Indonesia Travel

A traditional gamelan band and dance routine in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia, Southeast Asia.

A traditional gamelan band and dance show in Ubud, Bali

Why Indonesia travel?

The world’s largest archipelago (13, 677 islands), set in Southeast Asia, Indonesia has a huge variety of wonderful landscapes and strange islands – the terraced rice paddies of Bali, the forests of Sumatra, the bizarre traditions of the primitive Dani folk in West Papua, the weird Tana Toraja buildings and funeral customs on Sulawesi island, the world’s largest lizards, Komodo Dragons on Komodo Island and Orangutans on Kalimantan.
The people however strangely attired are generally calm and friendly; the food is tasty and varied, the wildlife diverse and there is no shortage of activities.
Finally, masses of gorgeous, stylish, little ethnic hotels offer chic comfort at the right price.

Downsides

Bad traffic in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

Bad traffic in Ubud, Bali.

Traffic congestion, pollution and overbuilding are seriously threatening Indonesia’s tourism industry. This is particularly so in Bali where only the remotest places or upscale resorts (such as Nusa Dua region) escape rampant concrete and the motorised plague that chokes streets for walkers and slows transport between attractions to a crawl, even on a motorbike.

Tourism is visibly falling and so bargain rooms can be found, but while that’s financially good for the tourist it’s bad for Indonesia.

• In some years, air pollution ‘Haze’ has been a problem in summertime.

• Moving from one island to another is time consuming and expensive.

• Because of its popularity, some places such as famous temples or Kuta town/beach in Bali are especially touristy and the local people can be unusually mercenary.

• Beware monkeys. Ubud’s Monkey Forest for example,  which is an hilarious must-see, has several colonies that just love to snatch off a pair of expensive sunglasses and chew them to bits. Or grab a camera or handbag and scatter the contents.

So ensure your belongings are stashed/zippered before getting close to the thieving little chaps, and forget the bananas!

Weather

Pantai Kuta street night, Bali, Indonesia

A rainy night on Kuta’s main street, Jl Pantai Kuta. And no street lights!

This country is the epitome of tropical so temperatures and humidity are generally high and vary little between seasons, and when it rains it pours!

The mountainous central part of Bali e. g. Ubud, gets more rain and cloud than the coast and has lower temperatures.

Best months: June- September is the dry season, with less rain (n. b. not NO rain! ) and lower humidity. Temperatures between 23C – 33C (73F – 91F).
OK months: April, May, October.
Worst months: December- February with endless rain.

Ramadan

Don’t forget that Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim country with 200 million believers. However, the majority are on Java island so tourists are less likely to be affected by Ramadan.
Bali accepts various religions but the predominant one is Hinduism. Balinese Hinduism to be precise.

During Ramadan most, if not all Muslims will neither eat nor drink during the daytime and consequently many cafes, restaurants and even shops may open only after sunset; public eating, drinking and smoking by tourists may upset the locals. In one Muslim country the only alcohol served to us during our visit was from a teapot  into tea cups in a first class hotel.

Furthermore service personnel may be missing, careless or irritable during the daytime.
The last day of Ramadan, known as Idd al Fitr, can be a wild time with much celebrating, depending on location.

Dates depend on the full moon rising in your location so they may differ by one day depending on where you plan to be.

In 2017 Ramadan will start on the 27 May and will continue for 30 days until the 25 of June.
In 2018 Ramadan will start on the 16 May and will continue for 30 days until the 14 of June.
In 2019 Ramadan will start on the 6 May and will continue for 30 days until the 4 of June.

Indonesia travel main attractions

Rice fields in Bali, Indonesia

Typical Balinese rice fields.

This cultured little island is struggling to maintain its rich and colourful Hindu heritage under the weight of uncontrolled development and the excessive traffic and noise that come with it.

Ubud, once a relaxed and charming rural town with shabby-chic hotels and rice terraces is fast – and tragically – becoming a 21stC high-rise nonentity, replacing exotic festivals and fine crafts with swarms of motorcycles, mercenary attitudes and petty crime, mostly committed by either the local Polis in the form of on-the-spot traffic ‘violation’ fines or greedy monkeys.

Visiting elegant temples (pura) of differing shapes, sizes and locations is one of Bali’s must-dos, though some have adopted a tourists-must-pay-and-pay strategy which is deeply unpleasant. e. g. Besakih, the island’s premier temple is a must-avoid. The Monkey Forest temples and the however, are enjoyable and on the edge of  Ubud if you can avoid being robbed by the macaques while Tanah Lot is a busy but iconic sunset strip north of Kuta/Seminyak.

Bingin beach on the Bukit Peninsula, Bali, Indonesia

Bingin beach on the Bukit Peninsula, Bali.

Bali island encompasses a number of excellent beaches. Our favourites for both surfing and swimming are on the Bukit Peninsula in the far south of Bali. See Best Bali Beaches.

Lake Bratan is a long drive but the cluster of temples along the waterfront, fine botanic gardens, good restaurants and boating make it worthwhile.

For more Balinese isolation try heading three hours out from Denpasar to the northwest coast for black sands, turquoise water, grey rocky outcrops and green paddy fields. There’s a lot to do here, including bird watching in Bali Barat National Park, boating and fishing in Gilimanuk Bay and diving or snorkelling 5 miles offshore at Deer Island. Bali Pictures

Java

Borobudur

Borobudur monument, Java, Indonesia, Southeast Asia.

Borobudur, Java

Jakarta… well, we’d prefer to wrestle a Komodo Dragon than spend another night in Java‘s unpleasant capital city, an overcrowded, chaotic, stinking, hot, muggy and deeply unpleasant city, crowded with poor living in rubbish dump slums alongside rampant pickpockets and a handful of mega rich living in bling. There are, however, a couple of modest attractions if you’re stuck there for a couple of days, some pretty good cuisine and many lovely people.

Yogyakarta

Also known as Yogya, Jogjakarta and Jogja) is Java’s best town town, reasonably relaxed and good for Indonesian culture, museums, shows and batik shopping. The Kraton (palace) is the town’s biggest attraction – but that’s not saying much as it has no great statues, no special reliefs and no wonderful paintings so if you’re expecting lots of grandeur, don’t go there.
The real draw for Yogyakarta is as a base to explore Central Java’s sights, volcanoes, tea plantations, the huge Hindu temple complex of Prambanan and spectacular Borobudur, the finest Buddhist monument in Southeast Asia.

Sulawesi island, Tana Torajah

Sulawesi Island, Tana Toraja effigies of the dead, Indonesia, Southeast Asia.

Sulawesi Island, Tana Toraja effigies of the dead.

Sulawesi island is not too difficult to get to and offers a lot – unique and bizarre indigenous customs (especially the funeral ceremonies and strange burial sites), boat-shaped housing, lovely rural landscapes and excellent trekking. Sulawesi Pictures.

North Sulawesi is also a popular diving destination.

Kalimantan

Making up 2/3 of Borneo island (Malaysia and tiny Brunei control 1/3), Kalimantan is a large but little-touristed mass of mountains, wild rivers, primitive cultures, curious beasts and tropical forests, though the last three have been under attack for decades by Indonesia’s illegal logging and mining industries.

Kalimantan main attractions

• Tanjung Puting National Park is highly recommended for river/rainforest riverboat trips and walks. Visit animal research centres and forest safaris to spot varied monkeys, sun bears, leopards, deer, crocs, lizards, pythons, masses of birds and weird insects and of course orang utans.

• water-based Banjarmasin city, a colourful complex of canals, stilt-buildings, the inter-galactic mosque Mesjid Raya Sabilal Muhtadin and brilliant floating markets, though there is a hideous modern side too.

• visiting Dayak people along the Mahakam River via longboat, especially at Tanjung Isuy.

• the Meratus Mountains in the south for adventurous trekking, rafting, Dayak people and wildlife including orangutans.

• cruising the islands and beaches around Derawan island (Pulau) with superb snorkeling and diving.

Baliem-Valley-village-chief, West Papua, Indonesia

West Papua, Baliem Valley fashions in the year 1996. We don’t know what the current fashion is (that’s not the sort of place you go to every couple of years!) but really hope it isn’t shorts and T shirts!

Strangest of all Indonesia’s provinces, the Baliem Valley is home to the primitive Dani people who retain – for the moment – a ‘stone-age’ culture. Hiking here is often damp and accommodation can be basic (e. g. sleeping on straw next to a mummified body) but you won’t forget this place. Or the lack of beer! Baliem Valley Pictures

Indonesia Travel Activities

Surfing

Surfing off Balangan beach, Bali, Indonesia

Surfing at Balangan beach on Bukit Peninsula, Bali

The west coast of Bukit from Balangan in the north to Uluwatu/Suluban in the south offers the best supported surfing in Indonesia, with excellent little places to stay, rental boards, rental scooters with board racks, cold beers, warm friends and often open to all abilities. See Bali beaches for more info

Trekking

hiking-hands, Balim Valley, West Papua, Indonesia

Trekking with Dani people in the Baliem Valley, West Papua, 1996.

The Balim Valley in West Papua (half of New Guinea island) is a fascinating place for hiking with very primitive but pleasant people in damp conditions – the deal is the experience of a totally bizarre culture, not the environment, or Tana Toraja on Sulawesi island for gorgeous pastoral views, wacky housing and fascinating funeral ceremonies August-October.

Wildlife

orang-utan, borneo island

Monkeys, particularly macaques, are noisily visible and sometimes troublesome in many places but to see the big guys who share 98% of human DNA – Orangutan – you’ll have to take a trip over to Tanjung Puting National Park in Kalimantan (Borneo island). Or head for Komodo Island to see the largest, most vicious, poisonous lizards in the world – Komodo Dragons – feasting on goats.

Jungle river boating: Tanjung Puting National Park in Kalimantan is the place for tropical adventures.

Water activities, Bali island: Most beaches offer windsurfing and kayaks but around Kuta and Legian the views are dull and surf makes going tricky so the posh beaches such as Jimbaran and Nusa Dua are better for less experienced sailors. Jet skis are commonplace. There’s often acceptable surf off Kuta beach but the best in the area is on one of the several beaches on the south-east side of the Bukit Peninsula at Uluwatu.
Scuba diving and snorkelling is best off Bali’s east coast (e. g. near Padang Bai), Lombok and Gili islands.

Motorbiking

Bali scooter, Indonesia

Motorbiking , usually rental scooters: bike hire is widely available and cheap and but beware pot-holes, sudden storms and grasping police who will bust you for any infraction (e.g. stopping with your tyre 1cm over the stop line at junctions), or even an imaginary issue, just so long as you have money in your pocket for immediate payment of the fine.

Defensive driving is one survival key, with helmet, obey all laws even if the locals don’t. And hide most of your money so if/when you are stopped and ‘fined’ you can open your wallet and the corrupt copper sees only a lonely 50k note (about $3 in 2016). More information on motorbiking below.

Money

• Exchange rates are controlled these so there will be little difference between exchanges. Even hotels are not unreasonable. All popular town will have various exchange offerings clearly displayed.

However,  spending a million rupiahs on a modest night out may take some getting used to! At this time (2016) 50,000 Rps equals about 4 euros.

• Shopkeepers and hawkers can be pushy and tourists often end up with kit they don’t want, so shop around first and never express an interest in something unless you want to go home with it.

If you do want it, bargain hard, starting with an offer of one third of the merchant’s price (cue: outrage! ). You should be able to finally buy at half the first quoted price (which will be too much), but don’t hesitate to walk away.

• “Sing la Piss” is a useful phrase that’s not difficult to remember. It means, more or less, “I have no money! ”

• a good guide that you trust is worth his weight in rupiahs.

• Some Bali temples, notably Besakih, make outrageous demands regarding entrance fees and guide costs (guides that know nothing except that you should pay also for blessings! ). Don’t patronise the greed.

• Beware gas/petrol pump rip-offs by keeping a close eye on the price/litres.

• Indonesian Immigration Police at airports are notoriously corrupt and avaricious so if there’s any question mark about your passport then you can expect them to demand money with menaces. The best defence (apparently! ) is to make a fuss, shouting loudly about corruption!

• the police (polisi) are even worse, stopping foreign bike riders for imaginary infractions and demanding instant fines or a trip to the police station. I was busted for crossing an orange light on the road from Kuta to Sanur. Since when has that been a crime?

The bike officer told me a court would fine me 1,000,000 Rps but he would take 500,000 to settle now. After a discussion he reduced it to 300k. When I suggested 100k he said “follow me to the police station.” I might have done so out of bloody-mindedness but my partner and I were keen to see Sanur ASAP so I paid the corrupt cop (300k = $24).

However, the next time I was busted for exiting a temple car park from the entrance I argued more forcefully and ended up paying 25000 RPs ($2)

Main Festivals

March/April, Nyepi (Balinese New Year), Bali, a few days

August, Galungan, Bali, 10 days.

May (Full-moon)Waisak, Borobudur, 1 day.

June/July, Usaba Sambah, Tenganan (Bali), 1 day.

August, Caci Whip Duels, Ruteng (Flores), 1 day.

Aug-October (September is the peak), Torajan Funeral Feasts, Tanatoraja (south central Sulawesi), 1 week. Head over to Australia for more orthodox Global Funerals!

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