Final Indonesian thoughts + random signs of life

Trip Start Jun 29, 2005
Trip End Nov 30, 2009

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Saturday, September 17, 2005

I entered Indonesian waters exactly fifty days ago and now I'm heading out the other side, crossing the infamous Malacca Strait on the weekly ferry to Batam in the Riau Islands, just south of Singapore. The overnight bus and taxi combination I used to get to Jakarta last night wasn't nearly as painful as I'd thought and now I have a nice first class cabin to myself, allowing 26 hours of sleeping, eating and writing. Very civilised.

Indonesia is the country in which I will stay the longest on this trip and since I have a day to kill in comfort on the boat, why not make a couple of passing comments before I hit mainland Asia? After all, it's one of the world's most populous nations, located right on Australia's doorstep and undoubtedly one of the major forces that will influence our nation's future. Unfortunately it's plainly apparent that we in Australia know very little about the place and that we are not really inclined to learn more.

At least they're up front about it Temple broom Intricate bus decoration on Flores

So, first the positives. Despite everything we're led to believe by the media, the overwhelming majority of Indonesians are very happy, friendly and welcoming people that appreciate visitors coming to their country. From Kupang to Jakarta and everywhere else in between this has been the case, regardless of religious leanings. Spiritually they are a very moderate strain of Muslim, far more interested in making a few dollars and improving their family's lot than starting a jihad against all westerners.

In all my time there I did not feel threatened and more often than not they went out of their way to help or to give you some of their meagre possessions if you needed them. Often because of language issues I had to trust that the bus/train/pedicab/taxi was going to the right place, and it always did in the end. Apart from the standard foreigner pricing I didn't come across any blatant attempts to rip me off or deliberately send me in the wrong direction. For all the problems that you have when travelling here, if you do your research, talk to the locals and keep your wits about you, you will get where you're going and see some amazing things.

Huuuge jackfruits Crazy head gong Nice branding

The second big positive is the cost of everything. I have not travelled on a shoestring by any means, but have still come way under budget for the past two months. A Coke for 30 cents, SMS messages at 3.5 cents each, a 600ml Bintang beer for $1.20. Average Indonesian meal with drink for $2. The first class ferry ticket Jakarta to Singapore (900km) with own cabin and four full meals included, $35 (all prices $US). The list goes on but it is very inexpensive for travellers and that is probably why many continental Europeans can be found here. Claiming to be adventurous sorts, I'm not sure why more British and Australians are not.

The flipside of this low cost is that the average Indonesian is very poorly paid and the general populace ekes out a very basic living. Everything has to be pretty cheap when the barman at an average 3-4 star hotel in Bali (a good job) earns 800,000 rupiah a month, or approximately $US80. Wages generally edge higher the further west you go towards Jakarta but in general, most people are very poor and with the economic crises and drop in tourism due to geopolitical and religious tensions, the situation is not going to improve quickly. It also explains why vendors of every description mark up prices and sell so hard - that 20,000 rupiah (20 cent) item you just passed up probably would have fed them for a day.

Hope it ain't a long ride Guy with a pig I'd get out of his way...

Main concerns I've heard expressed by many tourists throughout my travels revolve around the blatant disrespect for the environment. Many had health problems due to the air pollution and as mentioned a number of times, the litter is absolutely atrocious. Indonesians will dispense with their rubbish noncholantly at any time, out the train or car window, in the gutter or walking on the beach and in the jungle. Basically wherever they want and as though it's a completely natural thing to do, spoiling some truly awe inspiring natural environments. Any litter that is collected is often burned, adding to the air pollution problems that the whole region is facing.

Some of us have come to the conclusion that it probably parallels the situation in western countries forty or more years ago when there was no concern for the environment and littering was rife - it took concerted education and punitive campaigns over decades to greatly reduce the amount of refuse in the environment (and it still has not done so completely). There are the beginnings of public discussion about it here - the only Java Post I managed to read had an encouraging editorial piece about it. However I am concerned for Indonesia - with widespread use of plastics and the huge consumer population now faced it may not be possible to reverse even if campaigns were started right away.

Moto delivery Mad Joe coming through Scraping a few rupiah together

My seven week visit has had its ups and downs, but generally it has been fun and very worthwhile. I highly recommend the place and its people. Unlike other tourists I have met in Java recently (who were keen to leave) I'd be happy to stay and travel here further, but that would cut into other plans and time in other places. So onwards and upwards to continental Asia - keep reading for my adventures there.
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lkavriani on

Thank you for writing such nice words on my country. I love reading your travel stories and really wish I could write as well as you.

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