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Indonesia: dangerously beautiful

Indonesia Roundup_1

If we only believe the sensationalism of Fox News, CNN America and other media outlets, Indonesia is the kind of country a lot of people might want to avoid. Historically, it has made world headlines for all the wrong reasons – plane crashes, violent protests, terrorist bombings and large-scale natural disasters.

But I can tell you that Indonesia is dangerous only for those who are totally risk-averse; those who do not want to board a plane for fear it will crash, or speak to any stranger on the assumption that they have suspicious motives. Indonesia is fatal to those without a sense of humour, those who have little patience, and those afraid of people different from themselves.

As mindful travellers, we do not have to fear the tectonic plates grinding against each other far beneath our feet. These same natural forces have shaped Indonesia and given its islands their awe-inspiring scenery. When they erupt from time to time, the 120-odd active volcanoes bring disruption to daily life, but they continue to bless this nation with fertile soils that sustain immense numbers of people.

Today – August 17, 2015 – marks 70 years since Indonesia’s proclamation of independence after World War II. I feel honoured to celebrate this day in the very country I love the most. I love how Indonesia has welcomed me with open arms and taken me as one of its own. I love the way this nation gathers influences from India, China, Arabia, even Europe, and absorbs them into the indigenous cultures. That eclecticism is reflected in the regional cuisines, languages, traditions and belief systems.

For me, the most dangerous aspect of Indonesia is its sheer beauty. My passport is filled with stamps and visas from Indonesia because I keep coming back for more. I come for the cultural and linguistic diversity; the smoking volcanoes that pierce the clouds; the pure white and pink-sand beaches; the richness of its reefs and marine life; and last but not least, Indonesia’s warm-hearted people.

In this post, I want to share 24 photos that show a glimpse of the Indonesia I know and love. Most are from my previous travels but a fair number were taken on this current trip. If you haven’t already been, I hope that someday you too will experience these wonders firsthand.

Indonesia Roundup_2

Sunrise at the monumental Buddhist temple of Borobudur, Central Java

Indonesia Roundup_3

The volcanoes of Mt Bromo (smoking), Batok (front) and Semeru (back), East Java

Indonesia Roundup_4

Barong dancers at Batubulan, Bali

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Spices used in the local dish ‘mangut’, Semarang, Central Java

Indonesia Roundup_6

Home-cooked ‘tahu campur’ – tofu in spiced peanut sauce, Semarang, Central Java

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A tranquil scene outside Ubud, Bali

Indonesia Roundup_8

The 1,200-year-old temple of Candi Sewu, Central Java

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Baiturrahman Grand Mosque, Banda Aceh, Aceh

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The wooden church at Sikka Natar, Flores, East Nusa Tenggara

Indonesia Roundup_11

Local schoolchildren strike a pose at Lake Toba, North Sumatra

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Taman Ujung, a water palace in Karangasem, Bali

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Traditional village, Sumba, East Nusa Tenggara

Indonesia Roundup_14

A Toba Batak house in Samosir, North Sumatra

Indonesia Roundup_15

Spider web rice fields, Flores, East Nusa Tenggara

Indonesia Roundup_16

Sunrise from the summit of Mt Rinjani, Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara

Indonesia Roundup_17

Pantai Tangsi or ‘Pink Beach’, Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara

Indonesia Roundup_18

Cruising to Komodo National Park, Flores, East Nusa Tenggara

Indonesia Roundup_19

A Komodo dragon on Rinca, Flores, East Nusa Tenggara

Indonesia Roundup_20

The unspoilt beach at Nihiwatu, Sumba, East Nusa Tenggara

Indonesia Roundup_21

Sunset from a crater rim campsite on Mt Rinjani, Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara

Indonesia Roundup_22

The fiery climax of the Kecak dance at Uluwatu, Bali

Indonesia Roundup_23

Traditional dancer at Ubud Palace, Bali

Indonesia Roundup_24

Friday night revellers in Alun-alun Kidul, Yogyakarta

87 Comments Post a comment
  1. Fabulous photos James. I hope we get to Indonesia again.It looks wonderful. One day I’d like to explore more than Bali.

    August 17, 2015
    • Thank you Alison. I’m sure you and Don will return sometime soon – there are so many places out here that you will both love. Just the other day I spotted a travelling couple with shaved heads at a wooden palace… I couldn’t help saying aloud, “that’s just like Alison and Don!”

      August 18, 2015
  2. WOW, James. Just spectacular photos. I loved the food pics. And the water palace. The VW…good pic but…huh??? My photos of the other islands are all in 35mm slides! And I can’t find a place that will make them digital! Guess I’ll have to return and take those shots all over again.

    August 17, 2015
    • I could have made this entire post about the food, but then I was going after a bit more variety! My former boss at work has the same problem – he took so many trips to Indonesia beginning in ’93 but only his most recent pictures are digital. It sounds like an extended trip to the outer islands is what you need!

      August 18, 2015
      • Food is good.
        And… so…outer islands here I come.

        August 18, 2015
  3. James, a beautiful tribute to the diversity (in all it’s forms) of a beguiling country and it’s warm-hearted people. Your choice in the selection of photographs is wonderfully fitting to the subjects. I’ve visited some of the places you mention, and these images bring back more than the memories … Evoke the sense of place, it’s fragrance, the dynamic energy, thronging people, their energy, dance.. celebration. Reading this post has really made my day 🙂

    August 17, 2015
    • What a wonderful comment Liz, thank you! I am happy the photos evoked so much of your own Indonesian experience. 🙂 I do not have many decent images (if any) of the country’s underwater wonders, or its endemic wildlife. Looks like I will have to invest in a telephoto lens further down the road!

      August 18, 2015
  4. Stunning photos. I have 2 Indonesian cousins. I should visit the island they are from one day.

    August 17, 2015
    • By all means yes, do pay that island a visit if you can!

      August 18, 2015
  5. Class photos, will hopefully get back to explore Indonesia again soon. Beautiful place!

    August 17, 2015
    • It is mind-boggling how beautiful and diverse Indonesia really is – and the size of the country means you could go 20 times and see completely different places!

      August 18, 2015
  6. Really great photos

    August 17, 2015
    • Thank you – I hope you can plan a trip there in the future!

      August 18, 2015
  7. Thanks to you, Indonesia had already moved way up my travel wish list. These words and photos just reinforce that! What do you think are the best times of year to visit? And what’s your destination advice for a first-time visitor?

    August 17, 2015
    • That’s great to hear, Lex! July and August are peak times for local and international travellers, but for some of the main islands (Java, Bali, Lombok etc.) those months are generally the best time of year as it’s dry season. However the weather in September and October is still good and places are less crowded.

      For destinations it really depends what you are into – if you want more nature, for instance mountain treks, national parks or snorkelling/diving, each major island has its charms. Java has a chain of volcanoes you can climb, but you can also do the same in Bali and Lombok. For ancient monuments Java is king. I am a big fan of stone temples and you’ll find many large and small ones around the cultural centre of Yogyakarta.

      Most people generally go to Java, Bali and Lombok on their first trip and with good reason. These three islands are the most accessible (i.e. decent infrastructure), though you should definitely try and visit an ‘outer island’ if you can! Flores is one of my favourites for the spectacular scenery and tribal cultures… plus you also get to see Komodo dragons and snorkel the coral reefs. Hope this helps!

      August 18, 2015
      • This is amazing – thank you! I remember Flores because your posts on that island were the first I read on your blog; they (and many subsequent posts!) were what drew me to follow you and what got me interested in Indonesia in general. I teach at a university so maybe next summer would be a good time … I’m going to start looking into it!

        August 19, 2015
      • You’re welcome, Lex! Good luck with the research and feel free to drop me a message if you need any further info.

        August 22, 2015
  8. Beautiful photos and a beautiful tribute.

    August 17, 2015
    • Glad you enjoyed this post!

      August 18, 2015
  9. Beautiful pictures. Thank you for sharing. I definitely wanted to visit Bali but I guess this post inspires me to explore more ☺

    August 17, 2015
    • Bali is the most famous island, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg!

      August 18, 2015
  10. Thanks for share these beautiful photos of Indonesia James.

    As an Indonesian sometimes I feel so ashamed because you know Indonesia better than us. But, it is a reminder for us as well to know and love our own country. Keep explore, enjoy and share the diversity and the beauty of Indonesia James. You’re always welcome here 🙂

    August 17, 2015
    • Sama-sama, Bart. There’s no need for you to feel ashamed – no one knows Indonesia better than its local people and I am constantly learning new things on my travels here. Makasih banyak for the kind words. 🙂

      August 18, 2015
  11. Thank you for sharing this with us. To me, some of these are memories, others just reminders of the beauty and greatness I missed out on in my 6 1/2 weeks in Indonesia. You’ve captured an immense range of this glorious country.

    August 17, 2015
    • You’re welcome, Darcy. I wish I had 6 1/2 weeks to travel around Indonesia the first time! A lot of these pictures were taken on short one- or two-week trips… though I am very lucky to be based just 4 hours away in Hong Kong.

      August 18, 2015
  12. I love the photos, they are beautiful. I am sure they don’t to the real scenery justice though 🙂 makes me excited for my trip to Indonesia this year

    August 17, 2015
    • I agree – there is nothing like being there in person and seeing the real thing. 🙂 Good luck with the preparations for your upcoming trip to Indonesia! I’m sure you will love your time there.

      August 18, 2015
  13. Totally agree. Loved your photos. They brought back great memories for me. I found Indonesia the second most friendliest country I’ve ever visited, especially on the two trips I did with my daughter. She caught everyone’s curiosity!

    August 17, 2015
    • Indonesians sure are a curious people – I have gotten so many questions (including personal ones) from the locals. Were you and your daughter asked to have your picture taken many times? And what was the friendliest country you’ve ever visited?

      August 18, 2015
      • No, they didn’t ask to have their photo taken with us because my visits were before cellphones. India was definitely the most friendly or maybe you’re right, the most curious!

        August 18, 2015
  14. Wow! Those pictures are amazing! We can’t wait to explore Indonesia!

    August 18, 2015
    • Indonesia is an incredible country – I don’t know how it gets only a fraction of the visitor numbers of nearby Malaysia and Thailand.

      August 18, 2015
  15. Beautiful photos, and great post. I am jealous that you went to Sumba and got to the summit of Rinjani! Those photos are excellent.

    I love Indonesia too. There is really no place like it. You have the jungle-clad volcanoes, the beaches, the varied culture, and it is HUGE! And as you say, the people are wonderful. It will always be near the top of the list of our favorite countries for sure.

    August 18, 2015
    • Thanks Jeff. Sumba was a last-minute work trip (the perks of working for a travel magazine!) but it was way too short. I could have stayed a week or two to see more and get a better idea of the island’s tribal culture. I’m definitely going back with Bama in tow!

      August 18, 2015
  16. Wow nice photos! I just back from sail komodo yesterday and went to some places of the pictures above

    August 18, 2015
    • Thanks! I wouldn’t mind going back to Komodo in the near future – I have many photos and fond memories from there.

      August 22, 2015
  17. Jamesss! I love your article as well as the photos!
    Would you mind to let me share this article? In my Facebook, I guess 😉

    August 18, 2015
    • Of course Wien! Feel free to share it on Facebook, Twitter, wherever you think is good. 🙂

      August 22, 2015
  18. Nice photos! It looks like a lot of fun.
    I’ve never been to the more tourist-attracting spots, but I loved it when I visited the remaining family living on the Maluku Islands. It was nice to see where my grandparents had lived before they had to move to the Netherlands when Indonesia declared independence. I hope to travel there again someday.

    August 19, 2015
    • Thanks! Indonesia is such a rich playground for the adventure-minded.
      Wow, it’s fascinating that you have some ancestral heritage in Maluku. I am currently in Ternate and I love the island – given its history and natural beauty, I don’t know why Ternate is still so off the beaten track.

      August 22, 2015
      • Yep hehe, I don’t have just some heritage, I am Moluccan (Ambonese in fact), albeit with Dutch citizenship. 😉
        I hope you’re having a wonderful time in Ternate, and sometimes being off the beaten track can be worth quite a bit! Have fun!

        August 22, 2015
      • Ah, sorry about that – I have heard a little about a Moluccan community in the Netherlands. 🙂 Ternate is fabulous; it is one of my favourite places in Indonesia. I’m looking forward to visiting Ambon sometime next month. Thanks for the well wishes!

        August 25, 2015
  19. Gorgeous James! I would love to go to Indonesia! I detest mainstream media so much for trying to create so much fear in the world. I agree that there is more badness to be done by never leaving your fear at home.

    August 19, 2015
    • Thank you, Nicole! Maybe it’s time to start planning – I know you would love Indonesia and its many volcano treks!

      August 22, 2015
  20. Reblogged this on Mignon Dunbar.

    August 19, 2015
    • Hi there, thanks for reblogging!

      August 22, 2015
  21. I love the way you frame this, so perfectly and accurate in saying that Indonesia’s greatest danger is in that is it so beautiful. People will go and get lost in the beauty and never want to return 🙂 Your photos certainly back up this thought! Great line of “Indonesia is fatal to those without a sense of humour, those who have little patience, and those afraid of people different from themselves.” It seems many great places that embrace life holds those words just as true.

    August 20, 2015
    • That’s just how I feel Randall – Indonesia leaves me wanting to stay forever. 🙂 I would love to find a job somewhere (maybe Jakarta) and live in the country long-term. Actually yes, you could say that line about China, India, many countries in Asia and Africa… where travel can be a challenge for those of us used to things running like clockwork.

      August 22, 2015
      • So true, sometimes I think when things do not run like clockwork life becomes more interesting 🙂

        August 25, 2015
  22. Hi James, I love the photos – they provide such a beautiful snapshot of the country and culture there! I’m heading to Indonesia for the first time later this year and you’ve got me super excited!!

    August 20, 2015
    • Thanks Amy! If you’re heading to Bali make sure you see more than just the south – you’ll find lots more of the culture in other parts of the island.

      August 22, 2015
  23. If I too wasn’t already in love with this country, this post would do it!! 🙂

    August 20, 2015
    • I wonder if I will feel the same when I get to India – it seems like Indonesia’s long-lost counterpart in more ways than one! 🙂

      August 22, 2015
      • I have a funny feeling you may… however while I find Indonesia a kinder gentler version… that may mean you may find India… hmm… just saying’ 😉

        August 23, 2015
      • Ha, I’ve heard similar accounts from Indonesians who have been to India. Thanks for the heads-up! 😉

        August 25, 2015
  24. Reblogged this on Adrian's Journal and commented:

    August 20, 2015
    • Glad you enjoyed this, Adrian – makasih for reblogging!

      August 22, 2015
      • very welcome…I should say thanks to you for writing my country on your blog 😀 keep on writing

        August 24, 2015
  25. Hi James! I’m from Indonesia and I’m currently saving to travel every corner of this wonderful country. Thank you for writing this blog, I find it very heartwarming.

    August 21, 2015
    • Sama-sama Tania! Given my frequent trips to Indonesia (I usually come two or three times a year), I think this post was long overdue. Makasih juga for sharing it on your own blog. 🙂

      August 22, 2015
  26. Good work man! Thanks for visiting my country

    August 21, 2015
    • You’re more than welcome! I would love to live in Indonesia full-time instead of coming for short trips.

      August 22, 2015
  27. I hope one day you have time to explore the very west area of Indonesia like Aceh.. The beauty of this region is still unexplored. So many beautiful thing, diversity of local food, ocean and warmth people you meet there.

    August 23, 2015
    • Funny you mention the far west… I was just there earlier this month, in Banda Aceh and Sabang. Aceh does the best mie goreng I’ve tasted so far, and I also loved the kari kambing. It’s definitely a province I will go back to in the future.

      August 25, 2015
      • Oh great thing.. yes, mie Aceh is a remarkable thing from Aceh.. along west coast of Aceh will offer you its beauty..

        September 4, 2015
  28. That dragon is HUGE! The pink beach looks like where I’d get ‘accidentally’ trapped

    August 24, 2015
    • Oh yes, those dragons have been known to kill people in the past! I tried not to get too close. The beach is still my favourite one in the world – I haven’t been able to find another quite like it.

      August 25, 2015
  29. I cant agree more on beauty of Indonesia. Even after two long trips to Indonesia, I dont seem to get enough. be it Mt Bromo or Mt Rinjani, place is definitely out of the world and worth exploring. Glad you shared the details.

    August 25, 2015
    • You nailed it right there – I too cannot get enough of Indonesia, even after many short trips (and a long one right now). How lucky you are to be based in Singapore!

      August 25, 2015
      • Yeah being based in Singapore provides geological advantage to me. All SE countries are 1-2 hours away from me 🙂

        August 26, 2015
  30. Hi there, those mountains are amazing, thanks for sharing the natural scenery in Indonesia.
    Travel Link Worldwide

    August 27, 2015
    • You’re welcome – thanks for dropping by.

      August 31, 2015
  31. I am Indonesian…… Thank you for the nice photo…

    August 30, 2015
    • Sama-sama! There are still plenty more photos to come. 🙂

      August 31, 2015
  32. Amazing and breathtaking picutres. I will add to my ever growing bucket list. Thanks! 🙂 Thumbs up from me.

    September 9, 2015
    • Glad you enjoyed this – thanks in turn for the comment and thumbs up. 🙂

      September 17, 2015
  33. Reblogged this on SNAPS and commented:
    Proud to be Indonesian #indopride
    Shame I haven’t explore my own hometown as much as this guy had.

    November 3, 2015
  34. Reblogged this on Go. See. Write..

    November 4, 2015
  35. I love this post! Indonesia is truly a wonder.

    August 3, 2022
    • Thanks! Fingers crossed you’ll get the chance to visit in the not too distant future.

      August 3, 2022

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

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