Ten great Indonesian gifts

I’m in Bali’s Ngurah Rai International Airport and I muster up all my strength to lift the absurdly heavy baggage onto the scales at the Mandala check-in desk.



But it’s spot on and even an airline wouldn’t be so mean spirited to charge for excessive baggage of a mere 0.8kg.

But 60.8kg of luggage? That’s damn heavy. So where did it all come from?

Well, it’s the oleh oleh (gifts) of course.

This is not really a big thing back in Old Blighty but Indonesians will expect a gift if you only travel away for the weekend! And even if you’re only semi-familiar with someone you’re still expected to give them a gift – the masseur who comes round every couple of weeks, your driver, the kid’s driver, the kid’s friends, the neighbors, the people at the gym you barely know, etc etc etc… Arggggggg!!!!!!!

Anyway, this got me thinking. What sorts of Indonesian things make good gifts? And what gifts are best to take on a visit back home to Old Blighty (or wherever you come from)? Well, here’s me list:

1. A bottle of arak. Made from fermented rice, fruit or sugarcane, the end product is a potent firebrew which probably has a lot in common with the fuel you put in your car. Alcohol content is generally about the 50% mark. Not the sort of thing to give your gran but it might make the ideal gift for someone you want to see the back off.

garish batik shirt2. Batik shirts. Personally I’m not a great fan of batik shirts. They can look cool but choose the wrong design/colors and you could look as out of place as a burka on Kuta Beach (yes, I saw a woman wearing one there, really!). What’s more, batik shirts are generally just not that comfortable to wear - unless you are in an air-conditioned environment such as at an indoor wedding ceremony. They are also a real bitch to wash: stick them in a washing machine with your white business shirts and say hello to a new bunch of light brown shirts a short while later; the old white shirts mysteriously gone!

3. Madurese sickle. You can get all sorts of traditional weapons across the Indonesian archipelago, the most famous being the Javanese keris (a sort of asymmetrical dagger which may have mystical properties). I never did get my hands on a keris but I did buy a bloody sharp celurit (sickle) from the island of Madura many eons ago. The amazing thing was I actually took the thing on the plane with me as hand luggage! (this was way before 9/11) Try a stunt like that today and you’d be whisked off to a small room with bright lights to have your body parts fried off.

4. Beer Bintang singlet. Take home a bit of Aussie beach “culture” with you in the form of the majestically designed Beer Bintang singlet. Lightweight and cheap, they make great gifts.

beer bintang singlet from Bali

5. Cock shaped bottle opener. Hand crafted by Balinese artisans, the cock shaped bottle opener is both functional and aesthetically pleasing. They sell by the bucket load apparently. Pic

6. Whilst on a similar theme, take home a few durian flavored condoms with you! If anything, they should at least “raise” a few laughs. Hahaha!

7. Artwork. Indonesia is packed with artistic talent and there are many fine galleries. If you can’t afford to splash out US$20,000++ on a Blanco or Le Mayeur, just pick up something at a local handicrafts market for US$10-20 instead.

Odalisque by Antonio BlancoNice if you can afford it.

8. Clove cigarettes. Defy the politically correct health fascism of the West and take back a carton of smokes with you (providing customs allow it of course). Indonesian kreteks are made of the finest natural-grown cloves and tobacco and have a spicy aromatic-taste. Others say they taste like bonfires.

Djarum browns non filter clove cigarettes
9. Miniature airbrushed surfboard on a wooden stand. Very popular and a more utterly useless gift you could not imagine. Perfect.

10. Indonesian krupuk udang (prawn crackers). Indonesia has the world’s largest variety of krupuk and the main producing areas are Sidoarjo in East Java and Garut in West Java. Buy the ones that need to be deep fried in oil rather than the ready to eat variety which will either go soggy or turn to crumbs in a long journey home. Once chucked in the hot oil the former variety will expand from thumb-sized semi-transparent chips into wonderful white fluffy crackers - just like popcorn. But the real fun can be had in cooking them up in a microwave oven – cook ‘em too long and they explode into a zillion pieces! All in all, a great present for angst-ridden teens looking for an anarchist diversion.


  1. Cheap artwork...the best way to gift something that may you look good good with less money.
    Nice list!
    Lala from budget accommodation


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