Readers' Submissions

To Go Or Not To Go, Indonesia

  • Written by Harry
  • May 2nd, 2007
  • 13 min read


China Hotel Guide
• Shanshui Trends Luohu Hotel
• South Union Hotel Shenzhen
• Sunshine Hotel Shenzhen
• Xiao Mei Sha Hotel


Following the trend on the recent debate on alternatives to Thailand I decided to put my 1 satang worth on one of the options open in Southeast Asia, Indonesia. I left this country 2 years ago after having lived and worked there for almost 5 years. Therefore my information especially on rules and regulations etc might be a bit dated but I will try to point out the pros ands cons as good as I can.

To get into it right away, many people leave or want to leave Thailand because of the new restricted visa regulations. The 3 out of 6 months regulation has made it next to impossible to stay long term on a tourist visa. Indonesia does not have that regulation so in this respect it might be a better option over Thailand. Visitors from most countries get issued a 30 days visa on arrival (stamp), you can also opt for a 2 months visa from the Indonesian Embassy in the country you embark from. If you want to live in Indonesia on a tourist visa you have to leave the country every 2 months and apply for a new 2 months visa at the Indonesian Embassy of the country you flew into (for instance Singapore). Back when I was still there the fee for this visa was 70 Singapore dollars.

So there are 2 problems here. 1) you probably have to fly out of the country as Indonesia is an island nation which can be expensive. You can do it cheap however by flying (for instance) to Batam on a domestic flight and from there take the boat to Singapore. Also now with the new budget airliners such as Air Asia and Tiger Air it has become a lot cheaper to fly between Singapore and Jakarta. 2) the second problem is that you rely on the goodwill of the Indonesian Embassy every time you do a visa run. It would not be wise to opt for a visa on arrival each time as that is only valid for 1 month (at least it would not be an option for me to fly out of the country every month).

There are alternatives for the tourist visa. If you get a job in Jakarta you might get issued a working visa by your employer in which case you obviously would not have many problems, you can also try to get a social visa (visa kebudayaan) in which case you need an Indonesian sponsor who will have to fill in the paperwork etc. You can also opt for a student visa in which case you need to enroll in a local university (for instance to study the local language) which will cost you a small fee but with the proof from the university that you are studying there you can obtain this visa quite easily.

If you want to live in Indonesia for a long time you probably don’t want to stay in hotels. So what about available housing and condos and apartments? This really depends where you are in Indonesia. It is not nearly as easy in Indonesia to find a cheap priced relatively well equipped apartment as it is in Thailand. In Thailand one can find relatively good apartments for as little as 4000 baht per month almost everywhere in the country. In Indonesia (Jakarta) most apartment complexes almost exclusively cater to westerners or rich Indonesians and therefore the prices are a lot higher (between 400 and 4000 USD per month). You can find cheap apartments but many of these are a regular dump and often not good for foreigners to stay. Outside Jakarta it is very hard to find apartments, other big cities have them but just like Jakarta at high rental costs. Renting a house is a cheaper option, however in the big cities you will only find the cheap houses at normally inconvenient locations far from malls and city centers etc. If you live in small towns or far from the central area in Jakarta you might find cheap Indonesian style houses but hardly any apartment style accommodation. They normally want to rent them out per year (some only want per year) but with some negotiating you probably can agree with them on paying per month. The rent will then be higher of course.
If you want it really cheap you can stay in a boarding house (kos kosan). You will get your own room in a house and normally will have to share shower and toilet etc with the other occupants. Here they normally allow you to pay per month.

What if you want or decide to live in Jakarta? Jakarta consists of numerous kelurahan (districts). Each of these districts is almost a small town or village in its own governed by its own bupati (mayor or village elder). Then you have the central district(s) that runs like arteries through the city, here you find the offices of the national and international big companies, many embassies and big hotels etc. Most kelurahan are laid out very poorly and consist of a maze of gangs (small roads) that are very easy to get lost in. The main roads are clogged and jam packed with cars throughout the day and even night. During the rainy season things might get particularly bad when roads get flooded and traffic might come to a complete standstill. If you don’t own a car in the city you will have to study the bus system. There are different types of buses, the small ones carry numbers and the big ones (ac and non ac) have the destination at the front. It is also possible to take becaks (small red three-wheelers from India) if you don’t mind haggling and swallowing fumes. Taxis are numerous too and not too expensive, there are many taxi companies operating in Jakarta and Bluebird is said to be the most reliable (some people only take Bluebird) but I never had any problem with any other company. If you choose the area to stay in you should check some things. Some parts of the city are very hard to get to and from by local transport, so the accessibility of the area has to be considered. Secondly you should check if there are any mosques near the house you want to rent. Thirdly you should try to find out what the adat (culture and rules) is of the area you have chosen. Some parts of Jakarta are very traditional, where for instance you would be frowned at (or even worse) if you brought a girl into your house. Indonesians are very curious, especially where white people are concerned and your every move will be strictly observed. Large parts of Jakarta are flooded regularly, so it might also pay to check if there are any rivers in your area and if it is a low lying area.

For people who want to live on a western diet in Thailand there are numerous options. Most 7 Elevens have wholemeal bread and a host of other things you find in Europe etc. There are numerous supermarkets like Tesco, Carrefour, Big C etc where you can find almost all the things you would find at home. And the good thing in Thailand is that you don’t find these only in Bangkok but in almost every reasonably sized town in the country. The situation is different in Indonesia. In Jakarta you will find some big supermarkets that have western imported goods but not nearly as many as the average supermarket in Bangkok. Once outside Jakarta the situation gets worse very quickly, the other big cities such as Bandung and Surabaya etc. have an even more limited supply of western products in their supermarkets. The exception is Bali where you will find many imported products in the supermarkets.

If you want to rely on local dishes however, you have unlimited options in Indonesia. The Indonesian cuisine is not as varied as the Thai but there are enough types of food to satisfy anybody's tastes. You can eat on the streets, in cheap warungs (restaurants). Generally the food is safe to eat especially when heated or cooked in front of you. If you like fried chicken and fried fish you will have no problem finding food everywhere.

The Indonesian people are generally quite friendly but a lot more curious and inquisitive compared to the Thai. Maybe partly because there are less westerners in Indonesia compared to Thailand. Even in some parts of Jakarta even though most expats are concentrated here some people hardly ever see a westerner. Most westerners are concentrated in certain areas of the city and there don’t seem to be a lot spilling into the more remote parts of the city. There is also a large concentration of westerners on Bali. All of the other medium sized to big cities with the exception of Bandung, Surabaya and Medan don’t have a big expat crowd. If you walk around you sometimes get followed by one or more people, these are called buntut (tails). They walk where you go and stop when you stop. This can be a bit annoying, but these people normally don’t mean any harm, they probably just want to see what the big white man is doing. Indonesians are very proud of themselves (especially Javanese) but with westerners they are often not really confident. If they get angry or upset with you they will normally not show it but hide it with a smile, but they are capable of getting really angry and then the situation might become quite explosive. People from the other islands are normally more emotional than the Javanese.

The Indonesian girls are a very interesting lot. In my opinion not nearly as facially beautiful as Thai girls (however some are stunning) but that is more than made up (again in my opinion) by the fact that most Indonesian girls are a lot curvier (where it matters) then the Thai women. But are they easy to get? For most western guys Indonesia is the easiest country in the world to meet and get available girls. It can be 10 times easier to get girls in Indonesia as compared to Thailand and Philippines. But Indonesia being the enigma that it is, can equally be the hardest country in the world to pick up a girl. Why is this so? This has partly to do with the culture and for another part the objectives / motivations of the Indonesian girls to date westerners.

The big motivator for many Thai girls to like western guys is money. If in Thailand you are not too shy and you have a lot of money you should be able to get many girls (bar and non-bargirls) even if you are overweight and old and ugly. Granted many Thai girls would not even want to look at you but an equal many would willingly accept you as long as you are not a complete moron and if you have enough money.

With dealing with the (good) Indonesian girls the situation is very different. First and foremost with Indonesian girls you will have to be completely at ease, that means you should not be remotely nervous, nor have a lack confidence in yourself and have any issues about your looks or anything else. You should also not be remotely intimidated by her looks. Any of these issues she will pick up on immediately like a shark picks up the scent of blood in the ocean and it would (especially when she is pretty) most likely result in her losing interest in you right away.

The second issue is looks related. Many Thai girls don’t care about the looks of the Farang because often their motives to go with you are monetary based. Indonesian girls normally don’t like Westerners because of money, but because of the fact that he is a westerner (exotic, blond, blue eyes, tall, exciting, from an interesting place etc). Many Indonesian girls know they could never travel to a western country so (in their mind) dating or sleeping with a Western guy is the closest they will ever come to experience Western culture. This is a very important reason that so many Indonesian girls love to meet Western guys. But the fact that they are not primarily interested in getting money from the guy is also a reason that the average Indonesian girl is a lot choosier when it comes to picking or accepting a white guy to be her lover or boyfriend or whatever. Some western guys think that every white guy is equally attractive in the eyes of the Indonesian girl (fair skin, fair hair, blue, green eyes etc) but nothing could be further from the truth. They really know what is hot, handsome etc. The things they find attractive are hair (they don’t like bald guys) height (most Indonesian girls don’t fancy short western guys) and eyes (blue eyes are the big number one) a handsome face, youth (most younger Indonesian girls would rather die than be seen with an older white guy) and dressing attire (very important to have fashionable and clean clothing). If you don’t meet at least a couple of these criteria your success rate with the local girls will be very low.

Closely related to the first issue is body language. Body language is very important when dealing with Indonesian girls as they are normally very nervous when dealing with you for the first time so you have to put them at ease. Smiling is very important especially at the initial contact and the smile should be real and you must come over as non-threatening. Slow body movements are very important, you have to come across as happy and confident yet friendly.

If you are incapable of getting regular girls because you lack the social skills or the physical skills I mentioned before you can find girls who are looking for money. Indonesia is a very poor country and you can find girls everywhere who want or need to make a bit of money, many of these girls would not have a problem if you are old and overweight or lack social skills.

So is Indonesia actually a good option over Thailand? I think this is very hard question to answer. It really depends on the person and how adaptable you are etc. It is a lot harder to live in Indonesia as compared to Thailand. Indonesia is not nearly as westerner friendly in terms of infrastructure, commodities, pollution, services, safety, regulations etc. I haven’t spoken about the corruption, fees and taxes for westerners and political / religious issues, but they should be taken into consideration. The police in Indonesia are not as accommodating / helpful towards Westerners as the Thai police, healthcare however not extremely bad is not nearly on par with Thailand. If you have your half-yearly dental check-up and the dentist tells you this and that is wrong and should be treated you should always go for a second opinion.

If I would have to retire or live in Indonesia I would choose to live on Bali which is by far the best place in Indonesia for foreigners and is much better geared towards westerners simply because it has always been the number one tourist destination and has always had a lot of retirees and expat presence.

Stickman's thoughts:

Very interesting indeed. As many consider alternatives to Thailand, this provides some very useful info.

The author can be contacted at: [email protected]