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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.
The new order
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.
Post Reformasi 1998
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.
- Jakarta — the perennially congested capital which is also the largest city of the country
- Bandung — university town in the cooler highlands of Java
- Banjarmasin — the largest town on Kalimantan
- Manado — Christian city at the northeastern tip of Sulawesi, famous for diving
- Medan — the main city of Sumatra
- Semarang — the capital of Central Java, with a blend of Javanese, Chinese, and Dutch influences
- Makassar (Ujung Pandang) — the gateway to Sulawesi
- Yogyakarta — Java‘s cultural hub and the access point to the mighty temples of Prambanan and Borobudur
- Jayapura — the capital of Papua and a gateway to the highlands
The following is a limited selection of some of Indonesia’s top sights.
- Raja Ampat — one of the best scuba diving destinations in the world. It is estimated that over 75% of the world’s coral species lies here. Also there are at least 1,320 coral reef fish fauna here. Located in Papua.
- Borobudur — one of the largest Buddhist temples in the world located in Central Java province; often combined with a visit to the equally impressive Hindu ruins at nearby Prambanan.
- Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park — some of the scariest volcanic scenery on the planet and one of the best locations in the world to see sunrise.
- Bunaken — one of the best scuba diving destinations in Indonesia, if not the world.
- Kerinci Seblat National Park — tigers, elephants, monstrous rafflesia flowers and so much more in this huge expanse of forest in Sumatra.
- Komodo National Park — home of the Komodo dragon and a hugely important marine ecosystem.
- Lake Toba — the largest volcanic lake in the world.
- Lombok — popular island to east of Bali with the tiny laid-back Gili Islands, mighty Mount Rinjani and much more.
|‘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:
- Visa waiver. Show your passport, get stamped, that’s it. Applies only to a few select, mostlyASEAN countries.
- Visa on arrival. Pay on arrival, get a visa in your passport, get it stamped. Most visitors fall in this category.
- Visa in advance. Obtain a visa at an Indonesian embassy before arrival.
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:
- Airports: Juanda (Surabaya, East Java), Adisutjipto (Yogyakarta, Java), Adi Sumarmo (Solo, Central Java), Achmad Yani (Semarang, Central Java), El Tari (Kupang, West Timor), Hang Nadim (Batam, Riau Islands), Hasanuddin (Makassar, South Sulawesi), Husein Sastranegara (Bandung, West Java), Ngurah Rai (Denpasar, Bali), Polonia (Medan, North Sumatra), Sam Ratulangi (Manado, North Sulawesi), Lombok International Airport (Praya-Mataram, Lombok), Raden Intan II (Bandar Lampung, Lampung), Sepinggan (Balikpapan, East Kalimantan), Soekarno-Hatta (Jakarta), Sultan Mahmud Badaruddin II (Palembang, South Sumatera), Sultan Syarif Kasim II or Simpang Tiga (Pekanbaru, Riau), Supadio (Pontianak, West Kalimantan) and Minangkabau (Padang, West Sumatera).
- Seaports: Bandar Seri Udana Lobam (Batam, Riau Islands), Belawan (Medan, North Sumatra), Bitung (Manado, North Sulawesi), Lembar (Mataram, Lombok), Nongsa Terminal Bahari (Batam, Riau Islands), Sekupang (Batam, Riau Islands), Sri Bayintan (Tanjung Pinang, Bintan, Riau Islands), Tanjung Balai Karimun (Karimun, Riau Islands), Tanjung Perak (Surabaya, East Java), Tanjung Priok (Jakarta), Bandar Bintan Telani Lagoi (Bintan, Riau Islands), Batu Ampar (Batam, Riau Islands), Benoa (Bali), Dumai (Riau), Lhokseumawe (North Sumatra), Marina Teluk Senimba (Batam, Riau Islands), Padang Bai (Bali), Selat Kijang (Bintan, Riau Islands), Tanjung Mas (Semarang, Central Java), Tanjung Pinang (Bintan, Riau Islands) and Tenau (Kupang, West Timor).
Visa on arrival
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:
- Airports: . Sultan Iskandar Muda, in Banda Aceh, (Aceh), Polonia in Medan, (North Sumatra), Sultan Sharif Kasim II, Pekanbaru, (Riau), Hang Nadim, in Batam, (Riau Islands), Minangkabau, in Padang, (West Sumatra), Sultan Mahmud Badaruddin II, in Palembang, (South Sumatra), Soekarno-Hatta, Jakarta, (DKI Jakarta), Halim Perdana Kusuma, in Jakarta, (DKI Jakarta), Husein Sastranegara, in Bandung, (West Java), Adi Sucipto, in Yogyakarta, (Yogyakarta Special Region), Ahmad Yani, in Semarang, (Central Java), Adisumarmo, in Surakarta, (Central Java), Juanda in Surabaya, (East Java), Supadio, in Pontianak, (West Kalimantan), Sepinggan in Balikpapan, (East Kalimantan), Sam Ratulangi, in Manado, (North Sulawesi), Hasanuddin, in Makassar, (South Sulawesi), Ngurah Rai in Denpasar, (Bali), Lombok International Airport, Praya-Mataram, Lombok, (West Nusa Tenggara), El Tari, in Kupang, (East Nusa Tenggara).
- Seaports: Bandar Bentan Telani Lagoi (Bintan, Riau Islands), Bandar Seri Udana Lobam (Bintan, Riau Islands), Batu Ampar (Batam, Riau Islands), Belawan (Medan, North Sumatra), Benoa (Bali), Bitung (Manado, North Sulawesi), Jayapura (Papua), Marina Teluk Senimba (Batam, Riau Islands), Maumere (Flores, East Nusa Tenggara), Nongsa (Batam, Riau Islands), Padang Bai (Bali), Pare-Pare (South Sulawesi), Sekupang (Batam, Riau Islands), Sibolga (North Sumatra), Soekarno Hatta (Makassar, South Sulawesi), Sri Bintan Pura (Tanjung Pinang, Bintan, Riau Islands), Tanjung Balai Karimun (Karimun, Riau Islands), Tanjung Mas (Semarang, Central Java), Tanjung Priok (Jakarta), Teluk Bayur (Padang, West Sumatra), Batam Centre (Batam, Riau Islands), Tenau (Kupang, West Timor) and Yos Sudarso (Dumai, Riau).
- Land crossing: the Malaysia-Indonesia border crossing at Entikong (West Kalimantan-Sarawak).
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).
- Before arriving, fill in the arrival/departure card provided to you. This card will be your visa application form.
- When you arrive, go to the bank counter and pay the required amount for your visa. You will be issued a bar-coded receipt.
- Take the receipt to the Visa on Arrival counter where your arrival/departure card, passport and receipt will be recorded by the officer. A visa sticker will be issued and stuck in your passport.
- Proceed to the immigration counter for your passport to be stamped.
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.
Visa before arrival
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.
- Frequent ferries to/from the various ports of Batam (Sekupang, Batu Ampar, Nongsa, Marina Teluk Senimba and Batam Centre).
- Frequent ferries to Tanjung Pinang and Bandar Bintan Telani Lagoi (Bintan Resorts) on Bintan.
- Several ferries daily to/from Tanjung Balai in Karimun Island.
- One daily ferry, increasing to two during weekends, to/from Tanjung Batu* in Kundur Island.
From Peninsular Malaysia
- Daily ferries run from Penang to Belawan, the port for Medan, Sumatra (not operating anymore).
- Daily ferries go from Port Klang near Kuala Lumpur to Dumai in Riau, Sumatra and Tanjung Balai Asahan in North Sumatra.
- Daily ferries between Port Dickson, Negeri Sembilan and Dumai in Riau province, Sumatra.
- Daily ferries link Malacca with Dumai and Pekanbaru in Riau province, Sumatra.
- Frequent ferries go from Kukup, Johor to Tanjung Balai* on Karimun Island in the Riau Islands.
- Frequent ferries link the Johor Bahru with Batam and the capital of Riau province Tanjung Pinang at the Island Bintan in the Riau Islands.
- Regular ferries also link Tanjung Belungkor in Johor with Batam.
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:
- 1st class, around US$40/day: two beds per cabin, private bathroom, TV, aircon
- 2nd class, around US$30/day: four beds per cabin, private bathroom, aircon
- 3rd class, around US$20/day: six beds per cabin, aircon, shared bathroom
- 4th class, around US$15/day: bed in a dormitory
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.
By point to point (scheduled) travel/shuttle
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.
Historical and cultural attractions
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:
- bubur, rice porridge with toppings, popular at breakfast
- lontong and ketupat, rice wrapped in leaves and cooked so it compresses into a cake
- nasi goreng, the ubiquitous fried rice; order it spesial to get an egg on top
- nasi kuning, yellow spiced rice, a festive ceremonial dish usually moulded into a sharp cone called a tumpeng
- nasi padang, white steamed rice served with numerous curries and other toppings, originally from Padang but assimilated throughout the country with lots of variations and adjustments to taste.
- nasi timbel, white steamed rice wrapped in a banana leaf, a common accompaniment to Sundanese food
- nasi uduk, slightly sweet rice cooked with coconut milk, eaten with omelette and fried chicken; popular at breakfast
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.
- bakmi, thin egg noodles usually served boiled with a topping of your choice (chicken, mushroom, etc)
- kuetiaw, flat rice noodles most commonly fried up with soy sauce
Soups (soto) and watery curries are also common:
- bakso/baso (“BAH-so”), meatballs and noodles in chicken broth
- rawon, spicy beef soup, a speciality of East Java
- sayur asam vegetables in a sour soup of tamarind
- sayur lodeh, vegetables in a soup of coconut milk and fish
- soto ayam, chicken soup Indonesian style with chicken shreds, vermicelli, and chicken broth and various local ingredients
Popular main dishes include:
- ayam bakar, grilled chicken
- ayam goreng, deep-fried chicken
- cap cay, Chinese-style stir-fried vegetables
- gado-gado, blanched vegetables with peanut sauce
- gudeg, jackfruit stew from Yogyakarta.
- ikan bakar, grilled fish
- karedok, similar to gado-gado, but the vegetables are finely chopped and mostly raw
- perkedel, deep-fried patties of potato and meat or vegetables (adopted from the Dutch frikadel)
- sate (satay), grilled chicken and lamb
- sapo, Chinese-style claypot stew
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.)
Eating by hand
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.
Places to eat
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!
Coffee and tea
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:
- galian singset — weight reduction
- beras kencur (from rice, sand ginger and brown sugar) — cough, fatigue
- temulawak (from curcuma) — for liver disease
- gula asem (from tamarind and brown sugar) — rich in vitamin C
- kunyit asam (from tamarind, turmeric) — for skin care, canker sores
- Wedang Serbat - made from star anise, cardamon, tamarind, ginger, and sugar. Wedang means “hot water”.
- Ronde - made from ginger, powdered glutinous rice, peanut, salt, sugar, food coloring additives.
- Wedang Sekoteng - made from ginger, green pea, peanut, pomegranate, milk, sugar, salt and mixed with ronde (see above).
- Bajigur - made from coffee, salt, brown sugar, cocount milk, sugar palm fruit, vanillin.
- Bandrek - made from brown sugar, ginger, pandanus leaf, coconut meat, clove bud, salt, cinnamon, coffee.
- Cinna-Ale - made from cinnamon, ginger, tamarind, sand ginger and 13 other spices.
- Cendol/Dawet – made from rice flour, sago palm flour, pandanus leaf, salt, food coloring additives.
- Talua Tea/Teh Telur (West Sumatra) – made from tea powder, raw egg, sugar and limau nipis.
- Lidah Buaya Ice (West Kalimantan) – made from aloe vera, french basil, javanese black jelly, coconut milk, palm sugar, pandanus leaf, sugar.
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:
- Tuak — sugar palm wine (15% alcohol)
- Arak — the distilled version of tuak, up to 40%
- Brem Balinese style sweet glutinous rice wine
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]) :
- Police : ☎ 110
- Fire department : ☎ 113
- Ambulance : ☎ 118
- Search and rescue team: 115.
- Indonesian Police HQ. Jl. Trunojoyo 3, South Jakarta. ☎ +62 21 7218144.
- National Search and Rescue agency (BASARNAS): Jl. Medan Merdeka Timur No.5, Jakarta 10110. ☎ +62 21 348-32881, (☎ +62 21 348-32908, ☎ +62 21 348-32869, Fax:+62 21 348-32884, +62 21 348-32885. Website: Basarnas.
Embassies, high commissions and consulates
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.