Top 5 Reasons that Indonesia Sucks

What follows is an unfair and biased assessment of Indonesia based on certain personal experiences.  For the other side of this coin, please also read the article on Top 5 Reasons that Indonesia is Amazing.

5. The Bait and Switch

Indonesia could teach classes to up-and-coming con men on how to pull off a proper bait and switch.  They basically have their whole tourism industry setup to invite you to see a paradise that no longer exists.  It may be that there was once a place of pristine beauty and tropical wonderfulness that is described in the brochures, but the reality is that this place has long gone away, with little effort made to restore it.  Take for example, Kuta Beach.  This stretch of sand near Kuta, the main tourist area of Bali, would actually be an incredibly pleasant place to spend an afternoon…if it didn’t also double as a garbage heap.  This is the vision of Kuta beach – a beautiful, sandy paradise overlooking pristine waters.

Chairs welcoming you to Kuta Beach_1280_for_Web

However, if you walk along the beach or decide to plunge in the water, what you get is something more like the garbage chamber in Star Wars.

This is only a problem if you do not like to feel like you are swimming inside a crazy old woman’s hoarding closet.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t quite work for me as not knowing if I’m stepping on a Dorito’s bag or a used needle tends to put a damper on my enjoyment. 

This phenomenon extends beyond just the beach and the whole area, especially in Bali, feels like it’s coated in a thin veneer of paint that has started chipping away.  The same thing exists in Jakarta, where the difference between the beauty and modernity in the central business district and the poverty and chaos of the favela-like areas directly next to them is extreme.  Of course, many countries have this problem, but it seems to be taken to new levels in Indonesia.

4. It Steals Your Money

One of the great past-times that comes along with a location being a tourist hot spot is, of course, stealing from tourists.  Indonesia is certainly not alone in this, but in certain areas, they have made it into an artform. Just about every souvenir shop has an “Official money exchange” sign out front and they all have different exchange rates.  Occassionally you will run across one with a rate that seems to be a good cut higher than the others.  This should be a warning to you, but unfortunately we were travel rookies at the time and made a corresponding rookie mistake.

Going into the shop, we asked to change 10,000 yen into Rupiah.  This would mean getting a about 1,200,000 Rupiah and instead of using the 50,000 or 100,000 Rupiah notes, the man at the shop starts to count out a huge stack of 20,000 Rupiah bills.  The counting looked legit enough and was done on the table in front of us.  However, when the first million had been counted up, he stacked that million together and proceeded to count the rest.  We took the money, feeling good that we had gotten such a good rate.  However, when we went back to our hotel and counted the money again, about 300,000 Rupiah had magically disappeared.

It apprears that we aren’t the only ones as a search for “Bali money exchange scams” comes back with 4 million hits on google.  Talking to other travelers, it seems that this is extremely prevalent.  Of course, in the end, 300,000 Rupiah is a small price to pay for a lesson and a story, but remember to always be the last person to touch the money after you have counted it.

3. It’s Full of Rabid Dogs

If only Bob Barker had been Indonesian, this could have been prevented, but there is a big problem in Indonesia in general, and especially in Bali, with wild dogs.  They’re everywhere.  One almost gets to expect that you’ll open your fridge and a dog might scamper out.  Now, just the dogs on their own can be a problem, especially if you happen to be deathly afraid of dogs like Nao happens to be. However, not only are these dogs plentiful, but they shoot Rabies from their eyes.

Photo by McPig via Flickr

I just gave you rabies….twice

At least, that’s how it seems. There is a fairly high incidence of rabies among dogs in Bali.  In fact, according to the CDC, over 100 people have died since the outbreak of Rabies began in 2008.  These are pretty significant numbers for a disease that is contracted mainly through bites.  Of course, if you are careful to avoid these wandering pups, the chances are that you’ll be fine, but it’s disconcerting to know that these cute little guys might secretly be plotting your doom.

2. The Smell that Lingers

There is a particular smell that exists in Indonesia.  It is a fragrant melange of durian, flowers, over-ripe fruit, and industrial waste.  The first component probably accounts for the majority of this nastiness and is probably why the Singaporeans don’t allow durians on the subway.  That aside, this is a scent that seems to have a magically strong potency as the smell has infused itself into our clothing, our bags, and our psyches.  Even a month on, we still have things that smell of Indonesia.

People being purified at the water temple_1280_for_Web

Out, out damn stench!

1. It Tried To Kill Us

When travelling, there is always the chance that you are going to get sick.  New countries means a whole new world of germs for your immune system to play with.  However, we were amazed at how much we had to deal with in Indonesia.  Within three weeks, Nao had intense bouts of food poisoning twice, I had one dance with the porcelain god, and I also managed to get both a cold and the flu.

Arriving towards the end of our stay in Indonesia we managed to time it so that Nao had food poisoning at the same time that I came down with the flu. Upon finding that my fever was a tropical 39.7 Celsius (103.5 F), we were sent to the hospital so that we could be properly cared for, and I could be more effectively quarantined.  This was an interesting experience which involved many internationalization opportunities including playing charades with the nurses to figure out what the drugs they gave us were for and when we should take them.  If you’re trying to find ways to spice up your cocktail party, I would definitely recommend this as it gives the game far more import.

In the end, we managed to successfully make it through our ordeal, and the truth is that the nurses and staff at the hospital we stayed at were all very nice and extremely friendly and the facilities were far above what I was picturing (think civil war field hospital).  Still, I know that Indonesia took a run at us, and it knows I know, so it better watch its back.


Again, this article is based on certain experiences we had and your mileage will certainly vary.  Like any country, Indonesia has good and bad, and I hope you will take a look at the good of Indonesia in The Top 5 Reasons Indonesia is Amazing.

Posted on by Aaron in Aaron's Blog

One Response to Top 5 Reasons that Indonesia Sucks

  1. Janine

    Hi Aaron and Naoko! Interesting article. I’ve never been to Indonesia, but I could relate to many of your “challenges” from my travels through Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. And Greece for that matter (hospital situation, namely). Nothing more memorable than going to a hospital and seeing splattered blood stains on the lino flooring…. fun times! xx

Reply to Janine