11 Things You Should Know Before You Travel To Indonesia

11 Things You Should Know Before You Travel To Indonesia
Carly Jacobs

‘m currently sitting in a hotel cafe in Jakarta thinking about how lucky I am that travel is so available to me. My generation (X/Y) is one of the first for whom travel is safe, affordable and easy. You don’t have to bundle onto boats for 3 months to get to get to the other side of the world, not even knowing if you’ll survive the journey. There are affordable options if you can’t fork out 20k for a two week tour of Europe. The internet exists, so you can contact loved ones in an instant, google the hotel you’re staying at so the cab driver doesn’t rip you off and contact your insurance company the second you end up in hospital in Vietnam with malaria.

I just can’t get over how magical the whole thing is. I’ve been to some very far flung places – Balispur in India, Kanchannaburi in Thailand, Ballarat in California – places my parents wouldn’t have even heard about, let alone have had the means to actually get there safely and affordably.

I just spent the last week in Central Sulawesi in Palu which is just about as authentic as you can get in Indonesia. I went as a blogger ambassador for World Vision Australia to look at the projects in the region. I’ll be doing more on that this week but I just wanted to pop together a few things I learned about Indonesia this week. Whenever I travel to another country I always ask lots of questions of the locals. Seeing the way other people live their lives is just fascinating. How do they get to school? What do they eat for lunch? How does marriage work? Can everyone go to university? Do people ‘date’ each other here? What’s this thing in this weird looking package? I just want to know everything. I’m so nosey.

If you’re planning travel to Indonesia, here are a few things you should know.

1. It’s nothing like Bali

I’ve been to Bali twice before, once to review a retreat and the other for a boss ladies trip. My main conclusion? It’s pretty much the 7th state in Australia. There’s a rumour on A Current Affair (questionable legitimacy) that one Australian dies every 9 days in Bali. I wouldn’t be surprised if this was totally accurate though because I swear there’s more Australians than Balinese people there. It’s a comprehensible mathematical equation – compared to how many Aussies die in Australia every day, percentage wise, one Aussie every nine days in Bali is probably to be expected, just because a decent chunk of us are there most of the time.

Unlike Aussie-ridden Bali, the rest of Indonesia is totally different. In Palu, where we stayed, we visited villages where they rarely ever see white people. We got stopped in the street constantly just because people wanted to take photos with us. Indonesia is an incredibly diverse and beautiful country but if you’re expecting everyone to speak English and all the hotels to use filtered water in their icey cocktails like they do in Bali, you’re going to be disappointed.

2. It’s a majority Muslim country

Most of the country are either Muslim or Christian but it’s known as a majority Muslim country. This is particularly important because tourists in Bali tend to wander around drinking alcohol and not wearing much clothing which isn’t cool in other parts of the country. If you do travel to Indonesia, be aware to keep your knees and shoulders covered out of respect for the local culture. Bikinis and tiny shorts are a no-go outside of Bali.

3. Indonesian people have to specify their religion on their ID

In Indonesia, each resident has their chosen religion specified on their license. They can choose from six different religions. Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism. It’s no biggie, it’s just a good thing to know because religion is very important and you may be asked what religion you practice if you’re in more rural areas of Indonesia.

4. There’s not much of a drinking culture

It’s starting to get embarrassing how often I travel overseas to countries where they don’t drink alcohol and the people find out I’m Australian and apologize about the lack of drinking culture. We’ll be out for dinner and the locals will say ‘I’m so sorry we only have smoothies, no wine or beer.’ 

I’m hoping they’re just being polite and that no Australians have acted like tools in front of them because they couldn’t get a beer with dinner. I don’t even think about drinking in non-drinking cultures and it’s actually really lovely to spend time with young people who don’t drink. It so rarely happens in Australia.

So if you’re planning a boozy week long holiday, best to stick to Bali rather than travel to Indonesia proper.

5. Indonesian people totally get sarcasm and it’s awesome

I speak very quickly and most things I say are sarcastic. As you can imagine, this makes translation quite difficult when I’m in non-English speaking countries. I was delighted to discover Indonesian people totally get sarcasm and all my jokes landed with perfection.  I’m not very funny in India or Germany but Indonesia? I’m a fucking riot here.

6. It pretty much never gets below 22 degrees

But the locals still wear long sleeves and jumpers. We trekked to the top of a mountain and it was 22 degrees and foggy. The Australians were totally fine but our local tour guides were rugged up in jumpers and shivering. They’re as bad as Queenslanders. I laugh every time it hits 20 degrees in Brisbane and Nikki whips out her winter knits. If you were raised in Canberra with the minus zero winter mornings, 22 degrees is never, ever cold.

7. Anti-vaxers aren’t a thing

The people here are just stoked they get free vaccinations and their children won’t die of preventable diseases. We visited a health centre in Palu and it was full of local village people having their children vaccinated at folding tables in a ramshackle little building that didn’t even have running water in it. I had my pre-trip vaccines at a fancy little clinic in Kiama before I left and I’ve never felt more privileged in my life.

8. Indonesian people will often live with their families kind of forever, even after they get married

Our tour guide Stevan is 31 and still lives at home with his father and brother. He said he’ll probably always live with them, even if he gets married. I told him that’s quite unusual in Australia, but becoming more common because of the housing crisis. He said families just like to stay together in Indonesia, which is quite lovely. But definitely not for me…

9. The locals don’t use sunscreen or insect repellant

And there doesn’t appear to be any consequences for them. I had a shower and didn’t put insect repellent on for 5 minutes and I got bitten five times. Deet is pretty much the only thing keeping me alive right now.

10. Hot orange juice a thing

There’s no drinking culture in Indonesia but they’re big into their smoothies and juices. The drinks menu is often just as big as the food menu in restaurants and orange juice is often ordered hot. It sounds totally bizarre but I tried it and it’s kind of amazing. I really can’t describe it and I wouldn’t recommend just bunging a glass of OJ in the microwave but if you travel to Indonesia and have the opportunity to try hot orange juice do it. It’s rad.

11. Gado Gado salad is the low-carb lovers go to food

I’m not a big carb eater and as you can imagine, everything here is served on a bed of rice. It’s the same in most Asian countries. Refined white carbs destroy my energy levels so it’s best just to avoid it. I order Gado Gado salad pretty much everywhere – it’s basically boiled vegetables, eggs and peanut sauce. The perfect wholesome and hearty meal. If Gado Gado wasn’t available, I ordered a meat dish with peanut sauce and an omelette instead of rice. Bonza! It’s also kept my tummy feeling great the whole time.

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Have you travelled in Indonesia? Outside of Bali? Did you totally love it?


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  1. KezUnprepared 5 years ago

    I love the insight you’ve given here – like you, I love to see how people live in other places! x

    • Author
      Carly Jacobs 5 years ago

      I always feel like I ask too many questions, like I’m too nosey but people really love talking about how they live their lives.

  2. Harlow 5 years ago

    Ohh I totally felt victimised by the comment about Queenslanders!!! Haha just kidding – it’s so true, we are a bunch of wussies when it comes to cold!!! It’s interesting because I was having a similar conversation with some nurse friends about how this anti-vaccination bullshit is just another construct of Western privilege and that’s what is so godamn maddening about it. That whole thing where entire families live under one roof seems to be really popular in a lot of cultures! So glad it’s not and Australian thing though! I actually had a really hard time explaining to my relatives in Russia why it is that my husband and I live in our own house and not with our parents and grandparents under one roof – which is the general thing there. My brother has friends in Indonesia and was lucky to travel all over the country recently and really loved it. One day he went on a day trip to Bali and was left deeply ashamed to be Australian because of the way he saw other Aussies behaving. Lots of douche bags driving really dangerously all over the road blind drunk being a total nuisance and danger to locals and there’d be five cafes in a row advertising chicken parmie and hot chips. I honestly consider that statistic about Australians in Bali to be social Darwinism!

    • Author
      Carly Jacobs 5 years ago

      We’re spending a week working in Bali and Australians are gross. This is why I get so angry about the ban the burqua crap. Pauline Hanson loving Australians say we have to respect other cultures when we travel overseas so Muslims should respect our culture and they’re the very people who walk around half naked and drunk in a majority Muslim country. It’s absurd. I totally agree about Aussies dying in Bali – most of them behave like total morons here. We are in Ubud which is out of the party zone and it’s just delightful but when you go into the populated areas it’s pretty bad.

  3. Joy 5 years ago

    I love that your sarcasm didn’t go to waste and I can’t even imagine hot orange juice! Bali is as Indonesia as I’ve been too, super interesting to hear about the other Indo. Thanks for sharing. Xjoy Toose@gmail.com

    • Author
      Carly Jacobs 5 years ago

      It was actually crazy delicious. Way less weird than I thought! It’s so different to Bali but that’s actually the best bit about it.

  4. La Shell 5 years ago

    I live REALLY far from Indonesia (the Caribbean) and my plans for next two years are to visit various areas of south east Asia. Like you, I love to truly experience a place for what it is. I don’t travel and stay in the hotels or resorts sitting at the pool all day. Based on your post and a few others, Bali doesn’t seem to represent the true culture of the country. Would you say Bali is worth a visit when I do make it to that region? Thanks!

    • Author
      Carly Jacobs 5 years ago

      Bali is a different beast – I’m in Bali at the moment and its great it’s just not super authentic and it’s full of tourists (often quite obnoxious ones!). Stick to Ubud or Seminyak and avoid Kuta like the plague. Unless you like to get drunk and party like a crazy person, then definitely go to Kuta. 🙂 We’re staying in Ubud and scooting into town to work everyday at cafes and it’s lovely but everyone speaks English so it’s not a cultural experience if that’s what you’re after.

      • La Shell 5 years ago

        Thank you!

  5. praaf 5 years ago

    you’ve written it in such a fun way! 🙂

  6. Carline 4 years ago

    Hi Carly!
    I’m living in Bali at the moment for an internship and while I agree with a lot in your post, I think it’s a bit of a shame to have Bali cast in such a negative light. I totally agree that there are many crazy Australians (and Europeans), but when you get out of the south of Bali and Ubud (once authentic, not anymore), there are soooo many still very lovely, authentic and beautiful places to visit! Next time you get here, try the villages/areas of Sidemen, Candidasa, Tabanan and go a bit more up north. I promise you won’t be disappointed!
    But indeed, I would recommend anyone not totally into partying to avoid Kuta, Seminyak, Canggu etc. That is not a representation of Bali though, in my opinion ;).

    I’m also very happy that people here understand sarcasm hahaha, such a relieve!

    Thanks for the nice article!

    • Author
      Carly Jacobs 4 years ago

      I don’t believe I was being negative about Bali at all, I was pointing out the differences between Bali and the rest of Indonesia – the worst thing about Bali is the (often) disrespectful Australians that hang out in Kuta and Seminyak, not Bali itself. I was also pointing out that tourism is huge in Bali and that means you can pretty much do, say, and behave in a way that wouldn’t be acceptable anywhere else in Indonesia. Like drinking and wearing revealing clothing isn’t okay almost anywhere else in the country but it’s pretty much the going thing in Bali which to some people might be interpreted as a positive thing. 🙂 There’s also 2 links in this post to other posts where I rave about Bali. Really not sure what negative light I’m casting on Bali here, except sharing your opinion that people who don’t like to party might want to avoid Kuta, Seminyak, Canggu.

      • Mark Eveleigh 4 months ago

        Interesting article Carly. I think I can see what Carline means though – the “7th Aussie state, more Aussies than Balinese”… I hope you get to come back sometime and travel a little more widely. Perhaps you should see the lovely unspoiled Sideman, as Carline said – or the even wilder West Bali. (You’re unlikely to find more than a dozen Aussies in that entire third of the island). I understand that you were only comparing Bali with ‘the rest of Indonesia’ though. By that did you mean Palu, or have you seen a lot of the 13,000 odd islands here?


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