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Indonesia, formally the Republic of Indonesia, is a huge archipelago of disparate islands straddling the Equator between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. While it has land borders with Malaysia to the north and East Timor and Papua New Guinea to the east, its exclusive economic zone also abuts Australia to the south; Palau, the Philippines, Vietnam, Singapore, and Thailand to the north; and India to the northwest.
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The early, modern history of Indonesia begins in the period from 2500 BCE to 1500 BCE with a wave of light brown-skinned Austronesian immigrants, thought to have originated in Taiwan. This Neolithic group of people, skilled in open-ocean maritime travel and agriculture are believed to have quickly supplanted the existing, less-developed population.
From this point onward, dozens of kingdoms and civilisations flourished and faded 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 Peninsular Malaysia. When Islam became ascendent on Java, the already-weak Hindu Majapahit empire retreated to Bali and Lombok and faded away.
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 colonisation. In 1824, the Dutch and the British signed the Anglo-Dutch Treaty which ended a short period of British administration (during which Stamford Raffles, founder of Singapore, also presided over the re-discovery of the stupendous monuments of both Borobudur and Prambanan) and divided the Malay world into Dutch and British spheres of influence. The Dutch ceded Malacca to the British, and the British ceded all their colonies on Sumatra to the Dutch with the line of division roughly corresponding to what is now the border between Malaysia and Indonesia, with a small segment becoming the border between Singapore and Indonesia.
As with most colonies, Indonesia was exploited for manpower and natural resources. Various nationalist groups developed in the 19th and 20th centuries, and there were several disturbances, quickly put down by the Dutch. Leaders were arrested and exiled, and some of the Dutch were particularly nasty when dealing with locals; however, the Netherlands did provide some infrastructure, education, and a national language, among other things.
During World War II, the Japanese conquered most of the islands. The Japanese behaved even more brutally than had the Dutch, treating the locals in a most inhumane way, and were guilty of numerous wartime crimes. In August 1945, in the post-war vacuum following the Japanese surrender to allied forces, the Japanese army and navy still controlled the majority of the Indonesian archipelago. The Japanese agreed to return Indonesia to the Netherlands but continued to administer the region as the Dutch were unable to immediately return due to massive destabilisation from the effects of the war in Europe. To this day, older Indonesians still remember what the Dutch and Japanese had done, but younger generations have forgotten and some are even a bit obsessed with those two nations.
On 17 Aug 1945, Sukarno read the Proklamasi Kemerdekaan (Declaration of Independence) and the Panitia Persiapan Kemerdekaan Indonesia (Preparatory Committee for Indonesian Freedom) moved to form an interim government. A constitution, drafted by the PPKI, was announced on 18 August and Sukarno was declared President with Hatta as Vice-President. The PPKI became the Central Indonesian National Committee, which acted as the temporary governing body. The new government was installed on 31 Aug 1945.
The Dutch mounted a diplomatic and military campaign to reclaim their former colony from the nationalists. There was resistance from Indonesia and other countries, including the US as well as the newly formed United Nations. The Dutch ultimately accepted defeat and, on 27 Dec 1949, they formally transferred sovereignty to "Republik Indonesia Serikat" (the Republic of the United States of Indonesia). In August 1950, a new constitution was proclaimed and the new Republic of Indonesia was formed from the original but now expanded Republic to include Sumatera Timur (East Sumatra) and Negara Indonesia Timur (Eastern Indonesia). Jakarta was made the capital of the Republic of Indonesia.
September 1950 saw the first government of a fully independent Indonesia. Sukarno returned again to the role of President and over time came to assert greater power in that role. For a time, Indonesia used a provisional constitution modelled upon that of the US, which also drew heavily on the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and, on 26 Sep 1950, Indonesia was admitted to the United Nations. In 1955, Indonesia held its first free election.
The new government was tasked with finalising a permanent and final version of the constitution but after much wrangling consensus was not reached, leading to organised public demonstrations in 1958. In 1959, President Sukarno issued a decree dissolving the then-current constitution and restoring the 1945 Constitution. Indonesia then entered the era of Guided Democracy with the Head of State assuming stronger presidential powers and also absorbing the previous role of Prime Minister.
From their initial declaration of 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 further armed conflict over that region. After a UN-brokered peace deal and a referendum, West Papua became part of Indonesia and was renamed Irian Jaya, which apocryphally stands for Ikut ("part of the") Republik [of] Indonesia, Anti-Nederlands, and "Jaya" means "glorious". It's now called simply Papua, but the independence movement smoulders on to this day.
During the post-war and Cold war period, Sukarno made friendly advances to the US, the Soviet Union and later, China. He also tried to play one against another as he attempted to develop the nation as a non-aligned state. Much to the dismay of post-war Western governments, Sukarno became engaged in extensive dialogue with the Soviets and accepted civil and military aid, equipment, and technical assistance from the USSR. Sukarno publicly claimed that his engagement with the Soviets was to assist in promoting the new Republic of Indonesia as a non-aligned post-war state and to assist in rebuilding the nation following the Pacific arena of WWII.
The US, confronted by an archipelago apparently in the grasp of emerging Indonesian nationalism, sought to gain and maintain control over the important resources and shipping routes of the region. It supported anti-Sukarno activities and operations to destabilise the nationalist movement. In 1957-58, the CIA infiltrated arms and personnel in support of regional rebellions against Sukarno, but many other actions were taken. The actions were supported from the US embassy in Singapore, by elements of the US 7th fleet and with the co-operation and support of the UK government and western intelligence agencies.
The New Order
There appear to have been two factions - those generals that were in support of Sukarno and the foreign-backed generals who sought his downfall. From 1960-1966, Subandrio, Sukarno's foreign minister, second deputy prime minister and chief of intelligence, had infiltrated agents into a secret meeting of right-wing generals plotting the overthrow of Sukarno. In September 1965, six army generals were kidnapped and murdered in an apparent coup attempt. The circumstances surrounding what happened and why are not entirely known, and official accounts seem suspect. Parts of the military were active, including armed forces in strategic Merdeka Square. General Suharto then reportedly quelled this action within the armed forces in a single day. The communists were blamed for the uprising, but it appears probable that Suharto used the situation to usurp power from Sukarno, and those who had conspired against Sukarno condemned what had happened to their opponents.
Suharto originally served in the Japanese occupation-forces-supported police force, later he entered the Peta (Defenders of the Fatherland) and went on to train in the Japanese-led Indonesian armed forces of the occupation period. In the post-war period, it is believed he fell under US influence and patronage and, with their backing, he and his supporters rose in stature and influence.
Suharto initially claimed to support President Sukarno but then seized power himself, sidelining Sukarno, and proclaimed an Orde Baru (New Order). A series of bloody anti-Communist purges was then initiated leading to the death of 500,000-2,000,000 people (estimates vary widely). The Western governments turned a blind eye to the massacres and they remained substantially unreported in the West for a considerable time. Many historians have since shed light on the involvement of the US intelligence services and to a lesser degree their mutual contacts in British, German and Japanese intelligence in the circumstances leading up to the seizure of power by Suharto and the subsequent murderous purges.
Following Suharto's rise to power, US interests in the region were secured and their influence over the RI and the nation's resources, which has continued into the new century.
Under Suharto from 1966 to 1997, Indonesia enjoyed stability and economic growth and had the appearance of being free of corruption, but most of the wealth was concentrated in the hands of a small corrupt elite and dissent was brutally crushed. Opposition to Suharto was reputedly dealt with by kidnappings in the middle of the night, kangaroo courts and imprisonment, and some dissidents simply vanished. Despite these black events, many Indonesians still choose to focus on the relative prosperity of his reign.
During the Asian economic crisis of 1997, the value of the Indonesian rupiah plummeted, halving the purchasing power of ordinary Indonesians. In the ensuing violent upheaval in 1998, there were riots and ethnic purges that mostly targeted ethnic Chinese, primarily in and around Jakarta. Looting, rape and murder of many Chinese occurred and it is still unclear how many victims there were. Many cases remain unsolved. Suharto became a major target for those who sought to reform Indonesia and, after the period known as Reformasi, Suharto was brought down and a more democratic regime installed.
Years later, a case was eventually brought against him on various charges. However, the trial was never completed as his doctors kept claiming he was too ill to stand trial and he eventually died in 2010 and received a hero's burial. It is likely that powerful friends of his within the government and military, along with fabricated stories by his doctors, are what kept him out of court and out of jail.
The former Portuguese colony of East Timor was occupied and annexed by Indonesia in 1975, but armed resistance continued. After decades of Indonesian rule, on 30 August 1999, a provincial referendum for independence was overwhelmingly approved by the people of East Timor. Indonesia grudgingly but astonishingly accepted the result (although army-linked militias looted the capital, Dili, in protest), and East Timor gained its independence in 2002. "Astonishingly" is perhaps an understatement because of Indonesia's bloody history of quelling uprisings throughout the nation.
One more violent secessionist movement took place in the devoutly Islamic state of Aceh at the northern tip of Sumatra. Some sources claim that Aceh was a prosperous nation that was enticed by Sukarno into joining the resistance of Dutch occupation in exchange for special considerations afterwards, including having special autonomy, but not all of the promises were kept and thus the protests began. After decades of insurgency and abortive talks, the deadlock was broken by the 2004 tsunami, which killed over 200,000 people in Aceh. The Indonesian government and the Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka, GAM) signed a peace deal the next year, with Aceh giving up its fight for independence in exchange for being granted special autonomy including the right to enact Syariah (Islamic) law and, to date, the peace has held.
Some attempts to gain Papua's independence have occurred over the years, but the attempts have become less organised after the suspicious death of a prominent secessionist leader in Papua. Despite this, there is still sporadic violence, including the shootings of locals and foreigners, and sometimes protesting groups block all access to areas like Freeport.
Elections by citizens
After Soeharto's fall, he was replaced by a series of interim leaders: B.J. Habibi, Soeharto's vice president, Parliament-chosen Abdul Rahman "Gus Dur" Wahid (who only lasted one year) and, finally, Megawati Soekarnoputri, the daughter of Soekarno and Gus Dur's vice president.
In 2004, Indonesia held the first election in which the people directly elected the president and vice president, former General Susilo Bambang Yudhono and Jusuf Kalla, defeating incumbent Megawati through an alliance between then-weak Partai Demokrat and Partai Golongan Karya (Workers' Party), as well as other small parties. The second election was held in 2009, and "SBY" with Boediono as his new running mate, handily defeated all contenders, including Jusuf and Megawati. Megawati was criticised during and after both elections for her rude behaviour towards SBY.
Currently, Indonesia is one of the world's largest democracies and the most populous Muslim-majority democracy. It is going through a period of difficult reforms and re-invention following the Reformasi and the institution of a democratically elected government. To assist in the transformation from the years of centralised control under the Suharto regime, the role of regional and provincial governments has been strengthened and enhanced. The election process in Indonesia has a high participation rate and the nature and fabric of governance and administration is slowly changing across Indonesia. Change in the nation since the fall of Suharto has also been characterised by greater freedom of speech and a massive reduction in the political censorship that was a feature of Suharto's New Order era. There is more open political debate in the news media as well as in general discourse, political and social debate. Indonesia is now the largest economy in Southeast Asia, and a member of the elite G-20 group of major economies.
However, there are laws in place that prevent foreigners from being involved politically, and another law prevents derogatory comments about the state-approved religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism and Islam). The anti-defamation, and Information and Electronic Transaction, laws are sometimes abused by the rich and powerful to the detriment of regular citizens, such as in the recent case of Prita vs. Omni Hospital, in which malpractice was performed and covered up. Sadly, laws about corruption are weak and sentences are generally light when handled by the regular courts. The Komite Pemberantasan Korupsi (Anti-Corruption Commission) is stricter about this and has its own police force and courts, but the KPK has been experiencing problems. KPK cases are mostly for Jakarta and Java and cases involving other islands are rarely enforced well enough to stop the illegal behaviour that caused them, such as the illegal deforestation and development in Kalimantan.
Don't lose hope, fearless traveller! Things have slowly been improving, despite some intransigent corruptors in various departments of the government that you may have to deal with, and the requests for money, furniture, "blue" films and such have decreased and the quality of service in some Immigration offices has become better. The key is to remember that one bribe opens the floodgates, so never bribe!
Upon arrival and disembarking from the aircraft, you'll immediately notice the sudden rush of warm, damp 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 either season, you should always carry a big bottle of water around with you, although if you visit someone's home they'll likely supply you with water, tea, coffee or sirupy water, and snacks or cookies. If it is the rainy season, although the rains may not be as heavy as you're used to back home, you'll still need a sturdy, large umbrella. In many areas, rain falls like clockwork, but in recent years global warming has been playing with the two seasons. One benefit of the rainy season is that the regular rainfall washes clean most of the mosquito habitats, especially in areas that are on or near hills and mountains.
Please note that droughts are a major problem in certain parts of Java and other islands during the dry season, and water becomes a serious issue. Also, when it is dry in one area, it may still be wet in another, or vice versa. While visiting Indonesia, you should wear comfortable, airy summer clothes, and sandals or half-shoes, but you should bring along one or two sets of formal or semi-formal wear as, if you are going to a government office or similar formal establishment, that is generally the attire that is expected. One benefit of sandals and half-shoes is that you need to take off your footwear upon entering a home or place of worship. Please note that while visiting an Indonesian embassy you'll probably be required to wear long pants and proper footwear; no thong sandals of the flip-flop variety, no ratty clothes and no shorts or half-skirts will be tolerated. A good, airy hat (or even a bandana) can serve to reduce the heat of the equatorial sun or protect you from the rain, too. If you're of a mind, do what most resident foreign males do - shave your hair off! If you're planning to go to natural areas, you might also bring along sneakers or hiking shoes, but you'll otherwise find them too unpleasant to wear.
Temperatures in most places can be between about 26-32 C during the day with little fluctuation, and are fairly consistent from day to day, although nights may be cooler by a few degrees. In some areas, the rainy season brings cooler weather, while in others it brings hotter weather. In the highlands, temperatures will naturally be cooler, and there are even snow-covered peaks in Papua, whose mountains can soar above 5,000 m. Bring along a jacket if you're planning to visit e.g. Mount Bromo on Java or Tana Toraja on Sulawesi. You may be amused to see people donning hats, gloves, jackets or even winter coats when the temperature dips just a little bit, and people usually wear these things when they're on their motorcycles, although it is often to keep their skin from getting darker. Although labourers will work in regular clothes even during a rainstorm, many citizens fear getting wet because they believe it'll make them sick - despite the fact that the water in their "bak mandi" (bathing reservoir/basin) is often colder than the rain! There is a persistent belief in being allergic to cold - from fans and ACes to ice! You'll also see that babies are swaddled and dressed up as if it were winter, even when it is hot.
Indonesia has some of the best scuba diving in the world, and this is a major draw for tourists with places like Bunaken in Northern Sulawesi, Wakatobi in South East Sulawesi and Raja Ampat in Papua known worldwide. While diving off Bali can be a little mediocre, Nusa Penida and the Gili Islands offer excellent recreational diving, as well as being important teaching centres.
Visiting a spa is a very popular activity for all types of visitors. These vary from simply constructed huts to lavish so-called "wellness centres" in the grandest of five star hotels. There is usually an option to suit just about every budget.
If massage is your thing, there are few places anywhere which offer such high quality for such low prices. Again this could be at a five star hotel or it could be under coconut tree on a quiet beach.
Indonesia is a premier destination for travelling surfers.
The Mentawai Islands off the west coast of Sumatra feature dozens of world class surf spots. Chartering a private boat for up to two weeks is the most popular way to access the island chain, however there is a public ferry from Padang. Just to the north Nias is equally popular amongst hard-core surfers.
Further east, Bali and tiny Nusa Lembongan have some great waves, the south of Lombok likewise, and for the more adventurous, Sumbawa offers world class surfing.
All Indonesia's surf beaches are described in the beautifully photographed "Indo Surf and Lingo" surfing guidebook  together with comprehensive listings of the best surf camps and surf charter yachts.
With 17,000 islands to choose from, Indonesian food is an umbrella term covering a vast variety of regional cuisines found across the nation 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. Now widely available throughout the archipelago, Javanese cuisine consists of an array of simply seasoned dishes, the predominant flavourings the Javanese favour being peanuts, chillies and sugar, especially Javanese coconut sugar, which comes in small blocks, as well as certain spices.
All too often, many backpackers seem to fall into a rut of eating nothing but nasi goreng (fried rice), and perhaps commonly available Javanese dishes, but there are much more interesting options lurking about if you're adventurous and take the trouble to seek them out. In West Java, Sundanese dishes composed of many fresh vegetables and herbs are commonly eaten raw. Padang is famous for the spicy and richly-seasoned cuisine, dominated by meat, of the Minangkabau people, which shares some similarities to cooking in parts of neighbouring Malaysia, and eateries specialising in the buffet-style nasi padang are now ubiquitous across the nation. Both the Christian Batak people and the Hindu Balinese are great fans of pork, while the Minahasa of North Sulawesi are well known for eating almost everything, including dog and fruit bat, and a very liberal usage of fiery chillies even by Indonesian standards. Tamed Muslim-friendly versions of all three can be found in the malls and food courts of many Indonesian cities, but it's worth it to seek out the real thing especially if you happen to be in these regions. And by the time you get to Papua in the extreme east of the country, you're looking at a Melanesian diet of boar, taro and sago.
There are some other foods that you should be aware of for their strong flavors, such as terasi (tuh-RAH-see), which is dried shrimp paste, and has a strongly fishy taste, and pete (peh-TAY), which is a treeborn legume that has a strong flavour that lingers and affects the smell of urine, feces and flatulence. Terasi especially is a common ingredient in many types of food, including petis, chili pepper sauce, and a number of dishes and sauces, and pete is sometimes added to chili pepper sauce and certain dishes, although it is only seasonally available. Add to this a variety of dried, salted, fishy seafoods, including seaweed. The chili pepper, rawit, has a very strong flavour similar to Tabasco sauce, is strongly spicy and frequently used in many dishes. A Sundanese favourite is oncom (ohn-chohm) and is composed of peanuts that have been fermented in a block until they are colourfully covered with certain types of fungus; this food doesn't just look mouldy but also tastes mouldy and is an acquired taste.
Across much of the archipelago the main staple is nasi putih (white rice), and ketan (sticky rice) is frequently used for particular dishes and many snacks, although red rice is available, it is not common. Rice is so important that it has several different names depending on what stage in the growing/consumption process it is in, with "nasi" being the eating stage. (Cassava and sweet potatoes are the staple food in certain areas.) Rice is served up in many forms including:
- bubur, rice porridge with toppings and chicken broth, popular at breakfast, generally salty
- lontong and ketupat, rice wrapped in leaves and cooked so it compresses into a cake
- nasi goreng, the ubiquitous fried rice; order it spesial to get an egg on top, eaten at any time, even breakfast
- nasi kuning, yellow spiced rice, a festive ceremonial dish usually moulded into a sharp cone called a tumpeng
- nasi padang, white steamed rice served with numerous curries and other toppings, originally from Padang but assimilated throughout the country with lots of variations and adjustments to taste.
- nasi timbel, white steamed rice wrapped in a banana leaf, a common accompaniment to Sundanese food
- nasi uduk, slightly sweet rice cooked with coconut milk, eaten with omelette and fried chicken; popular at breakfast
- nasi liwet, white rice served with roughly shredded chicken, opor (coconut milk soup), eggs and other add-ons, including internal organs and quail eggs, traditionally served late at night
Noodles (mi or mie) come in a close 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 1,000 and some stalls will boil or fry them up for you for as little as Rp 2,000.
- bakmi, thin egg noodles usually served boiled with a topping of your choice (chicken, mushroom, etc.)
- kuetiaw/kwetiau/kway-tiau, flat rice noodles most commonly fried up with soy sauce, but can also be served in broth-based soups (less commonly)
- soun, long, thin, usually transparent (best quality), round vermicelli ("glass" or "bean thread" noodles) made of starch from beans, cassava and other sources are usually used in soups
- bihun, long, thin, white (poorer quality are blue), round rice flour noodles are usually fried or added to certain dishes
- pangsit, similar to raviolli, these Chinese-originated pasta are stuffed with a bit of meat and are very soft, most often served fried in or with soup, or served "wet" in broth
Soups (soto with turmeric, and sop) and watery curries are also common:
- bakso/baso ("BAH-so"), meatballs made from beef, chicken or fish and noodles in chicken broth
- rawon, spicy beef soup, a speciality of East Java
- sayur asam a Sundanese soup of vegetables made sour with asem Jawa (tamarind) and belimbing sayur (cucumber tree fruit)
- 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
- opor, chicken, sometimes with certain vegetables such as chayote, cooked in coconut milk soup, often served during holidays, or the liquid may be added to the Jogjakartan dish, gudeg
- sayur bening, bayam (Indonesian spinach) and cubed labu siam (chayote) in a clear, sweet broth
Popular main dishes include:
- ayam bakar, grilled chicken
- ayam goreng, deep-fried chicken
- cap cay, Chinese-style stir-fried vegetables, usually with chicken, beef or seafood
- gado-gado, blanched vegetables with peanut sauce
- gudeg, jackfruit stew from Yogyakarta.
- ikan bakar, grilled fish
- karedok, similar to gado-gado, but the vegetables are finely chopped and mostly raw
- perkedel, deep-fried patties of potato and meat or vegetables (adopted from the Dutch frikadel)
- rendang, a spicy Padang favorite: beef cooked in a santan (coconut milk) and spice curry until it is soft
- sate (satay), grilled chicken, beef, goat or, rarely, lamb, horse or rabbit on a skewer
- sapo, Chinese-style claypot stew, usually with tofu, vegetables and meat or seafood
- pempek or empek-empek comes from Palembang, Sumatra and is made from ikan tenggiri (mackerel) and tapioca, with different shapes (lenjer, keriting), some of which may contain an egg (kapal selam), some form of onion (adaan) or papaya (pistel), steamed and then deep-fried and served with chopped cucumbers in a sweet and spicy vinegar- and sugar-based sauce. Some recipes taste fishy while others are fresh. Beware pempek that is very cheaply priced - it probably has a disproportionate amount of tapioca and will be rubbery. Good pempek should be mildly crunchy outside and soft (but very slightly rubbery) inside, and the sauce's flavour should be able to soak into it after a while.
Warning! It is best to avoid raw dishes like karedok, raw vegetable salads (like cucumbers in creamy sauce) and tossed salad unless you can verify that the vegetables were prepared sanitarily with boiled, filtered or bottled water, or you may suffer from diarrhea or food poisoning.
Chillies (cabe or lombok) are made into a vast variety of sauces and dips known as sambal and saus sambal. The simplest and perhaps most common is sambal ulek, which is just chillies and salt with perhaps a dash of lime ground together using a mortar and pestle. There are many other kinds of sambal like sambal pecel (with ground peanuts), sambal terasi (with dried shrimp paste), sambal tumpeng, sambal mangga (with mango strips), sambal hijau (using green chilli), sambal bajak (fried, usually with tomatoes), etc. Many of these can be very spicy indeed, so be careful if you're asked whether you would like your dish pedas (spicy)! Also, sometimes sambal may not be fresh and could lead to diarrhea, so verify freshness before you put it in.
Crackers known as kerupuk (krupuk or keropok, it's the same word spelled differently) accompany almost every meal and are a traditional snack too, and can be loosely termed puffed [ingredient] crackers, and are often large round or square affairs. They can be made from almost any grain, fruit, vegetable or seed imaginable, including many never seen outside Indonesia, but perhaps the most common are the thin, light pink, rectangular keropok udang, made with dried shrimp, and the slightly bitter, small and thin, light yellow emping, made from the nuts of the melinjo (Gnetum gnemon) fruit, as well as those made with cassava or fish, both of which are usually large, round or square and white or orange off-white, although smaller varieties exist with vivid colours like pink. Most krupuk is fried in oil, but a machine has been devised that can instantly cook a chip with high heat. In a pinch, kerupuk that has been created by pouring the batter in a curly pattern can be soaked in broth to do double duty as noodles - a good way to make use of soggy krupuk!
What North Americans call chips and people from the British Isles call crisps (not to be confused with kentang goreng, or French fries) are keripik to Indonesians. Potato chips exist, but they play second fiddle to cassava chips, and you can also find chips made from other fruits and tubers, such as sweet potatoes and bananas. Keripik is not as commonly eaten as kerupuk, and it is best to eat both kinds immediately or store them in an airtight container as they readily absorb moisture in the air and become soggy.
Pickled vegetables (using vinegar and sugar), are often served with certain dishes, especially noodles and soups, and are called acar. It almost always contains chopped up cucumber, but may also have chili peppers, chopped carrots, and shallots in it. These are not to be confused with pickles, which are only found in certain supermarkets and are expensive.
It is not common to find salt and pepper offered, but things like sweet (kecap manis) or salty soy sauce (kecap asin), cuka (vinegar) and, less commonly, saus tomat (tomato sauce). In steak houses, you may find saus Inggris (Worchestershire sauce), but you'll have a hard time finding yellow mustard anywhere other than major supermarkets and you might as well forget about relish or other types of mustard if you're not in one of the largest cities.
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 cakes and certain pastries, all colourful, sweet, and usually a little bland and rather dry, with coconut, rice or wheat flour and sugar being the main ingredients in many. Kue kering usually refers to cookies (aka biscuits to the British and Australians) and come in a vast variety. Roti (bread) and western-style cakes have only recently gained popularity, mostly in large cities, but traditional and Dutch breads and pastries are available in many bakeries and supermarkets.
Some popular traditional desserts include: martabak manis aka kue Bandung or terang bulan (like a giant yeast-raised pancake cooked fresh and with various toppings available on butter or margarine and condensed milk), lapis legit (an egg-based cake of many thin layers, often flavored with certain spices), bika Ambon (a somewhat pleasantly rubbery yeast-raised cake from Ambon that has an enjoyably aromatic taste), pukis (like a half-pancake with various toppings already added), pisang molen (the banana version of pigs in a blanket), pisang goreng (batter-fried banana), and klepon (a Javanese favorite - balls of rice flour filled with liquified Javanese sugar and coated with shredded coconut). Also common are naga sari (lit.: the essence of dragon - banana inside of firm rice flour pudding that has been steamed in banana leaves), puding (pudding made firm with agar-agar and served with vla poured over it, which is a sauce), centik manis (sweetened, firm rice flour pudding with colourful balls of tapioca) and some people like to eat Javanese (block) sugar by itself - its texture and flavor make it enjoyable for many.
Some cakes and pastries here may be served with sweetened meat floss (abon) or a liberal dose of shredded cheese, and one favourite during Ramadan is the Dutch "kastenggel", a rectangular cheese-flavoured cookie that is only slightly sweet.
Es buah, shredded ice mixed with fruits and sometimes sweet potatoes or nuts and topped with coconut cream or condensed milk, comes in infinite variations ("teler", "campur", etc.)and is a popular choice on a hot day. Ice cream made from either milk or coconut milk is very common here. Indonesia's traditional version of ice cream is made with coconut milk and is called es putar and comes in a variety of local flavors, such as chocolate, coconut, durian, blewah (a squash), sweetened kidney bean, sweetened mung bean, etc. Although es putar is generally safe to consume, the iced fruit concoctions may contain ice made from untreated water or dirty ice blocks transported by becak, and will lead to frequent visits to the bathroom!
Perhaps the cheapest, tastiest and healthiest option, though, is to buy some unprepared buah segar (fresh fruit), which is available throughout the year, although individual fruits do have seasons. Popular options include mangga (mango), pepaya (papaya), pisang (banana), apel (apple), kiwi (kiwi fruit), belimbing (starfruit), semangka (watermelon), melon (honeydew melon) and jambu biji (guava), but more exotic options you're unlikely to see outside Indonesia include the scaly-skinned crisp salak (snakefruit), jambu air (rose apple), rambutan (Nephelium lappaceum fruit, which look like a little ball with many tiny tentacles) and the ball-shaped markisa (passion fruit) and manggis (mangosteen). A word to the wise: avoid fruit that has already been peeled and sliced for you by a street vendor unless you enjoy diarrhea!
Probably the most infamous Indonesian fruit, though, is the durian. Named after the Indonesian word for thorn, it resembles an armour-plated coconut the size of a human head, and it has a powerful odour often likened to rotting garbage or the smell used in natural gas piped to houses in America. Inside is yellow creamy flesh, which has a unique sweet, custardy, avocadoey taste and texture. It's prohibited in most hotels and taxis but its strong smell will be found in traditional markets, supermarkets and restaurants alike. Don't panic - it's just a fruit, even if it does look like a spiked fragmentation bomb the size of a head! The durian has two cousins - nangka (jackfruit) and cempedak (Artocarpus integer fruit). The former has a sweet, candy like flavour and no offensive smell, and is used in the famous Jogjakartan pressure-cooked cuisine, "gudeg", and may be as big as a small child, while the latter tastes like jackfruit but smells weakly like durian, is elongated and bowling-pin shaped, and usually no longer than 1 foot. All three are seasonally available.
Menus for travelling hawkers usually do not exist - what you see is what you get. Menus in more expensive restaurants may be organised by appetisers, main courses, desserts and drinks; but, in lesser establishments, the organisation is often by the main or most important ingredient, although usually still within that same type of overall organisation.
Makanan Pembuka (appetisers). These are usually not separated and will primarily contain finger foods like french fries and other fried foods, as well as things like internal organs and eggs grilled on skewers, krupuk, and small items.
Snacks and appetisers, in the case of hawkers, kaki lima, and inexpensive eateries, are often made available at every table or in a convenient location and you are expected to report what you ate. Regular restaurants usually have appetisers on their menus and may offer snacks and candy at the cashier's desk.
Makanan Utama (Main course)'.Typically, you'll see: nasi (rice), lauk pauk (side dishes which generally include a source of carbohydrates), mie (noodles), sapi (beef), [iga (ribs) are usually listed under their respective meats], ayam (chicken), kambing (goat), ikan (fish) or hasil laut (seafood), sometimes with particular fish being given their own section, such as gurameh (giant gurami), cumi-cumi (squid), kepiting (crab), kerang (shellfish like mussels), udang (shrimp), and sayuran or sayur mayur (vegetables). Sometimes you'll see kambing mistranslated as sheep (which is domba), so be aware of that. Less often, you'll see domba, gurita (octopus) swike (frog legs - only in certain restaurants as it is haram), vegetarian, srimping (scallops), tiram (oysters) and babi (pig - only in certain restaurants as it is haram). Sop/soto/bakso (soups) and selada (tossed and vegetable salads, but it also means lettuce) will also usually be listed here.
Other commonly used words usually refer to either the type of cooking: bakar (grilled), panggang (baked), (the first two are sometimes used interchangeably) goreng (fried or deep-fried), rebus (boiled), kukus or tim (steamed), tumis (sauteed), presto (pressure-cooked), kendi (claypot), cah (stir-fry), and hotplate. Or something about the recipe: kuah (with broth), tepung (batter-fried), and kering (dry). Or about flavour: polos or hambar (plain/bland), asam (sour), manis (sweet), pedas (spicy), asin (salty), pahit (bitter), and gurih (salty and a bit sweet, like MSG, or salty and oily).
Makanan Penutup (Desserts): Not every place will have them, but starting with rumah makan and above, most will have something. It may just be some traditional desserts, but you're likely to see something familiar, like es krim (ice cream) and buah-buahan (fruits) or selada buah (fruit salad).
Minuman (Beverages). The bare minimum will be air (water, which could be from a bottle or just boiled, and may be hot, warm, tepid or cold), air mineral/botol (mineral/bottled water), teh (tea), minuman berkarbonasi (soda or carbonated beverages) and kopi (coffee). Better places will have es buah, jus (juice), and various local drinks.
Common words you will see for beverages include: tawar (plain/without sugar or other additives), manis, panas (hot), and dingin (cold).
The vast majority of Indonesian restaurants serve only halal (the Muslim designation corresponding to the Jewish kosher) food and are thus safe for Muslim travellers. This means no pig, frog, toad or animals that live on both land and in water, amongst others. This includes Western fast food chains like McDonald's, KFC and Pizza Hut, Burger King, Wendy's, and others. The main exception is ethnic eateries catering to Indonesia's non-Muslim minorities, especially those serving Batak, Manadonese (Minahasan), Balinese, and Chinese cuisine, so enquire if unsure.
Strict vegetarians and vegans will have a tough time in Indonesia, as the concept is poorly understood and avoiding fish and shrimp-based condiments is a challenge. Tahu (tofu aka soybean curd) and its chunkier, indigenous cousin tempe (soybean cake) 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.) You can, however, ask them to make something without meat, which can be indicated by asking for "vegetarian" or "tanpa daging dan/atau hasil laut (seafood)". Restaurants are usually willing to take special orders.
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 together a little ball of rice and other things, 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.
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.
Equally common are chopsticks, forks, spoons and knives, although forks and knives are somewhat rare, except for upscale restaurants and steakhouses.
It is considered polite and a sign of enjoyment to eat quickly, and some people view burping as a compliment. If you are done, place your utensils, eating side down, in your dish.
Places to eat
Eating on the cheap in Indonesia is cheap indeed, and a complete streetside meal can be had for under US$.50 (Rp 5,000). 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 patronise only visibly popular establishments, but even this doesn't guarantee cleanliness as cheap can equal popular. If the food is served buffet style without heat, or is left out in dishes or pans, it is best to enquire as to how long ago the food was prepared, or just avoid it entirely, otherwise you may get diarrhea or even food poisoning. It isn't impossible for a food to have been left out for more than a day and only infrequently heated up to boiling, especially in village households. However, don't expect the kind of attentive service you get back home, folks - it's usually up to you to get the attention of servers if you want to order, need something or want the bill - even in some expensive restaurants!
There are travelling vendors who carry a basket of pre-prepared food (usually women), or who carry two small wooden cabinets on a bamboo stick (usually men), who may serve light snacks or even simple meals, some of which are very cheap and enjoyable, but hygiene is suspect.
The fastest way to grab a bite is to visit a kaki lima, literally "five feet". Depending on whom you ask, they're named either after the mobile stalls' three wheels plus the owner's two feet, or the "five-foot way" sidewalks mandated during British rule. These can be found by the side of the road in any Indonesian city, town or village, usually offering up simple fare like fried rice, noodles, meatball soup, siomay (dimsum) and porridge. At night, a kaki lima can turn into a lesehan eatery simply by providing some bamboo mats for customers to sit on and chat, but they may provide plastic stools or even benches, and tables, depending on their location and modus operandi.
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. Some warung are permanent structures.
One of the big questions for the above three choices is hygiene: where do they get clean water to wash dishes, where do they go to use a bathroom (a nearby river or ditch), where do they wash their hands and just how clean are they - REALLY! Typhoid fever is a common problem for eaters here, as are hepatitis and food poisoning. Admittedly, though, Indonesians have been exposed to poorly prepared/spoiled food for most of their lives, so they are rarely affected by diarrhea and food poisoning.
Rather more comfortable is the rumah makan or eating house, a simple restaurant more often than not specialising 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.
Buffets (prasmanan or bufet) and steam-boat restaurants are self-service choices, but the former should be approached warily (see above).
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/boring food. In addition to the usual Western suspects, 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, or Solaria, which has a similar menu, and Hoka Hoka Bento, for localised Japanese fastfood. Bakmi Gajah Mada (GM) is a famous Chinese noodle restaurant chain.
A restoran indicates more of a Western-style eating experience, with air-con, table cloths, table service and prices to match. Especially in Jakarta and Bali, it's possible to find very good restaurants offering authentic fare from around the world, but you'll be lucky to escape for under Rp 100,000 a head.
All in all, there are a bewildering variety of places to eat and a vast array of foods to choose from. Bon apetit!
Aside from the warnings above, it is important to note that every few months on one Indonesian news program or another, instances are exposed where makers of foods and beverages, as well as other items (such as baby products and massage oils), are in violation of relevant laws. These violations include the use of forbidden chemicals, such as formaldehyde or borax as preservatives, textile dyes to improve colour, plastic bags in hot oil to make fried food crisper; the use of expired or even rotten food (such as vegetables or milk) that has been "rehabilitated" through reheating and maybe the application of chemicals, or is used as a filler to improve the weight/volume; the filtration of used cooking oil and subsequent use of forbidden chemicals to make it look clean; the use of haram food (food that can't be eaten by Muslims), such as pig, dog, bat or rat meat; the injection of water (sometimes with formaldehyde) into meat to make it heavier; harvesting water vegetables from heavily polluted waterways, such as kangkung (swamp spinach) and bayam (Indonesian spinach); and the sale of animals that died without being slaughtered (which is illegal here). Typically, foods and beverages such as this are sold by hawkers, wandering vendors and lower-class eateries, but there have been instances where better establishments and even stores and supermarkets have been tricked, although this is pretty rare.
Tap water is generally not potable in Indonesia. Water or ice served to you in restaurants may have been purified and/or boiled (air minum or air putih), but do ask. Air mineral (bottled water), usually known as Aqua after the best-known brand, is cheap and available everywhere, but check that the seals are intact. Also, be wary of buying from wandering vendors near public transport as there are occasional reports of people being drugged with a bottle that has been injected with a drug) and robbed.
Most hotels provide free drinking water (generally, 2 bottles, or a water heater) because tap water is rarely potable. Do not use tap water for brushing your teeth. Also beware of ice which may not have been prepared with potable water or transported and kept in hygienic conditions.
Quite a few Indonesians believe that cold drinks are unhealthy, so specify dingin when ordering if you prefer your water, bottled tea or beer cold, rather than at room temperature.
Fruit juices — prefixed by jus for plain juice, panas for heated (usually only citrus drinks), or es if served with ice &mdash (not to be confused with the dessert es buah); are popular with Indonesians and visitors alike, although the hygiene of the water and ice used to make them can be dubious. Some of the usual suspects include apel (apple), sirsak (soursop), nanas (pineapple), marquisa (passion fruit), melon (honeydew melon), semangka (watermelon), jambu biji (guava), mangga (mango), tomat (tomato), wortel (carrot), stroberi (strawberry), belimbing (starfruit), timun/ketimun (cucumber), jeruk nipis (key lime) and jeruk (orange) - which is distinctly different from what some overseas visitors may expect. Try jus apokat, a surprisingly tasty drink made from avocados, usually with some condensed chocolate milk or, at more expensive places, chocolate syrup poured around the inside of the glass prior to filling it. An oddity is "cappuccino juice" which, depending on where you buy it, can be very delicious or forgettable. There are sometimes a variety of colourfully (and confusingly) named mixed juices, too.
Coffee and tea
Indonesians drink both kopi (coffee) and teh (tea), at least as long as they have had vast quantities of sugar added in. An authentic cup of coffee, known as kopi tubruk, is strong and sweet, but let the grounds settle to the bottom of the cup before you drink it. Some coffees are named after areas, like kopi Aceh and Lampung. Last but not least, no travel guide would be complete without mentioning the infamous kopi luwak, coffee made from coffee fruit which have been eaten, the beans partially digested and then excreted by the luwak (palm civet), 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 Sosro brand of sweet bottled tea and cartons and bottles of Fruit Tea are ubiquitous, as is Tebs, a carbonated tea. In shopping areas, you can often find vendors selling freshly poured large cups of tea, often jasmine, such as 2Tang or the stronger Tong Tji jasmine, fruit and lemon teas for as little as Rp 2,000.
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, as well as being sold by women walking around with a basket of bottles wrapped to them by a colourful length of Batik kain (cloth). Most of them are bitter or sour 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
Chase a sour or bitter jamu with beras kencur, which has a taste slightly reminiscent of anise. If you'd like a semeriwing (cooling) effect, request kapu laga (cardamom) or, for heating, add ginger.
- 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, coconut milk, sugar palm fruit, vanillin.
- Bandrek - made from brown sugar, ginger, pandanus (aka screwpine) 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 colouring additives in a coconut milk and Javanese sugar liquid.
- Talua Tea/Teh Telur (West Sumatra) - made from tea powder, raw egg, sugar and limau nipis.
- Lidah Buaya Ice (West Kalimantan) - made from aloe vera, French basil, javanese black jelly, coconut milk, palm sugar, pandanus leaf, sugar.
Islam is the religion of the majority of Indonesians, but alcohol is widely available in most areas, especially in upscale restaurants and bars. Public displays of drunkenness, however, are strongly frowned upon and in the larger cities are likely to make you a victim of crime or get you arrested by police. Do not drive if you are drunk. The legal drinking age is 21.
In staunchly Islamic areas such as Aceh alcohol is banned and those caught with alcohol can be caned.
Indonesia's most popular tipple is Bintang bir (beer), 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 Rp 10,000-14,000 in a supermarket (sometimes, especially in 7 Elevens, there are tables both inside or outside, so you can sit and drink/eat what you've bought) and can be as much as Rp 50,000 in a fancy bar; more usual bar/restaurant price for Bintang is Rp 25,000-35,000 for a big 0.65 L bottle, however.
Wine is expensive and only available in expensive restaurants and bars in large hotels. Almost all of it is imported, but there are a few local vintners of varying quality on Bali.
Various traditional alcoholic drinks are also available:
- Tuak — sugar palm wine (15% alcohol)
- Arak — the distilled version of tuak, up to 40%
- Brem Balinese style sweet glutinous rice wine
Exercise some caution in choosing what and where to buy — homemade moonshine may contain all sorts of nasty impurities. In May 2009, 23 people, including four tourists, were killed by adulterated, or possibly inadvertently contaminated illicitly supplied arak distributed in Java, Bali and Lombok. There are many other cases where tourists have been blinded or killed by methanol in drinks. If you want to save money in Indonesia, don't do it by buying the cheapest alcohol you can find.
Indonesia's currency is the rupiah (IDR), abbreviated Rp. The rupiah's value plummeted during the 1997 economic crisis, but has strengthened again significantly in recent years. The trailing three zeros are often abbreviated with rb (ribu, thousand) or even dropped completely, and for more expensive items you will often even see jt (juta, million).
The largest banknote is the red Rp 100,000, which may only be USD10 but is still inconveniently large for most purchases. Next in the series are Rp 50,000 (blue), Rp 20,000 (green), Rp 10,000 (purple), Rp 5,000 (brown), Rp 2,000 (gray) and finally Rp 1,000. The Rp 1,000 note is discontinued and currently being replaced with a coin. While the new, colourful large-denomination bills are easy to tell apart, the smaller bills and pre-2004 large notes are all confusingly similar pale pastel shades of yellow, green and brown and often filthy and mangled to boot. A chronic shortage of small change — it's not unusual to get a few pieces of candy back instead of coins — has been to some extent alleviated by a new flood of new coins, available in denominations of Rp 1,000, Rp 500. The Rp 200, Rp 100, Rp 50 and the thoroughly useless Rp 25 are being withdrawn during 2012. Older golden metallic versions are also still floating around. Bills printed in 1992 or earlier are no longer in circulation, but can be exchanged at banks. Currently the smaller coins are being withdrawn from circulation.
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 and some who quote in USD then seek to convert the billing into Rupiah for payment. Many will likely use a somewhat disadvantageous rate to do this. If you pay any bill in Indonesia with a credit card it will be charged to your account in Rupiah, regardless of the currency you were quoted. Aside from the US dollar, Singapore dollars and other major international currencies are also widely accepted for a cash settlement, 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, and pre-2006 dollars or any imperfect bills or (ripped, wrinkled, stained, or marked in any way) will normally be rejected. Banks will most likely reject any pre-2006 US currency. 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 2006 or later and the exchange rate drops for dollars for currency outside a very narrow range of perceived acceptability. There are even different exchange rates according to the serial number for dollars from 1996. Banks and money exchangers on outer islands are sparse and will charge commissions of 10-20% if you can find them.
In the reverse direction, money changers will be happy to turn your dirty Rupiah into spiffy dollars, but the spread is often considerable (10% is not unusual). Be very careful dealing with moneychangers, who are very adept at distracting your attention during the counting process and short-changing you as a result. As a precaution, consider bringing a friend along to watch over the transaction very carefully. Be aware of moneychangers who offer great rates. They will quote you one price, and start counting stacks of Rp 20,000 notes, and ask you to count along with them. This is a ploy to confuse and shortchange you. If they realise you are onto them, they will tell you that they have to subtract 6-8% for "commission" or "taxes".
ATMs (pron. ah-teh-em) on the international Plus/Cirrus networks are common in all major Indonesian cities and tourist destinations, but may be harder to come by in the backblocks. Beware of withdrawal limits as low as Rp 500,000 (c. USD55) per day in some machines. As a rule of thumb, machines loaded with Rp 50,000 denomination notes (there's a sticker on ATM often) do not dispense more than Rp 1,500,000 per transaction even in Jakarta. Those with Rp 100,000 notes can give more, up to Rp 3,000,000 (often CIMB, BII, some BRI machines, Commonwealth bank on Bali) at once. Note, however, that these notes can be harder to break, especially in rural non-tourist areas.
Be careful when using credit cards, as cloning and fraud are a major problem in Indonesia. Visa and MasterCard are widely accepted, but American Express can be problematic. At smaller operations, surcharges of 2-5% over cash are common.
Living in Indonesia is cheap, as long as you're willing to live like an Indonesian. For example, Rp 10,000 (about USD1.15) will get you a meal on the street or a packet of cigarettes, 3 km in a taxi, or two bottles of water. Always insist the taxi meter is used, and in the rare circumstances there is not one then look very hard, it may be there but subtly obscured. A tourist may often be encouraged to negotiate a price, avoid doing this but if there is no alternative then seek a minimum of 50%-70% off an initial asking price.
Fancy restaurants, hotels and the like will charge 10% government sales tax plus a variable service charge. This may be denoted with "++" after the price or just written in tiny print on the bottom of the menu.
Tipping is not a universal practice in Indonesia. You will find some areas and businesses discourage it while others encourage it or there may be a neutral viewpoint about it. In popular tourist areas, in particular on Java and Bali, tipping is often hoped for. Tipping is certainly not a requirement in Indonesia, but if you feel you'd like to reward the person who helped you because they did a great job, or they made an extra effort then give it consideration if it is not openly discouraged. You can try asking people but you may not get a very clear answer. It is up to your discretion how much you give, Rp 10,000 can buy a meal here, and in many occupations people may often struggle to make ends meet. If you do tip, then ensure you give it directly to the person concerned, normally it is done by passing the money folded and in a slightly cupped right hand and placing directly into their own. This is done without flourish as though it were a quick light handshake, and normally without announcement, watch the locals, it is normally a quite discreet exchange.
Also, in some cultures it is traditional to refuse something a few times (3 is a common number) before accepting it, but there are cultural nuances that can let you know whether it's politeness or a rejection of a tip.
Finally, keep in mind that some people deliberately tell stories about how hard their life is in order to get a tip. If the person has offered these tales with little or no prompting, and has been quite detailed, you may wish to be cautious.
While most commercial places close on Sunday in the West, it does not apply in Indonesia, being a mainly Muslim country. Most of them even have the largest visitors in Sunday (and national holidays) and shopping malls often become VERY crowded on Sunday. So if you plan to go to Indonesian malls and shopping centres, weekdays (Monday to Friday) is the best time to visit.
Saturdays and Sundays (as well as national holidays) are favourite days for Indonesians to go shopping and sightseeing, and as a result, most commercial points open 7 days a week. The notably exceptions are Idul-Fitri (Lebaran, end of Ramadan celebration), which most commercials close or open late up to two or three days afterwards (though most likely less applied in non-Muslim majority areas like North Sulawesi and Bali), and Indonesian independence day, the 17th of August. To the lesser extent, the same goes with Christmas, particularly in Christian-majority population areas (North Sulawesi and parts of North Sumatra) and in Chinese-run majority commercials (like Glodok or Mangga Dua in Jakarta), as a large number of Indonesian Chinese living in major cities are Christian.
Shopping malls and commercials open in the morning at around 10:00, and street shops (and traditional markets) open as early as 06:00, and close at around 20:00-21:00. Twenty-four hours stores such as mini-marts are not uncommon in major cities and some built up regional areas.
This article is based on Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike 3.0 Licensed text from the article Indonesia on Wikivoyage.
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Seminyak is a beach town in South Bali.
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Ubud, a town in central Bali, is far removed from the drunken bikini scene in Kuta, and is regarded as the cultural centre of Bali. It is famous as an arts and crafts hub, and much of the town and nearby villages seems to consist of artists' workshops and galleries. There are some remarkable architectural and ... (read more)
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Bandung is the capital city of West Java, and the third largest city in Indonesia after Jakarta and Surabaya. Nicknamed Parijs van Java by the Dutch for its resemblance to Paris and European atmosphere back at the colonial times. Bandung also earned another nickname as Kota Kembang, literally meaning the ... (read more)
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States in Indonesia
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Points of Interest in Indonesia
Indonesia is home to no less than 167 active volcanoes, far more than any other country. Some of the more accessible mountains for visitors are in the Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park and the Ijen Crater in East Java, Mount Rinjani in Lombok and perhaps easiest of all, Mount Batur, and Mount Agung, it's neighbour in Bali.
Hardly surprisingly in the world's largest archipelago, beaches are significant attractions. Aside from the obvious like Bali and Lombok, there are wonderful beaches in off-the-beaten-track locations in Maluku, Nusa Tenggara and Sulawesi. In a nation of 18,000+ islands, the options are almost endless.
Indonesia has some of the largest remaining tracts of tropical forest anywhere in the world, and these support an incredibly diverse wildlife from Orangutans and other primates to critically endangered Javan Rhinoceros and Sumatran Tigers, and an extraordinarily wide range of bird species. Forest areas recognised as UNESCO World Heritage Sites are Ujung Kulon National Park in West Java, and three huge parks in Sumatra, which together comprise the Tropical Rain Forest Heritage of Sumatra: Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park, Gunung Leuser National Park and Kerinci Seblat National Park. Sadly, the forests of Kalimantan are disappearing at an alarming clip due to illegal logging.
Unfortunately, in more populated areas, even nearby forests, such as much of Java, bird species are disappearing at an alarming rate due to the bird trade. Birds are a major source of income for poor trappers, and the birds are sold to people in cities, most of which spend the rest of their days in individual cages. Most commonly seen are finches, sparrows, swallows and certain other birds that are of lesser interest to pet bird owners. The various species of burung Cendrawasih (bird of paradise) of Papua are mostly endangered. Snakes are also in serious decline in many places due to a knee-jerk reaction to any snake: "Kill it!" Yet, you can see scorpions, whip scorpions, spiders, mole crickets (which make a terribly loud, droning sound at night), many butterflies and moths, the elusive and rare squirrel, certain types of monkeys, geckos, including the Tokek (TOE-kay: Tokay gecko) and a variety of cicak (geckos), as well as the undesirable mice, rats, shrews, cockroaches, termites, and, in numbers that may boggle your mind, ants of various sizes and shapes and personalities. Indonesia is paradise for those who want to study arachnids and insects! Bali sports a nice butterfly park, as well as Turtle Island.
Further east, Komodo Island is the home of the remarkable Komodo Dragon and a very diverse marine life. Close to the very eastern limit of Indonesia, the remote Lorentz National Park in Papua has a permanent glacier, and is the single largest national park anywhere in Southeast Asia.
Indonesia is home to several beautiful scuba diving and snorkelling spots in many different places, such as Bali, Lombok, Nusa Tenggara, the Thousand Islands north of Jakarta, and Bunaken, and Indonesia is also very famous for surfing.
Historical, religious and cultural attractions
Indonesia is particularly rich with places to visit, some of which are quite old and many still have significant importance for locals. You could spend your life exploring Indonesia and still not see them all!
If your legs aren't properly clothed when visiting Hindu temples, do expect to have to rent or buy a length of cloth to wrap around them as they won't allow you to enter otherwise.
Borobudur in Central Java is the world's largest Buddhist monument, dating from the 8th century, and nearby Prambanan within Yogyakarta is a remarkable Hindu monument dating from just a few years later. Those two, together with the charm of Yogyakarta and Solo, former kingdoms, make for a popular cultural combination in Central Java. Be warned, however, that Borobudur's price for foreigners is about US$10 (unless you possess a 1-year or 5-year stay permit), whereas locals pay less than USD1. You may find it tiring, too, because hawkers all along the way will badger you with their wares and exit signs are moved to force you to go through a serpentine souvenir market that seems never to end after a long day of exploring the temple. It is said that if you can touch a Buddha's hand within one of the "stupa" near the top of the temple, it will give you luck. Prambanan, sadly, was damaged by an earthquake some years ago and repairs have been stalled by lack of funds. Many sites in Indonesia suffer from this problem and are damaged by graffiti and littering, generally by locals.
Not far from Semarang is Demak, the home of one of the oldest mosques in Indonesia, Masjid Agung (lit. "Great Mosque"), as well as Sunan Kalijaga Cemetery. Semarang itself is home to several Buddhist, Hindu and Confucian temples, as well as mosques and churches, and nearby Bandungan offers the historic Gedung Songo (lit. "9 Buildings") park, which has 9 Hindu shrines in it, as well as various activities for families and hikers to enjoy. In addition, Semarang offers Old Semarang, the original part of town with many Dutch era buildings; Lawang Sewu (lit. "1,000 doors"), is located at the Tugu Muda roundabout intersection (which is also home to a museum and a government office), is a large complex of Dutch buildings featuring stain glass windows and numerous doors which was used by the military, the Japanese during their WWII occupation of Indonesia, and prior to that the Dutch as the office of the railway system, prison, hospital and barracks, and is currently the office of the state-run train company; and various other historic sites and buildings, as well as two major museums that are in somewhat of a state of disrepair, perhaps due to their low prices. Supposedly, Lawang Sewu is haunted with over 30 different supernatural beings but you must be very talented to see even one after surveying the entire grounds from the foundation to attics and water towers!
Also in Central Java, the Dieng Plateau is home to the oldest extant temples in Indonesia, predating Borobudur by some 100 years and, just north of Solo, the Pithecanthropus Erectus aka "Java Man" archaeological excavation at Sangiran, Trinil - Ngawi Regency is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In such a vast archipelago it is hardly surprising that there are some very distinct and unique cultures, often contained in relatively small areas. Bali has a unique Hindu culture, descended from the great Javanese Majapahit (moe-joe-PA-heat) Kingdom in the 13th and 14th centuries, which retreated to Bali when its empire collapsed in the face of the rise of Islam. The whole island is adorned by beautifully kept temples (pura), and there is a seemingly endless procession of colourful ceremonies. Some of the better known are the mother temple at Besakih, Pura Ulun Danau Bratan, and Pura Uluwatu. A unique temple, Tanah Lot, is situated on an island right off the coast and is reached by an elevated land bridge. In the north of Bali, you can find small villages of the original Balinese, the Bali Age (A-geh), as well as Terunyan island where the dead are buried above ground yet the smell of corpses is absent.
East of that is Lombok, which was also part of the Majapahit empire, and is the less-visited but equally interesting cousin of Bali. It contains a water palace with a spring that is reputed to produce healing water and, in one of the ponds is a very large eel-like fish that, if sighted, is supposed to bring luck. There are various ancient shrines and temples that can be visited.
Further east, Sumba is home to one of the few remaining megalithic cultures anywhere on earth. Many of the tribes there still live in small kingdoms, although this practice is starting to disappear. In Sulawesi, the Tana Toraja region is famous for spectacular animist burial rites. Visiting the vast hinterland of Papua in the far east of the country requires considerable planning, an awful lot of money, and a tolerance for extremely challenging conditions. However, for those who want a true wilderness experience and the opportunity to witness first-hand cultures that have had very little contact with the outside world, it is hard to think of a better option anywhere on earth.
Pontianak to Kuching
Kuta Beach - Legian
Kuta Square - Kuta
Gedung Agung - Yogyakarta
Welcome Statue - Jakarta
Ulun Danu Temple - Bedugul
Prambanan Temple - Prambanan
Museum Dirgantara - Baturetno
Tanah Lot - Tabanan
Borobudur Temple - Borobudur
Bogor Botanical Garden - Bogor
Sun Plaza - Medan
Grahadi - Surabaya
Tuban Beach - Tuban
Uluwatu Cliffs - Pecatu
Puri Lukisan Museum - Ubud
Masjid Raya Baiturrahman - Banda Aceh
Braga City Walk - Bandung
Nusa Dua Beach - Nusa Dua
Fort Rotterdam - Makassar
Seminyak Beach - Seminyak