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Posts from the ‘Indonesia’ Category

Flores: It Takes a Village

One thing I relish about travel is the fact that it turns our daily routines upside down; it jolts us out of our comfort zones and tends to flout the unwritten rules we live by. I realize this one bright Monday morning in Kampung Melo, a small mountain village on the Indonesian island of Flores. It turns out that any visit here must involve a welcome drink of sopi – a clear, colorless spirit distilled from the sap of the areng palm – in a shaded pavilion beside a small field. “If you don’t drink alcohol,” a spokesman says to our group, “just touch the glass.” Read more

Sleeping Dragons and a Stirring Town

Five years ago this June, Bama and I embarked on an unforgettable week-long adventure across the island of Flores. It remains one of my favorite corners of Indonesia not just for its astonishing natural beauty. Here, in a predominantly Muslim nation, the Catholic faith brought by Portuguese missionaries mingled with tribal traditions; the rugged landscape held megalithic villages that seemed nearly as old as time itself, perfectly formed volcanoes, and superb coffee made with local arabica beans grown in the mist-laden highlands. At the end of our journey lay Labuan Bajo, a sleepy fishing village turned tourism boomtown, where a glorious sunset bode well for an overnight cruise around the UNESCO-listed reefs and islands of Komodo National Park. Read more

Surviving Jakarta

At a recent dinner inside a five-star hotel fronting Jakarta’s most-photographed roundabout, hosted by a visiting uncle, an Emirati diplomat based in Hong Kong recounted her experience of a weekend traffic jam from a beauty parlor down south. “On the way here, the driver told me it would be another 15 minutes but it was really 45. I wanted to hang myself!” she half-jokingly declared. “How do you even live here?” Read more

An Afternoon at Ancol

Jakarta is not a beautiful place. Not, at least, in the conventional sense. No decent travel publication would describe this gridlocked, teeming megalopolis of 10 million people – or 28 million if you include the surrounding suburbs and smaller cities – as “picturesque”, “stunning”, or “postcard-perfect”. Unlucky commuters associate the Indonesian capital with unbearable, hours-long traffic jams; civil engineers proclaim it the fastest-sinking city on the planet; and environmentalists warn of Jakarta’s worsening air and plastic pollution. In short, it is not the kind of place most people would fly halfway around the world to see. Read more

Banjarmasin: Life on the River in Borneo

It came without warning. Barely a minute earlier, Bama and I had been puttering down a narrow waterway lined with ramshackle wooden houses, softly lit by the full moon as it peeked through a wispy layer of cloud. But here was a vast expanse of water that seemingly merged into the darkness of the pre-dawn sky. At once I felt infinitesimally small; the absence of lights on the opposite bank exaggerated its distance, and our boat was now dwarfed by an oil tanker and hulking flat-bottomed barges laden with heaps of coal. I knew then that we’d arrived on the mighty Barito River. Read more

Jakarta’s Magnificent Reprise

The last time the Asian Games were hosted here in Jakarta, exactly 56 years ago, it left an indelible mark on the cityscape. A slew of landmarks and infrastructure developments owe their creation to the event: these include the iconic Welcome Monument (as shown in the photo above) and the Hotel Indonesia next door, which was the first modern five-star hotel in the nascent country and the official lodgings for dignitaries and sports leaders back in 1962. Read more

Penataran Temple: Stories in Stone

Indonesia might be a relatively young nation – both in the demographic sense and in the fact that the republic turns 73 this week – but its complex layers of history are hidden in plain sight. Brooding stone dwarapala door guardians half-kneel outside hotels and gleaming skyscrapers in downtown Jakarta; Javanese traditional dances and shadow puppetry recreate episodes from the Hindu epics; and the national language, Bahasa Indonesia, borrows a plethora of words from Dutch, Portuguese, Hokkien, Arabic, Persian, Tamil, and Sanskrit. All these point to a millennial tradition of absorbing foreign influences to create something unique to this part of the world. Read more

Blitar: In the Spirit of Sukarno

“Don’t forget it, don’t you ever forget it, child, that you are a son of the dawn.”

So said the Balinese mother of a precocious little boy who would eventually go on to become a founding father of Indonesia and its very first president. Born at half-past five in the morning on June 6, 1901, as the first glimmers of dawn lit up the sky over the port city of Surabaya, Sukarno ushered in a new era for a sprawling archipelago that had seen three centuries of exploitation and hardship under Dutch colonial rule. Read more

The Other Side of Bintan

Perhaps the thing that worried me most about Bintan – especially in the days just before I went on assignment – was the fact that I had no idea what my story was all about. Not that there wasn’t a general framework: I knew that I’d be going from the north to a newly-opened property on the southeast coast, and Iris and her crew at Bintan Resorts had planned a detailed itinerary of things to do and places to see. But would the island as a whole be interesting enough to fill out a print article of just over 2,000 words? And would I be able to find and talk to the right people? Read more

Island Idylls in Bintan

Until this February, I’d never given any serious thought to visiting the holiday island of Bintan in Indonesia’s Riau Archipelago. It took a solo work trip for me to eventually hop aboard a domestic flight from Jakarta, a journey that was slightly longer than the usual 55-minute ferry ride across the strait from Singapore. That hardworking city-state often looks to its larger neighbors for places to lepak, a word borrowed from Malay to describe the act of loitering around, to chill and do nothing. The broad perception among Singaporeans – and one that I also held until recently – is that Bintan is all about lepaking in beachside resorts; that it is purely geared toward weekenders looking to cocoon themselves in the smart hotels scattered along the island’s northern shore. How wrong I was. Read more