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Day-to-day  

(accommodation / food and drink / culture / language / travel / religion / health / safety / kit list)

 

Accommodation

Indonesia's accommodation market starts with homestays at the bottom end (for under a 1) and goes up to five star hotels in places like Bali.

Losmen, pondok and wisma, are generally family-run guesthouses and are great value at anything between 1 and 5.  Rooms vary from whitewashed concrete cubes to attractive bamboo bungalows some are even set in their own walled gardens.  Hard beds are the norm and you may be provided with a light blanket. Most losmen rooms have fans and cold-water bathrooms. The cheapest accommodation has shared bathrooms, where you wash using a mandi (a square concrete container about a metre in height). Toilets in these places will be squat affairs, flushed manually with water scooped from the pail that stands alongside, so you'll have to provide toilet paper yourself.

Single travellers will generally end up with a double room at about 75 percent of the full price. Prices can be a little more expensive from mid-June through August, and in December and January. 

Breakfast is often provided and can range from toast and coffee to pancakes and fruit salad.  Check-out time is usually noon.  

Watch out for places called hotels which can add surcharges of up to 22 percent to your bill, and upmarket establishments quote prices and prefer foreigners to pay in dollars, though they accept plastic or a rupiah equivalent.  

In rural Indonesia, you may end up staying in villages without formal lodgings, in a bed in a family house.  Make sure you ask for permission from the kepala desa (village head).  

Usually, electricity is supplied at 220240 volts AC, but outlying areas may still use 110 volts. Most outlets take plugs with two rounded pins.

 

Food and drink

Compared to the food in places like Malaysia and Thailand, Indonesian meals can lack variety. 

Coconut milk and aromatic spices at first add intriguing tastes to the meats, vegetables and fruits, but after a while everything starts to taste the same spiced, fried and served with rice. 

Rice (nasi) is the favoured staple across much of the country, an essential, three-times-a-day fuel. Noodles are also widely popular.  The seafood is often superb, and chicken, goat and beef are the main meats in this predominantly Muslim country.  Chicken satay (peanut flavoured sauce) is usually available though the chicken can be a bit dubious sometimes.  Vegetarians can eat well in Indonesia, though restaurant selections can be limited to cap cay fried mixed vegetables. There's also plenty of tofu and the popular tempe, a fermented soya-bean cake.

There is also rarely a shortage of kentang goreng (chips!!!) and pancakes - these tend to be the staple for most travellers.

The fresh fruit is normally pretty good with a huge amount of bananas, pineapples and papaya.

Be particularly careful about food hygiene in rural Indonesia, avoiding poorly cooked fish, pork or beef, which can give you serious and obvious problems.

Beer tends to be freely available but the popular choice is bottled coke, milkshakes, fruit juice and the black, black coffee with condensed milk and a field of sugar.

You will also drink gallons of the bottled water in sealed plastic containers which is available everywhere.

And it's all very, very cheap - 1 will get you a meal, a coke and a milkshake.

 

Culture

It's a foreign country with some foreign habits.  The people are friendly with similar hopes and dreams but some of their cultural norms are clearly different from those in the west.

Most Indonesian's have a certain attitude to dress which means that travellers (male and particularly female) should be very aware of bare skin - particularly legs and shoulders.  It is acceptable for same-sex shows of affection but certainly not between sexes.    

They are very sociable people and have no concept of personal space - if you are in an empty room and an Indonesian comes in, they are likely to sit right next to you; buses are also interesting experiences where the level of intimacy can be very disconcerting for western travellers - but where else could you get an eighty year old falling asleep on your shoulder?

The drawback is for female travellers - Indonesian men adore the opportunity of brushing up to you - it's tiresome but generally not meant in a threatening way.

The sharing of cigarettes between men is very common and the they smoke as if their lives depended on it.

It would also be worth learning a few words:

Language

Good morning - Selamat pagi
Good day - Selamat siang
Good night - Selamat malam
Goodbye - Selamat tinggal 
Thank you - Terima kasih
How are you? - Apa kabar?
I'm fine - Kabar baik
How much? - Berapa
I don't understand - Saya tidak mengerti
What is this? - Apa ini?
I'm sorry - Maaf
Excuse me - Permisi

How far to .... - Berapa kilometre ke ....

How long to .... - Berapa jam ke ....

 .... the alternative and amusing truth ....

 

Travel

Air travel is still relatively cheap compared to the rest of the world but much more expensive than in the past.  It is essential to reconfirm on domestic flights in Indonesia, otherwise you may be bumped from the list.  You may also have problems getting a seat due to not being a local - be warned.  Departure tax on domestic flights fluctuates..

Sea transport can be good, variable and terrifying.  High-speed ferries are usually just that.  The ferries connecting major islands such as Bali and Lombok are also pretty good and reliable; however, there were dozens of deaths on one which sank between Java and Bali so hopefully you can swim.  Boats offering tourist trips are normally pretty good.

Rail travel is restricted solely to Java and Sumatra.  Indonesia's trains are pretty much a mixed bag: slow, miserable and cheap or comfortable and expensive.  It's advisable to buy train tickets a day in advance to assure a seat.  The train from Jakarta to Yogyakarta is very good value - travel business class whenever possible.

Cars, motorbikes and bicycles can be rented in the main cities and tourist centres.  You are supposed to have an international driver's licence.

Indonesia's main roads have reasonable surfaces in part but areas of Sumatra, Flores and other islands are appalling and terrifying.  Distance transportation is on ekonomi buses.  The fare you are offered will often be more than the locals, a better strategy is to know in advance how much it should be and give the correct money.  You will be crammed on, you will worry about your bags and it will be a stressful experience - but also highly entertaining.

There are also express buses and air-con buses.  What you pay for and what you get may differ, however, an air-con bus is usually the best bet for the money.

Local transport includes the ubiquitous bemo (pick-up trucks with rows of seats along each side), opelets (minibuses), bajaj (auto rickshaws), becaks (bicycle rickshaws) and dokars (horse-drawn carts); most are ridiculously cheap but you may well pay twice the rate of the locals.  Many towns have taxis, but agree on a fare in advance.

 

Religion

Indonesia has a predominantly Muslim population; however, history has formed other pockets of religion throughout the islands and these include Buddhists (the Chinese populations in the large cities and in West Kalimantan), Hindu and animist minorities (in Bali, Irian Jaya, Sumatra, Kalimantan and other remote outposts) and Christians in certain areas.  The major faiths in the archipelago are very different to other parts of the world in that religion in Indonesia is dynamic, not dogmatic, adapted over the centuries to incorporate rituals and beliefs of existing faiths, in particular the animism of the original populations.

Indonesia is the largest Islamic nation in the world. The northernmost province of Aceh, which received Islam directly from India, is still the most orthodox area, whereas Muslims in the rest of the archipelago follow a style of Islam that has been mixed with animism, Buddhism and Hinduism.  Nearly all Indonesian Muslims are followers of the Sunni sect. Women in veils or full purdah are a rare sight and men are only allowed two wives, as opposed to four in Arabian countries, though just one wife is the norm.

Animism is still the predominant faith in some of the villages of the outlying islands, particularly Sumatra, Kalimantan and Irian Jaya.  The rituals and beliefs vary significantly between each of these islands.  Many of these ancient animist beliefs permeate each of the five major religions, and many Indonesian people, no matter what faith they profess, still perform animist rituals.

Despite certain obvious similarities, Balinese Agama Hinduism differs dramatically from Indian and Nepalese Hinduism.  At its root lies the understanding that the natural and supernatural world is composed of opposing forces, such as good and evil, order and disorder, gods and demons and that these forces need to be balanced.  Positive forces, or dharma, are represented by the gods and need to be honoured with offerings, dances, paintings and sculptures, fine earthly abodes (temples) and rituals.  The malevolent forces, adharma, which manifest themselves as earth demons and cause sickness, death and volcanic eruptions, need to be neutralized with elaborate rituals and special offerings. 

A journey through the streets of Bali will generally involve avoiding the sprinkling of water and offerings of gifts to the spirits which the Balinese believe are all around them.

 

 

 

 

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Health

It's likely that you will have some kind of stomach problem.  Watch what you eat, choose wisely and if the worst happens make sure that you drink loads of water (available in sealed plastic bottles).

Dehydration can be a major problem so you should always be drinking lots of water anyway.  It is also worth using this water for cleaning your teeth - avoid tap water whenever possible.

Any problems, go to the pharmacy (apotik), which can provide many medicines without prescription.  Condoms (kondom) are also available from pharmacists. Only in the main tourist areas will assistants speak English; in the village health posts, staff are generally ill-equipped to cope with serious illness.  If you need an English-speaking doctor (doktor) or dentist (doktor gigi) seek advice at your hotel or at the local tourist office.  You'll find a public hospital (rumah sakit) in major cities and towns, and in some places these are supplemented by private hospitals, many of which operate an accident and emergency department.  If you have a serious accident or illness, you will need to be evacuated home or to Singapore, which has the best medical provision in Asia.  It is, therefore, vital to arrange health insurance before you leave home.

Check out the health section for more detailed advice.

 

Safety

Serious incidents involving Westerners are rare; however, the troubles of the last few years have increased the amount of violence and there has been a direct effect on crime from the economic problems that the locals have been suffering. 

Petty theft exists so don't flash around expensive jewellery or watches.  Don't hesitate to check that doors and windows including those in the bathroom are secure before accepting accommodation; if the management seems offended by this, you probably don't want to stay there anyway. Some guesthouses and hotels have safe-deposit boxes.

If you're unlucky enough to get mugged, never resist and, if you disturb a thief, raise the alarm rather than try to take them on.  Be especially aware of pickpockets on buses or bemos, who usually operate in pairs: one will distract you while another does the job.  Afterwards, you'll need a police report for insurance purposes. In smaller villages where police are absent, ask for assistance from the headman. Try to take along someone to translate, though police will generally do their best to find an English speaker. You may also be charged "administration fees", the cost of which is open to sensitive negotiations. 

And be careful when changing money, particularly in Bali; there are some very artful dodgers around.

Have nothing to do with drugs in Indonesia. The penalties are tough, and you won't get any sympathy from consular officials. If arrested, ring your embassy immediately.

Other problems have involved incidents when trekking in places such as Batur in Bali and Rinjani on Lombok - the locals can sometimes try a variety of techniques to get your valuables and these can include threats of violence.  Talk to other travellers, find out what's going on.