The top 13 things I learned about Indonesia

Written and Published April 12, 2016

I am just back from two weeks in Indonesia and here is what I have learned this time!

The top 13 things I learned about Indonesia

It's incredibly cheap!

Outside of Jakarta city center and the Bali tourist towns things are incredibly cheap in Indonesia. A decent lunch can be had for $1, an hour ride with Uber costs just $5, modern chain hotels for under $35 (i.e. the Holiday Inn Express Surabaya) or a luxury stay at the JW Marriott Surabaya for $50.

It's very hot!

Surabaya and Bali are easily in my global TOP 10 of the worlds hottest places. Definitely in the same league as Bangkok and Yangon.

Jakarta is a bit better (not by much) but Indonesias third largest city - Bandung - has a pretty perfect spring-like climate.

The worlds most friendly people

The top 13 things I learned about Indonesia

There is no doubt - Indonesians are the worlds most friendly people. Even in the touristy areas they stay calm. Outside of touristy areas they are incredibly friendly.

English is rare outside the tourist areas

That's still a surprise to me - once you leave the tourist hotspots English is a rarity. That's especially surprising since Bahasa Indonesia is using a Latin alphabet and has a good amount of English words in it.

Bali is just crazy touristy

It's such a contrast - most of Indonesia is not touched by tourism but the southern towns of Bali are one of the worlds most touristy areas.

The food is just ok

The last time I was in Indonesia I got more excited about the food. This isn't Thailand. I usually like the taste and spices in Indonesian cuisine but the meat is often extremely bony and portions small - consisting of mainly rice. There is good food (I liked Sundanese cuisine the most) but it takes time to find it. It's not like a Bangkok street food market where 90% of what you try will be incredible.

Traffic is manic

The top 13 things I learned about Indonesia

Indonesians are addicted to driving. There is so much driving (in Surabaya people won't cross the street without a car) it's mesmerizing and the road infrastructure is a few decades behind.

The good news - most cars are new and clean - not old clunkers.

It's crowded

Indonesian cities are crowded. Surabaya, Jakarta and even Bandung will make you feel like you are in Japan.

Bandung is my new favorite city in Indonesia

This relaxed, cool mountain city with great coffee is off the beaten track for now. It's very affordable, comes with scenic views and is organized enough to be able to deal with.

Coffee culture

The top 13 things I learned about Indonesia

Some Indonesian cities have a real coffee culture - it's not just the Australians opening up coffee shops and cafes anymore.

Indonesia - a major coffee producer - is emerging as a coffee consuming country.

Indonesia has a plenty of tourism potential left

Indonesia has many more beaches, volcanoes, tropical weather and lovely food left. There are several more huge islands like Borneo (Kalimantan), Sulawesi and Papua that see almost zero tourism.

The top 13 things I learned about Indonesia

Infrastructure or city planning are not Indonesia forte

The top 13 things I learned about Indonesia

Most Indonesian cities are a random sprawl and so is the infrastructure. Urbanization and city planning haven't made it to Indonesia yet.

No more Visa on Arrival

Indonesia used to torture visitors with a $35 Visa-on-arrival that needed to be paid at the airport terminal. The resulting long lines often made it a pain to get into Indonesia.

This is all gone - just show your passport and your are done!