Has Indonesia stolen the backpacker crown from Thailand? As backpackers and gap year travellers abandon the increasingly package tourism focused Thailand for more independent travel friendly and off the beaten track countries, is Indonesia now the ultimate backpacker destination?
This is a paid article written in partnership with the Indonesian Ministry Of Tourism as part of the #WonderfulIndonesia campaign, with products or services supplied by them. Full editorial integrity is maintained at all times. The views and opinions expressed are entirely the authors own based on personal experiences when travelling and are honest and factual without any bias.
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 is the hub of the traditional banana pancake backpacker trail. 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.
Why Should Indonesia Take The Backpacker Crown?
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 that have skyrocketed in price in recent years 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 cuisines of Thailand, Malaysia or any other South East Asian country is a perfectly valid reason to visit those countries alone, especially the street food, 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 despite not being as well known, and will certainly satisfy the tastebuds of any intrepid adventurer.
The Natural Landscapes.
Indonesia is a tropical archipelago that sits right in the middle of the ring of fire, and as a result is graced with some of the most stunningly beautiful and diverse landscapes on the planet, from white sand beaches and turqoise waters to the 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.
Historical Sites And Temples.
Very few places can compete with Indonesia in terms of the sheer number of unbelievably unique natural marvels, and the same is true for its man made wonders too. With over 17,000 islands and thousands of years of history, Indonesia has eight UNESCO World heritage sites and countless temples, historical sites and cultural attractions to see. Whether you are looking for a temple fix with the ruins of Prambanan or the biggest Buddhist temple in the world at Borobudur, Indonesia has something for you.
Fascinating People And Culture.
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 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 and 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.
Did you enjoy this article? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below or on my Facebook or Twitter pages and please feel free to share it with any or all of the social media buttons. If you want to get more great backpacking tips, advice and inspiration, please subscribe to updates via email in the box to your right.
Chasing Real Dragons In Komodo National Park.
How To Plan A Trip To Komodo Island, Indonesia.
Ministry Of Coffee Review, Yogyakarta, Indonesia.
Sri Ratih Cottages Review, Ubud, Bali.
Surviving The Cannonball Run For The Sunrise Tour Of Mount Bromo.
Spotlight On BAWA. Volunteering In Bali.
The Prambanan Temples And The Legend Of The Slender Virgin.
Top 10 Bucket List Destinations In Indonesia.
Top 10 Things To Do In Jakarta Indonesia.
Volcano Trekking In The Indonesian Ring Of Fire.
Why Thailand is the ultimate first time backpacking destination.
Great post, I love both countries but agree that Indonesia has a much more ‘wild’ feel about it.
I know when I commented on another of your posts I mentioned a biodiversity project I worked on with some of my students there. We travelled so far off the beaten track that the locals wanted selfies with us as they had never seen a white person before!
We travelled to Makassar, Bau Bau, Buton island and Hoga Island. We stayed with the Bajau sea people and it was incredible.
The wildlife is what makes this place special to me, Alfred Russell Wallace travelled the Indonesian archipelago and came up with the theory of evolution by natural selection, spurring Darwin to publish his work before he could be beaten to it.
The diversity on this archipelago rivals that on the Galapagos, yet without the mass tourism and sky high prices that the Galapagos now attract. High rates of endemism across the Wallace line make a really unusual mix of creatures. 🙂
Keep writing and happy travels x
Thank you Laura, I’m glad you enjoyed it. I really love both countries too but Indonessia definitely feels less mainstream as a traveller. Thanks for commenting.
Hi! I’ve been to Indonesia only once, although I have to admit, I only spent a week in Bali. 😀 Yes, it is a bit touristy, but I loved it just the same. I had a quick layover in Jakarta, though just enough time to have lunch. I’ve never been to Thailand (shame, I know, considering I’m from South East Asia) but I’ve heard and read so much about it. Hopefully, one day the Philippines will also be considered by backpackers? 🙂
It already is! ;D
Insightful. People definitely need to look beyond Bali !
They definitely do!
A very helpful article and well done. A great suggestion 🙂
Thank you 🙂
Sounds like Indonesia could very well be an up and comer for all the reasons you listed. Thailand sets a high bar, though. 🙂
Totally agree Betsy, unfortunately for me personally that bar has been lowered with the sheer influx of package tourism over the years (and the Thai authorities seeming disdain for backpackers), but there are plenty of other SEAsian countries ready to take it’s crown and Indonesia is certainly the top contender for me at the moment! Thanks for commenting. 🙂
Lot of backpack travelers are really switching to Indonesia nowadays. Its a great place to visit, and I do agree with Laura that is has a wild feel to it.
Totally agree myself. 🙂
I loved every bit of our trip, Mike! And yes, I totally agree that INA is the new backpacker destination! I just hope they won’t skip the Philippines 😉
I’m sure they won’t Trisha! I love the Philippines just as much! ;D
Indonesia? OK then, one more place to go on our gap year…:)
This gap year looks like it gonna have to be stretched
I just hope that Indonesian don’t hold a grudge against the portuguese 🙂
I’m sure they don’t! ;D
We spent a month in Indonesia last year and absolutely loved it. We did some of the more touristy places, including Bali (Ubud and Ahmed) and the Gili Islands, but we also spent time in less visited places, such as Surabaya, Malang and Batu. In Batu, we were regularly filmed by locals on their phones as we were such a strange sight…. apparently, tourists (except for Indonesian tourists) don’t visit Batu!
I adore Thailand. But I really do think people should consider Indonesia as a destination a bit more. It has something for everyone – delicious food, amazing sights (Borobodur and Prambanan temples are truly spectacular), great outdoor activities (hiking up Mount Rinjani) and some breathtaking landscapes (Mount Bromo). And the people are wonderful!
We loved Indonesia. It’s not as easy to travel around as Thailand, but worth every bit of extra effort. I can’t wait to go back!
I absolutely agree Karianne, I think the fact that it isn’t as easy as Thailand is absolutely one of its best points! Backpacking should be a little adventurous and a bit out of your comfort zone! ;D I know what you mean about the videos and photos too, so many stopped to have their picture taken with me too, it was very surreal!! Thanks for the comment 🙂
I loved Indonesia far more than Thailand from a backpacker perspective, Thailand was just too packaged in a lot of ways.
I know exactly what you mean Andrew, I still love Thailand and always will but there seemed to be a lot more adventure involved in exploring Indonesia, just because a lot of places weren’t easy to get to or didn’t have everything pre organised for you.
Indonesia definitely has more of a backpacker vibe now, and Bali and a few touristy hotspots aside there are far less tourists around than in Thailand.
I know what you mean Allison, thanks for the comment!