Indonesia

Pura Ulun Danu by CC user dielis on Flickr

Introduction

Indonesia is a vast ocean nation, consisting of approximately 18,000 islands, totaling about 108,000 kilometres of coastline, much of it pristine beaches just begging to be discovered.  The nature gets even more impressive when you look inland from the coast, as this nation straddles the notorious Ring of Fire, an enormous tectonic zone spanning the Pacific.  This has festooned it with over 400 volcanoes, 140 of which are still active, making for ample opportunities for trekking and mountaineering.

It is also a cultural mixing pot; while Indonesia is officially an Islamic country (upwards of 88%), throughout the islands, there are significant pockets of Hinduism (Bali), Christianity (pockets in the Eastern islands, as well as North Sumatra) and Buddhism (among Chinese in the larger cities).  Despite the overwhelming influence of Islam, Indonesia is ruled as a secular nation, with freedom to one’s own religion (or lack thereof) upheld, and activities such as the sale of alcohol allowed, provided that they are not sold to Muslims.

Above all else, the most important point to realize before heading to this massive country of 240 million people: from West Sumatra to the isolated Eastern province of Papua is an unimaginable expanse of 4,500 kilometres, or roughly the distance from New York City to San Francisco.  It is vital you decide of what sector of the nation you wish to explore before setting out, or you risk disappointment and/or burnout from trying to see every highlight this bountiful nation has to offer.

Once you clear that hurdle, get ready to be surprised time and again by Southeast Asia’s dark horse: from volcanoes to temples to blinding white sand beaches, every day you spend in this country has the potential to be the highlight of your trip!

Currency: Indonesian Rupiah

Languages: Bahasa Indonesia

Mount Bromo, Java, Indonesia by CC user saramarlowe on Flickr

What To Do

The most visited part of Indonesia is the Hindu-dominated island of Bali by a mile, so we’ll start our coverage of Indonesia by detailing the stand-out activities here.  Bali has been long made famous by legions of surfers riding the breakers that kick up on the shores of Kuta.  As such, you can take surf lessons from countless schools set up on the fine sands of the long beach that fronts this famous party town.

After darkness falls, sample the legendary nightlife that has long attracted Westerners to these shores. Be sure to check out the Skygarden complex for free food and booze specials, especially from the clubs upstairs.

After you have got the party bug out of your system, head inland to Ubud for some detox time in the countless spas and yoga/mediation retreats centred here.  After you have recovered sufficiently, enjoy the scenery of the mountains and the neon green rice paddies, then stroll into one of the numerous art galleries that line the main street … after seeing the natural setting that they work off for inspiration, you will understand why this is such an amazing centre for the arts!

Culture vultures should not leave Bali without paying a visit to picture perfect Pura Ulun Danu Bratan Temple.  Gracing the desktop backgrounds of the computers of countless people throughout the world, this temple with multiple tiers on its unique roof honours the goddess of the lake, Ida Batara Dewi Ulun Danu.  Even if the theological idiosyncrasies don’t interest you, the outstanding beauty of this spot makes this place worth a visit regardless.

Gili Island in Indonesia by CC user skyseeker on Flickr

Those looking for less of a touristy experience and more of a backpacker scene should board a ferry boat from Bali and make for the Gili Islands.  Of the three islands that comprise this chain, Gili Trawangan is by far the most popular, and boasts the most notorious parties of them all. Gili Air is more appropriate for families and couples, while those looking for peace and quiet, and more rustic facilities should choose Gili Meno.  All three are ringed with envy-inducing white sand and deep blue green waters that feel like a lukewarm bath, so as long as you choose with your nighttime priorities in mind, you cannot really go wrong here.

Looking to scale a volcano?  Then the main island of Java should be your destination.  After battling Jakarta traffic to get out of the city, head for Bromo – Tengger – Semeru National Park, home to one of Indonesia’s most active volcanoes, Mount Bromo.  This doesn’t stop would be mountaineers, which scale this ominous, perpetually steaming behemoth even as it rumbles and heats your soles up as you near the top.

Those looking to scope out a volcano without risking their life should check out an extinct volcano instead.  In Sumatra in Western Indonesia, Lake Toba was formed by a massive volcanic eruption 70,000 years ago, making nearby Krakatoa’s blast 200 years ago seem like an insignificant toot.  Besides the significant natural beauty of the lake, there are many opportunities for jungle trekking in the area, as well as natural hot springs for those looking to pamper themselves.

Nasi Babi Guling by CC user kudumomo on Flickr

What To Eat

Indonesia is a vast country spanning many micro-cultures, so pinning down a true national dish is next to impossible.  There is a wide selection of dishes from across the region, so we’ll talk about what you’ll likely find a lot by region.  In Bali, where there is a large population of Hindu and other non-Muslim citizens, Babi Guling (roast pig) is popular, while in Java, Nasi Liwet is well-liked, as it is a rice dish cooked in coconut milk with papaya, garlic and shallots, served up with chicken and a fried egg.  Meanwhile in Sumatra, beef or buffalo rendang is the common choice, cooked with coconut milk and a mixture of spices that varies from town to town.

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