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Indonesia

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Continent:Asia National flag
National flag: Indonesia
Capital city:Jakarta
Area:1,904,570 km2 ( 15. )
Population:241,973,879 Person ( 4. )
People density:127 Person / km2
GDP per capita:820 $ / Person ( 121. )
GDP:198,418,580,780 $
Official language:indonesian

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For sheer size, scale and variety, Indonesia is pretty much unbeatable. The country is so enormous that nobody is really sure quite how big it is; there are between 13,000 and 17,000 islands. It’s certainly the largest archipelago in the world, spreading over 5200km between the Asian mainland and Australia, all of it within the tropics and with huge areas of ocean separating the landmasses. Not surprisingly, Indonesia’s ethnic, cultural and linguistic diversity is correspondingly great – the best estimate is of 500 languages and dialects spoken by around 200 million people.

The largely volcanic nature of the islands has created tall cloud-swept mountains swathed in the green of rice terraces or rainforest, dropping to blindingly bright beaches and vivid blue seas, the backdrop for Southeast Asia’s biggest wilderness areas and wildlife sanctuaries. All of this provides an endless resource for adventurous trekking, surfing, scuba diving, or just lounging by a pool in a five-star resort. You’ll find that the Indonesians themselves are one of the best reasons to visit the country – despite recent troubles, people are generally very open and welcoming, whether they’re sophisticated city dwellers or remote island villagers. The ethnic mix is overwhelming: this is the world’s largest Muslim country, but with a distinct local flavour, and there are also substantial populations of Christians, Hindus and animists, whose forms of worship, customs and lifestyles have been influencing each other for centuries.

Worryingly, it is this very religious and racial diversity that in recent years has threatened to unravel the very fabric of Indonesian society. Riots in many parts of the country have pitched Muslims against their Christian neighbours, with two of these battles – in the Maluku Islands and in Poso in Central Sulawesi – developing into full-scale civil wars. On Java and other islands, deep-rooted anti-Chinese sentiment surfaced in particularly bloody fashion in 1998 and continues to smoulder to this day. More localized ethnic violence has its source in the transmigration policies of the Indonesian government, whose aim was to settle far-flung areas such as Kalimantan with migrants from overpopulated regions including Java and Madura, often without local consultation and with little heed given to traditional land rights. Unsurprisingly, resentment and violence have sometimes boiled over. However, with a new and popular president, Megawati Sukarnoputri, in power, and the economy finally showing signs of recovery, it is hoped that – while further bloodshed is perhaps inevitable – the fury and frequency of these internecine battles may start to subside.

Indonesia has also been badly battered in recent years by the separatist struggles of a couple of its provinces. Despite wide-ranging democratic reforms introduced by Megawati and her predecessor, Gus Dur, two disaffected provinces, Aceh in North Sumatra and West Papua (formerly Irian Jaya), tired of years of repression and corruption, unhappy that the new democratic reforms do not go far enough for their liking, and emboldened by East Timor’s successful secession (the former Indonesian province became the world’s newest country in 2001), began to clamour for their own autonomy, launching bloody uprisings that continue to this day. Whether their respective struggles prove successful – and what will happen to Indonesia if they are – remains to be seen, though with these two provinces lying at the geographical extremes of the archipelago, it’s tempting to think that any break from Indonesia will have little adverse effect on the rest of the country.

The terrorist bomb attack in Kuta on Bali in October 2002, while seen by most observers as a tragic one-off, has shown that upheaval and tragedy can strike anywhere in the archipelago. Until this awful event, the targeting of foreigners in Indonesia was extremely rare, and while a few places have been virtually off-limits for a few years now, most of the country remains safe, and the vast majority of the Indonesian people extremely welcoming to visitors. However, it pays to keep abreast of the latest develoments within the country and take heed of any travel warnings issued by your own government. Keeping an ear to the ground for developments and acting with a degree of common sense and sensitivity should be enough to ensure that your own trip to the contry is a safe and enjoyable one.

Travel across the archipelago is pretty unforgettable, in tiny fragile planes, rusty ferries and careering buses. Give yourself plenty of time to cover the large distances; if you only have a couple of weeks, you’ll have a better time if you restrict yourself to exploring a small area properly rather than hopping across 3000km to see your top ten sights. If you do have longer, try to plan a trip that doesn’t involve too much doubling back, consider an open-jaw international plane ticket, and try to intersperse lengthy journeys with a few days of relaxation in peaceful surroundings. Also, leave yourself some leeway – if you’re in a hurry with a vital plane to catch, something is bound to go wrong. Having said all this, the places which are hardest to reach are often well worth the effort, and some of the most rewarding experiences come when you least expect them. An enforced day’s malinger between transport in an apparently dull town might end with an invitation to watch an exorcism, or to examine a collection of ancestor skulls over coffee and cigarettes.

Just as you should give yourself more time than you think you’ll need, allow yourself more than the rock-bottom budget – even if it means a shorter trip. Indonesia can be very economical, but there’s plenty to spend your money on: watching every last rupiah will detract from the enjoyment.

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Map of country Indonesia

Map of country  Indonesia

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