Why Indonesia Should Be Your First Solo Southeast Asian Destination
I have never traveled outside the Philippines. I love to travel, there’s no doubt about that (you can cross-check my Instagram). My love for surfing has taken me to places I’d never expected be in, from the north to east of Mindanao facing the beautiful and the raging Pacific Ocean. With wanderlust in my blood, it's surprising even to myself that at 25 years of living on this beautiful planet, I have never stepped out of this country.
I’m not at all fazed that I’m quite behind with other millennials who are probably on their second passport now because I’m that type of person who always has solid reasons for what I do. I always tell friends who ask that I would rather see the best known and kept spots of my country first and then go see the world.
A few weeks ago, I’ve realized that I’m almost finished with the spots I’ve promised to see first and then it dawned on me, I had to decide which country I’d want to visit first. With the love of surfing and sea water in my veins, it’s only natural that I would go to a tropical paradise where there would be waves for days. A culture that would make me want to call it home and locals that I could call friends.
Confident that I’m not alone in this search for the perfect country to visit solo for the first time, I gathered a few reasons from seasoned travelers, friends and an aunt who lived in Indonesia for a while on why it is the perfect place for sun seekers, passionate surfers, and adventure junkies. It’s those compelling stories that urge us to just go and book!
If you’re like me, I pick a movie based on the synopsis. What separates a great movie from a good movie is that I would never be able to predict how the plot goes. Same with picking a place to go to, I choose a place for its story. I find Indonesia an adventure and romantic movie, one that’s waiting for me to be part of. For a person traveling solo outside the country for the first time, there’s comfort and security in the similar, and excitement and mystery in the unfamiliar. An archipelago like the Philippines except with more than 17,000 islands, Indonesia is like visiting a sibling. Familiar enough to be comfortable yet still has those unique characteristics that take your breath away.
While Filipino and Bahasa have the most striking similarities in language compared to our other Southeast Asian neighbors, Indonesia has over 300 languages spoken all over the archipelago. This tells me that it’s okay to not be that well-versed in Bahasa during our first visit. We can always learn from the locals which is a more enjoyable way of immersing in the culture.
Likewise, for a foreigner in the Philippines, this also means that for every region we visit, there’s bound to be a surprise! A new lesson to be taught in language and a new friend to be earned. Knowing this makes me less intimidated to visit Indonesia and I’m sure a lot of others like me, who are just waiting for that extra push to go and book those tickets.
From Highlands to Lowlands, There’s Always Something for Everyone
Reading stories of travelers who ventured across Indonesia and saw the dramatic landscape that would be forever ingrained in their memory, I wanted to experience this for myself. Tales of scenic views as beautiful and diverse as those living on it. Sulawesi, for example, has a wild and enticing coastline with lined with white-sand beaches and diving spots that would tempt any mermaid like me.
While Sumatra is outlined by a myriad of almost 100 volcanoes blending off into the distance with a few possibly erupting at any given time. Now, that is an adventure right before your eyes! Be off the grid, away from the hustle of other tourists in Bandas one day, and after a few days have world class fun and amp your social life in Bali – this is but just the tip of the iceberg of what Indonesia offers.
A Mermaid and Surfer’s Paradise in One
“I will travel to Indonesia for its waves”, I told myself one day after a seven-hour surf session in my home break here in Davao Oriental. Looking how the blue waters crashed onto the shore, I secretly made that wish. Hoping that one day, I’d get to see the legendary waves and ride them myself. I wouldn’t want to waste perfect waves once I got the chance to surf in Indonesia so I promised myself I would constantly challenge myself to improve, thinking of my dream which is to one day, surf in Indonesia.
Padang and Uluwatu are iconic and famous not only for their perfect barrels but for its picturesque entry cave. I could imagine myself paddling or walking through that cave on my way to the lineup, giddy with excitement. I’ll make sure to befriend some of the locals so I could nicely ask them to take photos of me along the iconic cliffs overlooking the coast.
Gili Trawangan, Lombok and the Rote Islands and Sumbawa Islands in Lesser Sunda are next on my list of places to surf in Indonesia. With both secret and not-so-secret spots that have lesser crowds than the more famous spots, these are places that I’d keep pushing myself to be a better surfer so I wouldn’t waste perfect waves.
In the event that the waves would be too big, I’d still be happy and content snorkeling around the reef in these magical places. After all, Indonesia is still a mermaid’s paradise with its fabled underwater gardens.
Finally, my number one spot that I would love to see is the Mentawai Islands in Sumatra. Known to have the most consistent breaks that really get one barreled, it’s a dream to swim in these waters. I don’t know yet if my skills would earn me a right there but I’d love to swim the many islets and flawless reef with sun blue waters.
Indonesia: where you can mingle one night and then be one with nature the next
Every year nearly 10 million visitors attracted to the beauty that is Indonesia, for a first-timer, it might be hard to think of places where you can find peace amidst the tourist throngs. Good thing there are blissful places in Indonesia where one can escape the crowd, which is a good thing for me because it can get socially exhausting being on the road by yourself so a break communing with nature is a welcome respite.
Ubud – the nucleus of Bali’s thriving arts, culinary and yoga scenes, hailed by Lonely Planet writer Trent Holden, is a place not to be missed. Meeting fellow travelers who’ve been to this magical place swears by its irresistible charm of stunning green rice fields that immediately calm the senses.
Sideman, which is a 45-minute drive has Bali’s highest peak, Gunung Agung where its vista forms an immediately Instagrammable backdrop to any photo. Munduk, another town with chill vibes, offers solitude among nature and options to hiking up in mountains scented by spice plantations. With waterfalls as another big attraction, this can be the perfect place to relax your tired muscles with a swim.
Attracting a new breed of travelers looking for a chill island to discover, Nusa Penida is emerging as one of Bali’s new hot spots for diving and seeing sunfish and manta rays! Personally, this is a no-brainer for me. Who wouldn’t want to go see these marine creatures in their beautiful natural habitat? Also, the same writer gives us tips to explore the island on a motorbike, see its temples, isolated beaches, and waterfalls!
Writing this wish list down makes me realize that there’s still so much about Indonesia I haven’t written, and how a few days would not be enough to see everything that makes Indonesia easy to fall in love with. It’s beauty ranging from ridge to reef with its locals as diverse its natural attractions, Indonesia is a gem waiting to be discovered by those daring to step onto its shores.
For sun seekers, passionate surfers and adventure travelers, what better country to visit for the first time? Whether solo or with friends, Indonesia (without question) tops my list.
How about you, when are you going?