Guide to Indonesia
The size of Indonesia is overwhelming and offers the visitor a very individual experience. Whether shopping, visiting temples, enjoying the beaches and resorts in Bali, or venturing further to discover remote villages or the jungles of Borneo and Papua, the visitor is sure to be amazed by Indonesia's diversity.
Capital and major centres
As the nation's centre of government, busi-ness and industry, the capital Jakarta is a modern society that reflects recent decades of remarkable economic growth. The megacity has a population of nine million and is surroun-ded by the metropolitan area, Jabotabek, with a population of almost 23 million.
The island of Bali – tropical paradise and tourism hot spot – lies off the eastern tip of Java. A rich culture, beautiful landscapes and coastline and rural villages keep visitors returning in droves. The islands of Lombok, Sumba, Flores and others form a chain all the way to the eastern most province, Papua.
Sumatra, the world's sixth largest island, is located to the west of Jakarta. The equator divides it in two just north of Bukittinggi. The scenery in Sumatra is amazing – offering incredible mountains, rivers and almost 100 volcanoes, 15 of them active.
Kalimantan, the southern two-thirds of the island of Borneo, was once – and still is for the most part – a vast, jungle-covered wilderness. Boats and ferries are the main modes of transport, and the native Dayak tribe is a main attraction.
The highland region of Sulawesi offers national parks, and a festive culture that includes the famed funeral festivals of Tana Toraja on the south-western peninsula.
Further east still, in the islands of Maluku previously known as the Moluccas, lie the fabled Spice Islands. Many of these areas are just a two-hour flight from Jakarta, and an exten-sive and convenient network of air services connects the major cities and towns.
The fourth most populous nation in the world, Indonesia's estimated 237 million people speak more than 500 different languages and dialects, and range from city dwellers to sea gypsies. Sixty percent of the people inhabit a mere seven percent of Indonesia's land area on the island of Java, while most of the archipelago remains unexplored.
Indonesia has one of the world's richest natural environments, offering an incredible diversity of animal and plant life. While a number of species of fauna are familiar to both Asia and Australia, there are many indigenous species in Indonesia such as the orangutan apes of Sumatra and Kalimantan, the giant Komodo dragons – the only ones of their kind in the world still roaming free, the one-horned rhinoceros of Java, the wild banteng oxen, tigers, and many other species now protected in wildlife reserves.
East of Komodo is the island of flowers, Flores,where Komodo dragons can be found along the west coast, the only other place apart from Komodo. Also on Flores is Kelimutu, three coloured lakes in the caldera of a volcano. These lakes change colour depending on the oxidation state of the water and go from bright red through to green and blue.
Papua, once part of the Australian landmass, has kangaroos, marsupial mice, bandicoots, ring-tailed possums, crocodiles and frilled neck lizards. Indonesia has 400 volcanoes and a spectrum of landscapes from lush green mountain slopes to warm sandy beaches; from rice fields to rainforests and mountains topped year-round with snow.
The most visited islands tend to be Sumatra, Java and Bali, and there is a great diversity of landscapes and cultures in these regions alone. There are also many temples from the Buddhist and Hindu dynasties such as those in Borobudur, Prambanan and the Dieng Plateau, the palaces of the Sultans in Surakarta and Yogyakarta, the Maimoon Palace of the Sultanate of Deli in Medan, and the Hall of Justice in Bali. There are remote villages, the ruins of ancient fortresses and museums, mosques and churches.
Where to stay
Accommodation in Indonesia ranges from deluxe hotels and resorts through to simple economy hotels and 'wisma' (guesthouses) and 'losmen' (rooms to let). Deluxe hotels complete with convention facilities can be found in places such as Medan, Yogyakarta, Surabaya, Bandung, Jakarta, Bali and Makassar, while Jakarta offers a good mix of elegant 5-star hotels and quality three and 4-star establishments. In Bali, accommodation is available in all price categories, in the mountains or along the beach. In Bandung in West Java two old hotels have been restored to their original art deco style. Most hotels in major towns have air-conditioned rooms, but budget hotels are very basic.
Indonesia has a huge variety of local transport, with public mini-buses found in cities and villages. Many towns have bemos, three-wheeled pick-ups with two rows of seats down the side, while the bajaj is found only in Jakarta. Becaks, or bicycle rickshaws, operate mainly in the suburbs of Jakarta and Surabaya, and are increasingly being banned from the central areas of major cities. In Bali, Yogyakarta and many other centres you can hire self-drive cars, bicycles or motorbikes. Taxis are available in Jakarta, Surabaya, Bandung, Solo, Semarang, Medan and Bali. Fares are generally low, and most taxis use their meters. If you choose not to use the meter make sure to agree on a price with the driver before you set out for the destination.
Food and entertainment
As with the cuisine throughout Asia, Indonesian food is largely based on rice. Nasi goreng, fried rice with an egg on top, is one of the most popular dishes. Seafood, including fish, lobster, oysters, prawns, shrimp, squid and crab feature prominently in the Indonesian diet and the cuisine is bold, rich in flavour and heavily spiced. Coconut is also very common and is produced for its cooking oil as well as its milk and white flesh that are used as ingredients in many dishes. A rumah makan, 'house to eat' is generally the cheaper equivalent of a restaurant.
Markets are a good food source, especially night markets. Jakarta and Bali have a wide range of excellent restaurants offering all types of cuisine from ethnic Indonesian to Chinese, Japanese, and also Western and European fare.
There's entertainment in Bali almost every day with exhibitions of Balinese dancing either in villages or at hotels.
Beach resorts offer sailing, surfing, scuba diving and windsurfing. Many areas are legendary for good diving, snorkelling and surfing. Of the 60-plus golf courses in Indonesia, Bali offers three of international standard, including the Greg Norman-designed Bali Nirwana Golf Course.
The more adventurous climber can tackle Mt Bromo in Java or Mt Agung in Bali for a day climb, or try more strenuous climbs such as Gunung Rinjani, the volcano that dominates Lombok. Traditional spectator sports include bull races, bull fights, rowing and unique ram fights, all held during festivals. Silat, a martial art, is regularly performed as a dance or an exercise and is similar to karate. Camp Leaky, in the jungles of Tanjung Puting National Park in Kalimantan, is the site of Dr Burute Galdikas' study of wild orangutans and is the longest continual study by one principal investigator of any wild animal, enabling visitors to witness the rehabilitation of these amazing primates.
On the island of Sulawesi is the impressive Lore Lindu National Park, home to over 200 species of bird, the cuscus, tarsiers, anoa (a rare dwarf buffalo) and babirusa (an animal resembling both a pig and a hippopotamus). The park has been largely untouched by tourism and offers many different treks. Within the park are ancient stone megaliths, waterfalls, hot springs and the large lake of Danau Lindu. Seawalking is a new and popular activity that allows anyone to walk at a depth of three metres along the ocean floor without getting their hair wet or carrying heavy oxygen tanks. The Sea Walker helmets permit close observation of the myriad fish and sea life Indonesia has to offer.
While Indonesian cities have air-conditioned shopping centres, supermarkets and department stores with fixed prices, bargaining is customary in smaller shops and particularly in the markets. The wax-and-dye art of batik is one of the country's best-known crafts, and silverwork, wayang puppets and leatherwork are all found in Java. Woodcarvings, leather goods, paintings, clothing, bone work, bronze castings and stone statues are all available in Bali. There is beautiful furniture and home wares for sale or made to order in Kuta, and from a number of warehouses between Seminyak and Ubud. Sumba blankets, the song-kets of Sumatra, the silks of South Sulawesi and the jumpuntan (tie-dyed) items of Palembang can all be found in Jakarta.
It is hot throughout the year with daily temperatures from 26°C to 33°C with the wet season from October to April. Wear informal, light cotton clothing. In the highlands a sweater may be required. Discreet clothing should be worn at festivals, ceremonies and villages. A sarong or sash may be required for temple visits.
The rupiah is the currency unit of Indonesia. Most major foreign currencies can be easily changed in city banks, bureaux de change and large hotels. Credit cards are accepted in major hotels and restaurants.
1. How do I get to my hotel from the airport?
If you have pre-booked your accommodation, enquire as to whether your hotel or resort offers a door-to-door airport transfer service.
Bali's Ngurah Rai Airport is immediately south of Tuban and Kuta. Ngurah Rai Airport Taxi is the only company that is allowed to have a service counter in the airport. Beware of solicitors of illegal transport, who wait outside the arrival hall. They usually do not have a licence to carry tourists and are often not covered by insurance. From the official counters outside the terminals, there are 'fixed price' taxis. However, be aware that you may be charged at the high end of each range, and if you do not have a room booking, you may be pressured to go to a commission-paying hotel. The budget conscious can walk from the international and domestic terminals across the airport car park to the right, through the vehicle exit to the airport road where you can hail a regular cab for about half the fare.
2. Where do I exchange my money while I'm on holiday?
Are increasingly common throughout Indonesia and most now accept Visa, Mastercard, Maestro and Cirrus. Most large towns have banks with ATMs, however it's recommended you do not rely solely on ATM cash withdrawal.
Cash & travellers cheques
You can easily exchange Australian, US, British and Japanese currency in the touristy areas of Java and Bali. American Express (Amex) are the most widely accepted travellers cheques.
MasterCard and Visa are the most widely accepted credit cards and many regional towns have banks that accept credit cards, however you will need alternate means of currency other than a credit card in remote areas.
Bear in mind that moneychangers and banks in Indonesia usually do not accept notes that have been torn or marked, or notes that are older than 5 years old. Bali and Java are your best bet for exchanging Australian currency, and moneychangers in Bali offer some of the best rates in Indonesia. Rates vary, so shop around. Banks usually have better exchange rates, though moneychangers may offer the best rates for cash. Be mindful when changing money at some outlets because at times you may find that you will not be advised that a 10% (or higher) commission applies. Always count your rupiah before you hand over your travellers cheques or foreign currency, especially when changing money in Kuta, where the potential to be short-changed is fairly high.
3. What do I need to pack for my trip?
Documents and money: To enter Indonesia you need a passport with a validity period of at least six months. Make sure you photocopy all travel documents, and keep safe and separate from your passport, credit cards, traveller's cheques etc. A 'money belt' is recommended, as is a sturdy padlock for your suitcase.
Shampoo, soap, repellents and all other heavy and bulky items such as these can all be purchased in Indonesia, especially in tourist hubs such as Kuta. This will save you from hauling them around in your suitcase unnecessarily.
Indonesia is hot and humid all year round so it's advised to pack casual, light clothing such as shorts, singlets, sundresses, skirts and T-shirts made from lightweight linen or cotton, a sun hat and thongs or sandals. A lightweight jacket can also become useful on cooler evenings or if travelling to the highlands. Walking shoes are also recommended for extensive sight seeing. Clothing is extremely cheap and very accessible in tourist hubs such as Kuta, so it's advised you purchase a portion of your holiday wardrobe upon arrival.
Please note: when visiting temples you must dress conservatively as its unacceptable to have your legs and shoulders exposed. It's advised to pack a change of clothing that covers both your shoulders and legs, such as a sarong and T-shirt for these occasions. Alternatively, you can hire a sarong at the temple gates.
Check the vaccination requirements with your doctor at least one month before travelling to Bali. Most common medications are available in Indonesia; however it's advised you bring any necessary prescription medication with you along with a letter from your doctor for customs purposes.
Other useful items
Power converter/ adapter
Hand held calculator
First aid kit
Lightweight raincoat (if travelling during the rainy season.)
Sealable plastic bags (for damp clothes, toiletries, food etc.)