The floating emerald islands of the Indonesian archipelago have for centuries lured everyone from missionaries to pirates, mining companies and backpackers to their sandalwood and spice breezes, their Bali Hai lifestyle and their magnificent beaches, mountains and volcanoes.
However, the myth of paradise is often marred by deep racial divides, religious warring, high-handed autocracy, government corruption, economic mismanagment and natural disasters. The latest rounds of violence have made Indonesia a problematic destination for Western travellers.
Refreshingly though, much of the country remains barely touched by mass tourism. Despite great improvements in communications and transport connections, Indonesia's thousands of islands and multitude of cultures still offer adventure that is hard to find in the developed world. And despite the hammering Bali tourism has taken due to the tragic 2002 bombing of the Sari nightclub, all of Indonesia's remarkable sights remain to be explored and enjoyed.
Indonesia's Aceh province was destroyed by the December 2004 tsunami. Much of the area is currently off-limits.
US and Australian travel advisories recommend that travellers defer non-essential travel to Indonesia. A bomb exploded outside the Australian Embassy on 9 September, 2004, and recent evidence suggests further terrorist attacks on Western targets are being planned. Travellers are advised to avoid staying in identifiably Western hotels. Keep an eye on media reports, and check the safety situation with embassies in Jakarta, or the travel advisory on consular and government websites.
Indonesia has suffered great upheaval since 1998, resulting in everything from peaceful demonstrations to armed conflict. Nevertheless, the situation in Indonesia can be misrepresented, making it seem like the whole nation is in turmoil. At the time of writing, areas of Central Sulawesi, Aceh, Papua and Maluku were experiencing unrest; however, safe travel to some parts of these areas was still possible. There were also heightened security risks in parts of Kalimantan and West Timor. It pays to keep abreast of the news if travelling extensively in Indonesia, especially relating to the volatile situation in Aceh.
Full country name: Republic of Indonesia
Area: 1.91 million sq km
Population: 234.89 million
Capital City: Jakarta (pop 9.3 million)
People: There are around 300 ethnic and tribal groups. The principal ones are Acehnese, Bataks, Minangkabaus (Sumatra); Javanese, Sundanese (Java); Balinese (Bali); Sasaks (Lombok); and Dani (Papua)
Language: Indonesian, English, Javanese, Sundanese
Religion: 88% Muslim, 8% Christian, 2% Hindu
GDP: US$173 billion
GDP per capita: US$807
Annual Growth: -4%
Major Industries: Oil, gas, textiles, timber, coffee, rubber, coal, tin, copper, rice, pepper, palm oil
Major Trading Partners: Japan, USA, Singapore
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Visas: Visa regulations have been in a state of flux since 2002, with changes being made in response to political imperatives and then reversed when pressure is brought to bear by tourism interests. Nationals of 21 countries, including Australia, the US and some European countries, are able to obtain a visa on arrival in Indonesia. Visas on arrival can only be obtained at designated international airports and seaports and Indonesia requires at least 6 months validity remaining on passports for visitors entering the country. Two visa types are available to passengers arriving at a point of entry where the 'visa on arrival' facility is offered. These are a three day short-stay visa for 10.00 and a 30 day visa for 25.00. Payment must be made in US dollars on arrival. It is recommended that travellers have the exact US dollars cash available as not all entry points will have full bank facilities in place until late 2004. Citizens of a further 8 countries, mostly in southeast Asia, do not require visas. All other nationals will need to obtain a visa before arrival.
Health risks: dengue fever (The Aedes aegypti mosquito, which transmits the dengue virus, is most active during the day, and is found mainly in urban areas, in and around human dwellings. Signs and symptoms of dengue fever include a sudden onset of high fever, headache, joint and muscle pains, nausea and vomiting. A rash of small red spots sometimes appears three to four days after the onset of fever. Severe complications do sometimes occur. You should seek medical attention as soon as possible if you think you may be infected. A blood test can indicate the possibility of the fever. There is no specific treatment. Aspirin should be avoided, as it increases the risk of haemorrhaging. There is no vaccine against dengue fever), Giardiasis (This travellers favourite is caused by a parasite, Giardia lamblia, which you acquire by ingesting food or water contaminated by the hardy cysts of the parasite. Giardia can also infect animals, and may be found in streams and other water sources in rural areas, especially on trekking routes. The illness usually appears about a week after you have been exposed to the parasite, but it can appear several weeks after. It may cause a short-lived episode of typical 'travellers diarrhoea', but it can cause persistent diarrhoea. You often notice weight loss with giardiasis, as it can prevent food from being absorbed properly in the upper part of your gut. Giardiasis can start quite suddenly, with explosive, watery diarrhoea, without blood. More often you get loose, bulky, foul-smelling faeces that are hard to flush away (assuming you have the luxury of flushing, of course), with lots of gas, bloating, stomach gurgling and cramps. You can sometimes get a mild fever and often feel nauseated, with little or no appetite, 'indigestion' (heartburn) and rotten-egg burps. Although all these symptoms commonly occur in giardiasis, note that they are nonspecific symptoms and can occur in other types of diarrhoea too – eg you can't assume you've got giardiasis just because you've got rotten-egg burps. You should ideally have a laboratory test to diagnose your illness before starting a course of antibiotics, but if you are in a remote area away from medical help, you could take either metronidazole (250mg three times daily for five to 10 days) OR tinidazole (2g single dose -tinidazole is not currently available in the USA)), hepatitis (Several different viruses cause hepatitis; they differ in the way that they are transmitted. The symptoms in all forms of the illness include fever, chills, headache, fatigue, feelings of weakness and aches and pains, followed by loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, light-coloured faeces, jaundiced (yellow) skin and yellowing of the whites of the eyes. Hepatitis A is transmitted by contaminated food and drinking water. Seek medical advice, but there is not much you can do apart from resting, drinking lots of fluids, eating lightly and avoiding fatty foods. Hepatitis E is transmitted in the same way as hepatitis A; it can be particularly serious in pregnant women. Hepatitis B is spread through contact with infected blood, blood products or body fluids, for example through sexual contact, unsterilised needles (and shaving equipment) and blood transfusions, or contact with blood via small breaks in the skin. The symptoms of hepatitis B may be more severe than type A and the disease can lead to long-term problems such as chronic liver damage, liver cancer or a long-term carrier state. Hepatitis C and D are spread in the same way as hepatitis B and can also lead to long-term complications. There are vaccines against hepatitis A and B, but there are currently no vaccines against the other types. Following the basic rules about food and water (hepatitis A and E) and avoiding risk situations (hepatitis B, C and D) are important preventative measures), Japanese B encephalitis (This mosquito-transmitted viral infection of the brain is a risk only in rural, rice-growing areas, and is thought to be a very low risk for travellers. It can be fatal, however, and may cause permanent brain damage in those who recover. There is an effective vaccine, and you should take measures to avoid mosquito bites), malaria (If you are travelling in endemic areas it is extremely important to avoid mosquito bites and to take tablets to prevent this disease. Symptoms range from fever, chills and sweating, headache, diarrhoea and abdominal pains to a vague feeling of ill-health. Seek medical help immediately if malaria is suspected. Without treatment malaria can rapidly become more serious and can be fatal. If medical care is not available, malaria tablets can be used for treatment. You should seek medical advice, before you travel, on the right medication and dosage for you. If you do contract malaria, be sure to be re-tested for malaria once you return home as you can harbour malaria parasites in your body even if you are symptom free. Travellers are advised to prevent mosquito bites at all times. The main messages are: wear light-coloured clothing; wear long trousers and long-sleeved shirts; use mosquito repellents containing the compound DEET on exposed areas (prolonged overuse of DEET may be harmful, especially to children, but its use is considered preferable to being bitten by disease-transmitting mosquitoes); avoid perfumes and aftershave; use a mosquito net impregnated with mosquito repellent (permethrin) – it may be worth taking your own, and impregnating clothes with permethrin effectively deters mosquitoes and other insects), rabies (This is a fatal viral infection. Many animals can be infected (such as dogs, cats, bats and monkeys) and it's their saliva that is infectious. Any bite, scratch or even lick from a warm-blooded, furry animal should be cleaned immediately and thoroughly. Scrub with soap and running water, and then apply alcohol or iodine solution. Medical help should be sought promptly to receive a course of injections to prevent the onset of symptoms and death), typhoid (Also known as enteric fever, Typhoid is transmitted via food and water, and symptomless carriers, especially when they're working as food handlers, are an important source of infection. Typhoid is caused by a type of salmonella bacteria, Salmonella typhi. Paratyphoid is a similar but milder disease. The symptoms are variable, but you almost always get a fever and headache to start with, which initially feels very similar to flu, with aches and pains, loss of appetite and general malaise. Typhoid may be confused with malaria. The fever gradually rises during a week. Characteristically your pulse is relatively slow for someone with a fever. Other symptoms you may have are constipation or diarrhoea and stomach pains. You may feel worse in the second week, with a constant fever and sometimes a red skin rash. Other symptoms you may have are severe headache, sore throat and jaundice. Serious complications occur in about one in 10 cases, including, most commonly, damage to the gut wall with subsequent leakage of the gut contents into the abdominal cavity. Seek medical help for any fever (38?C and higher) that does not improve after 48 hours. Typhoid is a serious disease and is not something you should consider self-treating. Re-hydration therapy is important if diarrhoea has been a feature of the illness, but antibiotics are the mainstay of treatment)
Time Zone: GMT/UTC +7 (Sumatra, Java and West & Central Kalimantan), GMT/UTC +8 (Bali, Nusa Tenggara, South & East Kalimantan and Sulawesi), GMT/UTC +9 (Papua and Maluku)
Dialling Code: 62
Electricity: 127/230V ,50Hz
Weights & measures: Metric
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Bali is so picturesque that you could be fooled into thinking it was a painted backdrop: rice paddies trip down hillsides like giant steps, volcanoes soar through the clouds, the forests are lush and tropical, and the beaches are lapped by the warm waters of the Indian Ocean.
The 2002 Kuta bombing marred Bali's tropical loveland image, and for a time the island, heavily dependent on tourism, fell into decline. These days it's undergoing a cautious revival with travellers reimmersing themselves in the sublime beach and village life and the aura of the magnificent temples.
The most developed island in the Indonesian archipelago, Java exhibits all the characteristics of an Asian society experiencing rapid transition: great wealth and equal squalor; beautiful open country and filthy cities; tranquil rural scenes and streets choked with traffic.
The Hindu-Buddhist empires reached their zenith on Java, producing architectural wonders such as Borobudur and Prambanan. Islam, following on after this, absorbed rather than erased local cultures, leaving Java with a mish-mash of historic influences and religions.
Less developed than Bali, Lombok has better beaches, a bigger volcano and a greater variety of landscapes. Thanks to low key tourism, many Lombokians are less blasé about tourists than the neighbouring Balinese so you should have no trouble finding your very own private paradise.
Sumatra is as tropical as it gets. With its Amazon-like rivers moving sluggishly through canopies of natural rainforests, muddy mangrove estuaries, steamy interiors, brilliantly gaudy flora and weird and wonderful fauna, Sumatra is a place and a half for a boat trip.
Despite its wealth of natural resources, Sumatra is struggling with a failing economy. The northern province of Aceh is at the epicentre of separatist violence and the area has been hit by devastating earthquakes.
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