Visiting Wonderful Indonesia – First Impressions

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Indonesia - sunset and a temple
Sunset Skyline of Indonesia, Image courtesy – Shutterstock

Indonesia was on my wish list for many reasons.

I always wondered how a country with 17,000+ islands managed itself. I wondered how big or small these islands were.

All through my art history classes, I read about Borobudur, the biggest Buddhist temple in the world. I longed to see its sculpted panels that tell the stories of Buddha & Bodhisattvas. I knew about Bali being a Hindu island with thousands of temples. No matter how many images I saw, I wanted to stand in that place and feel it.

So when I got an invite from the Ministry of Tourism of Indonesia, I could not have asked for more. On my 2 week trip, I covered Yogyakarta in central Java, Raja Ampat in East Indonesia and finally wrapped up the trip in Bali. It was tiring as we island hopped in Indonesia but give me another chance and you would find me there again. I have come back with a longer list of places that I want to go to.

Before I start writing about the lovely destinations and experiences of Indonesia, let me share my first impressions of this island country.

Visa Free country

If you want to visit Indonesia for tourism for 30 days of less – you can just walk in and walk out of the country. You do not need a Visa. Your passport is stamped at the entry and exit, and that’s it.

As an Indian passport holder, there can not be a bigger relief than this. Not only the travel to Indonesia is hassle free but it also makes you feel very welcome. You feel as if the country trusts you when it does not seek to validate you before you enter.

For longer duration too, there is a Visa on Arrival for a nominal fee.

India & Indonesia – Similar names not without reason

At Kotagede Market, Yogyakarta
At Kotagede Market, Yogyakarta

As an Indian, you do not really feel out of place in Indonesia.

The traffic is as chaotic as ours. Traffic rules are flexible just like here.

All prices are negotiable. In the popular markets like Sukawati in Bali, people would quote a price and then immediately ask you to bargain. Most of us Indians managed to buy stuff for 25-30% of the prices quoted initially. Indonesians like us, enjoy the game of haggling. It is a war of skills when it comes to bargaining in Indonesia – reminded me of Janpath in Delhi. However, this is restricted only to traditional markets. Shopping malls and high-end markets usually operate on fixed prices with very little margin for bargaining.

Indonesian Currency
Indonesian Currency

Indonesian currency is also called Rupiah, not very different from ours. At the time of writing, our 1 Rs can get you about 200 Rupiah. Visiting Indonesia is your chance to live like a millionaire. To give you a feel of costs, a cup of tea or coffee on the roadside costs about IDR 5000.

They have horse-drawn tongas though just a tourist attraction now. They have cycle rickshaws but slightly different from ours – the driver sits at the back.

They even greet with folded hands, just like we do.

Islands Galore

Islands of Indonesia at Kabui Bay
Islands of Indonesia at Kabui Bay

They say there are more than 17000 islands in Indonesia. The truth is no one knows the exact number of islands. I realized the enormity of the task of counting islands when we were literally island hopping in East Indonesia in a paradise called Raja Ampat. From the flight itself, you start observing the big and small dots in the blue ocean waters. Most of them have an emerald green outline that makes them look like jewels thrown in the ocean.

When we were moving around in a speed boat in places like Pianemo, Waisai & Kabui Bay we had a close encounter with these islands. Some of them are just free standing rocks in the ocean while others are small islands. Most of these are uninhabited. Even when they are inhabited, villages exist on the edge of the islands most of the times.

The waters around these islands are bio-diversity hot spots – especially for marine life.

I understood, it is impossible to count these islands.

Jugaad – Indonesia Style

Dustbin made of recycled tyres
Dustbin made of recycled tyres

India is best known for its Jugaad – our ability to find a solution where none seems to exist. In fact, Jugaad Innovation is the new buzz word in the Innovation space. I found Indonesia to be equally good at Jugaad.

Mangoes bring sold on a bike cart
Mangoes bring sold on a bike cart

They can make anything out of a motorbike. Most street food stalls are modified or enhanced motorbikes. Fruits sellers have an attachment to carry fruits on both sides of the vehicle. Does it not remind you of our dudhwallahs or milkmen?

Chair made of recycles tyre tubes
Chair made of recycles tyre tubes

At Yogyakarta, I saw these chairs and waste bins made of recycled tyres. Reminded me of similar tyre products I had seen at Bhagoria Haat in MP.

The best Jugaad was this – when Garuda airlines forgot to carry my vegetarian meal that was pre-requested, they gave me a tray full of fruits.

For every big & small problem, our Indonesian friends always had a solution. I never felt out of my home.

Ramayana & Mahabharata Everywhere

Bheema relief on the wall of a home at Kotagede in Yogyakarta
Bheema relief on the wall of a home at Kotagede in Yogyakarta

I always knew that the national airline of Indonesia is called Garuda. I knew that Bali is full of Hindu temples. Even then, I was not prepared to meet the characters of Ramayana & Mahabharata almost everywhere in Indonesia.

At Pentingsari, a small rice growing village near Yogyakarta I saw these standees of Sahadeva, Bheem & Yuddhistir. I am sure Arjun & Nakul were somewhere too.

Bheem is seen as a symbol of power. I found this depiction of Bheem at a Muslim house in the lanes of Kotagede in Yogyakarta.

I was repeatedly told that Ghatot – the short form of Ghatotkach, the name of one of the Bheem’s son is a very popular name in Indonesia. I do not recall meeting a person with that name in India.

At Bali, of course, you see innumerable depictions of Ram, Hanuman & Durga Devi. The Kecak or the Ramayana performances that happen every day are a delight to watch.

Vegetarian Food in Indonesia

Vegetarian food in Indonesia
Vegetarian food in Indonesia

As a vegetarian, I was a bit concerned about the availability of vegetarian food in Indonesia. Our hosts took great care in making sure that we always had ample vegetarian meals. Most of the times we had rice with Tofu, Tempe & some green leaves. Eggplant made an occasional appearance. Casava came in various shapes and forms.

Being a rice eating country, half of the vegetarian problem is taken care of. Rice fields can be seen almost everywhere.

The salt levels are relatively low in food. I ended up asking for salt all the time.

Most snacks are sweet but thankfully they are made of Palm Sugar or honey.

Bananas are eaten in abundance. At Tirtha Empul in Bali, small vendors were offering a free banana to every visitor.

They have more local brands of food in the supermarket than standard multi-nationals that we see everywhere.

One thing that I missed big time was curd or yogurt. Looks like the concept of curd is totally absent from Indonesian cuisine.

People of Indonesia

Team of 40 travelers on Trip of wonders
Team of 40 travelers on Trip of wonders

What I would remember the most from this trip is the people of Indonesia. My birthday came on the 2nd day of the trip and I got some of the warmest hugs by my Indonesian friends.

People of Indonesia are warm, fun and cool.

With School Kids in Waisai Island
With School Kids in Waisai Island

I had an opportunity to talk to kids of a school in Waisai island of Raja Ampat in Papua region. I asked them what they want to become when they grow up and the top 3 answers were – Doctors, Police, and Teachers. In fact, they still use the word Guru for the teacher.

I only wish people of Indonesia smoked a lot less. The younger generation smokes like there is no tomorrow.

Everyone loves Bollywood

Almost every Indonesian can sing a few Bollywood songs. At the same school, I was astonished to hear a young school girl sing Arijit Singh’s songs. A lot of Indonesian bloggers introduced themselves with the song – Tujhe Dekha to yeh Jana Sanam. No, they do not understand a word of the lyrics, but they sing it with perfection.

Bollywood has to be India’s most impactful soft power.

Incidentally, it seems, there is not much travel exchange happening between India and Indonesia. Most of us Indians in the group were traveling to Indonesia for the first time and most Indonesians we met had not traveled to India.

I am surprised that there is no direct flight between India and Indonesia. It’s time to rectify this.

22 COMMENTS

    • Sonal, I wonder why Indonesians and Indians don’t travel to each other’s country more often. Hope the work we do through our blogs would push some people to travel to Indonesia and vice versa.

      That Jugaad chair was outside the language school in Jogja.

    • Thank you, Meenakshi. Glad you liked the Jugaad part. Yes, I need to go and explore more of Indonesia, but till then let me write about all that I saw in these 15 days that I spent there.

      Thank you for pointing out the repetition of text – sign that the fatigue has still not left the body.

  1. Good writeup about Indonesia = IND+ones+IA. Means India wale. So many things are common with India’s culture & relegion. So far I was avoiding visiting Indonesia but after reading your writeup, may be now anytime. Like Janpath, are goods sold at 35 -35.

    • Thank you Mr Jain. You should visit Indonesia, come back and tell us what you felt about the country. Yes, just like Janpath, you can bargain hard in traditional markets of Indonesia. Their markets are very colorful and I must add very musical.

  2. Anu, thanks for your point of view. You got the point right, especially about the smoking habit among younger generation here. They think they look cool when smoking :/

    Anyway, I’ve been to Kerala once, and would like to return my visit to northern part of India 😉

  3. Wow..now you have given me so many more reasons to push Indonesia to the top of my travel list. I am going there soon… loved the jugad and bargain parts. And couldn’t control a smile on the traffic part 🙂

    • Neha, I was reading a few blogs on driving in Indonesia, especially Bali. They all warned against driving in Indonesia. When i was on the roads in Indonesia, I was like – I would drive like I drive at home.

  4. While Bali has been high on my list of must-visit destinations, I never though the whole of Indonesia would be interesting. Which other places apart from Bali would you suggest visiting in Indonesia? Your emphasis on the fact that Indonesia is more like India in multiple aspects is a good nudge for me to start planning a visit with my 4-year-old kid ( I usually get skeptical while choosing a destination to travel with my son).

  5. Great write up on Indonesia.. and why both countries don’t exchange tourists..Especially when the prices are relatively similar. Would love to visit.. and check out their important tourist places.

    • Harish, Indonesia is quite affordable. The culture is similar and so are the people. Like India it has so many things to offer to a visitor – culture, food, nature and of course a heaven called Raja Ampat.

  6. Hello Anu,
    I am much impressed after reading about Indonesia. Please tell me something about the Hotel fare and Air fare to Indonesia because I am making a plan to visit Indonesia after reading your blog.
    Santosh
    From: Gurugram

    • Thank you Santosh.

      Hotels are quite affordable in Indonesia. In popular tourist destinations like Bali, you can get hotels in all ranges.

      There are no direct flights to Indonesia, so you have to go via Singapore, Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur. You have the option of budget airlines like Air Asia or full service ones like Singapore Airlines.

      Do come back and tell us about experience in Indonesia.

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