Indonesia Travel Information - FAQ

Indonesia: Frequently Asked Questions

Should I go alone, or on a tour?

If you are even thinking about this, you should probably go on your own. Most areas visited by package tours go to places that are easily accessible to independent travellers, prices are low, the people friendly, and if you really want to meet other travellers, there are plenty of places to find them. The only two cases where tours can be worth taking are if you either want a simple beach holiday in Bali, in which case a flight + hotel deal can be cheaper than booking them separately, or if you go on some adventure tour to remote parts of Papua or Kalimantan that could be too hard to do on your own, at least if it's your first visit to the country.

Which are the most interesting islands/regions to visit?

This really depends on your interests!
Java and Bali have the most impressive temples and "high" art.
Sumatra, Sulawesi and Nusa Tenggara have the most impressive traditional village architecture.
Java, Sumatra and Kalimantan have the best wildlife.
Maluku, Sulawesi and Nusa Tenggara have the best, accessible beaches and coral reefs.
Papua, Maluku and Kalimantan receive the fewest visitors.
Java and Bali have the best hotels, shopping and nightlife.

Is Bali totally spoilt, or still worth visiting?

Bali is what you make of it! The busy tourist scene is largely restricted to the southernmost areas of the island, and to Ubud. Maybe another dozen places have a low-key tourist scene. Much of the island still remains largely unaffected by tourism, and the scenery, art and culture remains as fascinating as ever. To me, Bali remains one of the true gems of Asia, and definitely worth visiting!

Where are the best dive-spots?

In general, Indonesia's coral reefs get richer the further east you go, with the Raja Ampat Islands having been nominated as the global centre of marine biodiversity. Diving possibilities are somewhat limited by availability of facilities though. So a list of the best places where you can actually dive would include (in alphabetical order only!) Alor in East Nusa Tenggara, Banda in Maluku, Bunaken in North Sulawesi, Labuhanbajo in East Nusa Tenggara, Raja Ampat in Western Papua, Sanglaki in East Kalimantan and Wakatobi in Southeast Sulawesi.

Where are the best beaches?

Well, this is a tricky one!
Many people, including me, find their own favourite spots they'd rather keep secret. So I will only mention a few places that are already publicized in the guidebooks. The pick of these would be the Kei Islands in Maluku, a region which has many other candidates, too. Closer to Jakarta, stunning beaches can be found on and around the island of Belitung. Some of the most unspoilt beaches with stunning reefs just off-shore are in the Raja Ampat Islands in Papua. Sangalaki in East Kalimantan is another remote gem, as are the remote Natuna Islands, curiously located between peninsular Malaysia and Sarawak. None of these has a wealth of places to stay though, so those looking for beaches with more comforts and a livelier travellers' scene could check out the Gili Islands and Kuta in Lombok, the Labuhanbajo area of Flores, the Karimunjawa Islands of Central Java, various beaches and islands around North Sulawesi, the Togean Islands of Central Sulawesi... and the list could go on.
Finding your own "secret" favourite should not be hard in East Indonesia!
You may have noticed that Bali is missing from this listing, and that's not an oversight. Bali's beaches are not very special compared to those elsewhere in Indonesia, but if you do want to know, the best of them are on the Bukit Peninsula in the very south of the island.

What is a decent budget for Indonesia?

As usual this largely depends on how you travel, where you stay and eat. But in Indonesia, another factor is how widely you travel within this vast country. Trying to cover a lot of ground within the confines of a 30 or 60 day visa would mean having to take a couple of internal flights, adding to the cost. Visiting far-flung Papua, Maluku or Kalimantan would also require a higher daily budget. Basically, at the bottom end of the scale, really budget-conscious backpackers happy to travel by bus between say Sumatra, Java and Bali, eating at cheap warungs (foodstalls) and staying in the cheapest accommodation available could get by on as little as US $15-20/day. Couples or friends travelling together might spend a bit less than solo travellers, as they can share the costs of rooms and private transport. Start adding extras like eating at tourist-oriented places, staying at nicer places, going out at night or doing activities like diving, and costs will start increasing steeply. In places like Bali or Java the sky is pretty much the upper limit, though on the other hand in many remote areas you will simply not find much to spend on!

How long time do I need to see the country?

A lifetime is not enough to "see it all" - seriously! But there is no point in trying to see everything on a short trip. Before deciding on where you want to go, do sit down with a map, comparing the size of Indonesia to that of other countries in the region, like Thailand or Vietnam. You will quickly realize that this country is as big as several others put together, and is in fact best treated accordingly. While you could see some "highlights" of each of Indonesia's main regions in as little as a week (in each), and thus cover the country in 2 months or so by flying all over, a more sensible idea is to pick only one, or at most a few regions, and see them better.
In my experience, one month is about enough to see all the main attractions of a single region like Sumatra or Sulawesi, with two months allowing you to get off the beaten track in each as well. Add that up, and you could spend a year or more covering just the main attractions of the country easily! If you don't have that much time, don't worry - but do pick your priorities!

Aren't Muslim areas hostile to Westerners?

Not here for sure! Indonesia as a whole is a very friendly country, and Muslim areas are every bit as friendly as Christian ones or Hindu Bali. You'd have to do something rather insensitive, such as being a woman walking around in scanty dress in conservative villages to upset Muslim sensitivities.

What if I visit during Ramadan?

Life still goes on during the month of fasting. You will find that many places to eat stay closed during the day, but others remain open. In any case, you could plan to spend this period in Hindu Bali or in one of Indonesia's Christian regions like North Sumatra, North Sulawesi, East Nusa Tenggara, South Maluku or Papua, where there would be even less effect of Ramadan to be felt.

I have heard that flying is unsafe... and so are boats?!?

To keep things in perspective, remember that Indonesia is made up by thousands of islands, which means that on any given day there will be hundreds or thousands of flights and boats transporting passengers between them. Given those numbers, and the fact that this is still a developing nation after all, it is not all that surprising that the odd disaster strikes every now and then, but realistically, your chances of being the victim of a plane-crash or a ferry-sinking in Indonesia are probably no higher than experiencing a traffic accident elsewhere in the World.

What are the Pelni ships like - some say unbearable?

Pelni, the national shipping company of Indonesia is a passenger service aimed at locals, not a cruise shipping company! Having said that, it does offer a range of classes that should really suit most needs. Ekonomi Class is of course as crowded as it is cheap, with standards of cleanliness matching it. At the other end of the scale, First Class is very comfortable, staying in a double cabin with your private bathroom, eating in a nice restaurant. Basically, you get what you pay for - or more, as even First Class is still cheaper, not to mention much more interesting, than touristy cruises would be!

How easy is it to get around without speaking Indonesian?

Depends on where you go. In touristy areas like Bali's resorts, no problem at all. You can also get around pretty easily between the main attractions of every region. Off the beaten track, you can still find some people who speak English in major cities, but would be unlikely to find any out in the villages. I strongly recommend carrying a phrasebook if planning to travel off the beaten track, and starting to learn as many of the key words and phrases as you can as soon as possible. It is easier than you might think!

With all the news of logging, can I still find beautiful nature?

Indonesia is simply HUGE, with much of it very remote as well. So while logging, both legal and illegal is definitely a problem here (like in much of the tropics), there are still huge areas of pristine nature left. You may have to know where to look to find them, but if you make just a little effort, it is not hard at all. Much of East Indonesia is still very pristine and beautiful by any definition.

Which are the best places to see wildlife?

Note that the best places to see wildlife are not necessarily the largest and remotest conservation areas in deepest-darkest Borneo or Papua! In fact, most people are surprised to hear that Java's national parks are perhaps the country's most rewarding in this respect. See my list of selected best spots on my Activities page!

Should I take malaria pills?

Most of Java and Bali have a very low risk of malaria, but the rest of the country, just like most other tropical areas, is a malaria-risk zone. If you are only going to Indonesia for a relatively short trip of no longer than a few months, the risk of ruining your trip with a potentially very serious disease probably outweighs any concerns you might have about taking pills, and my personal advice is to take them.