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Ultimate guide for Singapore travellers. What you need to know about Indonesia.
Being an immediate neighbour, Indonesia makes an attractive destination for Singaporean travellers – it’s so close that workers in the Singapore CBD can see it every day. Batam may be an easy ferry trip away, but hardly Indonesia’s most enticing tourism attraction. Still, from the resorts of Bintan to the bustle of Jakarta, to beaches of Lombok, the temples of Bali and the forests of Borneo, Indonesia has something for almost every traveller.
Travellers should avoid visiting regions where there is a danger of violence (see below), and be aware of the seismic activity and volcanic eruptions.
Getting around in Indonesia can be challenging, but there are a surprising number of airports, making almost any destination accessible.
Quick Travel Notes
Etiquette & Customs: In the popular tourist destinations attitudes to foreigners are fairly relaxed. Travellers visiting more conservative areas should dress modestly. In Aceh province Shari’a law is in force, so that means no drinking, gambling or revealing clothing.
Transportation: You can get around Indonesia by plane, train, bus, taxi or private car. Read on to learn more about getting around in Indonesia.
Temperature & Weather: Generally, Indonesia experiences the dry season from May to September, though there are some regional variations thanks to Indonesia’s vast size and different geographies – check the weather in your destination to be sure.
See & Explore
- Close by: Batam and Bintan are easily accessible by fast ferry from Singapore. The former is home to a few resorts but is surprisingly industrialised otherwise. The latter may not seem like Indonesia at all if the Bintan Resorts area is all you see. There are, however, some spectacular private island resorts in the immediate region.
- Popular: Bali’s laid-back charms are a massive draw for Singaporean holidaymakers, and the island offers a huge range of experiences, from staying in secluded villages in the countryside to partying the night away in beachside resort towns. Nearby Lombok is also increasingly popular.
Java is home to half Indonesia’s 280m population (and the traffic makes it seem they all live in Jakarta) though there is some charm in the countryside. Borobudur, near Yogyakarta, is a stunning World Heritage-listed historic sight.
- Off the beaten track: With 13,000 islands, there is plenty of opportunities to get away from things, though travel can be less than luxurious. Komodo – home to the endemic Komodo Dragon – is easier to get to than you think.
If a resort getaway is your wish, choose a destination airport and search for resorts nearby. Manado, for instance, is accessible by direct flight from Singapore, is relatively unspoiled, and is home to a few very stylish and secluded resorts along with stunning diving and snorkelling.
Health & Safety
Check the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ travel advisory for Indonesia here: https://www1.mfa.gov.sg/Countries-Regions/I/Indonesia.
You should exercise caution when travelling to Aceh, Central Sulawesi Province, Maluku Province, Papua and West Papua Province due to the potential for violence.
There are more than 120 active volcanoes in Indonesia. Volcanic ash can travel hundreds of kilometres and fall like unpleasant snow and close airports at the least problematic end, or destroy everything in its path at the worst. Avoid any destination where volcanoes are erupting.
Indonesia also experiences frequent seismic activity. In the event of an earthquake, taking shelter under a table or in a doorframe may save your life. If you’re by the ocean head for high ground to avoid any tsunami that may result.
Given the dangers of road transport, the best way to get around Indonesia is by air. Even better: There are direct flights from Singapore to Jakarta, Denpasar, Yogyakarta, Lombok, Surabaya, Medan, Manado, Bandung, Semarang, Pekanbaru, Palembang, and Balikpapan, as well as numerous options for connecting flights through Jakarta to other Indonesian destinations.
If you must travel by road, hiring a private car and driver is the ideal option – foreigners involved in even minor traffic accidents can find themselves targets for extortion.
With so many islands, it’s little surprise there are ferry services connecting them. Beware of the frequently overloaded ferries – look for licensed, reputable operators.
In Jakarta, there are actually public transport options – trains and busses – as well as taxis, bajaj auto rickshaws, and motorcycle taxis. Anything that uses the roads is going to encounter Jakarta's infamous traffic. Ride-hailing apps include Grab and Go-Jek. Both offer car and motorbike services.
In Java and Sumatra, some destinations are connected by rail – check Kereta API for details and tickets.
Busses are available (in various states of repair), but not highly recommended.
Likewise, scooters are available almost everywhere, and not recommended. If you must, ensure you have a motorcycle licence and are properly insured.
Etiquette for Travellers
For the most part, Indonesia is a very tolerant society, though there are some things to keep in mind:
- Show respect in places of worship. Modest attire is a minimal requirement – that means covered shoulders and legs. In mosques, men should wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts, while women should also cover their hair. Keep the noise to a minimum so as not to disturb worshippers and be respectful when taking photographs.
- Men shouldn’t initiate a handshake with Muslim women.
- Avoid pointing with your index finger – it’s considered rude. Use a thumb instead.
- Avoid touching people or eating using your left hand – it’s seen as unclean.
While the major Indonesian tourist destinations are familiar to many Singaporean travellers, the island nation has a multitude of activities and sights on offer, and a surprising number of them are easily accessible for travellers from Singapore. Whether you like exploring the natural world, enjoying cultural experiences or chilling-out in a beachside resort, Indonesia has something for everyone.
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