Indonesia is the largest archipelago in the world that
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
Indonesia is almost unimaginably vast: 18 110 islands providing
108 000 kilometres of beaches, and the distance between Aceh
and Papua is more than 4 000 kilometres (2500 miles), comparable
to the distance between New York and San Francisco. There are
more than 400 volcanoes in Indonesia, 130 of them being considered
active, and many undersea volcanoes. The island of New Guinea
(on which the Indonesian province of Papua is located) is the
second largest island in the world.
Jakarta - the perennially congested capital
Bandung - university town in the cooler highlands
Banjarmasin - the largest town on Kalimantan
Manado - Christian town at the northeastern
tip of Sulawesi, famous for diving
Medan - the main city of Sumatra
Surabaya - Indonesia's number two city
Ujung Pandang (Makassar) - the gateway to
Yogyakarta - Java's cultural hub and the access
point to the mighty temples of Prambanan and Borobudur
Seminyak, BaliThe following is a limited selection of some of
Indonesia's top sights.
Anyer - Beach on in Banten province, near
Mt. Krakatau and Ujung Kulon National Park.
Bali - A beautiful island with great culture
Baliem Valley - the home of the famous penis-gourded
Bintan - Resort island just south of Singapore
Borobudur - A huge temple dedicated to the
Buddha in Central Java which is Indonesia's most visited site.
Bunaken - One of the best scuba diving destinations
in Indonesia, if not the world.
Lake Toba - Beautiful lake on North Sumatra
Mount Bromo - Some of the scariest volcanic
scenery on the planet.
Tana Toraja - Highland area of South Sulawesi
famed for their extraordinary funeral rites.
Indonesia is the sleeping giant of Southeast Asia. With 18,110
islands, 6,000 of them inhabited, it is the largest archipelago
in the world. With well over 210 million people, Indonesia is
is the fourth most populous country in the world after
China, India and the US and by far the largest in Southeast
Asia. Indonesia also has the largest Muslim population in the
Indonesia markets itself as the ultimate in
diversity, 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, the
country is the only member of OPEC that has to import oil, and
53% of the population earns less than $2/day. Infrastructure
in much of the country remains rudimentary, and travellers off
the beaten track (pretty much anywhere outside Bali) will need
some patience and flexibility.
The Indonesian people, like any people, can be either friendly
or rude to foreigners. Most of the time, though, they are incredibly
friendly to foreigners who make it off the beaten track.
Indonesia's currency is the rupiah (IDR), abbreviated Rp. The rupiah's value plummeted during the 1997 economic crisis and has slowly drifted downward ever since, and as of March 2008 you need more than Rp 9,000 to buy one US dollar. The trailing three zeros are often abbreviated with rb (ribu, thousand) or even dropped completely, and for more expensive items you will often even see jt (juta, million).
The largest banknote is Rp 100,000, which may only be US$10 but is still inconveniently large for most purchases. Next in the series are Rp 50,000, Rp 20,000, Rp 10,000, Rp 5,000 and finally Rp 1,000. Bill size is the easiest way to distinguish them, as the designs — all pale pastel shades of yellow, green and brown — are confusingly similar and the smaller bills in particular are often filthy and mangled. (The new 2004-2005 series of notes has, however, corrected this to some extent.) A chronic shortage of small change — it's not unusual to get a few pieces of candy back instead of coins — has been to some extent alleviated by a new flood of plasticky aluminum coins, available in denominations of Rp 500, Rp 200, Rp 100, Rp 50 and the thoroughly useless Rp 25. Older golden metallic versions are also still floating around, and you may occasionally even run into a sub-1000 banknote. Bills printed in 1992 or earlier are no longer in circulation, but can be exchanged at banks.
US dollars are the second currency of Indonesia and will be accepted by anyone in a pinch, but are typically used as an investment and for larger purchases, not buying a bowl of noodles on the street. Many hotels quote rates in dollars, but all accept payment in rupiah. Singapore dollars are also widely accepted, especially in more touristy areas.
There is no one unified Indonesian culture as such, but the Hindu culture of the former Majapahit empire does provide a framework for the cultural traditions of the central islands of Sumatra, Java and Bali. Perhaps the most distinctively "Indonesian" arts are wayang kulit shadow puppetry, where intricately detailed cutouts act out scenes from the Mahabharata and Ramayana and other popular folk stories, and its accompaniment the gamelan orchestra, whose incredibly complex metallic rhythms are the obligatory backdrop to both religious ceremonies and traditional entertainment. Indonesia is culturally intertwined with the Malay, with notable items such as batik cloth and kris daggers, and Arabic culture has also been adopted to some degree thanks to Islam.
Modern-day Indonesian popular culture is largely dominated by the largest ethnic group, the Javanese. Suharto's ban on Western imports like rock'n'roll, while long since repealed, led to the development of indigenous forms of music like dangdut, a sultry form of pop developed in the 1970s, and the televised pelvic thrusts of starlet Inul Daratista in 2003 were nearly as controversial as Elvis once was. Anggun Cipta Sasmi is a talented Indonesian singer who became a famous singer in France. Her single "La neige au sahara" became a top hit on the European charts in the summer of 1997.
Most Indonesian films are low budget B movies. "Daun di Atas Bantal" (1998) is an exception; it won the "best movie" award at the Asia Pacific Film Festival in Taipei, Taiwan (1998).
Indonesian literature has yet to make much headway on the world stage, with torch-bearer Pramoedya Ananta Toer's works long banned in his own homeland, but the post-Suharto era has seen a small boom with Ayu Utami's Saman breaking both taboos and sales records.
Despite 50 years of promoting Bhinneka Tunggal Ika ("Unity in Diversity") as the official state motto, the concept of an "Indonesian" remains artificial and the country's citizens divide themselves along a vast slew of ethnicities, clans, tribes and even castes. If this wasn't enough, religious differences add a volatile ingredient to the mix and the vast gaps in wealth create a class society as well. On a purely numerical scale, the largest ethnic groups are the Javanese (45%) of central and eastern Java, the Sundanese (14%) from western Java, the Madurese (7.5%) from the island of Madura, and Coastal Malays (7.5%), mostly from Sumatra. This leaves 26% for the Acehnese and Minangkabau of Sumatra, the Balinese, the Iban and Dayaks of Kalimantan, and a bewildering patchwork of groups in Nusa Tenggara and Papua — the official total is no less than 3000!
For most part, Indonesia's many peoples coexist happily, but ethnic conflicts do continue to fester in some remote areas of the country. The policy of transmigration (transmigrasi), initiated by the Dutch but continued by Suharto, resettled Javanese, Balinese and Madurese migrants to less crowded parts of the archipelago. The new settlers, viewed as privileged and insensitive, were often resented by the indigenous populace and, particularly on Kalimantan and Papua, led to sometimes violent conflict.
One particularly notable ethnic group found throughout the country are the Indonesian Chinese, known as Tionghoa or the somewhat derogatory Cina. At an estimated 6-7 million they make up just 3% of the population but continue to wield a disproportionate influence in the economy, with one famous — if largely discredited — study of companies on the Jakarta Stock Exchange concluding that as many as 70% of its companies (and, by extension, the country) were controlled by ethnic Chinese. They have thus been subject to persecution, with Chinese forcibly relocated into urban areas in the 1960s, forced to adopt Indonesian names and bans imposed on teaching Chinese and displaying Chinese characters. Anti-Chinese pogroms have also take place, notably in the 1965-66 anti-Communist purges after Suharto's coup and again in 1998 after his downfall, when over 1100 people were killed in riots in Jakarta and other major cities. However, the post-Reformasi governments have overturned most of the discriminatory legislation, and Chinese writing and Chinese festivals have made a tentative reappearance.
The sole official language is Indonesian, known as Bahasa Indonesia. Indonesian adopted a number of languages from Arabic, Dutch, and Sanskrit. Written phonetically with the Latin alphabet and with a fairly logical grammar, Indonesian is generally regarded as one of the easiest languages to learn, and A.M. Almatsier's The Easy Way to Master the Indonesian Language, a 200 page small paperback, is an excellent starting point. It can be found in any Indonesian bookstore for less than 3 dollars.
The language went through a series of spelling reforms in the 1950s and 60s to smoothe over differences with Malay and expunge its Dutch roots. Although the reforms are long complete, you may still see old signs with dj for j, j for y, or oe for u.
Many educated Indonesians understand and are able to speak English. While Indonesian is the lingua franca throughout the archipelago, there are thousands of local languages as well, and if you really get off the beaten track you may have to learn them as well.
Most educated seniors (65 years/older) in Indonesia understand Dutch.
Educated Indonesians who graduated from Islamic Religious Institutes/Islamic Universities understand and are able to speak Arabic.
English language TV channels are available on most hotels. MetroTV (local TV channel) broadcasts news in Chinese from Monday to Friday at 07.00 AM. MetroTV also broacasts news in English from Monday to Friday at 07.30 AM. TVRI (state owned TV station) broadcasts news in English from Monday to Friday at 04.30 PM in the afternoon. All schedules are in Waktu Indonesia Barat (WIB).