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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
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 220–240 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
particularly careful about food hygiene in rural Indonesia,
avoiding poorly cooked fish, pork or beef, which can give you serious and
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
You will also drink
gallons of the bottled water in sealed plastic containers which is
And it's all very, very
cheap - £1 will get you a meal, a coke and a milkshake.
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.
would also be worth learning a few words:
Good morning - Selamat
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 ....
long to .... - Berapa jam ke ....
the alternative and
amusing truth ....
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
a kit list?
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
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
Check out the health
section for more detailed advice.
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.
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
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.