Paul Smith : Ten Reasons To Visit Indonesia

From www.nzherald.co.nz

1. TANAH LOT BALI

About 30km to the west of Bali’s capital Denpasar, Tanah Lot is a special place where Hindu temples sit on outcrops of rock along the volcanic coastline.

The black sand, craggy rocks and white spray from the pounding sea look strangely like Auckland’s west coast beaches but the temples, thought to date from the 15th century, add a mystic feel especially at sunset.

Eating dinner outside cimg2012at the Melasti Restaurant as the sun goes down is a wonderful experience.

2. CORAL REEF, BUNAKEN

Anyone who snorkels or scuba-dives will enjoy the wonderful coral reef at Bunaken in the province of North Sulawesi.

Boats go out from the mainland each morning for the reef, set just off the palm tree-lined shore of the island.

Hundreds of varieties of fish and marine life can easily be seen in the warm, clear water.

Lunch is available on the island at a basic, sand-floored restaurant.

3. THE FOOD

Meals often start with an excellent soup, often a salty, vegetable broth but sometimes in a more spicy, Thai-style.

Main dishes include barbecued fish – skewered and cooked over hot coals with chilli, satay chicken, or beef cooked in a vegetable stock and coconut milk. Green beans cooked in chilli and garlic is a mainstay vegetable dish.

There is a link to Thai food but less in the way of curry as meat is often prepared with an almost dry sauce. You’ll probably need to like chillies because there is some heat in most dishes, though it is not usually overpowering.

Dessert leans towards the super-sweet.

4. THE COFFEE

Although the dreaded Nescafe rears its ugly head from time to time, the standard of coffee is usually excellent.

Often made in the filter-style favoured in the US, rather than the espresso-base of New Zealand and Australia, the coffee is usually very smooth and gently invigorating rather than a morning energy bolt.

Coffee beans can be bought direct from plantations in places including Bali for as little as about $3. (Or you can always get some prized luwak coffee beans, which cost about US$55 having been eaten by civet cats and passed through them before being collected.)

5. THE WEATHER

As long as you like it hot and humid, Indonesia’s climate is for you.

Running roughly 5000km along the equator, the country is very warm all year round. Jakarta’s temperatures range from around 23C at night to 31C in the day with a wet season from November to March.

6. SHOPPING IN JAKARTA

Whether you want Western designer goods at the plush Grand Indonesia mall in the city centre, or one of the more traditional mall-cum-markets dotted around the city, shoppers should be happy.

Obvious targets for the credit card are Indonesian-made batik clothing and textiles, while you might just be able to find a new mobile phone at malls which have an entire floor of cellphone stalls one after the other.

Some of the main shopping centres in the city are: Elite Plaza Indonesia, Plaza EX and the Plaza Semanggi in central Jakarta, Taman Anggrek Mall in the west, Kelapa Gading Mall in the east, WTC Mangga Dua in the north, Plaza Senayan and Pondok Indah Mall in the south.

If there is a price displayed it’s probably fixed, but otherwise bargaining is expected.

7. TEMPLE HOPPING IN YOGYAKARTA

Yogyakarta in central Java is one of the historical and religious centres of Indonesia.

The Prambanan and Borobudur temples just outside the city are both Unesco World Heritage sites. The thousands of pieces of volcanic rock they are built from make them an arresting sight.

The Buddhist Borobudur temple is a national icon covering a surface area of 2500 square metres. It was built in the 8th and 9th centuries and restored with Unesco’s help in the 1970s.

An earthquake in 2006 partially destroyed the Hindu Prambanan temple and set back the restoration by several years, but work continues and the site is very much visitable. (A viewing platform at the site collapsed a year later with a tour party of Russians on it, initially sparking fears of another earthquake before it was realised 90 people had been on a structure built for a maximum of 30.)

8. MANADO BISCUIT FACTORY

Almost too surreal for words, the biscuit factory attraction in Manado, North Sulawesi – bizarrely housed in a place called the Merciful Building – has to be checked out.

The crowd of workers who welcome you with big smiles, megaphones and shirts proclaiming “the group the never the sleeps” (I think this translates as “we work 24/7”) are just so Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

They take you down the four floors of the factory (or at least a simulation of what is presumably a real factory somewhere else), explaining how all the biscuits and confectionery are made.

It’s actually quite interesting, and the produce is very good. Funnily enough, you end up at the bottom in the shop where you can then buy to your heart’s content. Which, as the prices are cheap and the taste good, is no bad idea.

9. THE PEOPLE

You can expect a warm welcome wherever you go in Indonesia.

Though the hawkers at tourist sites can become annoying, elsewhere you are likely to be greeted with smiles and genuine friendship.

The governor of the North Sulawesi region even calls his region “The Land of Smiling People” with some justification.

10. SECURITY?

This is the great unknown of Indonesian travel. Following the Bali bombings of 2002 and 2005 many tourists are understandably wary of visiting.

At the time of writing, the Australian and New Zealand governments are warning against travel because of fears of repercussions following the execution of the Bali bombers.

On the other hand, more than 5m tourists visited Indonesia last year without serious incident. I didn’t see anything to concern me about either terrorism or crime during my visit, but that does not mean dangers do not exist.

* Paul Smith visited Jakarta, Manado, Bali and Yogyakarta courtesy of the Indonesian government.

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