Indonesia

Indonesia

The Republic of Indonesia is an archipelago made up of thousands of islands, 13,000 to be precise, stretching 3000 miles from Asia to the Pacific with a population of 175 million divided into 34 provinces, and has land borders with Malaysia, Papua New Guinea and East Timor.  It lies around the equator, between the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

The nation’s capital is Jakarta. Since the seventh century, Indonesia has been an important trade region, especially trading with China and India. Interaction with foreign powers meant that various cultural and religious practices were adopted. Hindu and Buddhist regions became established, later challenged by Muslim traders bringing Islam and European missionaries bringing Christianity.

Indonesia has the world’s largest Muslim nation as well as a large communities of Hindus, Animists and Christians. It is one of the most culturally diverse regions in the world, with 300 ethnic groups there are as many languages as there are days in the year.

Indonesia attracts visitors for numerous different reasons; some wish to trek the world’s second-largest tropical rainforest, others want to explore the cultural hub of the country in Jakarta, others want to explore the beautiful beaches and luxury resorts in Bali.

Bali is the most famous and popular of the Indonesian islands. Many tourists are content to never venture further, but those who do discover an ecology and wildlife which stuns even the most seasoned traveller. Its a magical land of unexplored rain forests, endless beaches, misty volcanoes and a range of wildlife and dazzling species.

 

Language

The thousands of different groups correspond to over 700 languages spoken in Indonesia. The official language is Indonesian, influenced heavily by Malay but also drawing on Javanese and Sudanese. This language is only really used in business, education and the media, as most Indonesians speak other languages in their day-to-day life.

Currency & Spending

In Indonesia you can live for only a few dollars a day. You don’t need to spend much more.
The Indonesian economy collapsed in 1997 causing massive poverty, job losses and an economic crisis, but is currently more stable.

The unit of currency is the Rupiah (Rp).

Approximate conversion is:

£1 GBP =  22191.62  Rp
$1 USD =  14619.00 Rp
€1 Euro = 16365.24 Rp

 

Climate

Indonesia has a tropical climate with distinct wet and dry seasons. The dry season is often still quite rainy and very humid. For most of the country, the dry season is April to October and wet season, November to March. Mountainous areas receive the highest rainfall throughout the year and are usually slightly cooler than the lowlands. Temperature remains fairly constant throughout the year, with an average of 26-30°C. As it’s on the equator, the climate is fairly tempered and always hot and humid in the day and pleasantly warm at night. To cope with the heat you can have an Indonesian bath or mandis, this involves a lot of water and a very small bucket!

Dress

Although Indonesia is a Muslim country, it is not too strict for dress codes, although head scarves and cover-all dresses have become popular in recent years. Women can get a lot of hassle from local men trying their luck, so it is advisable to say you’re attached or married or wear a wedding ring.

Accomodation

There are cheap hotels throughout Indonesia called losmen, but for just a few dollars a night you can find some spectacular locations.

Brief History

It is believed that Indonesia’s history dates back to the period from 2500BC to 1500BC when Taiwanese migrants settled and established dozens of kingdoms and civilisations throughout the islands. The original settlers were skilled in ocean travel and agriculture.

The Portuguese were the first Europeans to settle near present-day Jakarta in 1522. However, the Portuguese were being challenged by the end of the sixteenth century by Dutch and English settlements on the archipelago. The Dutch became the more dominant European power in 1602 when they established the Dutch East India Company (VOC). The VOC was dismantled following bankruptcy in 1800 and the Dutch East Indies became a nationalised colony.

European influence was ended by Japanese occupation of the islands during the Second World War. It was during this period of occupation that the Indonesian independence movement gained prominence and just days after Japan’s surrender in August 1945, Sukarno (an influential nationalist leader) declared independence and was appointed President. Sukarno moved Indonesia away from democracy towards authoritarianism, leading to civil unrest which ultimately ousted Sukarno and appointed the head of the military, General Suharto, as president. Although accused of corruption, Suharto’s administration’s policies encouraging foreign investment in Indonesia was a major factor in the substantial economic growth that the country experienced in the late-twentieth century.

Travel

Indonesia has three main international airports. Soekarno-Hatta (CGK) is located near Jakarta, Ngurah Rai (DPS) is in Bali and Juanda (SUB) is in Java. Singapore and Malaysia are alternative entry points as they are connected via local flights to Indonesia’s many regional airports. Many of the major international airlines have flights to Indonesia, usually with a short stop-over in one of Asia’s major cities.

Worth noting: Departure tax – charged by Indonesian airports to departing passengers. It varies between airports but it is typically 150,000-200,000Rp (approximately £7-£10 ) and can be paid in cash.

Worth noting: Travel safety – Indonesia’s airlines do not have the best reputation for being safe. The safety standards are less than most westerners are used to and flying conditions can be challenging with the extreme weather experienced in the region. Many Indonesian airlines have been banned by the EU from European airspace because of concerns over safety (www.ec.europa.eu/transport/air-ban/list_en.htm). Flying with a major airline is recommended where possible.

Visas

Visitors from most Western countries will be able to obtain a 30-day tourist visa on arrival for approximately USD35. These will be available at most of the major entry points, although a pre-issued visa may be necessary when travelling straight to more remote locations. It is also possible to obtain a visa in advance from an Indonesian embassy or consulate and this will allow travellers to skip the Visa-on-arrival queues at the immigration check-points which will often be congested.

People

Indonesia is the fourth most populous country in the world with 240 million people. The country’s citizens divide themselves into thousands of distinct groups based on ethnicities, tribes, castes and religions. The largest of these ethnic groups are the Javanese of central and eastern Java, the Sundanese from western Java and the Coastal Malays, mostly from Sumatra. Whilst the many groups largely coexist peacefully, there are underlying class and religious conflicts in some regions of the country.

Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world, with 88% of the population identifying as Muslim. Despite this vast majority, Indonesia is officially a secular state, meaning that the strict observance of Islamic dress code is not adhered to, as it is in other countries. Protestant and Roman Catholic Christians can be found mainly in parts of Papua, North Sumatra and North Sulawesi. Hindus are concentrated primarily on Bali, while Buddhism is practiced mainly in the larger cities by ethnic Chinese.

Food

Indonesian cuisine varies from region to region, but it almost always is centred on rice, served with side dishes of meat and vegetables. Much of the country’s traditional food has been influenced by Chinese, European, Middle Eastern and Indian cuisines over the years. Coconut milk, fish, chicken and spices, especially chilli, are key ingredients used in many Indonesian dishes.

  • Nasi goreng – Nasi goreng literally means “fried rice” in Indonesian and refers to a meal consisting of stir-fried rice, spiced with sweet soy sauce, garlic, tamarind and chilli. Variations often either include egg, chicken, prawns or ikan asin (salted dried fish – regionally popular across Indonesia). It is often made with leftover cooked rice, as the texture is considered more suitable as it is not as moist and soft. In most parts of Indonesia, this staple dish is made with sweet soy sauce which gives the rice a golden brown colour and a slightly sweet flavour. However, in some regions, especially in Eastern Indonesia, the rice is fried with a tomato and chilli sauce, creating nasi goreng that is red in colour. It is usually served with prawn crackers, pickled vegetables and chilli sauce.
  • Rendang – Rendang is a really popular dish in Indonesia, originating from Minangkabau (or Padang) in West Sumatra. Traditionally, it was made for ceremonial occasions such as weddings or religious festivals. Rendang is essentially a spicy, dry curry, usually made with beef but sometimes liver, goat or chicken is substituted, cooked in a mixture of coconut milk and spices until dry. Spices used for this dish include ginger, garlic, turmeric, chilli and lemongrass, among others. Rendang can take hours to cook as the slow cooking is fundamental to allow the meat to absorb all the spicy flavours. The dish is often served with rice, either steamed or in cake form, and accompanied by a vegetable side dish.
  • Soto mie – Soto mie is a spicy soup dish with noodles. Mie is the name of the Indonesian noodles made of flour, salt and egg. In Malaysia and other areas of Asia it is sometimes referred to as Mee soto. The dish can be made using beef, chicken or tripes. The meat is combined with the noodles, tomato, boiled potato, hard boiled egg, cabbages and bean sprouts in a broth made from chicken or beef stock and spices. Rice is sometimes substituted for the noodles. Soto mie is usually flavoured using lime juice, fried shallots, sweet soy sauce and vinegar, and served with slices of risole (fried spring rolls).
  • Rawon – Rawon is a beef soup flavoured with black nuts, making it dark in colour and very nutty in flavour. It originates from East Java. It is made by sautéing a mixture of spices, which is then added to boiled beef stock with diced beef. It is usually served with rice, green onion, fried shallots, baby bean sprouts and shrimp crackers, and a chilli sauce on the side.
  • Sayur Asem – Sayur Asem is a popular regional dish commonly found in Jakarta. It is a sweet-and-sour vegetable tamarind soup. The recipe often includes peanuts, jackfruit, long beans and corn, and it is thought to be very compatible with fish dishes.

Top Places to Visit

  • Jakarta – Jakarta is Indonesia’s capital city and the political and cultural hub, located on the northwest region of the island of Java. The settlement was originally established in the fourth century as a vital trading port for the Kingdom of Sunda, serving as the unofficial capital of the Dutch East Indies. As Indonesia’s most populous city, Jakarta is known for being a melting pot of the various Indonesian cultures. Although most of Jakarta’s visitors are domestic tourists, Jakarta is one of the main stopovers for foreign visitors on their way to other Indonesian tourist destinations. Jakarta is worth a short-layover to explore the old town, the city’s monuments, vibrant nightlife and vast shopping opportunities.
    • Monas (National Monument) – Monas is Jakarta’s most famous landmark, a 137m tower topped with a gold foil flame standing in Freedom Square, symbolising Indonesia’s fight for independence from colonial power. After over 10 years of construction, it was opened to the public in 1975. The site also includes the Indonesian National History Museum and the Hall of Independence. The Indonesian National History Museum depicts scenes charting Indonesian progression through Prehistoric Indonesia, the development of the native civilisations, the period of European colonisation and the struggle for independence well into the twentieth century. Visitors can view the city and the bay from the observation deck, open daily.
    • Kota Tua (Old Town Batavia) – Kota or Kota Tua is the remnants of the first walled Dutch settlement in the Jakarta area. The neighbourhood gained importance between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries due to its strategic location for the region’s spice trade. Today, whilst some remaining buildings have become derelict, others have been restored to preserve the city’s colonial history. The old square is now the location of art museums, cafes and the Jakarta History Museum (in the old Town Hall).
    • Sunda Kelapa – Sunda Kelapa is the old port in Jakarta and remains an important site for inter-island trade. Historically it was the main port of the Sunda Kingdom. Today, the port houses the last remaining wind-powered trade fleet of pinisi, traditional two-masted wooden sailing ships. The port is also home to an impressive fish market.
  • Yogyakarta – Yogyakarta is the capital of Yogyakarta Special Region in Central Java province. It is a busy town conveniently located in close proximity to the famous temples, Prambanan and Borobudur, making it Indonesia’s most popular tourist destination. It is also renowned as a centre of education, art and culture, especially theatre, ballet, music and poetry. Visitors can explore the main streets and neighbourhoods, experiencing the Javanese food and lifestyle.
    • Candi Prambanan – Prambanan Temple Compounds is an iconic, ancient Hindu Temple. Built in the ninth century during the Hindu Sanjaya dynasty, the temple is dedicated to the Trimurti; Brahma (the Creator), Vishnu (the Preserver) and Shiva (the Destroyer). The compound is located less than 20km from Yogyakarta and includes many smaller temples. The temples are decorated with reliefs depicting ancient stories and legends.
    • Borobudur – Borobudur Temple is the largest Buddhist structure in the world. The display of eighth century architecture contrasts greatly with other Buddhist temples in terms of design, scale and grandness. The colossal feel of the grounds are enhanced by the rocky, volcanic backdrop. The monument itself is made up of six square and three circular platforms and topped by a central dome, supported by 72 Buddha statues. The compound has over 2500 relief panels and over 500 Buddha statues. The site is located approximately one hour away from Yogyakarta.
    • Kraton Yogyakarta – Kraton of Yogyakarta is the former palace complex of the Sultan of Yogyakarta and his family. The Palace was originally built by Prince Mangkubumi in 1755 but most of the buildings standing today were built by Sultan Hamengkubuwono III in the 1920s and 1930s. The Kraton encompasses the main palace, the Sultan’s residence, the grounds and a large residential area wherein the servants were housed. Today, the site serves as a cultural centre which can be visited via one of two entrances, the Main Court or the Residence. The Main Court houses a museum that displays artefacts and relics from the reigns of the various Sultans. The Residence still exhibits the royal family’s life of luxury.

     

  • Bali – Dubbed ‘the Island of the Gods’, Bali is an island famous among tourists for its rugged coastlines, white sandy beaches, mountains and volcanic hillsides. It is located just over 2km east of Java. Bali is part of what is known as the Coral Triangle, the area with the most biodiversity of marine species. There are over 500 reef-building coral species to be found in this vicinity, and subsequently diving is a very popular tourist pastime. The coasts also offer incredible surfing opportunities. Alternatively, visitors can spend their time exploring the numerous hikes or taking in the culture and history of the island at various historical and archaeological sites, including countless Hindu temples. Balinese temples are unique in design, inspired by the surrounding landscape, often with tiered, black-thatched roofs made from palm fibre. Uluwatu Temple is one of the most visited, located at the Southern tip of the island, perched on the edge of a rugged limestone cliff 70m above the Indian Ocean.
  • Lombok – Lombok is situated east of Bali and offers similar attractions, with beautiful beaches, waterfalls and the looming Mount Rinjani volcano. It is a place to enjoy almost everything Bali has to offer with fewer tourists and less commercialisation. The Gili Islands are Lombok’s most popular destination, with their relaxed atmosphere, sunny beaches and beachside restaurants and bars. The focus is largely on the ocean, with countless diving and snorkelling opportunities to witness the vast marine wildlife first-hand.
  • Lake Toba – Lake Toba is the largest volcanic lake in the world in the northern part of Sumatra. It is approximately 100km long and 30km wide. It was created by an enormous super-volcanic eruption that occurred approximately 77,000 years ago, the largest known explosive eruption on Earth in the last 25 million years. Today, it is a serene place for visitors to swim and rest after jungle treks and hikes.
  • Komodo National Park – The Komodo National Park is located in the Lesser Sunda Islands, encompassing the three larger islands (Komodo, Padar and Rinca) and 26 smaller ones. It was founded in 1980 to protect the world’s largest lizard, the Komodo dragon, before later dedicating itself to protecting other species, including marine species. The marine biodiversity makes scuba diving in this area very popular, and the marine-based ecotourism helps the park remain self-financing. Several boat tours of the park are on offer.

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