TOP 13 important things you should know before visiting Indonesia
Indonesia is not Bali. It`s actually more than 18,000 islands which are so different one from another! Deep-blue ocean, tropical jungle, smoking volcanoes, busy metropolis and exotic tribal villages. This country is incredibly diverse, this is a natural and cultural wonder! There`s so much to see and to experience! It is like traveling around different parts of the world! So be prepared – if you`re not going just to Bali, there are so many more things to know!
Indonesia is a part of the Ring of Fire, so, yes, you will come across active volcanoes that tend to erupt. And also earthquakes are happening quite often. Indonesia has the second longest coastline in the world, so, yes, you will have beaches here! And it is the world`s biggest archipelago, so, yes, island travel is something popular! The Java Island itself is the most populated island in the world with its 140 million people! The biggest economy isn`t tourism though, but the gold mines – even if Americans have much taken over and Indonesia gets only 9% of the profit. Of course, there is also oil. But everything varies from island to island, therefore it is super-useful to decide on your destination in Indonesia and study that separately.
Some general territory warnings are these – it is not recommended to travel within 4 km of the Mount Agung crater in east Bali and within 7 km of the Mount Sinabung crater in Kalo Regency, North Sumatra because of ongoing volcanic activity. Large areas of the country, including parts of West Sumatra, Central, East and West Java and Jakarta have been severely affected by heavy rains that cause landslides and flooding. You should be careful when traveling in West Papua Province and Papua Province as violent protests can occur. Also Aceh, Central Sulawesi Province (especially Palu, Poso and Tentena), Maluku Province (especially Ambon) are considered not to be safest places to go. The province of Aceh, only one in Indonesia, enforces Sharia Law that applies both to Muslims and non-Muslims. That means that pre-marital sex, gambling, and everything related to alcohol is illegal. Central Sulawesi, Lombok and the Sunda Strait are recovering from the earthquakes and tsunamis, so there are still damaged buildings that you should be careful around. Sumatra is suffering from earthquakes the most and the biggest tsunamis happen between Sumatra and Java Island. But again, the main thing is to remember that each part of Indonesia is different, and you have to study them all separately!
2. Nature and weather
The nature in this country is just something spectacular. And that animal life! This is the only place in the world to see Komodo dragons in the wild in Rinca Island and Komodo Island. Well, those giant lizards can bite hard, but they are protected, so it won`t be that easy for you just to go and see them by your own. But then you can also see wild orangutans – the only places in the world where it`s possible is Sumatra and Borneo. You might come across stray dogs and cats as well, so it`s just nice to carry a snack for hungry!
Indonesia also has the world`s smelliest flower Amorphophallus Titanum that can reach even 2 metres of height! Yeah, also world`s longest snake was discovered here – it was 10 metres long, can you imagine that? Java rhino can be found only in Indonesia, only 50 of them are left in Ujung Kulon Peninsula. Basically, Indonesia has super-rich flora and fauna and it`s said that this is the world`s second most biologically diverse country just after Brazil!
And, talking about the weather, generally it never gets below plus 25 degrees, which is actually not that warm for locals – they tend to dress up even in hotter days! And it can get pretty hot and then the dangerous forest fires burn – mostly on Sumatra and Borneo. Indonesia has two seasons – wet and dry – in most regions, the dry season spans from May to September, while rain falls between October and April. But in Sumatra it rains from October to January in the North, and November to February in the South, also Sulawesi is different and rain can be expected during June and July. When is the best time to travel to Indonesia? It would be May to September, though you might experience occasional rainfalls anyways. The high season for this country is July and August, so then everything gets a bit crowded and pricey.
We already talked about the risks in the nature, but you have to be careful in cities as well. Firstly, always look under your feet as there are open holes and different obstacles on the streets where you can hurt your legs quite badly. Credit card fraud is common, so don’t lose sight of your card during transactions. In Indonesia, criminals even place a fake number on ATMs encouraging customers to call if encountered any problems. And gambling is illegal in Indonesia.
There are small-scale terrorist attacks on daily basis, also in places visited by foreigners like beach resorts, bars, markets. There is a risk of kidnapping at sea, especially in the Sulu and Celebes seas.
Rabies exists in domestic and wild animals. Avian flu has brought over 150 confirmed human fatalities in Indonesia since 2003. There’s a risk of dengue fever, particularly during the rainy season. And Indonesia is having a risk of Zika virus transmission, too.
Generally, be mindful traveler and nothing bad will happen to you. Of course, natural disasters are unpredictable, but, as they happen quite often, locals have just used to them and live their lives fulfilled with smile on their face. So enjoy your travels and do not worry too much!
This almost 2-thousand-km2 huge area is inhabited by more than 260 million people. Indonesia is considered to have one of the world’s largest proportion of young people, with 165 million Indonesians under the age of thirty. Yes, only 8% are over 60. It is common in Indonesian families to live together with parents, even after the marriage, so don`t be surprised to encounter many family businesses as well!
Indonesian language is the official language, but there are over 700 languages and dialects spoken throughout the country. Well, in touristy areas you will find people who speak English, but this generally isn`t that common though, so it is quite useful to pick up some phrases and names of the food before you travel! But people are super-friendly here (those who are not just after your money), and they often enjoy chatting and asking loads of questions. If you start the conversation, it can turn endless, but very interesting. We really loved Javanese friendliness. In Bali, as in most touristy areas, locals are not that open and always try to cheat, which we really do not like. Locals will also be very keen to suggest you places to visit, things to do and help with directions, but we wouldn`t trust just one person`s recommendations – Indonesian people will try to help you even if they are not sure of things. That`s super-nice, but always check everything yourself as well! Indonesians also tend to be late, but, hey, this is something you can get used to. Just be a bit more relaxed!
Indonesia is mostly Muslim country, but various religions are practiced around different islands. Almost 90% of all the Indonesians are Muslim and this is the biggest number of Muslims per country in the world! Though, in Bali, e.g., the majority are Hindu while in Papua you will find folk beliefs. And it is very important to respect any culture and religion you encounter and always act and dress properly! It was sad to see those half-naked tourists on motorbikes in Bali while locals are decently dressed and those coming from Java are totally covered. Get the tan on the beach, please! It is best to keep your knees and shoulders covered out of respect for the local culture.
Since the ancient times, again, white is considered the most-appreciated skin colour as dark skin is associated with a laborer. Also, “white people” are usually considered those with money, so this will encourage locals to trick you as well. But one thing is sure – people will take photos with you. Sometimes Indonesians were even making queues, so we had to run away! Photography is a big thing and sometimes seems that people are even obsessed with it. There are many places you have to pay just to make photos, and that has started from this huge rush to get the best shot. But it is interesting that Indonesians do not use sunscreen, they just cover themselves with lots of clothing. And, yeah, if they do not use repellant, do not follow this example as there are mosquito carried diseases as we talked about earlier. But generally, locals are super-nice in Indonesia, and that made our journey there very precious!
Indonesia is home to the world’s largest Muslim population, so be ready for mosque-singing all day long in many parts of this land. But the cool thing is that most of the people are quite liberal, this is not closed and too conservative society. Moreover, Islam here is a bit different than in other parts of the world, therefore it is useful to visit mosques and take tours to get to know Indonesian religious traditions. Of course, Ramadan can affect your travel plans, so remember to check the dates when it occurs as that changes every year. In 2020, the holy month of Ramadan is expected to start on 23 April.
But again, Indonesians are not only Muslim. E.g., that same famous Bali is Hindu Island where you will see temples, offerings, traditional celebration dances and much more. In Papua, in turn, you will encounter different folk beliefs. But the main thing – always be respectful and think about your appearance and behavior!
It is also interesting that Indonesians have to specify their religion in their ID and that has to be one of six recognized religions – Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism. Yeah, so do not be surprised if you are asked what religion you practice. But generally it is always best to avoid topics like religion and politics.
Indonesia is the world’s largest producer of palm oil. Almost half of the products produced in Indonesia consists of palm oil – everything starting from peanut butter to soaps and cosmetics contain palm oil in various forms. Indonesia is also the world’s largest nutmeg producer.
Interestingly, as locals told us, the word “ketchup” comes from Indonesia as here “kecap” is soy sauce! Foreigners, hearing that, took the word and spread it around the world. Popular fruit`s “rambutan`s” name also comes from Indonesia – in Indonesian, “rambut” is “hair” and if you add “an” it becomes “hairy”. Also “duri” is “spike”, so “durian” is “spikey”, while “orangutan” is the “forest man”!
But talking about the food – the most popular dishes in Indonesia are definitely Nasi Goreng or fried rice and Mie Goreng or fried noodles. Some other dishes you might find handy to know are Ayam – chicken and Gado-Gado – steamed vegetables with peanut sauce. In Indonesia, we came across the most weird taste combinations and we absolutely loved it! Though, to know all those interesting dishes, you should find a local person – and then the feast can begin!
If you are vegetarian and ask for vegetarian dishes, in more remote areas locals will just say they don`t have anything like that, but be creative – you can just combine rice, veggies and sauces – order them separately and your vegetarian meal is ready!
Tipping in Indonesia is not expected, but in touristy places it is already becoming something common. In tourist areas you might also get tricked as Westerner is often considered “a money bag”, unfortunately. Especially in Bali. Therefore, if you chose a street food place, try to ask prices to costumers instead of the waiters or cook. Sometimes they won`t tell you though, in favour of their compatriots. But there are many different places to get food, not only street stalls. Sometimes eateries are made in huge abandoned buildings where people remove their shoes, sit on the floor and eat from very small tables, but there all the food leftovers stick to the feet. The coolest places to have a meal are the food squares – those are very popular. There are many stalls besides each other, each offering stunning dishes. This is one of the best ways to enjoy Indonesia`s vibe!
Firstly, do not drink the tap water. And, if you order the tea or coffee, remember that Indonesians love sweet, so if you don`t have a sweet tooth, let them know in advance!
Be very careful with alcohol. This is not really an alcohol consuming culture as you might already understood. There have been a number of deaths and serious illnesses for tourists, caused by drinking alcoholic drinks contaminated with methanol, also drink spiking has reported in Bali, Lombok and the Gili Islands. Instead, you can try freshly made juices that can be found all around in small kiosks. Though locals always are surprised if they hear an order: “No ice or sugar added, please”. Remember that the ice comes from that same tap water which is not potable in Indonesia, so it is best to avoid that, too.
One popular budget hotel chain in Indonesia is RedDoorz – they are some of the cheapest ones. RedDoorz also have a phone app, useful if you travel for longer. In these properties you will be able to find fancier and simpler rooms, so there`s option for everyone! And not only these, but generally rooms in Indonesia might be hot even with fans, air-con option is usually more expensive.
In touristy places Indonesians won`t like your discounted price if you have good deals in booking sites like, e.g., Booking.com. In this case they will either refuse to welcome you for such a price (that`s quite rare but can happen) or will constantly remind you that „you are staying for discounted price!” But generally it will be cheaper to book accommodation in internet, as in person they wouldn`t be really keen to bargain and give you discount. Though if you stay for more than two nights, you can ask for a “special offer”.
You will see lots of family-run hotels and this might be the best option to get as then you would have an insight of the local life. But generally it is possible to find very budget-friendly places as much as five-star hotels. Sometimes it could be more difficult to find a place to stay in big cities as accommodations can be spread around and distances are huge, or remote areas, where there may not be a place for you to stay at all.
Let`s start with moving around the cities. In the city, it is easy to move around in shared minivans that will stop anywhere, sometimes even go between cities. Just wave it down and tell the driver where you wish to go and he will inform you if he`s going the same way. The ride will cost you around 30 cents. These minivans do not have a specific schedule, so just look for them on the street. Sometimes the driver will wait till the van is full and it can take up to 30 minutes. And full means super-crowded. Also, if you have only big notes on your hand, you might struggle to get them changed as driver won`t have anything to give you back.
In some places, public buses are leaving from special platforms that can be reached only after buying the ticket and going through the gate.
Then there are taxis. The safest taxis should be the Blue Bird taxi, Silver Bird and Express taxis, but always make sure they have their taxi meter on. But then again, there`s Grab and Uber working perfectly well in Indonesia and are much cheaper than taxis, you will see the price for the ride in the app before ordering the car. Though for the first time in our lives, in Bali, we came across drivers that actually refused to take us for the price showed in app – they said: “Double or I do not go”. Yeah, this can happen in touristy areas, so just keep going – there will be genuine drivers as well. And, yeah, not only cars, but also motorbikes work as taxis here! Also, remember that Uber and Grab are not allowed to pick up passengers from official bus stations, so you will have to walk away from the bus station to get these.
It is also possible to rent a scooter or a bike, but going through the huge traffic can be quite frustrating. Also, remember that in case you rent a scooter or motorbike you should always wear helmet and you will need International Driving Permit issued in Indonesia. Better option is hiring a driver, and this is the way to get a tour guide as well, if the person speaks English! But consider your location as in the packed Bali a car ride will take you ages to get from place to place and you wouldn`t like to spend most of your journey in a car!
Walking? If you are there for a challenge! There are rarely sidewalks and those few are used as parking for motorbikes. Sometimes you will find just a trail that an impatient motorbike would have made. Nobody really respects pedestrians, everyone ignores the traffic lights. So remember that you are smaller than the car and you have to watch out here!
Yeah, not to mention that traffic, especially closer to the cities, is just terrible. Seems that Indonesians don`t want to understand that this is an island and if the number of transportation is growing, there will be just less space for it! So be ready to be late, plan in advance! And remember that this also cause lots of accidents. Actually, in Indonesia, we had one of the craziest road-travels ever, among those more than 80 countries we have visited! Man, those drivers are nuts! They are overtaking from any side, almost crashing, not even reducing the speed on the turns, so the journey around the country by bus might take some nerves. There were several times we just wanted to get off the bus and continue hitchhiking, which actually works here.
So let`s talk about how to move between the cities. One option is to take the same bus and then hope to fall asleep before you have to experience everything that happens on the road. You can just hope that there will be too much of traffic so that the race cannot begin. For the buses, the cheapest tickets will always be in the local homepages – usually there are even discounted times. But you might need a help from a local person as we had that. You basically find a bus, pay for the ride online or in a convenience store and then go to the bus station.
If you go to the bus station without the ticket remember that there will be air-con buses (that are too cold to bare) and local buses at least 5 times cheaper. And there is no big difference as they all drive like crazy. Big passenger buses tend to be faster than minivans, but that`s not good here. But anyways the bus drivers will fight for you as for any other passenger. Sometimes it seems they do not understand that nobody will change their travel plans just because they hear another offer from a bus driver in the bus station. Also, sometimes it is cheaper to reach your destination using two separate local buses than one long-distance bus.
We often didn`t put our bags in the back of the bus as that usually is covered with a thick dust layer. If you do not have a special cover for your bag, sometimes, even if it is not comfy, it`s best to keep the bag in the lap. There are stops where sellers come in the bus offering everything from gadgets to phones or food. And they often put their product in every passenger`s lap so to everyone would be able to have a look at it, and after those who have taken the offered thing are charged. Also musicians play or sing, and after everyone chips something in, so keep some coins for this.
Then there are train rides. Not everywhere there`s train network, but if you have that chance to use the train instead of the bus, do it! Indonesian trains are comfy, locals do not tend to point fingers at tourists there. And train is so much safer than the bus travel!
As Indonesia is an island country, the boat rides are quite popular, especially for Island Hopping. Local ferries won`t be the safest, it’s best to travel on a fast boat. Keep in mind that travelling by boat or ferry can be dangerous as the sea conditions can change rapidly, boats can be crowded, and poorly maintained.
But if you go from one island to another, you most likely will use the ferry anyways. We have traveled between Java and Bali – there ferries go for 24 hours, every day. But the interesting part is that you won`t be able to purchase ticket with cash. Those 50 cents for the ferry have to be put in a special card that can be used for other things like Zoos and tourist attractions as well. But if you do not wish to purchase the card for 2 euros just to throw it out later, you can tell that to the staff there and they will lend you their card and help to get through with it!
It is a good option to travel by plane as air travel is often cheaper and easier than traveling by land if you have to cover big distances. There are popular airlines like Lion Air and Indonesian Air Asia. Even if can be late and tend to cancel flights without notice, these are some of the safest ones. There have been several plain crushes in Indonesia, so carefully choose the company and study some references, or check out International Air Transport Association that publishes lists of registered airline`s operational safety standards. And, yeah, remember that ash clouds can affect flight schedules and the operation of regional airports.
10. ATM and cash
In Indonesia, they use the Indonesian Rupiah – a currency with one of the lowest values in the world, so you will have thousands in your pocket. But therefore it is quite easy to be fooled by an added 0 on the bill! So be aware of that and always follow your expenses!
Visa and Mastercard are most widely accepted in Indonesia, while credit cards can be more complicated thing and valid only in big cities. But cash will always be handy as markets and many other places, especially in less visited areas, will not take your card. So what about ATMs? The cool thing is that you can find the necessary ATM using ATM locator, e.g. we used Mastercard and Cirrus ATM locator! Just search it up in internet or get an app! At the end you should come across ATM which actually works for your card as random search might lead you to ATMs that ask for 6-digit PIN codes or just refuse to take your card. So whenever you find a working ATM, take enough cash! Also, you will always need to pay transaction fee by the withdrawal, so make fewer withdrawals if you can. Most ATMs allow a maximum withdrawal of 1 million to 2.5 million Indonesian Rupiah per transaction. Even if that is not too much, it will fill in your wallet!
11. SIM and Internet
SIM card is always useful when traveling. Sometimes the hotel you stay in will offer you to buy the SIM for you, but then everything is in their hands. And there are times when even if you just ask for the place where to purchase the SIM they will understand that this has to be done, so be very clear if you wish to do it yourself. Generally, it is not that difficult to get a SIM in any bigger mall that are all around, but the SIM registration might take around half an hour and the passport is required. And you have to pay for the SIM card, it doesn`t come for free. Three main telecommunication companies are Telkomsel, Indosat, and XL from which the first one is considered to be the best. And you can easily top-up your SIM in local convenience stores called Indomart and Alfamart. Also, if you have the SIM and internet, it is useful to download some warning apps – then you will be informed about latest natural happenings in the country. Well, there may be an alarm three times a day, but it is a way not to miss important stuff!
What about wifi? It is easy to find wifi in the touristy areas – restaurants, shops and hotels have free wifi. Of course, when you will be in more remote areas or choose local eateries, this won`t be the case.
Seems that shopping is in Indonesian blood. Besides photography taking, shopping is something people do every day and they do that in the evening when it is not too hot. It was surprising to see the streets so alive when the sun had set! There are street musicians, poppet shows, food cooking and so many various handicrafts sold! And again, remember that you have to bargain as locals will definitely try to trick tourists, especially in popular areas that are widely visited by those who really do not have any clue about other country`s traditions, customs, and prices, of course. Even in the shops next to each other the prices are totally different for the same thing. E.g., we went to buy a water bottle in Ubud, Bali. In the first shop it was for 60 cents, in the shop nearby it was 50 cents and finally the last one had the same bottle for 40 cents. Maybe for you that doesn`t seem much of a difference, but there are products that are priced crazy high. Actually, it is funny that people always had told us that Bali is so much more expensive. It is actually not – it`s just tourists doesn`t know how to bargain! You can get up to 75% discount, so go ahead and try that!
And bargain not only in the market, but literally everywhere! If you stay in your accommodation for more than two nights – ask for a special discount. Haggle with drivers and get the best deals for tours. In Indonesia this works!
There are also shopping centres. Usually you will find security check by the entrance but that doesn`t really refer to Westerners. Shopping centres are quite pricey and we didn`t find many shoppers there unlike in the market. Yeah, there are also food stores like Carrefour, but there you will find more staff members than actual costumers, and nothing really worth purchasing.
When is the best time to travel to Indonesia? As we already discussed this in the weather section, May to September is the best time, though occasional rainfalls can occur anyways. The high season is July and August – then prices go up. Dry season is from April to October, so you can choose so called “shoulder season” to travel. But again, it depends to which island you are going as, e.g., Bali and Kalimantan are relatively unaffected by the seasons, but this changes in other islands. And, yeah, remember that Indonesia is quite challenging when it comes to the nature – there are earthquakes, tsunamis, volcano eruptions, flooding and storms. There are dangerous animals and too crazy traffic. So study this country a bit before you come! But do not be too afraid – as we already said, this is a spectacular land of wonders that is really worth visiting!
You will see that most of the tourists come from Australia as this island is quite reachable for them. And they are ready to pay for everything. Therefore locals in Bali (as this is the spot for Australians) are used to rich tourists that are not afraid to spend money – for working Australians the value for things is different. But you can still bargain!
For us, we always thought that Indonesia is quite touristy country, but, surprisingly, we found so many remote areas, especially in Java Island! Bali is too crowded, but very beautiful. For more adventurous travelers Papua would be the best. Generally, everything depends on you, but one thing is a fact – if you have only visited Bali you can`t say you have seen Indonesia. In other parts of the archipelago you will encounter infrastructure that is quite undeveloped, most beautiful sites are difficult to access. It can be a struggle, therefore Bali is the most popular destination in Indonesia. But you should definitely go for more!
Try island-hopping and do not stay in one place if you have already reached Indonesia! You can spend the time drinking beer at home – this is the opportunity to explore! Interact with locals, get closer to the nature and embrace yourself! But be a wise traveler. There are several parks that offer tourists to get in touch with the wildlife, but think it through – won`t it harm the animal? E.g., the demand for elephant rides just encourages locals to catch wild animals and keep them in the cage. We have seen people riding elephants in the Zoo while Zookeeper brings his large stick and smashes elephant`s head if the animal doesn`t go where supposed to. Ignorance is sad. Be wise, be a traveler that leaves only the footprints.
Indonesia.. This is very vast and very diverse land, so it`s not even possible to describe it properly. But Terima kasih, or “thank you” in Indonesian, will bring smiles in local`s faces, and respectful traveler will bring appreciation. Enjoy you journey in this islands paradise!