Indonesia’s 74th Independence Day: Indonesia Beyond Bali, Where to Go and What to See Around the Country

As an Indonesian blogger who mainly writes about travel, I often encountered fellow travel bloggers who would list Bali among the name of countries in Southeast Asia like Malaysia or Singapore. That, my friends, has become my own pet peeve ever since.

Like, seriously… There were times when I feel like I want to question them whether they even notice the name of the country as a whole, and not just Bali.

So, it’s the 17th of August and for those of you who don’t know… It’s the independence day of Indonesia. The 74th as we declared our independence in 1945.

And for today’s post, I’ve teamed up with some fellow bloggers who knew better than THAT, we’re gonna talk about the places that are worth visiting in Indonesia. The places that are NOT just Bali. The places that would show you the diversity in the country, more than just a tiny island called Bali. 😉

Indonesia's 74th Independence Day: Indonesia Beyond Bali, Where to Go and What to See Around the Country

Indonesia: Home to Hundreds and Thousands of Many Other Things

If you’re the kind of person who would list Bali in the country category, I hope you’d do better than that after reading this.

FYI, Indonesia is the world’s archipelago country, with more than 17,000 islands in a total of 34 provinces. Bali is just a tiny island located in the central part of Indonesia, although thanks to their tourism board as well as both domestic and international travelers that make the province more popular than the country itself.

However, when you talk about the country in general… There’s so much more than that. It’s not without a reason that our national logo goes “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika” as in unity in diversity. We’re a country full of so many things. Cultures, ethnics, religions, and even races… We’re the home for so many different things.

So, for our 74th independence day, I decided to compile the list of places you could visit here other than Bali. The series will be split into two, in which the other one will be published next week. So, stay tuned and enjoy! 🙂

Indonesia Beyond Bali

Please note that since our country is so big, the list of recommendations is really just a small part of Indonesia. So many other things that are worth seeing but didn’t make up the list, so if you know one and want to recommend… Do not hesitate to drop us a comment and add the place that you’d like to add! 😉


1. Mount Sibayak, North Sumatra

As recommended by Hanna of SolarPoweredBlonde

 

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Mount Sibayak is a dormant volcano in northern Sumatra in Indonesia, close to a town called Berastagi. It is possible to climb Mount Sibayak without a guide, but we had a lovely guide who came with us from the hotel we were staying at in Berastagi and I would definitely recommend going with a guide.

The path is fairly easy on the way up but gets harder as you go back down. We left while it was still dark, with torches, in order to see the sunrise while on top of the volcano at the crater.

It takes about 3 hours to climb the volcano, so take some snacks and plenty of drinks. There is another trail that starts at the hot springs down below, however this is much steeper and harder to climb, much easier to go this way on the way back down.

Although the walk up is a bit of a smelly one, with many steam vents along the way that smell of rotten eggs, the views from the top are great and well worth the hike up! From the top, you can also see Mount Sinabung in the distance.


2. Bukit Lawang, North Sumatra

As recommended by Shimona of Sidecar Photo.

 

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We visited Bukit Lawang in May 2019. It’s a small village that’s a UNESCO World Heritage site and a great place to see orangutans in the wild. In the 70s, it was a rehabilitation center for orangutans, who were reintegrated back into the wild. The rehab center shut down eventually but the orangutans continue to live in the surrounding jungle.

We took an overnight jungle trek that was a tough trek but a wonderful experience. To our good fortune, we saw several orangutans, the mohawk-sporting Thomas leaf monkey and the stunning rhinoceros hornbill, as well as other more common birds and monkeys.

We slept on the banks of the Bohorok river, and in the morning, rafted on huge inner tubes back to the village. The rafting was quite exciting and a wonderful feeling getting splashed under the warm sun.

The village of Bukit Lawang is quite small but full of kids who are friendly and chatty. A fun way to spend the evening is to watch them all play at the riverside, tossing their friends into the water. You can jump in for a cool swim as well.

If you’ve got the time and are feeling crafty, you can make your own souvenirs by learning the art of coconut shell carving or bamboo weaving.

While one wouldn’t describe the town as happening, we found our time in Bukit Lawang very relaxing and rejuvenating.


3. Belitung, Bangka-Belitung Islands

As recommended by Jub of Tiki Touring Kiwi.

 

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Belitung is a 4800 sq. km island between Java and Singapore, specifically off the east coast of South Sumatra. This island is well off the beaten track, with the first international flights coming in from Singapore beginning in late-2018. If you’re flying domestically, the best bet is to come via Jakarta.

You’ll get a feeling of the hospitality on the island right away with the free bus taking your from the airport to your accommodation (assuming you’ll spend your first night in Tanjung Pandan), just leave a small tip with the driver.

If you’re overwhelmed with the traffic of Southeast Asia, Belitung will be a nice break with traffic jams all but non-existent with the population sparse. That said, public transit is limited which means if you don’t hire a car/scooter, you’ll need to book a tour to take you to the attractions (drivers can be hired for a day rate too).

The island hopping (departing Tanjung Kelayang Beach) is the main attraction on Belitung, with the Lengkuas Island Lighthouse the focal point of any island hopping tour. The amazing part is, you can book a tour (by asking the locals on the beach the day before) and the price is fixed regardless of how many of you. This is great for solo travelers (like myself), I got a private boat tour which didn’t cost an arm and a leg.

You can explore all over the island, with many natural attractions. One place to visit is Danau Kaolin, a former mining site. What remains are nearly pure white sands and beautiful blue waters. Best visited at sunset, this is a great place for photography. And the prices in Belitung are great!

When it comes to islands that aren’t relying on tourism, the prices can be at a premium. That’s not the case, with accommodation and food prices generally comparable with popular Indonesian destinations.


4. Jakarta, the Special Capital Region of Jakarta

As recommended by Kenny of Knycx Journeying.

 

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Jakarta is the capital city of Indonesia with over 10 million inhabitants. One thing that I remember the most about Jakarta is traffic congestion. Getting around Jakarta was always problematic. Finally, the Jakarta Mass Rapid transit, or Jakarta MRT, began to operate since March 2019. The metro consists of 13 stations that alleviate the congestion of the city center and makes travel in Jakarta so much easier.

One of the most notable landmarks, the National Monument is about a 20-minute walk away from the Bundaran HI station. Standing at 132 meters, the National Monument is situated in the center of Merdeka Square, commemorates the fight and spirit of the establishment of the Republic of Indonesia. The top of the monument is an observation deck, where you could enjoy a panoramic view of Jakarta’s skyline. Merdeka Square is considered one of the largest squares in the world, it is a relaxing escape for the locals, and visitors, away from the hustle-bustle, and scorching heat in summer.

What I like about Jakarta is the city is filled with modern shopping malls, interspersed with exciting shopping, fine dining, spa, cafes and sky bars. Go shopping in one for the malls that includes uniquely designed local handicrafts and international fashion brands, enjoy a relaxing massage in a spa parlor, and then venture to some authentic Indonesian cuisine before having a drink in a rooftop bar. You will be surprised that many of the spa services of fine-dining are in high quality but considerably cheaper as compared to other travel destinations in Southeast Asia.


5. Bandung, West Java

As recommended by me.

 

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I’m a little biased as it’s my own hometown, but to be fair… I’d strongly recommend Bandung for either city dwellers or nature lovers.

The capital city of West Java province, Bandung is located around 150 km from Jakarta. It offers some big city vibes with so many shopping malls and factory outlets around the city. In fact, with some international flights available from Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, the city has become the hub for way too many shopaholics from both Malaysia and Singapore.

Dubbed as “Parijs van Java“, the city has become the fashion capital in Java. But other than that, Bandung also has some natural attractions that should not be missed if you ever find yourself here. You could get to Tangkuban Perahu, the stratovolcanic that had recently erupted last month, for only around 45 minutes from the city center.

If you’re the kind of traveler who would like to spend your vacation relaxing around tea plantation, you can also pick either Lembang in the north or Pangalengan and Ciwidey in the south for camping or glamping. And don’t forget that it’s also the home of Stone Garden Geopark, the ancient seamount where so many fossils of ancient coral were found.

If you’re into history, Bandung was also once the capital city of Asia and Africa where the Asian-African Conference was held in 1955.


6. Borobudur Temple, Central Java

As recommended by Leanne of The Globetrotter GP.

 

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Borobudur is one highlight that you definitely shouldn’t miss off your Indonesia itinerary. This ancient 9th-century Mahayana Buddhist temple is now a UNESCO world heritage site that draws visitors from all over the world.

The ancient temple is well preserved having survived, wars, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions and is the largest Buddhist temple in the world.

The 72 stupas and buddhas overlooking the rice paddies, jungles and mountains make the perfect setting for beautiful sunrise photos. Aim to get there an hour or so before the sunrises for the best photos without the crowds. With any luck, you’ll get to see it shrouded in mist.

The closest airport is in Yogyakarta and you can arrange your own driver to Borobudur or take a guided tour. Many people combine it with a trip to Prambanan. Remember to dress conservatively making sure your shoulders to knees are covered.


7. Yogyakarta, the Special Region of Yogyakarta

As recommended by Aaron of Aaron Gone Travelling.

 

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Yogyakarta, otherwise known as Jogja among the locals, is a touristy town among Indonesians themselves. It is the gateway to Borobudur – the world-renowned ancient monument that is considered as one of the seven wonders in the world. However, its beauty is well hidden from the world as travelers often distracted by Bali or Borobudur.

Yogyakarta is loaded with good reasons to stay for more than just a night. Previously a part of Mataram Sultanate, Yogyakarta was the center distinguished and sophisticated Hindu-Buddhist culture. Huge monuments were built during those 3 centuries and are very well preserved – including the famous Prambanan temple.

Indonesian foodies from other islands flock to the city because of the famous “Gudeg”, a traditional Yogyakartan dish featuring unripe jackfruit stew for hours with palm sugar and coconut milk. Besides, food in Yogyakarta is slightly milder on the palate as compared to other parts of Indonesia, which is fantastic news for those who can’t handle their spice!

It is also a bustling student city with more than 100 tertiary institutions. Street foods and night markets are everywhere so you will not run out of things to do! If you need more suggestions on the best things to do in Yogyakarta at night, check out this post!


8. Blitar, East Java

As recommended by Melanie of Passport Amigo.

 

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My recommendation is Blitar, East Java. It’s an absolute find. We saw few tourists there during our week-long stay so be prepared to be stopped (frequently) to have your photo taken or to be spoken to.

Blitar is a great wee city and is on the train line between Yogyakarta and Surabaya. The train station was opened in 1882 and is one of the oldest in eastern Java.

Blitar is mainly known as the place where the first president of Indonesia (Sukarno) was buried and there is a small museum there.

The locals are unbelievably friendly and it is a photographers dream as nearly everyone we saw was happy to be in a photo and color is everywhere.

I suggest you get up and out early, before the heat sets in, the markets and street traders are busy from around sunrise. Just get walking with your camera and you’ll see all sorts of colors and people and workers. I lost count of the number of homes we were invited into, it really is a great place to get to meet locals.

I recommend you splash out and stay in the Tugu Hotel which – probably due to the slightly off the beaten path location – is much cheaper than it’s sister hotels.

I also recommend the Tugu in Malang – it’s fantastic – and it’s actually the reason we ended up going to Blitar as we wanted to experience the hotel again, but cheaper! Beautiful hotels that are the perfect place to relax, especially after a long flight or long day’s travel.

There is a nightly food market and street food is fantastic and unbelievably good value. Blitar is a place that’s definitely worth a few nights, or much longer.


9. Mount Ijen and Ijen Crater, East Java

As recommended by Lexx of Travelexx.

 

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A visit to Kawah Ijen (Mount Ijen) offers some of the most stunning views in Indonesia as well as an opportunity to experience an otherworldly natural phenomenon.

Active volcanoes aren’t a novelty in Indonesia – after all, there are as many as 127 dotted around the country! Ijen, in eastern Java, is one of the most impressive. You’ll have to work for your views though!

An early (like 2-3 am early!) start is followed by a winding drive and a hike in the darkness to the crater rim. If – and it’s a big IF – you are lucky enough/early enough/fit enough to get to the crater in good time, you may have a chance to see Ijen’s incredible blue flames.

As sulphuric gases rise from the depths of the volcano, they come into contact with oxygen and ignite. The result is a mesmerizing light show unlike any you’ve seen.

Views from the rim are similarly spectacular – the caldera below filled with a turquoise lake, the most acidic in the world!

Ijen is also a working sulfur mine and you’ll spot locals hauling huge rock-laden baskets up and down the mountain. The easiest way to visit Ijen is from nearby Banyuwangi.


10. Pontianak, West Kalimantan

As recommended by me.

 

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The city was initially founded as a small Malay fishing village at the bank of the Kapuas River, the longest river in Indonesia. It was once the seat of the Pontianak Sultanate for several centuries, in which you could still visit the palace not so far from Kampung Beting, the water village in the city.

Nowadays, Pontianak has become a multicultural city where it is the home for different ethnics such as Malay, Dayak, Bugis, and Chinese. The diversity has created a unique culture that can’t be found in the other parts of Indonesia. One of them is shown through their local delicacies that are so vibrant as well as delicious.

You can spend your evening getting on the boat to have your dinner on board, enjoying the city’s night lights through Kapuas River. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s good enough to spend quality time in the evening and enjoy the best of the city.

Apart from that, Pontianak is also known as the Equatorial City as the city is split into the north and southern hemisphere of the world due to its geographic situation. You can visit the Equatorial Monument that is located in the north of the city center.

And not just that, because between March 21-23 and September 21-23, you can also enjoy the equinox in the city. During those times of the year, solar culmination can be observed in the line around the monument in which the declination of the sun will be exactly at 0° in the afternoon. This will cause the disappearance of the shadows in the monument and its surroundings.


11. Togean Islands, Central Sulawesi

As recommended by Alya and Campbell of Stingy Nomads.

 

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When people dream of hidden little pieces of paradise with crystal clear water, white beaches surrounded by jungle, a picture of the Togean Islands is what they imagine.

Getting here is not easy, traveling by a combination of ferries and speed boat taxis for a day or two. Kadidiri, one of the Togean Islands in Central Sulawesi, is an amazing ‘off the beaten track’ little island with some dive schools and nice little hotels to chill out in a hammock, look for wildlife in the jungle, dive on the pristine reefs or explore neighboring islands from.

Scuba diving in the Togean Islands is excellent with beautiful coral reefs in crystal clear water and water temperatures around a toasty 31°C!

The reef is in excellent condition inhabited by clown fish, lionfish, moray eels, turtles and more. Penetrating the wreck of a B24 Bomber plane that crash-landed during WWII for a unique and interesting dive.

A special cultural experience in the Togean Islands is to visit the Bajau settlement, Pulau Papan. These people are known as the “sea gypsies” of Malaysia and Indonesia. They live in houses on stilts built in the ocean and grow up, live and die in the sea.

For a surreal experience visit one of the worlds rare jellyfish lakes, where jellyfish lost the ability to sting over millions of years of geographic isolation and you can swim with millions of these beautiful creatures!


12. Gili Trawangan, West Nusa Tenggara

As recommended by Greta of Greta’s Travels.

 

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If you’re looking for the best places to visit in Indonesia you have to add Gili Trawangan to your travel bucket list. Just off the coast of Lombok, this tiny island is the definition of chill island vibes.

There are no cars or scooters, the only way to get around is either by walking, cycling or horse carts. The whole coastline of the island is dotted with seafront bars and restaurants, so you’ll never run out of evening plans.

Furthermore, just off the coast of this beautiful Indonesian island, there is a stunning underwater world to discover. All along the beach you will find kiosks where locals will rent you snorkeling gear for cheap prices.

We had our doubts about how easily we could snorkel alone, but they quickly went away after we jumped in the water and spotted turtles just after a 20-minute swim away from the beach.

With soft white sand and clear turquoise water, the beaches on Gili Trawangan are amongst the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. When you combine all these characteristics; the chill Island vibes, the beautiful beaches and exciting underwater world, it all makes for a must-visit place in Indonesia.


13. Gili Air, West Nusa Tenggara

As recommended by Erika from Erika’s Travelventures.

 

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Gili Air, Gili Meno, and Gili Trawangan are a trio of tiny islands located a ferry ride away from Bali island.

After an earthquake on Lombok devastated much of the region in 2018, the tourist population is slowly returning to the Gili Islands. Out of the three islands, Gili Air is known for being the quietest, and the best location for couples to spend a quiet honeymoon.

In reality, there is something for everyone at Gili Air, including social backpacker hostels, live music bars, techno and trance parties, of course beautiful waters for snorkeling and other water activities.

For $40-$50 USD per night it’s possible to stay in a hotel room with a private pool attached, and the cheapest backpacker hostels cost around $5-$6 per night for a dorm room. There are a variety of delicious food options including cheap local food for $1-$2 per plate, more luxurious buffet-style dinners for $15-$20, or hearty pizzas, burgers, and pastas that can be enjoyed right on the beach.

One activity that brings people from all walks of life together on Gili Air is the magical sunset view from the West side of the island. The sunsets over Bali island and Mount Agung in the distance, creating the perfect backdrop for an ocean sunset.

At night, you can choose to have a quiet evening in, or head to the Cheeky Monkey bar to hang out in their bean bags with a beer or dance to the DJ’s music.


14. Komodo and Rinca Islands, East Nusa Tenggara

As Recommended by Nicky of Go Live Young.

 

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Komodo and Rinca Islands are within Komodo National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in Indonesia. These islands are home to the elusive Komodo Dragons. These islands are all about the dragons, but they’re beautiful too. Trekking with Komodo Dragons on these islands is a true bucket list activity. The Komodo Dragon is a monitor lizard, growing up to 3 meters in length and weighing up to 100kg!

The only way to get to the islands is by boat, usually from Labuan Bajo in Flores. We embarked on an overnight trip so that we had plenty of time to explore these islands. In order to find Komodo Dragons, you trek with a guide, armed only with a forked stick!

Walks are of varying lengths and take you off into the wilderness. We were lucky enough to see plenty of dragons during our treks on the two islands. The views of the islands are beautiful too. We’d recommend doing the medium or longer hikes as you really get away from it all, out into the wilderness.

Try to get to the islands early as the Dragons are more active before the heat of the day. We visited Komodo Island soon after sunrise and the Dragons were really active and out looking for food. A truly amazing experience to see these prehistoric-looking animals in their natural habitat.


15. Padar Island, East Nusa Tenggara

As recommended by Inma of A World to Travel.

 

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Among Rinca and Komodo islands, both of them located east of Bali, in Indonesia; the mighty Padar has recently become a favorite of every itinerary in the region for the right reasons.

Pulau Padar, which is also in the dragons route and used to be more unexplored than the others, it is now flooded with tourists thanks to the Instagram fame it got of lately. They arrive by boat and after a half an hour trek to the top, start shooting for the gram.

We get it, Pulau Padar is magnificent and perfect for sunset photography; it truly looks like it could be part of Jurassic Park. However, over-tourism could damage its pristine nature forever if we are not careful. You all have been warned.

If you finally decide to visit it, please make sure the company that will take you there is as responsible as possible.

Usually, boats depart from Labuan Bajo, taking tourists to some of the most known spots of the region such as Rinca Island, Komodo National Park, Pink beach, and Pulau Padar. Enjoy!


16. Baliem Valley, Papua

As recommended by Patricia of Ze Wandering Frogs.

 

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Papua might not be what comes to mind when you first think about Indonesia, but if you are looking for a trip of a lifetime off-the-beaten-path, then you won’t be disappointed. Papua offers stunning diving in Raja Ampat in the north, but incredible trekking in the mountainous area in the center. From the main and only city Wamena, the numbers of hikes in infinite as you can explore small villages about barely one hour away from the city.

However, the main draw is the Baliem Mountains where the mighty Baliem river, deep jungle, steep and rocky terrains, and remote villages await. From wide dirt roads to narrow paths to no paths at all, trekking the Baliem Valley is a highly challenging trek but yet so rewarding. In many instances, cutting the way with a machete is the only option to get through. Staying in Papua villages give a glimpse into millennia-old traditions, sleeping in men’s hut and eating meals made with locally grown vegetables.

Different tribes live in the region, mostly the Dani, Yali, and Lani. While the modern world has reached the area and brought western clothes along, elderly men and women still wear the traditional attire, and it’s still possible to see a man wearing the conventional “koteka” sheath made off dried-out gourd.

Each of the 18,000 islands in Indonesia has its own culture, but in our mind, Papua took a special place thanks to the encounters we were lucky to experience.


Happy Independence Day, Indonesia!

As mentioned previously, I’ve still got some more recommended places to visit around Indonesia that are not Bali. However, that’s a wrap for today. Have you been to any of the 15 places mentioned above? How was your experience?

Anyway, I’ll come again in the second series of this collab post on Indonesia Beyond Bali.

Meanwhile, for fellow Indonesians… Happy Independence Day, selamat 17an and cheerio! 😀


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