Indonesia - Resorts
Anchored tenuously in the deep Indian Ocean, this giant island is still as wild and unpredictable as the Victorian-era jungle-seekers dreamed. Millennia of chaos erupting from the earth’s toxic core or from the fierce ocean waves create and destroy in equal measure. When the earth and sea remain still, the past’s death and destruction fertilise a verdant future. The rugged mountains and fertile valleys are fed by near-constant rains, colouring the jungles of the Mentawai Islands and the rice terraces of Bukittinggi many shades of green.
Don’t come looking for a holiday, that’s Bali, or empire builders, that’s Java. Sumatra is an adventure, the kind of demanding ride that requires a dusty knapsack and tough travelling skin. Climb up the smoking volcano craters that ring the hill town of Berastagi, slog through muddy jungle paths and spot a wild orang-utan high up in the canopy at Bukit Lawang, or scuba dive through a sculpted underwater landscape at Pulau Weh. Endure the Sumatran spin cycle and earn your rest amid a picturesque volcanic lake at Danau Maninjau, where you can slip into the morning mist and swim through the land before time.
Sumatra is still visibly diverse, with more than 52 tribal languages and the full spectrum of societal organisation. In a few remaining pockets, hunter-gatherer tribes collaborate with the jungle for survival. Other tribes have sewn together the expectations of the outside world with their own customs. The Bataks of Danau Toba; the matrilineal Minangkabau of West Sumatra – each bus ride will deliver you to another tribal heartland.
Bali may be small in size – you can drive around the entire coast in one long day – but its prominence as a destination is huge, and rightfully so. Ask travellers what Bali means to them and you’ll get as many answers as there are flowers on a frangipani tree. Virescent rice terraces, pulse-pounding surf, enchanting temple ceremonies, mesmerising dance performances and ribbons of beaches are just some of the images people cherish.
Small obviously doesn’t mean limited. The manic whirl of Kuta segues into the luxury of Seminyak. The artistic swirl of Ubud is a counterpoint to misty treks amid the volcanoes. Mellow beach towns like Amed, Lovina and Pemuteran can be found right round the coast and just offshore is the laid-back idyll of Nusa Lembongan.
A visit to Bali means that you are in the most visitor-friendly island of Indonesia. There are pleasures of the body, whether a massage on the beach or a hedonistic interlude in a sybaritic spa. Shopping that will put ‘extra bag’ at the top of your list. Food and drink ranging from the freshest local cuisine bursting with the flavours of the markets to food from around the globe, often prepared by chefs and served in restaurants that are world class. From a cold Bintang at sunset to an epic night clubbing in Kuta, your social whirl is limited only by your own fortitude.
The first thing everyone notices about Sulawesi is its strange shape. There must have been some serious tectonic action in this region to produce an island so bizarre. But bizarre is beautiful and in its contortions are its character, with an incredible diversity of people, cultures and landscapes spread across its length and breadth. Great seafarers like the Minahasans and the Bugis helped to shape modern Indonesia as they took to the seas in trade and conflict, but it is the land-locked cultures of the island that are most mysterious. Tana Toraja is spellbinding, home to a proud people hemmed in by magnificent mountains on all sides. The scenery of volcanoes and rice fields is stunning. However, the Toraja’s elaborate death rituals are something else. Cave graves, tau tau (carved wooden effigies of the dead), a buffalo cult, houses shaped like boats and the dead treated like the living – a visit here is out of this world.
Of all the 17,000 islands that make up Indonesia, Java is king. It may not have the beaches of Bali, the jungles of Kalimantan, or the remoteness of Papua, but it’s the heart of the country, a heart with more drive and energy than any other island in this vast archipelago. With 120 million people crammed into an area half the size of Great Britain, Java is one populated place. And with such unfathomable human resources, it’s no wonder that the nation’s political and economic past, present and future are decided within its shores. For many, Indonesia quite simply begins and ends with Java.
Jakarta, the capital, is a colossal metropolis with all the problems of a city vastly overstretched; it won’t grab your attention for long unless you’re a mad shopper or über-urbanite. But the rest of the island has offerings that shouldn’t be ignored. A string of volcanoes lace the island like fiery rubies. Some are docile giants, while others blow their top at the drop of a Javanese fez; Gunung Bromo is a must for any visitor. Pounding the southern coast is the Indian Ocean; a magical sight, but it can be dangerous for swimming. There are, however, some fine beach enclaves, such as Pangandaran, Java’s premier beach resort, and world-class surf breaks at Ujung Kulon and Alas Purwo National Parks. Java’s calmer northern side hides less-developed tropical islands. Inspired by such natural beauty, and influenced by Hindu-Buddhist, Muslim and Western invaders, the Javanese have over the centuries created temples and kraton (palaces) of unique splendour. The Buddhist temple Borobudur is an architectural wonder and some of the oldest Hindu temples in Java can be found in the lofty Dieng Plateau. Cultural Yogyakarta and Solo are perfect places to sample Javanese art.