Stumble Into Indonesia's Unseen Places
Submitted by viravira on 23 June 2016 • Blog
Indonesia is a Moslem-dominated country. Hence in the Ramadan month, when most Moslems are fasting from dawn til dusk, there might be some things that could affect your travels in Indonesia. Good or bad, it would be up to your point of view. Some places aren’t affected by the fasting at all because they are dominated by non-Moslems, like Bali, North Sumatra, Maluku, North Sulawesi, Tana Toraja, Flores and Papua. But in the rest of Indonesia, here are the situations that you might experience, just for a heads up. Our 7 ramadan travel tips for those in Indonesia.
It is suggested to have a meal before starting fasting each day for health’s sake. It’s called ‘sahur’ (read: sa-hoor), which is usually done before dawn (marked by the first calling of prayer), between 3 – 4.30 a.m. Waking up at such dreamy time could be very hard, so in some places there are people volunteering to go around their neighborhood, helping to wake people up by shouting, hitting the electric pole repeatedly, even singing Islamic songs with acoustic guitar. At the least, sounds of Koran reading from the nearby mosque loudspeaker.
So if you’re a light sleeper, better prepare earplugs, unless you want to join the sahur hoo-ha and see what it’s really about.
No eating and drinking is the most obvious prohibition for those who fast. In order to respect that, many diners cover their windows with curtains. Some are closed to give their staff time for uninterrupted religious service for the whole holy month. In the last few years there has always been a commotion when Ramadan comes. Some societal organizations and state government warn, or threat is the more accurate word, those eating places that don’t close or cover with curtains, as well as Moslems who eat in public when they’re supposed to be fasting.
I’m not going to go deep on this political hassle. The point is that it might be a little more difficult for you to find lunch in some areas, like Banten, Aceh, and West Sumatra. But a lot of other areas, though Moslem-dominated, are still tolerant to those who don’t fast.
Indonesians in general are very social people. We like to gather in big or small groups just for a casual chat or serious talks, mostly over food. Iftar or fast-breaking (the evening meal when Moslems end the fasting at dusk) often becomes the reason for more gatherings, sort of like small celebrations for our fasting days. It also often becomes a chance for family gathering and reunions with school friends, which is called ‘bukber’ (short for buka bersama or iftar gathering), which include friends of any religion.
The easiest way is to do these gatherings is in a restaurant, so you might have a problem finding a nice, calm place to eat from about 5-8pm where the bukber usually takes place.
If not going for any bukber, a lot of people prefer to break their fasting at home, so they can prepare early for evening prayers. Either way, it’s busier traffic toward dusk. That is at least from what I’ve seen in several cities, like Jakarta, Bandung, and Yogyakarta.
When you’re hungry, all food will look delicious and you’ll want to devour it whenever you have the chance. So the fasting time, especially late in the afternoon when you’re the hungriest, is the best time to sell food. It is advised to consume something sweet when you’re fast-breaking to quickly regain energy, so you’ll see pop-up dessert stands in the malls or even on the sidewalks. Check out our video where Mumun takes you around Benhil Market, one of the top places in Jakarta where you can find endless stalls of Ramadan food – or the blog post on Benhil Market here.
Most Moslems would favor dates for their first bite at iftar because it’s what the Prophet Muhammad suggested to eat for the health benefit and some shot of energy. My personal favorite is the kolak pisang (sweet banana soup with coconut milk) mixed with kolang-kaling (sugar palm fruit).
Kolak pisang and es buah (sweet beverage made of diced fruits) are a few of Ramadan’s best-selling desserts, even though they are made of ingredients that you can find in any time of the year. Specifically in Makassar, pisang ijo is da bomb, while cendol, one of my favorite Indonesian beverages ever, rules in West Java.
It’s not uncommon to read news about bars and night clubs being raided or forced to close during Ramadan. These places sell alcohol and are thought as the place for a lot of immoral acts, at least to the conventional standard, so it’s bad for the holiness of Ramadan. I personally think if it’s bad for Ramadan then it’s bad for the whole year, and if you allow it in other months then why treat it differently in Ramadan? And what I don’t understand is why some bars are raided and some aren’t.
One of the best thrills of traveling is trying the local foods. To many, including me, traveling is less fun when you’re fasting. Add to that, doing all sorts of activities, such as diving or hiking, often makes you thirsty and hungry more than normal. So Indonesians don’t travel as much as usual in Ramadan.
This can be good news for you traveling in Ramadan because a lot of hotels offer discounts, sometimes up to 70%. So if you’re not fasting or fasting does not bother your activities, do take advantage of that hotel deals. Travel in Ramadan! Don’t worry, they still provide breakfast like usual.
Ticket prices usually go up, often double, in the last week of Ramadan. This is because many Indonesians go mudik or coming home on Eid-ul Fitr, which is the day right after Ramadan ends. Even after the price rises, airports, train stations, ports and bus terminals are crowded with people who want to spend the big day with their families back home. Perhaps, just like Christmas in western countries.
So those are the Ramadan situations I’ve come to know, experience and hear about, in the whole time I live in Indonesia, which is almost all my life. But Indonesia is huge with so many diversities, so there must be more Ramadan facts that I haven’t discovered yet. If you have more Ramadan travel tips, please let us know in the Comments below. Meanwhile, happy traveling!