Indonesia, the fourth most populous country in the world, is spread across more than 17,000 islands -- imagine the travel and adventure possibilities!
From tiny island paradises and raging party scenes to rainforests where indigenous tribes with little Western contact were still collecting heads a short while ago, you can find it on an island somewhere in Indonesia. The sheer size is staggering, as is the diversity of people. Indonesia is the world's most populous Islamic country, Bali is mostly Hindu, and you'll find Christianity sprinkled throughout.
With scores of active volcanoes constantly working on the landscape, Indonesia is one of the earth's most geologically tumultuous places.
Indonesia Visa Requirements:
The Kintamani region in North Bali, Indonesia
Image © Greg Rodgers, licensed to About.com
US citizens and most nationalities need a visa for Indonesia travel. You can obtain a 30-day visa-on-arrival in airports for US $25, but not at all seaports. The visa-on-arrival can be extended one time for an additional 30 days while in Indonesia.
Ports of entry around Indonesia maintain different rules; your safest bet is to apply for a tourist visa before entering Indonesia.
Population: 248.6 million (4th most populated country in the world)
Ethnic Groups: 40.6% Javanese; 15% Sudanese; 3.3% Madurese; 44.1% other.
Life Expectancy: 71.6 years
You'll encounter friendly people but also widespread poverty -- particularly the farther away from Bali or Jakarta that you travel. An estimated 50% of the massive population earns less than US $2 per day.
People in Indonesia are required to carry an identification card listing their religion; choosing 'agnostic' or 'atheist' is not an accepted option. Because of the emphasis on religion, which has caused plenty of conflicts there in the past, don't be put off if someone asks your religion early in a conversation!
As a foreigner, you may be a bit of a novelty while traveling in parts of Indonesia; don't be surprised if you are asked to pose for photos with strangers.
Money in Indonesia:
Currency: IDR -- Indonesian rupiah. The local abbreviation 'Rp' is placed before the price.
Per-Capita GDP: US $4,700
As a traveler, you'll end up with a wad of worn, faded Rp 1000, Rp 2000, and Rp 5000 denomination notes. These come in handy for small tips or street snacks, but most often you'll be working with Rp 10,000; Rp 20,000; and Rp50,000 notes. Coins are in circulation, but you rarely encounter them other than an occasional 500 sen (half rupiah) coin.
Western-networked ATMs of varying reliability can be found in tourist areas. It's not unusual for the one ATM on an island to be broken or out of money for days at a time, so bring backup forms of cash.
Credit cards are rarely accepted outside of large hotels and scuba diving shops -- both may add a commission when you pay with plastic. Visa and Mastercard are the most accepted.
Tipping is not expected in Indonesia, however, it's common to round up fares when paying drivers.
Official Language: Bahasa Indonesia
With so many ethnic groups being separated by water and distance, more than 700 languages and dialects are spread throughout the archipelago. While the language barrier is rarely an issue in traveler hubs, English and even bahasa Indonesia are hard to find in remote places that have their own dialects.
Bahasa Indonesia is very similar to Malay, non-tonal, and is relatively easy to learn with consistent rules of pronunciation. Many Dutch words, adopted during the colonization, are used for everyday objects.
What to See and Do in Indonesia:
Sumatra in Indonesia is the only other place in the world to see wild orangutans outside of Borneo. Gunung Leuser National Park is a popular place for trekking and orangutan spotting.
Indonesia, particularly Flores, is the last refuge for the highly endangered Komodo dragon.
Lake Toba in Northern Sumatra is the world's largest volcanic lake; the colossal explosion and resulting volcanic winter are thought to have permanently affected mankind. Pulau Samosir, an island formed in the center of the lake, was once home to headhunters and is now a popular place to visit.
Climbing the many active volcanoes in Indonesia is an exciting adventure with rewarding views.
Bali is the tourism hub of Indonesia and is a great place to try surfing for the first time.
Popular Holidays and Festivals:
Because the many different religions and ethnic groups bring their own holidays to the table, you'll always find a festival or event taking place somewhere. Research your intended destinations separately for public holidays that could affect accommodation and transportation.
The Islamic holy month of Ramadan is observed throughout much of Indonesia; dates change annually.
Indonesian Independence Day (Hari Merdeka) is celebrated on August 17.
Chinese New Year is celebrated in parts of Indonesia.
While Jakarta is the busiest airport in the country, a bulk of Indonesia's tourists enter through Denpassar International Airport in Bali, officially known as Ngurah Rai International Airport (airport code: DPS).
Because of the sheer size, Indonesia is dotted with airports ranging from modern facilities to single airstrips that get blocked by wandering animals. ( About.com )