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Does Indonesia Suck as a tourist destination?

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@anakcerdas just alerted me to this blog posting in Travel Blog with the terse and succinct message: “Memalukan yah” (Shameful, isn’t it?).

Yes, it is indeed shameful if even half of what the blogger, Mike Foster, says is true. As someone who’s adopted Jakarta and Indonesia as my home I feel duty bound to defend Jakarta and Indonesia. As have a few Indonesians who have seen the Twitter message.

I tend to agree with @crivenica and @heradiani in their Tweets that the Mike Foster does come across as an uptight tourist. Indonesia, after all, is a Third World country, only that the phrase has become unfashionable, being substituted by the more politically correct “Emerging Country” label. Foster comes across as uptight because in a city of more than 14 million people all he could see was the frightening and negative aspects of the city. He was unable for some reason, to peer beyond the negatives to see something, anything positive. perhaps his friend Andy is a really crummy tourist guide but one suspects that Foster is one who would rather whine than accept the fact that he is in a Third World country, accept the filth, contradictions, traffic congestion and contrasts as facts of life and get over it to enjoy his stay here.

Foster also makes the terrible mistake of equating Jakarta with Indonesia, which is unfortunate. Indonesia is so much, much more and different than Jakarta and if he were to go to Flores or a dozen other choice sites in Indonesia he would know what heartwrenching beauty Indonesia has in store for those who venture beyond the Big Durian.

Having said that, however, a lot of Foster’s complaints about Jakarta is legit. Us old Jakarta hands realize that Foster’s complaints are only some of the myriad aspects of the city that makes Jakarta Jakarta. Bu to a fresh pair of eyes, especially if they aren’t the adventurous types (and how many tourists are really adventurous?) Jakarta can come across as dirty, chaotic, unsafe and congested.

If Jakarta wants to attract the tourists, both to the city and to Indonesia, the authorities will have to acknowledge that the traffic, cleanliness and safety (or at least the perception of safety from a tourist’s viewpoint) are problems that need to be addressed. Like many other Twitterers, Unspun was inclined to use the argument of “but other countries are worse than Jakarta” but its a temptation best not given to as it i a false argument. So what if other countries are dirtier and worse off than us, we do not have control over what they do or do not do. We have control over, how our countries (adopted or native) functions and that’s what we should take responsibility for and try to change.

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I just visited Indonesia some time ago, to visit my friend from the university. He’s an Indonesian, so during my vacation I decided to go to Indonesia for a vacation and visit him.

I must say that Indonesia is not a country worth visiting … sorry about this, Andy if you read my posting. For starter, Jakarta is very dirty, you’ll see trash and litter everywhere you go. I just can’t imagine a capital city with this poor level of cleanliness. I was fortunate to have Andy my friend to show me around Jakarta, in which rarely tourists are shown to. Areas that you may see quite clean and sophisticated are only in the downtown area. I only remembered the streets named Sudirman, Thamrin and Kuningan that are quite representative for a capital city. Any other areas you go, you’ll feel like that you’re in some third-world country with poor people and trash everywhere (I think Indonesia is still considered a third-world?)

I was lucky I have a friend in Jakarta, otherwise I wouldn’t dare goind around in public transportation. I was told to be careful when selecting cabs. I remembered there is only one company considered safe, called Blue Bird or something, with their cars painted in blue. I was told not to take just any cab since it wouldn’t be safe. I was told there are so many crimes occured involving taxi drivers. I certainly didn’t want to take the public busses. Wait until you see them yourselves, and I bet you wouldn’t want to ride in one either. The busses are so dirty, so packed with people and the vehicles themselves look as if they’re very poorly taken care of. I couldn’t even find a decent information of which bus should I take if I would want to go somewhere, and what is the fare. Those busses have someone (or sometimes two) called “conductor” hanging around in the door, collecting money from passengers. I was terrified to see them hanging like that in the door while the bus were driving quite fast. Well, yes they have now a network of public busses called TransJakarta if I’m not mistaken, but the network was not vast enough to cover the whole city.

Not to mention the streets from hell. The traffic in Jakarta beats the hell out of any traffic I’ve ever seen in the world.

Traffic jams everywhere. People driving with only one or two inches away from each other. The worse of all is the motorcycles. I even said to my friend that they are like motorcycles from hell. They squeezed their way to very small gaps between cars, sometimes even hit our rearview mirrors. They constantly cut your way, so my friend always to be extra careful with them and sometime he even had to hit the brake brutely to avoid collisions. What an experience … I must say. I sometimes jumped from my seat when suddenly a motorcycle speeding through our side of the cars with just few inches away, in a traffic jam, with their loud noises …. a hell indeed. Andy even told me that be very careful not to hit a motorcycle, since even that you’re not the one causing the collision, the car driver would be the one blamed and they could go rough on you asking for money. I said “what the hell …. what kind of people are they … we’re not living in the dark ages are we?” … and Andy could just shrugged with bitter smile.

Another important thing … be careful of the food. I got stomachache for 3 days because Andy took me to this food stall that he said very delicious. Well the food was alright … but I got diarrhea the next day. Well, if you go to this food stall, you wouldn’t be surprised why I got the diarrhea. It was a very small food stall, on a pedestrian. Just next to the pedestrian was this open sewer, and guess what … people threw away trash into that sewer. Not to mention flies everywhere and I could have sworn a saw a cockroach running around. My advice is to stick to the food from restaurants, clean restaurants. It’s a bit expensive, but at least your stomach would be safe.

I’ll continue with my experience in Indonesia …. more surprises coming from this unbelievable country … which I don’t intend to visit again, at least not in several years until they could improve to be a more civilized country.


31 Comments

  1. hanny says:

    Agree that Jakarta tourism board (or whomever in charge) should get their act together. I think Mike’s concern is also our concern as Jakarta residents and commuters.

    It’s unfortunate that Mike hasn’t got a chance to experience other parts of Indonesia–or maybe he’s just not that ‘adventurous’ to discover the true beauty of this country.

    No matter what, what he writes should definitely be our concern–and we need to push Jakarta tourism board and other government bodies to overcome these problems: litter, transportation, traffic jam, floods, crime rates, pedestrian’s safety and comfort… (media should put a spotlight on this matter).

    Jakarta should be a nice and comfortable city for those who reside in it first. Let alone tourists…

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  2. Pitra says:

    The post has 46 comments waiting to be reviewed. Looks forward reading them.

    I’ve been to Germany. Love the way all are organized, on scheduled transportation. Bikes everywhere, not too many cars (not even motorcycles). Love to walk along the pedestrian street.

    It’s easier for us Indonesian to enjoy the habit of people’s living there. From a country where schedule is not a priority, hectic traffics everywhere, Germany is too nice. Too good to be true. It’s easier for me to adapt to that way of living.

    Though, on the other way around. I’m pretty sure most Europeans who has already get used to that way of living won’t get any convenience travelling to southeast countries (excluding Singapore). They need to be more adventurous if they want to come to Indonesia.

    The question is, why do this blogger got any perception that Jakarta is a modern and friendly city (just like his city/country)?

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  3. gradientblue says:

    I am an Indonesian and often heard about this similiar issues.Indonesia is a developing country which has been facing so much difficulties both politically and economically.Given the current situation,perhaps tourists should venture more to other islands to understand the whole Indonesia.Indonesia is archipelago,there are many islands or cities you can choose from.Jakarta is the capital,the busiest city in Indonesia.Those tourists from fine countries,might find it dirty,noisy,hectic and unbearable.But this is Jakarta,an urban city.

    Most tourist who are looking for leasure,might as well go to listed tourist destination.I dont know why,all of places..Jakarta was chosen.Over all,Jakarta is a place to work.This is the place where people from all over Indonesia come to look for jobs.For most people,Jakarta is a golden city.

    Since indonesia is developing,give us sometime to tidy over the internal issues.By then we will continue to improve other sectors such as transportation and tourism.Though Indonesia is too disorganise,please look on the positive side.There are already too many struggles that haven’t been done yet.

    Moreover,I believe,every country has they own internal problems.I think we cant jugde just by looking at the people living standard and surrounding.Look beyond Jakarta,you will see the scenic panorama and mesmerising greenery.This is Indonesia a place where you can find almost everything.These lies in your choice…whether you are looking for leisure or adventure.

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    • Jon says:

      I live in Indo, im a proud Italian, and what you said is bullshit.
      This “country” sucks and the indos are the most stupid people I ever met.

      Good waves tought.

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      • BS Jon says:

        Quote:
        ” the indos are the most stupid people I ever met.

        Good waves tought.”

        Is that a typo or bad English?

        You are so smart, Jon. Smarter than average Indonesian.

        lol.

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      • Scarlett says:

        If this country (or so you call, Indonesia) sucks, why do you live here? No one expects for your existence in Indonesia either.

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  4. Ditta Amahorseya says:

    It is not fair to judge Indonesia from just visiting jakarta. As an Indonesian citizen who grew up and who have lived in Jakarta all my life, I agree this city is losing it. We could go on and on about its imperfections: waste management, traffic, pollution, unorganized urban planning, poverty, etc. etc. Lack of sustainability thinking of local government makes it worse.

    But Jakarta is not Indonesia. I myself just discovered the beauty of Indonesia through my recent visit to Raja Ampat, Papua. The place is untouched and magical! There are thousands of places like this around Indonesia. On this trip I was awakened by how limited I’ve been in exploring and appreciating what this country can show me. Why go to Italy, HK, Spore, NYC? Is it because of lack of infrastructures or because most of these places are undeveloped?

    I agree if there’s one thing this government should and can improve significantly would be how it approaches tourism. Tourism should be to boost sustainability of the destinations. The more tourists come, the more sustained the preservation efforts. Instead of Visit Indonesia Year, they should do campaign individually: Visit Mentawai Year, visit Wakatobi Year, etc. therefore infrastructure efforts etc.. can be focused to one place to boost local governments.

    Anyway, as for me, after my memorable visit to RA I’ve proclaimed this year Visit Indonesia Year. Plan to spend my holiday this year to visit places outside Jakarta and to appreciate this beautiful country.

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  5. apeirokalia says:

    His equation of Jakarta as being a representation of Inodnesia is so false, it tends to make one feel that he has a personal vendetta going on (I’m exaggerating here, hehe).

    He doesn’t seem like an experienced traveler in Asia either. (Although Unspun has rightly stated that comparisons with other countries is not an argument, I still think that if he was used to traveling around South East Asia Jakarta would be the least of his problems)

    Granted that his points on traffic and roads is legit, Jakarta is not all sewage and rubbish as he so accuses. And frankly the thing that I like most about being in a country in South East Asia is that people don’t interact with their surroundings like Robots. Yes it’s nice to have a zebra crossing that works… But I like the fact that in Indonesia I can cross the road when I want to without being dictated by some machine who can’t even tell that the road is bloody empty (especially in Japan and most parts of Europe).

    But his viewpoint is fine. Cause everyone has their own way of thinking. And if he thinks that way then perhaps it’s better of for Indonesia and him to remain separate….

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  6. apeirokalia says:

    I can’t believe the blogger wrote that he wouldn’t come back until Indonesia becomes ‘more civilized’????? That’s like saying everyone in Indonesia is a barbarian… haha… what a way to write…

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    • heron says:

      indonesia is like a nation-wide village. filled with ignorant and primitive apes. the tropical sun burn the people’s brains so they cant use them better. is so full of funny people who think they are enough just with the togetherness and as long as they do the same ignorance and stupidity, they’d feel safe. indonesia is worth of a demolition for a new start of civilization. or maybe left as an empty land as some kinda tropical destination in holidays. i say this because i’m concern about the spirituality and the people’s mentality. i really love this land, but i can’t say i respect enough to the people. – North Sumatra, Indonesia

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  7. I agree with Ong – that he is an uptight tourist, and completely agree with the argument that Foster’s blogpost reflects a somewhat true description of Jakarta and that it has to be addressed by Jakartans and its government.

    Indonesia is not Jakarta, but I think Jakarta reflects Indonesia to a certain extent. The nature is out of the question, but the vibrant, melting pot, messy and fussy city do reflect Indonesia. Though Indonesia is WAY MORE than that.

    I know many foreigners who embrace Jakarta’s traffic and ups-and-downs with warm heart and positive attitude. Perhaps Foster is just not one of those.

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  8. Natalia says:

    Ouch.. What will his blog be if he visited Bali? I would love to have the honor to tell him that Bali is part of Indonesia. Wait, shouldn’t he already know that?

    Oh well anyway, I’m not familiar with this Mike Foster. Just very sorry that he dislikes Jakarta that much that he comment about Indonesia as a country from visiting just one city of it, even though Jakarta is the Capital. He should try to visit another cities and places. And well, true that Jakarta should improve its condition anyhow, somehow.

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  9. Gen Kanai says:

    I personally wouldn’t put much stock in comments from someone who doesn’t sound like they travel much. If the majority of visitors to Indonesia were saying what Mike Foster is saying, I think that would alarming, but I think the majority of people who do visit Bali and other tourist destinations come back with smiles happier for having visited Indonesia.

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  10. Max Pizer says:

    I wouldn’t say this guy’s post warrants this much attention. It’s almost 4 years old and it was his only posting to the site, meaning he basically made the effort to write it and put it out there just to denounce Jakarta. He’s certainly doesn’t come off as a seasoned travel writer with a lot of experience in foreign countries, and his perceptions come off not just as uptight but quite shallow.

    I actually got several friends from America to come to Jakarta for a few days of sightseeing before we went off to Bali and Lombok. I showed them around and they had a pretty good time. Of course I took them to the nice bits like the fancy malls, nightclubs, restaurants, but also to Kota around Fatahillah Square, and they all had a great time and said they would be happy to visit Jakarta again.
    The point is is that it is possible for tourists to have a good time in Jakarta.

    That being said, I don’t think Jakarta is ever going to be a big tourist ‘destination’, but that’s mostly because it doesn’t have any beaches or amazing cultural attractions, so unless the laws change and they start building casinos/amusement parks etc here, it’s never really going to offer something you can’t find in other big cities in the region.

    So ultimately, while bettertourism campaigns could help change the perceptions of dim bulbs like Mike Foster, the effect is never going to be that great. As somebody else said, we should be focusing resources on making Jakartans more liveable for Jakartans.

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    • apeirokalia says:

      “As somebody else said, we should be focusing resources on making Jakartans more liveable for Jakartans.”

      Here here! I second that…

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  11. MHiggo says:

    Equating Indonesia with Jakarta is akin to assuming all of the US is exactly like New York.

    @ Unspun: “Indonesia is so much, much more and different than Jakarta and if he were to go to Flores or a dozen other choice sites in Indonesia he would know what heartwrenching beauty Indonesia has in store for those who venture beyond the Big Durian.”

    Which dozen or so would you recommend? I have a couple less-than-adventurous friends coming from the US in a month or so and I fear they may come to the same conclusions as Mr. Foster.

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  12. unspun says:

    MHiggo: Just from my experience – Ambon, Biak, Manado, Bangka and Belitung, Aceh, Komodo National Park, Derawan, Lembeh Straits, Gili Trawangan, Lake Batur (Bali), Pekalongan…did I miss any place?

    Readers: Please help me out if I’ve left any place out.

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  13. harro i will buy you wimen and own u sex arigato

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  14. i was kidding u guyz howz it going u guyz

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  15. Pembela Indonesia says:

    which I don’t intend to visit again, at least not in several years until they could improve to be a more civilized country.

    We don’t need tourists like him. It is good for us not to see him visiting this country again until he quits his wimpish attitudes…

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  16. not an idiot says:

    the writer is a malaysian, u should know that the most of malaysian ppl are envying indonesia.
    this blog take from here http://www.topix.com/forum/world/malaysia/TTV8KB86373O4OEPH
    i dont know why the writer is so much angry and hate about indonesia. he writes only “negative” side of a small area of indonesia (jakarta), and not billions of good things about indonesia.

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  17. Crystal Ng says:

    I’ve been to Jakarta a couple of times in my life. I am American and my brother, my sister, my father, and 90% of my family is actually Indonesian. Only my mom and sister (the whole of my American family) is in America. I will tell you that Jakarta is “different” than the USA. The traffic is ABSOLUTELY HORRIBLE and I hate waiting two hours to get to a destination only 5 miles away. I don’t favor Jakarta. I do however, love Indonesia. I’ve lived in Batam for over two years and reside in Bali. I love California, USA, I love Indonesia both Batam and Bali despite their significant differences and sometimes appreciation can manifest from diversity. Indonesia is a beautiful country, so is America, I love them both. That being said, they are both extremely different and it takes adjusting no matter what you do and where you come from. I just admire those more who know how to adapt to situations rather than expect the situations to adapt to them.

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  18. timdog says:

    I know this is an old post, about an even older blog posting, but having just stumbled upon it for the first time I have to pass comment.
    The original posting from “Mike Foster” is so achingly obviously a troll that I’m really rather surprised that a sharp opperator and blogging expert like Mr Unspun didn’t notice as much at first glance.

    I know you used the piece to prompt discussion of wider issues, but seriously, couldn’t you tell that this was a piece of crude propaganda?
    It was written under an “Anglo” name by someone very obviously (from their English if nothing else – not just the grammar, but the very idiom itself) from another country in the region (or possibly even from Indonesia itself); this is clearly someone who has actually lived in Jakarta for an extended period of time (all the “if I’m not mistakens” are laughably crude)…

    Anyway, like I said, I know you were using it to prompt wider discussion (and maybe I’ll come back later and chip in on that), but I did just want to point out what ought to have been very obvious – that this post is a piece of seriously amateurish trollery of a pretty low rank.

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  19. Sahityawi says:

    Hey Im from Indonesia in Medan Dont say Indonesia stupid !!!!
    We have many place can be found like Bali,Jakarta And Many more

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  20. J Bernstein says:

    I lived in Indonesia for three years. Jakarta IS a cesspool. No ‘ifs’, ‘and’ or ‘buts’.

    I highly doubt anyone – tourist, expat or local – who claims Jakarta is a wonderful city for tourism. Jakarta is where people go to make money, but they dream of going back to the ‘kampung’ for retirement.

    For all its negative aspects, Jakarta is not an awful city. It IS safe. I never had one problem with any Indonesian in all my time in the city. I said Indonesian. Drunk Aussies on the other hand … .

    I suggest if you are a tourist, don’t go to Jakarta. There are many other sites in the country, but do pass on Bali, as it is disgustingly dirty now.

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  21. Melisa L. says:

    Jakarta is indeed a very frustrating place to live in but don’t make a conclusion of whole Indonesia that the country sucks just because of Jakarta and its problems. It’s just Jakarta and we’ve been having a lot of poor corrupted government.

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  22. […] The traffic in Jakarta beats the hell out of any traffic I’ve ever seen in the world. (source: http://theunspunblog.com/2010/04/05/does-indonesia-suck-as-a-tourist-destination/). See also: […]

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