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Indonesia

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Overview of Indonesia

Indonesia is a huge country with lots of little islands. Bali and the Gili islands are especially nice! Indonesia also has a lot of rainforest area and is one of the richest ranges of species in the world – even the ever rarer orangutans live here. This wonderful nature offers plenty of adventure and endless things to discover!

Location and people

The state of Indonesia forms the largest archipelago in the world! Located between the Indian ocean and the Pacific Ocean it is part of Southeast Asia. The archipelago counts more than 17.000 individual islands of which only 6.000 are inhabited. It is bordered by Malaysia in the North, East Timor in the Southeast and Papua New Guinea in the far East.

The five main islands are Sumatra, Java/Madura, Kalimantan (Borneo), Sulawesi and Irian Jaya. Many of the islands are marked by volcanos, some of them even still active, and very fertile land around them where rice farmers can harvest up to three times a year. Indonesia’s capital is Jakarta which lies on the island of Java.

The country’s total surface area amounts to a little over 1.900.000 km2, the ocean area is 7,9 million km2! With a population of around 240 million inhabitants Indonesia is the fourth most densely populated country in the world.

Islam is the predominant religion, on Bali however Hinduism is most common.

All facts about Indonesia
  • approx. 240 million people
  • 1.900.000 km2 area
  • Capital: Jakarta

Climate and best time to travel

Indonesia is a tropical country, this means that it is usually very humid and hot with temperatures between 25 and 35 degrees.

Generally speaking, in Central and East Java, the Sunda islands, the Aru islands and South Sulawesi the rainy season is from October to April. There are great differences within this region too, so once you know where exactly you want to go it is best to get specific information on that area.

Since Indonesia lies on the equator monthly temperature ranges are pretty much the same throughout the entire country.

The question which time is best for visiting Indonesia is hard to answer. Indonesia is so large that depending on the region the weather will vary.

As an overall advice May to October are best. That is when precipitation is the lowest and temperatures are not too high yet.

If possible, avoid the European summer break (mid June through mid September) and Australia’s summer break (Christmas to January). The prices for accommodation are a lot higher then and you cannot be as spontaneous because many places will be fully booked. The beaches will be pretty crowded too.

We recommend traveling to Indonesia outside or at the margins of the main season. Prices are lower then, you are virtually alone and a bit of rain can be nice to cool off.

Language

The official language is Bahasa Indonesia. Everyone in Indonesia speaks it. On Bali you also have Balinesian, but people communicate just as much in Indonesian. Schools teach English, Dutch and Arabic.

Currency and payment culture

In Indonesia you pay with Indonesian Rupiah. The least valuable bill is 1.000 Rupiah, the highest denominates 100.000 Rupiah (around 7 Euros). Pretty much everything is paid in cash, some hotels, restaurants or homestays accept credit cards but you shouldn’t rely on that!

Immigration and vaccinations

Immigration from 45 countries, among them Germany, is free for 30 days and possible without a visa. If you decide for this option you can however not extend the stay. The service is limited to the airports of Jakarta, Denpasar, Medan, Surabaya and Batam.

The other option is to get a visa on arrival which also allows you to stay for 30 days but can be extended. It costs 35 $ and your passport has to be valid for another 6 months. When you arrive you should go directly to the VOA counter. Pay attention to which day you have to leave the country, every day you stay beyond that costs 30 $ a day! And take into consideration national holidays like the Ramadan. Official offices are closed then. Even with a visa you have to leave the country after 60 days.

If you want to stay for 2 months straight up you can also get a visa at the embassy for 45 €.

You sometimes will be asked for a connecting flight or a return ticket. If you don’t want to settle on a flight yet, just get a cheap ticket from Air Asia which you then could just not take.

Apart from the usual vaccinations there are no specific vaccination requirements when immigrating from Germany. However, hepatitis A and B, rabies, typhus and Japanese encephalitis are recommended. Consult with your doctor before you travel or check with the institute for tropical medicine.

Dengue fever is pretty common in Indonesia. This disease is transmitted by the diumal Aedes mosquito. The only protection here is mosquito spray.

You also are at risk for contracting malaria all year round, especially in the Papua area, on the Molukkes and at high risk on the islands East of Bali (Lombok, Gilis)! The risk on Bali and Java is relatively low.

Transport

Within Indonesia there are connections offered by several airlines that are not allowed to fly to Europe for security reasons. Gaurda Indonesia is currently the only airline that operates direct flights to the EU. Scheduled flights from Europe are offered by Lufthansa, Air Berlin, Emirates, Qatar, Singapore Airlines and Malaysia Airlines for example. Important airport in Indonesia are Jakarta, Denpasar, Yogykarta and Medan.

For every flight you pay airport taxes, 100.000 Rupiah for international flights and 20.000 Rupiah for domestic ones.

When flying within Indonesia go see an agency, many of these flights can often not be booked online.

The infrastructure for traffic is rather lacking. The technical shortcomings combined with risky driving behavior lead to many accidents, however, most of them surprisingly are not very dramatic. And a scrape here or there does not make much of a difference. Don’t underestimate the traffic! If you are thinking about renting a scooter then test yourself a little beforehand. You wouldn’t be the first to cancel the rest of your trip and fly home early because of an accident with the scooter.

Definitely get an international driver’s license and always wear a helmet. You have to have the helmet on your head and be able to show the license if you are stopped by the police. You can also rent a car but you will get stuck in traffic a lot faster and longer than with the scooter. And many streets are so narrow that you often have trouble advancing with a car.

Busses also are a good way of getting from A to B, they are the predominant means of transportation in Indonesia. They go regularly between all major cities. Inform yourself on the prices beforehand, travelers are often cheated, though much less than in other countries like Thailand.

Java has a well functioning rail system. Prices are good but you have to anticipate crowded trains, no announcements and constantly being badgered by vendors who want sell something to you.

To get from one island to another it is best to take a boat.

Events

In Indonesia there always is a reason to celebrate because many different ethnic groups come together here. So all year round there are local, national, religious, traditional or private celebrations.

Every region has its own festivities too, especially Bali has a lot of them, more than 200. Every temple celebrates the day of its induction every 210 days with processions, rituals, music, dancing and traditional cock fights.

- Independence Day: the most important celebration, held annually on August 17. Throughout the country this day is exceptional with lots of parades, processions and sports events!

- Chinese New Year: a special event which is celebrated not only by the Chinese community with fireworks, colourful parades and dragon dancers.

- Nyepi Day: a solely Hindu holiday on Bali for which the entire island is decorated festively. The celebrations take place the night before because on the day itself noise, fire and light are forbidden. The airport in Denpasar is closed, life is basically paused and you are not allowed to leave your accommodation.

Cultural specialities

As in every holiday destination you should respect the local manners and traditions. This however is not that easy in Indonesia, because there are so many different people and religions here. Bali is strongly Hindu, Java more Muslim.

Men and women should adjust their clothing and behaviour.  More revealing clothing is permissible in the tourist areas but not in the backlands or when visiting a place of worship. Here you should wear a sarong, men too!

Boastfulness and arrogance are also very out of place in such a polite and friendly country such as Indonesia. And you should avoid certain gestures: resting your hands on your hips (aggressive), pointing with your fingers (an insult), greeting with your left hand (also an insult because the left hand is the hand you do your bathroom business with), or rejecting someone in front of someone else (causing the person to lose his or her face). Sanctuaries and temple figurines should not be used for sitting, they should not be touched at all for that matter. There are high fines for that!

When eating too you should only use your right hand, the clean hand. Kissing and tenderness are not common in public. When you enter a mosque, a private home or a temple you have to take off your shoes. And on Bali you should never touch another person’s head, in Buddhism the head is sacred.

Food and drink

Rice is the staple food and is served with almost all meat and vegetable dishes. Various spices (Sabals) are used to refine the food. Traditionally people eat with their fingers while sitting down on the ground. But in most restaurants in places like Bali you eat sitting on chairs around a normal table.

Compared to other Asian countries Indonesia’s cuisine is rather limited. There is a reason why there are not a lot of Indonesian restaurants in Europe but all the more Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, Korean or Chinese eateries. You might know Bami and Nasi Goreng. Gado-Gado, a salad of raw and cooked vegetables with coconut milk and peanut sauce, is also very popular. You should definitely try Babi Guling, a roasted suckling pig, in some restaurants this has to be preordered. You will find this on Bali only as the rest of the country is Muslim. Sate Adam, chicken skewers with peanut sauce are also super delicious!

For breakfast, lunch or dinner - Nasi Campur is always great. The name of the dish means ‘mixed rice’. You chose your ingrdients yourself or get a specific selection of various elements. Among them are eggplants, vegetable curry with tofu, crispy tempe, fried zucchini and lots of other vegetables. There also are dishes with meat and fish, often served on a skewer or in a curry stew.

Beware, Indonesian cuisine is often very spicy. This might be a bit much for your stomach, especially in the mornings!

The cheapest places to eat are the roadside cookshops and warungs. For 2 € you get a delicious local meal and the portions are pretty big. You should try this at least once to try something typically Indonesian!

If you like fish then go to Jimbaran, Bali! In the evenings the many restaurants put their tables out all the way up to and onto the sand, you chose from the fresh fish at the counter and then have that fish grilled. Mahi-Mahi, mussels and octopus for example are absolutely delicious! The Gilis too have wonderful fish restaurants.

In terms of drinks Indonesia is great for fresh juices. Fresh watermelon juice with mint, amazing! But you will also get pineapple, papaya or avocado juice here. Fresh coconuts area available for 1-2 Euros. For a wonderfully refreshing drink order them with ice cubes. Coffee and tea are harvested in the country and also consumed a lot.

For beer lovers there is the local Bintang. Stay away from the tap water in Indonesia!

What to pack

As already mentioned you should bring long clothing if you want to visit the temples or partake in any formal occasions. Long, lightly coloured garments are especially good for warding off mosquitoes, they prefer darker clothing. A sarong will serve you well in many different ways. You can use it as a beach towel to lie on, as a skirt or as a headscarf.

A raincoat is also a good idea, especially if you will be riding a scooter and get caught in the rain which is bound to happen once in a while. If you really plan to use the scooter a lot during the rainy season it is best to get a rain poncho at a supermarket right away which will also keep your legs dry. It costs around 5 Euros.

Your travel first aid pack should include medication for diarrhea, nausea, fever, malaria prophylaxis (Malarone), pain killers, band-aids and mosquito spray.

If you still have space and prefer using your own gear then pack a snorkel and maybe goggles. But you can rent them just as well on site.

Off The Path Highlights

Indonesia and Bali in particular are a great corner of the world which you definitely should have seen at least once in your life!

- Canggu: a really cool surfer town in the Southeast of Bali with great cafes, cool people, super healthy food and at the same time delicious burgers!

- Ubud: Ubud is not right on the water but you don't need to be a yogi to feel at home here! The green rice terraces of Tegallalang are not far and various cafes serve incredibly good smoothies. Also, there are great co-working spaces with views of the green surroundings.

- Gili Air: in the off season you will find this place to be paradise and when once again there is a power-out at night you will feel like you are stranded on an island. Swimming with turtles (snorkeling is enough), seeing nemos, practicing yoga and just lazing in the sun. The Gili islands are wonderful!

- Temple ceremony: if you are doing a homestay then go along to a temple ceremony and enter the Balinese world!

- Mt. Kerinci: on Sumatra you can climb Indonesia’s highest volcano which also is the highest volcano in all of Southeast Asia. You will need around three days and two nights but will be rewarded with a killer view!

- Survival training: Indonesia with its many often uninhabited islands and endless forests is ideal for a survival training! Here you learn how to survive when you are out in the wilderness on your own and also learn a lot about the nature and people of Indonesia!

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