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5 Other Places You Should Visit In Indonesia

5 Other Places You Should Visit In Indonesia

There’s no denying the call of Bali. Cheap flights to the tropical island often lure, and lazy, cocktail-fuelled days by the pool sure do beckon, but there’s more to Indonesia than the resort-lined oasis of its most well-known destination – 17,000 more islands in fact. From the busy city streets of the capital, offering unique street food and malls on every corner, to tranquil mountain towns and pristine beaches where you’ll forget the city even existed, here are a few other gems Indonesia has to offer where braids and Bintang singlets are off the itinerary.

#1 Yogyakarta

Yogyakarta - Malioboro 1
(Photo: Leigh Griffiths)

The artistic capital of Indonesia, Yogyakarta is the heart and soul of the island of Java. Here, traditional Javanese customs are still practised, from intricate batik textile design to the entertaining shadow puppet performances set to the haunting gamelan orchestra. Most can be stumbled upon on a stroll through the walled area of the Kraton, the Sultan’s Palace.

Spend a day, and your rupiah, shopping along Malioboro Street, a busy tourist strip lined with batik and souvenir shops where bargaining is a must. But for the best experience, wander through in the morning as stall holders set up outside the Beringharjo market. Here you’ll find the best breakfasts: mountains of noodles (mie goreng) as well as gado-gado, freshly cooked vegetables soaked in a light peanut sauce.

Get spirited away and set your alarm for a 4am slap in the face to catch sunrise at Borobudur temple. Just an hour outside of the city, this 2500m², 8th century Buddhist temple is breathtaking in both size and history. Hand-carved stones depict teachings and episodes from the life of Buddha, and if you make the many steps to the top, they say you’ll reach Nirvana.

#2 Jakarta

Jakarta street food
(Photo: Leigh Griffiths)

Indonesia’s crazy capital has a population of 9.6 million, so it’s busy all the time. It’s also really hot, so expect some sweaty pits. Luckily, Jakarta’s motorised rickshaws (bajaj) can save you walking anywhere, expertly weaving through the never-ending traffic jams and taking detours through the many squeezy side-alleys.

Unless you’re a ballin’ hotshot here on business, there’s really only one other thing you’d come to Jakarta for: to shop. In the sparkling clean, AC-blasted high-end malls like Grand Indonesia, the Plaza and Central Park, international boutiques sell brand name wares at the same outrageous prices, but you’ll also find the more affordable stores you’re used to slinging dollars at back home.

For a more Indonesian (and much sweatier) experience, get lost in the lively Mangga Dua Mall: seven levels of a seemingly-endless labyrinth of shops selling everything from sunglasses and clothing to ice-cream sandwiches and hair pieces. Cross the road to the Mangga Dua ITC mall and you’ll find a whole mall dedicated to electronics (stock up on selfie-sticks here).

Stomach grumbling? Head for the streets. You’ll find carts everywhere selling satays, fried chicken, noodles, soups and more. Jakarta’s finest are the sizzling martabak, paper-thin roti (dough) fried on a hot plate, encasing an omelette or meat filling. There’s also a decadently sweet crumpet-like version, and the best are found at Martabak 65A where toppings include combinations of chocolate, peanut butter, banana and even cheese.

#3 Samosir Island

(Photo: Leigh Griffiths)

For a breath of fresh, lakeside air Samosir Island delivers one healthy, laid-back dose. A mountainous island, within a huge crater lake, within an island (Sumatra), Samosir Island is home to the Batak people, many of whom you can observe going about their day to day business, working in the local coffee plantations or rice fields.

Motorbike is the best way to see the island – ride along the cliffs for a steep view of the surrounding misty mountains or past the local villages, stopping for a warming jasmine tea and a chat with the friendly locals. Ride through to Tomok and see the local market in action or to the other end of the island at Pangururan to soak in the natural hot springs.

Churches dot the majestic landscapes here as Christianity is the main religion of the Batak people, and the typical boat-shaped curve of the traditional houses are as photogenic as their surrounds. Most of the hotels are based in Tuktuk, which can be flooded with tourists during the high-season, so take your lakeside break toward the beginning of the rainy season (October), once the local tourists have departed and before the monsoonal clouds start to loom.

#4 Mentawai Islands

(Photo: Seb Ruiz/Flickr)

A chain of 70 islands off the coast of West Sumatra, the Mentawai islands are famous for lush green jungles and pristine beaches with world-class waves. Siberut, the largest and most accessible island has the most to offer and is a 12-hour ferry ride from Padang, a city on Sumatra’s mainland that is the birthplace of some of the best food in all of Indonesia (think fragrant rendang, satays and grilled chicken).

Most of Siberut is covered in national rainforest, swamps and mangroves, the home of both rare wildlife and the native Mentawai people. You’ll need a guide to navigate through the rainforest, so make sure you pick a true local as mainland guides are known for being not as knowledgeable. You’ll no doubt be welcomed into your guide’s family and get a real insight into the Mentawai hunter-gatherer lifestyle.

The waves off Siberut are as gnarly as they come, known to be some of the most consistent and powerful in the world. As a result, surf camps are ample. Most camps lodge guests in traditional ‘uma’ thatched houses and will offer the full package so the only thing you’ll have to worry about is hangin’ ten, brah.

#5 Kalimantan

Gunung Lumut, Kalimantan Timur, Indonesia, November 2005.
(Photo: CIFOR/Flickr)

The thick jungles of Borneo, disturbed only by the wild rivers that rush through it are what makes Kalimantan such a charmer. An island shared by Malaysia, Kalimantan is home to some of the last surviving orangutans on the planet. Travel by boat through Tanjung Puting National Park, a tropical and swampy forest known for its orangutan conservation and prepare for hearts to melt. The largest wild orangutan population left in the world live here, most of whom were displaced by the ongoing illegal logging and mining.

For a taste of the simple life, head to Loksado, a cosy Dayak village that makes an easy base for a number of off-the-beaten-track adventures. Hike the many trails up to the Meratus Mountains, past dense jungle (a glimpse of what the island looked like before the destructive deforestation in search for palm oil) caves, waterfalls and plenty of native wildlife and local activities. The Dayak people are known for their animistic beliefs and ancient customs are still observed, you might even catch one of the mystic medicine men at work – purifying a bad spirit by attaching themselves to the soul of the afflicted. To vanquish any remaining negative spirits, jump aboard a traditional bamboo raft and take an adrenaline-spiking trip down the Amandit River’s rapids.

Check out Qantas flights to Bali here – a gateway to the rest of Indonesia.

(Lead image: Kalimantan. Wakx/Flickr.)

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