Adventure looms large in this vast and steamy archipelago, where the best of southeast Asia's spicy melange simmers tantalisingly. Heady scents, vivid colours, dramatic vistas and diverse cultures spin and multiply, their potent brew leaving your senses reeling. Read more...
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Cities and Destinations in Indonesia
Adventure looms large in this vast and steamy archipelago, where the best of southeast Asia's spicy melange simmers tantalisingly. Heady scents, vivid colours, dramatic vistas and diverse cultures spin and multiply, their potent brew leaving your senses reeling.
Indonesia is almost unimaginably vast: 18 110 islands providing 108 000 kilometres of beaches, and the distance between Aceh and Papua is more than 4 000 kilometres (2500 miles), comparable to the distance between New York and San Francisco. There are more than 400 volcanoes in Indonesia, 130 of them being considered active, and many undersea volcanoes. The island of New Guinea (on which the Indonesian province of Papua is located) is the second largest island in the world.
Provinces are usually grouped under main big islands and their surroundings, as listed below:
Sumatra (incl. the Riau Islands and Bangka-Belitung)
Wild and rugged, the 6th largest island in the world has a great natural and cultural wealth with more than 40 million inhabintants.
The vast majority of this, the world's third largest island is covered by the Indonesian province. Uncharted jungles, mighty rivers, home of the orangutan, a paradise for the adventurer.
Java (and Madura)
The country's heartland, big cities including the capital Jakarta, and a lot of people packed on a not-so-big island. Also features the cultural treasures of Yogyakarta, Borobudur and Prambanan. One of the most populous island in the earth with more than 120 million inhabitans in a land equal to New York (state)
Strangely shaped, this island houses a diversity of societies and some spectacular scenery, Toraja cuture, rich flora and fauna, world class diving site, finest undersea scenery.
Nusa Tenggara (Bali, Lombok, Sumbawa, Flores, Komodo and West Timor)
Also known as the Lesser Sunda Islands, the Southeast Islands contain scores of ethnic groups, languages and religions, home to Komodo lizards and one of the best undersea coral site.
The historic Spice Islands, largely unexplored and almost unknown to the outside world.
Irian Jaya (Papua)
The western half of the island of New Guinea, with mountains, forests, swamps, an almost impenetrable wilderness in one of the remotest places on earth.
The two main international airports are Soekarno-Hatta (CGK) at Tangerang, Banten, near Jakarta, and Ngurah Rai (DPS) at Denpasar, Bali. There are however many cities which have air links with neighbouring countries which can be interesting and convenient entry points into Indonesia. They include: Medan with to/flights from Penang and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia as well as Singapore ; Pekanbaru in Sumatra with flights to/from Malacca, Malaysia and Singapore ; Padang in Sumatra with flights from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and Singapore ; Palembang in Sumatra with flights from Kuala Lumpur, Johor Bahru, Malaysia and Singapore ; Pontianak in West Kalimantan to/from Kuching in Sarawak, Malaysia and Singapore ; Tarakan in East Kalimantan to/from Tawau in Sabah, Malaysia ; Manado in North Sulawesi to/from Davao in the Philippines ; and Kupang in West Timor to/from Darwin in Australia, and Dili, East Timor.
Garuda Indonesia Garuda, the state airline, provides links to Asian & Australian destinations and while its planes are a bit tatty, they are a fairly safe and often cheap option.
Travel to Indonesia from America costs around US$1000. As travel from most of Europe or anywhere in the USA will take over 20 hours, many flights stop in Hong Kong, Seoul, Taipei or Singapore before arriving in Jakarta. Sydney, though, is just 6-8 hours away.
Ferries connect Indonesia with Singapore and Malaysia. Most connections are between ports in Sumatra (mostly in Riau and Riau Islands provinces) and those in Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore, although there is also a ferry service between Malaysia's Sabah state with East Kalimantan on Borneo. Onward boat connections to Jakarta and other Indonesian islands are available from these ports. See the pages for each city for more details.
From SingaporeFrequent ferries to/from the various ports of Batam (Sekupang, Batu Ampar, Nongsa, Marina Teluk Senimba and Batam Centre).Frequent ferries also go to/from Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal at Singapore airport Changi to ports like the capital of Riau province Tanjung Pinang a visa-on-arrival port at the Island Bintan.Bandar Bintan Telani Lagoi ( Bintan Resorts ), Bandar Sri Udana Lobam and. Several ferries daily to/from Tanjung Balai in Karimun Island.One daily ferry, increasing to two during weekends, to/from Tanjung Batu in Kundur Island.
Please note that Tanjung Batu is NOT a visa-free or visa-on-arrival port of entry. There may however be exceptions for visa-free visitors.
From Peninsular MalaysiaDaily ferries run from Penang to Belawan, the port for Medan, Sumatra. Daily ferries go from Port Klang near Kuala Lumpur to Dumai in Riau, Sumatra and Tanjung Balai Asahan in North Sumatra. Daily ferries between Port Dickson, Negeri Sembilan and Dumai in Riau province, Sumatra. Daily ferries link Malacca with Dumai and Pekanbaru in Riau province, Sumatra. Frequent ferries go from Kukup, Johor to Tanjung Balai on Karimun Island in the Riau Islands. Frequent ferries link the Johor Bahru with Batam and the capital of Riau province Tanjung Pinang at the Island Bintan in the Riau Islands. Regular ferries also link Tanjung Belungkor in Johor with Batam.
Please note that Tanjung Balai Asahan is NOT a visa-free or visa-on-arrival port of entry. There may however be exceptions for visa-free visitors.
From Sabah, MalaysiaDaily ferries link Tawau with Nunukan and Tarakan, both in East Kalimantan province on Borneo.
Please note that Nunukan and Tarakan are NOT visa-free or visa-on-arrival ports of entry. Again, there may be exceptions for visa-free visitors.
The only formal way to enter by land is at the Entikong-Tebedu crossing between West Kalimantan and Sarawak, Malaysia on Borneo. The crossing in on the main route between Kuching, ( Sarawak ) and Pontianak, the capital of ( West Kalimantan ). As the crossing is listed only as a visa-free entry point, nationalities who do not qualify for this will have to apply for visas beforehand.
Other recognized but informal crossings to enter by land are:From Vanimo ( Papua New Guinea ) to Jayapura, the capital of Indonesian Papua. Mota'ain between Batugade in East Timor and Atambua, West Timor.
Note: It is not guaranteed that you will be able to enter Indonesia through these crossings and non-Indonesians are required to apply for visas at the nearest Indonesian Embassy or Consulate.
The only rapid means of long-distance travel within Indonesia is the plane. The largest domestic carriers are state-owned Garuda and private competitor Lion Air, but in recent years a host of low-cost competitors have sprung up, including Indonesia Air Asia (formerly AWAIR), Air Efata, Batavia Air, Mandala and many more. Routes for less popular destinations and routes (particularly in eastern Indonesia) are served by Garuda's little buddy Merpati, memorably summarized as It's Merpati and I'll fly if I want to, AirFast, Sriwijaya, Jatayu and more, often flying smaller planes. If you really get off the beaten track, eg. settlements in Papua, there are no scheduled services at all and you'll need to charter a plane or hitch rides with missionaries.
Many carriers have poor on-time records and frequent cancellations, and the safety record of the smaller companies is dubious, with Adam Air, Lion Air and Mandala suffering fatal crashes in recent years. A majority of the aircraft are planes from the 1970s and 1980s, which have been flown by many previous operators and may be poorly maintained. A select a few carriers, such as Garuda, Lion Air, and Mandala among others, have recently bought brand new planes straight from an aircraft manufacturer which have replaced some of the older planes in their fleet. Still, compared to the carnage on Indonesia's roads, a flight even on an aging turboprop is probably far safer — and far more comfortable — than traveling the same distance by bus. Garuda and Air Asia are run to international standards and are considered the safest options.
Prices are low by international standards, with more or less any domestic return flight available for under US$100 even on short notice, and fares for a fraction of that if you plan ahead. The hardest part is often finding what carriers serve what route and making a reservation, as many companies have not yet discovered the joys of the Internet, much less set up online booking engines. When traveling off the beaten track, it's imperative to reconfirm early and often, as frequencies are low and paid-up, occasionally even checked-in passengers are bumped off with depressing regularity if a VIP happens to show up. Make sure you arrive at the airport at least 2 hours before the departure time, because airline staff often sell your seat to other passengers if you are late.
Indonesia is all islands and consequently ferries have long been the most popular means of inter island travel. The largest company is PELNI, which visits practically every inhabited island in Indonesia. Schedules are notional, creature comforts sparse and safety records poor. Try to scout out what, if any, safety devices are on board and consider postponing your trip if the weather looks bad.
You may get hassled by people onboard trying to extract extra money under some dubious excuse. Feel free to ignore them, although on the upside, it may be possible to bribe your way to a better class of accommodation.
PT Kereta Api http://www.kereta-api.com/ runs trains across most of Java and some parts of Sumatra. The network was originally built by the Dutch, and few new lines have been built since the Independence. Double-tracking of the most congested lines have been done, though, and is still ongoing. Maintenance is spotty and derailments and crashes occur occasionally.
Java by far has the best railway network, with trains connecting the capital city of Jakarta with other main cities, i.e. Surabaya both via Semarang on the north coast and via Yogyakarta and Solo through the southern main line. Bandung is connected to Jakarta by some 30 trains per day, and is itself connected to Surabaya through Yogyakarta. Bali has no railway lines, but there are trains from Surabaya to Banyuwangi, connecting with ferries to the island.
Sumatra's networks are concentrated on the northern (around Medan ) and the southern ( Lampung to Palembang ) parts of the island. Passenger trains on the island are much less frequent than in Java.
Type of service:1. Air-conditioned Eksekutif class2. Bisnis3. Ekonomi classes are also available for the more budget-conscious traveler, but comfort and safety are noticeably less (due to congestion and length of travel time).
No sleeping car service is provided in Indonesia, and the best accommodation provided is air-conditioned, adjustable reclining seats in the Argo and other eksekutif class trains.
Ticket reservations can be made one month in advance, although generally tickets will still be available almost to the last minute. An exception is the very busy Lebaran season, in which time it is not advisable to travel due to the extremely high demand for tickets. No on-line ticket reservation is available, but availability can be gleaned on PT Kereta Api's ticketing site.
Generally, trains in Java travel through scenic areas, and travelers not in a hurry should consider the length of the journey and the scenery as a bonus to his travels. However, theft is common, particularly on overnight journeys, so padlock your doors if possible.
The major types of buses are air-conditioned bus (AC) and non-air-conditioned bus (non-AC or economy class ). The air-conditioned chartered buses can be rented with its drivers for a tourist group. Indonesian bus companies offer intercity and interprovince routes. The interprovince routes usually include transportation to other islands mainly between Java and Sumatra.
Bus maintenance is poor, and drivers are often drunk, on drugs or just reckless. Long, overnight journeys are particularly dangerous. Guard your bags like a hawk. In the wilder parts of the country (notably South Sumatra ), interprovince buses are occasionally ambushed by bandits.
Indonesian driving habits are generally atrocious. Lanes and traffic lights are happily ignored, passing habits are suicidal and driving on the road shoulder is common.
That said, renting a car in Indonesia is cheap compared to renting in other countries, and despite recent fare hikes gas remains cheap (fixed price for gasoline is Rp 4500/litre and price of diesel fuel is Rp 4300/litre). To drive a car yourself, an International Driver Permit is required, but it is strongly recommended that you consider renting a car with driver, because the additional cost is quite low and having a traffic accident in Indonesia will certainly spoil your trip.
Road condition and road maintenance in Indonesia is poor. If you go outside major cities, you should use a four-wheel drive car (Kijang jeeps are popular). During rainy season, major roads in Sumatra, Kalimantan and Sulawesi are flooded for several weeks. Several important, old bridges in Sumatra had collapsed recently.
Traffic moves on the left in Indonesia.
Reference car rental agency :Hadi Rentcar Tel.: (62)(21) 917 49 661. Website: Hadi Rentcar.
Becak ( BEH-chuck ) is a tricycle (pedicab) transportation mode for short distances such as residential areas in many cities. In some areas, the driver is sitting at the back of the passenger, but in some areas (like Medan ) the driver is sitting on the side of the passenger. Good communication skills is integral to prevent getting overcharged on these rides. Often, sly drivers try to get some more money out of you after you've reached your destination, so be sure that you know how much it costs beforehand.
Note that there are no becak in Jakarta. Instead, the motorized bajaj (BAH-jai), somewhat similar to the Thai tuk-tuk, serves the same function. In some other provinces (eg. North Sumatra, Aceh) you can also find motorbikes with sidecars, known as bentor (short for becak bermotor).
If you're in such a hurry, then ojek motorcycle taxis might be the ticket for you. Ojek services consist of guys with bikes lounging around street corners, perhaps identified with a colored, numbered jacket, who usually shuttle short distances down alleys and roads but will also do longer trips for a price. Haggle furiously.
When to go
Alas, Indonesia has been and continues to be wracked by every pestilence known to man: earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, terrorism, civil strife, corruption and crime make the headlines on a depressingly regular basis. However, it is important to retain a sense of proportion and remember Indonesia's vast size: a tsunami in Aceh will not cause the slightest ripple on the beaches of Bali, and street battles in troubled Central Sulawesi are irrelevant in the jungles of Papua.
The crime rate has increased significantly in recent years, but fortunately it remains mostly non-violent and guns are rare. Robbery, theft and pickpockets pickpocketing are common in Indonesia, particularly in markets, public transport and pedestrian overpasses. Avoid flashing jewelry, gold watches, MP3 players or large cameras. Thieves have been known to snatch laptops, PDAs and cellphones from Internet hotspot areas.
Crime is rampant on local and long-distance public transport (bus, train, ships). Do not accept drinks from strangers, as they may be laced with drugs. Choose your taxis carefully in cities (hotel taxis are often best), lock doors when inside and avoid using cellular phones, MP3 players, PDAs or laptops at traffic lights or in traffic jams.
Do not place valuable items in checked baggage, as they may be stolen by baggage handlers. Do not leave valuable items in an empty hotel rooms, and use the hotel's safe deposit box instead of the in-room safe.
Do not draw large amounts of cash from banks or ATMs. Guard your belongings carefully and consider carrying a money clip instead of a wallet.
Indonesia is one of the world's most corrupt countries. Officials may ask for bribes, tips or gifts — the Indonesian terms are uang kopi or uang rokok, literally coffee money and cigarette money — to supplement their meager salaries; pretending you do not understand may work. Generally, being polite, smiling, asking for an official receipt for any 'fees' you are asked to pay, more politeness, more smiling, will avoid any problems.
The going rate for paying your way out of small offenses (not carrying your passport, losing the departure card, minor or imaginary traffic violation, etc) is Rp 50, 000. It's common for police to initially demand silly amounts or threaten you with going to the station, but keep cool and they'll be more reasonable. Also note that if your taxi/bus/car driver is stopped, any fine or bribe is not your problem and it's best not to get involved. (If it's clear that the police were out of line, your driver certainly won't object if you compensate him afterwards though.)
Civil strife and terrorism
Indonesia has a number of provinces where separatist movements have resorted to armed struggles, notably Papua. In addition, sectarian strife between Muslims and Christians, as well as between the indigenous population and transmigrants from Java/Madura, continues to occur in Maluku, central parts of Sulawesi and some areas of Kalimantan. Elections in Indonesia frequently involve rowdy demonstrations that have on occasion spiralled into violence, and the Indonesian military have also been known to employ violent measures to control or disperse protesting crowds. Travel permits (surat jalan) are required for entering the conflict areas such as Poso, Palu, and Papua.
While the great majority of civil strife in Indonesia is a strictly local affair, terrorist bombings targeting Western interests have also taken place in Bali and Jakarta, mostly notably the 2002 bombing in Kuta that killed 202 people, including 161 tourists. To minimize your risk, avoid any tourist-oriented nightclub or restaurant without strong security measures in place or where parking of cars and/or motorcycles in front of the club is permitted.
Indonesia has extremely harsh punishments for drug offenses — visitors are greeted with cheery DEATH TO DRUG TRAFFICKERS signs at airports and recent cases have seen long jail terms for simple possession — but drugs are still widely available. By far the most common is marijuana (known as gele or cimeng), which is not only sold to tourists but is used as food in some parts of the country, notably Aceh. Magic mushrooms are advertised openly in parts of Bali and Lombok, and hard drugs are common in the Jakarta nightlife scene. Still, it's highly advisable to steer well clear or, at very least, be very discreet as entrapment and drug busts are common and you really, really don't want to get involved with the Indonesian justice system; thanks to the anti-corruption drive, you cannot even count on being able to bribe your way out anymore.
Indonesia is a chain of highly volcanic islands sprinkled along the Ring of Fire, so earthquakes occur constantly and tsunamis and volcano eruptions are all too common. Realistically, there is little you can do to avoid these risks, but familiarize yourself with the warning signs and pay special heed to fire escape routes in hotels.
Crocodiles and poisonous snakes are present throughout most of Indonesia, which can be hazardous to foreign travellers such as miles although only very common in a few areas. Komodo dragons can be very dangerous if harassed, but are only found on Komodo and a few neighboring islands.
Break like the wind Most Indonesians have not yet quite accepted the germ theory of disease: instead, any flu-like diseases are covered under the concept of masuk angin, lit. enter wind. Preventive measures include avoiding cold drinks and making sure bus windows are tightly rolled up during a 48-hour bus ride (evidently kretek smoke does not cause masuk angin), while accepted cures include the practice of kerokan (rubbing an oiled coin over your skin) or the less socially acceptable kentut, in other words fart!
The bad news is that every disease known to man can be found somewhere in Indonesia — the good news is that you're probably not going to go there. Malaria prophylaxis is not necessary for Java or Bali, but is wise if traveling for extended periods in remote area of Sumatra, Borneo, Lombok or points east. Dengue fever can be contracted anywhere and using insect repellents (DEET) and mosquito nets is highly advisable. Hepatitis is also common and getting vaccinated before arriving in Indonesia is wise.
The air quality in major cities, especially Jakarta and Surabaya, is poor, and the seasonal haze (June-October) from forest fires on Borneo and Sumatra can also cause respiratory problems. If you have asthma, bring your medicine and breather.
Recent years have seen outbreaks of polio and anthrax in rural parts of Java and rabies in East Nusa Tenggara. Avian influenza (bird flu) has also made headlines, but outbreaks are sporadic and limited to people who deal with live or dead poultry in rural areas. Eating cooked chicken appears to be safe.
The local Indonesian health care system is not up to western standards. While a short term stay in an Indonesian hospital or medical center for simple health problems is probably not markedly different to a western facility, serious and critical medical emergencies will stretch the system to the limit. In fact, many rich Indonesians often choose to travel to neighboring Singapore to receive more serious health care. SOS Indonesia http://www.sosindonesia.com/ (24-hour emergency line +62-21-7506001) specializes in treating expats and has English staff on duty, but charges are correspondingly high. In any case, travel health insurance that includes medical evacuation back to a home country is highly recommended.
If you need a specific medicine, bring the medicine in its container/bottle, if possible with the doctor's prescription. Indonesian custom inspectors may ask about the medicine. If you need additional medicine in Indonesia, bring the container to a pharmacy (apotek) and if possible mention the active ingredients of the medicine. Drugs are usually manufactured locally under different brand names, but contain the same ingredients. Be careful about the proper dosage of the medicine.
For routine traveller complaints, one can often find medical doctors (dokter) in towns. These small clinics are usually walk-in, although you may face a long wait. Most clinics open in the afternoon (from 4 PM). The emergency room (ER) in hospitals always open (24 hour). There are clinics (poliklinik) in most hospitals (8 AM-4 PM). Advance payment is expected for treatment.
Be warned, though, that the doctors/nurses may not speak English well enough to make an appropriate diagnosis--be patient and take a good phrasebook or a translator with you. Ask about the name and dosage of the prescription medicine, as doctors over oversubscribe to inflate their own cut, with antibiotics handed out like candy.
Various nationalist groups developed in the early 20th century, and there were several disturbances, quickly put down by the Dutch. Leaders were arrested and exiled. Then during World War II, the Japanese conquered most of the islands. After the war, Indonesia's founding fathers Sukarno (Soekarno) and Hatta declared the independence of the Republic of Indonesia. After four years of fighting, the Dutch accepted this on December 27, 1949. The 1950 constitution was an attempt to set up a liberal democracy system with 2 chambers of parliament. Indonesia held its first free election in 1955.
In 1959, Sukarno dissolved the cabinet and parliament, appointed himself PM, and created a new parliament. He called his autocratic rule Guided Democracy. Much to the dismay of the West, Sukarno aligned himself somewhat with Moscow and had the Communist party's Dr Subandrio as Deputy PM and intelligence chief. The government had various troubles including a communist coup attempt and an anti-communist CIA-backed rebellion in West Sumatra and North Sulawesi, complete with the 7th Fleet offshore.
In 1965, things came to a head. Dr Subandrio produced a document, allegedly stolen from the British Embassy, detailing plans for a military coup. The presidential guard killed some of the officers involved, then guard colonel Untung announced that he, Subandrio and various other leftist Indonesian leaders had formed a Revolutionary Council to take over the power. Army units under General Suharto put down the rebellion in a single day. Suharto then seized power himself, sidelining Sukarno, proclaiming a New Order (Orde Baru) and initiating a series of bloody anti-Communist purges that led to the death of 500, 000-2, 000, 000 people (estimates vary widely).
Under Suharto from 1966 to 1997, Indonesia enjoyed stability and economic growth, but much of the wealth was concentrated in the hands of a small corrupt elite and dissent was brutally crushed. During the Asian economic crisis of 1997 the value of the Indonesian rupiah plummeted, halving the purchasing power of ordinary Indonesians, and in the ensuing violent upheaval, now known as Reformasi, Suharto was brought down and a more democratic regime installed.
From their declaration of their independence Indonesia claimed West Papua as part of their nation, but the Dutch held onto it into the 1960s, and in the early sixties there was armed conflict over it. After a UN-brokered peace deal, and a referendum, West Papua became part of Indonesia and was renamed as Irian Jaya, which apocryphically stands for Ikut (part of) Republic of Indonesia, Anti Netherlands.
The former Portuguese colony of East Timor was annexed by Indonesia in 1975, but there was armed resistance to this. After decades of civil war, on 30 August 1999, a provincial referendum for independence was overwhelmingly approved by the people of East Timor. Indonesia grundgingly but still astonishingly accepted the result, and East Timor gained its independence in 2002.