Indonesia. Indonesia, country located off the coast of mainland Southeast Asia in the Indian and Pacific oceans. It is an archipelago that lies across the Equator and spans a distance equivalent to one-eighth of Earth’s circumference.
Indonesia was formerly known as the Dutch East Indies (or Netherlands East Indies). Although Indonesia did not become the country’s official name until the time of independence, the name was used as early as 1884 by a German geographer; it is thought to derive from the Greek indos, meaning “India,” and nesos, meaning “island.” After a period of occupation by the Japanese (1942–45) during World War II, Indonesia declared its independence from the Netherlands in 1945. Its struggle for independence, however, continued until 1949, when the Dutch officially recognized Indonesian sovereignty. It was not until the United Nations (UN) acknowledged the western segment of New Guinea as part of Indonesia in 1969 that the country took on its present form. The former Portuguese territory of East Timor (Timor-Leste) was incorporated into Indonesia in 1976. Following a UN-organized referendum in 1999, however, East Timor declared its independence and became fully sovereign in 2002.
The outer (southern) side of the chain of islands from Sumatra through Java and the Lesser Sundas forms the leading edge of the Southeast Asian landmass. It is characterized by active volcanoes, bounded to the south and west by a series of deep-sea trenches. On the inner (northern) side of the islands the volcanic mountains grade into swamps, lowlands, and the shallow Java Sea. This sheltered sea was formed at the close of the Pleistocene Epoch (about 12,000 years ago), and there is evidence of former land bridges, which facilitated the migration of plants and animals from the Asian continent.
Commuting within Indonesia
Whether it’s within Bali or some other destination, you need to figure out how to move around the country. Even though Indonesia comprises 17,500 islands – not all of them are inhabited – you wouldn’t be interested in all of them anyway. Considering the duration of your trip and the itinerary, you will need to decide which mode of transport works best for you.
Renting a car:
You can rent a car for as low as Rs 700 a day, or even less, if you are good at bargaining or plan to hire it for several days at a stretch. Having a set of wheels with you is the most convenient way to see a particular place. Do note that most travel companies will not allow you to take the car to different islands even aboard car ferries. You will need an international driving permit. Most rental agencies will gladly rent you a car with a valid driving licence from your country, but you could get pulled over by cops who are quick to spot a tourist. You either part with a hefty fine or you will need to bribe your way through. It is much easier to get an international driving permit before you head over.
Taking the train:
The islands of Java and Sumatra can be reached by Indonesia’s national railway, called Kereta Api. These are more convenient because their schedules are more reliable, they connect major points and the stations are centrally located, making it easy to head out to your sightseeing destination. You can buy tickets at the station at ticket windows called lokets. We suggest paying a little more and booking seats on the roomier and air-conditioned executive class, especially if you are traveling overnight or have a lot of distance to cover.
Going by ferry:
When your entire country is made up of thousands of islands, it is no surprise that you need to have an excellent transport system. From small, open-to-the-sky, wooden boats to large steel ferries with cabins, you have it all. We recommend traveling by the state-owned Pelni service that is comfortable, reliable and halts at nearly all the ports that you would want to visit. There is no need to book in advance unless you are traveling during festival season when the boats run to maximum capacity.
Zip on two-wheelers:
Spend a few days watching the locals zip by on their two-wheelers and you will want to do the same. But get on one only if you know how to ride one properly. The roads and traffic in Indonesia is unlike any that you have ever encountered before. And be sure to wear a helmet always.
Buses and more:
Indonesian buses are reliable and affordable for those traveling on a shoestring budget. Then there are bemos, the mini buses that are mostly used for short distances. Make sure you know the fare else you could get ripped-off. You can also opt to ride the motorized three-wheeled rickshaw, called the bajaj, which can carry two passengers. The becak, the bicycle-style rickshaw that is pedaled by the driver, can also carry two passengers. Do negotiate your fare before you start your journey to avoid misunderstandings.