Sunday, September 4, 2011

Is that all I get, Indonesia?

Earlier this year, I complained that 30 days wasn't enough time to fully experience Thailand. Even by maximising the daylight hours by taking night buses (and sometimes managing to sleep for as much as 45 minutes per night), I still had to renew my visa just to see a few more places before giving in.

Time for another complaint - 30 days to see Indonesia is even crazier. Especially considering this scattered island nation is one of the largest countries in the world and it takes practically all day to get anywhere.

This probably doesn't matter to the 80% of international visitors who never venture beyond Bali (the lazy bastards), but I would have liked to have spent longer In Donesia.

East Java - The Scotland of Java

I'm very glad I went to Java for a week, even if all my experiences of this island apart from the volcanoes ranged from tedious to unpleasant.

It doesn't seem appropriate to call Java an 'island' at all, considering it's 138,794 square km in size (53,589 square miles). That doesn't make it too much smaller than Great Britain. Which I guess would make East Java (the scenic, more pleasant and just plain better section) the Scotland of Java. And Malang, an extremely dull city that just lucks out by being close to areas of natural beauty, can be the Aberdeen.

This 90 degree rotation bears up, as it also places stinking, crowded, violent Jakarta roughly where London would be. Probably, I haven't looked at a map or anything, or even been to Jakarta. I wouldn't want to risk this flimsy and badly thought-out hypothesis breaking down in the face of facts.

Jalan Monkey Forest - The Khaosan Road of Ubud

I won't pretend that Bali wasn't the nicer of the two islands I visited, just for the sake of being different. But I feel I achieved a more grimly realistic overview of the place than most tourists, and even when things were going well, being hassled by taxis, masseuses and craft sellers every time I step outside isn't my idea of paradise.

I managed to escape the crowds most of the time in Bali and be a happy hermit, but the last week I stayed in a place that was essentially the equivalent of Bangkok's Khaosan Road - white people as far as the eye can see, but this time with the balance of English and Australian people fortunately tilted towards the latter. I still have a soft spot for Australians, which might be ground into dust when I stay there for a few months later this year.

I can't blame all the tourists for staying on Monkey Forest Road though. There's a bloody monkey forest there. Where the hell else would you want to stay?


Sure, I could come here again. Someday. But after spending all year in South East Asia, I'm starting to feel like something a little different - if not for some cooler weather, then just for some refreshing culture shock.

I've been in this part of the world for so long, I wasn't even fazed when a local minibus at Denpasar terminal didn't leave until it was crammed beyond capacity with mostly human flesh (plus one chicken), only for a guy to then bring his massive anchor on board. No problem, I think I see some gaps between air molecules we can squeeze a little closer together there.

Nor was I troubled when a lorry in front of us practically exploded and disgorged its logs all over the road, which we narrowly avoided and then laughed about. Ha ha, that was nearly game over! Sometimes Indonesian buses let me down big time, but I wouldn't want to travel any other way.

Beautiful Bali

One of my favourite experiences in this country came on a particularly lousy morning in Java, when I was walking up a typically non-pavemented main road on a hunt for an ATM that accepted my Visa card. Again.

A local kid walked past and, as is their fashion, wanted to demonstrate his English speaking ability by greeting me in the traditional way:

'Hello,' he said. 'My name is.'

He just left it there. As far as he was concerned, the sentence was complete - and why not? I was just going to forget his name anyway, and it's not like I even know how to say four words in his language.

It really cheered me up. I was so taken with his charming error, I forgot to reply until he was already out of earshot. So wherever you are, anonymous Indonesian boy, hello.

My name is.

Indonesia route map

A Soka
B Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park/Probolinggo
C Ijen
D Malang
E Bedugul/Candikuning
F Ubud/Goa Gajah
G Bessakih/Klungkung


  1. At this rate, you're never going to make it back to Scotland. You can't get extensions everywhere you go.

    In another vein, the Monkey Forest sounds awesome and I love your picture
    on the bench up there on the right :)

  2. Thanks, I thought it captured my bubbly personality.