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The Indonesian archipelago offers a hugely diverse spread of cultures and sights. Start in Java, where the massive volcanoes and groovy beaches are just a stone’s throw from the capital, Jakarta. To the west is Sumatra, home to orang-utans, sweeping landscapes and the world’s largest volcanic crater at Lake Toba. The east brings Bali, with luxurious resorts, excellent surf breaks, volcanoes and an ancient Hindu culture. Lombok offers tranquil beaches, and the Gili Islands with some of the world’s best diving, while the fierce Komodo dragon resides on East Nusa Tenggara.
For a traveller the archipelago has always promised great adventure and has given the contemporary era swashbuckling tales of shipwrecks, head hunters, unheard of wealth and glorious birds of paradise. It has lured some of the great anthropologists, writers and scientists to delve deep into its myriad cultures and shady jungles for meaningful answers.
Nowadays, there are still many adventures to be had: trekking through virgin rainforest, diving deep canyon walls while watching manta rays glide past, and raving in hip clubs with the beautiful elite. While parts of the country may seem empty of tourists, this provides a great opportunity to learn some Bahasa, mingle with the welcoming and extraordinarily resilient locals and have an experience that often feels more genuine than those on the well-worn tourist trails of mainland Southeast Asia.
With up to 17000 islands (depending on the tide), and hundreds of different languages, Indonesia is the world’s largest archipelago, one that was bound together by the Dutch and cemented as a nation by independence in 1945. While there are many who seek to find differences between the people in this unlikely nation, there are plenty of obvious links. Despite having the world’s largest Muslim population, Indonesia is not an Islamic state although the religion is undoubtedly one of the most vital chains that binds the people.
One of the great sensory memories of Southeast Asia is the scent of clove-laden kretek cigarettes, which permeates the entire country from the swankiest Jakarta restaurant to the bumpiest Sumatran bus. The enjoyment of these unique cigarettes is another of the unmistakable bonds between the people of this huge country.