Indonesia  is the largest archipelago in the world that straddles the Equator between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. While it has land borders with Malaysia to the north as well as East Timor and Papua New Guinea to the east, it also neighbors Australia to the south, and Palau, the Philippines, Vietnam, Singapore, and Thailand to the north, India to the northwest.
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.iuh0
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 who make it off the beaten track.
The early history of Indonesia is the story of 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-c.1500), 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 grundgingly but still astonishingly accepted the result (after nevertheless looting the capital Dili), and East Timor gained its independence in 2002.
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 (7.5%) from the island of Madura, and Coastal Malays (7.5%), 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 just 3% of the population but continue to 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.
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. 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.
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.
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 (e.g., 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 is known locally as mudik, meaning going home. This is the one time of 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 traveling 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)
GMT +8: Central Indonesian Time (WITA, Waktu Indonesia Tengah)
GMT +9: Eastern Indonesian Time (WIT, Waktu Indonesia Timur)
The nation of Indonesia is almost unimaginably vast: More than 17,000 islands providing 108,000 kilometers of beaches. The distance between Aceh in the West and Papua in the East is more than 4,000 kilometers (2500 miles), comparable to the distance between New York City and San Francisco. Laying on the western rim of the Ring of Fire Indonesia has more than 400 volcanoes, of which 130 are considered active, as well as many undersea volcanoes. The island of New Guinea (on which the Indonesian province of Papua is located) is the second largest island in the world.
Provinces are usually grouped by around larger islands and include smaller surrounding islands. The listing below follows this practice:
- Jakarta - the perennially congested capital which is also the largest city of the country
- Bandung - university town in the cooler highlands of Java
- Banjarmasin - the largest town on Kalimantan
- Manado - Christian town at the northeastern tip of Sulawesi, famous for diving
- Medan - the main city of Sumatra
- Semarang - the capital of Central Java, with a blend of Javanese, Chinese, and Dutch influences
- Surabaya - Indonesia's second largest city
- Ujung Pandang (Makassar) - the gateway to Sulawesi
- Yogyakarta - Java's cultural hub and the access point to the mighty temples of Prambanan and Borobudur
The following is a limited selection of some of Indonesia's top sights.
- Anyer - Beach in Banten province, near Mt. Krakatau, Lesung Cape, and Ujung Kulon National Park.
- Baliem Valley - the home of the famous penis-gourded Dani warriors. Located in Papua province.
- Borobudur - A largest Buddhist temple in the world. Located in Central Java province. This is the place which is Indonesia's most visited site.
- Bunaken - One of the best scuba diving destinations in Indonesia, if not the world. Located in North Sulawesi province.
- Komodo National Park - The park includes the three larger islands Komodo, Rinca and Padar. Komodo is the biggest reptile in the world, which only be found in this national park. Located in Flores island, East Nusa Tenggara province.
- Lake Toba - The largest volcanic lake in the world. There is a large island in it, Samosir island. Located on North Sumatra province.
- Mount Bromo - Some of the scariest volcanic scenery on the planet. One of the best locations in the world to see sunrise. Located in East Java province.
- Prambanan - A collection of massive Hindu temples built by the 10th century Mataram Kingdom, in Central Java province.
- Tana Toraja - Highland area of South Sulawesi province famed for their extraordinary funeral rites.
Dealing with Imigrasi serves as a useful introduction to the Byzantine complexity of Indonesia's bureaucracy. The long and short of it, though, is that most Western travelers can get a visa on arrival for US$10/25 at most common points of entry (Java, Bali, etc), so read on only if you suspect that you don't fit this description.
There are three ways of entering Indonesia:
- Visa-free. Show your passport, get stamped, that's it. Applies only to a few select countries, mostly in ASEAN.
- Visa on arrival. Pay on arrival, get a visa in your passport, get it stamped, that's it. Most visitors fall in this category.
- Visa in advance. Obtain a visa at an Indonesian embassy before arrival.
One peculiarity to note is that visa-free and visa-on-arrival visitors must enter Indonesia via specific ports of entry. Entry via other ports of entry will require a visa regardless of whether you are a visa-free or visa-on-arrival national or otherwise.
Customs in Indonesia is usually quite laid-back. You're allowed to bring in one liter of alcohol, 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 100 gm of tobacco products, and a reasonable quantity of perfume. Amounts of money carried in excess of 10 million Rupiah, or the equivalent in other currencies, have to be declared upon arrival or departure. In addition to the obvious drugs and guns, importing pornography and fruit, plants, meat or fish is (technically) prohibited. Indonesia imposes the death penalty on those caught bringing in drugs.
Nationals of Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Philippines, Hong Kong, Macao, Chile, Morocco, Peru, and Vietnam are given visa-free entry facility for maximum of 30 days. They cannot extend their stay and cannot convert their visa-free status to any other visa status.
Visa-free entries are only permitted via the following ports of entry:
- Airports: Juanda (Surabaya, East Java), Adi Sumarno (Solo, Central Java), El Tari (Kupang, West Timor), Hang Nadim (Batam, Riau Islands), Hasanuddin (Makasar, South Sulawesi), Husein Sastranegara (Bandung, West Java), Ngurah Rai (Denpasar, Bali), Polonia (Medan, North Sumatra), Sam Ratulangi (Manado, North Sulawesi), Selaparang (Mataram, Lombok), Sepinggan (Balikpapan, East Kalimantan), Soekarno Hatta (Jakarta), Sultan Mahmud Badaruddin II (Palembang, South Sumatera), Sultan Syarif Kasim II or Simpang Tiga (Pekanbaru, Riau), Supadio (Pontianak, West Kalimantan) and Minangkabau International Airport (Padang, West Sumatera).
- Seaports: Bandar Seri Udana Lobam (Batam, Riau Islands), Belawan (Medan, North Sumatra), Bitung (Manado, North Sumatra), Lembar (Mataram, Lombok), Nongsa Terminal Bahari (Batam, Riau Islands), Sekupang (Batam, Riau Islands), Sri Bayintan (Tanjung Pinang, Bintan, Riau Islands), Tanjung Balai Karimun (Karimun, Riau Islands), Tanjung Perak (Surabaya, East Java), Tanjung Priok (Jakarta), Bandar Bintan Telani Lagoi (Bintan, Riau Islands), Batu Ampar (Batam, Riau Islands), Benoa (Bali), Dumai (Riau), Lhokseumawe (North Sumatra), Marina Teluk Senimba (Batam, Riau Islands), Padang Bai (Bali), Selat Kijang (Bintan, Riau Islands), Tanjung Mas (Semarang, Central Java), Tanjung Pinang (Bintan, Riau Islands) and Tenau (Kupang, West Timor).
Visa on arrival
All visitors entering Indonesia by way of visa-on-arrival must have a return ticket out of the country on their person when passing through immigration into the country. (E-tickets are acceptable.) This is checked fairly often, and visitors without one may be deported — although more commonly the problem can be solved with a suitable "fine".
Visas on arrival can issued to nationals of Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Canada, China, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Estonia, Fiji, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, India, Iran, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Laos, Latvia, Libya, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Maldives, Malta, Mexico, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Oman, Panama, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Surinam, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, and USA for a maximum of 30 days. A visa-on-arrival is not extendable and cannot be converted into any other type of visa. However, obtaining a visa from an Indonesian embassy or consulate before traveling is also possible and will allow you to skip some lines on entry.
Visa-on-arrival are only available at the following:
- Airports: Juanda (Surabaya, East Java), Adisutjipto (Yogyakarta, Java), Adi Sumarmo (Solo, Central Java), El Tari (Kupang, West Timor), Halim Perdanakusuma (Jakarta), Hassanudin (Makasar, South Sulawesi), Ngurah Rai (Denpasar, Bali), Polonia (Medan, North Sumatra), Sam Ratulangi (Manado, North Sulawesi), Selaparang (Mataram, Lombok), Sepinggan (Balikpapan, East Kalimantan), Soekarno Hatta (Jakarta), Sultan Mahmud Badaruddin II (Palembang, South Sumatera), Sultan Syarif Kasim II (Pekanbaru, Riau) and Minangkabau International Airport (Padang, West Sumatera).
- Seaports: Bandar Bentan Telani Lagoi (Bintan, Riau Islands), Bandar Seri Udana Lobam (Bintan, Riau Islands), Batu Ampar (Batam, Riau Islands), Belawan (Medan, North Sumatra), Benoa (Bali), Bitung (Manado, North Sulawesi), Jayapura (Papua), Marina Teluk Senimba (Batam, Riau Islands), Maumere (Flores, East Nusa Tenggara), Nongsa (Batam, Riau Islands), Padang Bai (Bali), Pare-Pare (South Sulawesi), Sekupang (Batam, Riau Islands), Sibolga (North Sumatra), Soekarno Hatta (Makassar, South Sulawesi), Sri Bintan Pura (Tanjung Pinang, Bintan, Riau Islands), Tanjung Balai Karimun (Karimun, Riau Islands), Tanjung Mas (Semarang, Central Java), Tanjung Priok (Jakarta), Teluk Bayur (Padang, West Sumatra), Batam Centre (Batam, Riau Islands), Tenau (Kupang, West Timor) and Yos Sudarso (Dumai, Riau).
Note the slight difference between the visa-free and visa-on-arrival lists and the absence of Entikong for visa-on-arrival visitors.
Visa on arrival fees: As of April 2008, visa on arrival fees are US$10 for a stay up to 7 days, and US $25 for a stay up to 30 days. Exact change in dollars is recommended, although a selection of other major currencies (including rupiah) are accepted, and any change will be given in rupiah. Credit cards are accepted in Bali, but don't count on this elsewhere.
How to get visa on arrival: At the above airports/seaports, the following procedure should be followed to get your visa on arrival.
- Before arriving, fill in the arrival/departure card. This card will be your visa application form.
- When you arrive, go to the bank counter and pay the required amount for your visa. You will be issued a bar-coded receipt.
- Take the receipt to the Visa on Arrival counter where your arrival/departure card, passport and receipt will be recorded by the officer. A visa sticker will be issued and stuck in your passport.
- Proceed to the immigration counter for your passport to be stamped.
As always, there may be variations to this layout, especially at the smaller points of entry. Bank and visa counters may be placed together. Anyhow, your visa must be applied for before you reach the immigration counter.
Visa before arrival
Nationals of countries not listed above, and visitors wishing to stay for more than 30 days are required to apply for visas through the nearest Indonesian Embassy or consulate. Single-entry visas are valid for 60 days and fairly routine if pricy at US$50-100, but multiple-entry visas (quite convenient esp. for visiting East Timor) are generally difficult to obtain and very expensive at US$200. Visa applications will usually take at least one week to be processed.
The two main international airports are Soekarno-Hatta (CGK) at Tangerang, Banten, near Jakarta, and Ngurah Rai (DPS) at Denpasar, Bali. There are however many cities which have air links with neighbouring countries which can be interesting and convenient entry points into Indonesia. They include: Medan with flights to/from Penang and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia as well as Singapore; Pekanbaru in Sumatra with flights to/from Malacca, Malaysia and Singapore; Padang in Sumatra with flights from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and Singapore; Palembang in Sumatra with flights from Kuala Lumpur and Johor Bahru in Malaysia as well Singapore; Pontianak in West Kalimantan to/from Kuching in Sarawak, Malaysia ; Tarakan in East Kalimantan to/from Tawau in Sabah, Malaysia; Manado in North Sulawesi to/from Davao in the Philippines and Singapore; and Kupang in West Timor to/from Darwin in Australia, and Dili, East Timor.
Currently all Indonesian airlines are on the European Union black list and barred to fly to Europe. Therefore travellers can't buy tickets for internal Indonesian flights in Europe. Several travel agencies organise tickets through subsidiaries outside the EU but it's still combined with hassles.
Garuda Indonesia , the state airline, provides links to Asian and Australian destinations and while its planes are a bit tatty, they are a fairly safe and often a cheap option.
Travel to Indonesia from America costs around US$1000. As travel from most of Europe or anywhere in the USA will take over 20 hours, many flights stop in Hong Kong, Seoul, Taipei or Singapore before arriving in Jakarta. Sydney, though, is just 6-8 hours away.
Ferries connect Indonesia with Singapore and Malaysia. Most connections are between ports in Sumatra (mostly in Riau and Riau Islands provinces) and those in Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore, although there is also a ferry service between Malaysia's Sabah state with East Kalimantan on Borneo. Onward boat connections to Jakarta and other Indonesian islands are available from these ports. See the pages for each city for more details.
- Frequent ferries to/from the various ports of Batam (Sekupang, Batu Ampar, Nongsa, Marina Teluk Senimba and Batam Centre).
- Frequent ferries to Tanjung Pinang and Bandar Bintan Telani Lagoi (Bintan Resorts) on Bintan.
- Several ferries daily to/from Tanjung Balai in Karimun Island.
- One daily ferry, increasing to two during weekends, to/from Tanjung Batu in Kundur Island.
Please note that Tanjung Batu is NOT a visa-free or visa-on-arrival port of entry. There may however be exceptions for visa-free visitors.
From Peninsular Malaysia
- Daily ferries run from Penang to Belawan, the port for Medan, Sumatra.
- Daily ferries go from Port Klang near Kuala Lumpur to Dumai in Riau, Sumatra and Tanjung Balai Asahan in North Sumatra.
- Daily ferries between Port Dickson, Negeri Sembilan and Dumai in Riau province, Sumatra.
- Daily ferries link Malacca with Dumai and Pekanbaru in Riau province, Sumatra.
- Frequent ferries go from Kukup, Johor to Tanjung Balai on Karimun Island in the Riau Islands.
- Frequent ferries link the Johor Bahru with Batam and the capital of Riau province Tanjung Pinang at the Island Bintan in the Riau Islands.
- Regular ferries also link Tanjung Belungkor in Johor with Batam.
Please note that Tanjung Balai Asahan is NOT a visa-free or visa-on-arrival port of entry. There may however be exceptions for visa-free visitors.
From Sabah, Malaysia
Please note that Nunukan and Tarakan are NOT visa-free or visa-on-arrival ports of entry. Again, there may be exceptions for visa-free visitors.
From Malaysia: The only formal way to enter by land from Malayia is at the Entikong-Tebedu crossing between West Kalimantan and Sarawak, Malaysia on Borneo. The crossing in on the main route between Kuching, (Sarawak) and Pontianak, the capital of (West Kalimantan). As the crossing is listed only as a visa-free entry point, nationalities who do not qualify for this will have to apply for visas beforehand.
Note: It is not guaranteed that you will be able to enter Indonesia through these crossings and non-Indonesians are required to apply for visas at the nearest Indonesian Embassy or Consulate.
The only rapid means of long-distance travel within Indonesia is the plane. The largest domestic carriers are state-owned Garuda  and private competitor Lion Air , but in recent years a host of low-cost competitors have sprung up, including Indonesia Air Asia , Batavia Air , Mandala  and many more. Routes for less popular destinations and routes (particularly in eastern Indonesia) are served by Garuda's little buddy Merpati , memorably summarized as "It's Merpati and I'll fly if I want to", AirFast , Sriwijaya , Jatayu and more, often flying smaller planes. If you really get off the beaten track, eg. settlements in Papua, there are no scheduled services at all and you'll need to charter a plane or hitch rides with missionaries.
Many carriers have poor on-time records and frequent cancellations, and the safety record of the smaller companies is dubious, with Adam Air, Lion Air and Mandala suffering fatal crashes in recent years. A majority of the aircraft are planes from the 1970s and 1980s, which have been flown by many previous operators and may be poorly maintained. A select a few carriers, such as Garuda, Lion Air, and Mandala among others, have recently bought brand new planes straight from an aircraft manufacturer which have replaced some of the older planes in their fleet. Still, compared to the carnage on Indonesia's roads, a flight even on an aging turboprop is probably far safer — and far more comfortable — than traveling the same distance by bus. Garuda and Air Asia are run to international standards and are considered the safest options.
Prices are low by international standards, with more or less any domestic return flight available for under US$100 even on short notice, and fares for a fraction of that if you plan ahead. The hardest part is often finding what carriers serve what route and making a reservation, as many companies have not yet discovered the joys of the Internet, much less set up online booking engines. When traveling off the beaten track, it's imperative to reconfirm early and often, as frequencies are low and paid-up, occasionally even checked-in passengers are bumped off with depressing regularity if a VIP happens to show up. Make sure you arrive at the airport at least 2 hours before the departure time, because airline staff often sell your seat to other passengers if you are late.
Indonesia is all islands and consequently ferries have long been the most popular means of inter-island travel. The largest company is PELNI , whose giant ferries visit practically every inhabited island in Indonesia on lengthy journeys that can take two weeks from end to end. PELNI uses European-built boats, which are large enough to deal with rough seas, but they can still be uncomfortably overcrowded during peak seasons: ferries built for 3000 have been known to board 7000.
Cabin accommodation classes, all including meals and private lockers, are:
- 1st class, around US$40/day: two beds per cabin, private washroom, TV, aircon
- 2nd class, around US$30/day: four beds per cabin, private washroom, aircon
- 3rd class, around US$20/day: six beds per cabin, aircon, shared washrooms
- 4th class, around US$15/day: bed in a dormitory
The "real" way to travel, though, is ekonomi class (around US$10/day), which is a noisy, smoky, cramped free-for-all scrum; buy a rattan mat and get in early to stake out your spot — it's common for people to start rushing in as soon as the ferry arrives. Pickpocketing and theft are a real concern though.
In addition to PELNI's slow boats, ASDP runs fast ferries (Kapal Ferry Cepat, rather amusingly abbreviated KFC) on a number of popular routes. Both PELNI and ASDP tickets can be booked via travel agents.
Last but not least, there are also countless services running short island-to-island hops, including Merak-Bakauheni (hourly) from Java to Sumatra, Ketapang-Gilimanuk (every 15 min) between Java and Bali and Padangbai-Lembar (near-hourly) between Bali and Lombok.
In general, schedules are notional, creature comforts sparse and safety records poor. Try to scout out what, if any, safety devices are on board and consider postponing your trip if the weather looks bad. As maintenance is poor and overloading is common, sinkings are all too common on ferries run by smaller companies, so try to stick to the larger ones if possible. Food on ferries varies from bad to inedible, and journey times can stretch well beyond the schedule, so bring along enough to tide you over even if the engine stalls and you end up drifting for an extra day.
You may get hassled by people onboard trying to extract extra money under some dubious excuse. Feel free to ignore them, although on the upside, it may be possible to bribe your way to a better class of accommodation.
PT Kereta Api  runs trains across most of Java and some parts of Sumatra. The network was originally built by the Dutch, and few new lines have been built since the Independence. Double-tracking of the most congested lines have been done, though, and is still ongoing. Maintenance is spotty and derailments and crashes occur occasionally.
Java by far has the best railway network, with trains connecting the capital city of Jakarta with other main cities, i.e. Surabaya both via Semarang on the north coast and via Yogyakarta and Solo through the southern main line. Bandung is connected to Jakarta by some 30 trains per day, and is itself connected to Surabaya through Yogyakarta. Bali has no railway lines, but there are trains from Surabaya to Banyuwangi, connecting with ferries to the island.
Type of service: 1. Air-conditioned Eksekutif class 2. Bisnis 3. Ekonomi classes are also available for the more budget-conscious traveler, but comfort and safety are noticeably less (due to congestion and length of travel time).
No sleeping car service is provided in Indonesia, and the best accommodation provided is air-conditioned, adjustable reclining seats in the Argo and other eksekutif class trains.
Ticket reservations can be made one month in advance, although generally tickets will still be available almost to the last minute. An exception is the very busy Lebaran season, in which time it is not advisable to travel due to the extremely high demand for tickets. No on-line ticket reservation is available, but availability can be gleaned on PT Kereta Api's ticketing site .
Generally, trains in Java travel through scenic areas, and travelers not in a hurry should consider the length of the journey and the scenery as a bonus to his travels. However, theft is common, particularly on overnight journeys, so padlock your doors if possible.
The major types of buses are air-conditioned bus (AC) and non-air-conditioned bus (non-AC or "economy class"). The air-conditioned chartered buses can be rented with its drivers for a tourist group. Indonesian bus companies offer intercity and interprovince routes. The interprovince routes usually include transportation to other islands mainly between Java and Sumatra.
Bus maintenance is poor, and drivers are often drunk, on drugs or just reckless. Long, overnight journeys are particularly dangerous. Guard your bags like a hawk. In the wilder parts of the country (notably South Sumatra), interprovince buses are occasionally ambushed by bandits.
Indonesian driving habits are generally atrocious. Lanes and traffic lights are happily ignored, passing habits are suicidal and driving on the road shoulder is common.
That said, renting a car in Indonesia is cheap compared to renting in other countries, and despite recent fare hikes gas remains cheap (fixed price for gasoline is Rp 6000/litre and price of diesel fuel is Rp 5500/litre). To drive a car yourself, an International Driver Permit is required, but it is strongly recommended that you consider renting a car with driver, because the additional cost is quite low and having a traffic accident in Indonesia will certainly spoil your trip.
Road condition and road maintenance in Indonesia is poor. If you go outside major cities, you should use a four-wheel drive car (Kijang jeeps are popular). During rainy season, major roads in Sumatra, Kalimantan and Sulawesi are flooded for several weeks. Several important, old bridges in Sumatra had collapsed recently.
Traffic moves on the left in Indonesia.
Becak ("BEH-chuck") is a tricycle (pedicab) transportation mode for short distances such as residential areas in many cities. In some areas, the driver is sitting at the back of the passenger, but in some areas (like Medan) the driver is sitting on the side of the passenger. Good communication skills is integral to prevent getting overcharged on these rides. Often, sly drivers try to get some more money out of you after you've reached your destination, so be sure that you know how much it costs beforehand.
Note that there are no becak in Jakarta or Bali. Instead, the motorized bajaj (BAH-jai), somewhat similar to the Thai tuk-tuk, serves the same function. In some other provinces (eg. North Sumatra, Aceh) you can also find motorbikes with sidecars, known as bentor or bemo (short for becak bermotor).
If you're in such a hurry that you're willing to lose a limb to get there, then ojek motorcycle taxis might be the ticket for you. Ojek services consist of guys with bikes lounging around street corners, perhaps identified with a colored, numbered jacket, who usually shuttle short distances down alleys and roads but will also do longer trips for a price. Haggle furiously.
The sole official language is Indonesian, known as Bahasa Indonesia. Indonesian adopted a number of languages from Arabic, Dutch, and Sanskrit. 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 A.M. 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.
Most educated seniors (65 years/older) in Indonesia understand Dutch.
Educated Indonesians who graduated from Islamic Religious Institutes/Islamic Universities understand and are able to speak Arabic.
English language TV channels are available on most hotels. MetroTV (local TV channel) broadcasts news in Chinese from Monday to Friday at 07.00 AM. MetroTV also broacasts news in English from Monday to Friday at 07.30 AM. TVRI (state owned TV station) broadcasts news in English from Monday to Friday at 04.30 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.
Indonesia's currency is the rupiah (IDR), abbreviated Rp. The rupiah's value plummeted during the 1997 economic crisis and has slowly drifted downward ever since, and as of January 2009 you need more than Rp 11,000 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 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, Rp 20,000, Rp 10,000, Rp 5,000 and finally Rp 1,000. Bill size is the easiest way to distinguish them, as the designs — all pale pastel shades of yellow, green and brown — are confusingly similar and the smaller bills in particular are often filthy and mangled. (The new 2004-2005 series of notes has, however, corrected this to some extent.) 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 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-1000 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.
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, pre-1999 dollar bills or imperfect bills (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 frequently offer drastically reduced exchange rates of 10-20% or more!!!
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 Rp.20,000 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 are common in any major cities in Indonesia especially in the capital of the provinces such as Jakarta, Bandung, Surabaya, Medan, Denpasar, etc. Usuallys a Maestro or Plus sign on your debit card allows you to extract easy money. Be aware to take out your bank card before you take out the money. Some machines do not remind you to tak your card first.
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 (unless you are going to Bintan Resorts that is) — 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.
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. 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. With the exception of Balinese, Padang and Manado dishes, local flavors tend to be rather simple compared to neighbouring Malaysia or Thailand, the predominant flavorings being peanuts and chillies, and the Javanese in particular like their food rather sweet.
The main staple is rice (nasi), served up in many forms including:
- bubur nasi, rice porridge with toppings, popular at breakfast
- lontong, rice packed tightly into bamboo containers
- nasi goreng, the ubiquitous fried rice
- nasi kuning, yellow spiced rice, originally a festive ceremonial dish
- 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 (looks pretty but doesn't add any flavor)
- 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
- 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
Popular main dishes include:
- ayam bakar, grilled chicken
- cap cay, Chinese-style stir-fried vegetables
- gado-gado, boiled vegetables with peanut sauce
- gudeg, jackfruit curry 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
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 is the light pink keropok udang, made with dried shrimp.
If you are daring enough to try the spiciest and even outlandish local foods, look for Batak eateries (Lapo) and Manadonese eateries. These two ethnicities have a different way of cooking than the standard Javanese and Padang style. Very hot and spicy, with unusual ingredients like wild boar, pork cooked in blood, dog and bat meat, all of which are "haram" (not halal) for Muslims. Tamed Muslim-friendly versions are available in malls and food courts, but it's worth it to seek out the real thing.
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.
For Muslim travellers, Indonesia can be considered as safe as most of the times they would only serve "halal" food, so most of the eateries won't serve you pig, dog, frog, and other "haram" ingredients. But to be sure, you can look for "halal" sign if you're eating in restaurants, or just simply ask. Do this especially when you are eating in restaurant of Batak, Manadonese (Minahasan), Balinese, and Chinese cuisine. Most of big chain family restaurants such as McDonald's, KFC, Pizza Hut and others have halal certification.
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.
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 who 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.
Major local chains include EsTeler 77 , 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.
KFC, Texas Fried Chicken, McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Wendy's, A&W, Krispy Kreme, Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, Haagen Dazs (ice cream), JolliBee hamburger (from Philippines) and the usual suspects plus copies thereof are also abundant in large cities, but there are none to be found once you go east of Lombok.
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. Famous local restaurant chains are Gandy Steakhouse and Hanamasa Japanese restaurant.
Tap water is generally not potable in Indonesia, but any water served to you in restaurants will be purified and/or boiled (air minum or air putih). Bottled water, usually known as aqua after the best-known brand, is cheap and available everywhere, but do check that the seal is intact. Most hotels provide free drinking water.
Do not use tap water for brushing your teeth. Also beware of dirty ice which may not have been prepared or transported in hygienic conditions.
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 Rp.200,000 (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 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
- 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 Sumatera) - 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.
Indonesia's most popular tipple is Bintang  beer (bir), a standard-issue lager available more or less everywhere, although the locals like theirs lukewarm. Other popular beers include Bali Hai  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.
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 2.3 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?".
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.
The Darmasiswa Program is a scholarship program funded by the government of Indonesia and open to all foreign students from countries with which Indonesia has friendly relations to study Indonesian languages, arts, music and crafts. Participants can choose to study at any of the state universities and colleges participating in the program.
Some foreign students from Australia, Japan, Korea, Thailand, Poland, and Nigeria study Indonesian Language and culture at Universitas Gajah Mada (UGM) in Jogyakarta.
You can find many schools offering curriculum in foreign languages (mostly are, of course, English), one of the most notable of which is Sekolah Pelita Harapan in Jakarta. Some foreign government sponsored schools can also be found in Jakarta, teaching either in English or in their foreign native language. For university education in English, one can consider studying at Swiss-German University , Universitas Pelita Harapan , or President University , all of which are located in Jakarta. Enquire before you enroll.
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.
Indonesia has been and continues to be wracked by every pestilence known to man: earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, terrorism, civil strife, corruption and crime make the headlines on a depressingly regular basis. However, it is important to retain a sense of proportion and remember Indonesia's vast size: a tsunami in Aceh will not cause the slightest ripple on the beaches of Bali, and street battles in troubled Central Sulawesi are irrelevant in the jungles of Papua.
The crime rate has increased in recent years, but fortunately it remains mostly non-violent and guns are rare. Robbery, theft and pickpocketing are common in Indonesia, particularly in markets, public transport and pedestrian overpasses. Avoid flashing jewelry, gold watches, MP3 players or large cameras. Thieves have been known to snatch laptops, PDAs and cellphones from Internet hotspot areas.
Crime is rampant on local and long-distance public transport (bus, train, ships). Do not accept drinks from strangers, as they may be laced with drugs. Choose your taxis carefully in cities (hotel taxis are often best), lock doors when inside and avoid using cellular phones, MP3 players, PDAs or laptops at traffic lights or in traffic jams.
Do not place valuable items in checked baggage, as they may be stolen by baggage handlers. Do not leave valuable items in an empty hotel room, and use the hotel's safe deposit box instead of the in-room safe.
Do not draw large amounts of cash from banks or ATMs. Guard your belongings carefully and consider carrying a money clip instead of a wallet.
Indonesia is one of the world's most corrupt countries. Officials may ask for bribes, tips or "gifts" — the Indonesian terms are uang kopi or uang rokok, literally "coffee money" and "cigarette money" — to supplement their meager salaries; pretending you do not understand may work. Generally, being polite, smiling, asking for an official receipt for any 'fees' you are asked to pay, more politeness, more smiling, will avoid any problems.
The going rate for paying your way out of small offenses (not carrying your passport, losing the departure card, minor or imaginary traffic violation, etc) is Rp 50,000 ($4.50). It's common for police to initially demand silly amounts or threaten you with going to the station, but keep cool and they'll be more reasonable. Also note that if your taxi/bus/car driver is stopped, any fine or bribe is not your problem and it's best not to get involved. (If it's clear that the police were out of line, your driver certainly won't object if you compensate him afterwards though.)
Civil strife and terrorism
Indonesia has a number of provinces where separatist movements have resorted to armed struggles, notably Aceh and Papua. In addition, sectarian strife between Muslims and Christians, as well as between the indigenous population and transmigrants from Java/Madura, continues to occur in Maluku, central parts of Sulawesi and some areas of Kalimantan. Elections in Indonesia frequently involve rowdy demonstrations that have on occasion spiralled into violence, and the Indonesian military have also been known to employ violent measures to control or disperse protesting crowds. Travel permits (surat jalan) are required for entering conflict areas such as much of Papua and Poso and Palu in central Sulawesi.
While the great majority of civil strife in Indonesia is a strictly local affair, terrorist bombings targeting Western interests have also taken place in Bali and Jakarta, mostly notably the 2002 bombing in Kuta that killed 202 people, including 161 tourists. To minimize your risk, avoid any tourist-oriented nightclub or restaurant without strong security measures in place or where parking of cars and/or motorcycles in front of the club is permitted.
Indonesia has extremely harsh punishments for drug offenses — visitors are greeted with cheery "DEATH TO DRUG TRAFFICKERS" signs at airports and recent cases have seen long jail terms for simple possession — but drugs are still widely available. By far the most common is marijuana (known as gele or cimeng), which is not only sold to tourists but is used as food in some parts of the country, notably Aceh. Magic mushrooms are advertised openly in parts of Bali and Lombok, and hard drugs are common in the Jakarta nightlife scene. Still, it's highly advisable to steer well clear or, at very least, be very discreet as entrapment and drug busts are common and you really, really don't want to get involved with the Indonesian justice system; thanks to the anti-corruption drive, you cannot even count on being able to bribe your way out anymore.
Indonesia is a chain of highly volcanic islands sprinkled along the Ring of Fire, so earthquakes occur constantly and tsunamis and volcano eruptions are all too common. Realistically, there is little you can do to avoid these risks, but familiarize yourself with the warning signs and pay special heed to fire escape routes in hotels.
Crocodiles and poisonous snakes are present throughout most of Indonesia, although there are uncommon in most areas. Komodo dragons can be very dangerous if harassed, but are only found on Komodo and a few neighboring islands.
The bad news is that every disease known to man can be found somewhere in Indonesia — the good news is that you're probably not going to go there. Malaria prophylaxis is not necessary for Java or Bali, but is wise if traveling for extended periods in remote area of Sumatra, Borneo, Lombok or points east. Dengue fever can be contracted anywhere and using insect repellents (DEET) and mosquito nets is highly advisable. Hepatitis is also common and getting vaccinated before arriving in Indonesia is wise.
Food hygiene is often questionable and getting vaccinated for hepatitis A and possibly typhoid fever is a wise precaution. See a doctor if what seems like food poisoning does not clear up within a few days.
The air quality in major cities, especially Jakarta and Surabaya, is poor, and the seasonal haze (June-October) from forest fires on Borneo and Sumatra can also cause respiratory problems. If you have asthma, bring your medicine and breather.
Recent years have seen outbreaks of polio and anthrax in rural parts of Java and rabies in East Nusa Tenggara. Avian influenza (bird flu) has also made headlines, but outbreaks are sporadic and limited to people who deal with live or dead poultry in rural areas. Eating cooked chicken appears to be safe.
The local Indonesian health care system is not up to western standards. While a short term stay in an Indonesian hospital or medical center for simple health problems is probably not markedly different to a western facility, serious and critical medical emergencies will stretch the system to the limit. In fact, many rich Indonesians often choose to travel to neighboring Singapore to receive more serious health care. SOS Indonesia  (24-hour emergency line +62-21-7506001) specializes in treating expats and has English staff on duty, but charges are correspondingly high. In any case, travel health insurance that includes medical evacuation back to a home country is highly recommended.
If you need a specific medicine, bring the medicine in its container/bottle, if possible with the doctor's prescription. Indonesian custom inspectors may ask about the medicine. If you need additional medicine in Indonesia, bring the container to a pharmacy (apotek) and if possible mention the active ingredients of the medicine. Drugs are usually manufactured locally under different brand names, but contain the same ingredients. Be careful about the proper dosage of the medicine.
For routine traveller complaints, one can often find medical doctors (dokter) in towns. These small clinics are usually walk-in, although you may face a long wait. Most clinics open in the afternoon (from 4 PM). The emergency room (ER) in hospitals always open (24 hour). There are clinics (poliklinik) in most hospitals (8 AM-4 PM). Advance payment is expected for treatment.
Be warned, though, that the doctors/nurses may not speak English well enough to make an appropriate diagnosis -- be patient and take a good phrasebook or a translator with you. Ask about the name and dosage of the prescription medicine, as few doctors may oversubscribe to inflate their own cut, with antibiotics handed out like candy.
Indonesia has a low HIV/AIDS prevalence rate. However, most infections are among sex workers and injecting drug users. Always protect yourself before engaging in risky activities.
By and large (hawkers and touts don't count), Indonesians are a polite people and adopting a few local conventions will go a long way to smooth your stay.
One general tip for getting by in Indonesia is that saving face is extremely important in Indonesian culture. If you should get into a dispute with a vendor, government official etc, forget trying to argue or 'win'. Better results will be gained by remaining polite and humble at all times, never raising your voice, and smiling, asking the person to help you find a solution to the problem. Rarely, if ever, is it appropriate to try to blame, or accuse.
When meeting someone, be it for the first time ever or just the first time that day, it is common to shake hands — but in Indonesia this is no knuckle-crusher, just a light touching of the palms, often followed by bringing your hand to your chest. Meetings often start and end with everybody shaking hands with everybody! However, don't try to shake hands with a Muslim woman unless she offers her hand first. It is respectful to bend slightly (not a complete bow) when greeting someone older or in a position of authority.
Never use your left hand for anything! It is considered very rude. This is especially true when you are shaking hands or handing something to someone. It can be hard to get used to, especially if you are left handed. However, sometimes special greetings are given with both hands.
Polite forms of address for people you don't know are Bapak ("father") for men and Ibu ("mother") for women. If you know the name of the person you're talking to, you can address them respectfully as Pak Name (for men) or Bu Name (for women). The Javanese terms mas ("older brother") and mbak ("older sister") are also heard, but best reserved for equals, not superiors.
Remove your shoes or sandals outside before entering a house, unless the owner explicitly allows you to keep them on. Even then, it might be more polite to remove your shoes. Do not put your feet up while sitting and try not to show the bottom of your feet to someone, it is considered rude. Don't walk in front of people, instead walk behind them.
Do not stand or sit with your arms crossed or on your hips. This is a sign of anger or hostility. If a guest, it is not polite to finish any drink all the way to the bottom of the glass. This indicates that you would like more. Instead, leave about a half of an inch/2cm in the bottom of your glass and someone will most likely ask you if you would like more.
And if all this seems terribly complex, don't worry about it too much — Indonesians are an easygoing bunch and don't expect foreigners to know or understand intricacies of etiquette.
Keeping in touch with the outside world from Indonesia is rarely a problem, at least if you stay anywhere close to the beaten track.
As getting a fixed line remains an unaffordable luxury for many Indonesians, wartel (short for warung telekomunikasi) can be found on most every street in Indonesia.
If you have Global System Mobile (GSM) cellular phone, ask your local provider about "roaming agreement/facility" with local GSM operators in Indonesia (ie: PT Indosat, PT Telkomsel, PT Excelindo etc).
- Making local calls
- Dial (telephone number)
- Making long distance calls
- Dial 0-(area code)-(telephone number)
- Making international calls
- Dial 017-(country code)-(area code, if any)-(telephone number)
- Beside "017" prefix, you can use "001", "007" or "008". For example
- 001-(country code)-(area code, if any)-(telephone number)
- You can make International calls through operator
- dial 101 or 102.
- Making long distance collect calls
- Dial 0871-(area code)
- Connecting to the Internet
- Dial 080989999 (from your modem), costing you Rp. 165/minute in business days and Rp. 100/minute in Saturdays and Sundays
- TELKOM Calling Card access number
- Dial 168
The Indonesian mobile phone market is heavily competed and prices are low: you can pick up a prepaid SIM card for less than Rp 20,000 (US$ 2) and calls may cost as little as Rp 1,000 a minute (subject to the usual host of restrictions). Indonesia is also the world's largest market for used phones and basic models start from Rp 200,000. The largest operators are Telkomsel  (brand Kartu HALO, simPATI, Kartu As), Indosat  (brands Matrix, Mentari, IM3), 3 , AXIS , and Excelcomindo  (brands Jempol, Bebas).
If you have Global System Mobile (GSM) cellular phone, ask your local GSM operator about "roaming agreement/facility" in Indonesia. Most GSM operators in Indonesia have roaming agreement with various GSM operators worldwide. Using roaming facility, you can use your own cellular phone and GSM SIM card in Indonesia.
Most Indonesian operators use GSM, but beware of the few offering CDMA phones: they are slightly cheaper, but generally not usable outside major cities. Be sure to double-check when buying!
The modern-day version of the wartel is the warnet, which feature Internet-connected PCs as well, and many shops now do double duty. Prices vary considerably, and as usual you tend to get what you pay for, but you'll usually be looking at around Rp 5,000 per hour. In large cities, there are free hotspots in certain shopping malls, McDonald restaurants and StarBucks cafes. Some hotels provide free hotspots in the lobby.
If you have GSM/WCDMA Mobile phones, you can easily use them for internet connections with a prepaid card from Indosat called Mentari or IM3. There is a GPRS package with time-based calculation like PSTN dialup. The charge is only Rp 110 per minute or Rp 6600 per hour. Mentari or IM3 starter-kit is Rp 10,000 with vouchers Rp 25,000, Rp 50,000 or Rp 100,000.
Telephone directories and information services
Other information services
- Current time
- Dial 103
- Information about TELKOM services
- Dial 162
- Phone directory
- Dial 108
- Phone directory in other cities
- Dial (Code Area) 108
- Hello Yellow Phone Directory
- Dial (62)(21) 7917 8108
- Online Yellow Pages
- Indonesian YellowPages 
- Code area of large cities in Indonesia
Balikpapan (0542), Banda Aceh (0651), Bandung (022), Batam (0778), Denpasar (0361), Jakarta (021),Jogyakarta (0274), Kupang (0380), Makassar (0411), Manado (0431), Medan (061), Palembang (0711), Pekanbaru (0761), Semarang (024), Solo (0271), Surabaya (031)
Tourism Promotion Centre
- Ministry of Tourism and Culture. Jl. Medan Merdeka Barat No.17, 9th floor, Jakarta 10110, Tel.: (62)(21) 383 8303.
- Indonesia Tourism Promotion Board (BPPI), Wisma Nugraha Santana 9th flr. Jl. Jend. Sudirman Kav. 8, Jakarta 12930. Tel.: (62)(21) 570 4879. Fax.: (62)(21) 570 4855.
Here is a list of emergency numbers in Indonesia (please note that while these numbers are accessible for free from all non-mobile telephones, they may not be accessible from mobile phones [for mobile phones, you'd better use international mobile phones emergency number, 112]) :
- Police : 110
- Fire department : 113
- Ambulance : 118
- Search and rescue team: 115.
- Indonesian Police HQ. Jl. Trunojoyo 3, South Jakarta. Tel.: (62)(21) 7218144.
- National Search and Rescue agency (BASARNAS): Jl. Medan Merdeka Timur No.5, Jakarta 10110. Tel.: (62)(21) 348-32881, (62)(21) 348-32908, (62)(21) 348-32869, Fax.: (62)(21) 348-32884, (62)(21) 348-32885. Website: Basarnas .
Embassies, high commissions and consulates
The Departemen Luar Negeri (Deplu) or Ministry of Foreign Affairs  maintains a complete searchable database of diplomatic institutions. All embassies are located in Jakarta (see that article for listings), but a few countries maintain consulates general and honorary consulates elsewhere, mostly in Surabaya, Bali and port cities (eg. Malaysia in Pekanbaru, Philippines in Manado and so on).
This page was last edited at 01:22, on 27 March 2009 by Anonymous user(s) of Wikitravel. Based on work by Jani Patokallio, Peter Fitzgerald, cz and Hans Christian, Anonymous user(s) of Wikitravel and others.