‘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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