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Holidays in Indonesia

Understanding Indonesia

Indonesia is the sleeping giant of Southeast Asia With 18,110 islands, 6,000 of them inhabited, it is the largest archipelago in the world With well over 230 million people, Indonesia is the fourth most populous country in the world — after China, India and the USA — and by far the largest in Southeast Asia Indonesia also has the largest Muslim population in the world

Indonesia markets itself as the ultimate in diversity, and the slogan is quite true, although not necessarily always in good ways Indonesia's tropical forests are the second-largest in the world after Brazil, and are being logged and cut down at the same alarming speed While the rich shop and party in Jakarta and Bali, after decades of economic mismanagement, 53% of the population earns less than US$2/day Infrastructure in much of the country remains rudimentary, and travelers off the beaten track pretty much anywhere outside Bali will need some patience and flexibility

The Indonesian people, like any people, can be either friendly or rude to foreigners Most of the time, though, they are incredibly friendly to foreigners


The early, modern history of Indonesia begins in the period from 2500 BCE to 1500 BCE with a wave of light, brown-skinned Austronesian immigrants, thought to have originated in Taiwan This Neolithic group of people, skilled in open-ocean maritime travel and agriculture are believed to have quickly supplanted the existing, less-developed population

From this point onward, dozens of kingdoms and civilizations flourishing and fading in different parts of the archipelago Some notable kingdoms include Srivijaya 7th-14th century on Sumatra and Majapahit 1293-c1500, based in eastern Java but the first to unite the main islands of Sumatra, Java, Bali and Borneo now Kalimantan as well as parts of the Malay Peninsula

The first Europeans to arrive after Marco Polo who passed through in the late 1200s were the Portuguese, who were given permission to erect a godown near present-day Jakarta in 1522 By the end of the century, however, the Dutch had pretty much taken over and the razing of a competing English fort in 1619 secured their hold on Java, leading to 350 years of colonization In 1824, the Dutch and the British signed the Anglo-Dutch Treaty which divided the Malay world into Dutch and British spheres of influence, with the Dutch ceding Malacca to the British, and the British ceding all their colonies on Sumatra to the Dutch The line of division roughly corresponds to what is now the border between Malaysia and Indonesia

Various nationalist groups developed in the early 20th century, and there were several disturbances, quickly put down by the Dutch Leaders were arrested and exiled Then during World War II, the Japanese conquered most of the islands After the war, Indonesia's founding fathers Sukarno Soekarno and Hatta declared the independence of the Republic of Indonesia After four years of fighting, the Dutch accepted this on December 27, 1949 The 1950 constitution was an attempt to set up a liberal democracy system with 2 chambers of parliament Indonesia held its first free election in 1955

From their declaration of their independence Indonesia claimed West Papua as part of their nation, but the Dutch held onto it into the 1960s, and in the early sixties there was armed conflict over it After a UN-brokered peace deal, and a referendum, West Papua became part of Indonesia and was renamed as Irian Jaya, which apocryphically stands for Ikut part of Republic of Indonesia, Anti Netherlands It's now called simply Papua, but the independence movement smolders on to this day

In 1959, Sukarno dissolved the cabinet and parliament, appointed himself PM, and created a new parliament He called his autocratic rule "Guided Democracy" Much to the dismay of the West, Sukarno aligned himself somewhat with Moscow and had the Communist party's Dr Subandrio as Deputy PM and intelligence chief The government had various troubles including a communist coup attempt and an anti-communist CIA-backed rebellion in West Sumatra and North Sulawesi, complete with the 7th Fleet offshore

In 1965, things came to a head Dr Subandrio produced a document, allegedly stolen from the British Embassy, detailing plans for a military coup The presidential guard killed some of the officers involved, then guard colonel Untung announced that he, Subandrio and various other leftist Indonesian leaders had formed a "Revolutionary Council" to take over the power Army units under General Suharto put down the rebellion in a single day Suharto then seized power himself, sidelining Sukarno, proclaiming a New Order Orde Baru and initiating a series of bloody anti-Communist purges that led to the death of 500,000-2,000,000 people estimates vary widely

Under Suharto from 1966 to 1997, Indonesia enjoyed stability and economic growth, but most of the wealth was concentrated in the hands of a small corrupt elite and dissent was brutally crushed During the Asian economic crisis of 1997 the value of the Indonesian rupiah plummeted, halving the purchasing power of ordinary Indonesians, and in the ensuing violent upheaval, now known as Reformasi, Suharto was brought down and a more democratic regime installed

The former Portuguese colony of East Timor was annexed by Indonesia in 1975, but there was armed resistance to this After decades of civil war, on 30 August 1999, a provincial referendum for independence was overwhelmingly approved by the people of East Timor Indonesia grudgingly but still astonishingly accepted the result although army-linked militias looted capital Dili in protest, and East Timor gained its independence in 2002

One more violent secessionist movement took place in the devoutly Islamic state of Aceh at the northern tip of Sumatra After decades of insurgency and abortive talks, the deadlock was broken by the 2004 tsunami, which killed over 200,000 people in Aceh The Indonesian government and the Free Aceh Movement Gerakan Aceh Merdeka, GAM signed a peace deal the next year, with Aceh giving up it's fight for independence in exchange for being granted special autonomy including the right to enact Syariah Islamic law, and to date the peace has held


Despite 50 years of promoting Bhinneka Tunggal Ika "Unity in Diversity" as the official state motto, the concept of an "Indonesian" remains artificial and the country's citizens divide themselves along a vast slew of ethnicities, clans, tribes and even castes If this wasn't enough, religious differences add a volatile ingredient to the mix and the vast gaps in wealth create a class society as well On a purely numerical scale, the largest ethnic groups are the Javanese 45% of central and eastern Java, the Sundanese 14% from western Java, the Madurese 75% from the island of Madura, and Coastal Malays 75%, mostly from Sumatra This leaves 26% for the Acehnese and Minangkabau of Sumatra, the Balinese, the Iban and Dayaks of Kalimantan, and a bewildering patchwork of groups in Nusa Tenggara and Papua — the official total is no less than 3000!

For most part, Indonesia's many peoples coexist happily, but ethnic conflicts do continue to fester in some remote areas of the country The policy of transmigration transmigrasi, initiated by the Dutch but continued by Suharto, resettled Javanese, Balinese and Madurese migrants to less crowded parts of the archipelago The new settlers, viewed as privileged and insensitive, were often resented by the indigenous populace and, particularly on Kalimantan and Papua, led to sometimes violent conflict

One particularly notable ethnic group found throughout the country are the Indonesian Chinese, known as Tionghoa or the somewhat derogatory Cina At an estimated 6-7 million they make up 3% of the population and probably constitute the largest ethnic Chinese group in any country outside China Indonesian Chinese wield a disproportionate influence in the economy, with one famous — if largely discredited — study of companies on the Jakarta Stock Exchange concluding that as many as 70% of its companies and, by extension, the country were controlled by ethnic Chinese They have thus been subject to persecution, with Chinese forcibly relocated into urban areas in the 1960s, forced to adopt Indonesian names and bans imposed on teaching Chinese and displaying Chinese characters Anti-Chinese pogroms have also take place, notably in the 1965-66 anti-Communist purges after Suharto's coup and again in 1998 after his downfall, when over 1100 people were killed in riots in Jakarta and other major cities However, the post-Reformasi governments have overturned most of the discriminatory legislation, and Chinese writing and Chinese festivals have made a tentative reappearance While most of the Java Chinese are monolingual in Indonesian, many of the Chinese in Sumatra and Kalimantan continue to speak various Chinese dialects


There is no one unified Indonesian culture as such, but the Hindu culture of the former Majapahit empire does provide a framework for the cultural traditions of the central islands of Sumatra, Java and Bali Perhaps the most distinctively "Indonesian" arts are wayang kulit shadow puppetry, where intricately detailed cutouts act out scenes from the Mahabharata and Ramayana and other popular folk stories, and its accompaniment the gamelan orchestra, whose incredibly complex metallic rhythms are the obligatory backdrop to both religious ceremonies and traditional entertainment Indonesia is culturally intertwined with the Malay, with notable items such as batik cloth and kris daggers, and Arabic culture has also been adopted to some degree thanks to Islam

Modern-day Indonesian popular culture is largely dominated by the largest ethnic group, the Javanese Suharto's ban on Western imports like rock'n'roll, while long since repealed, led to the development of indigenous forms of music like dangdut, a sultry form of pop developed in the 1970s, and the televised pelvic thrusts of starlet Inul Daratista in 2003 were nearly as controversial as Elvis once was Anggun Cipta Sasmi is a talented Indonesian singer who became a famous singer in France Her single "La neige au sahara" became a top hit on the European charts in the summer of 1997

Most Indonesian films are low budget B movies "Daun di Atas Bantal" 1998 is an exception; it won the "best movie" award at the Asia Pacific Film Festival in Taipei, Taiwan 1998

Indonesian literature has yet to make much headway on the world stage, with torch-bearer Pramoedya Ananta Toer's works long banned in his own homeland, but the post-Suharto era has seen a small boom with Ayu Utami's Saman breaking both taboos and sales records


With 82-88% of the population depending on who you ask, Islam is by far the largest religion in Indonesia, making Indonesia the largest Muslim-majority state in the world Nevertheless, Indonesia officially remains a secular country Indonesia's brand of Islam is generally quite tolerant and in larger cities headscarves and such visible manifestations of faith are exceptions rather than the rule, although the countryside and the devout state of Aceh can be considerably stricter In fact, despite being nominally Muslim, many local stories and customs which are Hindu in origin are faithfully preserved by much of the population

The other state-sanctioned religions are Protestantism 5%, Roman Catholicism 3%, Hinduism 2% and Buddhism 1% Hindus are concentrated on Bali, while Christians are found mostly in parts of Sulawesi and East Nusa Tenggara There are also pockets of animism throughout the country, and many strict Muslims decry the casual Javanese incorporation of animistic rites into the practices of notionally Islamic believers


Ramadan dates

  • 2010 1431: Aug 11 - Sep 9
  • 2011 1432: Aug 1 - Aug 29
  • 2012 1433: Jul 20 - Aug 18

The festival of Eid ul-Fitr is held after the end of Ramadan and may last several days Exact dates depend on astronomical observations and may vary from country to country

Multicultural Indonesia celebrates a vast range of religious holidays and festivals, but many are limited to small areas eg the Hindu festivals of Bali The following covers public holidays applied nationwide regardless of their belief

The most significant season of the year is the Muslim fasting month of Ramadhan During its 30 days, devout Muslims refrain from passing anything through their lips food, drink, smoke between sunrise and sunset People get up early to stuff themselves before sunrise sahur, go to work late, and take off early to get back home in time to break fast buka puasa at sunset Non-Muslims, as well as Muslims travelling musafir, are exempt from fasting but it is polite to refrain from eating or drinking in public Many restaurants close during the day and those that stay open eg, hotel restaurants maintain a low profile, with curtains covering the windows During Ramadhan, all forms of nightlife including bars, nightclubs, karaoke and massage parlours close by midnight, and especially in more devout areas quite a few opt to stay closed entirely Business travellers will notice that things move at an even more glacial pace than usual and, especially towards the end of the month, many people will take leave

The climax at the end of the month is the two days of Idul Fitri also known as Lebaran, when pretty much the entire country takes a week or two off to head back home to visit family in a ritual known locally as mudik, meaning going home This is the one time of the year when Jakarta has no traffic jams, but the rest of the country does, with all forms of transport packed to the gills All government offices including embassies and many businesses close for a week or even two, and travelling around Indonesia is best avoided if at all possible

Other Muslim holidays include Idul Adha the sacrifice day, Isra Mi'raj Muhammad SAW, Hijra Islamic new year and Maulid Muhammad SAW Christian holidays include Christmas, Ascension Day, Good Friday, while the Hindu New Year of Nyepi March-April bring Bali to a standstill and Buddhists get a day off for Waisak Buddha's birthday, celebrated with processions around Borobudur Non-religious holidays include New Year 1 Jan, Imlek Chinese New Year in Jan-Feb and Independence Day 17 Aug

The dates of many holidays are set according to various lunar calendars and the dates thus change from year to year The Ministry of Labor may change the official date of holidays if they are close to the weekend There is another official day off for workers, called cuti bersama taking days off together, which is sometime close to the Idul Fitri holidays


Upon arrival and disembarking from the plane, you'll immediately notice the sudden rush of warm, wet air Indonesia is a warm place It has no spring, summer, fall, or winter, just two seasons: rainy and dry, both of which are relative it still rains during the dry season, it just rains less While there is significant regional variation, in most of the country including Java and Bali the dry season is April to October, while the wet season is November to March

In the highlands temperatures will naturally be cooler, and there are even snow-covered peaks in Papua, whose mountains can soar above 5000 meters Bring along a jacket if planning to visit eg Mount Bromo on Java or Tana Toraja in Sulawesi


Since the country is very large, Indonesia is divided into three time zones:

GMT +7: Western Indonesian Time WIB, Waktu Indonesia Barat

  • Sumatra, Java, west/central Kalimantan

GMT +8: Central Indonesian Time WITA, Waktu Indonesia Tengah

  • Bali, south/east Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Nusa Tenggara

GMT +9: Eastern Indonesian Time WIT, Waktu Indonesia Timur

  • Maluku, Papua

Talking in Indonesia

The sole official language is Indonesian, known as Bahasa Indonesia Indonesian adopted a number of loan words from Arabic, Dutch, and Sanskrit It is similar to Malay, and speakers of both languages can comprehend each other to a large extent The main differences are in the loan words: Malay borrowed mainly from English while Indonesia borrowed mainly from Dutch

Written phonetically with the Latin alphabet and with a fairly logical grammar, Indonesian is generally regarded as one of the easiest languages to learn, and AM Almatsier's The Easy Way to Master the Indonesian Language, a 200 page small paperback, is an excellent starting point It can be found in any Indonesian bookstore for less than 3 dollars

The language went through a series of spelling reforms in the 1950s and 60s to smoothe over differences with Malay and expunge its Dutch roots Although the reforms are long complete, you may still see old signs with dj for j, j for y, or oe for u

Many educated Indonesians understand and are able to speak English While Indonesian is the lingua franca throughout the archipelago, there are thousands of local languages as well, and if you really get off the beaten track you may have to learn them as well Some ethnic Chinese communities continue to speak various Chinese dialects, most notably Hokkien in Medan and Teochew in Pontianak

Most educated seniors 70 years/older in Indonesia understand Dutch, but realistically speaking English is far more useful these days Many educated Muslims, especially those who graduated from Islamic religious institutes, understand Arabic to varying degrees

English language TV channels are available on most hotels MetroTV local TV channel broadcasts news in Chinese from Monday to Friday at 0700 AM MetroTV also broacasts news in English from Monday to Friday at 0730 AM TVRI state owned TV station broadcasts news in English from Monday to Friday at 0430 PM in the afternoon All schedules are in Waktu Indonesia Barat WIB, which is 7 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time and includes the capital city of Jakarta

What to see in Indonesia


Indonesia is home to no less than 167 active volcanoes, far more than any other country Some of the more accessible for visitors are in the Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park and the Ijen Crater in East Java, Mount Rinjani in Lombok and perhaps easiest of all, Mount Batur in Bali

Hardly surprisingly in the world's largest archipelago, beaches are significant attractions

UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Borobudur in Central Java is the world's largest Buddhist monument, dating from the 8th century and nearby Prambanan, close to Borobudur, is a remarkable Hindu monument dating from just a few years later

Indonesia has some of the largest remaining tracts of tropical forest anywhere in the world, and these support any incredibly diverse wildlife from Orang Utangs and other primates to critically endangered Javan Rhinoceros and Tigers, and an extraordinarily wide range of bird species Areas recognised as world heritage sites are Ujung Kulon National Park in West Java and huge parts of Sumatra including Gunung Leuser National Park and Kerinci Seblat National Park

Further east Komodo Island is the home of the remarkable Komodo Dragon and the very remote Lorentz National Park in Papua has a permanent glacier

What to do in Indonesia

Scuba diving

Indonesia has some of the best scuba diving in the world, and this is a major draw for tourists with places like Bunaken North Sulawesi and Wakatobi Southeastern Sulawesi known worldwide While diving off Bali itself is a little mediocre, Nusa Penida and the Gili Islands offer excellent diving

Whitewater Rafting

Indonesia also has extreme rivers for an example you can experience one of your greatest paddling at Pekalen river


Indonesia is the premier destination for traveling surfers The Mentawai Archipelago west of Sumatra features dozens of world class surf spots Chartering a private boat for up to two weeks is the most popular way to access the island chain, however there is a public ferry from Padang

Buying stuff in Indonesia

Indonesia's currency is the rupiah IDR, abbreviated Rp The rupiah's value plummeted during the 1997 economic crisis and has drifted downward ever since, and as of July 2010 you need more than Rp 9,000 to buy one US dollar The trailing three zeros are often abbreviated with rb ribu, thousand or even dropped completely, and for more expensive items you will often even see jt juta, million

The largest banknote is the red Rp 100,000, which may only be US$10 but is still inconveniently large for most purchases Next in the series are Rp 50,000 blue, Rp 20,000 green, Rp 10,000 purple, Rp 5,000 brown, Rp 2,000 gray and finally Rp 1,000 While the new, colorful large-denomination bills are easy to tell apart, the smaller bills and pre-2004 large notes are all confusingly similar pale pastel shades of yellow, green and brown and often filthy and mangled to boot A chronic shortage of small change — it's not unusual to get a few pieces of candy back instead of coins — has been to some extent alleviated by a new flood of plasticky aluminum coins, available in denominations of Rp 1000, Rp 500, Rp 200, Rp 100, Rp 50 and the thoroughly useless Rp 25 Older golden metallic versions are also still floating around, and you may occasionally even run into a sub-1,000 banknote Bills printed in 1992 or earlier are no longer in circulation, but can be exchanged at banks

US dollars are the second currency of Indonesia and will be accepted by anyone in a pinch, but are typically used as an investment and for larger purchases, not buying a bowl of noodles on the street Many hotels quote rates in dollars, but all accept payment in rupiah Singapore dollars are also widely accepted, especially in more touristy areas

Changing money

Banks and money exchangers are widely available on Java, Bali and Lombok, but can be a major headache anywhere else, so load up with rupiah before heading off to any outer islands Money exchangers are very picky about bill condition, and pre-1999 dollars or any imperfect bills or ripped, wrinkled, stained, etc will often be rejected Banks in general won't change any 1996 dollars Counterfeit US dollars are a huge problem in the country and as a result the older your dollars are, the lower the exchange rate You will get the highest exchange rate for dollars issued in 2001 or later and the exchange rate drops for 1999 and 1996 dollars There are even different exchange rates according to the serial number for dollars from 1996 Banks and money exchangers on outer islands are sparse and will charge commissions of 10-20% if you can find them

In the reverse direction, money changers will be happy to turn your dirty rupiah into spiffy dollars, but the spread is often considerable 10% is not unusual Be very careful dealing with moneychangers, who are very adept at distracting your attention during the counting process and short-changing you as a result As a precaution, consider bringing a friend along to watch over the transaction very carefully Be aware of moneychangers who offer great rates They will quote you one price, and start counting stacks of Rp20,000 notes, and ask you to count along with them This is a ploy to confuse and shortchange you If they realize you are onto them, they will tell you that they have to subtract 6-8% for "commission" or "taxes"


ATMs pron ah-teh-em on the international Plus/Cirrus networks are common in all major Indonesian cities and tourist destinations, but may be harder to come by in the backblocks Beware of withdrawal limits as low as Rp 500,000 ~US$50 per day; in addition, the machines with higher limits often dispense Rp 100,000 notes, which can be hard to break

Credit cards

Be careful when using credit cards, as cloning and fraud are a major problem in Indonesia Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted, but American Express can be problematic At smaller operations, surcharges of 2-5% over cash are common


Living in Indonesia is cheap, as long as you're willing to live like an Indonesian For example, Rp 10,000 <$1 will get you a meal on the street or two packets of kretek cigarettes or three kilometers in a taxi or three bottles of water But as a tourist it's absolutely necessary to chaffer a minimum of 50%-70% off the initial price, otherwise you will spend your money quickly

Fancy restaurants, hotels and the like will often slap on a 10% service charge plus 6-11% tax This may be denoted with "++" after the price or just written in tiny print on the bottom of the menu

Food and eating in Indonesia

With 17,000 islands to choose from, Indonesian food is an umbrella term covering a vast variety of cuisines, but if used without further qualifiers the term tends to mean the food originally from the central and eastern parts of the main island Java and now widely available throughout the archipelago All too many backpackers seem to fall into a rut of eating nothing but nasi goreng fried rice, but there are much more interesting options lurking about if you're adventurous and take the trouble to seek it out

The Javanese favor eating an array of comparatively simply seasoned dishes, the predominant flavorings being peanuts, chillies and sugar In West Java, Sundanese food uses many fresh vegetables and herbs eaten raw, while Padang in Sumatra is famous for its spicy fare Both the Christian Batak and the Hindu Balinese are great fans of pork, while the Christian Manadonese are well known for eating bat and dog Tamed Muslim-friendly versions of all three are available in malls and food courts, but it's worth it to seek out the real thing And by the time you get to Papua in the extreme east of the country, you're looking at a Melanesian diet of taro and sago


Across the entire archipelago the main staple is rice nasi, served up in many forms including:

  • bubur nasi, rice porridge with toppings, popular at breakfast
  • lontong and ketupat, rice wrapped in leaves and cooked so it compresses into a cake
  • nasi goreng, the ubiquitous fried rice; order it spesial to get an egg on top
  • nasi kuning, yellow spiced rice, a festive ceremonial dish usually moulded into a sharp cone called a tumpeng
  • nasi padang, white steamed rice served with numerous curries and other toppings, originally from Padang but assimilated throughout the country with lots of variations and adjustments to taste
  • nasi timbel, white steamed rice wrapped in a banana leaf, a common accompaniment to Sundanese food
  • nasi uduk, slightly sweet rice cooked with coconut milk, eaten with omelette and fried chicken; popular at breakfast


Noodles mi or mie come in a good second in the popularity contest Worth a special mention is Indomie, no less than the world's largest instant noodle manufacturer A pack at the supermarket costs under Rp 1000 and some stalls will boil or fry them up for you for as little as 2000 Rp

  • bakmi, thin egg noodles usually served boiled with a topping of your choice chicken, mushroom, etc
  • kuetiaw, flat rice noodles most commonly fried up with soy sauce


Soups soto and watery curries are also common:

  • bakso/baso "BAH-so", meatballs and noodles in chicken broth
  • rawon, spicy beef soup, a speciality of East Java
  • sayur asam vegetables in a sour soup of tamarind
  • sayur lodeh, vegetables in a soup of coconut milk and fish
  • soto ayam, chicken soup Indonesian style with chicken shreds, vermicelli, and chicken broth and various local ingredients

Main dishes

Popular main dishes include:

  • ayam bakar, grilled chicken
  • ayam goreng, deep-fried chicken
  • cap cay, Chinese-style stir-fried vegetables
  • gado-gado, blanched vegetables with peanut sauce
  • gudeg, jackfruit stew from Yogyakarta
  • ikan bakar, grilled fish
  • karedok, similar to gado-gado, but the vegetables are finely chopped and mostly raw
  • perkedel, deep-fried patties of potato and meat or vegetables adopted from the Dutch frikadel
  • sate satay, grilled chicken and lamb
  • sapo, Chinese-style claypot stew


Chillies cabe or lombok are made into a vast variety of sauces and dips known as sambal The simplest and perhaps most common is sambal ulek, which is just chillies and salt with perhaps a dash of lime pounded together There are many other kinds of sambal like sambal pecel with peanut, sambal terasi with shrimp paste, sambal tumpeng, etc Many of these can be very spicy indeed, so be careful if you're asked whether you would like your dish pedas spicy!

Crackers known as kerupuk or keropok, it's the same word spelled differently accompany almost every meal and are a traditional snack too They can be made from almost any grain, fruit, vegetable or seed imaginable, including many never seen outside Indonesia, but perhaps the most common are the light pink keropok udang, made with dried shrimp, and the slightly bitter light yellow emping, made from the nuts of the melinjo fruit


Dessert in the Western sense is not common in Indonesia, but there are plenty of snacks to tickle your sweet tooth Kue covers a vast array of traditional cakes and pastries, all colorful, sweet, and usually a little bland, with coconut, rice flour and sugar being the main ingredients Es teler, ice mixed with fruits and topped with coconut cream or condensed milk, comes in infinite variations and is a popular choice on a hot day

Perhaps the cheapest, tastiest and healthiest option, though, is to buy some fresh fruit, which is available throughout the year, although individual fruits do have seasons Popular options include mango mangga, papaya papaya, banana pisang, starfruit belimbing and guava jambu, but more exotic options you're unlikely to see outside Indonesia include the scaly-skinned crisp snakefruit salak and the alien-looking local passionfruit markisa Probably the most infamous Indonesian fruit, though, is the durian Named after the Indonesian word for thorn, it resembles an armor-plated coconut the size of a human head, and it has a powerful odor often likened to rotting garbage Inside is yellow creamy flesh, which has a unique sweet, custardy, avocadoey taste and texture It's prohibited in most hotels and taxis

Dietary restrictions

The vast majority of Indonesian restaurants serve only halal food and are thus safe for Muslim travellers This includes Western chains like McDonald's, KFC and Pizza Hut The main exception is ethnic eateries catering to Indonesia's non-Muslim minorities, especially those serving Batak, Manadonese Minahasan, Balinese, and Chinese cuisine, so enquire if unsure

Strict vegetarians will have a tough time in Indonesia, as the concept is poorly understood and avoiding fish and shrimp-based condiments is a challenge Tofu tahu and its chunkier, indigenous cousin tempeh are an essential part of the diet, but they are often served with non-vegetarian condiments For example, the ubiquitous sambal chili pastes very often contain shrimp, and kerupuk crackers with a spongy appearance, including those always served with nasi goreng, nearly always contain shrimp or fish Those that resemble potato chips, on the other hand, are usually fine

Eating by hand

In Indonesia eating with your hand instead of utensils like forks and spoons is very common The basic idea is to use four fingers to pack a little ball of rice, which can then be dipped into sauces before you pop it in your mouth by pushing it with your thumb There's one basic rule of etiquette to observe: Use only your right hand, as the left hand is used to clean yourself in the toilet Don't stick either hand into communal serving dishes: instead, use the left hand to serve yourself with utensils and then dig in Needless to say, it's wise to wash your hands well before and after eating

Eating by hand is frowned on in some "classier" places If you are provided with cutlery and nobody else around you seems to be doing it, then take the hint

Places to eat

Eating on the cheap in Indonesia is cheap indeed, and a complete streetside meal can be had for under US$1 Rp 10,000 However, the level of hygiene may not be up to Western standards, so you may wish to steer clear for the first few days and patronize only visibly popular establishments

The fastest way to grab a bite is to visit a kaki lima, literally "five feet" Depending on whom you ask, they're named either after the mobile stalls' three wheels plus the owner's two feet, or the "five-foot way" sidewalks mandated during British rule These can be found by the side of the road in any Indonesian city, town or village, usually offering up simple fare like fried rice, noodles and porridge At night a kaki lima can turn into a lesehan simply by providing some bamboo mats for customers to sit on and chat

A step up from the kaki lima is the warung or the old spelling waroeng, a slightly less mobile stall offering much the same food, but perhaps a few plastic stools and a tarp for shelter

Rather more comfortable is the rumah makan or eating house, a simple restaurant more often than not specializing in a type of food or style of cuisine Nasi Padang restaurants, offering rice and an array of curries and other toppings to go along with it, are particularly popular and easily identified by their soaring Minangkabau roofs Ordering at these is particularly easy: just sit down, and your table will promptly fill up with countless small plates of dishes Eat what you like and pay for what you consumed

Another easy mid-range option in larger cities is to look out for food courts and Indonesian restaurants in shopping malls, which combine air-con with hygienic if rather predictable food In addition to the usual Western suspects, major local chains include EsTeler 77 20, best known for its iced fruit desserts es teler but also selling bakso meatball, nasi goreng fried rice and other Indonesian staples, and Hoka Hoka Bento, for localized Japanese fare Bakmi Gajah Mada GM is a famous Chinese noodle restaurant chain

A restoran indicates more of a Western-style eating experience, with air-con, table cloths, table service and prices to match Especially in Jakarta and Bali, it's possible to find very good restaurants offering authentic fare from around the world, but you'll be lucky to escape for under Rp 100,000 a head

Drinking in Indonesia

Tap water is generally not potable in Indonesia Water or ice served to you in restaurants may have been purified and/or boiled air minum or air putih, but do ask Bottled water, usually known as Aqua after the best-known brand, is cheap and available everywhere, but check that the seal is intact

Most hotels provide free drinking water because tap water is rarely potable Do not use tap water for brushing your teeth Also beware of ice which may not have been prepared with potable water or kept in hygienic conditions

Quite a few Indonesians believe that cold drinks are unhealthy, so specify dingin when ordering if you prefer your water, bottled tea or beer cold, rather than at room temperature


Fruit juices — jus for plain juice or es if served with ice — are popular with Indonesians and visitors alike, although the hygiene of the water used to make them can be dubious In addition to the usual suspects, try jus alpokat, a surprisingly tasty drink made from avocadoes, often with some chocolate syrup poured in!

Coffee and tea

Indonesians drink both coffee kopi and tea teh, at least as long as they have had vast quantities of sugar added in An authentic cup of Java, known as kopi tubruk, is strong and sweet, but let the grounds settle to the bottom of the cup before you drink it Last and least, no travel guide would be complete without mentioning the infamous kopi luwak, coffee made from beans which have been eaten, partially digested and excreted by the palm civet luwak, but even in Indonesia this is an exotic delicacy costing upwards of Rp200,000 US$20 for a small pot of brew

Tea teh is also quite popular, and the Coke-like glass bottles of the Tehbotol brand of sweet bottled jasmine tea are ubiquitous


The label jamu covers a vast range of local medicinal drinks for various diseases Jamu are available in ready-to-drink form as well as in powder satchets or capsules Most of them are bitter and drunk for the supposed effect, not the taste Famous brands of jamu include Iboe, Sido Muncul, Jago, and Meneer; avoid buying jamu from the street as the water quality is dubious Some well-known jamu include:

  • galian singset — weight reduction
  • beras kencur from rice, sand ginger and brown sugar — cough, fatigue
  • temulawak from curcuma — for liver disease
  • gula asem from tamarind and brown sugar — rich in vitamin C
  • kunyit asam from tamarind, turmeric — for skin care, canker sores

Traditional drinks

  • Wedang Serbat - made from star anise, cardamon, tamarind, ginger, and sugar Wedang means "hot water"
  • Ronde - made from ginger, powdered glutinous rice, peanut, salt, sugar, food coloring additives
  • Wedang Sekoteng - made from ginger, green pea, peanut, pomegranate, milk, sugar, salt and mixed with ronde see above
  • Bajigur - made from coffee, salt, brown sugar, cocount milk, sugar palm fruit, vanillin
  • Bandrek - made from brown sugar, ginger, pandanus leaf, coconut meat, clove bud, salt, cinnamon, coffee
  • Cinna-Ale - made from cinnamon, ginger, tamarind, sand ginger and 13 other spices
  • Cendol/Dawet - made from rice flour, sago palm flour, pandanus leaf, salt, food coloring additives
  • Talua Tea/Teh Telur West Sumatra - made from tea powder, raw egg, sugar and limau nipis
  • Lidah Buaya Ice West Kalimantan - made from aloe vera, french basil, javanese black jelly, coconut milk, palm sugar, pandanus leaf, sugar


Islam is the religion of the majority of Indonesians, but alcohol is widely available in most areas, especially in upscale restaurants and bars Public displays of drunkenness, however, are strongly frowned upon and in the larger cities are likely to make you a victim of crime or get you arrested by police Do not drive if you are drunk The legal drinking age is 18

In staunchly Islamic areas such as Aceh alcohol is banned and those caught with alcohol can be caned

Indonesia's most popular tipple is Bintang 21 beer bir, a standard-issue lager available more or less everywhere, although the locals like theirs lukewarm Other popular beers include Bali Hai 22 and Anker A can costs upward of Rp 5,000 in a supermarket and as much as Rp 50,000 in a fancy bar

Wine is expensive and only available in expensive restaurants and bars in large hotels Almost all of it is imported, but there are a few local vintners of varying quality on Bali

Various traditional alcoholic drinks are also available:

  • Tuak — sugar palm wine 15% alcohol
  • Arak — the distilled version of tuak, up to 40%
  • Brem Balinese style sweet glutinous rice wine

Exercise some caution in choosing what and where to buy — homemade moonshine may contain all sorts of nasty impurities In May 2009, 23 people, including four tourists, were killed by dodgy arak in Bali and Lombok


Many Indonesians smoke like chimneys and the concepts of "no smoking" and "second-hand smoke" have yet to make much headway in most of the country Western-style cigarettes are known as rokok putih "white smokes" but the cigarette of choice with a 92% market share is the ubiquitous kretek, a clove-laced cigarette that has become something of a national symbol and whose scent you will likely first encounter the moment you step out of the plane into the airport Popular brands of kretek include Djarum, Gudang Garam, Bentoel and Sampoerna Dji Sam Soe, 234 A pack of decent kretek will cost you on the order of Rp 9000 Note that the cheapest brands don't have filters!

Kretek are lower in nicotine but higher in tar than normal cigarettes; an unfiltered Dji Sam Soe has 39 mg tar and 23 mg nicotine Most studies indicate that the overall health effects are roughly the same as for traditional western-style cigarettes

Recently a ban on smoking has been instituted for public places in Jakarta Anyone violating this ban can be fined up to US$ 5000 If you want to smoke check with the locals by asking: "Boleh merokok?"

Accommodation in Indonesia

In popular travel destinations like Bali and Jakarta accommodation options run the gamut, from cheap backpacker guesthouses to some of the most opulent and expensive five-star hotels and resorts imaginable

Off the beaten track, though, your options will be more limited Probably the most common lodging choice for backpackers is the losmen, or guesthouse, which also go by the names wisma or pondok Often under US$10/night, basic losmen are fan-cooled and have shared bathroom facilities, usually meaning Asian-style squat toilets and mandi water tank baths, from which you ladle water over yourself do not enter one! Very small losmen, essentially homestays or rented rooms, are known as penginapan

The next step up on the scale are cheap Chinese-run hotels, usually found even in the smallest towns and cities, typically near transport terminals These may have little luxuries like air-conditioning and hot water, but tend to be rather depressing otherwise, with tiny, often windowless rooms

By law, all hotels have to display a price list daftar harga You should never have to pay more than the list says, but discounts are often negotiable, especially in the off season, on weekdays, longer stays, etc

Working in Indonesia

In Indonesia, salaries vary from US$70/month - US$15,000/month for the local people The sales clerks that you see at luxurious shopping malls like Plaza Indonesia earns between US$110 - US$140 This is very small even for the Indonesians Some adults above 20 stay with their parents to save money Nevertheless, the main reason they stay with parents is it is considered impolite to leave parents on their own

Expats usually earn higher salaries An English teacher could make between Rp 7,500,000 - Rp 8,000,000 US$800 - US$850 and that is considered high by the local standard

Cities in Indonesia

adiwerna  amahai  ambarawa  ambon  ambulu  amuntai  arjawinangun  astanajapura  atambua  babakan  babat  bae  baki  balaipungut  balapulang  balikpapan  balung  bambanglipuro  banda aceh  bandar  bandar lampung  bandung  bangil  bangkalan  banjaran  banjar  banjarmasin  bantul  banyumas  banyuwangi  barabai  batang  batu  baturaden  baturaja  bekasi  belawan  bengkalis  bengkulu  besuki  biak  bima  binjai  bireun  bitung  blitar  blora  bogor  bojonegoro  bondowoso  bone  bontang  bontonompo  boyolali  boyolangu  brebes  buaran  buduran  bulakamba  bumiayu  ceper  cepu  ciamis  ciampea  cianjur  cianjur  ciawi  cibadak  cibeureum  cibinong  cibitung  cibitung  cicalengka  cidahu  cikampek  cikarang  cikeruh  cikupa  ciledug  cileungsi  cileunyi  cimahi  ciomas  ciparay  ciputat  ciranjang  ciranjang  cirebon  cisaat  cisarua  citeureup  comal  curug  curup  dampit  delanggu  demak  denpasar  depok  depok  diwek  dukuhturi  dumai  duri  ende  galesong  gambiran  gampengrejo  gamping  garut  gatak  gebog  gedangan  gempol  genteng  godean  gombong  gondang  gondanglegi  gorontalo  gresik  grogol  indramayu  jakarta  jambi  jaten  jatibarang  jati  jatiroto  jatiwangi  jember  jepara  jetis  jogonalan  jombang  juwana  kabanjahe  kadipaten  kadungora  kalianget  kaliwungu  kamal  kanigoro  karangampel  karanganom  karanganyar  karangasem  karangsembung  karawang  kawalu  kebomas  kebonarum  kebumen  kediri  kedungwaru  kedungwuni  kefamenanu  kemang  kembaran  kencong  kendal  kendari  kepanjen  kertosono  ketanggungan  kijang  kisaran  klangenan  klaten  klungkung  kraksaan  kramat  kresek  krian  kroya  kualakapuas  kudus  kuningan  kupang  kuta  kutoarjo  labuhan  lahat  lamongan  langsa  lasem  lawang  lebaksiu  lembang  leuwiliang  lhokseumawe  loa janan  lumajang  luwuk  madiun  magelang  magetan  majalaya  majalengka  majenang  majene  makasar  malang  manado  manggar  manokwari  margahayu  margasari  martapura  mataram  maumere  mayong  medan  mendahara  mentok  merauke  mertoyudan  metro  meulaboh  mlati  mlonggo  mojoagung  mojokerto  mojosari  mranggen  muncar  mundu  muntilan  nabire  negara  ngaglik  nganjuk  ngawen  ngawi  ngemplak  ngoro  ngunut  pacet  paciran  padalarang  padang  pakisaji  palabuhanratu  palembang  palimanan  palopo  palu  pamanukan  pamekasan  pameungpeuk  pamulang  panarukan  pandaan  pandak  pandegelang  pangkah  pangkalanbrandan  pangkalanbuun  parakan  pare  parung  pasarkemis  paseh  pasuruan  pati  payakumbuh  pecangakan  pedan  pekalongan  pemalang  pemangkat  perbaungan  peterongan  plered  plumbon  polewali  ponorogo  pontianak  porong  poso  prabumulih  prambanan  praya  prigen  probolinggo  pundong  purbalingga  purwakarta  purwodadi  purwokerto  purworejo  rajapolah  rancaekek  rancaekek  randudongkal  rangkasbitung  rantauprapat  rantepao  rembang  rengasdengklok  ruteng  sabang  salatiga  samarinda  sampang  sampit  sawangan  selogiri  semarang  sembakung  sepatan  serang  serpong  sewon  seyegan  sibolga  sidareja  sidoarjo  sigli  sijunjung  simpang  sindang  singaparna  singaraja  singkang  singkawang  singojuruh  singosari  sinjai  situbondo  slawi  sleman  soe  solok  soreang  sorong  sragen  srandakan  srono  stabat  subang  sukabumi  sukaraja  sukaraja  sumbawa  sumber  sumedang  sumenep  sungaipenuh  sungairaya  sunggal  surabaya  surakarta  tabanan  talang  taman  taman  tambun  tambun  tanete  tangerang  tanggulangin  tanggul  tarakan  tarogong  tarogong  tarub  tasikmalaya  tayu  tebingtinggi  tegal  teluknaga  temanggung  tembilahan  tempeh  ternate  tidore  tomohon  tondano  trenggalek  trucuk  tual  tuban  tulangan  tulungagung  ubud  ungaran  waingapu  wanaraja  waru  wates  wedi  welahan  weleri  weru  wlingi  wonogiri  wonopringgo  wonosari  wonosobo  yogyakarta  

What do you think about Indonesia?

How expensive is Indonesia?
(1 IDR = 0 USD)
Meal in inexpensive restaurant19.8 IDR
3-course meal in restaurant (for 2)165.15 IDR
McDonalds meal38.4 IDR
Local beer (0.5 draft)24.5 IDR
Foreign beer (0.33 bottle) 44.2 IDR
Cappuccino24.22 IDR
Pepsi/Coke (0.33 bottle)6.62 IDR
Water (0.33 bottle)1.84 IDR
Milk (1l)15.44 IDR
Fresh bread (500g)11.88 IDR
White Rice (1kg)9.2 IDR
Eggs (12) 16.65 IDR
Local Cheese (1kg) 110.7 IDR
Chicken Breast (1kg) 38.8 IDR
Apples (1kg) 34.19 IDR
Oranges (1kg) 25.44 IDR
Tomato (1kg) 11.06 IDR
Potato (1kg) 10.78 IDR
Lettuce (1 head) 7.73 IDR
Water (1.5l)4.43 IDR
Bottle of Wine (Mid-Range) 282 IDR
Domestic Beer (0.5 bottle)25.39 IDR
Foreign beer (0.33 bottle) 38.61 IDR
Cigarettes16.59 IDR
One way local bus ticket3.33 IDR
Monthly pass for bus150 IDR
Taxi start6.93 IDR
Taxi 1km4.42 IDR
Taxi 1hour waiting38.75 IDR
Gasoline (1 liter) 7.77 IDR
Utilities for a "normal" apartment731.5 IDR
Tennis Court Rent (1 Hour on Weekend) 68.62 IDR
Apartment (3 bedrooms) in City Centre 11.02 IDR, your travel companion

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