With over 300 ethnic groups speaking 700 languages on more than 17,000 inhabited islands, the Indonesian archipelago is a showcase of cultural diversity. People from all walks of life come from far and near to appreciate Indonesia’s many cultural sites and activities. Last Christmas, I made my first journey into Indonesia and came back enlightened and rejuvenated.
My first encounter with the Indonesian food and culture was in University in Malaysia. After a few years I came to learn that the Malay language and the food was very similar to the delicacies from Indonesia as well as the fact that Indonesian culture is shaped by long interaction between original indigenous customs and multiple foreign influences.
Indonesia is centrally-located along ancient trading routes between the Far East, South Asia and the Middle East, so the culture is strongly influenced by a multitude of religions. One finds out that Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Islam and Christianity are all strong in the major trading cities. The result is a complex cultural mixture very different from the original indigenous cultures of the country.
My favourite are memories from Bali. The Balinese dances have stories about ancient Buddhist and Hindu kingdoms, while Islamic art forms and architecture are present in Sumatra. Traditional art, music and sport are combined in a martial art form called Pencak Silat which I found had a lot of similarities to what I saw in Malaysia.
India has notably influenced Indonesian songs and movies. A popular type of song is the Indian-rhythmical dangdut, which is often mixed with Arab and Malay folk music.
Despite the influences of foreign culture, some remote Indonesian regions still preserve uniquely indigenous culture by practicing their ethnic rituals, customs and wearing traditional clothes.
If you like art or artistic furniture, the cottage wood carving industry of Bali finds a wide domestic and international market. Perhaps the most common carving is in the urban furniture industry, mainly in Java, where ornately carved sofas and chairs are very popular.
Living in Asia also introduced us to many art forms. Traditional puppet or animal carvings of the mountain Batak of Sumatra or the upriver Dayak of Kalimantan are now mainly for tourists, though they once showed rich artistry.
Indonesian textiles are becoming more widely known overseas. Batik is the Javanese word for “dot” or “stipple”. Batik cloth varies enormously in artistry, elaboration, quality, and cost. Formal occasions require that women wear whole cloths wrapped ornately to form a skirt. Long-sleeved batik shirts are now accepted formal social wear for men of all ethnic backgrounds.
I loved Bali for the diversity of its performance arts. Despite the fact that Bali draws visitors from around the world, and its troupes perform overseas, most Balinese performers are villagers for whom art complements farming.
For those who love the city environment, tourism activities in Indonesia includes shopping, sightseeing in big cities, or enjoying modern amusement parks, resorts, spas, nightlife and entertainment and visits to city museums or parts of colonial old town.
If you have kids, the Ancol Dreamland with Dunia Fantasi theme park and Atlantis Water Adventure is Jakarta’s answer to Disneyland-style amusement park and Water Park. The nation’s capital, Jakarta, offers many places for shopping. Mal Kelapa Gading, the biggest one with 130 square kilometres, Plaza Senayan, Senayan City, Grand Indonesia, EX, and Plaza Indonesia are some of the shopping malls in the city.
Certain Indonesian traditional crafts such as batik, songket, ikat weaving, embroidery, and wooden statue and fashion products are popular souvenirs for visitors. Indonesian textile and fashion products are known for its good value; good quality with relatively cheap and reasonable price. Bandung City in West Java is a popular shopping destination for fashion products among Malaysians, Singaporeans and Middle Eastern tourists. The malls of Jakarta, Indonesia’s bustling capital varies from those with high-end designers to the chaotic crowds of local markets where anyone get a bargain.
Visitors can also try shopping at a traditional market where you can test your bahasa language bartering for locally produced handicrafts or antiques, beautiful batik materials to shiny pieces of hand crafted silver jewellery. For Indonesian handicrafts, best places are Sarinah Departement Store, Batik Keris, Pasaraya Grande, Sarinah, or Grand Indonesia Plaza. Here you will find a complete collection of batiks, ikats, silverware, woodcarving and more.
Jakarta has indeed everything and anything you might just be looking for. Also If you are looking something else in Jakarta besides shopping, you can take a city tour around Jakarta. This city tour will take you one day long. Have a great travel and discover more about Indonesia.