From 22 September to 20 October 2002 I visited the Indonesian islands Sumatra, Java and Bali. Although these islands are all part of Indonesia, they all have their own culture and characteristics. There are many languages spoken in Indonesia but the official language is "Bahasa Indonesia", which is based on "Bahasa Malay", the official language of neighboring Malaysia. Indonesian people are very friendly and it is easy to make contact. They are always curious and are asking, in our view, direct questions like "Where are you going?" and "Are you married?".
Also interesting are the Padang restaurants. When you eat here, you get many small dishes with all kinds of different cold spicy foods on it and of course as desert a banana. You just eat what you want with your right hand, which can be quite messy with rice :-) (your left hand is for other purposes) When you are finished, you notify the waiter which only charges you for the dishes you ate.
Sumatra has an extremely rich vegetation. From jungle to rubber and oil tree plantations. The variety of fruits here is amazing. From banana, pineapple and mangos to smelly durians, rambutans and various other kinds of fruits of which I didn't know that that existed. You will also find many spices here like pepper, clove, cinnamon and nutmeg.
The jungle of North Sumatra is together with Borneo, the last place on earth where still Orang-Utans live in the wild. Bukit Lawang, on the edge of the "Leuser National Park", houses an Orang-Utan rehabilitation centre.
Other attractions in Sumatra is the crater lake Toba with the island Samosir and the area around Bukittinggi.
Bukit Lawang is on the edge of "Leuser National Park". This park is one of the last places that where orang-utans still life in the wild together with the endangered Sumatran tiger, rhinoceros and elephant. Bukit Lanwang also houses the "Bohorok Orang-Utan Rehabilitation Centre". If you meet an orang-utan, watch out for your backpack.
From Bukit Lawang you can make treks into the jungle or raft down the "Sungai Bohorok".
The river Sungai Bohorok
"Danau Toba" is a giant crater lake which formed after the volcano exploded. Subsequent eruptions formed the island "Pulau Samosir". Samosir is home to a couple of Batak villages. You can watch some traditional Batak dancing in Simanindo. In Ambarita you can find the stone chairs where criminals were brought to trial. A couple of meters further you will find the group of stones where the criminals were tortured by rubbing salt in their wounds after which they are beheaded.
The stone chairs in Ambarita on Samosir island
The markets in Indonesia are crowed and full of activity. You can find almost everything here from alive chickens and goldfish to the barber.
Shaving on the market
When traveling over Sumatra you will see many beautiful landscapes, rice fields and plantations. Near Bonjol you will cross the equator. Apart from the line painted across the road and a small globe there is little to see. But on each hemisphere you will be hunted down by souvenir sellers who want to sell you "I've crossed the equator" t-shirts. A buying one attracts only other sellers. This makes a stop here a little tiresome.
One of the many rice fields near Padangsidempuan
Me standing on the equator near Bonjol
Bukittinggi is a small town with quite a few attractions like the Dutch fort called "Fort de Kock", the clock tower and a large market. Around Bukittinggi you can walk through the beautiful Sianok Canyon to the silver village "Koto Gadang".
Bukittinggi is also the centre of the Minangkabau culture. These people build
houses shaped like the horns of a buffalo (Kabau). The Minangkabau society is
matriarchal and matrilineal meaning that women are the boss and that inheritance
is passed down the female line.
The traditional Minangkabau dance is very nice and performances are given daily in Bukittinggi.
Three cute little kids in a village near Bukittinggi
The Minangkabau palace "Rumah Gadang Payaruyung"
The Sianok Canyon
A kabau in a rice field near Bukittinggi
A rice field on route from Bukittinggi to Padang
Java is the main island of the Indonesian archipelago. Almost 60% (128 million people) of the Indonesian population lives on Java while it encompasses only about 7% of the Indonesian land. No wonder that the Indonesian government tries to halt the population growth. On many places you will find statues of a happy family with a son and a daughter and "Dua anak cukup" (two children enough) written below it.
Places worth to visit are Jakarta, the botanical garden of Bogor, Pangadaran, Dieng Plateau, Yogyakarta and the nearby temples of Borobudur and Prambanan and the spectacular volcanic area of Tengger National Park.
Jakarta is, with more than 9 million people, Indonesia's largest city. It is also a city with many contrasts. You will find huge modern office buildings and department stores but around the corner you will find the poor and dirty suburbs of Jakarta.
Next to a Catholic Cathedral you will find the Instiqlal mosque. This mosque, build by Soekarno and finished by Soeharto, is the largest mosque in South East Asia and the world third largest. Near the mosque there is the National Monument (Monas) build by Soekarno.
Also worth a visit is the old town of Batavia, known as Kota today. In this area you find many museums like the Wayang museum. The old port Sunda Kelapa is nearby where you can see old wooden sailing ships.
A dirty suburb in Kota with in the background the modern office buildings
Bogor, about 60 km south of Jakarta, is home to the beautiful "Kebun Raya" botanical gardens. It was opened by the Dutch in 1817 and still has numerous plant and tree species.
A water lily in the botanical garden "Kebun Raya"
Kampang Naga is a traditional Sudanese village which still keeps it old customs intact. It is very nicely located next to a river and surrounded by steep hills with rice paddies.
The beautiful village "Kampung Naga"
Between Kalipucang and Cilacap you can take a relaxing boat trip over the Ciliwung river.
A fisherman on the Ciliwung river
Near Wonosobo is the 2000m high Dieng Plateau which is home to various Hindu temples. But the volcanic craters and mineral lakes creating a beautiful landscape, makes this place really worth a visit.
The volcanoes near the Dieng Plateau
The smoking "Kawah Sikidang" crater
The Arjuna complex on the Dieng Plateau
Yogyakarta is the main cultural city of Java. Here you find all kinds of Javanese handycrafts like silver, pottery, wayang puppets and of course batik.
Yogya still has a sultan and still is a self-governing city. In the centre of
the city there is the Kraton (palace) of the sultan which can be visited. In the
palace you will find many painting, photos and other artifacts explaining the
history of the royal family.
Nearby is "Taman Sari" (Water Castle) which was once a splendid park of palaces, pools and waterways for the sultan. When wandering around in this area watch out for 'instant friends' because the chances are high that you end up in an expensive batik gallery.
Dragon head gate of "Taman Sari" (Water Palace)
One of the most spectacular attraction of Java is the Buddhist temple Borobudur. Borobudur is a large stone structure build around a hill. It has 6 square terraces topped by three circular terraces. The corridors of the square terraces contains beautiful carved panels depicting Buddhist doctrines and Javanese life. The circular terraces has 72 stoupas each containing a Buddha statue.
As an extra attraction at the exit gate of the site, you have to wade through a maze of souvenir stalls to get out.
The stoupas containing Buddha statues on top of Borobudur
Not as famous as Borobudur but in mine opinion just as good are the Hindu temples of Prambanan. The main temple, "Candi Shiva Mahadeva" is dedicated to Shiva. It consists of a couple buildings all beautifully decorated with stone carvings. The main building depicts the story of Ramayana, a Romeo & Julia type of story which is still performed in the Ramayana ballet. Most of the building have a statue inside of one of the many Hindu gods.
"Candi Shiva Mahadeva" at the Prambanan Temple Complex
Statue of Ganesha in "Candi Shiva Mahadeva"
One of the best natural wonders of Java is the volcanic area of Tengger. The Tengger crater is about 10km in diameter and is filled with a flat sea of fine lava sand. In the middle of the crater there rises three new volcanoes namely Gunung Batok, Gunung Kursi and the climbable Gunung Bromo. Very spectacular are the sunsets and rises seen from Gunung Bromo or Gunung Penanjakan at the edge of the Tengger Crater.
Gunung Batok, Gunung Bromo, Gunung Kursi & in the background Gunung Semuru
The smoking crater of "Gunung Bromo" in Tengger National Park
Bali is most famous for its beach resorts at Kuta and Lovina. But Bali has more to offer like like beautiful terraced green rice fields, volcanoes and Balinese arts like woodcarving and traditional Kecak dancing.
The main religion in Bali is Hinduism. Everywhere you will find beautiful Hindu temples of which the large "Pura Besakih" is the most important.
A farmer ploughs a rice field
The cultural centre of Bali is Ubud. The town is littered with art galleries where you can buy woodcarvings and paintings. Around Ubud you can walk through the fields and visit surrounding villages. Or rent a bike to see more of the surroundings and visit the religious sites of "Goa Gajah" (Elephant cave), "Yeh Pulu" a carved cliff face where a priest will bless you or one of the many Hindu temples.
Also nice is a visit to the Monkey Forest where cute monkeys will await you in the hope to get some peanuts.
A terraced rice field
A man who climbed in a palm tree to fetch me a coconut
A couple of monkey in the Monkey Forest
Sit down and soon you will be covered by curious monkeys
I was lucky enough to witness a traditional funeral in a village near Ubud. A
Balinese funeral is an amazing event with a lot of noise. It is a ceremony that
represents the destruction of the human body to release the soul so it can join
the gods so it is a happy event.
Once in a while the deceased and buried people of a village are uncovered and put in funeral towers in the form of a dragon or bull. The funeral towers are then carried by a group of men to the cremation ground under loud cheering. On the way, the towers a shaken and turned around in circles to disorient the spirit of the deceased so it cannot find its way back to the body. When all the towers are in place, the whole tower including offerings goes up into flames.
A dragon that contains the body of the deceased
The cremation in progress