and your local bank fees), with a very small buy/sell spread.
More remote areas (including smaller islands) don’t have banks or ATMs, so cash or traveller’s checks are essential. Many hotels and guest houses will change money for guests, but hefty commissions and poor rates may apply. US dollars in small bills (1s, 5s, and 20s) are invaluable for onward travel to neighbouring countries other than Malaysia, but are only useful in Thailand for exceptional purchases (eg paying visa fees for Cambodia).
Credit cards are widely accepted in the tourist industry, at restaurants, shopping malls and shops catering to tourists. Fraud is regrettably common though, so use them sparingly and tell your bank in advance, so your card doesn’t get locked down because you are using it. Some businesses add a surcharge (usually 2-3%) if you’re paying by credit card; in this case, it can turn out cheaper to pay them in cash.
Thailand is not as cheap as it used to be with Bangkok recently being named the second most expensive city in south east Asia behind Singapore. However, budget travelers who are careful with what they spend will still find 1,000 baht will get a backpacker a dorm bed or cheap room, three square meals a day and leave enough for transport, sightseeing, and even partying. Doubling that budget will let you stay in decent 3-star hotels, and if you’re willing to fork out 5000 baht per day or more you can live like a king. Bangkok requires a more generous budget than upcountry destinations, but also offers by far the most competitive prices for shoppers who shop around. The most popular tourism islands such as Phuket and Ko Samui tend to have higher prices in general. It is common for tourists to be charged several times the actual price in tourist areas of other places, as well. If you do want to have an idea what the real Thai prices are – consider visiting malls like Big C, Tesco or Carrefour where locals and expats do routinely shop. Those are available in any major cities (in Bangkok, there are dozens of them) and even on some larger islands such as Phuket or Ko Samui.
Thailand is a shopper’s paradise and many visitors to Bangkok in particular end up spending much of their time in the countless markets and malls. Particularly good buys are clothing, both cheap locally produced streetwear and fancy Thai silk, and all sorts of handicrafts. Electronics and computer gear are also widely available, but prices are slightly higher than in Singapore, Hong Kong, Philippines and Kuala Lumpur.
A Thai speciality are the night markets found in almost every town, the largest and best-known of which are in Bangkokand the Night Bazaar in Chiang Mai. Here a variety of vendors from designers to handicraft sellers have stalls selling goods which cannot normally be found in malls and day markets. Most night markets also have large open air food courts attached.
You can also find marvelously tacky modern clothing accessories. Witness pink sandals with clear plastic platform heels filled with fake flowers. Night markets along the main roads and Bangkok’s Mahboonkrong (MBK) Mall, near the Siam skytrain stop, are particularly good sources. Not to be left out is what is often touted as the world’s biggest weekend bazaar - The Chatuchak Weekend Market or knowned to locals simply as “JJ” Market. Chatuchak sells a myriad of products ranging from clothes to antiques, covers over 35 acres (1.1 km square) and is growing by the day!
Haggling is the norm and often market and road-side vendors will try to charge you as much as they think you can afford to pay. It’s not uncommon to buy something, walk outside, and find somebody who bought the same item for half or one third what you paid (or even less). Try to figure out the item’s rough value first — adjacent stalls, government-run fixed price shops and even hotel gift shops are a good starting point — and you’ll find that prices drop drastically when the seller realizes you have some idea of what it costs.
Thai is a tonal language with 5 tones (mid, low, falling, high and rising). The Thai alphabet has 44 consonants, 15 vowel symbols and 4 tone marks. Each letter of the Thai alphabet is learned with its associated object: ก “g” as in chicken, ข “k” as in egg, ฃ “k” as in bottle, …, up to ฮ “h” as in owl. There are numerous transcription methods for writing Thai in Latin letters, all of which are of limited use in Thailand. It is highly recommended to start learning the Thai alphabet from the start.
And some online sites for studying Thai:
And some apps for studying Thai:
The two main opportunities for work for foreigners are teaching English and dive instructor, but both are very competitive and dive masters in particular are paid a pittance.
To become a dive instructor, the most popular destination is Ko Tao (Turtle Island) a few hours off the coast of Chumphon in the Gulf of Thailand. There are dozens of dive shops that provide training and internships.
Anyone with a four-year degree can gain employment as an English teacher in Thailand, and even those without a degree can usually find work under the table. Normal starting salary is approximately 30,000 baht per month and this goes up and down slightly depending upon location (higher in Bangkok, lower in some up-country towns).
A great start to working as a teacher is a TESOL/TEFL Certificate. One of the largest TESOL schools in the world is actually headquartered in the small village of Ban Phe, Rayong. Other provinces in Thailand offer TEFL/TESOL Certification Courses. In Northern Thailand, Chiang Mai University has a comprehensive teacher training program located on their main campus.
Finding any other kind of work in Thailand can be difficult, as wages are poor and a large number of occupations are legally off limits to non-Thais. Thai law requires foreigner to earn quite a high wage to be eligible for a work permit. Companies and schools should assist employees to obtain visas and work permits, but some schools fear the extra work involved.
Volunteering is a great way to meet locals and experience the culture and traditions of Thailand. There are many worldwide organizations that offer volunteer work on such projects as community development, conservation, wildlife sanctuary maintenance & development, scientific research, & education programs. Here are two of them:
IMPORTANT: Volunteering is defined as a form of employment by the Thai authorities. Foreigners must obtain a work permit even to volunteer for small projects. This is easier to obtain than a normal work permit, and can be issued even for one or two days. Tourists are advised to take these rules seriously. Thai jails are not comfortable; if you are arrested on a Friday you may not be able to contact anyone before Monday.
The food alone is really reason enough for a trip to Thailand. Curries, fruit shakes, stir fries, fresh fish made a zillion ways – and that’s just the beginning. Food in Thailand can be as cheap and easy as 25 baht pad thai (Thai fried noodles) cooked at a street stall or as expensive and complicated as a $100 ten-course meal by a royal chef served in one of Bangkok’s 5 star hotels.
Since most backpackers will be sticking closer to the first than the second, one of the great things about Thailand is that food from stalls and tiny sidewalk restaurants is usually quite safe. Unlike some Asian countries, travellers should worry more about overeating or too much curry spice than about unclean kitchens and bad food. In fact, street restaurants, where you can see what you’ll get and everything is cooked on the spot can be a safe option.
Thai food is most commonly eaten with fork and spoon. Hold the spoon in your right hand and use it to eat, and reserve the fork for piling food onto your spoon. Chopsticks are only employed for noodle soups and East Asian-style dishes.
Thai food is meant for sharing. Everybody gets their own plate of rice and tiny soup bowl, but all the other dishes are laid out in the center of the table and you’re free to eat what you wish. Though some people believe that taking the last piece from a shared plate is considered slightly unlucky, and you may hear people make wishes forothers to compensate for their own misfortune — a popular wish is that “may my girl/boyfriend be beautiful”!
Food is also generally brought out a dish at a time as it is prepared. It is not expected for diners to wait until all meals are brought out before they start eating as is polite in western culture. Instead they should tuck into the nearest meal as it arrives.
Thai cuisine is characterized by balance and strong flavors, especially lime juice, lemon grass and fresh coriander, the combination of which gives Thai food its distinctive taste. In addition, Thai food has a deserved reputation for being spicy, with hot little torpedo-shaped chillies called phrik khii nuu (พริกขี้หนู, lit. “mouse shit chillies”) making their way into many a dish. Thais are well aware that these can be more than Westerners can handle and will often ask if you like it hot (เผ็ด phet); answer “yes” at your own risk!
Thai dishes can be roughly categorized into central Thai food (around Bangkok), northern Thai food (from the northern region around Chiang Mai, with Burmese and Chinese influence), north-eastern Thai food (from the Isaan region bordering with Laos) and southern Thai food (with heavy influences from Malaysia). The following list covers some better-known dishes; see Isaan for Isaan food, which is widely available throughout the country.
The Thai staple food is rice (ข้าว khao), so much so that in Thai eating a meal, kin khao, literally means “eat rice”.
Thais are great noodle eaters. The most common kind is rice noodles, served angel-hair (เส้นหมี่ sen mii), small (เส้นเล็ก sen lek) and large (เส้นใหญ่ sen yai), but egg noodles (บะหมี่ ba mii), Chinese-style stuffed wonton ravioli (เกี๊ยว kio) and glass noodles made from mung beans (วุ้นเส้น wun sen) are also popular.
Unlike other Thai foods, noodles are usually eaten with chopsticks. They are also usually served with a rack of four condiments, namely dried red chillies , fish sauce, vinegar and sugar which diners can add to their own taste.
Soups and curries
The line between soups (ต้ม tom, literally just “boiled”) and curries (แกง kaeng) is a little fuzzy, and many dishes the Thais call curries would be soups to an Indian. A plate of rice with a ladleful of a curry or two on top, known as khao kaeng (ข้าวแกง), is a very popular quick meal if eating alone.
Thais like their mains fried (ทอด thot or ผัด phat) or grilled (yaang ย่าง). Fish, in particular, is often deep-fried until the meat turns brown and crispy.
About the only thing Thai salads (ยำ yam) have in common with the Western variety is that they are both based on raw vegetables. A uniquely Thai flavor is achieved by drowning the ingredients in fish sauce, lime juice and chillies – the end result can be very spicy indeed!
Thais don’t usually eat “dessert” in the Western after-meal sense, although you may get a few slices of fresh fruit (ผลไม้ ponlamai) for free at fancier places, but they certainly have a finely honed sweet tooth.
Vegetarians won’t have too many problems surviving in Thailand, with one significant exception: fish sauce (น้ำปลา naam plaa) is to Thai cuisine what soy sauce is to Chinese food, and keeping it out of soups, curries and stir-fries will be a challenge.
That said, Thailand is a Buddhist country and vegetarianism is a fairly well-understood concept, especially among Chinese Thais (many of whom eat only vegetarian food during several festivals). Tofu is a traditional Thai ingredient and they aren’t afraid to mix it up in some non traditional dishes such as omelettes (with or without eggs), submarine sandwiches, and burritos. Since Thai dishes are usually made to order, it’s easy to ask for anything on the menu to be made without meat or fish. Bangkok features several fantastic veggie and vegan restaurants, but outside of big cities make sure to check that your idea of “veggie” matches the chef’s.
Some key phrases for vegetarians:
Thailand has a large number of indigenous restaurant chains offering much the same fare as your average street stall, but with the added advantages of air conditioning, printed menus (often in English) and some semblance of hygiene. All the chains are heavily concentrated in Bangkok, but larger cities and popular tourist spots may have an outlet or two.
And yes, you can find the usual McDonalds, KFC, Pizza Hut, Komalas etc if you insist. If you do end up at McD’s, at least try the un-Maclike fried chicken with McSomTam (green papaya salad). For those craving American-style pizza, try the ubiquitous The Pizza Company, which is a less expensive and (arguably) tastier local chain.
Tap water is usually not drinkable in Thailand outside of Bangkok. In many places in Bangkok however, particularly in new buildings, drinking tap water is perfectly safe. However, if you don’t want to chance it, buying a bottle of water is the obvious solution. Bottled water (น้ำเปล่า naam plao) is cheap and ubiquitous at 5-20 baht a bottle depending on its size and brand, and drinking water served in restaurants is always at least boiled (น้ำต้ม naam tom). Ice (น้ำแข็ง naam khaeng) in Thailand usually comes packaged straight from the factory and is safe; there is only reason to worry if you are served hand-cut ice. You can buy a large package of ice in most 7-11s for 7 baht, too.
Mainly in residential areas, machines dispensing water into your own bottle (1 baht/liter, or 50 satang (0.5 baht/liter) if paying more than 5 baht) are often available. This is a clean (the water is cleaned and UV-treated on the spot) and extremely cheap option, also, this way you’ll avoid making unnecessary plastic waste from empty bottles.
Coconut water (น้ำมะพร้าว naam ma-phrao), iced and drunk directly from a fresh coconut is a cheap and healthy way to cool the body. Available at restaurants and also from vendors that specialize in fruit juice.
Fruit juices, freezes, and milkshakes of all kinds are very popular with Thais and visitors alike. Most cafés and restaurants charge 20-40 baht, but a bottle of freshly squeezed Thai sweet orange juice (น้ำส้ม naam som)- which really is orange in color! – can be sold on the street for 15-30 baht. Thais often add salt to their fruit juices– an acquired taste that you might just learn to like. Thais also like to have basil seeds in their iced fruit juice sold on the road – which looks like small jelly balls down of the bottle.
Tea and coffee
One of Thailand’s most characteristic drinks is Thai iced tea (ชาเย็น chaa yen, lit. “cold tea”). Instantly identifiable thanks to its lurid orange color, this is the side effect of adding ground tamarind seed (or, these days, artificial color) during the curing process. The iced tea is always very strong and very sweet, and usually served with a dash of condensed milk; ask for chaa dam yen to skip the milk.
Naam chaa is a loose term for plain tea without milk and sugar, being it black, Chinese or even green tea in some specific context. Though mostly it’ll refer to Chinese tea, asking for Naam chaa can give you any of these depending on what the restaurant serves. To ask for any of those specifically, chaa jiin is literally Chinese tea which is often served in restaurants for free, Western-style black tea is called chaa farang (ชาฝรั่ง – lit. “Western/westerners tea”) and chaa khiao is green tea, literally. However, green tea is not so common in Thailand, in a sense. Ordering green tea outside of a Japanese style restaurant will most likely give you a sweet bottled green tea or sweet instant green tea which can be quite different from what you might expect. And if you happen to know that Dam means black in Thai, imitating the word structure of green tea hence asking for chaa dam will likely give you the cha dam yen mentioned above instead. Coffee (กาแฟ kaafae) is also widely available, and is usually served with condensed milk and lots of sugar. Ask for kaafae thung to get traditional filtered “bag” coffee instead of instant. Two terms used widely and can be found in most local stalls and street restaurants drinks menu are O liang (โอเลี้ยง) and O yua (โอยัวะ) are borrowed words from Teochew Chinese dialect for iced and hot black kaafae thungrespectively; both are very sweet though. Unlike tea, asking for kaafae dam will give you a black coffee but a lot of sugar is not uncommon.
The Starbucks phenomenon has also arrived in Thailand, but for the moment local competitors Black Canyon Coffee and S&P still have the edge in marketshare. These are the places to look for if you want that triple-moccha latte with hazelnut swirl and are willing to pay 75 baht for the privilege.
Thailand is the original home of the Red Bull brand energy drink – a licensed and re-branded version of Thailand’s original Krathing Daeng (กระทิงแดง, “Red Bull”), complete with the familiar logo of two bulls charging at each other.
The Thai version, however, is syrupy sweet, uncarbonated and comes packaged in medicinal-looking brown glass bottles, as the target customers are not trendy clubbers, but Thailand’s working class of construction workers and bus drivers in need of a pick-me-up. And a pick-me-up it most certainly is; the caffeine content is higher even than Western-style Red Bull, and packs a punch equivalent to two or three shots of espresso coffee. Krathing Daeng and its many competitors (including M150, Shark, .357 and the inevitable Karabao Daeng, “Red Buffalo”) are available in any convenience store for 10 baht a pop, although in some places you can now buy imported European Red Bull for five times the price.
Drinking alcohol in Thailand, especially if you like Western tipples, is actually comparatively expensive – but still very affordable by Western standards.
Note that retail sales of alcohol in supermarkets, convenience stores etc are banned between midnight and 11:00 and, more bizarrely, 14:00-17:00. Restaurants and bars are not affected, and smaller, non-chain stores are often willing to ignore the rules. However in certain circumstances these rules are relaxed for alcohol purchases above a particular quantity. For example if you purchase 5 liters of wine during the restricted period, then the purchase will not be allowed, however if you were to purchase say 10 liters of wine in the same period then this would be permitted.
There are also occasional days throughout the year when alcohol can’t be sold anywhere – even the smaller mom & pop shops normally adhere to the rules on these days, and most bars and pubs do too (although you can probably find a beer somewhere if you’re desperate enough). Up-market hotel bars and restaurants are probably the only places that are realistically likely to be exempt. Religious holidays and elections are normally the reason for these restrictions.
The misnamed Thai whisky (lao) refers to a number of liquors. The best known are the infamous Mae Khong (แม่โขง “Mekong”) brand and its competitor, the sweeterSaeng Som (“Sangsom”), which are both brewed primarily from sugarcane and thus technically rum. Indeed, the only resemblances to whisky are the brown color and high alcohol content, and indeed many people liken the smell to nail polish remover, but the taste is not quite as bad, especially when diluted with cola or tonic water. This is also by far the cheapest way to get blotto, as a pocket flask of the stuff (available in any convenience store or supermarket) costs only around 50 baht.
The “real” Thai whisky is lao khao (เหล้าขาว “white liquor”), which is distilled from rice. While commercial versions are available, it’s mostly distilled at home as moonshine, in which case it also goes by the name lao theuan (“jungle liquor”). White liquor with herbs added for flavor and medical effect is called ya dong (ยาดอง). Strictly speaking, both are is illegal, but nobody seems to mind very much — especially when hilltribe trekking in the North you’re likely to be invited to sample some, and it’s polite to at least take a sip.
Thai rice wine (สาโท sato) is actually a beer brewed from glutinous rice, and thus a spiritual cousin of Japanese sake. While traditionally associated with Isaan, it’s now sold nationwide under the brand Siam Sato, available in any 7-11 at 25 baht for a 0.65L bottle. At 8% alcohol, it’s cheap and potent, but you may regret it the next morning! The original style of brewing and serving sato is in earthenware jars called hai, hence the drink’s other name lao hai (เหล้าไห). These are served by breaking the seal on the jar, adding water, and drinking immediately with either glasses or, traditionally, with a straw directly from the pot.
Western-style beer (เบียร์ bia) is a bit of an upmarket drink in Thailand, with the price of a small bottle hovering between 50 and 100 baht in most pubs, bars and restaurants. Thais like their lagers with relatively high alcohol content (around 6%), as it is designed to be drunk with ice, so the beer in Thailand may pack more of a punch than you are used to. However, if you are an experience drinkers for Western Europe, namely Belgium or part of Germany, you will find it similar to your local tastes.
Imported liquors, wines and beers are widely available but prohibitively priced for the average Thai. A shot of any brand-name liquor is at least 100 baht, a pint of Guinness will set you back at least 200 baht and, thanks to an inexplicable 340% tax, even the cheapest bottle of wine will set you back over 500 baht. Note that, in cheaper bars (especially the go-go kind), the content of that familiar bottle of Jack Daniels may be something entirely different.
The number one cause of death for visitors to Thailand is motorbike accidents, especially on the often narrow, mountainous and twisty roads of Phuket and Samui. Drive defensively, wear a helmet, don’t drink and avoid travel at night.
Long-simmering tension between pro- and anti-government groups came to head in 2008, with the anti-government People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) first blockading several airports in the South for a few days in summer and in November taking over both of Bangkok’s airports for a week, causing immense disruption to tourism and the Thai economy. However, while several protesters were killed or injured in scuffles, by and large the protests were peaceful and no tourists were harmed.
Following the resignation of the prime minister in December 2008, things have gone back to normal for the time being, but the situation remains unstable. Keep an eye on the news and try to keep your plans flexible. Avoid demonstrations and other political gatherings.
Do not under any circumstances say anything negative about the Thai royal family. This extends as far as the currency, which bears the picture of the king. Many locals will not hesitate to physically assault you or at the least verbally attack you. This will also usually land you in prison and your embassy will have little influence in freeing you.
Thailand has more than its fair share of scams, but most are easily avoided with some common sense.
More a nuisance than a danger, a common scam by touts, taxi drivers and tuk-tuk drivers in Thailand is to wait by important monuments and temples and waylay Western travellers, telling them that the site is closed for a “Buddhist holiday”, “repairs” or a similar reason. The ‘helpful’ driver will then offer to take the traveller to another site, such as a market or store. Travellers who accept these offers will often end up at out-of-the-way markets with outrageous prices – and no way to get back to the center of town where they came from. Always check at the front gate of the site you’re visiting to make sure it’s really closed.
Some Tuk-tuk drivers might demand much higher price than agreed, or they might take you to a sex show, pretending they didn’t understand the address (they get commissions from sex shows). For the same reason, avoid drivers who propose their services without being asked, especially near major tourist attractions.
Don’t buy any sightseeing tours at the airport. If you do, they will phone several times to your hotel to remind you about the tour. During the tour, you will be shortly taken to a small temple, without a guide, and then one shop after another (they get commissions). They might refuse to take you back home until you see all the shops. On your way back, they pressure you to buy more tours.
Easily identified with practice, it is not uncommon in tourist areas to be approached by a clean cut, well dressed man who often will be toting a cellphone. These scammers will start up polite conversation, showing interest in the unsuspecting tourist’s background, family, or itinerary. Inevitably, the conversation will drift to the meat of the scam. This may be something as innocuous as over-priced tickets to a kantok meal and show, or as serious as a gambling scam or (particularly in Bangkok) the infamous gem scam. Once identified, the wary traveller should have no trouble picking out these scammers from a crowd. The tell-tale well pressed slacks and button down shirt, freshly cut hair of a conservative style, and late-model cellphone comprise their uniform. Milling around tourist areas without any clear purpose for doing so, the careful traveller should have no difficulty detecting and avoiding these scammers.
Many visitors will encounter young Thai ladies armed with a clipboard and a smile enquiring as to their nationality, often with an aside along the lines of “please help me to earn 30 baht”. The suggestion is that the visitor completes a tourism questionnaire (which includes supplying their hotel name and room number) with the incentive that they just might win a prize – the reality is that everyone gets a call to say that they are a “winner”; however, the prize can only be collected by attending an arduous time-share presentation. Note that the lady with the clipboard doesn’t get her 30 baht if you don’t attend the presentation; also that only English-speaking nationalities are targeted.
A more recent serious scam involves being accused of shoplifting in the duty free shops in the Bangkok airport. This may involve accidentally straying across ill defined boundaries between shops with merchandise in hand, or being given a “free gift”. Always get a receipt. Those accused are threatened with long prison sentences, then given the opportunity to pay $10,000 or more as “bail” to make the problem disappear and to be allowed to leave Thailand. If you end up in this pickle, contact your embassy and use their lawyer or translator, not the “helpful” guy hanging around.
Robbery on buses
Theft is common enough in Thailand – and buses are a favourite venue. In one famous case, the owner of Noporat Tours in Phuket was caught rifling minibus passengers’ bags during a rest stop. People are also drugged and robbed on overnight buses. Steer clear of cheapish and non-government buses, and keep your money in a money belt or another hard-to-reach place. Decline offers of food and especially drink. Warning your travel companions about these dangers will be useful. If robbed, refuse to get off the bus, loudly tell the other passengers what has happened, and ask the driver to call the police.
Thailand has extremely strict drug laws and your foreign passport is not enough to get you out of legal hot water. Possession and trafficking offenses that would merit traffic-ticket misdemeanors in other countries can result in life imprisonment or even death in Thailand. Police frequently raid nightclubs, particularly in Bangkok, with urine tests and full body searches on all patrons. Ko Pha Ngan‘s notoriously drug-fueled Full Moon Parties also often draw police attention.
Possession of cannabis (กัญชา ganchaa), while illegal, is treated less harshly and, if busted, you may be able to pay an “on the spot fine” to get out, although even this can set you back tens of thousands of baht. It’s highly unwise to rely on this. While some police will accept payments on the spot for violating drug laws, others will strictly follow the harsh drug laws to the letter.
Penalties for drug possession in Thailand vary in harshness depending on the following: category of drug, amount of drug, and intent of the possessor. If you do take the risk and get arrested on drug-related charges, you would do well to immediately contact your embassy as a first step. The embassy usually cannot get you out of jail but can alert your home country of your arrest and can often put you in contact with a lawyer in Thailand. The availability of drugs in Thailand can mislead tourists into making light of the penalties for possessing or selling drugs, but that is unwise.
In 2004, long-simmering resentment in the southern-most Muslim-majority provinces burst into violence in Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala provinces. All are off the beaten tourist trail, although the eastern rail line from Hat Yai to Sungai Kolok (gateway to Malaysia‘s east coast) passes through the area and has been disrupted several times by attacks.
Hat Yai (Thailand’s largest city after Bangkok and its Nonthaburi suburbs) in Songkhla has also been hit by a series of related bombings; however, the main cross-border rail line connecting Hat Yai and Butterworth (on the west coast) has not been affected, and none of the islands or the west coast beaches have been targeted.
In September 2006, three foreigners were killed in bombings in Hat Yai. Some rebel groups have threatened foreigners, but while targets have included hotels, karaoke lounges and shopping malls, Westerners have not been singled out for attacks.
Make a photocopy of your passport and the page with your visa stamp. Always keep your passport or the photocopy with you (the law requires that you carry your actual passport at all times, but in practice a photocopy will usually suffice). Many night clubs insist on a passport (and ONLY a passport) as proof of age. It is not required that you leave your passport with a hotel when you check in.
Carrying your own padlock is a good idea, as budget rooms sometimes use them instead of (or as well as) normal door locks; carry a spare key someplace safe, like your money belt, otherwise considerable expense as well as inconvenience may result should you lose the original. Also consider some type of cable to lock your bag to something too big to fit through the door or window.
Thailand has a few dangerous animals. The most common menace is stray dogs which frequent even the streets of Bangkok. The vast majority of which are passive and harmless, but a few of which may carry rabies, so steer clear of them and do not, by any means, feed or pet them. If they try to attack you, don’t run as this will encourage them to chase you as if you were prey. Instead, try to walk away slowly.
Monkeys may be cute and friendly, but in any area where unaware tourists have corrupted them, they expect to get food from humans. They can be very sneaky thieves, and they can bite. As with dogs, you won’t want to get bitten, whether or not they have rabies. Most urban areas do not have “stray” monkeys, but Lopburi is famous for them.
Poisonous cobras can be found throughout Thailand, hiding in tall brush or along streams. You’re unlikely to ever see one, as they shy away from humans, but they may bite if surprised or provoked. The Siamese crocodile, on the other hand, is nearly extinct and found only in a few remote national parks. Monitor lizards are common in jungles, but despite their scary reptilian appearance they’re harmless.
Box Jellyfish have killed ocean swimmers, tourists and locals alike, many survive. All jellyfish stings are extremely painful. Immediate treatment is for cardiac arrest (CPR). 30 seconds of vinegar will keep tentacles from continuing to sting. Vinegar prevents making the contact worse when you wipe the tentacles off with a cloth. At the hospital they might give you antivenom and painkillers. The word is getting out and some resorts have nets around the swimming areas. If you swim in the ocean between India and Australia you should get more information about them.
Thais are normally very tolerant of people and tourists, regardless of skin colour, are very unlikely to encounter aggressive racial abuse. However some visitors may notice their ethnicity attracting some innocent attention. Usually these situations are limited to stares or unwanted attention in shops. Most Thais are often curious to find out the nationality of the black travellers they meet. Apart from this curiosity displayed by Thais, most travellers from more diverse backgrounds will enjoy their time in the country and will find it easy to strike up a rapport with Thais, who are often a bit weary of the younger Caucasian backpackers who treat the country as nothing but a big drinking holiday.
Do not get into fights with Thais. Foreigners will eventually be outnumbered 15 to 1 (even against Thai people not initially involved) and weapons (metals, sharp objects, beer bottles, martial arts) are usually involved. Trying to break up someone else’s fight is as bad of an idea, and your intention to help may get you hurt.
Being a tropical country, Thailand has its fair share of exotic tropical diseases. Malaria is generally not a problem in any of the major tourist destinations, but is endemic in rural areas along the borders with Cambodia (including Ko Chang in Trat Province), Laos and Myanmar. As is the case throughout South-East Asia, dengue fever can be encountered just about anywhere, including the most modern cities. The only prevention is avoiding mosquito bites; wear long pants and long sleeves at dusk in mosquito areas and use repellent (available at any Thai corner shop or pharmacy).
Food hygiene levels in Thailand are reasonably high, and it’s generally safe to eat at street markets and to drink any water offered to you in restaurants. Using common sense — eg. avoiding the vendor who leaves raw meat sitting in the sun with flies buzzing around — and following the precautions listed in our article on travellers’ diarrhea is still advisable.
HIV/AIDS (Estimated adult (15-49) HIV prevalence is 1.3% in 2007) and other sexually transmitted diseases are common, especially among sex workers. Condoms are sold in all convenience stores, supermarkets, pharmacies, etc. Avoid injection drug use.
There’s a pharmacy on every block in Thailand and most are happy to sell you anything you want without a prescription. However, this is technically illegal, and police have been known to occasionally bust tourists for possessing medicines without a prescription — even innocuous stuff like asthma meds.
Thais are a polite people and, while remarkably tolerant of foreigners gallivanting on their beaches and with their women, you’ll find that you will get more respect if you in turn treat them and their customs with respect.
The traditional greeting known as the wai, where you press your hands together as is in prayer and bow slightly, is derived from the Hindu cultural influence from India, and still widely practised. Among Thais, there are strict rules of hierarchy that dictate how and when the wai should be given. In brief, inferiors salute superiors first. You should not wai service people or street vendors. The higher your hands go, the more respectful you are. You will also often see Thais doing a wai as they walk past temples and spirit houses. As a foreign visitor, you are not expected to know how to wai, nor to reciprocate when wai’d to; while you’re unlikely to cause offense if you do, you may well look slightly strange. If somebody makes a wai to you, a slight bow alone is more than sufficient for ordinary occasions, and for business, most Thais will shake hands with foreigners instead of waiing anyway.
Personal appearance is very important in Thailand as a measure of respect to other people, you will find that dressing appropriately means that you are shown more respect in return. This translates in many ways, even sometimes lowering initial offering prices at markets. While some allowance is made for the differing customs of foreigners, Thais respond more positively to well-dressed Westerners.
Traditionally, Thais are modest and conservative dressers. At a minimum your clothes should be neat, clean, and free from holes or tears. Except at the beach or at sacred sites normal western dress is acceptable for both men and women, except that you should avoid clothing showing a lot of skin. Pants are preferable to shorts, blouses should have capped sleeves, and if tank tops are worn, the straps should be thick (i.e., not spaghetti straps). Thai men generally wear pants, and most Thais view an adult man wearing shorts as fairly ridiculous; shorts are primarily worn by laborers and schoolchildren. Men’s shorts should be knee length or more, if worn at all.
Taking off one’s shoes at temples and private homes is mandatory etiquette, and this may even be requested at some shops. Wear shoes that slip on and off easily. Flip-flops, hiking sandals, and clog-type shoes are usually a good pragmatic choice for traveling in Thailand; only in the most top-end establishments are shoes required.
It is best to play it safe with wats and other sacred sites in Thailand; your dress should be unambiguously modest and cover your entire torso and most of your limbs. For men, ankle-length pants are mandatory; on top, t-shirts are acceptable, though a button-front or polo shirt would be best. Many recommend that women wear only full length dresses and skirts; you should make sure that your clothing covers at least your shoulders and your knees and some places may require that you wear ankle-length pants or skirts and long sleeved tops. Shorts and sleeveless shirts are highly inappropriate, as are short skirts. The rules are even more strict for foreign visitors, so even if you see a local in shorts it’s not OK for everyone.
Topless sunbathing is common by western women at many touristy beaches. At beaches which are primarily Thai visitors however, this is not advised.
Buddhist monks are meant to avoid the temptation of women, and in particular they do not touch women or take things from women’s hands. Women should make every effort to make way for monks on the street and give them room so they do not have to make contact with you. Women should avoid offering anything to a monk with their hands. Objects or donations should be placed in front of a monk so he can pick it up, or place it on a special cloth he carries with him. Monks will sometimes be aided by a layman who will accept things from women merit-makers on their behalf.
While some monks do accept money, most of them do not and offering money to a monk is sometimes considered a sign of disrespect in Theravada Buddhist cultures. Therefore, should you wish to donate to a monk, you should only offer food and put your donation in the appropriate donation box at the temple.
The Royal Family
It’s illegal (lèse-majesté) to show disrespect to royalty, a crime which carries up to 15 years imprisonment. Do not make any negative remarks, or any remarks which might be perceived as disrespectful about the King or any members of the Royal Family. Since the King is on the country’s currency, don’t burn, tear, or mutilate it – especially in the presence of other Thais. If you drop a coin or bill, do not step on it to stop it – this is very rude, since you are stomping on the picture of the King’s head that is printed on the coin. Also, anything related to the stories and movies The King and I and Anna and the King is illegal to possess in Thailand. Almost all Thais, even ones in other countries, feel very strongly when it comes to any version of this story. They feel that it makes a mockery of their age-old monarchy and is entirely inaccurate. In 2007, a Swiss man was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for spraying graffiti on the King’s portrait, although he later expressed remorse and was pardoned by His Majesty personally (quote: “It troubles Me when such harsh sentences are passed.”) and deported.
Elephants are a large part of Thailand’s tourist business, and the smuggling and mistreatment of elephants for tourist attractions is a widespread practice. Be aware that elephants are often separated from their mothers at a young age to be cruelly trained under captivity for the rest of their lives. If you intend to go on an elephant ride, purchase an elephant painting or “use” elephants for other activities please take their mistreatment into account. There are a few ethical animal tourism operators in Thailand such as Elephant Nature Park and Maetang Elephant Park in Chiang Mai.
A depressingly common sight on the congested streets of Bangkok and other tourist centers is elephant begging. During night hours, mahouts (trainers) with lumbering elephants approach tourists to feed the creatures bananas or take a photo with them for a fee. The elephants are brought to the city to beg in this way because they are out of work and are mistreated and visibly distressed under the conditions of the city. Please avoid supporting this cruelty by rejecting the mahouts as they offer you bananas to feed the elephants.
Drugged animals such as lizards and birds are somtimes used by touts as photo subjects. These touts are often seen plying the main tourist beaches of thailand. The tout will take a photo with you and the doped up animal and then demand payment.
Rare and endangered species are often sold at markets for pets, and many other animal products are sold as luxury items. Avoid buying rare pets, leather, ivory, talons, dried sea creatures (such as starfish), fur, feathers, teeth, wool, and other products since they are most likely the result of illegal poaching, and buying them contributes greatly to animal endangerment and abuse.
The head is considered the holiest part of the body, and the foot the dirtiest part. Never touch or pat a Thai on the head, including children. If you accidentally touch or bump someone’s head, apologize immediately or you’ll be perceived as very rude. Similarly, do not touch people with your feet, or even point with them. If someone is sitting with outstretched feet, avoid stepping over them, as this is very rude and could even spark a confrontation. Squeeze around them or ask them to move. Even if the person is sleeping, it is best to go around, as others are likely to notice. Take care when you sit in a temple to cross your legs under you “mermaid-style” so your feet do not point at any person or statue. Do not pose alongside a Buddhist statue for a photo and certainly don’t clamber on them. It’s OK to take photos of a statue, but everyone should be facing it. It is considered impolite and disrespectful to visibly sniff food before eating it, particularly when eating in someone’s home (this is true even if the sniffing is done in appreciation). Do not audibly blow your nose in public. Also, as doorway thresholds are considered a sanctuary for spirits, it’s important not to step on a raised threshold, but rather to step over it. Keep this in mind especially when visiting temples.
In Thailand, expression of negative emotions such as anger or sadness is almost never overt, and it is possible to enjoy a vacation in Thailand without ever seeming to see an argument or an unhappy person. Thai people smile constantly, and to outsiders this is seen as happiness or friendliness. In reality, smiling is a very subtle way to communicate, and to those who live in Thailand, a smile can indicate any emotion — from fear, to anger, to sadness, to joy, etc. “Saving face” is a very important aspect of Thai culture and they will try to avoid embarrassment and confrontation.
In public places (such as large markets) the National Anthem is played over loudspeakers at 8 A.M. and 6 P.M. When this is played, everybody stops what they are doing and stands still, and you should do the same. The Royal Anthem is played in cinemas before the film, and everyone must stand. It lasts about a minute, then everyone will continue where they left off. In MRT and SkyTrain stations in Bangkok, the escalators will also lurch to a halt to prevent a large human pile-up.
Bring an open mind and a sense of humour. Don’t come with too many preconceived ideas about what Thailand is like, as media and friends’ experiences have a habit of distorting reality.
If you’re sticking to major cities and tourist areas, don’t worry too much about under-packing; you can get hold of any essentials you’ve forgotten. Essentials are a swimming costume, a day pack, an umbrella in rainy season and some warm clothes if traveling in October to December, as some areas get cool. Some sources say there is no point in bringing a raincoat during the warm rainy season because it is so hot and sticky your raincoat will be uncomfortable. You will only need a couple of changes of clothes as you can get washing done anywhere cheaply. Sandals for when your hiking shoes are too hot can be bought cheaply in Thailand, although large sizes for women are harder to come by. If female and anything above a size 2, busty, or tall, it is often difficult to find clothes that will fit you in any of the Thai shops. If you are male and have a waist more than 38″ you will have trouble finding pants. You will largely be limited to backpacker gear (the omnipresent fisherman pants and “Same Same” t-shirts) or Western imports in Bangkok malls, for the same prices as back home or more. While laundry is cheap, it is useful to bring a few changes of clothes, as you may sweat your way through several outfits a day in the Thai weather.
Take enough padlocks for every double zipper to stop wandering hands and lock up your belongings, even in your hotel room. Lock zippers through the lower holes, notthe upper ones on the pull tabs — although even this precaution won’t help much if you encounter a razor-blade artist.
Take snorkeling gear or buy it on arrival if you plan to spend a lot of your time in the water. Alternatively put up a notice looking for gear from someone who is leaving. A tent for camping if you are a national park buff is a good idea, as is a compass. You might like to bring compact binoculars too if wildlife is your thing. A good map of Thailand is also handy.
Take earplugs for when you’re stuck in a noisy room or want to sleep on the bus. Take a mirror for shaving, as often budget places won’t have any. String is very handy for hanging up washing. Cigarette papers can be difficult to find, except in tourist centres. Climbing shoes for rock climbing are useful as Thailand has some of the best cliffs in South-East Asia.
If you have prescription glasses, it is a good idea to bring a spare pair of glasses or contact lenses plus a copy of your prescription. Bring a book you’re prepared to swap. A personal music player is great as a huge range of cheap music is available everywhere.
Into the toiletries bag throw sun screen and insect repellent. Mosquito coils are also a good idea. A small pocket size torch / flashlight will come in handy when the electricity goes out or for investigating caves. Passport photos come in handy for visas.
If you plan to travel long distances by motorbike, purchase a good quality helmet, which you can do in Thailand. Last but not least, pack your stuff in plastic bags to stop them from getting wet, especially when travelling in the rainy season or on boats.
Aside from the above, the following are recommended:
Connectivity in Thailand is generally quite good.
To place an international call, you can buy a prepaid card (available for 300 baht at many convenience stores and guesthouses) to use with one of the bright yellow Lenso payphones. You should rarely have trouble finding either of these unless you’re way out in the countryside. The international access code is 001.
For mobile phone users, Thailand has three GSM mobile service providers – AIS, DTAC and Truemove - which may be useful if you have (or can afford!) a mobile phone that will work on either one or both of the GSM 900 or 1800 frequency bands (consult your phone’s technical specifications). If you have one, you can buy a prepaid SIM card for any of the Thai carriers in any convenience store for as little as 50-200 baht and charge it up as you go. The Bangkok airport is a good place to buy a SIM card, since the people working at the counters there speak relatively good English. Moreover, at major airports like Bangkok and Phuket, you may be greeted by a service provider giving SIM cards away for free. Look for offers in the baggage claim area.
All phones sold in Thailand are “unlocked”. Which means you can use it with any SIM card.
International rates from a Thai carriers are surprisingly good. DTAC, for example, charges 10 baht/minute to call the USA. Moreover, you can reduce rates even further – from 1.5 times and up to 5-6x for some countries like Russia – by predialing 009 or 008 instead of + before the international country code. For instance, 009 1(xxx)xxx-xxxx for the USA will give you 5 baht/minute rate, at the expense of slight voice quality decrease (which is often unnoticeable).
TrueMove offers very good international call rates from 1 baht per minute to destinations including the USA, Canada, Australia, UK, France and Germany with its Inter SIM promotion. You may find the SIM cards handed out for free at some airports, branded as an AOT SIM and including 5 minutes of free calls back home. Note that you should also use prefixes (006 for better quailty, 00600 for cheaper rate, however, for some countries, the rate is same for both promotions) to get those cheap rates, but this, as well as rates for selected countries, is clearly listed on SIM card packages.
Coverage is very good throughout the country, all cities and tourist destinations (including resort islands) are well covered, and even in the countryside it’s more likely you’ll get the network signal than not, especially with AIS or DTAC SIM. However, if you plan extended stays in remote non-tourist areas, AIS (their prepaid service name is ’1-2-Call’) is a better choice, at the expense of more pricey local calls than DTAC. But the difference, once very significant, becomes less and less with time, both in call rates and coverage. TrueMove coverage is considered the worst, with phones occasionally losing signal even in towns. Nevertheless, if you plan to stay only in major cities/islands, and/or don’t need you phone available all the time when outside of those – True SIM is OK too. As a benefit – now they have 3G (850 MHz only – not all, especially older, handsets do support this band) coverage in Bangkok (center, airport and some other areas), Chiang Mai (entire city, as of June 2010), Phuket andPattaya.
If you plan to visit Thailand at least once a year for short periods, consider buying the SIM with minimal validity restrictions (usually one year from the last top up, even if it was 10 baht). By doing this, you can re-use the SIM on subsequent trips, thus avoiding hassle of buying new one every time, keeping your Thai number the same, as well as saving a bit. For example, DTAC offers Simple SIM plan for that, and before 7-11s sold this one by default, but now they seem to offer cheaper (but with limited validity) Happy SIM instead. Just ask for the former one. Local calls will be a bit more pricey (international are not affected), but usually this is not of much concern for a short time visitor. AIS (1-2-Call) has similar (but more expensive) offerings too, as well as True. If you’ve already got a Thai SIM and want to switch plan, it is also possible for free or with small charge. Consult your operator’s website for details.
For short term visitors, international roaming onto Thailand’s GSM networks is possible, subject to agreements between operators. There is also some CDMA service in Bangkok and some other cities which allows expensive roaming for customers of some North American CDMA networks.
Smart Phones / Tablets / Aircards
A smart phone is an incredibly useful thing to have while traveling. All three GSM operators offer nationwide GPRS/EDGE and limited 3G service. Usually this service is already pre-activated on the prepaid SIM. Internet usage is billed by the minute. Any minute within which your phone accesses the Internet is billed to you. The price of this pay-as-you-use access is not too cheap, around 0.5 to 1 baht/minute; that is comparable to Internet cafes. However, Internet packages can be purchased, which can save you quite a lot, especially if you use this service often. These come in three types: time-based (good for laptop users who spend online just a couple of hours a day), volume-based (appropriate for smartphones or chatting) and unlimited. See this useful guide to 3G data plans in Thailand .
Note that to use 850 MHz 3G (DTAC and TrueMove) you’ll need a phone or USB dongle capable of 3G WCDMA at 850MHz (not the most popular 2100 MHz) band – while many phones (including all 3G-capable iPhones) do, others, especially older/cheaper ones, may not. Check your phone’s manual for supported 3G bands (not to be confused with supported GSM/EDGE bands!). AIS uses even more exotic (for 3G service) 900 MHz band, which is normally used for GSM, so the chances that your 3G device will work with their 3G are even less.
Besides these, there are a couple of lesser-known options:
Many smartphones will access the Internet in the background, even when you’re not actually using the phone or the Internet. This can eat up your minutes quickly (and then will start to consume you remaining bahts much faster!) if you have a time-based package. It’s best to use either volume-based or unlimited package in this case. Alternatively, make sure your phone has a reliable way of turning off the Internet usage. For Android phones, try APNDroid, available in the Android Market. For iPhones, you may need to jailbreak your phone and install SBSettings.
Some smart phones may require you to manually enter the APN (Access Point Name) for the internet to work. APNs have many configurable parameters, but typically only a few pieces of data are necessary. Check your phone’s settings; the procedure for editing APNs varies for different phones.
Topping up (refilling) an Internet package isn’t as straightforward as topping up voice minutes, nevertheless, nothing is impossible if you do know what to do (and even if you can’t speak Thai). While you can easily top up voice minutes at any convenience store, you will likely get a blank stare if you ask for Internet packages. Internet packages can be topped up at cell phone stores, which are easy enough to find in populated areas – however, it is not likely that they’ll be aware of all current promotions and options. More services, obviously, will be available at numerous operator’s offices (dtac shop, TrueMove shop, etc.) generally available at the big malls/trade centers (Big C, Tesco, Carrefour etc.) as well as other public places – refer to your operator’s website for details. Alternatively, you can just call the customer support (1678 for dtac, 1331 for True, 1175 for AIS) – they can both consult you about the nearest office location, if you still need it, or turn off/on any Internet (or SMS or MMS) package you request. However, calls to these service numbers often aren’t free for prepaid SIM users, with calling rate up to (DTAC) 3 baht/minute. If you do not want to spend that every time you need to switch – there are numbers where you can do-it-yourself using a voice menu (free of charge): *1004 for DTAC happy (Thai language only, so consult someone who can understand if you do not), *9000 for True (in English, at least for Inter SIM handed out in the airports).
Internet cafés are widespread and most are inexpensive. Prices as low as 15 baht/hour are commonplace, and speed of connection is generally reasonable but many cafes close at midnight. If you plan to go online for a short time you should first ask if there is a minimum charge. Higher prices prevail in major package-tourist destinations (60 baht/hour is typical, 120 baht/hour is not unusual). Islands with multiple Internet cafés include Ko Phi Phi (Don), Ko Lanta (Yai), Ko Samui, Ko Pha Ngan, Ko Tao, Ko Chang (Trat), Ko Samet (Rayong), Ko Si Chang (Chonburi), and of course Phuket.
Outside the most competitive tourist areas, free Wi-Fi Internet is not as common as neighbouring countries in many budget hotels and guest houses (“mansions”) and they usually charge small fee for Internet by LAN or Wi-Fi even if you bring your own laptop. While Wi-Fi is commonly available in certain cafes and restaurants, it’s frequently provided by carriers who charge fees for using them, and it usually requires a telecom account to finish the registration process.
Keyloggers are all too often installed on the computers in cheap cafes, so be on your guard if using online banking, stock broking, or even PayPal. Using cut and paste to enter part of your password may defeat some of them. Or typing part of the user name and password inside the text input field (for password or username) then clicking outside of it some place in the browser window and typing some characters and then clicking back into the text input field and continuing to type the other part and doing this several times. Otherwise take your own laptop to the Internet cafe.
If you suddenly and unexpectedly find yourself typing in Thai (or any other alien script) you’ve probably accidentally hit whatever key-combination the computer you’re using has been configured to use for switching between languages (often Ctrl+Spacebar or Alt+Shift). To change back, use the “Text Services and Input Languages” option (a quick-access menu is usually available via a “TH” icon visible on the taskbar – simply switch it to “EN”).
The Thai government actively censors Internet access. Even such seemingly benign websites as Rolling Stone Magazine are blocked by the censor. Presumably they once published an article that offended the government.
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Sardinia guide from Wikitravel
Sardinia (Sardegna) is a large island in the Tyrrhenian Sea, between the Balearic islands and
Sardinia, with its quintessential Mediterranean beauty, is mainly loved for swimming, boating, windsurfing, hiking, climbing, and camping, with coastal areas tending to become over touristed especially in the warmest month, August. The inner life of the island away from the tourist spots takes longer to appreciate and requires you to peel away the layers of apparent Italianization. After all, the ancient Nuragic civilization of Sardinia of ca. 1500 BC, whose stone monuments still dot the land, predates even the Etruscan civilization in mainland Italy by several hundred years.
Sardinia is the only region in Italy of Hercynian origin; actually, the Southwest is even older (Cambrian). The mineral riches of Sardinia are the consequence of heavy hydrothermalism during the Permo-Triassic. As in the rest of Hercynian Europe, erosion has taken its toll since the orogeny and has reduced elevations considerably. 30 million years ago, the Sardinia-Corsica block started to detach from mainland Spain and tilted toward its present position. The island is both aseismic and non volcanic.
Sardinia is the second largest island in the Mediterranean Sea (24090 sq. km [9300 sq. mi]); only Sicilyis larger. The island is dominated by the Gennargentu Range (culminating at Punta La Marmora, 1834 m [6017 ft], highest elevation in Sardinia), along with the Monte Limbara, Monte di Ala’, and Monte Rasu ranges (all below 1500 m [4900 ft]); isolated are the Sulcis-Iglesiente hills (1236 m [4055 ft]) of Southwestern Sardinia, once home to a large mining district. Plains are quite rare and reduced in extent, with the exception of the Campidano Plain from Oristano to Cagliari, which divides the main hill system from the Sulcis-Iglesiente, and the Nurra plain in the northwest (between Sassari, Alghero, and Porto Torres), which was once a mining district and quite forested, but is today mostly given to pasture. Sulcis proper (in the extreme Southwest) was a marshy area where malaria was still present in the 1940′s (but eradicated since). Cagliari’s neighbourhood is also flat and boggy; exploitation of salt is a major industry there.
Coasts are generally rocky and tall, especially along the Eastern half; large beaches are found however on the North and Northeast (Logudoro and Gallura), the South (from Teulada to Pula) and the Southwest (Sulcis-Iglesiente). Apart from the Strait of Bonifacio (famed for its often rough sea) which divides Corsica from Sardinia, the surrounding sea is quite deep at short distances from the shore.
Population is low (a little more than 1 650 000 inhabitants in 2010), with heavy concentration in the Cagliari (one third of the total population) and Sassari (one fifth) areas; Olbia is the only other town exceeding 50 000 inhabitants. Other centres include Alghero, Nuoro, Oristano, Carbonia and Iglesias. Sardinia, along with the Valle d’Aosta region at the French border, has the lowest density of population in Italy.
Sardinia enjoys for the most part a Mediterranean climate. It is however heavily influenced by the vicinity of the Gulf of Genoa (barometric low) and the relative proximity of the Atlantic Ocean. Sardinia being relatively large and hilly, weather is not uniform; in particular the East is drier, but paradoxically it suffers the worst rainstorms: in Autumn 2009, it rained more than 200 mm (8 inches) in a single day in Siniscola. The Western coast is rainy even for modest elevations (for instance Iglesias, elevation 200 m, average annual precipitation 815 mm against 750 mm for London).
|Daily highs (°C)||13.8||14.2||15.9||17.9||21.9||26.1||28.9||29.1||26.4||22.2||17.9||15.0|
|Nightly lows (°C)||5.8||6.1||7.4||9.1||12.3||16.2||18.3||18.9||16.9||13.3||9.5||7.0|
Climate of Cagliari, source Global Historical Climatology Network
Summer is dry with very warm weather (35 °C [95 °F] and up being extremely common); however, contrary to the islands of Greece for instance, shade and wind are plenty. Autumn is typically very mild (with averages of 20 °C [68 °F] and up for highs till mid-November), but is subject to heavy rainstorms as noted above. Winter is generally mild on plains (cold spells being however not unheard of) but cool to cold at higher elevations; snow is generally limited to the Gennargentu range. Spring is mild and rainy, but not as autumn. The island is very windy, especially from September to April (northwest winds called locally Maestrale); southeast winds (Scirocco) are frequent during summer and bring invariably hot weather.
Sardinia is home to the old but somewhat mysterious Nuragic civilization (ca 1500 BC); cylindrical towers (called Nuraghi, sing. Nuraghe) dot the Sardinian landscape, and fortified villages can still be found, as in Barumini (Medio Campidano province). The Phoenicians arrived around 1000 BC, founding Cagliari (Karalis, ca 800 BC) and other emporia; Tharros (near Oristano) and Nora (near Pula, Cagliari province) are a must-see for the archeology-minded tourist. Sardinia was contended during the First Punic War between Carthage and Rome, but went finally to the latter. Rome had often trouble with the rebellious locals, but managed quite a large income out of grain and metal mining.
With the fall of the Roman Empire, heavy raiding of the coastal areas by pirates forced the population to the hinterland; Sassari for instance was founded by refugees from Porto Torres. The four Kingdoms (Giudicati of Calaris (Cagliari), Arborea (Oristano), Torres (Sassari) e Gallura (Olbia-Tempio Pausania)) sprang forth during the Middle Ages, but were rapidly colonized (except for the Oristano area) by Pisa and Genoa; in particular the Pisans (the famous Conte Ugolino della Gherardesca of Dante’sInferno and his family) held between 1200 and 1350 the southernmost part of the island, deriving a large income out of the silver mines near Iglesias, which they themselves founded. Spain then seized the whole of Sardinia by the end of the 14th century, and for nearly 400 years the island remained basically out of mainstream European history.
With the rise of the House of Savoy, the constitution of the Sardinia-Piedmont realm was the starting point for the unification of all of Italy. When this was achieved, Sardinia was once again left to its own devices, except for the exploitation of its large mineral resources. Fascism saw important work (in particular the reduction of marshy areas), and in 1948, given the unique socio-political context of the island, Sardinia received the status of autonomous region which it still retains to the present day. With the end of the exploitation of the mines, but with the fast growth of the tourist industry (especially in the Costa Smeralda (“Emerald Coast”) area), Sardinia is slowly converting itself into a popular tourist destination, while traditional stock-herding (in particular sheep) is still a frequent sight.
Along with Italian, Sardinians speak one of the dialects of Sardinian language (similar to Latin). And in the Gallura they speak Corsican, In Alghero they also speakCatalan, while in the San Pietro Island they speak Ligurian. Sardinians generally speak Italian when addressing people they do not know, even other Sardinians, as the four main dialects are rather different. Outside of the cities English is not widely spoken even among the young, and even in the cities only by the young; you might have better luck with French, especially with 50+ year-old people in the cities, but do not expect anything but Italian and Sardinian elsewhere.
Sardinians are generally a quiet and reserved people, especially those of the interior, far from the archetype of the outgoing Mediterranean.
There are airports near Cagliari, Olbia, and Alghero.
Cagliari-Elmas Airport (Aeroporto “Mario Mameli”, IATA: CAG, ICAO: LIEE) is located in Elmas, approximately 6 km West from central Cagliari. It is situated on the SS130 and is conveniently reached by bus (operated by the publicly-owned ARST) from the train station; frequency is every 30 minutes, for a 10-minute trip. The airport is the busiest in Sardinia, the 13th busiest in Italy and the 97th busiest in Europe with 3 333 421 passengers (2009). Cagliari is served directly by domestic and international flights from Western Europe; the well-connected Milan-Linate (IATA: LIN) and Rome-Fiumicino (IATA: FCO) airports can also serve as intermediate stops to Cagliari.
Olbia Airport (Aeroporto di Olbia-Costa Smeralda, IATA: OLB, ICAO: LIEO) is the second busiest airport in Sardinia and the 17th in Italy (1 694 089 passengers in 2009); it is the gateway to the Costa Smeralda and the main hub of Meridiana Fly. It is situated 3 km Southwest from central Olbia and is easily reached by bus (ASPO, every 30 minutes). The airport has slightly less routes than Cagliari, but is nevertheless connected to France, Germany, Great Britain, Spain, Norway, Denmark, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium and Netherlands.
Alghero-Fertilia Airport (Aeroporto internazionale “Riviera del Corallo”, IATA: AHO, IACO: LIEA) is the third busiest in Sardinia and the 20th busiest in Italy (1.507.016 passengers in 2009). It is situated in Fertilia, 10.5 km Northwest of Alghero; there are buses (Ferrovie della Sardegna) from Alghero (every hour, 20-minute trip) and Sassari (9/day, 30-minute trip). Alghero-Fertilia is essentially a domestic airport, but is also connected to London and Frankfurt, among others.
There are ferry services to Cagliari (south coast), Porto Torres (north coast), and Olbia, Golfo Aranci and Arbatax (east coast).
Have a look at Ferriesonline or iTraghetti or you can also compare prices on Traghettiper-Sardegna , or the state-owned ferry service Tirrenia (year-round service) and the private companies Moby Lines, Sardinia Ferries, Grimaldi, Snav.
While it is possible to get around Sardinia by bus and train, doing so may well limit how fast you travel and where you go. If you can, hire a car. It is well worth the outlay, and it will allow you to visit some of the more remote and enchanting places and areas. You may find many companies offering car hire like Hertz and Avis. If you like to save money you can also try brokers like carrentalinsardinia.com or sardinia-rent-a-car.net.
Consult the article on Italy for general information about speed limits, urban areas, police forces, etc. What follows is specific to Sardinia.
There are no toll highways in the island; the main axes are Porto Torres-Sassari-Oristano-Cagliari (Strada Statale [State Road] 131, European denomination E25) and its bifurcation to Nuoro (SS131 d.c.n.), Iglesias-Cagliari (SS130) [the SS130 and SS131 are the only fully 2 x 2-lane roads in Sardinia], the SS125 (Cagliari-Villasimius), SS126 (Sant’Antioco-Carbonia-Iglesias-Guspini-Terralba), SS127 (Olbia-Tempio Pausania-Sassari), SS128 (East-Central Sardinia), SS129 (Orosei-Nuoro-Macomer), SS195 (Cagliari-SS126 through Pula), and the SS291 (Sassari-Alghero). Many other roads are also of great interest for the tourist, such as the SS133 (Tempio Pausania-Palau) or the Chia-Teulada ‘panoramica’.
Many roads are narrow and wind through hilly terrain; be careful and do not hesitate to use your car horn to signal your presence: because of the light traffic, oncoming drivers may not expect to encounter other vehicles. Remember that locals know their roads: they can drive faster than you because of that, do not try to race with them! Beware also of domesticated animals (sheep, goat, cows, pigs) crossing roads in large or small units, especially in rural areas.
Engine overheating may happen in summer because of the heat/topography combination; take the usual precautions.
Paving is generally good on the main axes; it may vary for secondary axes and urban areas, but is often in correct conditions. There are local unpaved roads of touristic interest; these can be in any state, especially after heavy rains, so it is better to go there with a sturdy 4-wheel drive car.
Traffic can become heavy during summer in and around touristic areas, in particular on the SS 125, 126, 127, 195, 291.
A roadmap and a GPS tracking unit (handheld ones are also useful for trekking) are recommended: road signs, in particular directions, are somewhat lacking, especially on secondary roads, whereas crossroads are generally well signalled.
Beware of high winds; gusts in excess of 100 kph (60 mph) are common from September to April.
Many villages have installed speed traps and automated cameras at the entrances: these are almost always signalled and fines for speeding are generally heavy. Quite often, you will cross villages with no pavements, and find elder people there: drive with caution.
Regular, cheap buses between the main centres: Cagliari, Sassari, Alghero, Nuoro etc. You may end up changing buses (or trains) in Macomer. Less frequent buses, but worth persevering for the smaller villages. The main bus company is the public-owned and managed ARST
Sailing is one of the best ways to see Sardinia. Most charters offer many options from bareboat to crewed and cabin charter, with various types of boats being available.
Regular trains from the edge of Alghero to Sassari and from Sassari to Cagliari, although buses are usually quicker. Change at Macomer for trains or buses to Nuoro. Less frequent trains on this and other routes. Both Trenitalia and Ferrovie della Sardegna operate trains in the Island.
In the summer period, twice a week, there’s a small train that travels from Sassari to Tempio and back. It runs especially for tourists and is highly recommended. The train is called “trenino verde” and you can find info here
At many places it is possible to rent a bike quite cheaply, for as little as 9 euros per 24 hours. Compared to the scarce local bus connections a bicycle provides great flexibility for local exploration. With high quality roads and great scenery the bike is very pleasant to ride.
Silver Star Yachting is a charter company with many kinds of Motor Yachts or Sailboats available in Sardinia to charter.
There is much to do in Sardinia, but the island will probably appeal more to nature lovers than to clubbers (with the exception of the Costa Smeralda area, one of the ‘hot spots’ of the Italian show-business jet set).
The traditions and habits are very strong. You will not get any pizzas in restaurants before 7PM, furthermore be aware that you will get nothing to eat in restaurants between 4PM and 7PM, besides ‘panini’ that is usually a cold sandwich with ham and cheese. The exception may be some tourist-oriented restaurants in tourist-oriented places.
Sardinia is part of the Mediterranean area and shares its specific hazards. A few basic precautions are generally enough to stay out of trouble, especially during summer and autumn.
Sardinia is sparsely populated, in particular the interior; help is not always easily found, and there remain large patches of land where mobile-phone coverage is non-existent (e.g. at the bottom of sheltered valleys). Terrain, despite the lack of high elevations, is generally rugged and steep; this, in combination with heat and lack of water, can quickly lead to disaster. Beware!
Summer is hot and the sun quite strong; the usual precautions to avoid heatstroke and sunburns apply. Always take a lot of water with you (especially so when hiking), even if you plan a short trip; bringing along fresh watery fruit (such as peaches) is also helpful. While tap water is generally (but not always) safe, it is recommended to buy bottled mineral water; remember that sweating implies loss of water and of mineral salts.
Autumn is generally fine, but can become very unpleasant because of the heavy rainstorms and hilly topography, creating possibilities for land- and mud- slides; always check the weather before planning a trip, even with your car. Winter and spring are generally safer, with pleasantly mild weather (especially during the day) and abundance of water; but remember that to higher elevations corresponds an increasingly colder weather and larger precipitation. Much of Sardinia (especially the Western part) is very windy from September to April; all drivers, and in particular those with campers, must exercise caution.
Some open-sea beaches are notorious for strong underwater currents (in particular on the West coast); beware that warning signs are not always posted. Ask at your hotel or locals. The Mediterranean sea is no lily pond; every year, there are several people killed by drowning in Sardinia, and regularly victims are imprudent persons dragged from the shore by large waves.
Be careful when hiking in old mining districts (Sulcis-Iglesiente, Sarrabus, Nurra); while local authorities have sealed off many dangerous areas, there remain some. Always avoid dark galleries, because they might hide vertical ventilation shafts; do not venture into closed areas (look for the word Pericolo [Danger] or the usual warning signs). If you want to explore mines, go to the local tourist information agencies; they will direct you to organized tours. There have been tales of individuals (mostly ex-mineworkers) running their own private tours; avoid these, as they are illegal and extremely unsafe, because of risks of cave-ins, water infiltration, etc.
Local fauna and flora can be dangerous or source of discomfort. Three examples:
- Ticks (Rhipicephalus sanguineus) carry infectious diseases and are endemic to certain areas: avoid tall grass fields or close prolonged contact with domesticated animals (in particular sheep).
- Lethal mushrooms (among which Amanita phalloides) are found in the island.
- Barracuda (Sphyraena viridensis, Sphyraena sphyraena) abounds in Sardinia; while excellent cooked, it can be dangerous alive.
Consult specialized texts for expert advice.
Sardinia has a very low criminal rate; even kidnapping, which targeted wealthy (and at times not so wealthy) individuals until the mid 1980s, has completely disappeared.
Beware that some urban areas (in particular the Sant’Elia district near the football stadium and the San Michele district, both in Cagliari) are unsafe.
Be wary of game hunters during the September-February period; check with locals, hotel employees, and the website of the Sardinian Region for legal hunting dates. Do not hike in the wilderness during these days! There are protected areas (It. Oasi di protezione della fauna) but even these are regularly raided by poachers, especially during the night.
From April/May to September, fires plague Sardinia as the rest of the Mediterranean area; some are spontaneous wildfires, but most are criminal. Observe the usual precautions. It is generally forbidden to start domestic fires in forests. Check with local authorities; Sardinia is an autonomous region and Italian laws might be superseded by local provisions
Text taken under Creative Commons Licence.
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Croatia guide from Wikitravel
|Area||56,542 sq km|
|Population||4,493,312 (July 2007 est.)|
|Language||Croatian 96%, other 4% (includingSerbian, Italian, Hungarian, Czech,Slovak, and German)|
|Religion||Roman Catholic 87.8%, Orthodox 4.4%, Muslim 1.3%, other Christian 0.4%, others and unknown 6.1%|
|Electricity||230V/50Hz (European plug)|
|Time Zone||UTC +1|
Croatia (Croatian: Hrvatska) is a country situated in the Balkans and in Central Europe. It is to the east side of the Adriatic Sea, to the east of Italy. It is bordered by Slovenia to the northwest, Hungary to the north,Bosnia and Herzegovina to the southeast, Serbia in the east, andMontenegro to the south.
Northern Croatia has a temperate continental climate whereas the central and upland regions have a mountainous climate. The entire Adriatic coast has a pleasant Mediterranean climate. Spring and autumn are mild along the coast, while winter is cold and snowy in central and northern regions. The average temperature inland in January ranges from -10 to 5°C, August 19 to 39°C. The average temperature at the seaside is higher: January 6 to 11°C, August 21 to 39°C.
Geographically diverse; flat agricultural plains along the Hungarian border (Central European area), low mountains and highlands near the Adriatic coastline and islands. There are 1,246 islands; the largest ones are Krk and Cres. The highest point is Dinara, at 1,830 m.
The Croats settled in the region in the early 7th century and formed two principalities: Croatia and Pannonia. The establishment of the Trpimirović dynasty ca 850 brought strengthening to the Dalmatian Croat Duchy, which together with the Pannonian principality became a kingdom in 925 under King Tomislav.
In 1102, Croatia entered into a personal union with the Hungarian Kingdom. After the 1526 Battle of Mohács the “reliquiae reliquiarum” (remnants of the remnants) of Croatia became a part of the Habsburg Monarchy in 1527. Croatian lands were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the latter’s dissolution at the end of World War I. In 1918, the Croats, Serbs, and Slovenes formed a kingdom known after 1929 as Yugoslavia. Following World War II, Yugoslavia became an independent communist republic under the strong hand of Marshal Tito. Croatia declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. Four years of bloody war followed involving local Serbs who sought recognition of the territories they held, a Croatian offensive in 1995 ended the Serb administration of the larger section whilst through UN supervision, the last Serb-held enclave in eastern Slavonia was returned to Croatia in 1998. The operations resulted in a mass exodus of Croatian Serbs (into Bosnia and Serbia) who had previously inhabited the lands. Prior to the war of independence, Croatia’s Serbian minority made up around 11% of the overall population.
Visitors now to Croatia’s more popular towns would see little physical evidence of this violence and relations between Croats and Serbs are gradually improving. Croatia’s coastal areas are especially stunning, and have the hybrid charm of Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean.
There are three distinct areas of Croatia: Lowland Croatia (cr:Nizinska Hrvatska), Littoral Croatia (Primorska Hrvatska) and Mountainish Croatia (Gorska Hrvatska) and these can be neatly split into five travel regions:
(cr. Istra) a peninsula in the northwest, borderingSlovenia
seashore and highlands north of Dalmatia, includes subregions; Bay of Kvarner and Highlands (Lika and Gorski Kotar)
(cr. Dalmacija) a strip of mainland and islands between the Mediterranean and Bosnia and Herzegovina
including subregions Slavonija and Baranja(north of river Drava) (cr. Slavonija) northeastern area of forests and fields, bordering Hungary, Serbia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina
(cr. Središnja Hrvatska) north central highlands, location of Zagreb
Many Croatians speak English as their second language, but German and Italian are very popular too (largely because of the large annual influx of German and Italian tourists). People in the tourist industry most often speak English quite well, as do the younger generation, especially in the tourist areas of Istria, along the coast down to Dubrovnik, and in the capital, Zagreb. Elder people will rarely speak English, but you shouldn’t have any problems if you switch to German or Italian. If you know Polish or Czech, you can try it as well, as Polish, Czech and Croatian are partially mutually intelligible (but some words are very different) and in many places, Croatian people are used to large number of Polish and Czech tourists.
EU, EEA, Swiss, Andorran, Bosnian and Herzegovinian, Monégasque, San Marinese and Vatican City citizens can enter Croatia visa-free for up to 90 days with either a passport or a national identity card.
Foreign nationals of the following countries/territories can enter Croatia visa-free for up to 90 days with a passport: Albania, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina,Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Israel,Japan, Macedonia, Malaysia, Mauritius, Mexico, Montenegro, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay,Saint Kitts and Nevis, Serbia, Seychelles, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan (Republic of China), Turkey,United States, Uruguay, Venezuela, additionally persons holding British National (Overseas), Hong Kong SAR or Macau SAR passports.
Holders of valid travel documents for refugees or stateless persons issued by an EU member state, Andorra, Canada, Iceland, Japan, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Norway, San Marino, Switzerland, the United States or the Vatican City can enter Croatia visa-free for up to 90 days.
Further, as of the 1st of January 2013, holders of any of the following are exempt from the visa requirement:
Any person not covered by one of the visa exemptions listed above will need to apply for a visa at a Croatian embassy or consulate in advance. The application fee for a short stay Croatian visa is 35€.
More information about visa exemptions and the visa application procedure is available at the website of the Croatian Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs .
Currently, the only non-European flights to Croatia are to Qatar and Tel Aviv. There are occasional charter flights from Tokyo and Seoul. If coming from North America, you will have to transfer at a hub such as Londonor Frankfurt. From Asia, Africa or Australasia, transferring in Doha or Istanbul will be quicker than back-tracking through the main European hubs.
The rail network connects all major Croatian cities, except Dubrovnik (you can take a train to Split then take one of the frequent buses or the more scenic ferry to Dubrovnik, the train station is at the pier). There are direct lines from Austria, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Germany, Hungary, Slovenia, Italy, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, and Greece. There are indirect lines from almost all other European countries.
Tourists coming from or going to neighboring countries should note the following EuroCity and InterCity railway lines:
NB: While Croatia (paired with Slovenia) is covered on some Eurail passes, staff at domestic ticket windows will tend to have no idea about validating the pass on the first day of use. There are recorded instances of staff saying that the conductor would validate the pass, and the conductor simply treating it as a regular ticket. Fortunately, the international ticket staff (particularly in Zagreb) are aware of how to validate the pass, and have been known to validate it retroactively where necessary. They even ask for the details of the domestic ticket seller who gave the wrong information.
The traveller is therefore recommended to have already validated their Eurail pass on arrival in Croatia, or to have it validated at an international window even if the first trip on it will be domestic.
To enter Croatia, a driver’s license, an automobile registration card and vehicle insurance documents are required. If you need road assistance, you should dial 987. The following speeds are permitted:
When driving in the rain, you should adjust speed to conditions on wet roads. Driving with headlights is not obligatory during the day (during Daylight Savings Time; it is obligatory during winter months). Use of mobile phones while driving is not permitted. Maximum permitted amount of alcohol in blood is currently 0.05% (matching neighobring Slovenia and Bosnia Herzegovina) although this has varied recently and was down to 0% until that was found to not be tenable in the country. Use of seat belts is obligatory.
Hrvatski Auto Klub is the Croatian Automobile Club dedicated to assisting drivers and promoting greater traffic security. Its site offers minute-by-minute updates, status of national traffic, weather, numerous maps and webcams located all over Croatia. Content is available in Croatian, English, German and Italian.
Very good network of buses once in the country – cheap and regular.
If you are coming from Italy there are two buses daily from Venice leaving at 11AM and 1:45PM going to Istria, with a final stop in Pula. These are operated by two different bus companies, but you can buy tickets for both buses at the A.T.V.O bus office at the Venice bus station. The office is in the bus station, but located outside on the ground level across from where all the buses park. Both buses pick up at spot b15. It is roughly a 5 hour bus ride, with stops in Trieste and Rovinj. You can also pick up the bus at the bus station in Mestre, fifteen minutes after the scheduled bus leaves Venice. Coming in from Trieste, Italy is popular among Europeans, for Trieste is a Ryanair destination. You cross the Italian-Slovenian border first, followed by the Slovenian-Croatian border, but they are very close to one another.
Dubrovnik and Split are the main destinations of international buses from Bosnia and Hercegovina orMontenegro, with daily buses traveling to cities such as Sarajevo, Mostar and Kotor (some lines such as Split-Mostar operate every few hours). Seasonal lines also extend through to Skopje from Dubrovnik. Border formalities on the buses are extremely efficient, and do not involve leaving the bus (previous services from Dubrovnik to Kotor involved changing buses at the Croatian border).
Osijek is a very big bus hub for international travel to Hungary, Serbia and Bosnia in addition to its local buses, and the station is located conveniently next to the railway station. Many buses heading from Zagreb north into Hungary or Austria will pass through Varaždin.
Ferries are cheap and go regularly between various places by the coast. Although not the fastest, they are probably the best way to see the beautiful Croatian islands of the Adriatic Sea.
Jadrolinija is the main Croatian passenger shipping line that maintains the largest number of regular international and domestic ferry and shipping lines. The following international lines are serviced by car ferries:
Blue Line International also covers the international line:
National airline company Croatia Airlines connects major cities in Croatia to each other and foreign destinations. Due to the comparatively short distances and relatively high hassle of air travel – especially when you travel with luggage – domestic air travel is used mostly for getting to end points – e.g., Zagreb to Dubrovnik (see map) and vice-versa. There is a daily link between Pula and Zadar (continuing to Zagreb) – the 20 minute flight saves a long road journey, though has very awkward flight times.
Another popular flight (available in the summer months only) is between Split and Osijek, saving a long trip back through Croatia, or alternatively through the middle of Bosnia.
Train travel is definitely improving in Croatia, with money being spent on updating the aging infrastructure and vehicles. Trains are clean and mostly on time.
Croatia’s rail network connects all major Croatian cities, except Dubrovnik. If you want to visit Dubrovnik, you will have to travel by train to Split, and then go on the bus for Dubrovnik. Trains to Pula are actually connected via Slovenia due to historical accident, though there are designated connecting buses from Rijeka.
Rail is still the cheapest connection between inland and coast, though not the most frequent. As of 2004, the new 160kph “tilting trains” that connect Zagreb with Split and other major cities in Croatia such as Rijeka andOsijek have been progressively introduced, resulting in higher levels of comfort and significantly faster journeys between cities (Zagreb-Split is now 5.5h from 9, Osijek is now 3 when other trains take around 4.5h). If you make a reservation early enough you can get a substantial discount, or if you are a holder of an ISIC card etc.
Information for the trains can be found on the Hrvatske željeznice – Croatian Railways site in Croatian and English has timetable and prices.
Tickets are not usually sold on-board, except if you happen to get on the train on one of the few stations/stops without ticket sales. However, only local trains stop on such stations. In all other cases, a ticket bought on the train will cost considerably more than the one bought outside the train.
A very comprehensive coach network connects all parts of the country. Bus service between major cities (intercity lines) is quite frequent, as well as regional services. The most frequent bus terminal in Croatia is Bus Terminal Zagreb (in Croatian “Autobusni kolodvor Zagreb”). Despite the recent improvements in the railway network, buses are faster than trains for inter-city travel. See Bus travel in the former Yugoslavia for more information.
Croatia is blessed with a beautiful coastline which is best explored by ferry to access the hundreds of islands.
In many instances, the only way to get to the islands is by ferry or catamaran. If you plan on using either you should check these web sites because they have the regular ferry and catamaran information.
Outside the summer months it is often difficult or impossible to make a day trip to the more remote islands. This is because ferry schedules are made to suit commuters who live on islands and travel to the mainland, not vice versa.
Roads in Croatia are usually well maintained, but usually very narrow and full of curves. Some local roads in Istria have been worn down to a smooth surface from regular wear and tear, and can be extremely slippery when wet. It’s difficult to find a true highway with more than one way per direction, the only exceptions being the ones connecting Rijeka, Zagreb, Zadar and Split. Speed limits are thus low (60 – 90 kmh), and it’s not recommended to drive faster (although most locals do), especially at night. Be aware of animals crossing the road.
Renting a car is around the same price as in the EU (from around €40). Almost all cars have a manual transmission. Most rental agencies in the Balkans allow you to rent a car in one country and drive in the neighboring countries however try to avoid a renting a car in Serbia and driving it into Croatia (or vice versa) in order to avoid negative attention from nationalists.
On the recently built Croatian Motorways toll fees apply (and may be paid in either HRK or EUR), the motorway A6 between Zagreb and Rijeka was finished end of 2008, the main motorway A1 from Zagreb toDubrovnik is still under construction the current ending point is in Ravča, which is 140 km from Dubrovnik. Notice that to reach south Dalmatia including Dubrovnik, you need to cross a short portion of Bosnia-Herzegovina, so check if you need a visa or other special requirements for entry into Bosnia.
When exiting a toll motorway, ask the receipt at toll booth if it is not given to you to be sure you do not get overcharged (you could receive along with the receipt some unexpected change compared with the price you were given verbally)
If an unknown person flashes their car lights at you it may be a sign that they’ve recently passed a police unit doing speed limit checks. Ensure you are on compliance with all the traffic rules and regulations to ensure that you are not stopped.
Be advised that reckless endangerment of traffic (e.g. driving > 50km/h over the posted speed limit, driving under the influence of a blood alcohol content > 0.15) may, under some circumstances, be prosecuted as a felony offense punishable by upto 3 years of incarceration.
You can use a taxi service by calling 970. The taxi usually comes within 10 to 15 minutes from the call except in the busy summer season where it depends on how much business they have. Croatian taxis are generally rather expensive.
You can also book the transportation in advance which is great when you are in a hurry or have a larger number of people in need of transportation, or you just want everything organized in advance.
You can also prearrange a taxi service by E-mail in advance to have even more comfort and to save money since this taxi operators are cheaper than the regular taxi service.
Hitchhiking is generally good. If you can get to a highway toll stop simply ask people to take you with them as they open their windows to pay the toll. The toll collectors usually won’t mind. The tricky part, of course, is to get to the toll stop. If you are in Zagreb and you are, like most people, heading south, take the bus 111 from the Savski most station in Zagreb and ask the bus driver where to get off to get to the toll stop. Next best place to ask people to pick you up are gas stations. And finally, just using the good old thumb will work too if everything else fails.
Croatia has an impressive history, a fact that is best explained through the vast array of sites worth visiting. Most towns have an historical center with its typical architecture. There are differences between the coast and the continental part, so both areas are a must. The most famous is Dubrovnik, a prime example of the coastal architecture, but by no means the only one worth visiting. Equally important is the capital and largest city, Zagreb, with a population of about 1 million. It is a modern city with all the modern features, yet it has a laid back feel. In the east, in the region of Slavonija with it’s regional capital Osijek and the war torn Vukovar are awe inspiring. Scattered throughout the region are vineyards and wine cellars, most of which give tours and tastings.
Sailing is a good way to see the coastal islands and networks of small archipelagos. Most charters leave fromSplit or the surrounding area on the North or the South circuit, each offering its own pros and cons. A good way is to book a package with a company at home, but many Croatian companies also offer both bareboat and crewed charters.
Booking of a charter vessel is basically done in two parts. Fifty percent of the charter price is paid right away, after which the booking is confirmed. The other fifty percent of the charter fee is usually paid four weeks before the charter date. Before the first payment of the charter fee you should request to see the charter contract from the agency where you chartered a boat. Pay close attention to cancellation fees because many times if you cancel your charter vacation you could lose the initial fifty percent you already payed when you booked a charter so take a close look at that in the charter contract. After that you are set for a sailing vacation.
When you arrive to marina where your chartered yacht is situated you need to do the check in (usually Saturday around 04:00 PM) and you have to do the shopping for the charter vacation. Don’t neglect the groceries shopping because the sea is unpredictable and you don’t want to get stuck on the boat without anything to eat or drink.
You can do the shopping in a marina (although the prices are much higher there) or you can order from yacht provisioning services who usually deliver the products to your chartered yacht at no extra fee. This is convenient because it takes the load off you and the things you must do when you arrive at the marina for your sailing holiday.
Croatia was the first country in Europe to start with the concept of commercial naturist resorts. According to some estimates about 15% of all tourists that visit the country are naturists or nudists (more than one million each year). There are more than 20 official naturist resorts as well as a very large number of the so-called free beaches which are unofficial naturist beaches, sometimes controlled and maintained by local tourist authorities. In fact, you are likely to find nudists on any beach outside of town centers. Naturist beaches in Croatia are marked as “FKK”. The most popular nudist destinations are Pula, Hvar and island Rab.
Increasingly Croatia is becoming a popular place for health tourism. A number of dental surgeries have experience in treating short term visitors to Croatia. Croatian dentists study for 5 years in Zagreb or Rijeka. Harmonization of training with EU standards has begun, in preparation for Croatia’s accession.
Facilities for the disabled are not as developed as elsewhere, but there are exceptions to this and certain hotels, campsites and beaches have facilities for the disabled and wheelchair access. A more comprehensive guide to Croatia for the disabled, including contact details or various associations, can be found at
One of Croatia’s more “wild” holiday offers are the lighthouses. Most of them are situated on a deserted coastline or in the open sea. The specialty of this is that you are able to cut yourself off from the rest of the world and take the time to “smell the roses”. Sometimes the best way to relax is to take part in a Robinson Crusoe style holiday.
Croatia has 11 rent-a-lighthouses along the Adriatic coast: Savudrija, Sv. Ivan, Rt Zub, Porer, Veli Rat, Prisnjak, Sv. Petar, Plocica, Susac, Struga and Palagruza.
Croatia’s official currency is the kuna. Although many tourist business owners may accept euros, Euros are not legal tender in Croatia. Any amount of kuna you have left at the end of your stay can be converted to euros at a local bank or exchange office.
Prices are around 10% to 20% lower than most EU countries. Touristic destinations and articles are much more expensive.
As of February, 2013
ATMs (in Croatian bankomat) are readily available throughout Croatia. They will accept various European bank cards, credit cards (Diners Club, Eurocard/Mastercard, Visa, American Express etc.) and debit cards (Cirrus, Maestro, Visa electron etc.). Read the labels/notices on the machine before using.
If you buy goods worth more than 740 kuna you are entitled to a PDV (VAT) tax return when leaving the country. Note that this applies to all goods except petroleum products. At point of purchase ask the sales person for a PDV-P form. Fill it out and have it stamped on the spot. On leaving Croatia the receipt will be verified by the Croatian Customs service. A PDV refund in Kunas can be obtained within six months, either at the same shop where you bought the goods (in that case the tax will be refunded to you immediately), or by posting the verified receipt back to the shop, together with the account number into which the refund should be paid. In this case the refund is dealt with within 15 days of receipt of the claim. There is another, much easier way to receive the refund. Buy your goods in shops with a “CROATIA TAX-FREE SHOPPING” label. This label is displayed on the shop’s entrance, usually next to the labels of credit and debit cards this particular shop accepts. Using an international coupon, refund is possible in all countries-members of the TAX-FREE international chain. In this case the service charge is deducted from the tax refund amount.
Croatia now uses the Global Blue system. They will do the refund and take a commission off the price. You can do this at the airport or post it once you get home.
The ingredients used (herbs, olive oil, etc.) are grown in Croatia. In comparison to some world famous beauty products, Croatian natural cosmetics present real value for the money.
Ulola manufacturers soaps, bath salts, body butters and more. It’s all natural and comes in combinations like: orange and cinnamon, goats milk and almond oil, etc</buy>
S-Atea manufacturers soaps, shower gels, body butter and more. Seaweed, olive oil, rosemary and lavender are some of their main ingredients.
Brac fini sapuni (Brac quality soaps) manufacturers a wide range of natural soaps, the lastest addition to their bath line is Aurum Croaticum made from virgin olive oil and thin leafs of 23 carat gold!
There are many Croatian designers and clothing specialists.
Etnobutik “Mara”(designs by Vesna Milković) offers a range of really unique clothing and accessories inscribed with “glagoljica” (glagolitic script; old Slavic alphabet). Some of her designs are protected as Authentic Croatian produce.
I-gle Fashion Studio by two female designers Nataša Mihaljčišin i Martina Vrdoljak-Ranilović. Their clothing is sold in Harvey Nichols in Knightsbridge (London).;
Nebo (“Sky”) is a fashion house that makes really nice, funky clothes and shoes.
Nit (“Thread”) is definitely not widely known even among Croats but is definitely worth visiting as they have some “funky and arty but serious” clothing items that are “value for money”.
Croatian cuisine is quite diverse so it is hard to say what meal is most typically Croatian. In the eastern continental regions (Slavonija and Baranja) spicy sausage such as kulen or kulenova seka is a must-try.Čobanac (“shepherd’s stew”) is a mixture of several different kinds of meat with a lot of red spicy paprika. In Hrvatsko Zagorje and Central Croatia pasta filled with cheese called štrukli is a famous delicacy (it is said that the best štrukli in Croatia is served in the Esplanade Hotel restaurant in Zagreb), as is purica s mlincima(baked turkey with a special kind of pastry). Sir i vrhnje (sour cream with cottage cheese) can be bought fresh on the Zagreb main market Dolac. Croats love a bit of oil and you will find plenty of it in piroška. In mountainous regions of Lika and Gorski Kotar meals made of mushrooms, wild berries and wild meat are very popular. One of typical dishes in Lika is police (oven-baked potatoes covered with bacon) and several kinds of cheese (smoked cheese and škripavac).
The coastal region is well known for truffle delicacies and soup maneštra od bobić (Istria), Dalmatian pršut(dry-cured ham) and paški sir (Pag-island cheese). Dishes made of fresh fish and other products of the sea (calamari, octopus, crabs, scampi) shouldn’t be given a miss! Many places serve fish delivered from the local fisherman the night before – find out which ones!
Croatian cuisine has yet to come up with a Croatian fast food representative. The market is dominated by globally ubiquitous hamburgers and pizzas but you will also find “burek” and “ćevapčići” imported from the medieval Ottoman empire which stretched from Turkey to neighboring Bosnia. The latter two dishes are widely popular in the entire South and Eastern Europe. Burek is a type of cheese-pastry whereas ćevapčići are seasoned minced meat shaped in finger-size portions served in bread and often covered with onions. Although definitely not a fast meal (takes several hours to prepare) also foreign in origin is the so-called sarma or sauerkraut rolls filled with minced meat and rice. For those coming back from nightclubs at 4 or 5AM as is common in Croatia, it is popular to go to the local bakery and get fresh bread, burek or krafne (Croatian chocolate filled donuts) straight out of the oven. Delicious! As far as fast food goes, who needs it when you can buy delicious prsut during the day and warm bread at night to compliment it. Most Croatians generally look down at fast food.
Desserts: What it lacks in the fast food department Croatia makes up with a myriad of desserts. Probably the most famous is its delicious creamy cake called kremšnite but different kinds of gibanica, štrudla and pita(similar to strudel and pie) such as orehnjača (walnut), makovnjača (poppy) or bučnica (pumpkin and cheese) are also highly recommended. Dubrovačka torta od skorupa is delicious but hard to find. Paprenjaci (pepper cookies) are said to reflect the Croatian tumultuous history because they combine the harshness of the war periods (pepper) with the natural beauties (honey). They can be bought in most souvenir shops though fresh-made are always a better choice. Rapska torta (The Rab island cake) is made with almonds and locally famous cherry liquor Maraschino. It should be noted that this is hardly an exhaustive list and even a casual glimpse in any Croatian cookbook is likely to be worth the effort. Chocolate candy “Bajadera” is available throughout shops in the country and along with “Griotte” is one of the most famous products of the Croatian chocolate industry.
An unavoidable ingredient in many meals prepared in Croatia is “Vegeta”. It is a spice produced by “Podravka”.
Olives: a lot of people claim that Croatian olives and their olive oil are the best in the world, which is not even well known in Croatia and less worldwide. Many brands exist and some of them have several world awards. Try to buy olive oil from Istra (although oil from Dalmatia is also excellent) and choose only Croatian brands for olives (most notable sms, few times awarded as the world’s best!). Try to read the declaration before buying to ensure you are buying Croatian olives and oil, since there are a lot of imports (usually cheap products from Greece). All of this can be found in most of the supermarkets, but you should be really aware of the imports, most of the Croatian people aren’t experts and prefer cheaper products, so they dominate. The olive oil is a irreaplaceable “ingredient” in the coastal cuisine, but you should be aware of the use of cheaper, not Croatian, oil in restaurants because most of the tourists don’t notice the difference so the restaurants don’t find it profitable to use excellent oil; they rather use cheaper Spanish or Greek. Usually, asking the waiter for a better oil (and looking like an expert) helps, and soon he gets you a first-class oil from a hidden place.
Alcoholic: Try many different kinds of wines. Also worth trying is rakija, a type of brandy which can be made of plum (šljivovica), grapes (loza), figs (smokovača) and many other types of fruit and aromatic herbs.Pelinkovac is a bitter herbal liquor popular in Central Croatia, but is said to resemble cough-medicine in flavor. Famous Maraschino, a liquer flavored with Marasca cherries, which are grown around Zadar, Dalmatia. Non-alcoholic: Sometimes although very rarely you may find “sok od bazge” (elderflower juice) in the continental region. Worth trying! Also, in Istria there is a drink called “pašareta” and it is a sparkling red drink with herbal extracts. Very sweet and refreshing! In some parts of Istria (especially south) in local basements, you can try ‘smrikva’ – a non alcoholic refreshing drink made out of berries which grow on one sort of pine tree. The taste is a bit sour but very refreshing.
On a more general note, Croatia produces a broad palette of high quality wines (up to 700 wines with protected geographic origin) and brandies, fruit juices, beers and mineral water. On the coast people usually serve “bevanda” with meals. Bevanda is heavy, richly flavored red wine mixed with plain water. Its counter-part in northern parts of Croatia is “gemisht”. This term designates dry, flavored wines mixed with mineral water.
Two most popular beers are “Karlovačko” and “Ožujsko”, but “Velebitsko” and “Tomislav pivo” have received a semi-cult status in the recent years. It is served only in some places in Zagreb and Croatia.
Officially, alcoholic drinks can’t be sold or served to anyone under 18. However, this rule is almost never enforced.
In Croatia there are 4 major types of accommodation:
Croatia is the destination of many worldwide volunteer organizations that send groups of volunteers throughout the year to help with agriculture, community development, education, animal welfare, and more. These programs are put together by nonprofits, community groups and volunteers to help locals improve their economy and way of life. With rich cultural history and stunning coastline, Croatia is truly is the jewel of eastern Europe. If you would like to travel to Croatia as a volunteer, visit these websites for volunteer programs, accommodations, travel dates, and tours.
During summer make sure you use adequate SPF to protect yourself from sunburn. There are no ozone holes over Croatia but it’s fairly easy to burn in the sun. If this happens make sure you get out of the sun, drink plenty of fluids and rehydrate your skin. The locals will often advise covering the burnt spot with cold yogurt bought from the supermarket.
In case of an emergency you can dial 112 – responsible for dispatching all emergency services such as fire departments, police, emergency medical assistance and mountain rescue.
Since the hostilities ended in 1995, there remain an estimated 90,000 landmines in Croatia. However these are not to be found in areas visited by tourists. If you plan to hike consult locals before you go. The mine suspected areas are marked with 16.000 mine warning signs.
Do not stray from marked roads or known safe areas. For further advice refer to Wikitravel’s war zone safetysection.
Watch out for Bura wind danger signs. Bura is known in Velebit area, can blow up to 200 km/h and is known to have thrown lorries on the sides.
Avoid strip clubs at all costs. They are often run by very shady characters, and often overcharge their guests. Recent cases include foreigners that were charged 2000 euros for a bottle of champagne. These clubs overcharge their customers to the extreme, and their bouncers will not have any mercy if you tell them you are unable to pay. You will soon find yourself in a local hospital. Using common sense is essential, but due to the nature of the clubs this may be in short supply, and you may be better advised simply to steer well clear of these clubs.
There are no vaccination required to enter Croatia.
If you’re going camping or hiking in continental Croatia during summer, you should be aware of ticks and tick-carrying diseases such as encephalitis and lyme-disease. Approximately 3 ticks in 1000 carry the virus.
In Eastern Slavonia (particularly around the Kopacki Rit near Osijek) wear long sleeves and take insect repellent.
Tap water in Croatia is perfectly safe, and in some areas considered the best in the world. However, you can still choose from several brands of excellent bottled water (Jamnica being the most popular, and Jana, several times awarded as the world’s best bottled water).
Keep in mind that 1990s marked with expulsion of Serbian minority and Croatian-Serbian bloody and brutal war is still a painful subject, but generally there should be no problem if you approach that topic with respect. Do not mention WWII holocaust, Jasenovac concentration camp or Croatian nazi past. Visitors will find that domestic politics and European affairs are everyday conversation subjects in Croatia.
Socially, displays of affection among the younger generation are the same as Western European standards, but the older generation (over 65) still are quite conservative.
When driving on rural roads, particularly where a driver has to pull in to allow you to pass, it is customary to wave a thanks to the other driver, by raising your hand from the steering wheel.
Most Croats will respond to “thank you” with something along the lines of “It was nothing” or “not at all” which is equivalent to English “Don’t mention it”.
Croatia uses the GSM 900/1800 system for mobile phones. There are three providers, T-Mobile (also operates the Bonbon and MultiPlus Mobile prepaid brand), Vip (also operates the Tomato prepaid brand) and Tele2. Over 98% of the country’s area is covered. Since 2006 UMTS (3G) is available as well. If you have an unlocked phone, you can buy a Tele2 prepaid SIM card for 25 kn. GSM phones (Nokia 1200, Nokia 2610, Motorola F3, LG KG130 or Samsung C170) bundled with T-Mobile or Vip prepaid SIM cards can be found in post offices, grocery stores and kiosks at prices between 50 and 200 kn.
Alternative to use of mobile phone is Calling Cards which can be found in postal offices and kiosks, there are two providers Dencall and Hitme. You can buy cards from 25 kn.
Area Codes: When calling between cities you must dial specific city area codes: (area code)+(phone number)
Zagreb (01) Split (021) Rijeka (051) Dubrovnik (020) Sibenik/Knin (022) Zadar (023) Osijek (031) Vukovar (032) Varazdin (042) Bjelovar (043) Sisak (044) Karlovac (047) Koprivnica (048) Krapina (049) Istria (052) Lika/Senj (053)
ADSL is common in Croatia. A 4 Mbit connection with unlimited downloads costs 178 kn (€24) per month via T-Com and just 99 kn with some other providers like Metronet or Iskon.
Internet cafés are available in all major cities. They are relatively cheap and reliable. A free Wi-Fi signal can be found virtually in every city (cafés, hotels, private unsecured networks…)no:Kroatia
Text taken under Creative Commons Licence.
Villa Rentals South of France - Group Villa in Côte d'Azur
Who doesn’t like to spend holidays in a Luxury villa in the South of France, Côte d’Azur.
French Riviera is located in the southeast of France, in the mediterranean coastline from the sovereign state of Monaco to Cassis including St Tropez, Hyeres, Toulon…
This place attracted many tourist from all over the world, many celebrities, such as Elton John and Brigitte Bardot, have homes in the region.
Côte d’Azur is really famous for its beautiful beaches like Pampelonne beache, the good climate throughout the year (hot in the summer and mild in the winter).
You should know Côte d’Azur for its many famous events like Cannes Film festival, rally automobile of Montercarlo, Jazz festival…
Côte d’Azur can offer you the Luxury French cuisine with many famous restaurants.
It’s not really easy to find a villa to rent in the South of France because the demand is very high in the peak season.
Please click below for full listings. If you dont find anything you like, please contact us at email@example.com and our team will find the villa of your dreams in the Côte d’Azur.
Côte d’Azur guide from Wikitravel
Located on the French coast of the Mediterranean Sea, the French Riviera (Côte d’Azur) has the glitz and glamour rivaled by few places on earth.
Although the Riviera is famous for the glamour of St. Tropez, Monaco or the CannesFilm Festival, there are many other less well known attractions, such as the perched villages of Eze and Gourdon, the perfumeries of Grasse and the glass blowers ofBiot, the potters in Vallauris. The Riviera has been the inspiration for many well-known artists such as Picasso and many of their works are on display in local museums and art galleries.
One big problem that the Riviera faces is its popularity. During the summer months (July/August particularly) the Riviera is a crowded mess - particularly on the strip of land between the A8 Autoroute and the coast – and events such as the Film Festival drive up the prices of just about everything. On the other hand even in August the lesser known attractions such as the Gorges du Loup and Gourdon are far less chaotic.
The Riviera is well served with roads, railways and Nice Airport is one of the busiest in France.
If you are travelling by car then you should probably arrive using the A8 motorway from Aix-en-Provence or from Italy. The French department name for this region is Alpes Maritimes and the back country is extremely hilly. Driving from Geneva, Avignon or Turin as the crow flies is extremely scenic – however it is also mountainous, slow and not for those who suffer from car-sickness.
If there are no strikes then major towns such as Cannes and Nice are also served by express trains fromParis as well as (for Nice) trains from Genoa and other places in Italy. Due to competition from the European Discount Airlines such as Easyjet, SNCF (the French Railways) often offer very cheap fares from northern France
The Riviera has an adequate bus and train service. Most towns and villages also have taxis. However if you intend to do a lot of sightseeing as opposed to just lying on the beach then you should probably have your own vehicle, despite the dangers of driving here.
Driving a car on the Riviera is only for the brave, the region has one of the worst accident records in France (which is saying something) and every local has his or her favourite story about a mad driver. At vacation times the driving situation is exacerbated by the hordes of tourists from different countries who have completely different driving styles.
The primary artery is the A8 Autoroute which stretches from the Italian border (there is an Italian Autostrada the other side) to Aix/Marseille. The A8 stays close to the coast from Cannes to Italy, west of Cannes it heads more inland with a spur down to Toulon. Between Cannes and Italy there are a number of “Penetrantes” – that is roads that penetrate inland from the A8 towards (and through) the mountains. Apart from the penetrantes and the A8 most roads are narrow, very curvy and hilly when inland and extremely crowded when by the coast. It can be very pleasant to drive these roads as part of a tour but if speed is required it is generally quicker to take the indirect route using the A8.
One additional feature of the roads of this region is that the builders seem to like roundabouts (traffic circles). This leads to two problems – firstly there seem to be a considerable number of people who seem unable to grasp the concept and do unexpected things such as reversing and secondly many of them are wrongly cambered which means that if you take them too fast you end up skidding off the side.
If you drive into Monaco you can in fact drive most of the Grand Prix circuit but do NOT try racing it – the Monaco police do not have a sense of humour. On the way to Monaco you can drive the roads where James Bond has exciting encounters with Russian secret agents and where Princess Grace died.
Although the police are cracking down on drunk drivers, many drivers especially late on Friday night are clearly less than 100%. Driving defensively is a really good idea.
Finally The French government is introducing speed cameras around France there are a few cameras along the highway.
There is one main line from Italy via Monaco/Nice/Cannes and then off towards Marseille. If you must visit Cannes during the Film Festival or Monaco during the Grand Prix then it is strongly advised to take the train from some station a little distance away. The train gets you into the middle of the action and you don’t have to find a parking space or battle with 50,000 other people trying to get down the limited access routes. Unfortunately this does not work if you wish to visit St. Tropez because there is no train to it.
In addition to the mainline there are two scenic branch lines - from Nice to Cuneo and Nice to Digne. In 2005 the branch line from Cannes to Grasse has reopened. This will be especially convenient for people who wish to avoid driving into Cannes.
There is no unified bus network. Rather there is a hodgepodge of routes and information can be hard to come by on the internet. Probably the best place to start is at
The Riviera makes much of its living through tourism, thus people are generally willing to communicate in English – particularly in the most touristy areas. Indeed in the foreign bars and restaurants the waiters and sometimes the managers are native English speakers. However service tends to be better if you try to useFrench. If it is really fractured then quite often people will take pity on you.
Cafés, bars and restaurants are available to meet almost all price-points and most tastes, however the vast majority of eateries serve food local to the area – that is to say Provençal cuisine with influences from Italy.Pizza restaurants are ubiquitous here but the pizza is not at all the typical American style as pizzas normally have a very thin base. Many pizzas are served with a few olives on top unless you explicitly request their absence and it is normal to add a spicy olive oil based dressing – “sauce pimente” – before eating.
Asian cuisine - Indian, Thai, Chinese, Japanese etc. is available but is not common outside the main seaside towns and it can be very hard to get the ingredients yourself although there are specialty stores in Cannes and Nice. Many Asian restaurants offer a multitude of Asian cuisines (e.g. Thai/Chinese/Vietnamese) and the food is rarely spicy unless you specifically request it to be so.
Bouillabaisse and Salade Niçoise are perhaps the best known local specialities although there are others such as Socca. The mountainous back country makes a number of (mostly goat or sheep) cheeses which are usually available in local supermarkets as well as at market stalls. The Riviera has a number of olive oil mills and a lot of olive trees.
Most supermarkets are open Monday-Saturday from approx 9am-8pm and, particularly in the summer, some are also open on Sunday mornings. Most towns have markets which typically operate in the morning and early afternoon of a particular day or days to sell fresh produce. Most towns and villages also have a number of bakeries which generally open from around 6 or 7am every morning as well as butchers, fish-mongers and so on.
The region makes many wines with Cassis and Bandol being probably the best known. The major wine areas are east of St. Raphael and wine tasting makes a pleasant change from other activities. You can taste the excellent vin de Bellet on Nice hills.
Criminals prefer to pick on tourists because the tourists are usually relaxed and not expecting anything.Avoiding being a victim is generally as simple paying attention to what you are doing, locking your car while you are in it and not flaunting your valuables. This can take the fun out of the holiday but on balance it is probably even less fun to be a crime-victim!
Text taken under Creative Commons Licence.
Villa Rentals Marbella - Group Villa in Marbella
Marbella – who doesn’t want to go to this picturesque coastal town in Spain.
Marbella, belongs to the province of Malaga and is right at the heart of Costa del Sol, which has always attracted many tourists and habitants from all over the world.
From actors like Sean Connery and Antonio Bandares to many writers and businessmen, Marbella has been a home to the influential people of this world.
The English particularly have a deep love with Marbella and a lot of them buy villas there after retiring.
Marbella is famous of it’s beaches, Andalisian food and nightlife. This is a spot which will never stop to amaze.
Luckily, our concierge team has sourced the best villas out there in Marbella.
Please click below for full listings. If you dont find anything you like, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will get the villa of your dreams for you.
Marbella guide from Wikitravel
Marbella is one of the Mediterranean’s most representative tourist venues and a top favorite for travellers. What was once a small white village of fishermen is now one of the most cosmopolitan beach resorts on the Costa del Sol in Spain.
The main coast road (N340, now known as the A7) connects the major towns along the whole southern coast and Marbella is approx 30 minutes drive along the N340 from the provincial capital, Malaga. If you are prepared to pay the toll fee (around 4-6 Euros depending upon season) you can take the new AP-7 road which runs parallel to the N340, but with less traffic and higher speed limits means you will reach your destination more quickly.
From Malaga Airport, buy a bus ticket from the vendor facing the exit of the arrivals hall. In July 2011, a one way ticket cost under 5 Euros. The buses will arrive every hour or two on the road behind the vendor. Make sure to be there on time, since the bus leaves exactly on time, or even a minute before… The buses are modern and air conditioned. Make sure to sit on the left side of the bus if you want to see the beautiful coastal view (Although you’ll get a much better view sitting on the right in the opposite direction). Without traffic (there really shouldn’t be any, since the bus takes the toll road), the ride should take around 40 min.
There are high quality regular bus services along the length of the Costa. Although cheap, the buses can run to their own timetable (!) and are often very busy in summer.
Taxis are available from Malaga Airport to Marbella outside AGP airport. The cost of the journey is around €68. The disabled can also pre-book a wheelchair accessible taxi or minivan online with Marbella Taxis for €65
Most late night action takes place in Puerto Banús, or in one of the clubs along the 7 km road there.
Text taken under Creative Commons Licence.
Luxury Villas in Mallorca, Villa Rentals Mallorca Groups
The world has a love affair with Mallorca.
From A listers to bohemians, the Spanish Island of Mallorca takes your breath away.
With a perfect mix of wild life, golf, beaches and party, you can bet your money on Mallorca.
One thing which is not easy is finding a nice villa to rent in Mallorca. Places are limited and they get booked up pretty quickly.
Please click below for listings:
Mallorca Guide by WikiTravel:
Mallorca (3640 sq.km) is known as an easy-to-reach mecca for friends of sunny beaches, amazing landscapes, wonderful mountains and affordable mediterranean food. With a coastline of more than 550km. In high season the island receives about 8 millions of tourists from around the world. This is both a blessing and a curse for the inhabitants, and they are well prepared for it and provide a very well-organized tourist infrastructure.
Nevertheless, Mallorca can show even other faces when you leave the coastline and take a look at the inner country. Prices fall with each kilometer you move away from the coast, and reach the usual Spanish standards in the center of the island or even some parts of the mountain area.
Geographically the island can be divided into three parts. The Serra de Tramuntana rocks extend from south-west to north-east, while the Serra de Llevant stretches along the eastern coast. Between them lies the central plain (Es pla).
The natives speak so-called Mallorquí, a sub-dialect of “Balear”, a regional dialect of Catalan. Schools teach Catalan and Spanish; both are official languages in this region. Most people can speak both languages.
Mallorca has beautiful white sand and crystal water beaches, so most are base for package tourists nowadays. In more remote areas you might find very rarely visited beaches.
There are frequent flights from many European cities to Palma de Mallorca airport. In particular, many of the discount airlines have daily flights.
From the airport (Sant Joan airport ) public buses run frequently to central Palma. Many car rental agencies have their offices at the airport.
You can catch a ferry to Palma de Mallorca from the other Balearic Islands or from several points on the Spanish coast, including Barcelona and Valencia and a super-fast ferry service from Denia Alicante. You can catch a ferry to Alcudia from Menorca.
Many spots are reachable by bus; while transportation between the major holiday resorts is no problem, especially medium- and long-distance services may be as sparse as one bus per week; many bus routes are not served at all on Sundays, in the lower season and during the night. Schedules are available online.
There is inland train transportation, but mainly limited to Puerto de Sóller, Manacor, Inca, Sa Pobla and Sineu. Rural halts tend to be far away from town centres, but there are usually bus shuttles available.
Cars can be hired in many tourist towns, especially along the coast. Unless in high season, when you should book your rental in advance if you want to ensure getting one, hiring a car directly at the airport without reservation shouldn’t be any problem at all. However, as “at desk” rental prices are often far higher than booking in advance it may be prudent to organise it from home before you arrive (and to avoid disappointment during peak periods).
When you are only for short time in the island the best way is to take one of the conducted tours organized by the Official tourguides center in Mallorca . Valldemossa is only 18 km away from Palma (tour of 3 or 4 hours will be perfect. This itinerary takes visitors around the streets, plazas and most picturesque spots in the village of Valldemossa, an introduction to the French writer Aurore Dudevant (aka George Sand) and Polish composer Frederick Chopin’s stay on Mallorca. The celebrated couple resided in this Mallorcan village during the winter of 1838-39. Its landscapes, peoples and customs made a strong impression on the writer. During their visit, the couple stayed in cells at the Royal Carthusian Monastery.
Note - If you find yourself in Palma, looking for a quieter beach than the 5km strand (Platja de Palma), take the line 3 of the town’s public bus company “EMT” (blue and white buses) all the way to its Western terminus “Illetes”, which is simply called Playa. It is a wonderful little cove set about by rocks, with a local restaurant right on the beach. There are other coves in either direction, but this is the most welcoming.
Recommend Paella, especially the seafood version while in Mallorca.
Local dishes include Frit Mallorquí and Sopes Mallorquines (a simple, yet healthy vegetable soup with meat, wild mushrooms, etc.).
Many dishes are made with Sobrassada, a rather spicy sausage made of pork, paprika, condiments, etc. – also eaten plain on a slice of bread.
For breakfast, instead of croissant, try the typical Ensaimada (a spiral-shaped bun), and for dessert the Gató (a cake made of almond) with almond ice cream.
Finding a restaurant
Palma is most known place for dining, having probably more restaurants than the rest of the island.
For out-of-cities dining, head to Algaida: there are several great restaurants around the village.
In restaurants with average bill under €30, waiters and clients are tolerant to children even of 2-3 years old.
Drinking is allowed if you are 18 or older the same as in the rest of Spain. While alcohol is widely sold, pursuant to local laws only bars, restaurants, discotheques and the like are allowed to serve it after midnight.
Spanish people go out quite late and, while in the main tourist resorts you can find people drinking and chatting from early hours, you will not see many locals before 24:00.
The main nighttime areas are:
Also, you must know that while drinking in the street is allowed, big groups drinkings are not tolerated and the police will fine you if you leave any rubbish in the street. In any case, is better to carry a plastic bag for any rubbish you could have.
You should consider trying the Sangria, a mix of wine, fruit juice and brandy. Another option are the excellent local wines. Many bodegas offer tours with free tastings.
Guide used under creative commons licence.
Luxury Villas in Mykonos - Group Villas in Mykonos
Mykonos in Greece has been one of the most famous destinations for group holidays and group luxury villas.
Travellers from all over the world visit Mykonos every year enjoy sun, sea and parties. Mykonos, attracts a lot of young holiday marker given the party and club scene there.
400 Holidays has acquired the best luxury villas in Mykonos which are fit for groups and families of all kinds.
Mykonos Travel guide from Wikitravel
Mykonos is a popular tourist destination in the Greek islands of the Cyclades group, situated in the middle of the Aegean Sea. Mykonos is located south of Tinos, east of Syros and north of Paros and Naxos.
Mykonos is famed as a cosmopolitan destination amongst the Greek islands and widely recognised as one of the great travel meccas. It is one of the most touristed islands in the Aegean. This means that any visitors should be prepared for loud dance clubs, English breakfasts and over-priced merchandise. Mykonos, along withSantorini, is more expensive than other Greek islands.
Mykonos tends to be extremely crowded with visitors in July and August. The best time to visit Mykonos is mid-May through June (early season, accommodation is much cheaper and it’s not that hot), or September through mid-October (post season).
Ibiza, Gran Canaria, Sitges (all in Spain) and Mykonos are the hottest gay holiday destinations that Europe has to offer. Out of these four Mykonos has the most character. Mykonos is a gay friendly island, featuring a vibrant gay nightlife. Recently quite a few new gay bars and clubs have opened. If you’re gay, get yourself an up-to-date map with all the gay venues. The most popular beaches with gay visitors are Super Paradise and Elia. These are not gay beaches, but they have parts where gay men and women congregate. The only gay beach deserving of the title is the small beach between Elia and Agrari.
Mykonos’ main communities are Chora, the island’s port town and capital, and Ano Mera.
Other small communities include:
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The climate of Mykonos is characterised by hot, dry summers and mild winters. Like in most of the Aegean islands it hardly ever rains during summer but rain showers can be expected between October and April. Temperatures in July and August range from 30ºC (86ºF) during the day to 22ºC (72ºF) at night. The Cyclades are famous for the constant wind (calledmeltemi) in July and August that mitigates the heat a bit.
In the whole period mid-May through mid-October it’s usually warm and sunny enough to enjoy the beaches.
Greek is the official language of Greece, and therefore it’s spoken by all the permanent inhabitants of the island and most of its visitors, but the foreign visitor will have no problem at all communicating in foreign languages, mainly in English.
The journey between the port of Piraeus (Athens) and Mykonos takes between 3h 30min and 5h 15min, depending on the type of ferry you are taking. On a slow ferry a seat in economy class will cost € 32; on a highspeed service expect to pay € 54.50. In Piraeus all the highspeed ferries to Mykonos depart from Port Gate Ε7; the conventional ferries leave from Port Gate Ε1. Most of the ferries connecting Piraeus to Mykonos stop working by end of October and resume by April.
Many travellers probably don’t even consider Rafina a possible departure port if they are heading to one of the Cyclades, but if you are arriving at the airport of Athens you are often better off taking a ferry from Rafina than traveling to Athens and get a ferry from Piraeus. The journey between Rafina and Mykonos takes between 2h 10min and 5h 30min, depending on the type of ferry you are taking. On a regular ferry expect to pay € 23.50 per person for a seat in economy class; on a highspeed catamaran service expect to pay € 52.50. Most of the ferries connecting Rafina to Mykonos stop working by end of October and resume by April.
Mykonos can also be reached directly from other islands in the Cyclades. More than once a day there is a boat connection from Syros, Andros, Tinos and Paros. There are daily boat connections from Naxos, Ios, Santorini and Crete. There’s a daily overnight ferry, the ‘Nissos Mykonos’, from Samos (Vathi and Karlovassi) and Ikaria. There are less frequent boat connections from Serifos, Sifnos, Kimolos, Milos, Folegandros, Sikinos, Thirassia and Anafi.
Pre-booking of ferries and highspeeds is only necessary from mid-July to late August or just before or after a Greek holiday. Beware that every year at the 15th of Augustus the island of Tinos is a goal for thousands of orthodox pilgrims. Most ferries and highspeeds from Pireaus and Rafina to Mykonos make a stop at Tinos. This means that around this period it is recommended to buy tickets well in advance. Also expect a lot of Greek tourist to visit Mykonos around the weekend of Pentacost, which is at movable dates but in 2012 will be at the 3rd and 4th of June.
Keep in mind that if you book your ticket online, you will still need to collect the ticket from a travel agency once you get to Greece.
Boat services can be cancelled due to strong wind. Weather cancellations are very rare, though, only a few days over the course of a summer.
Mykonos has two ports: the old port in Mykonos Town, and the new port at Tourlos, about 2 km north of Mykonos Town. Check before you travel which port your boat will use. Most of the ferries use the new port. The highspeed catamaran services still use the old port in Mykonos Town.
During high season there is an infrequent public bus service from the new port in Tourlos to Mykonos Town. It is best to take a taxi. It is possible to walk from the new port into town, but it will take around 45 minutes along a busy main road without a pavement.
From the old port it is a short and easy walk along the coast into town.
Mykonos is a popular stop on cruise ship tours of the Greek Islands. Almost all cruise ships dock at the new port in Tourlos, some cruise ships use the old port, and if several ships visit at once, one or more may have to moor/anchor off-shore.
If you are arriving at the new port, make use of the cruise shuttle bus to Mykonos Town. You can also take a taxi yourself, but with so many people arriving at the same time it won’t be easy to catch one. The cruise shuttle bus will likely drop you off at a parking area not far from the northern bus station in Mykonos Town. It is less than a 10-minute ride. From there everything is within walking distance.
If you dock at the old port or tender in from your anchored/moored ship, you will arrive within a 10-minute walk of the heart of Mykonos Town, and no bus ride will be necessary or available.
It is easy to explore Mykonos independently. There’s no real need to book excursions. Also the recommended excursion to Delos can be booked independently (guided or unguided).
Mykonos has an airport (IATA: JMK), about 4km away from the main town. There are daily flights from Athens airport (35 minutes) by Olympic Air  and Aegean Airlines . During summer both Olympic Air and Aegean Airlines have daily direct flights from Thessaloniki. In high season there are also less frequent flights from Rhodes, Santorini, Crete (Heraklion) and Volos by Sky Express . During the months of July and August Astra Airlines  flies from Thessaloniki.
From May till October charter airlines fly directly to Mykonos from many European airports.
At the arrival area of the airport you may find an ATM, shops, a cafetaria, public phones, a post box, an office of the Mykonos Hoteliers Association, an Olympic Air office, an Aegean Airlines office and many car rental companies. In the terminal building on the first floor there is a duty-free shop for departing passengers selling tobacco, spirits, perfumes, cosmetics, travel accessories and gift items.
Take a free and useful Mykonos Sky Map  from the luggage collecting hall at the airport. This free map is also sold in shops in Mykonos Town.
Many Mykonos hotels offer airport transfers, at rates that can be anything from free to more than a taxi. Best chance for a free transfer is when you book your room directly with the hotel. A transfer by your hotel is the easiest way to get to your hotel, so check with your hotel before arrival.
Taxis are usually waiting at the airport, at the taxi rank opposite the terminal building, but competition for them can be keen. If there is no taxi waiting you can see the sign with the phone numbers of the taxi radio office so you may call. A taxi from Mykonos airport to town costs about € 8, a few euros more if you are carrying luggage.
During high season there is an infrequent public bus service from the airport to the southern bus terminal, Fabrika, in Mykonos Town. A bus ticket costs € 1.60. The bus leaves the southern bus terminal in Mykonos Town at 12:15PM and 1.45PM, and then is scheduled to go back from the airport to Fabrika 10 minutes later. As the schedule changes every two weeks those times might change a little. It is not really worth waiting around for a bus unless it is already there. This bus service is not useful if you have to go to the (old or new) port.
|Distances from Mykonos Town in km (and taxi prices in 2007)
With a length of 12 to 15 km and a width of 10km, Mykonos is one of the smallest of the Cyclades islands. On Mykonos you can get around by bus, taxi, car, scooter, ATV or boat.
There is a bus network  that takes you around the island. There are two bus stations in Mykonos Town, each on different sides of Mykonos Town. From the main southern bus station, Fabrica, buses can be taken for departures to Platys Gialos (every half hour), Paraga (every hour), Paradise (every half hour), Ornos and Agios Ioannis. There are also night buses from Mykonos to Platys Gialos and Paradise leaving every hour. From the northern bus station which is not very far from the old port ferry quay, buses can be taken for departures to Ano Mera, Elia (departing at 11AM, noon, 2PM, 4PM, 6PM and 7PM, returning 30 minutes later) and Kalafatis. Departure times are clearly marked at the two bus stations and the end of the bus routes. Bus schedules change a bit about every two weeks. Frequencies of buses are higher in high season.
There is no bus connection between the two bus stations. From one bus station to the other will take about 20 minutes of walking through the streets of Mykonos Town.
It is possible to buy your bus ticket from the bus driver (have exact change ready), but you can also buy your bus tickets before boarding the bus. Bus tickets can be bought in advance from a bus ticket vending machine (euro coins necesary) and can be purchased at kiosks, mini-markets and tourist shops as well. There are no return tickets available; for a return trip you simply need two single tickets. Hand over your ticket to the bus driver and he will “validate” it by simply tearing your ticket. There are ticket stamping machines in the bus, but they simply don’t function. Don’t be surprised if a man that is already on the bus near the bus driver will check your “validated” ticket a few minutes later. Even though your ticket is just teared and not stamped, he will inspect your ticket thoroughly, looking for counterfeited tickets. Bus tickets are € 1.60, except for the further destinations of Elia and Kalafatis which cost € 1.70. Tickets for night buses are € 2. Buses in Mykonos are almost always full during the busy parts of the day; the bus driver will squeeze in as many passengers as he possibly can.
On the entire island there are only about 30 taxis, which means that depending on taxis for transport can be an exercise of great patience. In Mykonos Town the main location for taxis is in Manto Square (also called Town Square or Taxi Square), on the harbour front near the statue. You have to wait in line and sometimes you can wait for hours in the taxi queue. In the evening it can be very difficult to find a taxi. Taxis do not use meters, but there’s a notice board giving rates for each destination. Fares are quite reasonable. Calling for a radio taxi costs € 1.30 extra, and an appointment € 5 in addition to the fare. Contact telephone numbers are 22400 and 23700.
The Plati Yalos Boat Service  provides a good and fun way of getting to the southern beaches of Mykonos.
Price for a return ticket is € 5 for Paranga and Paradise, € 6 for Super Paradise and € 7 for Agrari and Elia. Boat services can be cancelled due to strong wind, but with the exception of Super Paradise all of these beaches can be reached by bus from Mykonos Town as well.
From June to September there are also infrequently boats leaving from the harbour in Mykonos Town to Super Paradise, Agrari and Elia.
Mykonos has an extensive public transport system from Mykonos Town. By public transport it is easy to get to all the southern beaches, which happen to be the nicest beaches as well. Renting a motorbike or a car is the way to go if you want to explore the rest of the island, especially the more remote beaches at the north coast. Motorbike and car rentals are readily available around the island. In Mykonos Town the highest concentration of rent a car – motorbike agencies is in and around the area of the southern busstation, where you will find a wide range of choices. The other area of Mykonos Town with rent a car – motorbike agencies is near to the old port, behind the Archaeological Museum.
If you rent a car be aware that cars are not permitted in the town of Mykonos. There are parking areas on the outskirts of town, but during peak season finding a parking space is usually a challenge. You can always try the huge public parking area next to the old port. Considering Mykonos is a very small island, renting a bike might be a better choice, unless you are planning to stay far out of town and from beaches. Bikes are cheap to rent, you can park them almost anywhere, and it is cooler than a car standing in the hot sun all day. Anyway if you have decided to rent a car and are arriving at the Mykonos airport keep in mind that there are a lot of car rental companies at the airport; if you want to save money you can always try to book via a broker like this website.
All museums are open from April to October, except the Archaeological Museum which is open year round. Most people keep the museums for a rainy day, but the Archaeological Museum is worth a visit.
Most of the beaches have tavernas and restaurants and are well equipped with deck chairs and parasols. Most common price is € 12 for a set of two deck chairs and an umbrella. The best beaches are on the south side of the island and sheltered from the prevailing northern wind. On the more popular beaches, it is not uncommon for people to walk down the beach selling probably illegal goods such as DVDs, fake bags, clothes, jewellery and watches. They come right up to you and it can be somewhat annoying but they are easily pushed away with a simple ‘No, thank you’. Also, many beaches, even the more family-orientated, are often populated with the ‘european’ style of sunbathing – i.e. topless.
You can go shopping or window shopping in the fabulous little boutiques which carry exclusive name brands, among them outstanding Greek jewelers, souvenirs as well as works of art. Bring money and credit cards. Most shops are open seven days a week, but will be closed from 2PM to 5PM. Many tourist shops will remain open late into the evening. In case you are looking for department stores, as some cruise tourists do, there aren’t any.
Mykonos is home to a large artists’ colony, so there are a number of fine galleries offering original works.
Of course, you will also find the shops you need to fill all your basic needs and comforts. There are mini-markets, green grocers, butchers, kiosks, bakeries, liquor stores, a few small supermarkets (and bigger supermarkets out of town), many pharmacies, a dry goods shop, bookstores, photo and electronics shops.
ATM’s are available throughout town. There’s a concentration of ATM’s near the southern bus station.
In Mykonos Town you will find most of the restaurants and eateries. All over town there are various gyros and souvlaki shops and creperies where you can eat quite well for just a few euros. Mykonos offers dining options catering to a range of tastes and budgets. You can have good Greek food at reasonable prices, but it also easy to spend a fortune. Almost all restaurants (and many bars) post their prices on menus at the entrance, so as you walk around you can take a look to see which places offer appealing food in your budget range. Restaurants facing the harbour or the sea (especially in Little Venice) tend to have significantly higher prices, because you are also paying for the location and the view. Restaurants in the streets deeper in the heart of town tend to be more reasonably priced.
The town square offers several traditional restaurants.
Mykonos is famous for its intense nightlife as evidenced by a vast number of bars and nightclubs. Drinking can be quite expensive in Mykonos.
Although Mykonos´ nightlife focuses mainly on bars, there are a number of notable dance clubs to be found on the island, some of them attracting world-famous DJs.
The cheapest way to call someone abroad is – and this is really cheap – to use a pre-paid calling card and call from a land line anywhere (also from your hotel room). Pre-paid calling cards are sold in many shops and kiosks in Mykonos Town. The calling card is not much more than a phone number and a pin code, which you dial prior to dialing the usual phone number. If you want to call internationally , ask for a international calling card. For one euro you can call for about 45 minutes, so buy a card in the cheapest value (which is about 3 euros). Calling someone for half an hour is cheaper than sending one email from an internet café. Cards expire usually 90 days after first use. You can use this pre-paid calling card also at public phone boxes, which are widely available in Mykonos Town, though there are a lot of broken phone boxes as well.
Mykonos is generally a safe island, with the only problem of dangerous and drunk driving. Be aware in case you want to rent a motorbike or quadbike, because its roads are sometimes narrow with sudden twists that need driving experience and extra care.