Indonesia 101

Adaptation Checklist


Although everyone will have their own version of how they managed to build a life and home in Bogor and Jakarta, we’ve put together a starter list that most people would agree can help make the process of adapting to Indonesia just that little bit smoother.

  • Learn the language. Lucky for you, Bahasa Indonesia is easier to learn than most Southeast Asian languages and learning the basics will do wonders in helping you get what you need faster.
  • There will be misunderstandings. Even once you’ve acquired some of the language, cultural differences or expectations may still stand in the way. Take the time to repeat yourself several times and explain why you want something done a certain way. A little effort can save you a lot of frustration.
  • Be patient. It can take between 3 to 6 months for you and your family to start feeling settled and at home. Don’t despair, others have done it before and there are a lot of good things about living in Bogor and Jakarta, it just takes a little time to get used to it all.
  • Don’t get angry. Or at the very least, don’t openly express your anger. Indonesians by nature are not confrontational and for the most part mean well. Showing anger can be counterproductive in getting what you want done.
  • Accept that you will give up some of your independence. Many things you do easily in a western setting may not work the same way here. Sometimes it’s easier to get someone to help you do things like post packages, buy certain supplies, pay your bills, renew your driver’s license and drop off/pick up your dry cleaning.
  • There will be traffic. Java is the most densely populated island in what is the world’s 4th most populous country. Traffic congestion is a way of life you learn to work around. Allocate plenty of cushion time when traveling to the airport and be aware that when it rains, there’s a long weekend or an accident occurs on the road, your travel time can easily double or triple.
  • Don’t drink tap water. The water quality in Jakarta isn’t great and although Bogor is reputedly better, a simple rule of thumb is never drink tap water. If you have children under the age of 7, best to let them brush their teeth using bottled water. You can generally wash fruit and vegetables in tap water but be sure to dry them well. You can cook with tap water, too, as long as it reaches boiling temperature.



Indonesia is the world’s largest Moslem country and the 4th most populous nation in the world. It consists of 17,000 islands, divided into 33 provinces, each administered by a Governor.

The population of over 220 million consists of over 300 ethnic groups, each with its own local language and local traditions, struggling for survival, maintenance and, in some cases, dominance. 87% are Moslems. Although the country recognizes 5 main religions (Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Hinduism & Buddhism), Islam has been the most influential in the political and social life of the Indonesian people.

The majority of people live on the islands of Java (nearly two-thirds of the nation’s population), Sumatra, Bali, and Madura – with the largest islands of Kalimantan (the major part of the island of Borneo), Sulawesi (formerly the Celebes), and Irian Jaya/Papua (the western part of New Guinea) being more sparsely populated. Jakarta and many parts of Java, suffer from urban overcrowding, resulting in serious traffic congestion.

Indonesia is rich in natural resources. It ranks first in the exportation of liquefied natural gas (most of which goes to Japan). Although a net importer of crude oil, it is still considered one of the big oil-producing countries. It has vast timber forests, gold, rubber, tin and coffee. Its natural resources surpass those of Japan, Korea, Taiwan and India.

General History


Civilization in the archipelago dates from the Sriwijaya Empire in the 7th century, when Indonesia was famous as a seat of learning, rich in history and culture. One of the earliest Homo sapiens, the remains of Java Man, was unearthed in Indonesia.

Indonesia became a republic when it gained independence from the Dutch in 1945. At that time, the Indonesians had little more than a mercantile empire in common, the Netherlands East Indies. They were separated by culture and by some 300 ethnic groups speaking more than 200 distinct languages. The government adopted the motto Bhineka Tunggal Ika, meaning “unity in diversity”. Its political, social and economic institutions strive to abide by  the official ideology of Pancasila (Five Principals), affirming belief in God, humanitarianism, national unity, democracy, and social justice.

Despite controversies over human rights issues and labor practices, especially prior to President Suharto’s resignation in 1998, Indonesia has made diplomatic strides and has been relatively politically stable in the new millenium. It’s current president, Susilo Bambang Yudhyono, has been in office since 2004.

The people are predominantly Malay, whereas inhabitants of Irian Jaya are Papuan. In eastern Indonesia, the people of Moluccas and Halmaheras are a blend of the two. The official language, Bahasa Indonesia, is a variation of Malay with a number of words adopted from Dutch, English and Arabic. You will find that in commercial areas frequented by expats that staff will generally speak English. However, once you are outside of Jakarta, English will hardly be spoken (added incentive to learn the language quickly).

Although many Indonesian families have some Dutch ancestry and continue to maintain cultural ties with the Netherlands, Dutch is rarely spoken, except amongst older generations.

Climate & time

The climate is tropical with high humidity, slight changes in temperature and heavy rainfall.  Except at higher elevations temperatures generally range from 23 to 34 degrees Celsius.  Humidity is between 60% and 98%.

Rainfall in Java is heaviest between the months of November and February.  Driest periods are from June to September.

Because the country lies across the equator, the length of day and night throughout Indonesia remains constant throughout the year, with sunrise at around 6 A.M. and sunset at around 6 P.M.

Indonesia is divided into three time zones:

  1. Western Indonesia time (Sumatra, Java, West and Central Kalimantan) is GMT+7;
  2. Central Indonesia time (Bali, South and East Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Nusa Tenggara) is GMT+8;
  3. East Indonesia time (Maluku and Papua) is GMT+9.



Bogor is a rainy city (or kota hujan in Indonesian) that holds the world record for the highest number of thunderstorms in a year (about 322!). First rule of living in Bogor is to never leave home without an umbrella. But thankfully, most of the year the rains only last an hour or two, and usually start around mid-to-late afternoon. The mornings are the best time to be out – they are usually clear and sunny, with bright blue skies.

Situated an hour away from South Jakarta, Bogor is nearly an extension of the capital city but thankfully is slightly less crowded and not as polluted. The population of nearly a million is primarily Sundanese, the 2nd biggest ethnic group in Indonesia that has managed to maintain its strong identity and culture.

Bogor is most famous for the presidential summer palace and the Royal Gardens, or Kebun Raya, an immense botanical garden that dates back to the Dutch colonial period. People from Jakarta frequently come to Bogor on weekends to sample the local dishes, such as asinan, increasing traffic in city’s main roads.


Bogor attracted the Hindu rulers of the Kingdom of Pajajaran who set up their capital near Bogor between the 14th and 16th centuries. In 1745, the Governor General of the Netherlands East Indies built a country retreat on the site of the present palace and named it Buitenzorg (meaning “without a care”), which also became the name used for the surrounding town.

Sir Stamford Raffles, who became Governor when the British occupied Java in 1811, transformed the Governor’s residence into his “country home” and started to collect plants to develop a garden in the style of the great English gardens of his day.

After the Dutch resumed control over Java, in 1817 Dutch botanist Professor Reinwardt, with the assistance of Kew Gardens, converted 80 hectares of the Royal Palace grounds to what is now known as the Royal Botanic Garden, or Kebun Raya.

Early Dutch researchers used the gardens to develop various colonial cash crops such as tea, cassava, tobacco and chinchona (a source for quinine). The city of Bogor has grown around the park and to this day it is still a major center for botanical research in Indonesia, home to over 15,000 species of trees and plants, including 3,000 orchid varieties in the orchidariums and the world’s largest flower, Rafflesia Arnoldii.


Central Bogor itself covers an area of 20 square kilometers and is reputedly the most densely populated area in the world. It is also one of the major scientific and educational centers in Indonesia, home to the country’s prestigious Institut Pertanian Bogor (IPB), or Bogor Institute if Agriculture. The city is very much on the move, with construction and roadworks happening all throughout town, which isn’t doing the city any favors traffic-wise.

On weekends, folks from Jakarta and surrounding areas flock to Bogor to sample local dishes, shop at the outlet stores and enjoy the cooler temperatures. As a result, the main streets and toll exits get rather backed up. Still, there are some nice outdoor activities you can do alone or as a family, such as hiking, biking or horseback riding, in Sentul or nearby mountains such as Salak.

Culturally, the city is quite conservative. Prayer time is respected in many offices and compared to Jakarta, you will see more women wearing the jilbab (veil) in public. Foreigners generally feel welcome, although it is important to learn to speak Indonesian quickly as most people won’t speak English.

For a more complete history of Bogor, visit the Bogor Wikipedia page. Lonely Planet lists the top highlight visits if you’d like to do some tourism.




Ah, Jakarta, where to begin. The city is a sweltering melting pot of peoples and cultures, with vast socio-economic differences. On the surface, you could be forgiven for complaining about the traffic, the lack of zoning and city planning and the way the city grinds to a halt when heavy rains flood the streets. Indeed, Jakarta is not for the faint of heart.

But over 10 million people in one city, the 13th most populated in the world, can’t have it all wrong. Architecturally, Jakarta has world-class skyscrapers with modern facilities, luxury hotels and glitzy shopping malls that carry some of the world’s most high-end brand names. Veer off the main roads and you’ll find pockets of areas with thriving art galleries, artisan type shops, charming restaurants with great food and bars teeming with artsy and intellectual types.


Jakarta was first formed in the 4th century and was known as Sunda Kelapa. It remained under the rule of the Kingdom of Pajajaran, one of the oldest and last Hindu kingdoms in Indonesia, until it was was transferred over to the Kingdom of Sunda in the 7th century. The settlement became a thriving port, mainly for spices, welcoming Chinese, Vietnamese, Indian and Malay traders.

The first European ships to arrive were the Portuguese in 1513. In 1527, Javanese General Fatahilla drove the Portuguese out of the city and renamed it Jayakarta, meaning “perfect victory”. By 1596, the Dutch arrived, followed by a turbulent few years when the English took over from 1618 to 1619. Once the Dutch reclaimed control, they renamed the city to Batavia, which it was called until the Javanese armies arrived in 1942, with the assistance of Japanese troops. When Japan surrendered to Allied Forces in 1945, the Republic of Indonesia was formed.

Jakarta became the new republic’s capital in 1950 under its founding president, Sukarno, who envisaged a great international city. Thus began Jakarta’s government-led construction boom that saw the rise of the National Monument, Hotel Indonesia, a new parliament building and the creation of the city’s major boulevard, Jalan MH Thamrin Sudirman, and its first major highway.

After a bloody coup in October 1965, President Suharto began his 32-year rule of Indonesia. Under him, Jakarta was declared a “special capital city district” (daerah khusus ibukota), giving it the status of a state or province. His regime was marked by the New Order (Orde Baru), which was best known for granting the military strong political power. Lieutenant General Ali Sadikin became Governor up until 1977 and supported projects that rehabilitated roads and bridges, provided funds for the arts, built hospitals and schools, and cleared slum areas for new development projects, many of which benefited the Suharto family. These initiatives attracted many foreign investors who poured money into the city and over time, helped contribute to the real estate boom that in part led to the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997/98 and marked the end of Suharto’s rule.


After a decade of turbulent adjustment following Suharto’s resignation, Indonesia has entered a period of relative peace. Jakarta has been thriving politically and economically, alongside the global resource boom. The city continues to be plagued by overcrowding and poverty, but on the other hand is making strides towards modernization and has become a poster child for democracy in the region.

The youth are wired and active in the social media stratosphere, Blackberry still has a leading market edge thanks to its messaging system (contrary to the company’s fading popularity in the rest of the world), pretty much any material desire you have can be found here and there are cultural events and social movements you can follow and be a part of throughout the year. In the more cosmopolitan areas in the city, you can expect most people to speak some level of English.