My two months trip in Indonesia is winding to a close. What an adventure it has been!
I had the pleasure of visiting a small chunk of this monstrously sized country, all in the eastern part AKA the Lesser Sunda Islands. During my trip to Indonesia, I went to 13 different islands. From most to least populous, they are:
Bali (4.3 million)
Lombok (3.3 million)
Flores (1.9 million)
Sumbawa (1.4 million)
Gili Air (1800)
Gili Trawangan (1500)
Gili Meno (500)
Gili Bola (n/a)
For scale, the population of these islands constitutes less than 11 million, or about 4% of the total population of Indonesia. When you look at the proportion of islands, the number gets even slimmer. According to the CIA World Factbook, there are 17,508 islands in Indonesia. The 13 I visited make up just .07% of the islands in the country.
The point is, Indonesia isn’t really a country you can just “visit” to get a good sense of it. It is a mammoth and unwieldy place, and basically a mini-continent in its own right.
Indonesia is incredibly diverse in terms of religion and culture. Although the vast majority of the country adheres to Islam (no doubt Java’s 141 million population makes up for a massive chunk of that), there are large amounts of people practicing other religions. In fact, within the span of just a few weeks, I stayed on an island that was majority Hindu, some that were majority Muslim, and some that were majority Catholic. The country also sports over 300 ethnic groups and native languages.
I want to go into detail about various aspects of the adventure. For funsies, we’ll go from least to most pleasant.
The worst part of the trip was DEFINITELY transportation. Man, Indonesia really has some of the most atrocious public transit of anywhere I’ve been. Buses can be hard to come by outside of big cities, and most land transport is by way of shared minibuses (called “bemos”) and cars. Finding an adequate ride often takes a lot of searching, and the transport never ever leaves on time. Mostly, they will drive around for a long time filling up the vehicle until it’s at maximum capacity. And by maximum capacity, I mean being uncomfortably crammed into a seat that is way too small for most adult humans. Boats are usually a bit more comfortable (at least they are not usually THAT crowded), but it should be noted that their safety record in Indonesia is far from stellar.
Another major problem here is cleanliness and pollution. There is garbage strewn everywhere and it’s not a lovely sight. It’s a damn shame because so much of the landscape here would look way better without heaps of trash thrown about. It’s also very common for locals to burn their trash, so watch out for the daily plumes of smoke all over the place. It is clearly very toxic stuff to be breathing in and is a major contributor to air pollution in Indonesia.
The food that I ate was pretty good. I’d give Indonesian cuisine a B- rating overall (obviously subject to change if I ever explore more of the country). Don’t get me wrong, it’s usually cheap and tasty. However, the cuisine definitely does not have that WOW factor of the greatest cuisines (Indian, Thai, Malay, etc). The dishes of white rice and sides of protein/vegetables can get a bit boring. I wish Indonesian food had a bit more diversity in terms of their carb choices (though some regions do prioritize cassava), and utilized spices in a more complex fashion. Some of my favorite dishes include Soto Ayam (a type of chicken soup), Nasi Campur (a staple of rice with several side dishes, slightly different at each restaurant), and Rendang (a beef curry).
Many people visit Indonesia for beautiful beaches and sea life, and it’s no wonder why. I saw, swam in, and snorkeled in some incredible beaches during my two-month stay. Unfortunately, some of the prettiest beaches (I’m talking the tranquil Koka Beach in Flores) have issues with plastic on the sands and in the water. However, others are well-maintained. You will certainly not be lacking for ocean options when you visit Indonesia.
Maybe the pinnacle of my trip was a 4 day, 3-night boat cruise through Komodo National Park (and several other small islands). On both Rinca and Komodo island, we were able to see the fearsome dragons up close, as well as the prey animals (deer, boars, buffalo, monkeys) they survive on. All in all, this trip was one of the best $165 I’ve ever spent in my life, and I highly recommend it to anyone visiting Indonesia. I am currently waiting on several rolls of film to be developed, so I hope to be able to eventually share some incredible photographs from this journey!
I’m going to do a separate article on money and costs during my stay in Indonesia (spoiler alert: it’s a very inexpensive place to travel). Stay tuned!
My name is Yonah Paley. I quit my job in the United States to travel. I also write movies and do photography. As I backpack across the world, I share stories, philosophy, and travel tips.