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The Insider’s Guide: 5 Ways to Get to Know the Real Indonesia

Indonesia is one of the most diverse archipelagos in the world. With close to 280 million people representing over 1300 official ethnic groups and thousands of more unique cultures, it is impossible to really ever get to know Indonesia. But you can certainly understand this incredible country better than most tourists if you are willing to devote a little time and have an open mind. 

Number 5: Learn a Little of the Official Language

The official language of Indonesia is called Bahasa Indonesia, or the Indonesian language. Almost everyone speaks it in the country. Ranked as one of the world’s easiest languages for an English speaker to learn, devoting 10 or 20 hours of study before you arrive in the country will significantly increase your enjoyment and allow you to get to know the people and the country better. 

Number 4: Get Off of the Tourist Trail

It is easy to spend a wonderful time in Indonesia ensconced in the tourist bubble. Whether it’s relaxing at a beach resort in Lombok, touring the Hindu temples of Bali, or even exploring the hustle and bustle of Jakarta. To experience the real Indonesia, you need to head to the less-visited places. The islands of Samosir, Banda, and Flores all have their particular allures. 

Number 3: Master Local Transportation

No matter where you go in Indonesia, you’ll find there are almost endless ways to travel. From air-conditioned tour buses to car rentals, you can travel in luxury, but sometimes the most exciting way to go from Point A to Point B is the way locals do it. Angkots are one of the most popular ways to get around. No bigger than a minivan, these vehicles run a set loop, and passengers can jump on and off wherever they like along the route. Angkots are shared, and you’ll get charged by the driver based on the approximate distance, so always ask the driver before getting in.  

Number 2: Eat on the Street

Eating is one of the best ways to spend your time in Indonesia. And some of the most incredible food in the country is cooked by the countless tiny street stalls called warungs. While the sanitation may not be on par with a Western restaurant, it is probably better than a food cart in a Western city. Warungs sell food for the working man and woman, so it’s cheap, filling, delicious, and the closest you’ll get to authentic Indonesian home cooking unless a local invites you home. 

Number 1: Talk to the Locals

Across the country, Indonesians are polite and friendly. However, once you get outside the main tourist areas, Indonesians are maybe the most generous and helpful people you could ever meet. So, don’t be afraid to smile and say “Hi.” You’ll learn more about the real Indonesia in a 10-minute conversation over tea than in touring a so-called cultural site for the entire day. As a bonus, most younger Indonesians speak at least some English and love to practice speaking. 

So once you step off the plane at Soekarno Hatta International Airport, step out of your comfort zone just a little, and you will have the time of your life getting to know the real Indonesia.