|Country Information & Lifestyle|
Bali, Island of the Gods
Indonesia lies in the middle of the Indo-Pacific basin at the crossroads between the Indian and Pacific Oceans and bridges the continental land masses of Asia and Australia. It is one of the most volcanic and seismically active regions in the world with more than 400 volcanoes, 128 considered to be active.
The name Indonesia has its roots in two Greek words, "Indos" meaning Indian and "Nesos" which means islands, with the smaller islands often surrounded by reefs, many inaccessible with the five main islands and 30 smaller archipelago home to the majority of the population.
The main islands are Sumatra, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Irian Jaya and Java which is home to 70% of the country's population. Indonesia shares Irian Jaya with Papua New Guinea and two thirds of the island of Kalimantan with Malaysia and Borneo.
Indonesia's climate is definitely tropical, there is no autumn or winter and distinctive dry and wet seasons share the year. The east monsoon, from June to September brings dry weather, while the west monsoon, from December to March, is moisture laden bringing rain. The transitional period between these two seasons is interspersed by the occasional heavy rain shower, but even in the midst of the west monsoon season temperatures range from 21 degrees to 33 degrees Celsius except at higher altitudes where it can be much cooler.
The staple food of most of Indonesia is rice and on some of the islands in eastern Indonesia the food traditionally ranged from corn, sago, cassava to sweet potatoes, though this is changing as rice becomes more popular. Fish features prominently in the diet as from the surrounding seas as well as from fresh water fisheries fish is abundant and of great variety, such as lobsters, oysters, prawns and shrimps, squid, crab, etc.
Coconut is found everywhere and besides being produced for cooking oil, its milk is an ingredient for many dishes and hot chilli peppers are popular cooking ingredients nationwide. Tastes range from very spicy dishes of meat, fish and vegetables to those that are quite sweet. The most popular dishes are "nasi goreng" (fried rice) which is often served for breakfast, lunch or dinner, "satay", barbecue meat or chicken on skewers and "gado-gado", a vegetable salad with a peanut sauce.
Indonesia is rich in culture and art which are intertwined with religion and age-old traditions from graceful court and temple dances to charming folk dances and boisterous plays. There is a wide range of types and styles with the old traditions of dance and drama being preserved in the many dance schools which flourish, not only in the courts, but also in the modern, government run or supervised art academies.
Many dances are considered sacred and can be traced back to their early spiritual associations. Among these are the Temple dances of Bali and the Bedoyo Ketawang of Solo. An important form of indigenous theater is the puppet play, the most celebrated is the Wayang Kulit shadow play of Java. Every area has its own special dance, all very different and equally beautiful with elaborate costumes and in the hands of the people these dances provided a rich source of social interaction.
Indonesia abounds in monuments of the past especially in Bali which is renowned for some of the most spectacular, in particular the temple at Ubud and the seaside temple of Tanah Lot, absolutely stunning at sunset. There are the Hindu temples of Prambanan and the Dieng Plateau, the Kraton Palace of Sultans in Surakarta, Yogyakarta, the Maimun Palace of the Sultanate of Deli in Medan, the Hall of Justice in Bali and ruins of ancient fortresses and museums, mosques and churches steeped in folklore.
Just 50 minutes by ferry from Singapore's Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal to Bandar Bentan Telani Ferry Terminal across the South China Sea takes you to Bintan is the largest of 3,200 islands in Riau Archipelago and one of Indonesia's' jewels.
The coastline stretches for 105 km and includes many fine white sandy beaches, rolling hills, lush greenery and thick forest covering the island.
The capital Tanjung Pinang has a maze of narrow streets and alleys and has three Buddhist Pagodas which can be visited. Walk over the Old Stilt village in the mud flat low tide region along the jetties and a water taxi will take you to the island of Penyengat 6 km offshore. This small island is steeped in history and the Grand Mosque houses a rare 150 year old hand written Koran in its library, palace ruins and mausoleums the most famous being the burial grounds of Raja Ali Haji, his wife and his royal household.
Java is the most populous island and is also one of the most densely populated regions on earth. A chain of thirty-eight volcanic mountains forms an east-west spine along the island which is long and narrow and conveniently divided into four sections - Banten, West, Central and East Java. Further mountains and highlands split the interior into a series of relatively isolated regions suitable for cultivating wet-rice, the rice lands of Java are among the richest in the world.
Java lies between Sumatra to the northwest, Bali to the east, Borneo lies to the north and Christmas Island to the south. West Java, also known as Sunda, has the capital Jakarta which has a fascinating and significant history. It started as a small harbour town called Sunda Kelapa, but its founding dates back to the year 1570 when it was named Jayakarta by Fatahillah of the neighboring Sultanate of Banten. Jakarta is the center of government, business and industry and is also designated as a special territory (Daerah Khusus Ibukota -DKI).
Sumatra is the sixth largest island in the world and is the largest island entirely in Indonesia, (two larger islands, Borneo and New Guinea are partially in Indonesia). The interior of the island is dominated by two geographical regions - the Barisan Mountains, the backbone of the island in the west and swampy plains in the east. To the southeast is Java, separated by the Sunda Strait, to the north is the Malay Peninsula separated by the Straits of Malacca and to the east Borneo across the Karimata Strait.
The island is home to a host of species including the Sumatran Pine, Rafflesia arnoldii, (the world's largest individual flower), Sumatran tiger, Sumatran orangutan, the two-horned Sumatran rhinoceros, Sumatran elephant, Malayan tapir, Malayan sun bear, Borneo clouded leopard and many birds and butterflies. The island includes more than ten national parks and the volcanic activity of this region endowed the region with fertile land and beautiful scenery for instance around the Lake Toba.
Bali lies between Java to the west, Lombok to the east and the western part is in the Lesser Sunda Islands. The capital is Denpasar towards the south of the island and is the largest tourist destination in the country, renowned for its highly developed arts, including dance, sculpture, painting, leather, metalworking and music. Bali is approximately 8 degrees south of the equator and mountains cover the centre of the eastern side with Mount Agung and Mount Batur active volcanoes. In the south the land descends to form an alluvial plain watered by shallow rivers.
The town of Ubud, north of Denpasar with its art market, museums and galleries, is arguably the cultural centre of Bali. Balinese gamelan music is highly developed and varied and the famous Balinese dances include oendent,legong, baris, topeng, barong and kecak(the monkey dance). The island is surrounded by coral reefs, beaches in the south tend to have white sand while those in the north and west black sand.
The beach town of Padangbai in the south east has both - the main beach and the secret beach have white sand and the south beach and the blue lagoon have much darker sand. The black sand beaches between Pasut and Klatingdukuh are being developed for tourism, but apart from the seaside temple of Tanah Lot, this is not yet a tourist area.
Lombok is an island in West Nusa Tenggara province and is part of the chain of the Lesser Sunda Islands with the Lombok Strait separating it from Bali to the west and the Alas Strait between it and Sumbawa the east. The southern part of the island is a fertile plain where corn, rice, coffee, tobacco and cotton are grown and the island's topography is dominated by the centrally-located volcano, Mount Rinjani. The most recent eruption was in June-July 1994 and the volcano and its sacred crater lake, Lake Segara Anak are protected by a National Park.
Komodo is part of the Lesser Sunda chain of islands in East Nusa Tenggara province and forms part of the Komodo National Park lying between Sumbawa to the west and Flores to the east. The inhabitants of the island are descendants of former convicts who were exiled to the island and who have mixed themselves with the Bugis from Sulawesi. The Komodo dragon, the world's largest living lizard that can measure up to three meters long and takes its name from the island, a type of monitor lizard it inhabits Komodo and some of the smaller islands.
Rinca is a small island near Komodo island in East Nusa Tenggara and has dormant volcanoes and on the west coast is one of the few places aside from the island of Komodo where the Komodo dragon can be found in the wild. Rinca is also populated with many other species such as wild pigs, buffaloes and many birds. The island can be reached with a small boat from Labuhan Bajo on the west coast of Flores and being the lesser known island,(and less visited), than Komodo it is an ideal place to see the Komodo Dragon in its natural environment with fewer people to disturb them.
Flores is one of the Lesser Sunda Islands and extends east from Java and is located east of Sumbawa and Komodo, west of Lembata and the Alor Archipelago with Timor to the southeast, across the Sumba strait to the south is Sumba and to the north beyond the Flores Sea is Sulawesi.
Flores is one of the most beautiful islands in Indonesia and is an astounding string of active and extinct volcanoes. The most famous tourist attraction in Flores is Kelimutu, three coloured lakes in the district of Ende which are in the caldera of a volcano and fed by a volcanic gas source. The coloured lakes change on an irregular basis depending on the oxidation state of the lake.
Bajawa, a little town nestling in the hills is the centre for the Ngada people of the Bajawa Plateau area and Bena is one of the most traditional and interesting. Riung on the coast north of Bajawa has beaches and iguanas but not as big as on Komodo and offshore reserve of Pulau Tujuh Belas offers excelling snorkelling.
Timor is an island at the south end of the Malay Archipelago and is divided between the independent states of East and West Timor and is part of the province of East Nusa Tenggara. To the south and southeast of Timor is Oceania, to its northwest is the island of Sulawesi and to its west the island of Sumba. To the west-northwest of Timor are the islands of Flores and Alor and to its northeast are the Barat Daya Islands.
Timor, together with the Lesser Sunda Islands to the northwest and the smaller islands to the northeast, is covered by tropical dry broad-leaf forests with many trees being deciduous or partly deciduous dropping their leaves during the dry season. Timor has older geology and lacks the volcanic nature of the Lesser Sunda Islands and is one of the most traditional regions of Indonesia but sees few tourists.
Timor is dominated by the scenic central mountains and this large, rugged and dry island is home to a variety of cultures. Divided into East and West Timor almost all visitors only go to West Timor because of the reputation of East Timor being one of the world's hot spots, however East Timor is not a war zone and it is safe and easy to travel to the capital Dili. Near to Soe is the village of Boti, a traditional village presided over by a self-styled Raja,(King). Christianity never penetrated here and the Raja maintains strict adherence to tradition.
Sumba is one of the Lesser Sunda Islands and historically the island exported sandalwood. It is in the province of East Nusa Tenggara and despite the influx of western religions is one of the few places in the world in which megalithic burials are used as a "living tradition" to inter prominent individuals when they die. Burial in megaliths is a practice that was used in many parts of the world during the Neolithic and Bronze Ages but has survived to this day in Sumba. Sumba's isolation has helped preserve one of the country's most bizarre animist cultures.
Around Waingapu are a number of traditional villages with impressive stone ancestor's tombs and the area produces some of the best Suikat. At Rende is the former's Raja's tomb a massive stone slab construction one of Sumba's largest tombs. At Waikabubak one of the spectacular attractions is the Pasola, a mock battle ritual held each year, a kind of jousting match on horseback and is held at the villages of Lamboya and Koda each February.
Kalimantan at the southern two thirds of the island of Borneo is a vast, jungle-covered wilderness with few roads with boats and ferries on the numerous rivers and waterways being the chief form of long distance transport. It is the Dayak tribes of the inland areas that are the main reason for coming to Kalimantan but access to such tribes is becoming increasingly expensive and is often prohibited.
Samarinda is the best place for jumping off to visit the Dayak tribes of east Kalimantan and is reached by regular longboats that head upriver to Tanjung Isuy on the shores of Danau Jempang. Banjarmasin has two attractions it's canals and floating markets, one of the few left in Asia that is not a tourist attraction.
The river islands of Pulau Kaget and Pulau Kembang Kaget is where you can see the probiscis or long-nosed monkeys. At Pulau Kembang there is an old Chinese temple that is home to hundreds of long-tailed macaques and the diamond fields of Cempake area is a fascinating excursion where the miners labor in muddy holes sifting for gold, diamonds and agates.
The Greater Sunda Islands are a group of islands within the Malay Archipelago and included in the group are Sumatra, Java, Borneo, Sulawesi and adjacent smaller islands. The group is politically split between Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia and they can be contrasted with the Lesser Sunda Islands to the east and together with them make up the Sunda Islands.
Borneo is the third largest island in the world and is located at the center of Maritime Southeast Asia. Administratively, this island is divided between Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei, and Indonesia's region is called Borneo while Malaysia's region is called East Malaysia or Malaysian Borneo.
Borneo is surrounded by the South China Sea to the north and northwest, the Sulu Seas to the northeast, the Celebes Sea and the Makassar Strait to the east, and the Java Sea and Karimata Strait and to the west of Borneo are the Malay Peninsula and Sumatra to the south is Java east is Sulawesi, northeast Philippines.
Borneo's highest point is Mount Kinabalu in Sabah, Malaysia with an elevation of 4,095 m and this makes it the world's third highest island. Borneo is also known for its extensive cave systems, Clearwater cave has one of the world's longest underwater rivers and Deer Cave is thought to be the largest cave passage in the world.
Sulawesi is one of the four larger Sunda islands and is situated between Borneo and Maluku islands. The island is surrounded by Borneo to the west, Philippines to the north, Maluku to the east and by Flores and Timor to the south. Sulawesi is subdivided into six provinces and has a distinctive shape dominated by four large peninsulas and the central part of the island is ruggedly mountainous, such that the island's peninsulas have traditionally been remote from each other, with better connections by sea than by road.
The island straddles Wallace's Line meaning that it has a mix of both Asian and Austronesian species, however the majority of Sulawesi's wildlife belongs to the Australasia region and 2,290 km of the island is devoted to Lore Lindu National Park.
The largest native mammal in Sulawesi is the dwarf buffalo, locally known as the anoa. The people of Sulawesi are famous for their dedication to their diverse art abilities, which include pottery, weaving and dancing and their pottery was originally made specifically for the purpose of storing rice and water.
The funeral festivals of Tanatoraja in the south-western peninsula are Sulawesia's best known attraction a high mountainous area with beautiful scenery and fascinating culture, the houses in Tanatoraja are shaped like buffalo horns. The burial customs of the Toraja are unique and they generally have two funerals, one immediately after death and another elaborate second one. The Toraja secrete their coffins deep inside caves of which there are plenty and sitting on balconies on rock faces you can see the tau-tau or life-sized carved wooden effigies of the dead.
In the Bada Valley south of Palu are unusual megaliths, the Togian Island have stunning coral reefs and the volcanic islands are the only place in Indonesia where you can find all three major reef environments. Sulawesi's liveliest city is Ujung Pandang and the Muslim Bugis are the dominant group and the city is best known as being the home of their magnificent schooners that still trade extensively throughout the Indonesian archipelago.
New Guinea, located just north of Australia, is the world's largest island and the name Papua has also been long-associated with the island. The western half of the island belongs to Indonesia and contains the provinces of Papua and West Papua, and the eastern half forms the mainland of the independent country of Papua New Guinea.
Formerly known as Irian Jaya, the Indonesian side of the island of New Guinea was only acquired from the Dutch in 1963 and was previously known as West Irian. In 2003 the western`portion of the province on the Bird's Head Peninsula was declared by the Indonesian government as a separate province named West Irian Jaya and the name was changed to West Papua in February 2007.
West Papua is the least populated province in Indonesia and covers the Bird's Head Peninsula and surrounding islands. The capital is Manokwari and the island is presently populated by very nearly a thousand different tribal groups and a near-equivalent number of languages. It is one of the few Asia-Pacific regions where traditional cultures still survive, but only just.
The island is over 40,000 sq km of impenetrable forests and mountains, some permanently snow-capped, and contains the highest mountains between the Himalayas and the Andes and ensures a steady supply of rain from the tropical atmosphere of the tallest peaks containing permanent equatorial glaciers. Except in high elevations most areas possess a warm humid climate throughout the year with some seasonal variation associated with the northeast monsoon season.
The central east-west mountain range dominates the geography of New Guinea and the vast southern and northern lowlands stretch for hundreds of kilometres and include lowland rain forests, extensive wetlands, savanna grasslands and some of the largest expanses of mangrove forest in the world.
The Mamberamo river, sometimes referred to as the "Amazon of Papua" is the province's largest river which winds through the northern part of the province resulting in a large area of lakes and rivers known as the Lakes Plains region. The famous Baliem Valley home of the Dani people is in the midst of the central mountain range. Almost all visitors head to the Baliem Valley - the only part of the interior generally accessible to tourism.
Generally the driest and best time of the year to visit is from May to October although it can rain anytime and anywhere. Around 75% of Irian Jaya is dense forest in which a unique range of flora and fauna flourishes and a species of the bird of paradise still inhabit remote areas of the Bird's Head Peninsula and Pulau Yapen. Around the southern coastal regions there are large cassowaries and storks and bandicoots and possums live in many forest regions and around Merauke wallabies are not uncommon.
The southern lowlands are the site of Lorentz National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. New Guinea is well-known in the popular imagination for ritual cannibalism that was apparently practised by some ethnic groups. The Korowai and Kombai peoples of southeastern Papua are two of the last groups in the world said to have engaged in cannibalism in the recent past.