Top 10 Travel Tips for Indonesia: Make the Most of Your Trip
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Indonesia is a maze of islands, cultures, religions, and even climates. It’s a fascinating place with seemingly endless opportunities for exploration and discovery from the land to the sea. With so much to see, do, and navigate, this amazing maze of tropical islands can get a little confusing at times. That’s why we put together this list, to help others avoid some of the troubles we went through in preparation and while in country on our trip. Here’s what we wish we knew before landing in Indonesia.
1. You don’t need a visa.
Updated as of March 2016, citizens from almost every country in the world, 169 of the 193 UN recognized nations to be exact, can enter Indonesia visa free for up to 30 days. If you plan on staying longer than 30 days you can apply for a visa on arrival which can extend your stay to 60 days.
For more information head to Indonesia’s immigration website at: http://www.imigrasi.go.id/index.php/en/
2. Indonesia is a Majority Muslim Country
What this means: there will be a lot of women walking around in hijabs and burkas, and you will, without a doubt, get woken up every day at 4am for morning prayer call. If you’re one of those people that gets a little cranky when they have their sleep interrupted, prepare yourself. I’m warning you now.
Also, a note to my fellow ladies out there, although Indonesia is a primarily Muslim country women do NOT have to cover up. I read a lot of conflicting advise on this subject before I went but from my personal experience as well as talking to locals and expats we met on our journey I’ve come to the conclusion that it is definitely not necessary for women to cover up in any way.
There is freedom of religion in Indonesia, unlike in other Muslim countries, so women don’t have to worry about keeping their head, shoulders and knees covered. In fact, Indonesia has some of the most culturally accepting and non judgmental people I have ever met. Indonesians respect that you are foreign and thus have your own cultural and religious (or non-religious) norms that you abide by that are different from theirs.
While they don’t pass judgment, as a woman wearing skimpy clothing you might feel some extra pairs of eyes on you as people aren’t used to seeing that much skin exposed on a woman. It’s a little shocking to them, but as long as you feel comfortable you are free to wear whatever you want. I wore a long spaghetti strap dress, knee length skirt, and V-neck shirts with no issue.
3. Book Domestic Flights After You Arrive in Indonesia
Indonesia is a deceptively small country, but 17,000 islands actually cover quite a bit of landmass and ocean area. To traverse this island nation it is best to fly between islands as domestic flights are quick and extremely cheap.
The caveat, however, is that it’s hard to book these flights as a foreigner. The booking sites and airlines claim to accept foreign credit cards, but then direct you to a travel agency site which charges additional fees to process your booking, upping the price by almost 50%. Ouch.
How do you avoid this? Carve out time in your schedule to book your domestic after you arrive in Indonesia. This way you can pay for them in cash and avoid all the extra fees.
4. They Drive on the Left
We were typical dumb Americans when we left for Indonesia with our tandem bike assuming that, like, us Indonesia drove on the right hand side of the road. Turns out, they don’t. Indonesia is left side of the road, right side of the car, drive all the way.
So if you, like us, come from a country that drives on the right and plan on piloting your own transportation, remember, stay on the left side of the road!
5. Rent a Motorbike to Travel Around the Islands
Upon arriving in Indonesia you’ll be quickly struck with the realization that everyone rides motorcycles. The streets are jam packed with them, on the main road, in the shoulder, weaving in between cars, basically motorcycles everywhere.
Motorcycles definitely have the advantage over cars in Indonesia. They’re small and narrow, enabling them to fit in places that cars can’t, and they are much better for navigating pot holed ridden roads than a traditional car.
They also have a huge advantage over our bicycle, why? Indonesia is a volcanic island nation, which apparently means that no matter how you build a road on a mountain, it will always be super steep. Twice on our trip the road was too steep for us the ride our bike up it, as in we were pedaling and our bike was slipping backwards down the mountain instead of our intended forward direction. Well, shit, time to start pushing the bike up the road. Since most of your have never pushed a loaded touring tandem up a hill before I’ll just go ahead and tell you is no easy task, actually, it just plain sucks.
The reason motorbikes are awesome for tourists is that they’re easy to rent and enable you to have the freedom to explore off the beaten path. The Indonesian countryside is gorgeous, but there is no public transport to most of the cool waterfalls, and vistas that are in more rugged locations outside of the city.
With a motorbike you can go wherever you want, whenever you want enabling you to not only get off the beaten path, but also avoid what is often extremely crowded and hot public transportation. Also, due to the fact that it has a motor, the motorcycle is definitely a smarter choice than our bicycle for making it over the insanely steep mountain passes.
6. Bring an Adapter for European Style Outlets
There is only one type of outlet in Indonesia, and it looks like this.
So come prepared with an adapter like one of these for your electronics.
The pink one is an all purpose adapter that we have, and conveniently left in China. The grey one is the one we bought in Indonesia when we realized we had no way to charge our electronics. Live and learn!
7. Indonesians Love Them Some Fried Food
No joke, I’m pretty sure their national dish is fried chicken. It’s everywhere, and eaten all the time. They also eat a ton of chicken, just in general, so I hope you like chicken because that will be your main source of protein in Indonesia.
For us the icing on the cake of all the deep fried food was that most of it is served at room temperature. If that doesn’t sound appetizing then you might want to avoid eating at a Padang.
What’s a Padang you ask? It’s kind of like Indonesian fast food, all the food is pre-prepared, most all of it deep fried, and it’s left sitting out buffet style (minus the warming candles underneath) for you to serve yourself.
8. Indonesian Food is Seriously Spicy
Indonesian food is spicy, like burn your face off spicy. They don’t kid around when it comes to spicing things up here. Luckily you always have a choice as to which level of spice you want. Coming from China where they also eat a lot of spicy food we thought we were pretty prepared in the spice department, but let me tell you, nothing could prepare us for this.
We quickly learned to ask for just a little spicy. Sometimes they have levels of spice to choose from and our advice to you, stick to the low end, otherwise you might be sorry, if not in the moment, then definitely the next day!
9. Learn Some Indonesian
Don’t get me wrong, you can get by just fine with English, a lot of Indonesians that live in the big cities or tourist areas can speak pretty good English in fact, but as soon as you step off the beaten path it’s Indonesian or bust. We were completely down to miming and hand gestures for a lot of our communication in the rural areas.
Luckily Indonesian is readable so we were able to pick up a few words that allowed us to order at restaurants with no English or picture menus, but other than that we were at a loss for words.
Even if you’re not adventuring off the beaten path, if you have the time before you go I would still recommend learning at least a few phrases of Indonesian. Almost everyone we met asked us, quite hopefully, if we could speak Indonesian.
We disappointed lots of people when our answer was no. We definitely would have earned lots of brownie points with the locals, and had many more meaningful interactions if we could have spoken just a little tiny bit of their language.
10. Indonesians Love Selfies
If you go to any tourist attraction at all, be prepared to take a million and one selfies. Everyone and their grandmother will want a selfie with you. I’m starting to think that Indonesians purposefully hang out in tourist areas in an attempt to get their picture taken with as many foreigners as possible.
And it’s not just white people, anyone who looks different is a magnet for the Indonesian camera. I admit I had a good chuckle at a Chinese woman getting her picture taken with a group of school kids (how do you like them cameras?).
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