With its over 17,000 islands, Indonesia offers visitors thousands of unique experiences that can last more than a lifetime. So how do you begin to enjoy Indonesia (actually 17, 508 islands)? First, begin with the somehow bewildering but friendly capital city of Jakarta.
With a landmass of 661sq/m, Jakarta, the sixth largest city in the world, houses over nine million persons and an extra two million that come in there to work every day. Chopped into north, south, east, west and central, Jakarta is a former Portuguese and lastly Dutch colony that has managed to maintain its colonial heritage while carving out a modern niche for itself. The Old Dutch Harbour, cannons and their balls, quarters, colonial houses and court yards can still be found intact in the kota (a corruption of Quarter) in north Jakarta. The point where the Dutch first landed remains the starting point in measuring kilometres in Jakarta (called kilometre zero) and the harbour is now used to ship goods going to the rest of Indonesian archipelago. A handbook on Jakarta said that the old colonial town hall called Batavia Town Hall was built in 1627 and was the administrative centre of Dutch rule. However, today, it remains a solid reminder of Dutch rule and houses a museum while the courtyard serves as a picnic ground for families and art joint for young people. The most exclusive part of the city remains the old colonial quarters now called Menteng. To many people, traffic in Jakarta is chaotic especially when compared with neighbouring capitals like Kuala Lumpur (capital of Malaysia), Singapore, Bangkok (capital of Thailand) and Ho Chin Ming (capital of Vietnam). Jakarta offers enormous tourists sites from the Sukarno totems to the Taman Mini and these combine to make tourism Indonesia’s third most important non-oil–gas source of foreign revenue, after timber and textile products.
Taman Mini Indonesia Indah in East Jakarta provides a comprehensive miniature of Indonesian culture for those unable to visit all Indonesian provinces. It is a park built in 1975 by Tien Suharto, the wife of Indonesia’s second President, Suharto, and has museums, separate pavilions with the collections of Indonesian architecture, clothing, dances and traditions all depicted clearly.
Jakarta is also rich in exciting culinary experience. With an enviable array of diverse culinary traditions, Indonesia prides itself as having some of the world’s most delicious dishes. Seafood joints dot Jakarta, they are very affordable as whole families regularly dine out, and Badar Jakarta remains a popular seafood restaurant.
Bandung, the Paris of Indonesia and home of beautiful women
While Jakarta offers a cosmopolitan approach to Indonesian hospitality, Bandung showcases the best of Sundanese traditions. Only about 150km away from the bustle of Jakarta, Bandung offers a measure of serenity that soothes nerves and retains the sophistication and modernity that keeps one engaged and connected. Called the Paris of Indonesia, its appeal comes from its geography and cool climate. This mountainous city sits 768 meters above sea-level and is still surrounded by undulating hills.
The temperate weather and tasty natural food are said to make Bandung women have the fairest skin in Indonesia hence they are much-sought after. Bandung boasts of sophisticated tastes in both fashion and music as a result of long being a resort for aristocratic Dutch during the colonial era with European style cafes, restaurants and hotels cropping up in parts of the city. Weekends and holidays find Indonesians, especially Jakartans, flooding Bandung with the 1283 meter-high Mt. Tangkuban Perahu, the most favourite tourist site. Located about 30km north of the city centre, Mt. Tangkuban sits beside dormant volcanoes that offer splendid panoramic scenery. Cool wafts of air healthfully mixed with the pungent smell of sulphur with its therapeutic effects sweep across the mountain.
Another tourist attraction in Bandung is the Angklung Udjo, which is a bamboo handicraft centre and amphitheatre that strives to preserve a part of Sundanese culture while promoting world peace and harmony. Founded in 1966 by the late Udjo Nalagena ((1929-2001) and his wife, Uum Sumiyati, Saung Angklung Udjo attempts to build beautiful harmony of vibrating bamboos. The angklung is Indonesia’s traditional musical instrument made of bamboo. When shaken rapidly, it produces a single note, creating a soothing chord. An ensemble may consist of 3 or 4 players to a full orchestra playing the angklung repertoire. The amphitheatre in Bandung is completely built of bamboo materials.
Jogjakarta, where the Sultan reigns
If Bandung offers some of the finest tastes in Sundanese culture in winery and musicality, then Jogjakarta offers the best in classical Javanese fine art and culture. A student-province, Jogjakarta attracts more Indonesians than any other province in the country. It easily passes as Indonesia’s centre of higher education. It is renowned as a city of tolerance with major religions represented at ministerial level. With its special province status, the governor of the Special Region of Jogjakarta, who is the Sultan, has the privilege of being a spiritual and secular head. The Sultanate’s Palace remains the most visited tourist site outside Bali. Built from 1756 to 1790, the Palace still remains the official residence of the King or Sultan though a tourist site. Jogjakarta has some of the best Indonesian batiks in display. Batik factories and shops dot the province. Special skills are required to capture the Javanese soul and artistry in each handmade piece of batik. Malioboro, the main shopping center in the city, offers an unlimited choice in shopping experience and is the foremost tourist market in the city.
From the 4th century until the 15th century, Hinduism and Buddhism shaped the culture of Indonesia. Kingdoms flourished and collapsed producing numerous temples and monuments called candi of which Borobudur temple is the best-preserved and largest of Buddhist temples. The word ‘Borobudur’ means monastery on a hill and it took 125 years to be built between the eighth and ninth centuries.
Bali, the Islands of the gods
But whatever religious pilgrimage Borobudur attracts pales when you visit Bali. Bali is literally the ‘Island of the Gods’ as the city boasts of thousands and thousands of temples and shrines dedicated to Hindu gods. But Bali’s Hinduism differs considerably from India’s – the birthplace of Hinduism. Four different kinds of temples exist here. There is the family temple – people related by blood; territorial temple – belonging to a community; professional temple – people of same profession namely fishermen, farmers and traders and the state temple. Balians are 85 per cent Hindus and their religion dominates every aspect of their lives with religious signs, symbols and rituals visible at every corner in the city. According to the Head of the Bali Provincial Tourism Office, Drs. Ida Bagus Kade Subkhiksu, spiritual tourism in harmony with peoples’ faith and the thousands of temples is a reflection of harmony between the society and their creator.
But Bali is not just about spiritual tourism as the island has some of the finest beaches in the world. There are innumerable sites for beaching, surfing, fishing but Kuta Beach at the south is the most popular with tourists. Bali is naturally beautiful and the city has well-developed tourists structures which include good road network, comfortable accommodation, secured environment and a friendly local population. Just 56km north of Denpasar, capital of Bali, is Kintamani, is one of the most active volcanoes on earth, Mount Batur, which last erupted in 1999. The recent eruptions and older ones have left a scenic view of a crater as well as a lake. Standing atop Lakeview Hotel, which sits at the edge of a massive volcanic caldera, gives the best view of crater, mountain and tranquil lake. Measured from the floor of the crater, Mt. Batur rises to about 1,717 meter/5,633 feet above sea level.
Wherever one turns to, Indonesia offers beautiful sounds and inviting sights which continue to lure visitors to this nation of wonderful people and unspoilt islands.