Indonesia 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, India to the northwest.
With 18,110 islands, 6,000 of them inhabited, Indonesia is the largest archipelago in the world. About 240 million people live in this fourth most populous country in the world — after China, India and the USA — and by far the largest country in Southeast Asia. Indonesia also has the largest Muslim population in the world. Indonesia’s population is on course to overtake the US and become the third largest before 2044. In the decade that ended in 2010, population growth remained high at 1.49% each year but there is substantial Muslim opposition to boosting family planning.
Indonesia is the fourth largest country in the world is home to more than 195 million people. Mainly Muslims — with substantial Christian, Hindu and Buddhist minorities. Indigenous tribes still exist in Borneo to Irian Jaya in Eastern Indonesia. The presence of their pagan ancestry can still be seen, heard and felt by those who dare to breach the tourist frontiers.
The largest Indonesian islands are Sumatra, Java, Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo), Sulawesi, and the Indonesian part of New Guinea (known as Papua or Irian Jaya).
Indonesia markets itself as Wonderful Indonesia, and the slogan is quite true, although not necessarily always in good ways. Indonesia’s tropical forests are the second-largest in the world after Brazil, and are being logged and cut down at the same alarming speed. While the rich shop and party in Jakarta and Bali. After decades of economic mismanagement 50.6% of the population still earns less than USD2/day according to figures compiled by the World bank in 2009. This had come down by 6% in the 2 years between 2007 and 2009.
Infrastructure in much of the country remains rudimentary, and travellers off the beaten track will need some patience and flexibility.
According to the “Energy Access” Working Group Global Network on Energy for Sustainable Development, in 2001, 53.4% of the Indonesian population had access to electricity and they consumed 345kWh for each person in a year. In the same year the residents of nearby Singapore had 100% access and they consumed 6,641 kWh. A very large percentage of the Indonesian population remain reliant upon wood for a cooking fuel. The central government has in recent years instituted a program of LPG gas access to use as a replacement for the burning of bio-mass sources for cooking.
A wonderfully fullfilling destination, Indonesia is a land of contrasts, a land where the spiritual manifests itself through magnificent temples and artwork. Mother Nature is not to be outdone with dramatic landscapes, active volcanoes and picture-perfect postcards. Indonesia’s fauna is exotic to say the very least, with huge lizards, orangutans and various tropical fish.
Both below and above water, Indonesia’s biodiversity is unrivalled. Tigers, elephants, rhinos, orangutans, cloud leopards, tapirs and a multitude of rare, threatened and amazing wildlife are found in the nation’s forests and swamps. New species are constantly being discovered.
On the eastern part of the archipelago, separate from the Asian landmass, the islands of Sulawesi, Nusa Tenggara and Maluku have seen the evolution of species that are markedly different from western Indonesia.
Further to the east, Papua (originally part of the Australian landmass) exhibits a range of unique habitats, including more than 700 bird species (including migrants).
Indonesia’s warm seas are home to marine turtles, whales, dugongs and the world’s largest diversity of tropical marine species.
Indonesia has about 300 ethnic groups, each with cultural identities developed over centuries, and influenced by Indian, Arabic, Chinese, and European sources. Traditional Javanese and Balinese dances, for example, contain aspects of Hindu culture and mythology, as do wayang kulit (shadow puppet) performances. Textiles such as batik, ikat, ulos and songket are created across Indonesia in styles that vary by region. The Indonesian film industry’s popularity peaked in the 1980s and dominated cinemas in Indonesia, although it declined significantly in the early 1990s. Between 2000 and 2005, the number of Indonesian films released each year has steadily increased.
Indonesia has a rich and fascinating history. The majority of Indonesia’s modern population is made up of Austronesian people, who originally migrated to South East Asia from Taiwan. They arrived in Indonesia around 2,000 BC and quickly spread throughout the archipelago, pushing the indigenous Melanesian people to the far eastern regions.
Trade contracts eventually brought outside cultural and religious influences to Indonesia from India, China, and mainland Southeast Asia. Starting from the 7th century, the powerful Srivijaya kingdom flourished as a result of the Hindu and Buddhist influences that were imported into Indonesia along with traded goods. Srivijaya was one of the first Indian-ized empires and grew up around the coast of Sumatra, serving as the hub of a trading network that reached to many parts of the archipelago.
Indonesia Travel Facts:
Two months’ entry visa free for tourists from major markets. All visitors must have passports valid for at least six months and proof of onward passage.
Airport tax levied on passengers for international travel is Rp.21,000. for travel within Indonesia regional variations occur. Expect to pay an average of about Rp.8,000.
International health certificates for smallpox and cholera are not required, except from travelers arriving from infected areas. Bottled water is provided everywhere, even in the smallest villages. It is never advisable to drink tap water anywhere in Indonesia. Be sure to travel with Immodium AD since it is not easy to find there and you don’t want to discover that when its too late.
Indonesian customs allows on entry a maximum of two liters of alcoholic beverages, 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 100 grams of tobacco and a reasonable amount of perfume per adult. Cars, photographic equipment, typewriters and tape recorders must be declared to Customs upon entry and must be re-exported. Prohibited from entry are TV sets, radios, narcotics, arms and ammunition, printed matter in Chinese characters and Chinese medicines. Advance approval has to be acquired for carrying transceivers and all movie films and video cassettes must be censored by the Film Censor Board. Fresh fruit, plants and animals must have quarantine permits. There is no restriction on import or export of foreign currencies. However, the export or import of Indonesian currency exceeding Rp.50,000 is prohibited.
Currency & Money Exchange
The Rupiah is the currency used in Indonesia in notes 100, 500, 1,000, 5,000, 10,000, 20,000, 50,000. The most commonly used note is 50,000 Rupiah (about $5 US). There are many places available to exchange your dollars. You’ll get a better exchange rate for crisp, clean US $100 bills. Old or dirty bills may not be accepted. As with any foreign country, it is advisable to understand the exchange rate before you go to exchange your money so you should have a good idea of how many Rupiah to expect for your US dollars.
Major credit cards are acceptable in most hotels along with American dollar travelers’ checks.
Normal banking hours are from 8:00 am to 2:30 pm from Monday to Friday. Some bank branches in hotels, however, keep longer hours. Jakarta has several international banks but money can also be changed at hotel cashiers, and authorized money changers. Daily exchange rates are published in newspapers. The US dollar is the most readily accepted currency. Most major tourist destination areas have foreign exchange facilities, but for travel to remote areas it is advisable to change money and travelers cheques in advance.
Major hotels usually add a 10% service charge to bills. Where it is not included a tip of between 5% to 10% of the bill would be appropriate if the service is satisfactory. Airport porters expect Rp.2,000 for a small bag and Rp.3,000 for bags weighing more than 20 kg. Tipping taxi and hire-car drivers is not mandatory, but if service has been satisfactory a basic Rp.1,000 tip is sufficient for a taxi driver, Hire-car drivers would normally expect a larger tip.
Keep your valuables in the hotel safe deposit box or a similar safe place and your passport close to your body.
The official language of Indonesia is ‘Bahasa Indonesia.’ There are also several hundred local languages, such as Javanese or Papuan languages. Most Indonesians speak their ethnic language as their mother tongue as well as the official language of Bahasa Indonesia.
Being aware of local customs and taboos is very important when traveling in any foreign land. In Indonesia you will always be ensured of having a pleasant time if you act with decorum and dress appropriately. On greeting someone it is customary for both men and women to shake hands. This should only be done with the right hand because to shake hands, give or receive, or eat with the left hand is considered impolite. Pointing or summoning someone with your index finger is considered impolite and care should be taken not to climb over places of worship or local monuments.
Light, airy, casual clothes are the most practical and you’ll find natural fibers like cotton or linen are the most comfortable in Indonesia’s often humid conditions. Indonesians are very clothes conscious and it’s particularly important to be properly dressed when visiting government offices such as the immigration offices. Indifference to local customs, scanty clothing is not advisable in public places, shorts are not permitted in mosques and women should have their head and arms covered. In Bali, waist sashes should be worn when visiting temples.
Power supply is 220 volts/250 cycles in large cities, but 110 volts is still used in some areas. Normal outlets are plugs with two rounded pins (see photo). It is advisable to check electricity supplies before using any appliances.
Telephone Internet Services
You’ll find internet cafes in most the major cities. On Bali they are everywhere and you can comfortably get online for anywhere from less than 10,000 Rp to 30,000 Rp ($1-3 US). The connections can be slow so don’t expect to do too much web surfing in that hour, but its great for anyone who wants to keep up on email and/or stay in touch with friends and family back home.