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INDONESIA  (Republik Indonesia)

I can't really say i've been to Indonesia, as it's a massive country spread over countless islands. I merely ventured into Banda Aceh province to visit Bukit Lawang's Orangutan Sanctuary. The town itself was damp, it having been flooded the previous year when a dam burst it's banks due to illegal logging.

A guide took me into the jungle where I played with mosquitoes, saw monkeys and orangutans and untold birds. Looking down onto a hotel built by the river, that aside, I felt wonderfully isolated from the modern world 50 miles away to the East. 10 days later, Banda Aceh would become famous around the world for the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004. The Epicentre was less than 200 miles north of Bukit Lawang.


Essential Information

Language: Indonesian (official) Numerous local languages exist

Currency: Indonesian Rupiah (IDR)

Visa: A 30 day on arrival visa is possible for most Western countries, some ASEAN countries don't need a visa. Check embassy website for current Visa fee.

Plug: Two round prong plug, or two flat horizontal prongs with a vertical flat prong above in triangle fashion. NB Indonesia has dual voltage, 127v and 230v. Be sure you know which one exists before plugging in non-dual voltage equipment.

GMT: GMT +7 to +9

GDP Ranking (IMF): # 123 £2,916 (Similar to Bolivia and Mongolia)

Communications: Country code is + 62

Health: Good health insurance is a must in Indonesia, particularly if away from major cities. Avoid area with poultry, as bird flu could be a possibility, and people have died from it in the country. Since introduction from Africa in 1968, Dengue has become endemic across all of Indonesia. Malaria is common across Indonesia, with a low risk in Bali. As such, protect against mosquitoes day and night. With lots of venomous and teeth lined creates in Indonesia, use caution when in the wilderness.

When to Visit: Indonesia is fine to travel too at all times of the year. April to October tends to be the drier months, although rain outside these times tends to be heavy but brief.

Personal Safety: Indonesia comes with lots of issues for the visitor to be aware of, but one should also keep things in proportion. Due to it's size and location, Indonesia is victim to numerous natural disasters, from earthquakes (such as banda aceh in 2004), volcanic eruptions (such as Mt. Semeru, also in 2004) to cyclones and tsunamis. Petty crime is rife in Indonesia, from airport baggage handlers, to sticky fingers on all long distance travel options. Do not accept offers of drinks on long distance transport, unless clearly sealed. Drugging victims with drink or food is not unheard of. Corruption amongst officials is also common, with 50,000Rp being the average way to get out of a minor offence. Civil unrest and terrorism are also possibilities to add fun to your trip. Checking the F&CO website before and during one's trip should be essential, found here. Indonesia has the death penalty, so don't touch drugs and be wary of becoming a mule. Watch your bags at all times for theft and placement of drugs. Having traces of drugs in your system, in your room or bags is enough for conviction of possession, with terms up to 10 years in jail. Entrapment and huge bribes are also a possibility. Don't be dumb, and steer well clear.

Getting Around: With such vast distances and numerous islands, air travel is the most efficient method of getting around. Numerous airlines ply the routes between islands, however check which ones don't have EU approval due to safety concerns. Somewhat obviously, ferry is only other option for inter-island travel. PLENI operate ferry routes to most islands, and ASDP faster ferries to the most popular destinations.

Rail travel is good and extensive on Java, and patchy in Sumatra. Where roads exist, buses will run, the quality of bus depending on the popularity of the route. It should be noted that it's not unknown for a bus driver to be worse for wear or inebriated. Over night bus journeys carry a higher risk of accidents than normal journeys. Theft on the bus is a risk, and in Southern Sumatra, Banditry is possible, and buses held up. Car rental is an option, but only for the brave. Indonesian drivers regularly ignore road measures, and road conditions vary wildly. Other options include 'private taxi'. When I turned up at Medan bus station, all the buses had finished for the day, a tout turned up and offered to drive me 90miles to Bukit Lawang for 150,000 Rp (about £18 at the time).

What to see/do: Wayang Kulit is a type of shadow puppetry theatre, that is traditional to Indonesia, and worth checking our for the spectacle along with a Gamalan orchestra. It's most popular in central Java, and the Museum Wayang in Jakarta is dedicated to it. Indonesia has 17,000 islands across 2,500miles, so attempting to cover options here would involve days of reading. The majority of the islands have outstanding nature and wildlife, and as such should be on the worthy travellers agenda. I visited Bukit Lawang in northern sumatra, where an Orangutan sanctuary exists. Tanjung Puting National Park on Borneo is another place to catch Orangutan's while you can. Both sites are under threat from illegal logging. Komodo island is home to the largest lizards on earth, the Komodo Dragons. Jayapura is the gateway city to the amazing wildlife of Papua. Also on Papua, is Raja Ampat, regarded as one of the world's top diving hotspots. Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park on Java is where to go for budding or actual volcanologists.

Sun & party seekers usually flock to the island of Bali, although Indonesia isn't short of sun-kissed exotic beaches, like the Gili Islands off Lombok. Man made wonders include Borobudur on Java, or the tall odd shaped huts of Torajaland (Tana Toraja) in South Sulawesi. Semarang is the largest city in central Java, and features many different external influences. Not least Gereja Blenduk, a domed church from the 18th Century. Jakarta allows the visitor to see the future of Indonesia, with it's skyscrapers and sparkly malls, but also the current, muddy streets, gridlocked cars and a foul stench in the air. Ancol Dream Park offers many attractions too offer something less cerebral and more fun in Jakarta. Monas (The National Monument) offers views from 137m up.

Food & Drink: Indonesia is so vast, it's difficult to really state a certain food as being 'Indonesian'. Across the islands, these are some treats too look out for. Bubur is a good way to start the day, a form of porridge. Nasi Goreng is the backpacker's staple cheap food, basically fried rice. Gudeg is a type of jackfruit stew served with an egg. Perkedel is similar to Dutch Frikadel, deep fried burgers of meat and potato, or vegetables. Sapo is a type of Chinese style claypot stew. When it comes to beer, Bintang is ubiquitous with Indonesia.  Bali Hai and Anker are less well known, but just as good as Bintang. Brem is popular in Bali, a type of rice wine.

Other Notes: Counterfeit US bank notes are common, so be aware if accepting any. Indonesia is the largest Muslim country on earth, be sure to be respectful of local customs and practices. Particularly outside major cities.