10 Things I have learnt about Indonesia
If you want to be a millionaire, I can tell you how to do it quite simply. Move to Indonesia.
Not because the economy is great, or investment is easy and risk free. Rather because if you withdraw just $70 or R1,000, you’ll get given over a million Indonesian Rupiah from the ATM.
1 South African Rand is 1,056 Indonesian Rupiah (IDR) and 1 US Dollar is IDR 14,902.
They have 100,000 IDR notes. Hold 10 of these bad boys, and you’re a millionaire!
OK all jokes aside, I have soaked up a lot of the Indonesian ways in the last few weeks, this is what I have observed…
What I have learnt
As I write this, we have been in Indonesia for two weeks. Most of the below I have learnt through observing the country and its people.
1. Bali does not represent the whole of Indonesia
K, I didn’t learn this here. I knew this before we came.
But I had to include it here as this was reaffirmed during the last two weeks, and it was quite worrying to me how many people want to go to Bali, they idolize Bali, yet they have no idea that it is part of Indonesia.
Some people have asked me if we are going to the country of Bali when I tell them we are traveling through Southeast Asia. Yes, some people think Bali is a country. It isn’t.
Indonesia consists of some 17,000 islands. Bali is just one of them. Bali is one of the smaller ones. Indonesia is big and diverse and Bali is actually very different to the rest of the country.
The people embrace foreigners and are so friendly and welcoming.
Often times to win over a local in a foreign country you have to (at least try) speak to them in their language. I have found in Indonesia, even if I say nothing to them in Indonesian, they are so happy to just meet you and try to help you.
According to a recent study, happiness can be shared by most Indonesians, as they ranked the 8th happiest country in the world. Pretty impressive.
In my experience the culture is very accepting and open-minded. People are warm hearted and extremely friendly. It’s heart warming.
Further to point 2 above, I always try to at least learn one or two phrases in a local language. Before I leave a country I want to be able to greet people in their language, order a meal and say Thank You in their own language.
There is of course a language barrier in Indonesia, with the local language being Basah or more commonly just called Indonesian. It is however quite easy to get by.
Most Indonesians will have a basic grasp of the English language, and if not, refer to Point 2. They are so helpful and friendly they will go out of their way find a way to help you.
I come from a third world environment, too. South Africa is my home country. But, Indonesia is a different kind of third world country to what I know.
Poverty is widely dispersed in both Indonesia and South Africa. But the wealth gap is much bigger in South Africa. I see poverty and middle class everywhere in Indonesia. But I have not seen much wealth. In South Africa you can see the super rich elite living across the road from the poorest of the poor. I haven’t seen any super rich in Indonesia yet and we’ve spent two weeks moving overland from West to East Java.
Indonesia’s GDP is much higher than South Africa’s at 932 billion US Dollars or 1.64% of the world’s GDP, which represents a much higher percentage of the world economy than South Africa’s (0.56% of the world’s GDP).
Although their GDP is high, their population is even higher. Indonesia is the 16th biggest economy in the world and the fourth most populated country in the world, with only the US, India and China having more inhabitants.
Therefore the GDP per capita is much lower than South Africa’s. The wealth in Indonesia needs to be much more finely spread amongst many more people.
GDP Per Capita:
South Africa: 5,273
5. Street Food Culture
Like most of Asia where eating on the streets is a huge part of daily life, Indonesia is no exception.
Goreng, meaning “Fried” in Indonesian is a word you’ll see written on many street food vendor’s signs. Most foods are cooked by frying them here. We haven’t enjoyed the street food experience in Indonesia too much just yet. The temperatures of stored meats on the streets (room temperature which here is on average 35 degrees) has been too much for my 10 years of restaurant experience brain to handle.
We have enjoyed some local Indonesian foods though and Nasi Goreng or Fried Rice is one of the tops. This aromatic spiced rice dish is a must try.
One of my all time favourite dishes is Chicken Satay. Satay style food originated in Indonesia. More particularly in East Java, and they make a real mean authentic Satay. I got to try one of my top dishes in its place of birth. Yum!
An Indonesian style fried Tofu was everywhere. I don’t care for Tofu in general. But if you’re into that, you’ll be happy here.
Bali. Eat. Pray. Love. Yoga. Hinduism. Zen.
The populous notion of a Zen Hindu and Buddhist majority couldn’t be farther from the truth. Many people are shocked to learn that Indonesia is the largest Muslim nation in the world.
Indonesia is not an Islamic state, but rather a secular democratic country. Although the majority of the population is Muslim the government officially recognizes 6 religions. (Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism).
Although Hinduism is the first recorded religion in Indonesia, with both Buddhism and Hinduism dating back to early 4th Century migration from China and India, Islam came to the region in the 16th Century and is now the dominant religion.
What shocked me to learn was that the state does not recognize any other religions and Indonesians have to declare one of these six religions, and only one of these six on their identity documents.
Atheism is not recognized in Indonesia and in recent times people who express atheist beliefs on social platforms have been ostracized by their communities, reported to police and arrested and charged with blasphemy. A crime punishable by imprisonment.
7. Value for Money
Your hard earned Dollar, Rand, Pound or Euro will go a lot further here.
Accommodation, food, petrol, transport and groceries will all be very reasonably priced.
We stayed in a beautiful treehouse in Batukaras for R190 or $14 per night. K, this was a rare find, and it is cheaper in the more rural locations than the cities, but still. Even if you have quite high standards in where you choose to lay your head at night, you can still get a stunning place for less than $50 per night.
Check out our Treehouse Paradise here:
A decent meal will not cost you much more than R50 or $3.50.
Some other costs:
Scooter rental: IDR 70,000 or $4.50 per day, often less
Airport to City Centre cab (Grab – the Uber of Asia) – IDR 200,000 or $13.43
First Class Train Ticket Jakarta to Bandung (6 hours): IDR 140,000 or $9.77
8. The Roads
The roads are… nuts!
Most locals get around by scooter or motorbike. The roads are congested.
We rented scooters in small villages but not in the busy cities. Out of pure fear for our lives.
Regulations of many kind seem to be much more relaxed. And sometimes… non existent.
Smoking is not as strictly regulated as it is back home. Many restaurants will allow smoking throughout their premises. And A LOT of locals smoke.
Not everyone who rides a bike will wear a helmet. In Yogyakarta and Jakarta, bigger cities it is far more common, and most people do wear helmets. But in the smaller towns or villages, you will struggle to find someone wearing a helmet.
Road rules, uhhhm, what road rules? It’s a free for all.
Again, coming from another third world country which I can use to compare Indonesia to, this is what I have seen.
Public transport is great compared to South Africa’s. There is no need to fly from one side of the country to the next, unless you need to due to time constraints. With a well organized and clean train network running within and between all major cities, as well as several public bus systems, it is not too difficult to figure out overland transport.
Train tickets can be purchased easily online in advance and your boarding pass emailed to you.
Uber does exist in Asia but it is far less common than Grab and GoJek. They are the Asian equivalents to Uber and work just as efficiently. They can also be used for scooter taxis and food delivery.
Road infrastructure is well maintained, although the “highways between major cities are not really highways. They are single carriageway roads that weave between busy streets and mountainous areas.
Therefore traveling by road from town to town can take a long time. We took a mini bus from Pangandaran to Yogyakarta which took us a bit over 7 hours with one lunch break stop. These two cities are 250km apart.
That’s an average movement of about 41 kilometers or 25 miles an hour without the stop. That’s slow man. Even through a picturesque landscape, that’s slow