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Although we specialize in pre-defined group itineraries with destinations and activities we feel will be of interest to many, we understand that you may want to pick and choose your own destinations and attractions.  We are happy to design custom itineraries suited specifically to your desires and interests.  Simply pick the places you want to visit and the activities you would like to experience and we will design your perfect itinerary!  Check back frequently as we will add to the Places and Things sections on this page.

 

Places to Go in Indonesia

A Brief Introduction to Indonesia

Indonesia is an archipelago in South East Asia and Oceania comprising some 17,500 island with only about 6,000 being inhabited.  It is the fourth most populous country in the world with a population of more than 238 million and the largest Muslim nation in the world.  It has been an important trade region since at least the 7th century, initially trading with China and India.  Indonesia was influenced by Muslim traders and European explorers eventually being colonized by the Netherlands and came to be known as the Dutch East Indies and the Spice Islands.  The Dutch colonization lasted three and a half centuries.  They were occupied by the Japanese during WW II and finally declared their independence of foreign rule and occupation on August 17, 1945 at the end of the war.  Indonesia is a Republic with an elected legislature and president and Jakarta on the island of Java is their capital.

Indonesia lies at the juncture of the Pacific, Eurasian, Philippine and Australian tectonic plates making it one of the most active volcanic regions in the world.  It lies on the Pacific Ring of Fire.  There are at least 150 active volcanoes in Indonesia including Krakatoa and Tambora, both famous for devastating eruptions in the 19th century.  The eruption of Toba, supervolcano on Sumatra approximately 70,000 years ago, was a global catastrophe  and created a volcanic winter over 6 years.  However, volcanic ash is a major contributor to the high agricultural fertility of the islands and the ability to support their large population.

 Bali

Bali is an island just east of Java, and west of Lombok.  It is the western most island of the Lesser Sunda Islands now known as Nusa Tenggara.  It is the only island of Indonesia that still practises Hinduism.  It has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in Indonesia over the last several decades.  Bali is highly developed in the arts with painters, wood carvers, silver and metal workers, dancers and musicians.  Bali has been called island of the Gods, with its varied landscape of hills and mountains, rugged coastlines and sandy beaches, lush rice terraces and barren volcanic hillsides all providing a picturesque backdrop to its colorful, deeply spiritual and unique culture.  It stakes a serious claim to be paradise on earth.  Over the last several decades, Bali has cultivated and expanded its tourism industry and has become the most visited island in Indonesia.  In particular Bali has developed the spa industry with an abundance of spas and health treatment centers.  You can find a fabulous spa to pamper and spoil you for a very reasonable price on practically every corner and in every hotel.

Kalimantan – Borneo

Borneo, known as Kalimantan in Indonesia is the third largest island in the world and part of the Malay Archipelago.  It is also the third highest island in the world.  The island is divided among three countries, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.  The rainforests of Borneo are 130 million years old making it 70 million years older than the Amazon rainforests.  There are three major river systems in Kalimantan, the longest being Kapuas, which is also the longest river in Indonesia.  Borneo is rich in biodiversity with about 15,000 species of flowering plants, 3,000 species of trees, 221 species of terrestrial mammals and 420 species of resident birds.  It is one of the only remaining natural habitats of the endangered Bornean Orangutan.  It is one of the most biodiverse places on earth and home to a smorgasbord of native life including the indigenous Dyak tribes.  It has a vast mesh of mountains, forests and rivers that red flags any adventure enthusiast.  In southern Kalimantan, Banjarmasin is famous for its waterways and water market.  There are a number of national parks offering a view of the mountains, wetlands and coastal mangrove forests with a variety of wildlife.  Cruising down one of the rivers will introduce you to native river life as you see houses built on stilts, watch villagers scrub laundry and kids splashing in the water.

 Sulawesi – Celebes

Sulawesi, formerly known as the Celebes is part of the Larger Sunda Islands of Indonesia.  The mountainous region of South Sulawesi is the home of Toraja, an indigenous ethnic group, arguably one of the most distinctive ethnic groups in all of Indonesia.  Their ancient, native religion is megalithic and animist however, contemporary Torajans are mostly Christian and Muslim.  They still practice some of the Aluk To Dolo (way of the ancestors) such as animal sacrifice, ostentatious funeral rites lasting for days and huge communal feasts.  Fascinating are their traditional ancestral homes called Tongkonan, built on stilts with saddle shaped roofs.  Tana Toraja or land of Toraja, was largely untouched by the outside world until Dutch missionaries came to convert them in early 20th century.  The Minahasa, are an ethnic group of the northern part of Sulawesi.  They were first colonized by the Portuguese, then the Spanish and finally the Dutch.  As a part of the Dutch East Indies, they strongly identified with the Dutch language and culture, so strongly that when Indonesia declared her independence from Dutch colonization and Japanese occupation in 1945, Minahasa pleaded with the Dutch to let it become a province of the Netherlands.  To this day a great number of Minahasans live in the Netherlands as Dutch citizens.  Off the coast of Manado in the northern part of the island lies breathtaking Bunaken Marine Park, reputedly one of the best diving areas in the world with its pristine coral reefs and unparalleled marine biodiversity, offering pure, unspoiled natural beauty.

Java

Java is the most populous island in the world with a population of 135 million.  It is home to 60% of Indonesia’s population and Jakarta, on the west end of the island is its capital.  Much of Indonesian history occurred on Java with powerful Hindu-Buddhist empires, Islamic sultanates and the core of the colonial Dutch East Indies.  Java is the 13th largest island in the world and almost entirely of volcanic region.  It contains 38 mountains forming an east west spine that are either currently active or dormant volcanoes.  Mt. Semeru in East Java is the highest volcano in Java and Mt. Merapi in Central Java is the most active.   The fertile soil of the lush landscape in central Java is due to significant volcanic activity depositing ash on the island and providing nutrient rich soil for the teraced rice fields, coffee and tea plantations in the mountains and palm groves on the coastal plains of Java.  Java is bordered by the Java Sea on the north and the Indian Ocean on the south.  Discovery of the fossilized remains of homo-erectus, popularly known as the Java Man were excavated in Central Java, thus putting it on the world map.  The Java man is estimated to be 1.5 million years old.  Central Java is known as the cultural heart and soul of Java having been the seat of the sultanates operating in courts of Jogyakarta and Surakarta since late 16th century.  Here you will see the exotic Javenese dancing and gamelan music performed at Prambanan, a 9th century Hindu temple or at the Kraton, the palace of the sultans.  You will see the magnificent Borobudur temple from the 8th century, once lost under volcanic ash and jungle overgrowth.  You can experience a wayang kulit (shadow puppet) performance or an open market selling everything from food to handmade batiks.  Enjoy the local form of transportation in a becak (human powerd tricycle rickshaw) or delman (horse drawn buggy).

Sumatra

Sumatra is the largest island in Indonesia that is entirely Indonesian and sixth largest in the world.  Kalimantan (Borneo) and Papua (New Guinea) are larger but are shared with other countries.  Sumatra had settlers moving in as early as 500 B.C. from Taiwan to South East Asia.  Some of the notable travellers who visited Sumatra are I Ching, a Chinese Buddhist monk who spent several years studying in Palembang and the explorer Marco Polo who visited Sumatra in 1292.  Sumatra is home to an immense variety of plant and animal biodiversity although many are critically endangered such as the Sumatran Orangutan, Sumatran Tiger and Sumatran Rhino.  Indonesia is the 4th largest coffee producer in the world and much of this production takes place in plantations on Sumatra and Java.  Sumatra also has rubber plantations and one can view the harvest and processing of rubber at one of these plants.  Other notable industries are oil fields, coal deposits, as well as gold, silver and tin.  There are 30 volcanoes on the island of Sumatra, one of the famed ones being Lake Toba.  About 70,000 years ago, this supervolcano is believed to have created the largest volcanic eruption on earth in 25 million years.  This event lead to a decline in worldwide temperatures from 5 to 27 degrees Fahrenheit.  The Toba caldera complex consists of four overlapping volcanic craters.  There are at least four cones, four stratavolcanoes and three craters visible in the lake.  The massive eruption deposited an ash layer more than 19 feet deep as far away as India and nearly 30 feet deep in parts of Malaysia.  The Toba caldera is the only supervolcano in existence described to be the bigger sister of Yellowstone.  The subsequent collapse after filling with water formed Lake Toba, largest lake in Indonesia and largest volcanic lake in the world.  The sizeable island of Samosir lies in the caldera lake.   Near Lake Toba one can view the unique Batak architecture with houses built on stilts and twin peaked, saddle shaped roofs.

Things to See and Do in Indonesia

Diving and Snorkelling

Straddling the Equator, and stretching across 3,500 miles of Pacific Ocean from East to West, Indonesia is a country of around 17,500 islands.  Many of these islands are so remote that they support little or no human habitation.  As a result, Indonesia is home to many of the world’s absolutely finest diving locales, with new sites still to be discovered.  Indonesia’s unique location places it at the epicenter of our planet’s marine biodiversity.  Its waters are home to everything from great whale sharks to the world’s tiniest seahorses.  Because Indonesia’s water temperatures are typically a bit cooler than other Pacific regions, the effects of global warming have not yet taken their toll.  Indonesia’s coral reefs are still rich and vibrant, and its waters home to some of the most amazing marine creatures you will ever see.  Scuba diving or snorkelling is a rare treat among the Indonesian Islands and said to rival the Great Barrier Reef in Australia due to more pristine reefs and lower deterioration from the impact of tourism.  With over 3000 species of fish, 600 varieties of coral, under-water volcanic eruptions and World War II sunken ships, Indonesia provides some of the most awesome opportunities for scuba diving.  Among the best places are the Raja Ampat islands (a group of 1500 islands, atolls, cays and shoals), northern Sulawesi, Banda Islands, West Papua (formerly known as Irian Barat), Komodo and Bali.

Rainforest Trekking

Rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra are among the oldest in the world being 130 million years making them 70 million years older than the largest rainforest in the world, the Amazon but a bit younger than the Daintree rainforest of Australia.  Indonesia’s more than 17,000 islands form an archipelago that spans two biogeographic realms, the Indomalayan and Australasian.  It contains 10 % of the world’s biodiversity and the rainforests provide vast opportunities to experience the diverse flora and fauna unique to the islands.  Rainforests of Indonesia are home to the endangered orangutan, native to those islands.  It is here that you can experience them in their natural habitat.  The name orangutan is two Malay words (orang hutan) meaning man of the forest.  Additional fauna found in the rainforest are the tiger, rhinocerous, elephant and a wide variety of birds, reptiles and invertebrates.

Climb an Active Volcano

At the center of most Indonesian islands, you will find volcanoes, as Indonesia lies on the most active region of the Pacific Ring of Fire.  This island archipelago lies at the juncture of 4 tectonic plates and the subduction zone between the Asian and Australian plates.  There are 167 active volcanoes with some of the notable volcanic eruptions being Krakatau, Tambora and Lake Toba.  The Krakatau eruption in 1883 had global effects sinking 2/3 of the island and causing 5 years of volcanic winter.  Anak Krakatau (child of Krakatau) has now formed a cone emerging from the center of the sunken caldera of its mother.  Mount Tambora is noted for the most violent volcanic eruption in recorded history in 1815.  Lake Toba, a supervolcano and largest volcanic lake in the world erupted approximately 74,000 years ago.  It is believed to be the largest volcanic eruption in 25 million years and responsible for 6 years of volcanic winter.  Treks to the summit of a volcano to see the bubbling caldera can be arranged for the tourist seeking adventure.  Some of the islands for volcanic climbs are Sumatra, Java, Sulawesi (Celebes), Moluku Islands and Nusa Tenggara Islands which includes Bali.

Nature Walks and Bird Watching

Experience the rich biodiversity of flora and fauna in Indonesia, a mixture of Asian and Australasian species.  Large species such as the tiger, rhinoceros, orangutan, elephant and leopard were once abundant but numbers have dwindled drastically and many are endangered.  Indonesia is second only to Australia in terms of total endemic species with 36% of its 1,531 species of bird and 39% of its 515 species of mammal being endemic.  The 50,000 miles of coastline surrounded by tropical seas contribute to the country’s high level of biodiversity in its coastal ecosystems including beaches, sand dunes, estuaries, mangroves, coral reefs, sea grass beds and coastal mudflats with more than 1,650 species of reef fish only in eastern Indonesia.  You will encounter 28,000 species of flowering plants, consisting of 2,500 species of orchids, 6000 traditional medicinal plants, 122 species of bamboo, over 350 species of rattan and 400 species of Dipterocarpus including ebony, sandalwood and teak.  Indonesia is home to some species of carnivorous plants, Rafflesia arnaldii (largest flower measuring 3 feet in diameter), and Amorphophallus titanum (flower growing 10 feet tall).  More than 600 species of reptiles live among the islands, most famous of these is the Komodo dragon native to the island of the same name.  Among the places to see this vast array of biodiversity are the many national parks scattered among the islands.

Visit Ancient Temples

Among the most spectacular and ancient temple sites in Indonesia are Borobudur, Prambanan and Besaki.  Borobudur is an 8th century Buddhist temple in Central Java and the site of many Buddhist pilgrimages from mainland Asia.  It is believed to have been built between 750 and 850 C.E. and abandoned after a massive eruption of the volcano Merapi in 1006, reputed to have covered all of Central Java in volcanic ash and later, the temple was overcome by jungle growth until it was discovered in 1814 by a Dutch engineer.  Prambanan is a large Hindu temple complex from the 9th century also in Central Java not far from Borobudur.  It’s believed that Prambanan was built around 850 C.E. in an era that marked the return of the Hindu Sanjaya Dynasty to power in Central Java after a century of Buddhist Sailenda Dynasty domination.  The temple complex was abandoned sometime in the 10th century for reasons unknown but thought to be eruption of Merapi or power struggles within the court and shift to East Java.  Both of these sites are on the UNESCO World Heritage sites list.  Besaki temple is on the island of Bali on the slopes of Mt. Agung, the largest and most active volcano on Bali.  It is thought to have been constructed in the 14th century and is considered the mother temple of Bali.  It honors the gods of the mountain which is considered sacred.  The eruption of Agung in 1963, killed some 1,700 people with the lava flows burying whole towns, missing the temple by mere meters.  The saving of the temple is regarded by the Balinese as miraculous.  This site has been nominated to the UNESCO World Heritage Site but has not been vested.

Visit Beautiful Mosques

Indonesia is home to some of the most beautiful mosques in the world.  It is the world’s largest Muslim country with 12.9% of the world’s Muslims.  Among some of the most stunning structures constructed for Islamic worship in Indonesia are in Sumatra and Java.  Baiturrahman Mosque, Medan Grand Mosque, Mosque at Batusangkar, Semen Padang Mosque and Pekanbaru Mosque are all on the island of Sumatra.  Dian al Mahri, Bengkulu Grand Mosque, Istiqlal, Mesjid Agung Demak, Al Akbar Mosque, Central Java Grand Mosque, all on the island of Java.  Of course there are other beautiful ones on different islands but this is good cross section of them.

Cultural Performances

Among the most interesting things to do is to experience Javenese and Balinese dancing as well as Wayang (puppet)  show.  Although Javenese and Balinese dancing are significantly different, they depict many of the same popular epics of Hindu legends such as the Ramayana ballet.  Rama is a prince whose wife Sita is abducted by an evil king.  Rama seeks the help of an ape army to rescue his wife and bring her back.  Javenese dancing is slow, precise and deliberate while Balinese is characterized by fast, quick movements of the eyes and fingers.  The music sets the pace in both types of dance.

Wayang is a puppet and there are three dimensional versions (Wayang Golek) for puppet plays as well as a two dimensional variety called Wayang Kulit.  The former are doll puppets played on a typical puppet stage.  The latter are puppets cut from leather and played behind a white drape with a spotlight behind creating a shadow of the puppet on the drape.  Frequently these performances start at midnight and continue all night with the whole family in attendance.  They are a very popular form of entertainment for locals.

Visit Plantations

Indonesia was colonized by the Netherlands for 300 years and known as the Dutch East Indies or the Spice Islands because of their cultivation of spices which were exported to Asia and Europe.  In addition to spice plantations there are also coffee, tea, rubber and copra (coconut) plantations.  There are many opportunities to visit these plantations and see how they are operated and how the product is processed.  Have you had a ‘cup of java’ lately?  The term came from the flourishing coffee production on the island of Java.  Both Java and Sumatra are exporters of coffee beans.  Copra is the production of coconut to be pressed into oil which is used extensively throughout the islands for food preparation as well as for health and beauty products.  Rubber plantations are very beautiful with their rows of rubber trees in perfect alignment.  Workers go out daily to make a fresh cut on the bark in order to harvest the milk which is caught in a cup.  It is carried back manually to the plant for processing and export.  Good Year owned a number of rubber plantations on Sumatra in the 20th century but has since sold them.

Cremations on Bali

Cremations on the island of Bali are a traditional Hindu custom and an immense celebration as they believe that is the only way to release the soul from the body to enter heaven.  These celebrations are very elaborate and cost the family a great deal of money.  For this reason, most families first bury their dead and every few years on the Balinese calendar, families will join together to have a big cremation celebration thereby distributing the cost over a greater number of families.  The dead are exhumed and placed in a decorative sarcophagus frequently in the shape of an animal.  The bottom of the sarcophagus is constructed on a latticework frame of bamboo which is carried on the shoulders of many men and to an open field or the seashore to be consigned to flames.  Prior to the journey, the men meditate and chant until they are in a trance.  They twist and turn while carrying the pyre to confuse the soul so the soul will not find its way back home.  At the site of the field or beach, the pyre is set on fire and burned.  Then, the ashes of the loved one are floated out to sea in a coconut shell or some other vessel.  This is a joyous occasion as the soul is released to heaven and can be reincarnated.