The floating emerald islands of the Indonesian archipelago have for centuries
lured everyone from missionaries to pirates, mining companies and backpackers
to their sandalwood and spice breezes, their Bali Hai lifestyle and their magnificent
beaches, mountains and volcanoes.
However, the myth of paradise is often marred by deep racial divides, religious
warring, high-handed autocracy, government corruption, economic mismanagment
and natural disasters. The latest rounds of violence have made Indonesia a
problematic destination for Western travellers.
Refreshingly though, much of the country remains barely touched by mass tourism.
Despite great improvements in communications and transport connections, Indonesia's
thousands of islands and multitude of cultures still offer adventure that
is hard to find in the developed world. And despite the hammering Bali tourism
has taken due to the tragic 2002 bombing of the Sari nightclub, all of Indonesia's
remarkable sights remain to be explored and enjoyed.
• When to Visit Indonesia
Though travel in the wet season is possible in most parts of Indonesia, it can
be a deterrent to some activities and travel on mud-clogged roads in less developed
areas is difficult. In general, the best time to visit is in the dry season
between May and October.
Before concerns of about terrorism became so pervasive the Christmas holiday
period brought a wave of migratory Australians, with an even bigger tourist
wave during the European summer holidays. The main Indonesian holiday period
is the end of Ramadan, when resorts can be full and prices are increased.
With the downturn in tourism, many establishments have been closed, with others
offering good deals to encourage travellers to return to the country.
• Attraction in Indonesia » Bali
Bali is so picturesque that you could be fooled into thinking it was a painted
backdrop: rice paddies trip down hillsides like giant steps, volcanoes soar
through the clouds, the forests are lush and tropical, and the beaches are lapped
by the warm waters of the Indian Ocean.
But the paradise gloss has been manufactured and polished by the international
tourist industry rather than by the Balinese themselves - who don't even have
a word for paradise in their language - and it pays scant regard to the political
and economic reality of life on Bali.
Less developed than Bali, Lombok has better beaches, a bigger volcano and
a greater variety of landscapes. Tourism is less intrusive than on Bali, but
the flip-side is that many Lombokians are less blasé about tourists:
in some places you might find the residents quite resentful of the industry.
Sumatra is as tropical as it gets. With its Amazon-like rivers moving sluggishly
through canopies of natural rainforests, muddy mangrove estuaries, steamy
interiors, brilliantly gaudy flora and weird and wonderful fauna, Sumatra
is a place and a half for a boat trip.
Despite its wealth of natural resources, Sumatra is struggling with a failing
economy. The northern province of Aceh is at the epicentre of separatist violence
and the area has been hit by devastating earthquakes.
The most developed island in the Indonesian archipelago, Java exhibits all the
characteristics of an Asian society experiencing rapid transition: great wealth
and equal squalor; beautiful open country and filthy cities; tranquil rural
scenes and streets choked with traffic.
The Hindu-Buddhist empires reached their zenith on Java, producing architectural
wonders such as Borobudur and Prambanan. Islam, following on after this, absorbed
rather than erased local cultures, leaving Java with a mish-mash of historic
influences and religions.
• Off the Beaten Track » Flores
The villages of Nggela, Wolojita and Jopu on the island of Flores are renowned
for their beautiful ikat sarongs and shawls. The traditional whaling village
of Lamalera on Lembata, east of Flores, is a fascinating place to poke around
the boatsheds and watch whaling crafts.
Kelimutu's tri-coloured lakes are Nusa Tenggara's most fantastic attraction.
The waters in the three volcanic craters have a curious habit of changing
colour. Local legend has it that the souls of the dead go to the lakes. Which
colour lake you go to depends on your conduct during your life.
» Irian Jaya
Papua is one of the world's last wilderness areas. The Papuans live in some
of the most rugged terrain on earth - from snowcapped mountains to mangrove
swamps - in a region that offers fantastic jungle scenery, equatorial glaciers,
abundant bird and animal life and great trekking opportunities.
Highlights include the Baliem Valley with its unique culture and numerous
treks; Sentani for boat trips around the magnificent Sentani Lake; and Kota
Biak for access to dive sites. Don't underestimate the size of Papua and the
amount of time and money it will take to get around.
If you're expecting to see half-naked, heavily tatooed Dayaks striding down
the streets of Balikpapan or Pontianak, you'll be disappointed. Your first
impressions of Kalimantan, which occupies the southern two-thirds of the island
of Borneo, are likely to be of oil refineries and timber mills.
The popular images of Borneo stem from the exaggerated accounts of early European
explorers. Timber and mining interests have penetrated deep into the jungles,
bulldozing and chainsawing at an alarming rate, fouling rivers and leaving
indigenous cultures reeling from these modern world intrusions.
• Reaching Indonesia
The principal gateways for entry to Indonesia are Jakarta and Bali. Jakarta
is serviced by more airlines but Bali - as the tourist capital - receives almost
as much traffic. Departure tax from Jakarta and Denpasar is 100000.00 and from
other airports about 75000.00.
There are three land crossings to Indonesia: at Entikong, between Kalimantan
and Sarawak; at Motoain between West and East Timor; and the road from Jayapura
or Sentani (Papua) to Vanimo in PNG. Visa regulations have been fluid (to
say the least) of late, so check the need for obtaining a visa in advance
before you roll up at the border crossing.
Most of the sea connections are between Malaysia and Sumatra and the vessel
of choice is the comfortable high-speed ferry from Penang to Medan. The other
main ferry connection is between Dumai (Sumatra) and Malaka (Malacca). Ferries
also run from southern Malaysia (Johor Bahru) to the Riau Islands. There are
speedboats from east-coast Kalimantan to Sabah in Malaysia.