How to Travel Responsibly in Indonesia

Borobudur Temple, Indonesia
Borobudur Temple, Indonesia
Photo of Edira Putri
18 August 2017

Indonesia’s renowned charming nature and rich culture may make you want to pack up your bags and leave for the country immediately. But before you cross off that bucket list with exciting adventures, learn how to travel responsibly in Indonesia to ensure a more enjoyable and meaningful trip.

Buy Local

Whether it is tour services, food, or souvenirs, purchase from locals whenever possible. You may be tempted to dine at high-end or chain restaurants three times a day, but buying food from small family-run restaurants (warung) will not only contribute to the local economy, but also present you with an authentic Indonesian experience. You may not mind the high price tags on imported goods, but local handmade souvenirs or crafts are not only more affordable, they’re also more personal and authentic. Likewise, going to traditional markets will not only get you affordable produce and goods, it’s also an exciting experience. Remember that what you may consider a mere pittance can put meals on a family’s table for days.

Traditional souvenir market in Ubud, Bali | © Chang'r/ Flickr

Mind the Sacred Places

Many communities in Indonesia still live traditionally and hold age-old beliefs. Be mindful of where you set foot and what the place means to locals. You may visit a tourist attraction not knowing that it was once a royal palace or temple in ancient times, or if for some reason the place’s history qualifies it as a sacred place, as appraised by locals. In many localities, some mountains are considered a dwelling place for the gods and therefore highly spiritual and sacred. There are things not to do in such places, including disturbing the environment, raising your voice, cursing, and anything that shows disrespect. In some temples, tourists will be expected or even required to cover their legs and chests.

Temples of the Dieng Plateau | © Nick/Flickr

Hire a Local Guide

Indonesia has countless attractions with all kinds of beauty. But many of those places are more than just eye candy, they are also sites with cultural or historical significance. The beautiful rice terraces in Bali, for example, testifies to the community’s spiritual philosophy and social order. Tourists who don’t see the importance of local insights often miss out on a lot. If you want to explore beyond what meets the eye, hire a local guide whenever possible. That will not only benefit you, but also helps sustainable tourism and contribute to the local economy.

Bali rice terrace | © Sam Sherratt / Flickr

Respect the Wildlife

While in Indonesia, you often share the neighborhood with numerous biodiversity, from plants to animals. This means that everything you do will impact them, and not just in a general sense, but in a very close, immediate effect. Most national parks try to keep the ecosystem as natural as possible. Feeding animals strange things, using your camera flash, or even touching them may do a lot more damage than you realize. Make sure you know what’s appropriate in your specific destination.

Monkeys of the Monkey Forest Ubud, Bali | © D.Meutia / Flickr

Learn How to Interact With Locals

Indonesians are generally friendly with tourists, but don’t let cultural differences and ignorance drive them away, or worse, make them feel offended. It’s considered impolite to point with the index finger. If you really have to point to a place or direction, use your thumb or your whole palm. Touching other people of the same sex in a friendly manner is common, but touching or public displays of affection between men and women often makes locals uncomfortable. If possible, try to learn a few local phrases to show respect. Even if you pronounce it all wrong, locals will appreciate the sentiment and like you better!

Indonesia's ethnic tribes | © Joan Simon/ Flickr

Stay Away From Drugs

This sounds like a cliché, generic sentiment written on posters but this can’t be stressed enough to foreign tourists traveling in Indonesia. Possession and distribution of drugs are serious offenses in Indonesia, punishable up to the death penalty (and this applies to anyone from anywhere). Authorities are serious about abolishing drug abuse; therefore bringing narcotics to the country will not only be in violation of that, it will also get you into much, much trouble.

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