Difference between revisions of "Indonesia"
Revision as of 11:17, 4 August 2006
Indonesia is a large archipelago in Southeast Asia that straddles the Equator between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. While it has land borders with Malaysia to the north as well as East Timor and Papua New Guinea to the east, it also neighbors Australia to the south, and Palau, the Philippines, Vietnam, Singapore, and Thailand to the north.
Indonesia is almost unimaginably vast. Provinces are usually grouped under main big islands and their surroundings, as listed below:
Sumatra — wild and rugged, the 6th largest island in the world has a great natural wealth.
Java — the country's heartland, big cities and a lot of people packed on a not-so-big island.
Sulawesi — strangely shaped, this island houses a diversity of societies and some spectacular scenery.
Nusa Tenggara (Lesser Sunda Islands) — The "Southeast Islands" contain scores of ethnic groups, languages and religions.
Maluku (Moluccas) — the historic Spice Islands, largely unexplored and almost unknown to the outside world.
Irian Jaya — 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.
Major tourist destinations
Indonesia is the sleeping giant of Southeast Asia. With 17,000 islands, 6,000 of them inhabited, it is the largest archipelago in the world. With well over 200 million people, Indonesia is by far the largest country by population in Southeast Asia. Indonesia also has the largest Muslim population in the world.
The Indonesian people, like any people, can be either friendly or rude to foreigners. Most of the time, though, they are incredibly friendly to foreigners, particularly Caucasians (bule) who make it off the beaten track.
The early history of Indonesia is the story of dozens of kingdoms and civilizations floureshing and fading 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 the Malay Peninsula.
The first Europeans to arrive were the Portuguese, who were given the 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 colonialization.
Spurred on the Japanese conquest of the islands in World War II, Indonesia's founding father Sukarno declared independence from the Netherlands on 17 August 1945, although it took four years of fighting until the Dutch accepted this on December 27, 1949. Irian Jaya, which had declared independence on 1961 with Dutch support, was arm-twisted into "voluntarily" joining Indonesia in 1969 and East Timor was annexed outright in 1975.
Meanwhile, Sukarno had led the country with an authoritarian style of "Guided Democracy", founding the Non-Aligned Movement in Bandung in 1955. However, Sukarno was seen to align more and more with the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) , and in a mysterious incident on September 30, 1965 six senior army generals were murdered. Major General Suharto used this as a pretext to seize power, 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).
The next 32 years saw Indonesia enjoy 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.
After decades of civil war, on 30 August 1999, a provincial referendum for independence was overwhelmingly approved by the people of East Timor. Concurrence followed by Indonesia's national legislature, and the name East Timor was provisionally adopted. On 20 May 2002, East Timor was internationally recognized as an independent state.
Current issues include alleviating widespread poverty, reducing corruption, collusion and nepotism (KKN), reforming the judiciary and increasing the efficiency of the bureaucracy. The Indonesian economy has been improving, encouraged by new mildly reformist president Susilo Bambang Yudoyono.
Despite 50 years of promoting Bhinneka Tunggal Ika ("Unity in Diversity") as the official state motto, the concept of an "Indonesian" remains artificial and the country's citizens divide themselves along a vast slew of ethnicities, clans, tribes and even castes. If this wasn't enough, religious differences add a volatile ingredient to the mix and the vast gaps in wealth create a class society as well. On a purely numerical scale, the largest ethnic groups are the Javanese (45%) of central and eastern Java, the Sundanese (14%) from western Java, the Madurese (7.5%) from the island of Madura, and Coastal Malays (7.5%), mostly from Sumatra. This leaves 26% for the Acehnese and Minangkabau of Sumatra, the Balinese, the Iban and Dayaks of Kalimantan, and a bewildering patchwork of groups in Nusa Tenggara and Papua — the official total is no less than 3000!
One particularly notable ethnic group found throughout the country is the Indonesian Chinese, known as Tionghoa or the somewhat derogatory Cina. At an estimated 6-7 million they make up just 3% of the population but continue to wield a disproportionate influence in the economy, with one famous — if largely discredited — study of companies on the Jakarta Stock Exchange concluding that as many as 70% of its companies (and, by extension, the country) were controlled by Chinese. They have thus been subject to persecution, with all Chinese forcibly relocated into urban areas in the 1960s, forced to adopt Indonesian names and bans imposed on teaching Chinese and displaying Chinese characters. Anti-Chinese pogroms have also take place, notably in the 1965-66 anti-Communist purges after Suharto's coup and again in 1998 after his downfall, when an estimated 1,500 Chinese were killed in riots in Jakarta. However, the post-Reformasi governments have overturned most of the discriminatory legislation, and Chinese writing and Chinese festivals have made a tentative reappearance.
There is no one unified Indonesian culture as such, but the Hindu culture of the former Majapahit empire does provide a framework for the cultural traditions of the central islands of Sumatra, Java and Bali. Perhaps the most distinctively "Indonesian" arts are wayang kulit shadow puppetry, where intricately detailed cutouts act out scenes from the Mahabharata and Ramayana, and its accompaniment the gamelan orchestra, whose incredibly complex metallic rhythms are the obligatory backdrop to both religious ceremonies and traditional entertainment. Some Malay influences are also common, notably batik cloth and kris daggers, and Arabic culture has also been adopted to some degree thanks to Islam.
Modern-day Indonesian popular culture is largely dominated by the largest ethnic group, the Javanese. Suharto's ban on Western imports like rock'n'roll, while long since repealed, led to the development of indigenous forms of music like dangdut, a sultry form of pop developed in the 1970s, and the televised pelvic thrusts of starlet Inul Daratista in 2003 were nearly as controversial as Elvis once was. Indonesian literature has yet to make much way on the world stage, with torch-bearer Pramoedya Ananta Toer's works long banned in his own homeland, but the post-Suharto era has seen a small boom with Ayu Utami's Saman breaking both taboos and sales records.
With 82-88% of the population depending on who you ask, Islam is by far the largest religion in Indonesia, making Indonesia the largest Muslim-majority state in the world. Indonesia's brand of Islam is generally quite tolerant and in larger cities headscarves and such visible manifestations of faith are exceptions rather than the rule, although the countryside and the devout state of Aceh can be considerably stricter.
The other state-sanctioned religions are Protestantism (5%), Roman Catholicism (3%), Hinduism (2%) and Buddhism (1%). Hindus are concentrated on Bali, while Christians are found mostly in Sulawesi and East Nusa Tenggara. There are also pockets of animism throughout the country, and many strict Muslims decry the casual Javanese incorporation of animistic rites into the practices of notionally Islamic believers.
Multicultural Indonesia celebrates a vast range of holidays and festivals, but many are limited to small areas (eg. the Hindu festivals of Bali).
The ones to look out for nationwide are Islamic holidays, most notably the fasting month of Ramadhan. During its 30 days, devout Muslims refrain from passing anything through their lips (food, drink, smoke) between sunrise and sunset. People get up early to stuff themselves before sunrise (sahur), go to work late if at all, and take off early to get back home in time to break fast (buka puasa) at sunset.
At the end of the month is the festival of Idul Fitri, also known as Lebaran, when pretty much the entire country takes a week or two off to head back home to visit family; this is the one time of year when Jakarta has no traffic jams, but the rest of the country does, with all forms of transport packed to the gills. All government offices (including embassies) and many businesses close for a week or even two, and traveling around Indonesia is best avoided if at all possible.
Non-Muslims, as well as Muslims travelling (musafir), are exempt from fasting but it is polite to refrain from eating or drinking in public. Many restaurants close during the day and those that stay open maintain a low profile. Bars and other entertainment places either have their opening hours cut, stop selling alcohol or even close entirely. Business travellers will notice that things move at an even more glacial pace than usual and, especially towards the end of the month, many people will take leave.
Christmas (Hari Natal) on December 25, the Western New Year (Tahun Baru) on January 1st and Chinese New Year (Imlek) around February-March are also nationwide public holidays.
Upon arrival and disembarking from the plane, one immediately notices the sudden rush of warm, wet 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 reason is November to March. In highland cities such as Bandung in Java, the temperature is somewhat cooler and many people from outside these cities are wearing jackets.
Since the country is very large, Indonesia is divided into three time zones:
GMT +7: Western Indonesian Time (WIB, Waktu Indonesia Barat)
GMT +8: Central Indonesian Time (WITA, Waktu Indonesia Tengah)
GMT +9: Eastern Indonesian Time (WIT, Waktu Indonesia Timur)
The visa requirements for Indonesia can get complicated and not all Indonesian embassies or consulates may be able to help with the latest information. The following information was obtained from the Indonesian Embassy in London website, which seems to be the most comprehensive.
One peculiarity to note is that visa-free and visa-on-arrival visitors must enter Indonesia via specific ports of entry. Entry via other ports of entry would require a visa regardless of whether you are a visa-free or visa-on-arrival national or otherwise.
However, do check with your local or the nearest Indonesian diplomatic mission to your point of departure anyway (with fingers crossed and lots of smiles) to get the latest requirements.
Nationals of Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Philippine, Hong Kong SAR, Macao SAR, Chile, Morocco, Peru and Vietnam are given visa-free entry facility for maximum of 30 days. They cannot entend their stay and cannot convert their visa-free status to any other visa status.
Visa-free entries are only permitted via the following ports of entry:
Visa on arrival
A visa-on-arrival is issued to nationals of
Australia, Argentine, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, People's Republic of China, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Luxembourg, Malawi, New Zealand, Norway, Oman, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Switzerland, Sweden (a new addition, you may have to insist), Taiwan, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States of America,
Visa-on-arrival are only available at the following:
Note the slight difference between the visa-free and visa-on-arrival lists and the absence of Entikong for visa-on-arrival visitors.
Visa on arrival fees: As of September 2005, visa on arrival fees are US$10.00 for a stay up to 7 days, and US $25.00 for a stay up to 30 days. Exact change in dollars is recommended, rupiah equivalent also accepted. meanwhile they accept a number of currencies - incl. hong kong dollars. Coins are not accepted and change is given in rupiah. Credit cards are accepted (in Bali, at least).
How to get visa on arrival: At the above airports/seaports, the following procedure should be followed to get your visa on arrival.
As always, there may be variations to this layout, especially at the smaller points of entry. Bank and visa counters may be placed together. Anyhow, your visa must be applied for before you reach the immigration counter.
Visa before arrival
Nationals of countries not listed above, and visitors wishing to stay for more than 30 days are required to apply for visas through the nearest Indonesian Embassy or consulate. Single-entry visas are valid for 60 days and fairly routine if pricy at US$60, but multiple-entry visas (quite convenient esp. for visiting East Timor) are generally difficult to obtain and very expensive at US$200. Visa applications will usually take at least one week to be processed.
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; Pekanbaru in Sumatra with flights to/from Malacca, Malaysia and Singapore; Padang in Sumatra with flights from Kuala Lumpur, 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.
Travel to Indonesia from America costs around US$1000. Many flights stop in Hong Kong, Seoul, Taipei or Singapore before arriving in Jakarta. Indonesia's Garuda provides links to Asian, Australian and European destinations.
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.
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 Malaysia
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, Malaysia
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:
Note: It is not guaranteed that yo 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 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 Adam Air, 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 both Lion Air and Mandala suffering fatal crashes in recent years. Then again, 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.
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.
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 and creature comforts sparse.
PT Kereta Api 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.
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.
Trains are generally a safe way of travel in Indonesia, especially in the better air-conditioned eksekutif class. Bisnis and ekonomi classes are also available for the more budget-conscious traveler, but comfort and safety are noticeably less (due to congestion, crime 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.
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.
Indonesian driving habits are generally atrocious. Lanes are happily ignored and driving on the road shoulder is common. Please concentrate and be careful with public transportation and busses because they usually suddenly stop without notice. It is also common that pedestrians suddenly cross the road outside pedestrian crossing. To many Indonesian drivers, the police (except in Central Jakarta) is seen as a nuisance as they often stop people and give them ticket for no clear reason.
That said, renting a car in Indonesia is cheap compared to renting in other country, and despite recent fare hikes gas remains cheap (under Rp 5000 per liter). 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.
In Jakarta, lots of tricycle-taxis, called bajaj (BAH-jai) are running on the streets and originally imported from India. 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.
The bajaj is exclusive to Jakarta, you won't find it in any other city. The city government has started a program to replace the old, cramped, pollution-belching type with slightly more spacious gas-powered models.
Becak ("BEH-chak") 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.
If you're in such a hurry that you're willing to lose a limb to get there, 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.
The sole official language is Indonesian, known as Bahasa Indonesia. It's based on the dialect of Malay spoken in the Riau Islands and Malay speakers will pick it up very quickly, the main differences being in loanwords — Indonesian borrowed from Dutch, while Malay's loans are mostly from English.
Written phonetically with the Latin alphabet and with a fairly logical grammar, Indonesian is generally regarded as one of the easiest languages to learn, and A.M. Almatsier's The Easy Way to Master the Indonesian Language, a 200 page small paperback, is an excellent starting point. It can be found in any Indonesian bookstore for less than 3 dollars.
The language went through a series of spelling reforms in the 1950s and 60s to smoothe over differences with Malay and expunge its Dutch roots. Although the reforms are long complete, you may still see old signs with dj for j, j for y, or oe for u.
Many educated Indonesians understand and are able to speak English. While Indonesian is the lingua franca throughout the archipelago, there are thousands of local languages as well, and if you really get off the beaten track you may have to learn them as well.
Indonesia's currency is the rupiah (IDR), abbreviated Rp. The rupiah's value plummeted during the 1997 economic crisis and has slowly drifted downward ever since, and as of 2006 you need more than Rp 9,000 to buy one US dollar. 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 Rp 100,000, which may only be US$10 but is still inconveniently large for most purchases. Next in the series are Rp 50,000, Rp 20,000, Rp 10,000, Rp 5,000 and finally Rp 1,000. Bill size is the easiest way to distinguish them, as the designs — all pale pastel shades of yellow, green and brown — are confusingly similar and the smaller bills in particular are often filthy and mangled. (The new 2004-2005 series of notes has, however, corrected this to some extent.) 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 plasticky aluminum coins, available in denominations of Rp 500, Rp 200, Rp 100, Rp 50 and the thoroughly useless Rp 25. Older golden metallic versions are also still floating around, and you may occasionally even run into a sub-1000 banknote. Bills printed in 1992 or earlier are no longer in circulation, but can be exchanged at banks.
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.
Changing money in Indonesia can be a major headache. Banks and money exchangers are widely available on Java, Bali and Lombok and sparse on other islands. It is advised you load up with rupiah before heading off to any outer islands. Money exchangers are very picky about bill condition, pre-1999 bills or imperfect bills (ripped, wrinkled, stained, etc) will often be rejected. Banks frequently won't change any 1996 dollars. Counterfeit US dollars are 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 2001 or later and the exchange rate drops for 1999 and 1996 dollars. 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 frequently offer drastically reduced exchange rates of 10-20% or more!!!
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.
ATMs are common in the larger cities on the islands of Java, Bali and Lombok and are generally reliable. They are non-existant on most other islands.
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 (~$1) will get you a meal on the street, two packets of kretek cigarettes, three kilometers in a taxi or three bottles of water. But as a tourist it's absolutely necessary to chaffer a minimum of 50%-70% off the initial price, otherwise you will spend your money quick.
Fancy restaurants, hotels and the like will often slap on a 10% service charge plus 6-11% tax. This may be denoted with "++" after the price or just written in tiny print on the bottom of the menu.
With 17,000 islands to choose from, Indonesian food is an umbrella term covering a vast variety of cuisines, 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. All too many backpackers seem to fall into a rut of eating nothing but nasi goreng (fried rice), but there are much more interesting options lurking about if you're adventurous and take the trouble to seek it out. Local flavors do tend to be rather more simple than those in Malaysia or Thailand though, the predominant flavorings being peanuts and chillies, and the Javanese like their food rather sweet.
The main staple is rice (nasi), served up in many forms including:
Noodles (mi or mie) come in a good 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 500 and some stalls will boil or fry them up for you for as little as 1000 Rp.
Soups (soto) and watery curries are also common:
Popular main dishes include:
Chillies (cabe or lombok) are made into a vast variety of sauces and dips known as sambal. The simplest and perhaps most common is sambal ulek, which is just chillies and salt with perhaps a dash of lime pounded together. There are many other kinds of sambal like sambal pecel (with peanut), sambal terasi (with shrimp paste), sambal tumpeng, etc. Many of these can be very spicy indeed, so be careful if you're asked whether you would like your dish pedas (spicy)!
Crackers known as keropok (or krupuk, it's the same word spelled differently) accompany almost every meal and are a traditional snack too. They can be made from almost any grain, fruit, vegetable or seed imaginable, including many never seen outside Indonesia, but perhaps the most common is the light pink keropok udang, made with dried shrimp.
If you are daring enough to try the spiciest and even outlandish local foods, look for Batak eateries (Lapo) and Menadonese eateries. These two ethnicities have a different way of cooking than the standard Javanese and Padang style. Very hot and spicy, with unusual ingredients like wild boar, pork cooked in blood, dog and bat meat. Since they usually cook with pork fat, tamed Muslim-friendly versions are availables in malls and food courts, but it's worth it to seek out the real thing.
While Indonesians happily eat anything that walks, crawls, flies or swims, vegetarians will be happy to know that tofu (tahu) and its chunkier, indigenous cousin tempeh are also an essential part of the diet. Vegetarianism as such is, however, poorly understood and avoiding fish and shrimp-based condiments is a challenge.
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 traditional cakes and pastries, all colorful, sweet, and usually a little bland, with coconut, rice flour and sugar being the main ingredients. Es teler, ice mixed with fruits and topped with coconut cream or condensed milk, comes in infinite variations and is a popular choice on a hot day.
Perhaps the cheapest, tastiest and healthiest option, though, is to buy some fresh fruit, which is available throughout the year, although individual fruits do have seasons. Popular options include mango (mangga), papaya (papaya), banana (pisang), starfruit (belimbing) and guava (jambu), but more exotic options you're unlikely to see outside Indonesia include the scaly-skinned crisp snakefruit (salak) and the alien-looking local passionfruit (markisa).
Eating by hand
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 a little ball of rice, 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 bathroom. Don't stick either hand into communal serving dishes: instead, use the left hand to serve yourself with utensils and then dig in. Needless to say, it's wise to wash your hands well before and after eating.
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.
Eating on the cheap in Indonesia is cheap indeed, and a complete streetside meal can be had for under US$1 (Rp 10,000). 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 patronize only visibly popular establishments.
The fastest way to grab a bite is to visit a kaki lima, literally "five feet". Depending on who 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 and porridge. At night a kaki lima can turn into a lesehan simply by providing some bamboo mats for customers to sit on and chat.
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.
Rather more comfortable is the rumah makan or eating house, a simple restaurant more often than not specializing 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.
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 food. Major local chains include EsTeler 77, best known for its iced fruit desserts (es teler) but also selling baso, nasi goreng and other Indonesian staples, and Hoka Hoka Bento, for localized Japanese fare. KFC, McDonalds, Pizza Hut and the usual suspects plus copies thereof are also abundant in large cities, but peter out once you go east of Lombok.
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.
Tap water is generally not potable in Indonesia (unless boiled), but bottled water is available everywhere. Also beware of ice which may not have been prepared or transported.
Fruit juices — jus for plain juice or es if served with ice — are popular with Indonesians and visitors alike, although the hygiene of the water used to make them can be dubious. In addition to the usual suspects, try jus alpokat, a surprisingly tasty drink made from avocadoes, often with some chocolate syrup poured in!
Coffee and tea
Indonesians drink both coffee (kopi) and tea (teh), at least as long as they have had vast quantities of sugar added in. The Coke-like glass bottles of the Tehbotol brand of sweet bottled tea are ubiquitous. Last and least, no travel guide would be complete without mentioning the infamous kopi luwak, coffee made from beans which have been eaten, partially digested and excreted by the palm civet (luwak), but even in Indonesia this is an exotic delicacy.
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.
Indonesia's most popular tipple is Bintang beer (bir), 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 upward of Rp 5,000 in a supermarket and as much as Rp 50,000 in a fancy bar.
Local spirits include tuak, sugar palm wine (15%), arak, which is the distilled version of tuak and brem, Balinese-style sweet glutinous rice wine.
Indonesians smoke like chimneys and the concept of "no smoking", much less "second-hand smoke", has yet to make much headway in the country. Normal Western-style cigarettes are known as rokok putih ("white smokes"), but the smoke of choice with a 92% market share is the ubiquitous kretek, a clove-laced cigarette that has become almost a national symbol, and whose scent you will likely first encounter the moment you step out of the plane into the airport. The main brands are Djarum, Gudang Garam and Sampoerna, and a pack of decent kretek will cost you on the order of Rp 6000. Note that the cheapest brands don't have filters!
Kretek are lower in nicotine but higher in tar than normal cigarettes. Most studies indicate that the overall health effect is roughly the same, but obviously they're not exactly good for you either and, combined with pollution, go a long way to explain why every other city resident seems to have a persistent cough.
In Indonesia, salaries vary from US$70/month - US$1500/month for the local people. The sales clerks that you see at luxurious shopping malls like Plaza Indonesia earns between US$60 - US$80. This is very small even for the Indonesians. Many adults above 20 stay with their parents to save money. Those who don't stay with their parents and earn less than US$200 usually have a second job.
Expats usually earn higher salaries. An English teacher could make between Rp. 7,500,000 - Rp. 8,000,000 (US$800 - US$850) and that is considered high by the local standard.
Petty crime like pickpocketing is common in Indonesia. However, violent crime is rare. 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 term is uang kopi, literally "coffee 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 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 driver is stopped, any fine or bribe is not your problem and it's best not to get involved.
Civil strife and terrorism
Indonesia has a number of provinces where separatist movements have resorted to armed struggles, notably Aceh and Indonesian Papua. In addition, secretarian strife between Muslims and Christians, as well as between the indigenous population and Javanese transmigrants, continues to occur in the Maluku (Molucca) islands, central parts of Sulawesi and some areas of Kalimantan. The Indonesian military have also been known to employ violent measures to control or disperse protesting crowds. However, you're unlikely to stumble into these by accident, as travel permits (surat jalan) are required for entering the hotspots.
Some terrorist bombings targeting Western interests have also taken place in Bali and Jakarta. Since the Bali bombing in 2002, the Indonesian police have accepted assistance from Australia and the American FBI in strengthening their anti-terrorism and internal security measures. However, especially after 2005 bombings, tourists should remain aware of their surroundings and unusual or unexpected situations. It is wise avoid any nightclub 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 dele 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.
In more remote regions of the country malaria prophylaxis is strongly recommended. Also make sure your vaccinations are up to date; hepatitis is not uncommon and 2005 even saw a resurgence of polio in west Java.
By and large (hawkers and touts don't count), Indonesians are a polite people and adopting a few local conventions will go a long way to smooth your stay.
One general tip for getting by in Indonesia is that saving face is extremely important in Indonesian culture. If you should get into a dispute with a vendor, government official etc, forget trying to argue or 'win'. Better results will be gained by remaining polite and humble at all times, never raising your voice, and smiling, asking the person to help you find a solution to the problem. Rarely, if ever, is it appropriate to try to blame, or accuse.
When meeting someone, be it for the first time ever or just the first time that day, it is common to shake hands — but in Indonesia this is no knuckle-crusher, just a light touching of the palms, often followed by bringing your hand to your heart. Meetings often start and end with everybody shaking hands with everybody! However, don't try to shake hands with a Muslim woman unless she offers her hand first. It is respectful to bend slightly (not a complete bow) when greeting someone older or in a position of authority.
Never use your left hand for anything! It is considered very rude. This is especially true when you are shaking hands or handing something to someone. It can be hard to get used to, especially if you are left handed. However, sometimes special greetings are given with both hands.
Polite forms of address for men are Pak (short for bapak, "father") and for women Bu (short for ibu, "mother"). The Javanese terms mas ("older brother") and mbak ("older sister") are also heard, but best reserved for equals, not superiors.
Remove your shoes or sandals outside before entering a house, unless the owner explicitly allows you to keep them on. Even then, it might be more polite to remove your shoes. Do not put your feet up while sitting and try not to show the bottom of your feet to someone, it is considered rude. Don't walk in front of people, instead walk behind them.
Do not stand or sit with your arms crossed or on your hips. This is a sign of anger or hostility. If a guest, it is not polite to finish any drink all the way to the bottom of the glass. This indicates that you would like more. Instead, leave about a half of an inch/2cm in the bottom of your glass and someone will most likely ask you if you would like more.
And if all this seems terribly complex, don't worry about it too much — Indonesians are an easygoing bunch and don't expect foreigners to know or understand intricacies of etiquette.
Keeping in touch with the outside world from Indonesia is rarely a problem, at least if you stay anywhere close to the beaten track.
As getting a fixed line remains an unaffordable luxury for many Indonesians, wartel (short for warung telekomunikasi) can be found on most every street in Indonesia.
The Indonesian mobile phone market is heavily competed and prices are low: you can pick up a prepaid SIM card for less than Rp 20,000 and calls may cost as little as Rp 1,000 a minute (subject to the usual host of restrictions). Indonesia is also the world's largest market for used phones and basic models start from Rp 250,000. The largest operators are Telkomsel (brand simPATI), Indosat (brands Matrix, Mentari, IM3) and Excelcomindo (brands Jempol, Bebas).
Most Indonesian operators use GSM, but beware of the few offering CDMA phones: they are slightly cheaper, but generally not usable outside major cities. Be sure to double-check when buying!
The modern-day version of the wartel is the warnet, which feature Internet-connected PCs as well, and many shops now do double duty. Prices vary considerably, and as usual you tend to get what you pay for, but you'll usually be looking at around Rp 5,000 per hour.
Telephone directories and information services
Other information services
Here is a list of emergency numbers in Indonesia (please note that while these numbers are accessible for free from all non-mobile telephones, they may not be accessible from mobile phones [for mobile phones, you'd better use international mobile phones emergency number, 112]) :
Links to useful telephone numbers
Here is a few links to list of useful telephone numbers: