Hello everyone! Welcome to my first ever blog post! I’m currently in Singapore, (ok well now Bangkok) unwinding a bit after two months in Indonesia. With some good wifi and plenty of free time I’ve finally managed to get this site up and running. I don’t really have any idea what I’m doing as far as website design and blogging goes, but I’ll give it my best shot. If all else fails, there will still be lots of pretty pictures to look at! Anyway, I have a few interesting stories from Indonesia, but for now I thought I would post an overview highlighting all the things I enjoyed and all the things I didn’t in this quirky country.
Visa on Arrival: No need to get a visa ahead of time, just book a flight, pay $25 for the visa and you’ll have 30 days in Indonesia with the option to extend to 60.
Scuba diving: Indonesia is certainly a Scuba diver’s paradise. Considering the sheer quantity of amazing dive locations, it’s definitely one of the best countries in the world for the sport, if not the best. I only dived at a few places (this country is too big!) but I can say for sure that the diving in Komodo is friggen fantastic. 20 manta rays in one dive? Holy Shit! Sadly all my photos were taken above the surface. I think the next spot on my list is Raja Ampat, off in Papua.
Volcano Hiking: Indonesia’s topography is quite tumultuous. Lush coastal lowlands give rise to hilly, undulating terrain that is dotted with skyline stealing volcanos. I’m a big fan of finding the nearest one and getting to the top. Routes are often vague, guides are strongly advised, and early starts are usually involved, but getting to the top of a big volcano for that 360 degree panorama view over the whole island at sunrise is extremely rewarding. The website Gunung Bagging was huge help in finding routes and access to the lesser hiked volcanos.
Blend of cultures: I find Indonesian culture to be particularly interesting. The country is almost 90% Muslim, but it is much less rigid in practice than in the Middle East. There are also many large pockets of Christians, Bali is predominantly Hindu, and many remote places still practice their traditional beliefs and rituals. Some of which are quite shocking!
The Language: In my opinion Indonesian is quite easy to learn. It uses the roman alphabet, grammar is simple, there’s no tone system, and the pronunciation is very uniform. I found it amusing that you can say a noun twice to make it plural. So mobil = car, mobil-mobil = cars. Too easy! I was pleased with how much I was able to speak in two months of travel.
Mangos: Man I love them. I can’t count how many mango smoothies I’ve had in Indonesia. At the market I can usually buy three large mangos for about a dollar. In Sulawesi they have stands that line streets, selling nothing but mangos! Mmm
Massages: Cheap and readily available in most parts of Indonesia. It’s always a nice way to end a hectic day. In Bali the standard price seemed to be about 60,000 rp ($6) for a streetside spa. Oil included. Most massages I had were nice and firm, if not a little bit too firm.
Motorbike friendly: Taking a motorbike is by far my favorite option for transportation. Most places I went it was extremely easy to rent a motorbike, as well as extremely cheap. In Bali and Lombok the standard price for a bike is 50,000 rp ($5) a day, and slightly more expensive in less touristy places. Motorbike is definitely the best way to get out and see what local Indonesian life is like.
Other Transportation: Taxi’s are metered which is nice, and then you’ve also got the ojeks (motorbike taxi) which are a good alternative for a solo traveller. Some bargaining skills required though. I found the ojeks in Jakarta to be particularly exciting, as they’re always ripping their bikes on the sidewalk and down the wrong side of the road to combat the fierce traffic. There’s also the bemos (public mini bus), which are dirt cheap, but they’re not always used to catering towards tourists and knowing a bit of Indonesian makes things a bit easier. Traveling by private car is also relatively inexpensive compared to other countries.
Wifi in Bali: Amazing! Everywhere has it, even the convenience stores, and its usually quite good. It puts Australia to shame.
Beaches: Obviously! I particularly enjoyed some of the ones in Southern Lombok and SE Sulawesi. There's usually a main beach, where you might have to deal with some people selling you crap, but if you look a little harder its not too hard to find your own secluded beach.
The girls: I’m a fan! Well I basically say this about the girls of every Asian country I travel to nowadays, but they're good looking, friendly, and give you bonus points for being white. And some of the girls in Jakarta, my god!
Women carrying stuff on their heads: What's not to love? There's lots of talent (and strong necks) out there!
Traditional Indonesian dress: They have beautiful fabric and sarongs. My favorites are the women’s colorful kebayas (traditional blouse dress combination) and head scarves. Everyone looks very nice going to and from the mosques as well.
People like to be photographed: If you carry around a camera chances are someone will want you to take their photo. And while I try to be discrete if I’m taking a candid of someone, even if I do get noticed, no one seems to mind.
They like to gamble! Even though it’s illegal it certainly doesn’t stop the men from betting on cock fights, horse races, or even the high/low dice game, often with disproportionately high amounts of money compared to their incomes! Pro tip: Don’t play the high low game!
Guinness: They sell Guinness Foreign Extra in Indonesia and it’s a welcome change of pace from all the normal light lagers like Bintang and Anker.
The Magic Hand: Traffic can get very hectic and often there are no stoplights to allow people to safely cross the street. Well in Indonesia you can be your own stoplight! Simply make the stop motion with your hand and walk across the street and people will always stop for you. I’m a big sissy and usually cower behind the locals when they go, but it seems to work like a charm.
Decent western food: Are there lots of Italians who expatriated to Indonesia? They do pizza and pasta quite well. Usually it’s not too much more expensive than the Indo food at the restaurant.
THE BAD AND THE UGLY
Indonesian food: I think out of all the countries I’ve travelled to, Indonesia has the most boring food! Besides the fact that it’s bland (until you add the sambal sauce) there is very little variety. Whenever you stop at a local place for food the menu is almost always the exact same! You’ve got your nasi goreng, mie goreng, satays, curries, ikan, and bakso (fried rice, fried noodles, grilled meat in peanut sauce, curry, grilled fish, and fish balls) That feels like 95% of Indonesian cuisine. It drove me nuts! I’ve never eaten so much western food when traveling before. If I’m at a restaurant that has $4 Indonesian food and $5-6 western food, I’m snap ordering that spaghetti carbonara. Seriously thank god for the awesome food here in Singapore.
The Big Cities: They're sprawling, ugly, polluted, and adding more cars by the day. Traffic in Jakarta is by far the worst I have ever seen. Like massive gridlock everyday by 2pm. Leave lots of time to get to the airport!
The Booze: Way too expensive! I drink hardly anything but beer when I’m in Indonesia because the price of spirits is ridiculous. Most bars only serve imported liquor, which is taxed to high hell, and a mixed drink usually costs at least 5 or 6 dollars. Bottles of hard alcohol bought in the store cost at least two or three times what I would pay in the states. It’s definitely one of the drawbacks of traveling in a predominantly Muslim country. Sometimes you can find locally distilled palm liquor if you know where to look. It’s cheap and the quality varies, but I’ll usually have some if stumble upon it.
Lack of Nightlife: Indonesia has a fairly conservative, early to bed, early to rise type society, so finding anything interesting to do outside of a touristy area at night is probably not gonna happen. Even in Bali when I was outside of the main strip of bars the place felt eerily quiet. I must say though, when I wake up early to catch a sunrise its always amazing to see how many people are already up and about.
The Currency: The biggest bill they have is a 100,000 rupiah note, which is only like 10 dollars! When I first got to Bali I changed 500 AUD to Indonesian and got it all in 50,000 rupiah ($5) notes, wtf. Get some bigger bills!
Pain in the ass to extend 30 day visa: It’s not that bad, but it takes some advance planning. You have go to immigration office with all the required paperwork and it takes 3 days or more depending on where you go. I didn’t feel like dealing with it so I just left the country and came back. If you want to extend past 60 days I believe you need use some quasi-legal means.
Very little English outside the tourist areas: Well this one is a double-edged sword. It can make your life hell if you don’t speak any Indonesian, but helps keep many places in Indonesia not so touristy. Learn at least a little Bahasa Indonesia if come here!
Island to island transportation: Your choices are boats and flights. For longer distances there are big ferries, but they take a long time and sometimes don't depart all that often, so flying is usually your best bet. It can get a bit expensive and you might have to fly back to the airline hub (ie Bali, Jakarta) and then off to your new location. I didn’t plan ahead and spent way too much money on flights here. For small islands taking a local boat is usually your only option. They are sometimes ill maintained and potentially dangerous in bad weather.
Wifi: Most places seem to advertise it, but the connectivity is often spotty or non-existant.
Bali police: They’re always looking to pull over foreigners on motorbikes and make them pay fines. I got two. First one I paid 20 bucks. The second time I learned my lesson and only had 5 dollars on me with no atm card. So a $5 fine. Ha!
Indonesian pop music: You think American pop music is bad? Think again! Whenever you’re in a bus they blast the Indopop ceaselessly. And if you’re on a nicer bus you get to watch the videos too, which all seem to all be in shot in a park or someone’s yard, have super corny editing effects, and probably cost about $20 to make.
The coffee: It tastes fine, but you have to wait for the grinds to settle at the bottom. I drank gross coffee grit one too many times.
Taxes and gratuity charges at tourist restaurants: Sometimes up to 20%! Am I back in America??
Rats: There seem to be a lot of them here…
Having your hotel near a mosque: Considering there are mosques freakin everywhere this is a fairly common occurrence. Get ready to be woken up at 5am to the cryptic chanting blaring from the loudspeakers.
Banana pancakes: It’s not so much that they’re bad, but if you’re at guesthouse that includes free breakfast, guess what you’re getting?! That’s right, a banana pancake! Every damn day. Or maybe you can have toast instead. But…
Indonesian butter: disgusting!
Okay, that’s all I could think of off the top of my head
Conclusion: I can definitely recommend traveling in Indonesia. I mean its so huge and diverse I think almost any anyone can find something they’re looking for. I think it caters a bit more towards the slightly adventurous traveller, as the English and tourist infrastructure in many places is not so good. I especially enjoyed the culture, the scuba diving, and being able to relax on a quiet beach one day and hike up a 3,000m volcano the next. Although it is a bit more expensive than almost any other SE Asian country I’ve been to, so if you’re on a shoestring budget, Indonesia is probably not the best option. And if you’re looking for a party scene, just stick to Bali. But otherwise I think Indonesia has plenty to offer, and I hope I’ll be back some day!