In the simplest of terms, Indonesia is big. Really big. It’s an immense archipelago of over 17,500 islands making up nearly 2 million square kilometers. It has the fourth-largest population in the world, and it’s an prime example of cultural and ethnic diversity. There is no way to fully experience Indonesia as a mere tourist. Even living there, it’s practically impossible to sample everything the country has to offer. But there are a few highlights that are must sees for any expat living in the region. But first…
Transportation in Indonesia
Individual cities are also well equipped with roadways, and some have excellent public transportation. Other cities, less so and travel to neighboring cities should be well-researched and planned on a case-by-case basis to optimize trips (unless it’s just a matter of getting lost and exploring).
For traveling on the same island, road travel is most common. Indonesia has an extensive network of highways that make travel by car, motorcycle and coach much easier. There is also a large rail network for traveling on the same island, Java’s being the best developed, but this is as much for transporting commercial goods as passenger trains.
Air travel is the most common in Indonesia, but it’s also considered one of the least safe in the world. Many airports aren’t yet paved and rely on small-engine planes to ferry passengers back and forth. Larger hubs are safer, and air travel is certainly faster than travel by ship. Depending on the quality of ferry service, it may be safer too.
Places to See
Though it’s probably not possible to see everything Indonesia has to offer, there are certainly a few highlights that shouldn’t be missed if there is any opportunity.
The capital of Indonesia, Jakarta is also known as “The Big Durian.” It’s named after the spiky, smelly tropical fruit ubiquitous to South-East Asia, and it could be quite fitting to the growing metropolis of Jakarta.
Jakarta is a bustling city of about 10 million people. It’s a noisy, smoggy city roasting in its own tropical heat, and it’s probably not for the country soul. For anyone looking for the big city experience, though, it’s perfect. It’s full of Indonesia’s various foods and cultures. There are attractions galore such as zoos and theme parks. And despite Indonesia being 90% Muslim, Jakarta has among the most exciting night life in Asia. International DJs and bands play to packed houses, but don’t expect drinks to be cheap. Alcohol is often tagged with a “sin tax,” making it more expensive to party in Jakarta than many other places around Asia.
Elsewhere on Java
There are numerous cities on Java, which is the most densely populated island on Earth. Serang, Bandung, Semarang and Surabaya are also thriving cities and the capitals of the four provinces that make up the island. Each offers its own flavor and take on Indonesian culture.
Between the cities, though, one can still see evidence of the agricultural roots that originally underpinned the Java economy. Beautiful, peaceful rice paddies give an expat with a nose full of smog some much needed down time.
And for some serious sight-seeing, there’s the special administrative region of Yogykarta. Still a hereditary sultanate, this special area is full of temples as well as cultural and archaeological marvels.
A tourist hotspot, Bali is famous for beaches, surfing, and luxury hotels. Close proximity to northern Australia makes it a popular vacation spot and party spot. The nightlife can be wild, and the tourists wilder. But it’s an undeniably beautiful part of the country with its own distinct cultural roots. The region is primarily Hindu, and evidence of Hindu culture is apparent everywhere, especially in the food, which features pork unlike much of the rest of the country where Islam is the dominant religion.
Though still densely populated, Sumatra has larger tracts of unspoiled wilderness than many other major Indonesian islands. It’s a popular eco-tourism destination with some of the highest rates of biodiversity in the world. It’s full of exotic plants and animals, and jungle treks and tours are extremely popular among tourists.
Another destination for a more natural experience, Flores is a fairly large island with almost 2 million people living on it. It has some beautiful dive sites, but many reefs have been destroyed by dynamite fishing and pilfering for souvenirs. There is better diving elsewhere in Indonesia. The most famous destination in Indonesia, though, is Kelimutu. This is a dormant volcano whose caldera is filled with three lakes. Fed by subterranean gases, these lakes regularly change color. They can vary from red to green to blue based on the chemical make-up of the lake.
It wouldn’t be fair not to include the small (but famous) island of Komodo, home of the komodo dragons. Besides the national park which features the enormous lizards, there is also spectacular diving off the beautiful beaches on this little island.
Covering such a huge area and containing so many distinct cultures, Indonesia is a traveler’s paradise. Living and working in the country is probably the only way to properly see it. There are many, many more places for diving, eco-tourism, indigenous cultural experiences, and wild parties. Tourism thrives in Indonesia, but there are still unspoiled areas almost devoid of Westerners that are waiting to be explored.
To be fair though, foreigners aren’t always welcomed and there are occasional outbursts of sectarian violence, so it’s important to be careful and respectful of the rich and diverse culture that makes up Indonesia. With healthy doses of both good manners and caution, it’s possible to come away from Indonesia with memories for a lifetime.