Jakarta is the capital city, and a very odd juxtaposition of Western-influenced skyscrapers standing tall right next to shanty towns and homeless people. There is plenty to do in Jakarta, from the towering Monas monument to cosmopolitan shopping at Plaza Senayan. If you're the clubbing type, there are many nightclubs to choose from. Bring a friend if you decide to brave the seedier joints (though they tend to have the best djs).
Bali is a popular tourist destination, with surfing being the number one attraction. Though the night-club bombing of 2002 has slowed the Bali tourist industry to a crawl.
Upon arrival and disembarking from the plane, one immediately notices the sudden rush of warm, wet air. Indonesia is a hot place. It has no spring, summer, fall, or winter. It has two seasons: rainy and dry. Both are hot.
There are exceptions. In the mountains (Bogor, Bandung in Java), the temperature is quite cool and pleasant, and many people wear jackets.
Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world, though most are of a moderate leaning.
The Indonesian people, like any people, can be either friendly or rude to foreigners. 99% of the time, though, they are incredibly friendly to foreigners. They seem to go out of their way to make foreigners feel welcome.
The world's largest archipelago, Indonesia achieved independence from the Netherlands in 1949. Current issues include: alleviating widespread poverty, implementing IMF-mandated reforms of the banking sector, effecting a transition to a popularly-elected government after four decades of authoritarianism, addressing charges of cronyism and corruption, holding the military and police accountable for human rights violations, and resolving growing separatist pressures in Aceh and Irian Jaya.
On 30 August 1999 a provincial referendum for independence was overwhelmingly approved by the people of Timor Timur. 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.
Starting in February 2004 most nationalities now require a visa, issued on arrival at major entry points at a cost of US$10 for 3 days, US$25 for 10 days. Exact change in dollars is recommended as corrupt immigration officers may absorb the difference as a tip and/or offer very poor exchange rates. Obtaining a visa in advance for the same price is also possible and will allow you to skip some lines on entry.
Travel to Indonesia from America costs around 1000 bucks or so. Most flights stop in Taipei before arriving in Jakarta. The main international airports are Soekarno-Hatta Airport (CGK) at Cengkareng, Jakarta and Denpasar (DPS) on Bali.
There are some ferry connections from neighboring countries, notably from Singapore to the Riau islands of Bintan and Batam, from peninsular Malaysia to Sumatra, and between the Malaysian and Indonesian sides of Borneo.
The only rapid means of long-distance travel within Indonesia is the plane. The two largest domestic carrier are Garuda and Merpati, although low-cost carrier Lion Air and a host of imitators are snapping at their heels. Prices are low by international standard, but steep compared to ferries, and the safety record of the smaller companies is dubious.
Indonesia is all islands and consequently ferries have long been the most popular means of interisland travel. The largest company is PELNI, which visits practically every inhabited island in Indonesia. Schedules are notional and creature comforts sparse.
Many Indonesians speak English, though the Indonesian language (Bahasa Indonesia) isn't hard to learn. 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.
While Bahasa Indonesia is the lingua franca, there are thousands of local languages as well.
Speaking of cheap stuff, Indonesia's currency is in pretty poor shape. 1 US dollar is equal to about 8000Rp. This will buy you a decent meal at many restaurants, maybe 3 miles in a taxi (take any bluebird or post-2000 make cars), 2 packs of cigarettes, 3 bottled waters, and maybe a bicycle. Just kidding. But seriously, US dollars convert quite well over there. Even if you flip burgers for a living, go to Indonesia, and you'll live like a king.
Indonesian food can be spicy, but very delicious. Don't leave without sampling "sayur asem" soup, the grilled corn of Bandung, the many fish dishes, chicken satay, or the traditional "nasi kuning" yellow rice. If you have a stomach of steel, try the street-side "warungs" of fried rice, noodles, porridge and other adventures. But if your stomach isn't well-armored, it'd be best to stick to the more sanitary establishments.
Islam is the religion of the majority of Indonesians (other officially recognized religions being Hinduism, Protestantism, Catholicism and Buddhism; yes, Protestantism and Catholicism are considered separate! This is actually a relic from the Dutch colonial era), but alcohol is widely available in most areas, especially in upscale restaurants and bars. Public displays of drunkenness, however, are strongly frowned upon (and are likely to make you a victim of crime).
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.
Petty crime like pickpocketing is common in Indonesia. Guard your belongings carefully and consider carrying a money clip instead of a wallet. However, thanks to gun control laws violent crime is rare.
Indonesia is one of the world's most corrupt countries. Officials may ask for bribes, tips or "gifts" to supplement their meager salaries; pretending you do not understand may work. Generally, being polite, smiling, asking for an official reciept for any 'fees' you are asked to pay, more politeness, more smiling, will avoid any problems.
Civil strife and terrorism
Indonesia has a number of provinces where separatist movements have resorted to armed struggles, notably Aceh, West Papua and the Maluku (Molucca) islands. The Indonesian military have also been known to employ violent measures to control or disperse protesting crowds. Some terrorist bombings have also taken place. While most tourist destinations are safe, some other places are not. 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, tourists should remain aware of their surroundings and unusual or unexpected situations.
The local Indonesian healthcare 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 no different to a western facility, serious and critical medical emergencies will stretch the system to the limit. Travel health insurance that includes medical transport back to a home country is highly recommended.
In more remote regions of the country malaria prophylaxis is strongly recommended.