15 Life-Changing Experiences You Can Only Have in Indonesia

Sunrise from Borobudur Temple | ©Christopher Michel/Flickr
Sunrise from Borobudur Temple | ©Christopher Michel/Flickr
Photo of Edira Putri
14 February 2018

There’s so much more to this sprawling archipelago than idyllic beaches and exotic islands. For those interested in experience as much as the fascinating sights, discover the life-changing experiences you can only have in Indonesia.

Listening to gamelan

This traditional band of percussions has an inexplicable effect on people. A gamelan song can be both upbeat and mystically soothing at the same time with fluid changes of tempos and rhythms. The nuance is both intricate and straightforward, making the music excellent for everything from lively traditional dances to spa treatment backsound. Tourists can easily encounter a mesmerizing gamelan performance while visiting Java or Bali.

A women gamelan group | © Benjamin Hollis/Flickr

Volunteer with orangutan

While just spotting this clever, adorable primate can be an unforgettable experience, interacting them can be even more memorable. Working with an orangutan conservation can help support the population’s sustainability by dealing with rescue, rehabilitation, and campaigns against deforestation. It’s true that you’ll be doing the orangutans a favor by volunteering, but you’ll be surprised to learn how much the experience can touch you and change your life for the better.

Baby orangutan in Borneo, Indonesia | © Victor Ulijn/Flickr

Visiting Indonesia’s ancient temples

The archipelago’s long and intricate history has begotten a wide array of ancient structures, each with its own charm and story. Borobudur Temple, for example, is the world’s largest Buddhist sanctuary rich with eloquent symbols and lessons from the scriptures, packed in a massive site that is in itself a mesmerizing sight. Prambanan Temple is an exquisite Hindu temple complex with ornate stone carvings and statue, and you can also stay for the Ramayana Ballet that will transport you to the 6th-century.

Prambanan Temple, Indonesia | © Berry/Flickr

Joining in Eid celebration

Indonesia hosts the world’s largest Muslim population and consequently, the nation throws one of the most festive Eid celebrations on the planet. But between the fireworks, sales, colorful new dresses, and marvelous spreads of celebratory food, it’s the overall joyous mood and coming together that will touch and warm your heart. During this day, families, neighbors, even strangers come together to share food, talk, and make amends with one another.

Scuba diving around the world’s Coral Triangle

While there are countless diving and snorkeling spots throughout the Indonesian archipelago, the eastern part of the country is particularly vibrant with sprawling scenes of marine biodiversity. In fact, areas of the ocean around North Sulawesi to Raja Ampat are part of the famed Coral Triangle, a region with the most staggering amount and variety of coral on the planet. Beyond coral, tourists will also encounter many other exotic species of fish, turtles, even whales.

Diving in the mouth of a cave in Raja Ampat | © Ethan Daniels / Shutterstock

Wellness retreat in Ubud, Bali

Bali is like Indonesia’s capital of tourism and Ubud is Bali’s capital of creativity and spirituality. A week or two spent in one of Ubud’s wellness retreats will do much to rejuvenate your physical and spiritual self. Many of the programs also promote lifelong lifestyle changes that can alter the course of your life forever, such as enhanced eating habits guided by dieticians, yoga learning, and other techniques for mindfulness and health. Como Shambala Estate is one of the best and most luxurious establishment for a wellness retreat with gorgeous natural surrounding, while Omunity offers an authentic Balinese experience for healing and rejuvenation.

Wellness retreat in Bali | © Matthias Ripp/Flickr

Shop in traditional markets

You may call a shopping splurge in mega-malls and fancy boutique a pleasant experience, but in Indonesia’s traditional markets you will be able to do more than just exchanging your money for nice stuff. In traditional markets, people don’t only sell and buy. They talk, they interact; warmly and often passionately. Tourists will find themselves immersed in the locals’ real and daily lives, in addition to acquiring fresh authentic produce for a much more affordable price.

Join a workshop

Indonesia is filled with people who are proud and passionate about the traditional ways and values of their ancestors. And while the batik fabric is really sophisticated to wear and the Javanese wooden puppets mesmerizing to see, what will be much more fascinating is learning how to make those yourself. You’ll learn so much during the process, and you’ll come home with a personalized, DIY piece of traditional art.

Batik technique | ©Yogo Adi/Flickr

Encountering komodo dragons

This endemic otherworldly beasts will surely blow your mind. One of the most ancient species in the world still living today, komodo dragons can only be found in several islands in Indonesia. To spot one of these dragons, tourists will need to embark on a trek through Komodo Island’s impossibly gorgeous landscape, which can be an unforgettable experience in itself.

Spotting Komodo Dragon | © Andrew McCabe / Flickr

Witnessing Tana Toraja’s death rituals

For the people of Tana Toraja, deaths are kind of a very big deal! Their belief system taught them to throw a hearty feast for a funeral rite, followed by offerings and special ceremonies, before bodies are stored in a cave. During other occasions, families will take their loved one’s body, bathe and groom them, and take them around town as if they were still alive. Tourists come from across the archipelago to witness this bone-chilling ritual, as well as enjoying Tana Toraja’s wonderful natural landscape that includes the majestic cave tombs.

Tana Toraja, Indonesia | © Kars Alfrink / Flickr

Spend time in a village

Whichever city or locality you’re visiting in Indonesia, try to go beyond the touristy spots and take a glimpse of what life is really like for locals. One way to do this is to visit a nearby village and just explore. You’ll get to meet all kinds of people from warung vendors, farmers or traditional boat makers at work, kids playing traditional games, and learn more about the culture.

Listen to Jazz Above the Clouds

Watch different cultures mingle together as talented jazz musicians take to the stage at the breathtaking highland area of Dieng, Central Java. Jazz Atas Awan (Jazz Above the Clouds) is probably the most popular part of Dieng’s most important cultural festival that includes traditional ceremonies and performances. At this event, you’ll be able to immerse yourself in a distinctive atmosphere of captivating nature view, chilling weather, and soothing jazz tunes, while surrounded by ancient temple ruins and traditional villages.

Dieng Plateau, Bakal, Banjarnegara, Central Java, Indonesia

Sunrise at a volcano

The temperature is cold and you’re probably out of breath, but when the sun rises up it bathes you with an unexpected energy and admiration for life, as you thank whoever or whatever you believe in for the sight before you. Indonesia has numerous volcanoes you can hike according to strength, experience (or lack thereof), and other preferences. Mount Batur in Bali, for instance, takes only a couple of hours to top while Lombok’s Mount Rinjani will take most people 2-3 days. Regardless, a visit to Indonesia offers you a convenient and potentially life-changing experience in the wild.

Kintamani from Mount Batur, Bali | © Jan Alonzo / Flickr

Swim with thousands of stingless jellyfish

The Derawan Islands in East Kalimantan is one of Indonesia’s many tropical paradise and certainly one of the most beautiful, with pristine beaches, scattered small islands, and thriving wildlife. But perhaps the most quirky and awe-inspiring experience in this islands is swimming in Kakaban Lake, where thousands of odd, stingless jellyfish live. The unique conditions of the island have led many of the species to evolve quite differently from others including the adorable jellyfish.

Derawan Islands, East Kalimantan, Indonesia

Stingless jellyfish in Kakaban Lake | © TomaB / Flickr

Feast on raw food in Ubud, Bali

Zen and wellness seekers have long seen Bali’s Ubud as a mecca to achieve a better lifestyle choices. But even if you’re just there for the cultural scene or overall fun, trying delectable raw food from one of Ubud’s raw restaurants can truly change how you eat and how you perceive food. Here, raw eating is as much a lifestyle as it is a movement to promote well-being and love for living beings.

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