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From: guillaume_petitjean []
Sent: vendredi 8 août 2003 14:08
Subject: [RTWers] Indonesian experience
I come back from 5 weeks in Indonesia (Java, Bali and South Sulawesi).
I'd like to share few feelings and general remarks about this
wonderful trip.
The people. Indonesian people are generally quite friendly and smily.
Compared to my only other asian experience - Vietnam - I've found
Indonesian to be much more friendly and, to be honest, much more
I didn't expect such a mix of cultures and traditions which, for most
of them, are still really alive (not just ceremonies for tourists).
It's quite an interesting fact to note as I don't think it is very
common around the world.
Also the first muslim country in the world is surprisingly tolerant
(well perhaps people from Aceh don't completely agree these times...).
You can be awaked by the mosque in the morning, then see animist
ceremonies and meet people going to the church just after...
It's a nice lesson for lots of other countries.
About landscapes, places of interest... well it's obviously great !
But some authors wrote about Indonesian beauty much better than I could !

Places not to miss:
In Java.
Cibodas near Bogor (after Pancuk Pass) to relax from Jakarta and hike
in the forest. This little village produces flowers and both sides of
the main road are completely covered of beautiful flowers everywhere.
The forest around Gede Pandrango mountain is also very nice.
Yogya with the Sultan palace, bird market and  Borobudur at sunrise:
very classical but I now understood why ! You sometimes feel like if
you were living 3 or 4 centuries ago, when you visit the old baths or
the bird market. There is something a bit magical in this city.
Bandung surroundings with Kawah Puti, a white-coloured volcanic lake,
and some marvelous tea plantations in the same area (what a pity you
have to stay in Bandung for that...).
Bromo of course despite the touristic circus up there remains an
awesome place. In Bromo don't go with these f...g jeeps to Penanjakan
to see the sunrise (with 200 other tourists if you come during
indonesian vacations) but walk 45 minutes on the road to Penanjakn
view point (different road than the one used by the jeeps), cross
through marvelous small vegetables fields by some obvious small paths
and you will arrive on an unforgettable view point (easy to find) on
the volcanos (on the edge of the caldeira) with no one to shout when
the sun comes... or leaves ;) Also the sand sea is one of our best
If you walk 15 minutes or half an hour to leave the main track, the
feeling there is impressive: complete silence and a landscape which
seems to be a mix between the Moon and Tibet (even if I don't know any
of both places ;) ).

In Bali.
Lovina (after having crossed Java, just heaven ;) ), Amed and its
amazing corals and shipwrecks, Nusa Lembongan for scuba diving where
I've seen sharks and rays (go with Harry he is the one who knows the
best the sites around the island, ask me for his precise coordinates)
, Ubud (go to Jati 3, if you want a palace for budget price).
In Ubud, we've met Made, a driver (again, contact me for his
coordinates) who can guide you to trek in the forest and terrace
ricefields where he was born and has worked a long time ago. Quite
beautiful areas and quite "off the beaten track" too.
Near Ubud, don't miss Goa Gaja but go early in the morning. From there
you can walk by a very nice small path (you will always find someone
to guide you) to Yeh Puni which is a strange small cliff covered with
carvings. When I've been there a very kind and funny old Balinese lady
blessed me with water from the holy source. It's a very nice souvenir
(despite holy water didn't make my hair grow again !).  
It's not really a "must see" but Pandangbai is better than we
expected. You can walk (on the right of the ferry while watching the
see) in nice banana and palm or coco tree fields and you will arrive
on a black sand wild beach very very austere. Here, no coral reef and
tranparent water but wind and big waves. Impressive. If you follow the
beach towards Padangbai you will see strange lava rocks with nice
shapes. Be careful to the tide there.

In South Sulawesi. Tana Toraja (interesting culture and traditions and
beautiful landscapes, great trekking). A good think to know: if you
want to avoid the 10 hours bus trip from Makassar to Rantepao you can
take a connecting flight if you arrive in Makassar airport in the
morning. When we arrived at the airport they chartered a small plane
for us (only 8 seats in the plane and we were only 2 !!) for only 20
euros each. Unbelievable if you are aware of the cost of a flight,
even in a small plane ! For information charter a car from Makassar to
Rantepao will cost you around 80 euros (that's just the prices we
heard but I doubt you can get much cheaper price)...
Moreover the flight in this small plane is fun and you have nice views
on Tana Toraja at the end.
Lake Tempe near Sengkang is worth the (long) trip from Toraja or
Makassar. Just unforgettable place with floating vegetation (lotus,
nenuphars) and even some kind of palm tree growing in the middle of
water, and floating houses moving slowly in the current. It's original
and peaceful. Don't miss it.
Bira in extreme south-east of South Sulawesi with incredible white
sand beaches with nobody. According to the tide you can sometimes walk
on the beach recovered by the sea, in 50 centimeters of transparent
and quiet hot water, while watching the fishermen coming back or the
goats slowly moving on the cliffs bording the beach. There are worst
places than this one ;) You can also see bugis boats "shipyards" (well
in fact more beaches than real shipyards !). The bugis boats are a bit
mythical because they did the spice trade in Indian ocean during
several centuries. You almost expect to see pirates or Corto Maltese
back from one of his adventures... 

Places to avoid:
Bandung: the surroundings are nice but we felt really uncomfortable in
this big city. May be we had a bad experience there.
In Bandung, By Moritz (quoted in LP) has awful rooms: dirty (but I
mean REALLY dirty), stinking, squalid common mandis and not so cheap.
It's a pity because the people managing the hostel are lovely and very
useful to bring you to or inform you about the countryside.
Hotel Rose in Yogya. Dirty (like cigarette butts under your bed...),
very noisy, ridiculous breakfast and not so cheap. 
Sanur in Bali: nothing to do, nothing to see, people in the shops are
agressive, restaurants are very expensive. A piece of shit. I really
wonder how you can spend more than one day there, and only if you have
to wait for the boat to Nusa Lemongan.

Things to know:
Overall we've found that it's not a good idea to take budget rooms.
Usually budget rooms are roughly around 7 euros. We rarely found
cheaper (but we didn't really look for that to be honest !). For this
price it's often (but not always) a bit squalid whereas for 10 euros
you can have a really good and comfortable room (sometimes a little
palace, especially in Bali). If you are travelling with a friend or in
couple it's almost nothing to add for a real difference.
Restaurants are always very good and usually quite cheap. For around 1
euro, sometimes less, you can eat a very good Indonesian dish like the
famous Nasi Goreng or fried rice. Add 0.5 or 1 euro and you have fresh
fish or prawns ! We've found restaurants to be usually very clean.
Absolutely no problem with the food. We really enjoyed Indonesian food
very much (and don't forget we are french so food and us... you know
what I mean ;) ). The food is simple, with countryside origins, but at
the same time delicate and subtle.
In Sulawesi, except the Toraja guides, very few people speak english.

Bad experiences:
Most of the "official" guides in Rantepao (don't ask me what official
means) are just bastards. If you don't want to rent their services
they will ask you the reason forever (sometimes agressively). Same
thing if you go with a "non-official" guide or driver. Because there
are not many tourist there currently, they will all meet in your hotel
and wait for you when you come back to or leave your hotel and will
harrass you.
And they agree to keep ridiculous high prices for a trek for example.
Also to rent a car in Rantepao, expect to spend twice the price you
would pay in Bali even if there is no tourist there and if most
drivers are unemployed... (and they wonder why :( )
Also in Toraja we have been quite disappointed by local people
behaviour. We had a night in a local house and they were only
interested by money. It's not the first time I sleep in local house,
including developping countries and asia, and usually people are kind,
happy to meet foreigners and they do their best (according to what
they can afford of course) to make your stay as nice as possible
(especially when you pay a price fixed in advance, like in a B&B).
There, we paid as much as for a night in a good hotel in Rantepao plus
a good restaurant and we had our worst dinner in Indonesia, they
didn't even change the sheets (oh yes they did, but the new ones were
as dirty as the previous ones), and, the most important for us, they
didn't do any effort to discuss with us (even if it was not so easy
because of languages). I've been in Vietnam for exemple in local
houses and people there were just great, even if they were even poorer.
They gave us their local alcohol (just a detail but it means a lot in
all the countries in the world !), tried to discuss with the few words
in English they knew and the few words in Vietnamese we knew and it
was a great stay.
Here people were really not kind and we had the feeling to be like
money machines for them. Also the only open hotel in Batutumunga
(small village in the moutain) asked us ridiculous prices for an
horrible room which is a trap because the guides don't tell you this
small detail before you leave and when you arrive after 5 hours of
trekking you have no other choice than to accept. It was more
expensive for an awful 5 m2 room without window, without bathroom,
without bed (just a matress on the floor) than for our comfortable
bungalow in Rantepao ! They claimed that their village is quite
remote. Actually it's not more than one hour drive from Rantepao  on a
correct road (at least for indonesia !) and moreover the small warungs
where you can have a lunch in the same area are as remote as this
f...g hotel but remains as cheap as in Rantepao... We had to threaten
the guide to stop the trek and come back immediately to Rantepao to
get -like a miracle- a correct room at a reasonnable price.
It's really disappointing because Toraja country and Toraja cultures
are really great but are spoiled by these stupid behaviours.
In Probollingo, a small city where you have to go on the way to Cemero
Lawang (main "base camp" for Bromo) there is also a maffia. Lots of
travellers who go to Bromo buy in Yogya a package transport from
Yogaya to Bromo and then one or two days later from Bromo to Bali.
The reason is that it is more practical and comfortable of course but
furthermore it is a bit difficult to travel to Bromo on your own
without wasting time (also because some travellers have been almost
racketted to take a Bemo from Probolingo to Cemero Lawang).
But the people from the local agency in Probolingo which is the
representant of all Yogya tourist agencies are just crooks (fact that
has been confirmed by a local). We had paid for a AC direct bus and we
have been put after 3 hours waiting in a public bus stopping at each
village. After several hours of lies and imprecisions we finally
learned that the bus would arrive -as THIS bus always does- at 3 AM
whereas we were supposed to arrive at 4 PM... Moreover we had paid to
go to Lovina and we asked confirmation several times to be sure we
could have a connection from the ferry arrival. When we arrived in the
ferry those bastards (they knew it from the beginning, the bus was not
late) told us we could not go to Lovina because it was too late and
that we were compelled to go to Denpasar or to wait for an
hypothetical other bus that was supposed to go to Lovina 2 hours later
(and for sure didn't exist as there was almost no tourists in Lovina).
We were lucky enough to meet on the ferry some local people who
accepted for 25 euros to bring us with their cars to Lovina whereas
they were going to Denpasar.

Except these two experiences we had only good time in Indonesia !!

How never losing face becomes a religion !!
For people who are beginners in Asia as we were (still are ?), some
asian behaviours are quite difficult to understand.
Indonesians (and vietnamese also) will very rarely tell you "no" or an
answer that would make them "lose face".
For example you ask for your way in the street. The guy apparently
don't know the place you look for. It is very likely he tells you a
wrong or a very very approximative way (we experienced it several
times) instead of recognizing he can't help you !
Other example. A bus stops for a break. You ask how many time it
stops. The bus driver perhaps think you are hurry or even not happy
because of this stop (which is not true, you may just want to know if
you have time to have a lunch for example) but anyway tells you 5
minutes or 10 minutes. But in fact the bus always stops 45 minutes in
that place...
I absolutely not criticizes this behaviour which is part of asian
culture but it's very surprising and -I think- impossible to really
understand it for europeans. The best you can do is try to adapt and
remains "zen" all the time.
I can guarantee it's not that easy ! ... but quite interesting anyway.

Let me know your comments !

Guillaume from France

PS: I'd like also to get feelings from people having visited Papua. I
am fascinated by this island... even if it will be for the next time.

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Last modified : December 16, 2005 18:37

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