The Indonesian archipelago extends from near Thailand down to West New Guinea, just north of Australia. The surf is all on coasts facing the Indian Ocean, on the islands of Sumatra (and its offshore islands), Java, Bali, Lombok, Sumbawa and the islands further east to Timor. Bali is the main holiday destination, followed by Java, Lombok and Sumatra.
The population is over 200 million, mostly descended from groups that spread out from China and Indochina over several thousand years. A substantial minority in the eastern part of the country are Melanesian people, similar in appearance to New Guineans and Pacific islanders.
The island of Java is very densely settled with several large cities and many towns and villages – about 60% of Indonesians live on Java, and it dominates the politics and the economy of the country. Sumatra is a very large island, and much less densely settled, though it still has over 40 million people. Bali is small, but densely populated with over 3 million people. These are all fertile, tropical islands with palm trees, white beaches and blue seas. Many of the islands further east are less fertile and some are quite sparsely populated.
History & Culture
Historically, Java and many of the other islands were made up of separate kingdoms and isolated tribes with diverse cultures and a large number of local languages. Trade connections brought Buddhism and Hinduism to south-east Asia from as early as 500AD, but by the 15th century Islam had become the dominant religion in the region, as it still is today.
The Portuguese, Dutch and English all set up colonial outposts, but the Dutch came to dominate the archipelago, with Java, Sumatra, Bali, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Maluku, West New Guinea and most of the other islands forming the Dutch East Indies. During WWII, Indonesia was occupied by the Japanese, and in the postwar period there was strong resistance against a return to Dutch rule. In 1949, Indonesia achieved its independence, nominally united as a single country, despite many regional, religious and political differences.
Indonesia today embraces a tremendous diversity, from modern industrial cities to subsistence farming villages. There are religious tensions between fundamentalist Muslims, moderate Muslims, Christians and other minorities; secessionist movements in far northern Sumatra and West New Guinea; and persistent economic problems. Natural disasters and the environment also present challenges.
Generally, holiday visitors from most countries are granted a 30-day visa on arrival. Visas are non-transferable, but may be extended once for an additional 30 days without leaving the country. Your passport must be valid for at least six months’ from the date of your departure from Indonesia.
Tetanus, Typhoid and Hepatitis A and B vaccinations are advised. Ask your doctor about malarial prophylaxis. Seek advice well before your holiday. Over exposure to the sun and infection from coral cuts are the two main hazards for surfers – booties and helmets are recommended. In an emergency an injured surfer may require evacuation to Darwin or Singapore. It is essential to have adequate travel insurance to cover these possibilities.
Visitors can bring in up to 2 litres of alcohol and 200 cigarettes. Prohibited imports include drugs, pornography, printed matter in Chinese and Chinese medicines. Officially, cameras, video cameras and computers should be declared on arrival, but officials don’t seem to worry about this. You should be able to bring in several surfboards, but if officials think you are planning to sell them locally, they may ask for an “import fee”.
Dress & Etiquette:
In Muslim areas of Sumatra, it’s a good idea to dress modestly away from the beach. Shorts or a skirt that covers the thighs, plus a shirt, are sufficient.