There are some stuffs that really cannot make it to Traveler’s Guide – either it’s politically incorrect or fearing that it’s just scaring the reader. So, when talking to traveling to Indonesia – whether it’s Bali, Jakarta, Nias Island or other part of the archipelago – I would mention some items that probably you should not know, but you would anyway.

A few years back, after living in Australia for a while (I was born and raised in Indonesia), I and family have a chance to go visit Bali. And there sitting on the sand of Kuta beach, I left with my mind wondering: why fellow Aussie so keen to go to Kuta beach. I mean, compare to Bondi Beach, Manly or Coogee – the beach and surrounding itself – Kuta is not better than local beach at home. Some worse: no privacy (try to sit somewhere on the beach and every 10 minutes, people will approach you to sell something) and the beach is  not that pristine (check the sand and water). Yes, I am talking the public beach area – much better in private/hotel area.

But no later after walking around on those shops and hotels in Legian Street, I realized that much more is on offer at Kuta: cheap shopping, massage on the beach, dirt cheap rent a car, cheap beer, lively pub, extravagance traditional art and culture. So, just come with friends or family, it will be an unforgettable tremendous experience.

[Indonesia Picture]

Travel to Indonesia

So, here are stuffs you should not know, but you would:

1. It’s much more crowded – get used to it

Comparing Sydney and Jakarta (both the largest city in the country): Sydney (4+ million population) is 5 x larger than Jakarta (20+million population), but have 5 x less people. So, if you go a shopping mall in Sydney and see 20 people on site, you would see 100+ people in Jakarta. This is not necessarily a bad thing, just something that you need to comfortable with.

2. Foreign tourists stand out from the crowd

If you are Caucasian, probably you would expect this. But this also apply to any race and color of skin. Indian, Malaysian or Filipino are probably the closest look with similarity to local, but remember item (1) above. Since it’s crowded and all of this crowd pretty much behave and act in similar “usual” way, any foreign tourist will stand out in the crowd.

3. Pricing: almost across the board 2 tiers pricing: for local and for foreigner. (But still cheap!)

It’s not fair, but that’s the reality. Try to go to a hotel and ask the stand by rate, say you are quoted US$40 (US$ is common denomination for tourist destination) per night – which is pretty much already very cheap for your standard. But try to ask a local to ask the rate for the same room, probably they will be quoted Rp 150,000,- which convert to just above US$15. Not only that, even at some local tourist destination where you need to pay “Entrance Fee”, do not shock if you see official price that different between local and foreigner. That $30 massage on the beach, the local will only pay $5. That cheap $15 Quick Silver T-shirt ? It’s only $3 for local. (Yes, even it was ticketed).

As resident in a country that have higher living cost, you should just accept this situation and consider that your money will boost the local economy more. Probably even proud that you contribute more to local businessmen/businesswoman. But if you cannot take this, my advise would be: get local that you trust (local staff employee, friends, or even your pen pal that you pursue especially for this) -or- get use to bargain down every offer (aim to get at least 50% or cheaper than the original offer) .

4. You have more money than local.

Probably related to item (3), but if someone is very friendly, the chance are they are after your money. Don’t take it all negative, only a very few criminal that all is actually try to rob you or rip you off in direct way, most of them is expecting that you trust them enough, then they can provide some service to you with generous tip – or similar at that ball park.

For example: just collecting your baggage at Airport, you will be greeted by troops of porter that offer their help to carry your bags. Just ask a firm price for their service before they touch or take your bag. Otherwise, you will need to pay whatever they want or your bag will not be returned. (Remember they probably have many supporting friend there)

If you study some sociology about Indonesia, you will know that the living standard of most the people is low. The disparity between the rich and poor is very big gap. 80-90% of the nation economy is controlled by only a bunch of people. So, the rich is super rich but the rest is not that fortunate. So, knowing that you are a tourist (see item (2) above) – the economical motivation can make people do anything at all if the price is right.

5. Driving? Just forget it

Not only requires International Driving License (or local license), you will be astounded by the amount of motor cycle on the street. Changing lane will be a huge task  as the more you give sign, the more people will not give way. The one who braver will get the way. So, it’s very easy to have minor accident. But because of item  (2) and (3) above, you will be end up paying (who is at fault will be determined by who shout louder).

Then come the adventure when you got stop in a traffic’s red light. Beggars, busker with guitar, hawkers selling cigarette and newspaper – even drink will surround your car in almost every traffic light. If you are “”lucky”, some criminal with red axe will just crush your windshield robbing you out in the broad daylight.

I would suggest strongly to just use taxi that you book from phone to move you point to point. Bus, train and other transport , not only crowded, it carries more inconvenience and risk for foreign tourist. Better yet, indulge your journey by organizing a driver together with the car from your hotel for your maximum convenience – it’s not that expensive !

6. Some practical culture different

  • Indonesia is tropical country (hot, 30 degree all around), so unless it is in high mountain, the locals is not usually drink alcohol. Alcohol is embraced mainly by the youngster who are not foreign with pub, disco and active night live. So, drinking alcohol and clubbing are not that common and wide spread and these club, pub and disco are commonly judged as “sin place”
  • Although probably not in shopping mall and hotels, the toilet sometimes doesn’t have toilet paper. Water, soap and bucket instead. So, in your wallet: a facial tissue and wet tissue would be very handy if it’s always there.
  • Don’t get offended if in some restaurant, they use toilet paper on the table (with some enclosures) as your serviettes.
  • Kissing and romancing in public is kind of taboo – and starting 2008,you may get yourself charged breaking the controversial “anti pornography” law doing so – be careful with your swim suit as well.
  • Eating is with fork (on left hand) and spoon (right hand) . Doing otherwise will be judged “silly” –  knife is only “there” in good restaurant  or available upon request.

And final item. Before book your ticket , or at least before go to airport, make sure to read the latest current affairs and advisory maintained by Australian Federal Government about Travel to Indonesia in here: Smart Traveler’s website.

This article is by no mean try to scare you, instead by knowing all of above, you will be more prepare and have more fabulous journey. Don’t treat this as rule, but when it happen you know why.
“Selamat Jalan !”

There are some stuffs that really cannot make it to Traveler’s Guide – either it’s politically incorrect or fearing that it’s just scaring the reader. So, when talking to traveling to Indonesia – whether it’s Bali, Jakarta, Nias Island or other part of the archipelago – I would mention some items that probably you should not to know, but you would anyway.
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