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Indonesia, without a doubt, is one of the most fascinating countries in SE Asia. From the jungles and lakes of Sumatra, to the cultural heart of the nation, Java, onward to Bali, Flores, Sulawesi, West Papua, Ambon, the Banda Islands, and West Papua - every step is one of discovery.
Let me provide you with a few tips which should make navigating this incredibly diverse country, Indonesia.
Indonesia is the largest Moslem country in the world. Although Islam is the state religion, there are parts of the country where other religions are prevalent. Northern Sulawesi is 90% Christian, the Balinese are predominantly Hindu, and in the Malukus and Flores Moslems and Christians live side by side - usually peacefully. When visiting places of worship, whether it's a mosque, a temple or a church, please ensure that you are conservatively dressed. Remember to take of your shoes before entering a mosque or a temple. Ladies should wear tops with longish sleeves, skirts which go below the knee, or loose fitting, long pants. As far as clothing in general is concerned, please don't take Kuta as being typical for the rest of the country. If you go out to a restaurant (other than in Kuta) or if you are invited to visit an Indonesian home, smart - casual clothing is fine. Local people really appreciate it if you can use a few words of Bahasa Indonesia, the language which binds Indonesia, and crosses geographical and cultural diversity in this huge archipelago.
To enter Indonesia your passport needs to be valid for at least another 6 months from your date of entry. Immigration officials are on the look out for passports which have less validity and are within their rights to deny you entry into Indonesia.
7 day Visa on Arrival was abolished in January 2010
30 day Visa on Arrival
At the time of writing the cost for a 30 day Visa on Arrival for Indonesia is US$25, which you should pay in US$ cash, with unmarked, clean bank notes which were issued after 2001. Since January 2010 this visa can be extended once, by 30 days, whilst here in Indonesia. To be totally frank, the procedure is a hassle, and if you think you might be spending more than 30 days in Indonesia, get a 60 day Tourist visa before entering Indonesia.
60 day Tourist Visa
You need to obtain the 60 day Tourist visa before entering Indonesia. The good news is that since January 2010 this visa can be extended in Indonesia. If you intend to travel to West Papua Province, or you are planning on extending your 60 day visa, please have 4-6 spare passport photos with you.
For further information about visa regulations check out the website of your nearest Indonesian Embassy or Consulate.
The local currency is the Indonesian Rupiah (IDR). It's always a good idea to carry some small banknotes (Rp 1000, 2000, 5000) with you when shopping in local shops (toko) or planning to eat at a warung (small local restaurant or food stall). The easiest way of handling money is by using a credit or debit card to withdraw cash from ATMs, which are just about every where, other than in some really out of the way places. If you intend to travel to, or stay for any length of time off the beaten track, you are going to need to carry sufficient Indonesian cash with you to pay for accommodation, food and transport. Please don't rely on being able to exchange foreign currency. With the advent of ATMs, Travelers cheques have pretty much gone out of fashion.
By far the biggest danger to tourist's health are dehydration and sunburn. Please try to drink at least 2 litres of water per day. Coffee, tea, beer, juice and other fluids really don't count. Indonesia is in the tropics, and you'll probably be spending quite a lot of time out of doors, so protect yourself and use a good quality sun block, as well as wearing a hat.
In Bali there is currently a problem with rabies spread by sick dogs. If you are scratched or bitten by a dog, you need to get medical care as quickly as possible.
Water - even local people drink bottled water! It's cheap, so don't take any risks.
Alcohol - there is some questionable Arak being sold in Bali, and there have been further deaths this year because of it.
Sex is fun, but please make sure that condoms are used should you have a close encounter of a (very) personal kind during your stay in Indonesia. All kinds of STDs, including HIV/AIDS are widespread, so please take precautions.
Drugs should be an absolute no-no. Don't even think about bringing any drugs into Indonesia, because chances are that you'll end up in jail. Don't be tempted to get any drugs whilst you are in Indonesia. If you spend any length of time around Kuta, Legian, or Seminyak, you will probably be offered some - please say no. You could very well be dealing with a police informant - which means that you wont be using your return ticket home!
Please don't let sensationalist media reporting put you off from visiting Indonesia. For tourists Indonesia is as safe as other countries. As things are today, unfortunately, any public place in the world could be - the wrong place at the wrong time. To avoid being the victim of petty crime, just don't show off expensive consumer electronics, cameras or jewelry in public. I have been visiting Indonesia, and other parts of South East Asia since the mid 1970s, and I have never had a problem with theft or bag snatching. Yes it can happen, so be aware, but don't get paranoid about it.
Don't become a virtual traveler in your own lounge room, getting second hand experiences by watching travel shows on television - get out there and experience the magic first hand.
Get a packet of zip-lock bags at the nearest supermarket. They are essential if you like snacking, and you want to keep ants and cockroaches out of your room/bed/backpack. I always carry heaps of them with me
Take toilet paper, and soap, as these are NOT provided in budget accommodation. Instead of carrying soap and hair shampoo, I tend to use shower gel which is also OK to wash your hair with.
With digital cameras often having very specific batteries, don't forget the charger which came with your camera
Take a torch (flash light), as power interruptions are not unusual. Also footpath, if they exist, are notorious for being uneven, and often having huge holes in them. So if you walk around after dark, and you don't want to end up breaking some bones, take one with you.
Take a couple of sarongs, as quite often beds only have a bottom sheet, and you might like to cover up during the night. Mosquito coils, or spray, and/or personal insect repellent is something you should definitely not forget. Remember to have bottled water in your room, you can NOT drink the tap water. I use tap water to brush my teeth, but if you have a sensitive stomach, I would suggest that you use bottled water for that as well. before
Hopefully the above tips help you in having a great time in Indonesia. Just one other thing - if at all possible bring rechargeable batteries and an appropriate charger, or a spare battery and charger for your specific camera. There is no safe means of disposing of used batteries in this country, which creates environmental and health hazards.
Come on over and have a look around, but be warned visiting Indonesia is a health hazard - it's addictive!
Sybille Conrad is an experienced international travel agent, and a specialist dive travel agent. She holds a Grad. Dip. in Recreation Management, usually lives in Cairns, Australia, but has been living and working in Indonesia for the last couple of years. For information about diving and traveling in Indonesia have a look at her website http://www.divetravelindonesia.com