Stumble Into Indonesia's Unseen Places
Submitted by mumunmumun on 24 April 2013 • Opinion
Tags: Travel Indonesia
Everybody, say Hi to Adam, a travel writer and fellow travel blogger. Hi Adam!
Adam, and his Indonesian wife Susan, is currently developing his beloved Indonesian travel blog called www.pergidulu.com and www.bacaresepdulu.com. Since he’s been traveling Indonesia for a while, we thought we’d pick his brain on how it really is for foreigners to travel Indonesia. Take it away, Om Adam!
In a land far far away lies the burgeoning archipelago of Indonesia. A nation of countless islands inhabited by a diversity of people rarely seen anywhere else in the world. In the far west you have Aceh which lives under a strict form of Islamic law complete with religious police intent on arresting people doing such things as straddling a motorbike. In the far east you have West Papua, a part of Indonesia only since the early 70s and still unsettled from a separatist movement intent on ejecting the central government. The people look vastly different in the varying regions of Indonesia which gives a simple glimpse into the diversity of the country.
For Indonesians, travelling through Indonesia is a fairly simply affair. Hop on a bus or plane, angkot or ojek and you’re on your way to your destination. For foreigners, the landscape is totally different with the exception of Bali which is a tourist paradise of sorts.
Many people enter Indonesia via the capital Jakarta and this city is the one that creates the first impression. People living in Jakarta generally have plenty of positive things to say about the city. Foreign tourists not so much. People often ask “what is there to do”? Not a whole lot when you compare the attractions to those in other Asian cities. There just isn’t a whole lot of “stuff to do” and this is the first thing that greets tourists when first visiting Indonesia.
When there is a lack of “stuff to do” anywhere in the world, people will automatically hate a place. I heard the same in places such as Vientiane in Laos or Kep in Cambodia. There is nothing to do, so the place sucks. Unfortunately, the majority of travellers just can’t be bothered scratching beneath the surface to find what makes a place tick. And it’s fair enough too. If you visit Indonesia on a 30 day tourist visa, you probably don’t want to spend a week in Jakarta trying to figure out what makes the place tick.
Aside from a lack of “stuff to do”, Jakarta’s transport system is extremely difficult to navigate if you’re new to town. Of course, catching an ojek is a quick and easy way of getting around, but most first time visitors to Indonesia have never been on a motorbike let alone on one in a busy city such as Jakarta.
And then there is food. Budget travellers want to eat cheaply, but are often scared when looking at some of the street food on offer especially when it’s advertised in a different language. What does “nasi goreng” mean? What is a “martabak manis”?
The next point is religion. Over the past 10 years, Islam has received a really bad name in the West. When many people in the West think of Islam, they think of terrorists. Many people feel confronted when seeing someone where a burqa and only slightly less-so when wearing a jilbab. When the call the prayer bursts out from a local mosque in Indonesia, it can be a terrifying sound when you first hear it especially at 4:30am when you’re dead asleep. I find it a wonderful thing these days, but the first time I heard it I had no idea what it was!
These problems faced in Jakarta are carried right through all of Indonesia. When you arrive at a bus station in Indonesia, there is rarely a sign with a schedule on it. No prices. No departures times. You have to ask someone and the person doesn’t speak English. When you check into a cheap hotel, it probably won’t have hot water or a Western toilet — these things are important for many travellers from the West!
So this explains why many many foreigners when they visit Indonesia for the first time head straight from Jakarta to Yogyakarta. They don’t want to visit any place that is too difficult to get to.
But it’s exactly this different way of life that makes Indonesia so interesting to me and many other travellers. Sure, you do need to be a little bit brave if you’ve never experienced any of these things before, but it ensures you learn something new every single day. And the biggest thing that you learn is that the people of Indonesia are not much different from the people anywhere else in the world. Except perhaps being happier and nicer.
When travelling Indonesia, foreign tourists can get easily interact with local people (you’ll be forced to), explore natural wonders such as volcanoes and white sand beaches, explore the wonderful street food and explore the country the same way that local people do – on buses, motorbikes, horse and cart and ferries. It’s exactly what backpacking in a new country should be about.
Indonesia is an incredible place that can be extremely confronting. But for those who are strong, it is an extremely rewarding country that is almost unknown in the travelling community. Go there.
Be patient – the most important thing about travelling in Indonesia is to stay patient. From a western mindset, there are many things that are frustrating. The first thing to do is clear your mind and look at things from a different perspective and simple calm down. Public displays of frustration are frowned upon and you’ll make no friends and no progress with whatever it is you’re trying to do.
Dress appropriately – Indonesia has so many different cultural groups with different dress styles appropriate in different areas. For example, in the conservative Muslim province of Aceh women in particular are going to have go cover up. That means long sleeves, long pants and quite possibly a head covering of some sort if you don’t want to cause any dramas. In Bali the situation changes dependent on the environment. At the beach, bikinis and bare chests for me are fine. But walking down the Main Street in a bikini is a cultural faux pas, although that doesn’t stop some people. The best advice is to dress as the people around you are doing and err on the side of modesty.
Be polite – Indonesian people have a culture of being polite to one another even under trying conditions. This means calling people the equivalent of “sir” in many situations. If in doubt, refer to men as “Pak” and women as “Ibu” and you should be ok even though the subtleties of how to address people even causes confusion amongst locals. The other people of being polite is to acknowledge people as you walk past them. Often local people will send a gesture of respect with a slight head nod and massive smile. It’s best to acknowledge this in the same way to simply show that you’re not a snob, something that no one wants to be Indonesia.
Don’t tip – it’s one of those things that is a personal choice but tipping in Indonesia is just not part of the system. Tipping rarely happens and even refusing to take your meager change from the guy who sold you your nasi goreng is going to be awkward. Just take the change and don’t pity them because you have more money than them. The last thing they want is your pity. An exception might be in a taxi when you might round ever so slightly, but again there is absolutely no expectation that you will do this.
Indohoy: See! Indonesia is awesome!! You must travel to Indonesia!!
Error: No connected account.
Please go to the Instagram Feed settings page to connect an account.