Indonesia – The Ultimate Guide
I am so excited! I’m going to Bali next week! That’s right! Bali in Indonesia!
Curious to know more about the country I’ll be visiting soon, I decided to research and find out more. And today, I’m happy to share what I’ve learned here with you!
Indonesia is not new to me actually. I’ve been to Jakarta, Batam and Bintan before. All three cities, and Bali are part of this world’s largest island country. Batam, Bintan and Bali are three of the seventeen thousand islands that are part of Indonesia.
During June this year, I was in Kuching. An interesting titbit is that Kuching is part of East Malaysia, and they share land border with Indonesia on the large island known as Borneo. Imagine that! I was so close to Indonesia back then. Also, sharing land borders with Indonesia are Papua New Guinea and East Timor.
I have also found out that Indonesia has vast areas of wilderness that supports a high level of biodiversity. If you are into nature vacations, this will appeal to you. There is a section further down this article with more information about this.
To my surprise, Indonesia has abundant natural resources like oil, natural gas, coal, tin, copper, gold and nickel. Imagine that! Oil and gold! Surely this must be a rich country? They also have agriculture that produces rice, palm oil, tea, coffee, cacao, medicinal plants, spices and rubber.
Now that I read about coffee and cacao, I do remember coffee from Sumatra being served at some coffee places in Singapore. I went to one at Frankel Avenue. The coffee was a little too sour for my taste.
Where is Indonesia?
As a Singaporean, I am very well aware that Indonesia are on the East, West, and South of my country. To the north is Malaysia. Here is a map showing the location of Indonesia.
Just like Singapore, Indonesia is situated near and along the equator. It is not only the largest island country in the world. It also boasts around 17,504 islands that are scattered on the equator as well as above and below it.
The largest islands are largest are Java, Sumatra, Borneo (shared with Brunei and Malaysia), Sulawesi, and New Guinea (shared with Papua New Guinea). These islands are spread out in the Indian and Pacific oceans.
What are the Races, Culture & Religion in Indonesia?
What are the Races in Indonesia?
When I last visited Batam, I met some local people. All are Muslims. So it was no surprise to me when I found out in my research that the over 261 million people in Indonesia are mostly Muslims.
I also found out that 58% of the population lives in Java. No wonder at least 2 of the 3 people I met in Batam told me they are Javanese. This makes Java the most populous island in the world.
Still, Indonesia is ethnically diverse. There are around 300 distinct native ethnic groups.
What is Indonesian Culture?
The history of Indonesia is so fascinating. Last year, there was an exhibition about Indonesia in one of the museums in Singapore. When I visited the show, I learned that the country has more than two millennium of influence from the Indian subcontinent, mainland China, the Middle East, and Europe.
This is so interesting. And makes the Indonesia culture so fascinating. Now, I understand better how the culture came about due to influences from so many sources. It must also be noted that the Austronesian people have historically contributed to shaping the culture, too.
Today, the modern day Indonesia has multicultural, multilingual and multi-ethnic society.
Interesting Fun Fact – Indonesia has won the UNESCO’s intangible Cultural Heritage for wayang puppet theatre, batik, angklung, and three genres of traditional Balinese dance.
What are the Religions in Indonesia?
In the past, I did hear and read articles about religious activities in Indonesia. And I noticed that most of them are about Islam, and the Muslims. But this is not to say that the country does not have religious freedom.
The government recognizes Islam, Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism. The religions of the indigenous people are partly acknowledged.
What is the Common Language Spoken in Indonesia?
Having met a few Indonesians and even making friends with them, I have observed that when Indonesians meet, they would converse in Indonesian. This is a variant of the Malay language. I love listening to foreign languages. And when my friends converse in Indonesian, and when I happen to be present, I love listening to how they talk.
Another thing I learned from my friends is that there are many local languages. For example, Javanese. And there are more than 700 local languages.
For instance, I have a Javanese friend who would speak Indonesian when he encounters another Indonesian. And when they discover they are both Javanese, they would continue their conversation in Javanese. Or so he told me. haha
What are the Festivals and Public Holidays in Indonesia?
When visiting a country, it is always good to know when are the public holidays and festivals for that country. In a large country, it is better to also know the holidays and festivals for individual region, province or state.
For my upcoming Bali holiday, I was very mindful of this. The reason is we do not want to visit during a holiday or festival that is celebrated by the people and as such many of the places like attractions, shops and even cafes or restaurants may be closed.
What are the Public Holidays in Indonesia?
1 Jan 2020 – New Year’s Day
25 Jan 2020 – Chinese New Year
The Chinese celebrate the Lunar New Year. It is a time to visit friends and families and enjoy good food, too.
25 Mar 2020 – Bali Hindu New Year
Also known as Hari Raya Nyepi. The Hindus celebrate in a unique way by keeping silent and doing self reflection.
22 Mar 2020 – Isra Miraj
This is a very important holiday for the Indonesians. It marks the Ascension of the Prophet Muhammad.
10 Apr 2020- Good Friday
Christians observe this holiday, and continue the celebrations through the weekend as Easter weekend.
May 1 2020 – Labour Day
This holiday celebrates the contributions of the workers to the nation’s economy.
7 May 2020 – Waisak Day
Waisak Day is the day that Buddhists celebrate the birth, life, death and enlightenment of Buddha.
21 May 2020 – Ascension Day
The Ascension of Jesus Christ. This day always falls on a Thursday, and is celebrated by Christians.
24 May to 25 May 2020 – Hari Raya Idul Fitri
After a month of fasting, the Muslims celebrate with this holiday. It is a time for Indonesians to spend time with friends and family.
1 Jun 2020 – Pancasila Day
In 2016, President Joko Widodo announced that Pancasila Day is officially a public holiday in Indonesia.
31 Jul 2020 – Idul Adha
This is also known as the Day of Sacrifice. It is celebrated by Muslims.
17 Aug 2020 – Independence Day
Parades, flags, performances and many more activities celebrate the anniversary of the country’s independence.
20 Aug 2020 – Islam New Year
A very important time for Muslims to celebrate the arrival of the New Year.
29 Oct 2020 – Maulid Nabi
A holiday to celebrate the birthday of Prophet Muhammad.
Dec 25 2020 – Christmas
While this has Christian origins, it has evolved to be a worldwide celebration, mostly for the fun and festivities.
What are the Festivals in Indonesia?
Chap Go Meh in West Kalimantan
A Chinese festival that is held regularly every hear on the 15th day of the Chinese New Year. A parade of spiritual exorcists perform ceremonies and rituals to drive away evil spirits so that the new year can have a good start.
Rambu Solo in South Sulawesi
A tradition where the Toraja people send off the dead to the afterlife. Many fascinating funeral rites has caught the attention of tourists. And today, this has become a major festival and attraction.
Warning – The following video has images that may not be suitable for children. Also, if you are averse to animal sacrifices, please do not watch.
Bau Nyale Fishing Festival in Lombok
Large numbers of people from all over the country gather in Lombok to have the first look at the first nyale. Nyale is a worm like fish. The first fish caught is immediately roasted in banana leaves and consumed. Yum!
Penyengat Festival in Riau Islands
This is a competition filled festival where people in Riau Islands participate in many competitions. It is a relatively new event that was created in 2016 in conjunction with the Tanjungpinang City Superior Destinations.
International Jazz Festival of Jakarta
Three days of Jazz bliss. This 3 day music event attracts music lovers and quality musicians from all over the world.
Tomini Bay Festival in Central Sulawesi
The cultural wisdom of the past hundreds of years is repackaged and shared with performing arts shows.
Gebyar Pesona Budaya Garut in West Java
A festival to strengthen the relationship between artists in West Java. It showcases traditional arts as well as modern music.
Yadnya Kasada Bromo in East Java
A colorful event that you must see if you are ever in this region. Features tribal ceremonies every tenth month of the traditional calendar. Held on the slopes and craters of Mount Bromo.
Tomohon International Flower Festival in North Sulawesi
Love flowers? Then this is a sight to see. A Flower parade of vehicles decorated with flowers of the Tomohon City, and other regions.
Gandrung Sewu in East Java
The biggest and baddest dance event in the world! Thousands of Gandrung dancers perform at the Marina Boom Beach, Bangyuwangi.
Travel Tip – The dates of some of the above public holidays and festivals may change on the solar calendar dates. This is because they follow either the lunar calendar or local calendar. Please do check the actual dates for the year you intend to visit and attend any of the above
What are the Dress Codes & National Dress in Indonesia?
The Indonesian Kebaya is really pretty. And the art on Batik is truly beautiful. At least, to me they are. And I find it no wonder that the Kebaya and Batik are the most recognized national costumes.
Aside from the two, there are various styles of clothing. Just like the Indonesian culture, this is because of the long and rich cultural history.
Aside from the national dress, each province has their own traditional costume. For example, the Ulos of Batak from North Sumatra, the Songket of Malay and the Minangkabau from Sumatra.
The national and regional costumes are a source of pride for the Indonesian people. And they wear them during weddings, formal events as well as government and official occasions.
Interesting Fun Fact – In 2009, Batik was recognized by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity
What is the National Sport of Indonesia?
Badminton and football are very popular sports in Indonesian. Every one of my Indonesian friends would share with me that they either like badminton or football. And on weekends, they love participating in either sport with their friends.
Not surprisingly, Indonesia has won the Thomas and Uber Cup in the past.
Another sport that has been seeing some rise in popularity recently is the traditional sport called Sepak Takraw. To me, this sport is almost like volley ball. But instead of a bouncy ball, a ball made of hard bamboo is used. I never played this sport but can imagine the toughness needed to engage with such a hard object. Ouch!
What Currency Can I Use in Indonesia?
Everywhere you go in Indonesia, the currency used is the Indonesia rupiah (Rp or IDR). In the past, when I visit Jakarta, Bintan or Batam, I would go to a money exchange service in Singapore, and make sure I get some rupiah. Without it, you cannot get a ride, pay for food or shop.
Of course, you can exchange your currency for Indonesia rupiah at money exchange services in the Indonesian city you visit. But be wary of money exchange scams. Here is a pin (from Pinterest) that I found with information on what to look out for when you visit Bali. Useful for all cities, too.
How is the Weather in Indonesia?
As I prepare for my holiday in Bali, I notice the weather here in Singapore. And I wonder if the weather is the same in Bali or anywhere in Indonesia.
Basically, Indonesia is also along the equator. As such, just like Singapore, there are 2 seasons – the wet season and the dry season.
The dry season is from April to October. During the dry season, there is very little rainfall. The weather is hot and sunny. Sometimes, the heat can be a bit unbearable. So, wear light clothing but not too revealing because it is frowned upon in Indonesia. Drink lots of water or take a break at cafes for a refreshing drink.
The wet season is from November to March. There is a lot of rain during this season. Sometimes, it can be days of thunderstorms. The nice part is that this is cooling. Very pleasant in the evenings and at night. I had nights when I did not even need to turn on the air conditioning because the breezes are so cool.
Travel Tip: If you like water sports, year-end monsoon is not a good time to visit Indonesia. Also, the frequent rain can dampen your plans to tour the city.
How is the Haze Situation in Indonesia?
For years, the palm oil plantations in Indonesia has been burning the trees. This is usually around the period any time from June to September. This has created the problem of haze. Not only for Indonesia but also for neighboring countries like Singapore and Malaysia.
In Singapore, the haze can get quite bad. Schools can be closed for the day when the haze goes into the hazardous levels. Thankfully, so far, I do not get affected so much by the haze. But this does not mean I like it. To me, it is awful to see, or rather not see beyond a few hundred meters, and know it is caused by the haze. Also, the smell can be quite bad.
Warning: If you have chronic heart of lung conditions, or simply do not want to suffer unhealthy pollution situation, then avoid this period – June to September.
Are there any Earthquakes in Indonesia?
One of the reasons I have not visited Bali is because of the many reports of frequent earthquakes in Indonesia. It is quite scary to read the news and watch videos of the people reacting to earthquakes and running from tsunamis.
The reason for the frequent earthquakes is that parts of Indonesia is tectonically unstable. There are also many volcanoes in the region that rumbles often and erupts quite often. In addition, Indonesia sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire.
There are around 400 volcanoes, and 130 of them are still active. Famous eruptions and earthquakes happened in 1815, Mount Tambora and 1883, Krakatoa. The latter was the largest recorded in history. Till today, even people in Singapore and Malaysia remember this catastrophe.
Even more recent, in 2004, the Indian Ocean earthquake with the epicentre off the west coast of northern Sumatra was devastating. It was the 3rd largest earthquake ever recorded. And cost the lives of more than 200,000 people.
All this does not make me feel more at ease. But I am still ok to go to Bali. I believe my friend and I will be safe.
What are the Things to Do in Indonesia?
Tourism is a big industry in Indonesia. I have many friends in the hospitality industry, and they tell me many of the businesses in Indonesia rely on tourism. No surprise that tourism contributed around US$28.2 billion to GDP in 2017 for Indonesia, and saw 14.04 million visitors to their country.
So what is it about Indonesia that people want to see and do?
There are many as Indonesia has much to offer. When I was in Batam, I saw quite a few cool places. From my research, I expect more when I go to Bali next week.
From what I have learned, Indonesia is a wondrous place to visit. She is filled with beautiful scenic natural landscapes, unique temples with fascinating history, white sandy beaches, magnificent mountains, tranquil lakes and many many more things to see and do.
You can find it all in various regions such as Java, Maluka & Papua, Bali & Tenggara, Sulawesi, Kalimantan, and Sumatra. I am so looking forward to Bali next week!
As mentioned above, if you are into nature and adventure vacations, Indonesia has a lot to offer you. Enjoy exploring the biodiversity in the many rainforests. See species such as the Sumatran tiger, rhinoceros, orangutan, asian elephant, and (sadly soon to be extinct) leopard. In fact, she has won 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, such as Borobudur Temple Compounds, and the Komodo National Park.
In addition, she has 19 heritage sites on the wait list. They are the much beloved Jakarta Old Town, the Bunaken National Park, the Raja Ampat Islands, and many more.
Which are the Hotels to Stay at in Indonesia?
There are many hotels to stay at in Indonesia. And as such, you are never short of a place to rest and get a good night’s sleep.
Best of all, because of the competition, you can get really good deals and room rates at any city you stay at in Indonesia. There are chain hotels, luxury hotels, luxury chain hotels, mid priced hotels, budget hotels, hostels, and even private apartments that are like AirBnB types. Simply pick and choose what suits you.
Here is a great site for comparing prices and getting the best deals and room rates:
What Food to Eat in Indonesia?
Even when I was younger, I enjoyed Indonesian cuisine. I remember patronizing an Indonesian restaurant with my parents, and sampling the nasi goreng, tahu goreng and the many delicious desserts for the first time. Since then, I was hooked. I would have Indonesian food ever so often.
The Indonesian food is very diverse. It is vibrant, colorful, and has intense flavor. In my opinion, intense but so tasteful and tantalizing.
Interestingly, many of their dishes are not simply local. Some are based on indigenous cultures but includes foreign influences such as Chinese, European, Middle Eastern, and Indian. Rice is the staple dish and often served with side dishes. Much like most other Southeast Asian food.
Spices used are oftentimes chilli, coconut milk, fish and chicken are fundamental ingredients.
The popular dishes are the ones I mentioned above – nasi goreng, tahu goreng – and also sate, soto, rendang, dengdeng and gulai. Oddly enough, the Ministry of Tourism chose tumpeng as official national dish in 2014. But the CNN Travel readers had their final say when in 2017, they named rendang as the World’s Most Delicious Food.
Another dish has risen in popularity, especially in Singapore. It is the Ayam Penyet. I have tried this in Batam, and will definitely try it in Bali. I wonder what is the difference in taste between these two places? I will give my review when I return from Bali.
Ayam Penyet has also invaded the Singapore food courts, with many stalls offering various versions of this dish as well as the original. To be honest, for some reason, I prefer the Ayam Penyet in Batam. The version in Singapore is weak in taste and flavor.
Where To Go Shopping in Indonesia?
From small retail shops to markets to mega shopping malls, Indonesia has them all. I should know. When I visited Batam, I have been to all of these. And to be honest, some malls are quite similar to other malls, and even to malls in Singapore.
It is the unique store in a mall, the stalls in the markets or the small retail shop that sells unique local stuff that stands out. I mean, after all, we are tourists. We would like to get some local souvenir, right?
So, do shop around and look out for these shops that offer you local stuff such as textile, handicrafts, souvenirs, antiques, silver goods, ceramics, and furniture. These are produced by highly-skilled artisans, and can be excellent home decorations or gifts for loved ones. There can even be fashion and local costume wear for you to buy and wear.
Of course, if you are still interested to shop for the usual international brand goods, the mega shopping mall is the place to go to.
How to get to Indonesia?
There are many airports in Indonesia. The major airport is the Soekarno-Hatta International Airport. It is in Tangerang, just outside of Jakarta. Most airlines arrive here.
But if you are not going to Jakarta, you may consider the other airports like Ngurah Rai International Airport and Juanda International Airport. Or any airport near where you plan to visit. For example, I will be going to Bali, and I would arrive at Bali’s Ngurah Rai International Airport.
There are no trains to Indonesia. Not even from Borneo. Maybe better to travel by air?
There is a crossing over land by road between Kuching, East Malaysia, and Pontianak, West Kalimantan. I have done research, and not much said about this route. Maybe better to travel by air?
Same info for By bus – see above.
By boat / ferry
If you are traveling from Singapore, Malaysia or Philippines, there is the option to sail by ferry or boat to Indonesia. When I traveled from Singapore to Batam, I would take the ferry from Harbourfront in Singapore, and a short ferry ride brought me to the shores of Batam. The same for Bintan, but from another port in Singapore.
From Malaysia, the ferry service is from the Sabah state and East Kalimantan. From Philippines, you can get to Bitung, North Sulawesi from their ports at Genral Santos and Davao.
This is only possible at borders where Indonesia share land with other countries. The major and busiest border crossing is at Entikong, Indonesia and Tebedu, Malaysia. I wouldn’t recommend it though.
Every country has different visa requirements. Please check with Indonesia’s Visa and Immigration Policies for entry policies and other related information.
How to Get Around in Indonesia?
The railway tracks span across the entire country. So, getting around from city to city is easy. These trains are freight and passenger. The local commuter rail services also complement the inter-city rail network in several cities.
All trains have classes – Economy, Business, Executive, Priority and Luxury. Depending on your budget and preference, choose the class best suited for your travel.
Some airports have airport trains. Check if there is any at the airport you will be arriving at. For sure, the Soekarno-Hatta International Airport has one.
There are hundreds of ports in Indonesia. So, getting around by ferry from city to city is possible. Look for the port nearest where you are at in Indonesia. You can buy the ferry tickets at these ports.
Just a side track, there are also luxury cruises that you can choose to enjoy the seas around the country.
To be honest, I am a little scared to take the ferry. There had been too many accidents.
By MRT (Mass Rapid Transit)
Jakarta has its first MRT service running. This is definitely a convenient way to move from place to place in this city. Here’s hoping more MRT routes will be added to Jakarta as well as the other cities.
There is a free city-tour double decker bus in some cities. Do find out if the city you are in has this service. If not, there are public buses in most cities. But, I highly recommend you travel more by the next few options. It is safer and more comfortable.
Lots of taxis to get your from one point to another in Indonesian cities. But beware of illegal taxis. Look for reputable cab services. And request to go by meter rather than a fare demanded by the driver. If you can afford it, you can rent a reliable cab for the day, which can also come with a guided tour service.
This is one private hire vehicles available in Indonesia. It is a great alternative to taxis. They are reliable and the price is affordable, even sometimes cheaper than taxis. I use Grab when I travel in Singapore and overseas.
This is a motorcycle taxi service where you get to ride pillion. It is great for short trips and traveling during rush hours in busy cities like Jakarta. Do bargain for the price before you hop on. With online Go-jek, the price is fixed, and there is no need to bargain. You then pay via the phone app.
Travel Tip – Follow the law. Wear a helmet when you ride on Ojek or any motorcycle. Or else you will risk getting fined.
Go-jek has expanded to Go-Ride that offers you to hire private cars as your ride, and Go-BlueBird that enables you to hire the reliable Blue Bird taxis.
In Indonesia, rickshaws are called Becak. It is a two-wheeled passenger cart with a seat at the front, powered by a driver paddling on a bicycle at the back. In all, there are 3 wheels that offer you a slower and more laid back ride through the city. It can be more enjoyable as you get to see more of the city. But do bargain before you get on board.
There is another rickshaw option called Bentor. This is quite similar to the Becak except it is powered by a motorcycle. Again, bargain before taking a ride.
This is like a really small minivan. The driver sits in front, and you and your friend (at most two please!) sit at the passenger seat behind. It is powered by motor, and a little more safer and stable than the rickshaws mentioned above. It is great alternative to taxis or Grab as it can be much cheaper, and yet able to transport you from one point to another.
Some cities, it makes sense to travel about in scooters. In the movie, Eat Love Pray, I am sure you have seen Julia Roberts moving about in Ubud on one. It is rather easy and convenient.
But you have to make sure you follow the laws carefully or you may end up getting fined by the police. Also, do know this is a high risk mode of transportation. There has been many reported deaths every year to scooter accidents. For both locals and tourists.
You can actually get around on foot. But not for long distances. And only in some of the cities.
Like for example, if you are in Jakarta, then it is best to choose one of the modes of transport above. Preferably Grab or Gojek. Unless you are just going to the convenience store or the market near your hotel. And at most 20 minutes walk.
In Bali, from my research, I will be walking quite a bit to nearby cafes, restaurants, temples, shops and the beach. And all within 20 minutes walking time, at most. Any further, I would definitely book a cab and a guide.
We have come to the end of this article – Indonesia – The Ultimate Guide. If you have ANY questions about Indonesia, ANY at all, please submit your questions as comments below. I will be happy to help you out.
Thank you for reading this.
Wishing you and your loved ones safe and happy travels,