Getting inside Indonesia

Beach fun, Pacitan

Geography, Climate, Dress Code, Passport, Health Precautions, Currency and Payments, Heading to Town, Shopping, Internet access, Domestic Flights, Trains, Buses, Car Rental, Pedicabs and OjekFood, Eating Out, Off the Beaten Track, Traveling with Kids, Where to go & what to see, Traveling with a Disability, Going Home


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This is Indonesia: a tropical archipelago of more than 18,000 islands, stretching along the Equator in Southeast Asia. Most of the islands are not inhabited. The major islands, in terms of population are Java, Sumatra and Bali. Java alone is home to almost 50 percent of the total population of 250 million Indonesians.

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Indonesia is the world's fourth most populous country, after China, India and the USA. There are three time zones. The country could easily span the Atlantic Ocean from Nova Scotia to the coast of Portugal or from Ireland to Greece.

We have prepared a brief history of Indonesia.

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Temperatures at sea level range from 24 to 36 degrees Celsius all year round. Humidity is high. 
It is cooler at higher altitudes. 

Those who like to scale mountains (and there are quite a few mountains to scale in Indonesia) need to bring warm clothes for the nights -and plenty of water to drink to avoid dehydration. 
Don't go hiking and climbing without a guide.

Indonesia has only two seasons: the rainy and the dry season. South from the equator the rainy season generally lasts from November to April. North from the Equator it is from May to October.

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Dress Code
Indonesians dress modestly. 
Although you may see some men wearing only shorts, the norm is to wear a shirt and pants or jeans. 
Women will most likely wear pants, jeans or long skirts. They almost always wear long sleeves. The majority of Muslim women can be seen wearing head scarves. 
When visiting villages it is best to adjust to the local dress code to some extent. For women that implies avoiding sleeveless tops, cleavage and shorts. For men, wear long trousers and short sleeved shirts. 

Nudity on beaches is strictly forbidden.

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Security, Passport, Visas
Indonesia is a safe and attractive destination for holiday makers, business people and expatriates alike. 
Areas to avoid include certain locations in Papua. If in doubt contact the foreign Ministry in your country or the nearest Indonesian embassy.

You will find that most Indonesians are very friendly and helpful.

To enter Indonesia visitors need a passport valid for at least another six months from the day of arrival.

A free Visa is available for citizens of the more than 170 countries. It is valid  for 30 days and can not be extended.

On Arrival visas are available too.
These visas can be purchased at major entry points, such as international airports and harbors of Medan, Batam, Jakarta, Surabaya, Bali. 
Full details are available at Indonesian embassies and consulates, airlines and travel agents.

On Arrival visas are valid for 30 days and costs US$ 35 or the equivalent in Euros (Euro coins are not accepted!) and can be extended for another 30 days.

There are also visas with different periods of validity for students, businessmen and for social/cultural purposes (visa sosial budaya).
Visa fees and the duration of the application process may vary among different Indonesian Embassies.

Before landing you will receive a customs declaration form to complete.

Indonesia has many international airports. The major gateways are Medan, Jakarta, Surabaya, Makassar and Bali. 
The Immigration and Customs processes are usually quick and easy. 

Beware: Indonesia has capital punishment for drug smuggling and possession of narcotics and executed twelve convicted foreigners in 2015.

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Health Precautions
Ask your physician for advise on vaccinations and preventive treatment, such as for malaria, typhoid, cholera, and hepatitis. If you arrive from a country where Yellow Fever is endemic, a Yellow Fever vaccination is mandatory. 

Malaria occurs in most parts of the country with the exception of West and East Java. 

During the rainy season (October through May) Dengue Fever occurs. Symptoms include a general feeling of being tired, continuing fever, nausea and vomiting, no taste for food, and small red spots that appear on the arms after three or four days. 

Additional information on health risks for travelers is available for example through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Use a good mosquito repellent (tropical formula). In Indonesia you may want to buy Soffell or similar products. They are widely available at pharmacies and in supermarkets.

Don't drink tap water anywhere. Bottled mineral water is available in all cities, towns and even in the smallest hamlets throughout the country. Drink plenty of water during the day -dehydration occurs very quickly.

Travelers who like to get a tan must be very careful. Sunburn may occur as quickly as after 15 minutes, despite protective sun blocks. Have you wondered why Indonesians seem to avoid the sun and remain in the shade? It is because the sun is too hot to expose yourself too.

Take it easy for at least the first two or three days. Allow your body to adjust to the time difference and the climate and to overcome the effects of jetlag.  

When in need of a doctor, consider Medikaloka, a clinic of international standard located at Gedung Graha Irama, Jl. Rasuna Said, Jakarta.
Other hospitals of international standard include Brawijaya Hospital in Jakarta, and the Mitra Keluarga Group in Jakarta and Surabaya.

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Indonesian Currency and Payments
Indonesia's currency is the Rupiah (Rp. or IRD). 

Exchange rate December 2017
Rp 13,500 = US$
Rp 16,000 = Euro 

Get the latest currency rates at Bank Indonesia.

In all major cities there are ATMs. You will find them in shopping centers, hotels, banks, airports and along the main streets. Most ATMs accept foreign credit cards and provide bills in Rp 50.000 denominations, some do so in Rp 100.000.
Money changers are also widely available. 

Cashing Travelers' Checks may require some time as relatively few tourists use them these days.

Banks and money changers will refuse US$ notes that are not in pristine condition. They will also refuse US$ bills printed in certain years or with certain serial numbers. 
Foreign coins cannot be changed at all. 

Most major credit cards, such as Visa, Master Card and, less frequently, American Express can be used to pay for flight tickets, hotels, tours, and also for your groceries in supermarkets (usually a minimum Rp amount is applicable such as Rp 50,000).

Be careful when you use your card. Unfortunately sophisticated international credit card fraud rings also operate in Indonesia and other Asian countries.

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Heading into Town
All airports in Indonesia, including the domestic ones have taxi services. In most airports you have the option to pre-pay a taxi from a booth. 
It is available either inside the baggage claim area or in the arrival lounge. Prices are fixed and may include a surcharge and toll fees as applicable. 
The second option is to hail a taxi 'curb side' such as in Jakarta's international airport. These taxis have meters, but especially in Jakarta you are advised to use the first option (Blue Bird taxi group).

In Indonesia you will find an overwhelming choice of accommodations, ranging from 5 star hotels to guesthouses, comfortable or modest home stays and hostels where you need to bring your own towels and soap. 
Adventurous travelers who haven't made room reservations will always find a roof over their heads, even in the busiest season (from June to September).

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Indonesia Shopping Experience
Most shops are open seven days a week from 0800 or 0900 AM to 0900 PM and they don't close for lunch. 

Indonesia is a shoppers' paradise. 
There are vast shopping malls in the major urban centers that can easily compete with any shopping mall abroad. 
But there are also numerous traditional markets, neighborhood shops, super markets, boutiques, souvenir shops and 'antique' shops. 
On the latter, antik in Indonesia does not necessarily mean antique. It is more inclined to classic. Indonesian antik is usually only a few days or weeks old when you buy it and you should certainly buy it when you appreciate the (classic) design, the craftsmanship or the value for money.

Souvenirs and handicrafts are of good quality, varied and innovative. Above all, they are cheap, unless they are high quality wood carvings (with high quality of wood and high quality of carving). 
The best place to search for good wood carvings still remains the island of Bali. 

Genuine and classic batik is also worth its price. Batik designs vary locally. Be aware that the color fades quickly when you buy batik to decorate your home.

Outside of Java batik is replaced by intricately woven traditional cloths (ikat). Available throughout the country, you will find the best quality in the islands east from Bali and Sumatra.

Indonesia is well known for its 24 karat gold and silver jewelry and gem stones. If you don't find the design you like, you may order it and it will be ready in days rather than weeks.
There is a growing export trade in wood furniture and in several cities or towns you can find furniture producers who will be happy to take your order and ship it right to your doorstep.

Well-known international brands are genuine, unless they are too cheap to be so. Be aware of fakes; you may risk a fine when you try to import them to your country.

Go to the Links page for several (on-line) shopping choices.

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Internet access
Indonesia is quickly improving online access, although Internet speeds remain among the slowest in the world. Especially in the major cities it is easy to find free wireless hotspots. All shopping malls, most coffeeshops, and airports provide the service. Speeds may vary considerably.

Most telecom providers offer USB modems, or portable wifi hotspots, both with a weekly or monthly prepaid or subscription plan. Download and uploads speeds are generally good.

If all else fails there are still numerous Warnet (Warung Internet or internet shops) with cheap wired and wireless access. Many of these Warnet are of low standard and struggle on with ageing desktop PCs.

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Domestic Flights
Indonesia boasts many domestic airlines. The oldest and best known is state owned Garuda Indonesia, which operates the youngest fleet, mostly with Boeing B737. Garuda Indonesia is a five star airline and boasts the world's best cabin crew for the fourth consecutiive year.
The others are private airlines, such as Lion Air, Jatayu Air, Pelita Air, Citilink, Batik Air and several others. 
They operate frequent flights, especially from Jakarta to major destinations in Indonesia such as Medan, Palembang, Bandung, Semarang, Jogjakarta, Surakarta (Solo), Surabaya, Denpasar (capital of the island of Bali), Mataram on the island of Lombok, Kupang, Makassar, Balikpapan, Banjarmasin, Ambon, Manado, Biak and Jayapura. 
Aviation authorities have warned Lion Air over its notorious, frequently occurring and very long delays.

See our guide to Jakarta's Soekarno-Hatta International Airport terminals.

Between the two major cities in Indonesia, Jakarta and Surabaya there are more than 20 return flights each day. Most domestic airlines post schedules on their websites.

On-time departures and arrivals, good customer service and efficient baggage handling are the norm for most airlines. However, with the vastly growing number of flights, the major airports in Jakarta and Bali increasingly experience air traffic 'jams' causing delays for arriving and departing flights.

Reservations for most domestic flights can be made through travel agents and airlines abroad. However it is more reliable, and a lot cheaper to do so after you have arrived in Indonesia. 

In all airports there are warnings not to use calo (middlemen) and to purchase tickets directly at the airlines' sales counters.

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In the island of Java and in parts of Sumatra traveling by train is a good alternative to cover long distances in relative comfort and for very little money. There are three kinds of services available: economy (ekonomi), business (bisnis) and executive (eksekutif). 

The economy service is currently being upgraded with airconditioning and assigned seats. 

Business class sports better seats. 

Usually there is also an onboard catering service. At most stations vendors are blocked from entering the platforms and trains to offer their products.

The best service is eksekutif. It has air conditioned coaches, reclining seats and catering. The fare for a one way ticket from Jakarta to Surabaya, more than 800 kilometers all across the island, will set you back less than US$ 35 (for the most expensive night express). 

Reservations can be made online, at the stations or at IndoMaret outlets. 
During Indonesian holidays, such as Idul Fitri and for Christmas it may be next to impossible to obtain train or bus tickets at all. Prices for public transportation during major holidays will surge. 

The latest mode of transportation is the rail bus in the city of Surakarta (Solo).

Smoking is prohibited at railway stations and on the trains.

In railway stations there will be warnings not to use the services of calo (middlemen) but to buy tickets directly at the ticket sales counters.

Go to the Transportation section on our Links page to check train schedules and fares.

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If you have time enough, an interesting way to see the sights and to experience the sounds and smells of Indonesia is to take the bus. Buses are by far the most popular means of transportation. If you like, you may take a bus from Medan in North Sumatra all the way to Surakarta (Solo) in Central Java, or go island hopping from Surabaya (East Java) to Kupang (West Timor). Bus fares are cheap and the buses are air conditioned. 

However, the seats may be too small even for not so tall westerners. In the bus terminals and on the buses, be aware for pickpockets and people who offer unsolicited services. Try to find a seat in the front and keep your baggage in sight.

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Car Rental
In the last few years car rental has become more common and more affordable. Bali without a doubt has the most car rental companies, including Avis and Hertz.

Bring your passport and show your international driver's license and you will be on your way quickly. Several local car rental companies send you on the road with an almost empty fuel tank. Don't be upset, that's the norm. You're not supposed to return the car with a full tank either.

A half day rental counts 12 hours of usage. A full day may keep you on the road for 24 hours if you wish.

Although there are traffic rules in Indonesia most drivers seem to ignore them. There seems to be only one rule; get there as fast as you can. Fortunately most drivers stay on the left side of the road most of the time, but that is not an absolute guarantee. Especially bikers, becak and cyclists are notorious for using the wrong side of the road, especially at night. 
Be aware that becak and cyclists never have lights. That promises some adventurous encounters! After dark villagers often use the road as a place to gather, to relax and to lie down. The best rule for foreign drivers is to take it very easy and to go with the flow.

An alternative to adventurous driving is to rent a car with a driver. This facility is known as borongan (literally: borrowing a car or minibus and its driver). You are free to travel anywhere and for any number of days. Indonesian drivers are used to drive for hours on end. 

They may make a 1,000 kilometer trip from Surabaya to Jakarta in 12 or 15 hours, take a few hours' rest and then drive all the way back again. However, for reasons of safety and humanitarianism allow the driver to drive for 8 hours per day only. The daily rates for a car and driver amount to around approximately Rp 400,000 (plus fuel).

A far cheaper way of transportation is to share the minibus with other passengers. This form of transportation is known as 'travel'. 'Travel' has become another form of public transportation and there are many companies with services between major cities. A ticket for a scheduled ride from Jakarta to Jogjakarta will come at approximately Rp 80,000 per person. 
Tickets are available through hotels, travel agents and specialized agents.

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Pedicabs and Ojek
Indonesia still has some exotic forms of transportation, which include pedicabs (becak) and ojek. The latter are motorbike owners who operate their bikes as taxis. Although the fares are cheap by any standard, haggling is highly acceptable.

The same system applies to pedicabs. Pedicab drivers paddle their becak in the still of the night, in the heat of the day and through the heaviest of thunderstorms. The fares are low, but they are economical only on short distances. 
If you master some Indonesian or if the becak driver speaks some English you may be surprised about the sense of humor of many becak drivers, their philosophical insights or simply how interested they are in knowing about your life and your country.

The cultural cities of Jogjakarta and Surakarta (Solo) are by far the best for a drive in a becak, but becak can be found in many other cities and towns such as Medan, some parts of Jakarta, Bandung, Semarang, Surabaya, Makassar and Bali.
Becak passengers must be conscious to keep bags and cameras close to their bodies. Robbers, operating on motor cycles are notorious for snatching valuables and making off in an instant. Fortunately this form of street crime is still rare.

One of the English and Dutch speaking becak drivers in Jogjakarta can be booked through Facebook. Search for Harry van Yogya. He usually can be found around the Prawirotaman area, popular with tourists.

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Indonesian Food
Indonesian cuisine is as varied as its people, their cultures and where they live. For most Indonesians, rice is the staple food and it is eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner. In the more arid eastern provinces maize and tubers, such as cassava replace rice. Unfortunately they are slowly put into the corner of poor-men's food. 
With rice, either boiled or fried, Indonesians like to eat one or more side dishes of vegetables, meat or fish. The variety of side dishes is limitless and most tourists soon acquire a taste for Indonesian food with or without one of the equally varied chili varieties.
There are local variations in tastes and smells, but in general the food is mildly to very spicy.

A good way to get accustomed to Indonesian food is to try one of the many Padang restaurants. Without asking anything the waiter or waitress will put an astonishing number of dishes on the table. Don't worry; you are not expected to eat it all. Just choose what you like. You are charged only for what you eat. 

Those with a taste for burgers and pizza should not despair. Many of the internationally known fast food chains are present in Indonesia. Also, all hotels serve western fare.

If you are used to a breakfast of bacon and eggs, no hotel or restaurant will have a problem with the eggs, but bacon in a Muslim country like Indonesia is not always available.

Vegetarians are finding it increasingly easy to find suitable restaurants in major cities. More and more (trendy) vegetarian restaurants are established. In the countryside, look for any of these dishes: gado-gado, pecel, ketroprak, karedok, siomay, tempe goreng. If you don't mind to 'fish around the meat' ask for sayur lodeh, sayur asem. 

We have a few "food links" for you right here. A free eRecipe booklet is available here

Please feel free to share the eBook with others.

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Eating out and Tipping
At times it is as if Indonesians eat and drink all day and most of the night. Indeed the number of restaurants, roadside food stalls and food peddlers is astonishing. Especially in urban centers it is easy to find food stalls open at any time of the day or night. 

If you invite Indonesians for dinner, you should know that many are not accustomed to having lengthy meals with equally long conversations. One is used to enter a restaurant, to order, to enjoy the meal quickly, to pay and to leave. If your guests begin to show signs of restlessness, it's not because they don't enjoy your hospitality. Instead, they feel they are overstaying your welcome.

Tipping in Indonesia is easy. Whatever you tip will be appreciated, but if you don't it is usually not a problem either. Waiters, except those in 4 or 5 star hotels, don't expect tips at all.
However, tourist guides must be tipped as their base salary (if they have one at all) is not sufficient to keep them alive for more than a week.

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Off the beaten Track
Many tourists follow the traditional route from West to East across Java to Bali. Yet, Indonesia has a tremendous and largely undiscovered potential to entertain tourists. 
The small islands of Nias and Sibolga in Sumatra are only one example. You will find special golf resorts. There are exquisite opportunities for diving or snorkeling in the remote island of Selayar in the province of South Sulawesi. 
You may go hiking in the island of Flores, or in the island of Komodo, looking for the Komodo dragons. 
Even relatively nearby Madura, across Strait Madura from Surabaya holds surprises, such as the bull races. 
In the island of Lombok, the next island east from Bali you will find Indonesia's highest volcano. Climbing should never be attempted without an experienced guide.

In Sulawesi you may board a cruise on a traditional sailing schooner known as pinisi
In the island of Kalimantan you could make a cruise along the river and visit traditional Dayak communities. 
Go to Links for more details.

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Traveling with Kids
Bringing children on a long and faraway trip to Indonesia may seem daunting. Yet, with a bit of preparation children will enjoy the trip and find many opportunities to have fun.

On board the plane most babies are happy passengers, sleeping for many hours, waking up only to be fed or have their diapers changed. 
On the ground they are just as happy, coping with the warm climate as if nothing much has changed. 
Should you bring a suitcase full of baby food and diapers? Probably not as your favorite brand of diapers will be available in most supermarkets. 
Baby formula and baby food in Indonesia is a little different from what you are used to, but tasty and healthy. It usually comes in freeze-dried packs. Just add warm water or milk and stir. 
Popular brand names include Promina, Sun, SGM and others.

Still about food, older children will not be disappointed to find their favorite burgers, pizza, fried chicken, hot apple pie, or french fries and the like in Indonesia, especially in the major cities.
Before setting out on the trip it is good to prepare them about what to expect. 
Tell them about the different traditions, language, climate and how adventurous it will be to discover it all.

Indonesia offers lots of entertainment for children, such as theme parks in Jakarta, safari parks (outside Bogor, West Java and Tretes, East Java and the elephant park in Bali), boat rides, swimming opportunities, game parlors and much more.

Nevertheless, the travel pace of adults may be too demanding on children. 
Adjust your travel schedule, visiting fewer places and staying in one place a little longer than you would have done traveling without kids. 
If possible, don't spend most of the day on the road eushing from one place to the next. 
Children experience the world from a different perspective, they absorb many more impressions and need time to process it all.

Indonesians adore children and will not miss an opportunity to say 'hi' to your kids, to touch them and to pass a sweet. Children with blond hair and blue eyes are especially attractive to Indonesians, women and men alike, which at times can become rather overwhelming for the child. Anticipating crowded conditions, carry your small child on your back so that the touching is kept to the minimum.

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Traveling with a Disability
Indonesia is an increasingly popular holiday destination. However, for disabled travellers, it’s not as simple as merely booking the flights and accommodation and jet-setting across the world. Indonesia isn’t known for being particularly accommodating to those with physical disabilities, in fact, quite the opposite. 

All cities and towns have high curbs, very few ramps and no space for those in wheelchairs to easily access buses or trains. However, you shouldn’t let this deter you from exploring. Fortunately, there are ways to get around this and experience Indonesia without too much trouble. 

Firstly, getting a cruise to Indonesia is a fantastic way to ensure you travel to and from your destination in comfort. Most cruises not only include disabled access and rooms, but provide help to make sure you can get around the ship with relative ease. A cruise will also take you to the main tourist locations so that you don’t need to take public transport within the country itself. Not only is this more pleasant, especially when visiting a humid country, but a lot less stressful. 

The major shopping centres now have adequate disabled access for those wanting to shop while in Indonesia. 

However, when roaming around Indonesia itself, it’s sensible to either have a guide with you that speaks your language and who you trust, a family member or friend. This will ensure you don’t get lost, can relax while sightseeing and will be safe at all times. If you make friends while on the cruise, ask them if they wouldn’t mind touring Indonesia with you. You can spend time coming up with a plan where you both get to see everything you want.
Better still is to schedule your brief or multi day shore trips when booking your cruise. If you plan on performing activities while in Indonesia, make sure you contact the company ahead of time. 

There will be plenty of information about your destination(s) on board your cruise so this can all be done by the side of the pool as you travel, via the on-board wi-fi now available on most cruises. 

Many activities, especially in Indonesia, are unsuitable for those with disabilities, so checking before you arrive is essential in avoiding wasted trips, which take up precious time and energy. However, fortunately, there are companies who do accommodate and adapt for those with disabilities. For example, disabled snorkeling and diving is an ideal opportunity to explore the Indonesian seas in complete safety.

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Going Home
When it's time to go home, hold on to enough Rupiah to pay the departure tax (airport tax) of Rp 200,000 per passenger, payable during check-in. Departure tax is already included in the ticket fare of Garuda Indonesia.


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