Indonesia consists of over 17,500 islands, about 6000 of which are inhabited, making it the largest archipelago in the world. Indonesia is located on the intersection of several tectonic plate, hence the island nation is subject to earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanoes (130 of which are active – including one with a drive-in crater!). Lying on the boundary between Asia and Australasia, Indonesia has 34,000 miles of coastline with some superb (but endangered) coral reefs and some of the world’s best surfing.

Covering an area of more than 2 million square kilometers, Indonesia has an immense variety of natural environments, including tropical rainforests (disappearing at an alarming rate) and mangroves (threatened by prawn farming and other coastal industries), and rare flora and fauna, such as orchids, orangutans, rhinos, Komodo dragons, tarsiers (a tree-dwelling, nocturnal primate) and birds of paradise. The variety of animals, landscapes, cultures and religions justifies the motto “Unity in diversity” which is mentioned in the island nations Constitution.

Rich in natural resources, it was colonized by the British, Portuguese, Spanish and the Dutch. Historically, spices were the major attraction, so much that the Dutch traded with the British the island of Manhattan, to keep the nutmeg source of Pulau Run in the Banda Islands. Following centuries of Dutch colonialism, Indonesia gained its independence after World War II; but since then the country has been turbulent, with challenges posed by corruption, separatism and periods of rapid economic change. Distinctive ethnic, linguistic and religious groups have been brought together under a shared identity; defined by a national language and religious pluralism within a majority Muslim population. However, sectarian tensions, especially militant Islamic groups, have led to instances of violent confrontations.

With a population of 255.7 million (2015) from over 350 ethnic groups, the culture is as varied as the environment, ranging from the world’s largest Buddhist temple/monument, Borobudur, to Hindu temples and megaliths. A huge range of architectural styles is complemented by flourishing music, art, dance, puppetry, theatre, textiles, wood carving and so on. While over 80 per cent of the population professes to be Muslims, most are not extremists and many are not practicing. On some islands, other religions predominate – for example, Hindus on Bali, Catholics on Flores, Protestants on Sumba, etc.

Whatever their religious background, in nearly all areas ‘conservative dress’ is appreciated. 45% of Indonesians are employed in agriculture and 43% live on less than US$2 per day, which should be borne in mind when visiting this country. Nearly all Indonesians (except the very old) speak Indonesian. Learning a little of this ‘easy’ language will go a long way in relating to local people out of tourist zones.

The total number of foreign tourist arrivals to Indonesia in 2014 was 9.44 million, up 7.19 percent from the preceding year. Tourism is centered on Bali, parts of which have been spoiled by it. Established in the late 30s as a surf destination, since then its popularity has grown exponentially for its charming culture and challenging waves. The side effect of this phenomenon, though, is the westernization of what was once unique.







Ethical Travel Issues and advice

Orphanage tourism:

Many tourists, ranging from those on GAP years to grey nomads, are keen to experience the latest must-do activity on the tourist trail: a volunteering stint at an orphanage. However, these good intentions are unwittingly feeding an industry that dupes poor parents into sending their children to bogus orphanages in order to extract money from well-meaning foreigners. It is a business model built on a double deception: the exploitation of poor families in Indonesia and the manipulation of wealthy foreigners. In the worst cases, tourists may be unwittingly complicit in child trafficking.

BBC radio aired an article in 2011 that highlighted the continuing issue regarding Orphanage tourism in Indonesia. Bali receives over 2 million tourists annually and securing cash from caring holidaymakers is seen as a lucrative way to earn a living. Over the last two decades, the number of orphanages on the island of Bali has doubled. The 2011 BBC report found that many of these establishments are effectively being run as businesses, taking ‘donations’ from unsuspecting tourists and using the proceeds to line the pockets of the owners.

One woman in charge of a legitimate orphanage in Bali admitted that the directors of some facilities are driving around in expensive cars, while the children they care for live in squalid conditions. The 2011 report also found that some youngsters even have to work during the day or go out onto the streets to raise extra money. At one orphanage visited by the BBC’s reporters, the children said they were given lessons in the evening, but complained they were usually too tired for their studies.

As of 2011, there were 78 orphanages in Bali, providing a home to several thousand youngsters. Many of these are not orphans. Once they are in care, the state pays an allowance to the homes that take them. However, more revenue comes from tourists, who often make impromptu visits to see local children and then give donations for what appears to be a worthy cause.

Furthermore, to maintain their numbers of children, some orphanages even campaign in rural areas for new ‘recruits’. Directors persuade poor families that their children will have a better life within the orphanages. Once they’ve left their family homes, some at a very young age, the children are then vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. One young girl, who spent six years at an orphanage from the age of five, was beaten and forced to sell food on the street. The girl said she wanted to leave but wouldn’t have received her school record if she’d done so.

When the BBC raised the issue with the Indonesian government, the BBC was told by the Social Welfare department that officials would look into matter. But the director of one legitimate charity believes the quickest way to stamp out the racket is to raise awareness among visitors to Bali. She wants tourists to ensure they do not hand over any cash to individuals and only make out cheques to registered charities.

SOS Children is one such registered charity working in Bali. The SOS Children’s Village lies 20 miles west from the island’s capital of Denpasar. Here, children are looked after in a loving environment within 12 family homes. Education for the youngest children is provided by an SOS Nursery school and older kids live in Youth Homes. Around 100 children are also supported within their families through a Family Strengthening Program. To see SOS webpage follow this link.

Sex tourism:

In an article by the Sydney morning herald (SMH) in 2014, it was reported that Indonesia has, in the past three years, eclipsed Thailand, the Philippines and Malaysia to become the number one destination for Australian sex tourists. In a country where one-third of the population (~80 million people) is under the age of 18, desperate poverty makes them and their families susceptible to the lure of hard cash.

Many young children come from the rural mountainside villages, such as Karangasem in Bali’s far east, to sell woven bracelets to tourists. Other small children knock on car windows at traffic lights on Sunset Road or Benoa asking for money, their mothers are often nearby. These children – working for a living and starved of money, attention and affection – are incredibly vulnerable. By the age of 12, the children’s career as a beggar is coming to an end. Adolescents are seen as ‘less cute’ than their younger brothers and sisters, so their earning power falls sharply. According to an older lady who has begged on the beachfront in Kuta for many year, “They get too old, by 12 the girls are going to the massage [parlours].”

The Safe Childhoods Foundation says there are two types of sex tourists prevalent in Indonesia: “prolific”, who gather in paedophile forums, admit what they are and plan to abuse children; and “situational”, who might see a young-looking girl or boy and give into temptation.

Both types flock from Australia and other Western countries to Bali, and the Indonesian police are yet to attack the problem hard. “Of Indonesia, Cambodia, the Philippines and Thailand, Indonesia is the only country that has not tightened up.” Claimed a spokesperson at the Safe Childhoods Foundation.

There need to be more done at both the police and government levels to stop the child sex tourism in Indonesia – campaigns by organization such as Safe Childhoods Foundation is campaigning for better awareness for tourists. However, an availability of internet infrastructure and the increasing ability to speak English at the village level might mean that the pay-per-view style of offencemay also boom. 

Cultural interaction & land displacement:

With more than 200 ethnicities, interaction between cultures has not always been smooth sailing. Whilst the national motto is “Unity in diversity”, this has been at times hard to achieve. Inter-religious, inter-ethnic and separatist violence are part of the Indonesian history. One of the triggers has been the Transmigration program. Started in the 20th century by the Dutch colonialists and having his peak in 1980 under the Indonesian government, this program was meant to provide relief to overpopulated areas by promoting the migration to other zones with a lower population density, such as Kalimantan, Sumatra, Sulawesi, Maluku and West Papua (Irian Jaya).

Because of inadequate planning and site preparation, this program created various land and resource disputes and environmental damage. Theses issues were maximized by the fact that the government seemed to give the migrants more advantages than the locals, redistributing the issue of poverty, rather than alleviating it. The combination of the transmigration program and additional social integration issues resulted in inter-religious wars, such as in Central Sulawesi and Maluku. These clashes have since subsided, however as a traveller be aware of such issues.

There are also various discussions surrounding independence. In recent times, regions such as Aceh (North Sumatra), Timor Leste and West Papua have been fighting for independence. Timor Leste gained its independence in 2002, Aceh’s autonomy increased after 2005 Peace agreement, but West Papua is still under Indonesian military and police oppression.

Indonesia occupied West Papua in 1961, few months after the Papuans had declared their independence and raised its flag the Morning Star. After the intervention of the United Nations, Indonesia gained its control. The result of a controversial 1969 referendum confirmed West Papua as part of Indonesia. As stated on Free West Papua Campaign website “Today West Papua’s tragedy continues with ongoing reports of villages being burnt, Papuans being arrested, tortured and shot and the beautiful natural wilderness being devastated by logging, mining, agricultural and biofuel interests.”

To learn more check out the following Tourism Concern articles on Land displacement:

gail (1)Ethical Photography: Travelling presents an opportunity to photograph in lots of different destinations and situations, but sometimes there may be culturally sensitive issues to think about before reaching for the camera or other photo-taking device. There are lots of people in the world who do not have clean water, electricity, schooling or enough to eat, let alone access to mobile telephones, the internet and printed media, so they have no idea where their photograph may end up or how it could be used. Sadly, in this day and age, child prostitution, child trafficking and other crimes against children are facilitated via the Internet, and photography can play an unwitting and innocent role. Photography and its use is no longer straight forward, so perhaps it is time to stop and think a little about the ethics of photography – Responsible Photographers tips

Masked Monkeys:

In Jakarta there are many ‘masked monkeys’ forced to perform on the streets dressed in clothes and masked, specifically for tourists. They are kept in cages in a place called monkey village, and in order to get them to stand straight they are often hung upside down or their hands are tied behind their backs. Many monkeys die whilst being trained. For further information on photo prop animals and the issues surrounding Indonesia’s Masked, or Dancing, Monkeys.

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Turtle ‘Conservation’

Serangan, or ‘Turtle’ Island in Bali is advertised as a Government-funded turtle conservation area. However, many recent reports suggest that the emphasis is far more on being a tourist attraction with little regard for conservation or even basic animal welfare.

One visitor contacted Right Tourism to report: “The whole experience was awful, muddy water, cramped conditions, and an array of poorly treated animals that appeared to be kept purely for tourist photos.  The whole place made us very uncomfortable and we could not wait to leave.  This may well be a bona fide project that has got out of hand but thought it was worth highlighting the issue.” Trip Advisor has many similar comments.

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Civet Cats and Kopi Luwak – Attention coffee lovers!

A highly expensive caramel-tasting coffee called Kopi Luwak is produced in Indonesia, and is available to tourists as well as being exported around the world. However, many don’t realise that the coffee is produced by force-feeding coffee berries to a breed of cat called a ‘Civet’. When the berries are excreted they are used to make the coffee. The civets are now generally kept in horrific factory-farming conditions. Other animals used for the coffee include binturongs, which are on the ‘Vulnerable’ list of endangered species.

Waste management & plastic:

Dede’s trash barrel. Java 2012. Mandatory photo credit: Noyle/A-Frame
Links: @zaknoyle @aframephoto

Indonesia tourist hotspots such as Bali is struggling to contain the waste and rubbish entering its famous surf beaches. In recent times, local authorities have been critised for not doing more in regards to waste management and controlling the level of waste entering the once pristine beaches.

In January 2014, Badung Sanitation and Parks Agency revealed that waste along the beaches — including Jimbaran, Legian, Kuta and Seminyak — had reached up to 20 tons per day, an astonishing increase from the usual average of around 250 kilograms per day. Whilst attempts have been made to clean up the famous tourist beaches, local authorities have a huge challenge ahead of them, especially in regards to educating locals and tourists to decrease littering, along with reducing plastic consumption (most notable plastic bottles and plastic bags).

As a responsible traveller, please be aware of the importance to reduce consumption and never litter. In order to escape the tourist trail and areas affected by litter, avoid kuta beach and keep moving further afield – for more information see our map with ethical tourism providers above.

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Illegal logging & Palm oil:

Palm oil plantations are one of the worst threat for Indonesian tropical forests. Palm oil is used in a wide range of indisutries, such as food, cosmetics and biofuel. Demand for palm oil is a fast growing industry, however the vast plantations required to produce the high quantities of the oil are devastating to the environment. Indonesia is just one country in South East Asia seeing prime wildlife habitat being destroyed to make way for palm oil plantations.

Much of the current and predicted palm oil expansion in Indonesia is taking place on forested peat lands, many of which are protected areas. The government has been known to lease protected areas to palm oil companies or plantations have been created illegally within these areas with little or no recriminations. Illegal forest destruction is impacting several species (including Orangutans), along with many local communities – who are forced leave their village homes and their cultivations.

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Fishing practices:

According to the WWF, global seafood consumption reached 143 million metric tons in 2008, this level of consumption (demand) relates directly to how much seafood production (supply) is available around the world. The more people consume, the more fishing and catching happens at every single waters body in the World. Furthermore, about 80 percent of the world’s seafood production occurs in developing countries, including Indonesia. The “Choose Your Seafood Right!” campaign aims to increase national demand on sustainable/responsible seafood products that will lead to increase adoption of sustainable fishery practices among seafood industries in Indonesia, that in the end will stop further destruction of marine habitats and will stop overfishing.

Unsustainable fishing methods such as ‘fish bombing’ is still practised in some areas, even if it causes widespread damage to the marine ecosystem and can even result in the injury or death of fishermen. A second destructive fishing technique includes bottom trawling, which uses massive nets dragged along the sea floor. This method is forbidden in Europe.

The WWF “Choose Your Seafood Right!” campaign in Indonesia will focus its concern on 4 primary species which are tuna (including skipjack), grouper, snapper, and shrimp and secondary species which mostly are found as bycatch fishing practices, which are turtle, shark, dugong, whale, rays, etc. Campaign activities will be concentrated in 6 major cities in Indonesia: Jakarta, Surabaya, Denpasar, Medan, Manado, and Makassar. Through an earlier conducted study, the six cities have been identified as cities with the highest consumption and/or production of seafood. 

Useful Information

Indonesian seasons are divided into two: rainy and dry. For the most of Indonesia the dry season starts around June and finishes in September, but the opposite it’s true for Maluku and Papua. The temperature is overall warm and humid, with the exceptions of regions such as Bromo and Puncak Jaya.

Indonesia ranks in the top three countries with the highest level of biodiversity in the world, Following only Brazil and Columbia. When visiting Indonesia make sure you explore the incredibly diverse range of endemic flora and fauna, both inland tropical rain forests and stunning surf breaks and coral reefs.

Indonesia has the world’s highest number mammals of species and supports the third largest area of tropical rainforest on the globe, with approximately 60% of Indonesia covered in forest. There are 343,029 square miles of rainforest in Indonesia, and there is a massive requirement to protect and conserve these rainforests from illegal logging and clearing.

The variety of Indonesia’s Flora and Fauna is astonishing. There are many endemic species, for example the Sulawesi Lowland Rain Forests harbor some of the most unique animals on Earth. The islands are located in the region known as Wallacea, which contains a distinctive fauna representing a mix of Asian and Australasian species. A fruit-eating pig with huge tusks, a dwarf buffalo, endemic macaques, and cuscuses exemplify a truly unique mammal community.

From a Carbon emission profile point of view, Indonesia is the 11th highest emitter in the world for CO2 emission output. As of 2014, CO2 emissions in emerging economies are mainly increasing, with annual emissions increasing in Indonesia by 2.3% (e.g. India by 4.4%, in Brazil by 6.2%). Indonesia is also one of the world’s major Coal producers and uses Coal for energy production, the three major areas impacted by coal mining include:

  1. South Sumatra
  2. South Kalimantan
  3. East Kalimantan

Indonesians are typically very friendly and happy people – Smiles are appreciated so don’t be afraid to greet a local with a warm smile and ‘Selamat sore’ (Good Afternoon: sounds like: ‘sor-ee’!) or ‘Selamat pagi’ (Good Morning: sounds like: ‘pahg-ee’)

In non-tourist areas, especially in villages, it is advised that women dress appropriately, covering shoulders and half legs. If you are invited into a local Indonesian persons house, remove your shoes or sandals before entering. Showing signs of affection in public is not common between Indonesians.

Using the left hand for greeting, eating, giving or receiving something is seen as impolite – this is because the left hand is traditionally used for cleaning oneself in the toilet.

Rice is the essential ingredient in Indonesian daily diet. Every house has a steamer for it, and it will be then eaten cooked this way (nasi putih – white rice) or fried (nasi goreng) with ketchup or soya sauce (called ketchup manis – sweet ketchup) together with vegetables, fish or meat.

Coconut sauce is also widely used, but sambal is the favourite seasoning of the country – a chili based sauce, beware it is really spicy!!

The main language is Bahasa Indonesia, but there are more than 500 different languages in the country. The choice of a Melayu language instead of Javanese was due to the fact that the latter varies according to social status, while the first is always the same so it looked more unifying, so more related to the spirit that consititutes Indonesia.

Bahasa Indonesia is a releatively easy language to learn, so try and remember at least a couple phrases when you arrive, for example:

– Good Morning: Selamat pagi (sounds like: ‘pahg-ee’)

– Good day (before noon): Selamat siang (sounds like: ‘see-ahng’)

– Good Evening: Selamat malam (sounds like: ‘mah-lahm’)

‘how are you?’: apa kabar

– well’ or ‘good’: baik (sounds like: ‘bike’)

– If you are the one leaving: selamat tinggal (sounds like: ‘teen-gal’) or ‘dah’

Indonesia is the largest Muslim-majority country of the world. Islam is the main religion (85.2% of the population), followed by Protestantism (8.9%), Catholicism (3%), Hindu (1.8%), Buddhism (0.8%) and other religions (0.3%). Their presence vary in different islands, in particular, Bali is mostly Hindu and you’ll find more Christians in some parts of East Nusa Tenggara, Kalimantan, North Sumatra (Batak and Nias), North and South Sulawesi and (Toraja), Papua.

Religion is very important for Indonesians. So much so, that it must be stated in the ID card and it is asked when you open a bank account, for example. You will probably be asked which is your faith while you are there and if you are an atheist most likely a discussion will follow.

For visiting Hindu temples a sarong must be worn, if you don’t own one, there will most likely be some at the entrance to borrow for free, or for sale nearby. When visiting mosques you should dress appropriately, take off your shoes and hat and if you are a woman cover your head.