Archive for March, 2009

Why is Bali such a popular tourist destination in Indonesia?

bali-peopleAfter reading this editorial in the Jakarta Post I wanted to write my own article on why I think Bali is more popular than other islands in Indonesia.

The editorial tries to answer the same question, but only seems to talk about religion and the main religion of the Balinese – Hindu.

While Balinese Hindus are preparing for the observa-tion of Nyepi, hopefully it is not regarded as offensive or ridiculous to ask a tempting question: Will Bali remain as magnificent as what it is now when Hinduism is not the largest religion there? There is no intention at all to offend other religions; this question is merely a matter of curiosity.

What we want to say is that Hindus should have a central role in guiding Balinese people and that the world would benefit from such guidance. Indonesians, whatever their religion is, can learn a lot from the way and values of our comrades, while Balinese Hindus can also learn from other citizens of different religions to enrich Indonesia.

The numbers speak for themselves. In 2008 Bali had 1.97 million foreign visitors, while the whole of Indonesia had 6.4 million visitors.

I think westerners are interested in Balinese culture, but not just their religion. For many foreigners, including many Australians, a holiday in Bali means beaches and cheap beer.

I think part of Bali’s success is that is a very accessible destination and offers great value for money. If you only have a short holiday like many Japanese, it is only a six hour flight and you can be laying on the beach not long after you reach the island’s airport – Denpasar.

Sure Indonesia has many more beautiful islands and places to visit, but they take much longer to get to and the whole journey requires more effort. I heard Pulau Wei in Aceh is more beautiful than Bali and I thought of going there for Christmas last year. A friend told me how I wouldn’t be able to wear shorts when I arrived in Aceh as the area is under Shariah law.

Many parts of Indonesia have had their fair share of natural disasters. Bali had its terrorist bombings, which I believe put some people off visiting the island for a while, but tourism has been getting strong again in recent years. The trials and death sentences of the Bali bombers were widely reported around the world and it is well known that the terrorists were not Balinese. I am sure some people feel that by visiting Bali they are doing their bit to help the local economy after the attacks and not give satisfaction to the terrorists that they had somehow won by keeping people away from the island.

The culture, music, art and architecture of Bali captured the interests of several foreigners who spent some time there and wrote about their experiences. A House in Bali written by Colin McPhee in the 1930s is one such book that comes to mind.

Infrastructure in Bali is not great and the island is suffering from rampant development, but this doesn’t mean it is any better in other parts of Indonesia. Traveling on public buses with three people to a seat and more people traveling on the roof is not everyone’s vision of a holiday.

For people who do make the effort traveling outside of Bali they will be rewarded with beautiful jungle, diving, wildlife and friendly people and you can almost have it all to yourself.

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Death toll rises in Jakarta dam collapse

jakarta-dam-collapse-floodingThe death toll continues to rise in the tragic dam collapse in Jakarta, Indonesia. Seventy-seven people have died with people still missing from the accident.

Heavy rains combined with poorly maintained infrastructure are being blamed the collapsed Situ Gintung dam.

indonesia travel

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NERD cancels Indonesian concert

I have to admit I have never heard of the band NERD or No one Ever Really Dies, before. According to the Jakarta Post the band had a problem with immigration in Malaysia, who somehow had a problem with their style of dress.

The concert organizers in Malaysia failed to get the appropriate permits for the band to perform. The band still performed the concert, but later their passports were taken by immigration and they were detained.

The band must have felt the experience distressing enough to cancel their scheduled show in Indonesia.

I had a look around on Google and the band’s blog but everything seems pretty harmless. I have been to Malaysia plenty of times now and I thought the government was pretty tolerant.


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Travel in Indonesia – always an adventure

lake-toba-ferryI am quickly finding out that travel in Indonesia is always a bit of an adventure. I decided to visit Lake Toba for the weekend to get out of Medan for a few days. The trip is about a 4 hour drive from Medan to Parapat, which you then travel by ferry to Samosir Island.

The road into Parapat is pretty good by Indonesian standards, although it can get narrow in places and there are a few tight bends. The road goes downhill as you head towards Parapat and there is a big drop down on the right side into the lake.

We came to an abrupt stop and it was soon obvious that there had been some kind of accident. We were by then about 6km out of Parapat and the driver said it would take a long time to clear the road, so it would be quicker to walk – six kilometers also didn’t sound too long and anything would be better than sitting in the bus.

It wasn’t long before we reached the site of the accident. A fairly large truck/lorry had gone off the side of the road and there were about six tow trucks trying to pull it back onto the road. I pulled out my camera and the police even gestured for me to go forward and get closer to the action. I took some great pictures, that I thought would make it onto the front page of the Jakarta Post, only to realize later that I left my memory card in my computer. Doh!

I was pretty surprised how they could finally pull the truck back onto the road. It was inches away from falling down about a 50 meter drop. The front cabin of the truck had been completely crushed and unless the driver jumped out early, I don’t think they would have stood a chance of survival.

We continued walking down the road and it got a bit hairy as cars and trucks started to pass through. Further down the road, the traffic was banked up again. There had been a mild land slide and one lane of the narrow road was covered in rocks and dirt.

I think I reached Parapat at around 3:00pm after being picked up from my place at 9:00am in the morning from Medan.

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Indonesian muslim cleric detained for marrying 12-year old girl

pujiono-cahyo-widiantoA muslim cleric has been detained by police for marrying a 12 year old girl in central Java. Cleric Pujiono Cahyo Widianto, 43 has been detained along with the girl’s father.

An AP article says the man intended to marry two other girls aged 7 and 9.

“This is pedophilia … pure and simple,” said Arist Merdeka Sirait, secretary general of the National Commission for Children’s Rights, who praised the police action. “We aren’t living in the Stone Age here, we have to protect our children against these kinds of things.”

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Upcoming elections – what are they all about

On April 9 there will be an election to choose the members of parliament with the presidential election on July 8th.

Indonesia only had its first direct elections for president since 2004.

Not surprisingly, most people I have spoken to in Indonesia are pretty cynical about the whole process. The current president is President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono who is a member of the Democrat Party.

One of the biggest issues is corruption in the government. Indonesia ranks 126th on the Corruption Perception Index. Ahead of Cambodia, the Philippines and Laos, but behind Nigeria and Ethiopia.

Religion will also be a key issue in the elections, with some parties pushing for Indonesia to become an Islamic state.

Indonesia has cancelled a scheduled football (soccer) match with New Zealand, because of security concerns with the election.

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Islamic books sell like hot cakes: Jakarta Post

The Jakarta Post reports that Islam books were the “surprise” best sellers for many bookstores at the 8th Islamic Book Fair.

Somehow that doesn’t seem to much of a surprise to me. I like one of the comments on the article: “Hmmmmm…. Islam books were the hot sellers at an Islamic Book Fair…..Imagine that…. I’d imagine that at a cake sale, cakes would be a hot seller as well.”

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The week that was

I haven’t felt well this week after coming back from Bukit Lawang, so I didn’t do as much as I would have liked on the blog.

It is getting closer to the elections here and every channel on television has non-stop reporting and debating – pity I can’t understand anything.

Here are some stories that I wanted to write about but didn’t get the chance.

Christianity Today who obviously have their own agenda, but I thought they had a good article on the spread of Shari’ah law in Indonesia, something which worries me about the country.

Legislation in Padang requires both Muslim and non-Muslim women to wear headscarves, while a law in Tangerang allows women found “loitering” on the street after 10 p.m. to be arrested for prostitution.

Five Indonesians made it onto the Forbes rich list. Brothers Michael Hartono and Budi Hartono are owners of the country’s second-largest cigarette company – Djarum. Just as most developed countries are banning cigarette smoking from all public places, it is still fine in Indonesia to chain smoke clove cigarettes on public buses.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono fell ill with a stomach upset. And presumably after he got better, he had a call from President Obama where they discussed education, health care, climate change, counterterrorism -and bird flu.

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Australia to open disaster center in Jakarta

Just as I wrote the other day that the Australian government didn’t seem to be working much with Indonesia and now I read that Australia is working to create a disaster center in Jakarta.

The prime minister told reporters that a study by Australia and Indonesia found that half the world’s megacities are in locations vulnerable to earthquakes, and issues like climate change, urbanisation and poor land use were exacerbating the impact of other natural disasters.

“Also our region is subject to intense volcanic activity and now we see the consequence increase storm activity and with greater intensity,” Rudd told reporters. “With natural disasters, none of us can predict who will be the next victim, who will be hit next and often there is so little notice when they come.”

Australia has pledged to spend $67 million on the center over a period of five years. It is good to see the two governments co-operating on new projects. The center seems like a reasonable idea, but then you start to think that the money could be better spent in other areas, and even as Rudd says it is impossible to predict where or when the next disaster is going to happen.

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Buddha bar forced to close in Jakarta

buddha-bar-restaurantBuddhist college students have forced the newly established “Buddha Bar” to close, demanding the bar change its name. The Jakarta Post reports:

“We’ve sealed the Buddha-Bar and it will remain closed until the matter is resolved. The management team has also agreed not to open the bar,” Indonesian Buddhist Students Association (AMB) representative Widodo said, as quoted by

“The bar itself is also filled with Buddhist symbols and artifacts. Its presence is offensive to the Buddhist community in Indonesia.”

The bar is part of a chain of restaurants with businesses in “London, New York, Dubai, Sao Paulo, Kiev, Cairo and Beirut.”

I can understand the problem the students might have with the bar, but the question is, why is it only in Indonesia that the bar has caused controversy.

“Buddha Bar” is also the name of a music CD compilation and there is a Buddha bar also in Australia that is not part of the aforementioned chain.

I really wonder if it would raise an eyebrow if they opened a branch in Thailand which is 94.7 per cent Buddhist.

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