From the Philippines, it was simply a matter of order for the remaining countries in SE Asia – Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore. All of them were easily accessible so the decision was entirely up to us. Even though we have been flying through Singapore as a layover, we figured we’d pair that with Malaysia, as a brief visit, since they’re connected over land. Ultimately, we chose Indonesia before Malaysia and Singapore for two reasons. First, there were cheap flights from Manila to Jakarta. Second, Malaysia and Singapore had better connections to wherever we may go to afterwards.
In a general sense, I’d like to think that I’m more worldly than your average person, but I knew surprisingly little about Indonesia coming in. For example, I was shocked to find out that Indonesia is the fourth most populous country in the world (that means only after China, India, and USA)! So much for the smaller countries that I thought made up SE Asia. However, for once, I enjoyed being misinformed and wrong. It meant that there was still so much about the world that I don’t know about, to find out about. Even after almost a whole year spent in the region, it’s still catching me off guard and surprising me. Just goes to show that traveling truly never gets old.
Manila to Jakarta via Singapore
It was a long travel day. Our last days in the Philippines were spent in El Nido in Palawan island, so exiting the country began with getting back to Manila first. The day before, we made our way back to Puerto Princesa, from where where we caught a flight back to Manila. We made sure to catch one early in the morning, as delays are pretty common for domestic flights within the Philippines, and we couldn’t afford to miss our flight to Jakarta.
Most of the day we spent in NAIA (Manila airport) waiting for our flight to Singapore at night. Unfortunately, we were in Terminal 1, or time would have passed much faster in the mall in Terminal 3. Once again, we flew Tiger Airways with a long layover in Singapore. While not ideal travel plans, the prices were just hard to beat – half the price of other airlines. Most of the night we spent in Changi airport waiting for our flight to Jakarta in the morning.
It was a long night, but we at least got free vouchers for food. We couldn’t have asked for a better airport for a layover, as long as it was; there was wifi, all the amenities, 24-hour restaurants and shops, and chairs to lie down in. I shuddered to think about doing something like this elsewhere… say the Kathmandu airport (ugh). Most of the night and the subsequent flight to Jakarta passed by in a tired and sleepy blur. All we could think about was just focusing on getting to our hotel in Jakarta and passing out.
Visa On Arrival and Entering Indonesia
It has been a while since we had to get visas on arrival (last one was Nepal). For USD 35 per person, both Carlos and I received a pretty sticker in our passports for a 30-day stay. There were no forms or anything, just handed over passports and money. We all know VOA schemes are essentially money-grabbing schemes, so at least in this case, they didn’t also waste trees or our time on papers that everyone knows gets completely ignored. The only downside was that change was given in Indonesian Rupiahs instead of US dollars at a bad conversion rate, so better to bring exact change!
Soekarno-Hatta International Airport (SHIA) was modern and we got out with everything efficiently enough. SIM card sellers in the airport were total ripoffs, though, so we wisely waited until a local mart in the city later on (Indomaret, Alfamart, or 7/11) to buy the same thing for a fraction of the price. Outside, there were pretty gardens with flowers reminiscent of Colombo airport in Sri Lanka and Javanese-style pavilions. I’m going to miss these pretty, outdoor airport gardens, instead of the crowded concrete airports in North America. As usual, we ignored all taxi touts and walked to the end of the terminal where buses leave for central Jakarta. We caught an hour-long AC bus to Gambir station, from where we took a short cab ride to our hotel nearby.
First Impressions of Indonesia
- Indonesia is huge! With over 17,000 islands, the country spans more than 5,000km from east to west, and over 2,000km north to south. We knew before we even began exploring Indonesia that we would need to come back because there’s no way we will cover even close to all of it. It felt like the giant that was India, except even more challenging because everything is split into islands instead of one continental landmass. Let’s just say that Indonesia gives new meaning to archipelago and island-hopping.
- Fun fact: Indonesia marked our first venture into the southern hemisphere during this trip!
- On the one hand, parts of Indonesia are some of the most developed and modernized in SE Asia. Jakarta has all the indications of a polluted, urban jungle, while Bali is a wildly popular tourist destination. With more than 250 million people, Indonesia has densely populated regions on the world’s most populous island of Java. On the other hand, Indonesia is also home to large areas of completely untouched wilderness. Out of more than 17,000 island, over 10,000 are uninhabited and support a great deal of biodiversity. Throughout history, the archipelago has always been known for a vast source of untapped natural resources. It’s one of the country’s ultimate dichotomies.
- Indonesia is predominantly Muslim, though the island of Bali is Hindu. Besides the Maldives where locals were sparse, this was our first close contact to a large Muslim population during this trip. We had the special privilege of being here during the month of Ramadan, which was a great cultural experience. It also helped our budget that many hotels and restaurants offered Ramadan specials that were a steal!
- Being such a large and highly-populated nation, it’s no surprise that Indonesia has some 300 ethnic group that speak more than 700 languages and dialects and practice a variety of religions. The national motto of “Unity in Diversity” reminded me a little bit of Canada. I think there’s something special about a group of people with different cultural backgrounds being able to peacefully coexist, while sharing in a national identity of being one amidst all the dissimilarities. While not always ideal in practice, the idea of multiculturalism is something I think the world as a whole should strive for.
Given how it has already surprised us, humbled us, and ensured our return in the future before we have even fully stepped into and sunk our teeth into this new country, clearly Indonesia will be unforgettable.