First 5 Impressions of Indonesia

Without a doubt, Indonesia is one of our favourite travel destinations in Asia. This country, which consists of 17,000 islands, took our breath away and left us speechless for a long time. We were both impressed by Indonesian cultural and linguistic diversity, open-minded local communities, a great amount of local stunning temples and cloud-swept mountains.

Let me share our 5 impressions when visiting Indonesia for the first time:

#1 Rain, Rain Go Away.

We were unlucky to visit Indonesia during the rain season (February). Once we arrived in Jakarta, we could not believe how flooded the city was. All streets were blocked and there was a heavy traffic jam. It took us few hours to transport from the airport to the city center.

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Travel tip

In Indonesia, the dry season starts in April and lasts until October. This is definitely the best time to travel around. From November and January is fine to travel as well. It’s quieter than in the high season and the rain is generally limited to a couple of hours at the end of the day.

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#2 Simple, But Rich In Flavour Cuisine.

Less means more and Indonesia follows this rule. In most of local restaurants we were offered very simple, but amazingly delicious meals packed with fresh vegetables, seafood, homemade sauces, noodles or rice. There was no mess on the plate. Everything was served separately and we truly appreciated the natural and rich flavor of meals. As for the price, we were positively surprised how cheap it was for us to dine out in Bali. We were spending around $8 a day each on the food.

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What you can eat for less than $8 a day in Bali:

Breakfast: Indonesian noodle soup with chunks of pork and chopped veggies (IDR7.000/$0.62), a cup of black tea (IDR2.000/$0.18) with a small bowl of tropical fruits (IDR4.000/$0.35).

Lunch: Spicy chicken served with rice and veggies (IDR15.000/$1.32) with a glass of ice tea (IDR3.000/$0.26).

Dinner: Grilled pork meat with a bowl of rice and grilled sweetcorn (IDR20.000/$1.76).

Snacks: Local pancake called Martabak (IDR7.000/$0.62).

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 3. Temples, Temples, Everywhere Temples.

When in Bali, we quickly understood why the island is commonly known as the “Island of a thousand temples”. After two days of temple hopping, we came to a conclusion that you can’t get to see all of them, but we did out best to at least explore most of them. Our favourite one was Tanah Lot and Ulun Banu where it took us 7 hours on a scooter to get there (why so long? Don’t ask, there is a history behind it I’m going to share with you soon). Each temple seemed to be unique and there is no way you can get bored of them.

4. Smiley Faces Around.

It’s incredible how positive Indonesian people are. They seem to be happy all the time. They pray and smile every day. We felt like they welcomed us with open arms and treated like members of their family. People seemed to be humble and extremely religious, always helped us out and gave us some great travel recommendations. In terms of haggling, we did not feel this pressure at all. We paid local prices without bargaining. It was a great feeling I must admit…

5. People Speak Different Languages.

The official language of Indonesia is a modified form of Malay called Bahasa Indonesia, but English and Dutch are also spoken alongside Javanese and Sundanese. We were surprised to find out that several hundred different tribal languages are spoken in addition to these tongues. Moreover, many members of Indonesia’s vibrant Muslim population have at least some knowledge of Arabic! It was a great language experience for me to pick up some different dialects when travelling around.

Indonesia kept surprising us with new things each day, from food to new customs and. We really regret not spending more time there to fully experience what it has to offer to its visitors.

Have you been to Indonesia? If so, what was your First Impression?

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More from Agness Walewinder

First 5 Impressions of Indonesia

Sharing our 5 first impressions when visiting Indonesia.
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113 Comments

  • Indonesia was a tricky country for us—we went in being certain we would love everything about it, and left feeling mixed. Somethings were really beautiful and spectacular, but we also found that certain places were very poor value for money (the entire island of Flores for the most part) and that in places like Bali, many people were very greedy and we had to haggle very hard to get fair prices (and some times it just was not possible). What I did like is that every island really seems to be distinct and have it’s own culture, and that made me think that we will go back one day and explore some more because just because one place didn’t work for us, I really believe other places in Indonesia could. Bali definitely took us some time to warm up to (and I admit it, I did get bored of the temples there—pretty on the outside but they all seemed the same and pretty boring on the inside), but I did wind up appreciating it by the end of our time there!

    • Sorry to hear that. I really felt the same when being in the Philippines, but Indonesia was different. We have not made it to the island of Flores, but I would be happy to go there next time :)!

      • Hi, Agnes!

        I am very happy you enjoyed Indonesia, especially Bali. I am a Filipina, by the way, and my boyfriend is Indonesian. When I say Indonesian, I mean one of the local ethnicity, Javanese. Not Indo-Chinese. I have been visiting Indonesia since I was a child and the country has always been my second home. Several of my relatives have been working here since I was young. Therefore, I am blessed to be able to visit the country every year. Mostly, I stayed in Jakarta. I’ve also been to Magelang, Jogjakarta, Bali, Jepara, Ambarawa, Ungaran, and several more. Just last year, I started working here too in the humble city of Semarang. The first time I arrived here, I was so surprised how the food disappointed me. Even in restaurants, the food weren’t tasty. I would prefer to eat in waroeng (local cheap restaurants) or kucingan (street food stalls) but they were still not that delicious. However, I found out that the waroeng and kucingan here are not as clean like in Bali. My boyfriend would even say the same. He is from Magelang but also works here in Semarang. What he does is he takes me to waroengs that he is confident would be more sanitized and serves delicious food. He rarely allows me to eat in kucingans here, but in Bali and Magelang, he would let loose most of time. LOL! I like eating street food even though I came from a middle class family back in my country. However, I also choose the street food stalls. I don’t eat it if I don’t think it’s “clean” enough. I am always cautious because There are cleaner street food stalls you can find in my country. It’s so unfortunate you’ve chosen the wrong ones and not so tasty ones. Anyway, bottom line is just like here in Indonesia, the quality of food is regional. Here in Central Java, they are more into spicy food. I have always loved spicy food but I can’t seem to adjust to the level of spiciness they have here. LOL! FYI, I eat a lot of Korean spicy food cooked by my Korean friends here and in my country. In area like Magelang, though, they are more into sweets and in some parts they like salty food.

        Oh, and of course the quality and taste of the food depends on who cooked and prepared it. Haha! I have a colleague who would bring me a homecooked Sambal Goreng everytime she cooked one and I totally love it! She brought me Sambal Goreng twice that were cooked by her sister and it wasn’t as delicious as hers. She laughed when she heard my answer when she asked me who cooks it better. If you ever get to visit Indonesia or Philippines again, me and my boyfriend would love to meet you. I am looking forward to the day I can bring my boyfriend to my country and let him experience authentic Filipino culture and cuisine. Trust me, I know where to go and can even spend less than your $25-budget a day.

        Hoping for more beautiful travels for you! ^___^

      • Hi!

        Thank you so much for sharing your story and experience. We really appreciate that. Your tips and recommendations are so valuable! Hope to meet you in Indonesia one day if we make it there once again :).

        Have a wonderful day xxxx

        Love,

        Agness

  • Sorry you got rained on so much- wish we had some of that here. The food sounds really reasonable and sounds delicious. We have an Indonesian friend and she makes wonderful dishes from her home country.

  • Beautiful photo collection! I’m glad you enjoyed your visit despite the rain. Bali and Indonesia have been high on my travel wish list for awhile now. I especially love the temple photos. 7 hours on a scooter? Cant wait to read that story. Those dishes look delicious!

    • Yes, 7 hours. We got lost few times, stopped to get some food, spoke to locals and it was a heavy rain!!

    • Never made it to India, but some places in Indonesia were so so so cheap that I could not believe that!

  • I love your photos, I want to eat that fish straightaway :) It looks so tasty. My best friend is in Indosia too at the moment, she really likes it and I cannot wait to hear all her stories :)

    • I really regret not seeing you Debbie, but we were short of time! :( Definitely next time x ! Loved your country!

  • I haven’t been to Indonesia yet but I hopefully will in the summer! I can’t wait. Really glad you guys had a great time. Lovely photos as always- I love the one of you with your arms stretched out. What is the purple thing you are wearing- a skirt or a sarong? It’s such a beautiful colour!

    • Great news! So happy for you! It’s a scarf I was given to cover my legs when visiting Monkey Forest. The leg coverings are mandatory for both men and women preparing to enter a Balinese temple. One is called sarong (as you mentioned) and the other one is called temple scarf (known as a selendang) around your waist. I was wearing sarong as you guessed :D!

  • I LOVED Bali…but I have yet to visit the rest of Indonesia. But everything I hear about the country says that it’s an amazing place in terms of the people, the geography, and the scenery…and I like the food there, too. I also did my first two trips there in the rainy season in February/March. For some reason I assumed that since Thailand and the northern part of SE Asia is dry from December – March, Bali would be as well. WRONG. But August was amazing there. Looking forward to the next posts.

    • That’s so true. What I loved the most were stunning temples, a lot of them everywhere. It was great to rent a scooter and just go for a ride and stop at different temples to explore them.

  • Agness, I absolutely loved Indonesia and luckily it didn’t rain when I was there! From the beautiful landscapes and beaches, over the friendly people and the great food, Indonesia really was a memorable destination and I can’t wait to back. But what surprised me most was the fact that every single island was so different that it almost felt like travelling through many separate countries… :)

    • You were lucky, indeed. Travelling during the rain season isn’t much fun. I also want to get back as soon as possible!

  • Wow amazing pictures! I’ll be visiting Indonesia for the first time this summer and can’t wait. My travelling buddy used to live in Jakarta which is useful. He had mentioned how happy and smiling everyone was there and also that a lot of food is served at room temperature as opposed to piping hot, as we have come to expect here in the UK. Great first impressions :)

    • If you need any tips, just let me know. It will be my pleasure to share some good restaurant options!

  • Another great review Agness. Indonesia has always fascinated me with the vast number of islands. I’ve also heard how friendly and kind the people are. I’ve even heard of the locals protecting foreigners whilst they have a domestic riot!

    Great pictures again and I love the new moving slide shows of pictures. That is a great addition to your site.

  • Eek I can’t wait to visit Bali in the summer! I’d be keen to know more about the food- are there many places that seem conscious of dietary restrictions (in my case dairy free?)

    • Are you going to Bali this summer? That’s amazing! Yes, there are places that seem conscious of dietary restrictions, but the prices are high. Most of them are Western styled restaurants and coffee shops.

  • I haven’t been to Indonesia yet but it does look beautiful. Food wise, what are the vegetarian/vegan options? I’m sure there will be something, right?

    • Franca, in terms of vegetarian and vegan food, we found two restaurants where veggie soups and noodles were cooked. You could order any soup you wanted to (from simple pumpkin one to sophisticated broccoli and mushrooms), some noodles (spicy or mild), grilled veggies and fruit cakes and pastries. You would not die there, that’s for sure!

    • Franca, a lot of Indonesian food are basicly vegetarian (simply because in the past, only the rich could afford meat). Every region in Indonesia has their own vegetable salad, mostly with peanut sauce dressing. There are also a lot of tofu-based food. And one of Indonesian contribution to the vegetarian culinary is the invention of Tempeh (we call it Tempe).

  • Glad you are enjoying Indonesia! We loved it there- the food, the culture, the temples, the people! Our favorite place was Ubud. Though it is extremely touristy, we stayed at a wonderful home stay just outside the city, surrounded by rice paddies but still only a five minute scooter ride to yoga class :)

  • I’ve been to Indonesia a couple times, 20 years apart. Although I could tell that Bali (Ubud) had changed over the years, doesn’t everywhere?

    My “first” impression (of Bali), was the smell in the air as we walked out of the airport. It was our first Southeast Asian country on our RTW trip, as we had just flown up from Darwin, Australia. Having only visited Bali and Java, I look forward to visiting their other islands. Of the 60 something countries I’ve visited around the world, Indonesia ranks up there in the top five at least, if not higher. I loved the people, their culture, their food, and just about everything a traveler could experience. And, you could stay there very, very economically.

    I just have to take exception to those who had reservations about this country. I will most certainly return! If you consider yourself a world traveler and haven’t been to Indonesia yet, you are in for a very pleasant surprise.

    • Top 5? I am not really surprised as it quickly became one of my favourite countries as well. I know the smell! Thank you for sharing your Indonesia experience with us Steve!

  • Agness, that is amazing that you were able to get that much food for that little money. And all of the food sounds delicious to me, too boot! I’m glad they speak English there as that would definitely make it more appealing to visit for me :)

    • It was so unbelievable. I was expecting some touristic places such as Bali to be much more expensive. The prices surprised us (in a nice way) :-)!!

  • We’ve always wanted to go to Indonesia and have heard mixed reviews, so your first impressions (rain aside) are great to hear – that and that you didn’t have to bargain to get the local prices!

  • Ah, flooding in Jakarta. Practically an annual event. I grew up in Jakarta up until I was 13 and still fly back occasionally. I know at least two couples whose weddings got postponed due to the flood. Tip: don’t have your wedding during the rainy season in Jakarta.

    Indonesia doesn’t just have many languages, but also cultures. (Dutch is only spoken by really old people who lived through the war, by the way.) Two towns on the same island can have totally different customs.

    Thanks for this post, Agness. Now I really can’t wait to explore more of the country. I have big plans for 2015/2016. :)

    • Weddings got postponed due to the flood? Was it that bad?! I am really impressed by a culture mix there. We’ve met a lot of Dutch people there, especially around Jakarta and Bali. Good luck with your travel plans!

  • Your post makes me really want to visit Indonesia. Great food at cheap prices. No haggling, smiling people and beautiful scenery. Sound wonderful. I will be sure to visit in the dry season.

    • Yes, the food was great. I am a big fan of Indonesian cuisine right now. It’s one of my favorite right after the Thai one.

  • Happy to hear you Indonesia made a positive impression on you. Bali is definitely beautiful though sadly I have been tricked a few times over there. You definitely should be back someday and come visit me!

    • I has, it really has! After the Philippines we were a bit tired and disappointed, but Indonesia made us blissfully happy and satisfied!

    • By the way, I really regret not seeing you, but maybe next time. I bet it was not my last visit in the Land of Temples and Smiley Faces! :D

  • Love the new slideshow feature! Those temples are absolutely gorgeous! Sightseeing in the rain is no fun, but it always makes me enjoy the sunny days so much more!

    • Have you noticed that? I really like the slideshow feature and I’m planning on using it a lot now :)!! I agree, travelling in a heavy rain isn’t fun, but when we moved to Bali it was sunny and lovely!

      • The slideshow caught my eye while reading. It is a terrific feature you are using to display your pictures. Were you sore from riding that scooter for 7 hours? I can’t imagine.

  • Love the photos! I can’t believe you had food so cheap! Maybe it was cause I was shopping for mostly vegetarian, which led me to the more touristy Ubudian places. I thought restaurants and food prices were expensive.. closer to U.S. prices. But local street food looked like it would be inexpensive. Glad you could finally eat again!

    • Yes, me either. The prices were just unbeatable! There were also supermarkets for foreigners with Western food and they were way too expensive!

    • These smiles are the greatest thing you can experience in Indonesia. They can make your day and keep you so positive.

  • I’ve been curious if Bali is friendly to backpackers, I’ve gotten a view of that it was for perhaps a wealthier crowd? I would love to go, do you think a motorbike is the best way to travel there?

    • Yes, Bali is friendly to backpackers as long as you follow some simple rules:
      1) Stay away from busy city center.
      2) Dine out at local places.
      3) Avoid shopping in supermarkets with Western food.
      4) Rent a motorbike and go for a ride.
      5) Do couchsurfing or stay in hostels in Kuta.

      Yes, motorbike is definitely the best idea! It’s cheap and you can feel so independent.

  • We leave for Indonesia in about 2 weeks, and I have to say I’m most excited about the food, culture and diving. Ok, maybe mostly the food. :) Anything we should definitely not miss?

    • Hi Katie,

      Great news! It all depends on where you are going to. Don’t miss any temples when in Bali and you should definitely try some Satay. These tasty meat skewers cook up over coals so hot they need fans to waft the smoke away. if you need more tips, e-mail me :).

      have fun and safe travels!

    • Thank you! Yes, I have actually seen a lot of couples with babies! :) You will not feel alone there, that’s for sure.

  • Hiya! When I arrived to Bali, I went straight to Ubud as recommended by several friends. Honestly, it was nothing like I had expected. I found some incredible hidden gems and had so much fun I ended up extending my stay. Took a batik art class, cooking class, morning walks and market bargaining (!), soaked up all the spa treatments I could, and my hotel catered to my every need including getting me to every temple I could explore and nightly traditional Balinese shows. It was pretty great :)
    Suzette – Trysomethingfun.com

  • LOVED Indonesia! It was like a divergent India for me!! I went to Flores, and while I agree with Steph @20YearsHence about Flores being poor value for money, I still really enjoyed my (relatively pricey) time there! And yeah, the food was awesome! A lot of people complain about Indonesian food being plain compared with other countries, but I loved the fresh fish and rice dishes! Thanks for sharing, it brought so many memories back :)

  • Sounds lovely (with the exception of the rain)! Can’t believe just how cheap the food is. If my maths is right that’s less than $6 a day, including snacks and drinks as well – that’s unreal!

  • These are great insights into Indonesia. The food looks amazing (especially the Indonesian pancake – yum) and so affordable! That along with beautiful temples, interesting languages, and friendly people makes for a place I’d like to visit.

  • Hi,
    very nice post about this lovely country! I’m alway amazed by their people and culture! I love Bali! I’m living not so far from Indonesia ( Vietnam ) but i have a very strong impression about the tour, one of my best !

  • We’ve never been to Indonesia but it is on my list of places to visit. It looks amazing! I can’t wait to hear the story about traveling by scooter to the temple. It is also awesome that the food was so cheap there and it looks delicious!

  • We have been to Indonesia quite a few times and not just Bali, and I agree with all of the things you have said. Maybe number 6 could be dogs. They seem to be everywhere and I must admit I am a bit nervous of them. Lovely post on a great country.

  • I remember doing a school project on Indonesia in fifth grade, I’ve wanted to visit ever since! Of course if I didn’t already long to visit, your photos would definitely convince me (I love that shot of the coffee and flowers on a rustic table!) Can’t wait to hear more about temple hopping!

    • I’m glad the post brings back such great memories from your school. I really hope you can make it there and experience what we have! :)x

  • Me and my boyfriend had the same thing in Indonesia to when we arrived: flooded Jakarta en kids playing in the puddles. And we really thought we wouldn’t make it back to the hotel with the bus. So the beginning was a bit stressful but when we left Jakarta it was way better.

    The people indeed are so so friendly (except sometimes the bus people and scammers). We once had a really hard time with a scammer who said he was the money collector from the bus and that we owed him money before the bus left. Luckily we did our research before we did the trip and we knew that this could happen so we gave him nothing. But it was a really extreme stressful situation and not so nice.

    The food is amazing to and Java is beautiful. We didn’t like Bali that much because it was already to touristic for us.

    • Defintiely Kuta. Not far from the city center, cheap and beautiful. Rent a scooter or a motorbike to travel around!

  • you’ve experienced the flood and traffic and still overall Indonesia is one of our favorite destinations in Asia? awesome! Hahaha.. most travelers would just then hate it and swear to never come back again.. So how long were you in Indonesia and what destinations did you visit other than Bali?

    • We were travelling from Jakarta to Bali and passed by all small towns and cities on the way. I can send you our travel plan in details if you want to.

  • Hi Agnes,
    Thanks for dropping by Indonesia. From your blog, I trust you had a great time. Bali is the top of the iceberg. The easiest but no less beautiful. You should visit the other places. A. LOT. OF. FUN!

  • Great post and lovely pictures! Personally, I think the food is Indonesia is delicious!! We plan to go back early next year and I look forward to reading more of your posts about Indonesia and Singapore!! Even though I have travel to both places, they have changed a lot over the past few years and I hope to discover some new places to explore!!

  • I’ve been debating about where to go after Vietnam and Indonesia keeps coming up – this post has convinced me it should be next on my travel itinerary! What a diverse, fascinating place – it sounds unlike anywhere else in the world. The break from haggling and the ability to pay local prices is enough to seal the deal.

  • So glad to hear you enjoyed Indonesia and Bali! We’re visiting Bali, Lombok, Komodo and islands around there soon. Looking forward to trying all that good Indonesian food, exploring temples and doing some scuba diving :-).

  • I am glad that you love Indonesia. You should explore more islands in Indonesia next time. About the diversity of the cultures and languages, it really is fascinating. Often neighbouring cities have different tribal languages. My dad is native Jakartan (Betawinese tribe), my mom is from the neigbouring West Java (Sundanese tribe). Growing up in Jakarta, I speak Betawinese and use Betawinese familial terms to address family members. In Betawinese, the word for grandma is Nyai, but once my Sundanese maternal grandma asked me to stop calling her Nyai because her neighbours rolled their eyes when hearing me calling her Nyai. Apparently in Sundanese, Nyai means beautiful young woman.

  • Hi Agness, I hope you are fine.
    I’m Budi, from Bandung, Indonesia and glad that you guys like Indonesia.

    If you are interested in living and experiencing more about Indonesia,
    There is a non-degree scholarship opportunities 6 months or 1 year offered by our government to learn the language, art and our culture, namely Darmasiswa.

    Check the following link, in case you’re interested :)
    http://darmasiswa.kemdikbud.go.id/darmasiswa/

    note: you can also googled at the blogs of people who have participated in this program.

    Salam,
    Budi

  • Hi Agness! I’m really glad I found your blog and hear that you love Indonesia! :) I’m sorry about the rainy season you had. It’s really frustrating, chaos in the whole city! :(

    I’m curious if, have you ever tried traditional food named ‘Gado-Gado’ and ‘Ketoprak’? It’s vegetable with sweet and savory peanut sauce which is soooo delicious! I bet you’ll love it!

  • Hi, Agnes, really happy that you enjoyed your stay in my country, Indonesia. Thank you for sharing your great story ^^
    I’m Javanese and now work in Central Borneo, sometimes in South Borneo. It would lovely if I can meet you here ib Borneo, the biggest island in Indonesia :)

  • I feel happy too that you were enjoying your visit to my country and also had the good impression. Come visit again Agnes! I love to read your blog because you are so honest and informative. I want to suggest you to visit Yogyakarta when you come to Indonesia next chance because that place offers many beauties of culture and friendliness of our country, and many place actually.

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