40 things to do in Indonesia before you die (10-1)

10. Climb a volcano. Indonesia is part of the Pacific "Ring of Fire" and there are at least 129 volcanoes across the country – many of which could potentially erupt in the future. I’ve been up a fair number of them – “bagged” them as it’s apparently called. Plan the ascent to arrive at the summit at dawn and, if you’re lucky, you’ll be treated to a breathtaking sunrise – amongst, inevitably it seems, a sea of pop noodle packaging. Still my fave volcano must be Mount Bromo in East Java – not cos it’s a sinch to climb – but because of the ethereal, unforgettable spectacle it affords (the caldera around the volcano is so vast that when you walk up to the crater it really feels as if you are on the moon or something).

9. Play the stock /forex market. The volatility and irrationality on Indonesia’s capital markets (misguided optimism during the good times, excessive pessimism during the darker moments) offer rich pickings for level-headed investors and, in particular, “distressed debt” vultures. More of the same please.

8. Go fishing with an Indonesian fisherman. Get up at dawn and climb into a tiny little fishing boat which is soon rocking and swaying in the increasingly big waves which splash over the sides of the boat soaking you to the bone while the insides of your now rumbling stomach are threatening to push their way up and out of your throat. But things soon change and it ain’t long till the relentless tropical sunshine is melting you into a blob – and guess what? – there’s no way to hide from the sun whatsoever so you pull your T shirt over your head and start to pray. You somehow get back to dry land four hours later, instantly sink three liters of aqua, and thank the dear God above that you’re still alive. And the total catch? Three mackerel, two red snapper (kakap merah) and an old flip-flop. Indonesian fishermen? There for the grace of God go I…

7. Get a tattoo done. It wasn’t that long ago that tattoos were completely taboo in Indonesia’s towns and cities. In fact, back in the days of Suharto, there was even an infamous government operation known as Petrus-Penembak Misterius in which tattooed hoodlums were rounded up and promptly dispatched. This pretty much led to the death of the modern day tattoo culture and some tattooed people even resorted to ironing or bleaching out their tattoos – can you imagine how painful that must be? - leaving horrendous scars. But in recent years tattoos have made a huge comeback – at all levels of society - and even the spoilt kids of Jakarta’s nouve riche are having them done. In a way this is quite fitting as tattoos are very much part of Indonesia’s tribal culture – from the Dayaks of Kalimantan to the Balinese and the tribespeople of the Mentawai islands.

A flower and a tattoo

6. Take in a live music show. Nothing beats live music and it’s amazing how easy it is in a place like Jakarta to go out and literally rub shoulders with your favorite stars (like the irrepressible Julia Perez for example).

Julia Perez

5. Visit the Antonio Blanco Museum in Bali. I’ve written about Antonio Blanco before, and I’d have to say he was one hell of a cool dude, although some may accuse him – unfairly in my opinion – of having a “one track mind” for his obsession of painting nude Balinese women and pretty much nothing else. Decide for yourself by visiting the majestic
Antonio Blanco Museum in Ubud which is built on the grounds of his former home. The Blanco Renaissance Museum, Campuhan, Ubud, Bali. Telp: 0361 975502

4. Stay with an Indonesian dukun (soothsayer). When I visited the dry and arid island of Madura to watch the bull races (karapan sapi) a number of years back, I got into a bit of a sticky spot by ending up in some God forsaken village with no place to stay, just before sunset, and with no transportation to get the hell out. Luckily for me, though, a Madurese dukun – who was also attending the following day’s bullraces – very kindly invited me to stay at his home with his beautiful young wife and two kids. Now I’ve always known that these dukuns believe some seriously weird s**t, but nothing on Earth could have prepared me for what was in for store for me that night, suffice to say that people who practice black magic have some very strange ideas on what should be done to bring them luck (having said that, he made a killing the next day at the races!)

3. Take a trip to Bangkok from Jakarta (without flying). In the age of high speed communications we forget that the real beauty of going somewhere is not just in getting there but also in the journey. If you have the time, a really cool thing to do is to get to Bangkok from Jakarta by sea and overland. Good planning is essential of course – at least to get to Singapore – and from there on it’s pretty easy. I started off with a dilapidated bus to the extremely dodgy Tanjung Priok harbor - where thugs abound and you’ve got to keep your wits about you. From there the
Pelni boat took us to the small island of Tanjung Pinang where you can get a speedboat across to Singapore. From Singapore, get the bus across to Malaysia and the train up to KL. And the next day it’s another train up through to Butterworth. It’s from here that you can get a wonderful old sleeper train that takes you all the way to Bangkok. It’s a great journey through rural Thailand and the Thai immigration check on the train was pretty bizarre. The next thing you know and you are in Bangkok - and that can’t be a bad thing can it?

2. Watch the Kecak Dance live in Bali.

Kecak dance 8

Best known as the Ramayana Monkey Chant, this is not an authentic Balinese drama as many believe but in fact a collaborative creation between the famous German painter Walter Spies and Wayan Limbak in the 1930s. But does this really matter? Well I don’t think so – after all, football doesn’t mean anything less to the Argentineans just because it came over from good old England (whose expats were behind the establishment of many famous football clubs in Argentina such as
Newell’s Old Boys).

1. Snorkel a coral reef. Yep, this is number one in my list because it doesn’t get much better than enjoying the beauty of Indonesia’s magnificent coral reefs which are home to a huge array of marine life. There are many reefs in Indonesia but some of the most accessible lie on Bali’s relatively undiscovered north coast, especially around
Amed. Expect to see many species of tropical fish including brightly colored butterflyfish, as well as angelfish and probably the most readily recognizable of all coral reef fishes, the wonderfully shaped moorish idol fish. There are even huge triggerfish. But be careful: this highly territorial fish might bite if you get too close!



  1. Holycow man, as an Indonesian living overseas I would like to deeply show my gratitude to you by bowing virtually (through the Internet, LOL) regarding your VAST knowledge about Indonesia--even the tiniest parts of which most Indonesians aren't aware. Stupendous post. I've been laughing and enjoying all of the 40 aspects. And lucky you for surviving from that dukun, I bet he didn't curse you or something!

  2. Thanks. Actually the dukun was cool. If anything he brought me good luck!

  3. On #1: Go deeper than snorkelling, if you live in Indonesia and you don't dive the countless dive spots in Indonesia, big loss there!

  4. yes, you are right parvita - diving is great. The only problem is that not everyone can do it -kids for example. Snorkelling and skin diving are much easier.

  5. you have a lot of interesting things in the list, but I can't help but notice that you focus on Java & Bali too much.

  6. valid point Vira - but that's because i spend nearly all my time in Bali/Java. rgds.

  7. Sorry posted from my friends email earlier .. But as I was saying ..
    I really enjoyed reading this! I have a flight to Jakarta tomorrow but its only 24 hours ! I want to do the snorkeling but I don't know if ill have time so I'm thinking to do the water park instead. I got another flight later this month so hopefully ill get the chance to do more ! Definitely excited to see it :)


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