I Had a Good Day in Indonesia, It was Cathartic

A decade ago my first day in Indonesia, visiting the hanging coffins of Tana Taraja in Sulawesi, brought on my worst sickness ever on the road due to bad chicken.

From then through subsequent trips it has been the country for me where things don’t go right. Flight cancels, massive visa on arrival lines, tout hassle, pedicab hassle, etc, etc, where I feel like giving in and paying one just to keep the others away. I should have followed the wisdom of crowds in plunking myself in a nice resort and not leaving, however I have always visited backpacker-style.

I know this is my issue and my inability to look past these hassles to the great people, nature, and experiences to be had in Indonesia. I judged it by the standards of its Asian neighbors rather than on its own terms. We all have something that sets us off.

I wouldn’t have even gone back if it weren’t for my pursuit of the Travelers Century Club which separates Indonesia into 7 territories. I have visited Java, Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo), Sulawesi, and Lesser Sundra Islands (Bali), with Sumatra, Moluccos and Papua to go. This trip I wanted to swing through my missing three. I cut it down to only Sumatra because of rare Qantas award availability to Lord Howe Island.

This time I did it better.

I only had a day to spare. I flew in from Singapore at 8 am. The new visa exemption works well. Straight to the immigration line. I was first of the day. Showed my departing flight confirmation and was stamped in.

I booked with BukitLawang.com, which proved to be trustworthy. One price, no upsell or hidden charges, door-to-door arrangements. An excellent driver whisked me away upon arrival, took me the 4 hours to the park, handed me off to a local guide at noon and by 12:30 I had the good fortune to see an adult orangutan, then later, a child. Best chance of seeing them is early morning so many guests come up the afternoon prior.

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Bukit Lawang 01

We hiked for a two hours, seeing a poisonous snake, ants the size of rats, and a monkey. We sampled local fruits. I longed for August when durians, mangosteens and rambutans would be in season.

Bukit Lawang 02Bukit Lawang 03

At 14:00 we headed back to Medan, leaving an extra hour buffer in case of city traffic jam. We reached the airport without delay at 18:00 and I had a chilled teh tarik and bowl of noodles ahead of my flight.

I paid a modest premium to avoid all the negotiation and tout hassle that most dislike about Indonesia. I had a great day. I saw orangutans. Now I’ll be happy to give Moluccos and Papua a try!

Bukit Lawang 04

Bukit Lawang 05

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  • John

    Great post. I want to see a picture of that ant (the size of a rat)!

  • Craig

    Hi Stefan, Sounds like one incredible day! That Traveler’s Century Club is really getting you around! Are you taking constant anti-malaria pills?

    I’m going to Jakarta in two weeks. Does the new visa exemption mean that we can say goodbye to the visa on arrival? You said you went straight to immigration.

    Thanks! Keep up the great posts!

  • This is crazy – it’s one country. They don’t make these kinds of cultural distinctions in any consistent way. Their rules are insane, they even let you count countries where you’ve been on a stopover! With their way of counting things I’m at 89 but by my standard (countries you have to enter with a passport) I’m at 73 – big difference!

    However, glad you had a better time, regardless of the numbers !

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @Craig – I half-expected the officer to send me back to a non-exemption stamp line, but yes, just fill out normal arrival card and straight to immigration.

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @welltravbrit – their counting of Indonesia is one of the more egregious on the list and they do not encourage dues-paying rank and file to have a say in the process except to observe, it was a big secret it seemed when they added one (Socotra) in December.

    I personally don’t count stopovers, some I have spent nights in airport hotels and not counted until I have actually visited a place.

    Other lists are more crazy, I like the TCC for the balance between quantity and appeal. Of 248 I have been I have thought each was personally worthwhile to visit. More expansive lists such as those that include every state of countries are not appealing for my travel. The point here is I saw orangutan! 🙂

  • John

    Hey Stefan, nice photos, I liked you putting the trekking outfit link. As for the whole TCC thing, as long as you (anyone) is enjoying the wonder, trial and tribulations of travel then in the words of RS—-Keep on traveling.