Indonesia is a place of limitless excitement. The country offers an environment as diverse as its people – a population of over 300 ethnic groups scattered over 17,500 islands across the equator between the Pacific and Indian Oceans.
Words: Efi Hafizah Hamzah
It is a shining gem with a skyline dominated by volcanoes, verdant hills and mountains, juxtaposed against bustling cities teeming with commercial activities. It is a treasure trove of history and ancient ruins filled with mysterious temples, shrines and mystical practices. The country is an adventure-seeker’s playground with expansive jungles, deep gorges and valleys, and swift fl owing rivers. It is a water sports haven with over 54,000 kilometres of coastline boasting hundreds of pristine, deserted stretches. It’s one of the world’s most biodiverse regions for marine life with more fi sh, coral and mollusc species recorded than anywhere else on earth. It is a shoppers’ delight with endless malls, quaint stores and street bargains, and a hip and happening country with a vibrant nightlife scene. This is Indonesia.
The Indonesian national motto: United in Diversity is but a hint of its many facets – from the laidback island vibe of Bali to the cosmopolitan milieu of Jakarta and, the almost untouched tribal landscape of Papua – this is a land filled with culture, traditions and adventure, inviting visitors to experience the best the country has to offer.
Diving into diversity
Located in the West Papua province of Indonesia, Raja Ampat is renowned as a deep sea diving paradise with unparallelled marine bio diversity. The group of islands concentrated in the north-western tip of the island is stunningly rich in marine life with over 1,606 species of reef fish recorded in the Bird’s Head Seascape area alone. Many of these creatures are endemic to this area, thriving in profusion due to the remote nature of the area that’s relatively untouched by commercial activities. This makes Raja Ampat one of the best places in the world to go deep sea diving! diverajaampat.org
Lying east of Bali, Nusa Tenggara consists of over 500 islands and runs from Lombok in the west to Timor in the east. Nusa Tenggara stretches 1,300 kilometres in length and lies just a few degrees south of the equator. The volcanic area along this corridor is home to around 400 volcanoes, with half still active. The northern part of the islands include Lombok, Sumbawa, Flores, Lembata
and Alor while the southern islands like Sumba, Savu, Roti and Timor are strengthened with uplifted coral limestone and sediment, making them superb dive sites. www.indonesiapromo.com, www.goseentt.com
From the clear waters and steep walls in Menjangan Island on the north-western side of Bali to the strange marine creatures in Gilimanuk, the famous World War II wrecks in Tulamben and the fierce currents of Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Penida, these dive sites are some of the best in the world. The areas are easily accessible, and offer high visibility and a stunningly rich marine life, thanks to its location in Arus Lintas Indonesia (Indonesian Throughflow) where a massive flow of water passes through from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean, depositing plankton larvae, which attracts a large diversity of marine species.
GETTING THERE AirAsia flies to Bali from various destinations. Go to www.airasia.com for flight details.
There are over 20 wildlife sanctuaries and national parks in Indonesia that will fulfil any nature enthusiasts’ desire to experience challenging treks, climbs, flora and fauna.
- Kakinauwe Nature Reserve, home to the Sulawesi black monkey, civet cat and hornbill.
- Lambusango Wildlife Reserve, home to the wild dwarf buffalo, wild cow, white and grey forest dove.
- Tanjung Amolengo Wildlife Reserve, home to the black stork, tree duck and yellow bird.
GETTING THERE AirAsia flies 4 times weekly to Makassar, Sulawesi, from Kuala Lumpur. Go to www.airasia.com for flight details.
The people of Papua entered mainstream society only in the recent past. So ancient and mysterious is the land and its inhabitants, tales of cannibalism and head-hunting practices are still rife in the deep interiors. Spooky tales aside, the island of Papua has a world of wealth to offer with its natural wonders. The land remains mostly untouched with over 1,500 bird species and countless wildlife not found anywhere else. The variety of wildlife is matched only by the diverse flora with mangrove swamps, alpine heaths and wooded highlands that’s home to some of the most unique orchids, ferns and carnivorous pitcher plants.
Sebangau National Park, home to the orang utan, rhinoceros hornbill and Borneo gibbon.
GETTING THERE AirAsia flies three times weekly to Balikpapan, Kalimantan, from Kuala Lumpur. Go to www.airasia.com for flight details.
Kerinchi Seblat National Park, home to the Sumatran tiger, serow, rhinoceros, gibbons, macaques and Kerinchi rat.
GETTING THERE AirAsia flies daily to Padang, Sumatra, from Kuala Lumpur. Go to www.airasia.com for flight details.
Given its topography and location, Indonesia is home to some of the hottest spots to surf in Asia. With over so many islands to choose from, surfers can pick from popular spots to totally hidden locations known only to serious wave-riders. Most of these lesser known places scattered around Indonesia are sparsely populated and offer challenging waves to tackle.
Lhok Nga in Banda Aceh, northern Sumatra, is a popular surfers’ hangout with the sea offering waves suitable for higher levels of difficulty. Some of the best breaks can be experienced at Pantai Cemara, some 15 kms from Banda Aceh. The reef breaks here greet surfers all the way down the coast of Banda Aceh, Keudeunga, Babah Nipah and right up to Meulaboh – but be warned that these coastal areas are for serious surfers only as medical help is far in case of emergencies. www.wannasurf.com/spot/Asia/Indonesia
GETTING THERE AirAsia flies 4 times a week to Banda Aceh, Sumatra, from Kuala Lumpur. Go to www.airasia.com for flight details.
Located off the western coast of Sumatra, Nias is part of the Hinako archipelago and offers excellent surfing at the famous Lagundri Bay. Keen surfers deduce that the 2004 earthquake lifted the ocean floor, creating truly dramatic breaks and swells, making them both hollower and longer. The Nias famous 7-second wave tubes last up to nine seconds now!
GETTING THERE AirAsia flies Medan, Sumatra from Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Bangkok, Phuket, Bandung and Surabaya. There are easy connecting flights to Nias Island from Medan. Go to www.airasia.com for flight details.
Bali is an obvious choice, attracting thousands to its wavy waters in Uluwatu and Padang Padang. What makes Bali a surfer’s dream is that it offers locations where you can catch a wave all year round, both during dry (May to September) and wet seasons (October to April). Dry season hotspots are Medewi, Kuta Reef, Balangan, Bingin and Canggu while wet season hotspots are Sanur, Serangan, Nusa Dua, Green Balls and Keramas. www.baliwaves.com
Notes on nightlife
From the brash neon lights of the city to smooth, mellow mood of the islands, nightlife in Indonesia is a cut above the rest. Some of the biggest international acts always end up in Jakarta and Bali while the local clubbing scene throbs with some of the most talented DJs from around Asia.
The partying in Bali merges seamlessly from sunset all the way to sunrise. But there are also quaint little theatre shows for families and those culturally inclined. There is also the beach nightlife with makeshift bars appearing along the shore after the sun goes down. Legian and Seminyak have some of the best nightspots on the island with all types of bars, clubs, restaurants and watering holes. The Kuta stretch is ever popular but the night sizzles at Dhyanapura Street. Ku De Ta and Potato Head Beach Club rule the roost on the island.
GETTING THERE AirAsia flies to Bali from various destinations. Go to www.airasia.com for flight details.
The capital city of Indonesia beats to a rhythm like no other. Its nightlife, bars and clubs resonate with everything from classy and calm to wild and wayward. The choices are endless and you’ll always find something that rocks your boat. In the city, Kemang, Kuningan and Block M (Falatehan Street) areas are renowned as party central for the young and the hip.
Shop like there’s no tomorrow
There is no other spree quite as good as a shopping spree, and Indonesia churns out every imaginable product to fulfil a shopper’s dream.
The prices here are generally cheaper than Jakarta, but almost anything you find in Jakarta, you will find in Medan too.
- Pasar Batik Medan sells beautiful local batik but the trick is to bargain for your purchases no matter how cheap it sounds at first.
- Sun Plaza is an upscale mall that mainly caters to affluent Indonesians in Medan.
- Medan Mall Bazaar is a popular mall in the city.
- Pasar Ikan Lama is the place to shop for fabrics, curtains, batik and good quality sarong pelikat.
Be it bargain bins or luxury goods, the city has just about everything you could buy! Here’s where to go to spend your cash when in the Big Durian.
- ITC Mangga Dua sells clothing, jewellery, accessories and practically everything you can think of.
- Plaza Senayan is a more upscale shopping complex that offers everything from Prada to Louis Vuitton goods.
- Plaza Indonesia is another high-end mall, but also offers some of the best local designers’ batik at Batik Keris and Sogo Seni Handicraft Centre.
- Pasar Baroe, located facing the Jakarta Arts Centre, near the Istiqlal Mosque, is a shopaholic’s haven. The best bargains here are shoes, fabrics and cameras.
- Plaza Sarinah offers mid-range prices for batik and handicrafts.
- Menteng is the place for wedding goods, from invitation cards, gifts for guests, tailor-made bridal gowns and fabric stores.
GETTING THERE AirAsia flies to Jakarta from various destinations. Go to www.airasia.com for flight details.
The city of factory outlets, Bandung has over 40 such stores that offer a wide range of export overruns, last season’s leftovers and rejects. The goods are so cheap here, tourists come armed with empty bags just to fill them with clothes, handbags, shoes, watches, beddings and much, much more at bargain bin prices. Check out these stores when in the city:
- Rumah Moda, Jl. Setiabudhi
- Dago Stock Ekspor (DSE), Jl. Ir. H. Djuanda
- Export Station, Jl. Sumatera
- Heritage, Jl. Riau
- Rivai, Jl. Dr. Abdul Rivai
- Cargo, Jl. Diponegoro
- Mooi, Jl. Cemara
- Rich & Famous, Jl. Dago
GETTING THERE AirAsia flies to Bandung from various destinations. Go to www.airasia.com for flight details.
Indonesian Cultural Treasures
LAWANG SEWU is an art deco building built in the 1900s by the Dutch East Indies as the headquarters for the national railway service. The building is set to receive UNESCO World Heritage site listing later this year.
GETTING THERE AirAsia flies daily to Semarang from Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta. Go to www.airasia.com for flight details.
PURA BESAKIH is known as the Mother Temple and is located on the slopes of Mt. Agung. This religious site of over a thousand years old is considered the holiest of Balinese temples. Built between the 14th and 17th centuries, it consists of 22 separate structures that pay homage to the Hindu Trinity, Shiva, Brahma and Vishnu.
PURA TANAH LOT is another famous temple that is said to be guarded by sea snakes. When the tides are low, you can walk over to the temple located on a rocky outcrop, off the southwest coast of Bali. There is a natural freshwater fountain that springs from the caves of the rocky temple. It’s said that if you drink from it (for a small fee), you will be blessed with love and longevity.
BOROBUDUR AND PRAMBANAN TEMPLE COMPLEXES Borobudur and Prambanan are two very impressive temple complexes near Yogyakarta that are a must on all travel itineraries to the city. The 9th century Prambanan, about 11 kms north of Yogjakarta, is a Hindu temple while Borobudur is Buddhist.
NGAYOGYAKARTA HADININGRAT PALACE When in Yogyakarta, spare some time to visit this palace that is the site of an elegant and grand Javanese palace founded by Prince Mangkubumi in 1755.
GETTING THERE AirAsia flies to Yogyakarta from Kuala Lumpur, Bali, Jakarta and Singapore. Go to www.airasia.com for flight details.