Thailand has long been hailed as the ultimate backpacker destination, but with Indonesia shooting up in popularity with gap year travellers, is Thailand about to lose its crown to one of its southern neighbours?
I have said for a long time now that Thailand is the quintessential destination for all backpackers heading out to South East Asia, especially for those heading out on their first round the world adventure, and a lot of that reasoning still holds true. Thailand absolutely has the culture, the food, the people, the adventure and the established traveller infrastructure to make it an awesome and easy traveller destination.
But with the sheer influx of mass package tourism and years of seemingly punitive visa changes and negative messages about undesireable backpackers coming from the military junta and civilian governments, backpackers are starting to head further afield and leave the land of smiles for countries that are more welcoming and less on the heavily beaten path.
Indonesia has been one of South East Asia’s great hidden backpacker secrets for a long time now, with so many amazing things to see and do, and I don’t mean the heavily touristy regions in Bali that are filled with drunken Australians and middle aged women clutching their copies of Eat Pray Love. I mean the sheer number of amazing sights, world class destinations, amazing delicacies and fascinating cultures that make it a great destination for any backpacker, but in particular I mean the specific benefits Indonesia gives to backpackers who take the time to discover its secrets.
Unlike other South East Asian destinations Indonesia is still extremely cheap to travel through due to generally low costs of living in the country and the relative strength of outside currencies to the Rupiah, and when you compare this to the significantly higher and constantly rising costs ion more touristy parts of Thailand this means that backpackers can travel for a lot longer for a lot cheaper in Indonesia, everything every independent traveller wants.
Okay, this is a bit of a cheat because the food of Thailand, Malaysia or any other South East Asian country is a perfectly valid reason to visit those countries alone, and that has not and will never change. What surprises many travellers however is the fact that delicious dishes such as Nasi Goreng, Gulai, Karedok, Mei Goreng and a thousand other dishes under its belt, Indonesian cuisine easily holds it’s own against any other nation’s and will satisfy the tastebuds of any intrepid adventurer.
It has some unbelievably unique natural landscapes and spectacular historical sites.
Very few places can compete with Indonesia in terms of the sheer number of unbelievably unique natural and man made marvels. Whether you are looking for a temple fix with the ruins of Prambanan or the biggest Buddhist temple in the world at Borobudur, or you want to discover some of the unique geological landscapes the infamous ring of fire has carved through the region, Indonesia has you covered.
Quite simply the stunning volcanic landscapes with active craters, sulphur lakes and lava hewn topography that covers Indonesia is unique, and it is shocking that Indonesia isn’t held higher on every must visit list in the region, or the world for that matter.
It is filled with fascinating people and cultures.
With over 300 ethnic groups throughout Indonesia there is a wealth of cultural and ethnic intricacies to explore and enjoy, and the philosophy of unity in diversity has led to a warm and friendly outlook that really does justify that overused travel trope of ‘friendly locals’.
It isn’t all completely touristy.
Okay, some parts are. Indonesia has it’s touristy spots and touts just like everywhere else, but despite all these amazing reasons to visit Indonesia and the fact that many backpackers are travelling through this vast country already, it still feels to a large extent undiscovered.
Just forget Bali for a minute.
In many ways Indonesia still retains that special feeling that backpacking through south east Asia should give you, and that many places such has Thailand are losing with the influx of mass package tourism. Sure, Indonesia has it’s touristy areas (I’m looking at you, Bali!) But it isn’t all completely taken over either and it is very easy to get away from the crowds. It is a simple matter to just take a sidestep and get away from the tourist trail, or even away from the backpacker bubble of cheap hostels, guesthouses and street foods if you want to, and enjoy independent travel as it is meant to be enjoyed.
Despite the fact Indonesia is still a very easy country to travel through, it lacks the completely polished travel infrastructure that Thailand has and doesn’t have the traveller dedicated transport options of its northern neighbour, but believe me that is a good thing!
Travelling through Indonesia will force you in many ways to get around as the locals do, by using basic public transport. Of course there are budget airlines and coaches too, but by using public transport, sorting things out for yourself and figuring things out as you go, you will get a much more fulfilling independent travel experience. You will avoid the build up of tuk tuk touts and taxi mafias that have built up in more touristy areas (with the exception of Bali of course) and achieve that sense of adventure that really being on your own will give you. Things aren’t perfect, they are a little rough and ready, but I love that!
As backpackers and independent travellers spread their wings further into south east Asia, Indonesia is quickly establishing itself as the new backpacker hotspot, as a premier destination for those independent travellers who know enough to take advantage of all this amazing country has to offer.
Whether Indonesia will be able to topple Thailand’s undisputed place in backpackers hearts and minds only time will tell, but for the moment the fact remains that Indonesia is a perfect backpacker destination and then some, and more and more independent travellers are figuring that out.
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This article was written in partnership with the Indonesian Ministry Of Tourism as part of the #WonderfulIndonesia campaign. The views and opinions expressed are entirely the authors own based on personal experiences when travelling and are honest and factual without any bias.